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The Prophesies of Lara Guishar by KJ Cartmell
Chapter 1: An Extraordinary Girl
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An Extraordinary Girl
Lara Guishar ran across a damp lawn. Her eyes were wide, her breath shallow. A desperate fear drove her. A cramp, a stabbing knife of pain, burned in her side.
She came to a crest of a hill and gazed down upon a broad, dark lake. At the shoreline, a girl lay face down in the water. Her black dress was soaked with lake water, her pale limbs eerily still. Orange hair fanned out from her head like a grotesque starburst.
Lara ran down the hill towards the body, yet she knew with an otherworldly conviction that it was already too late. Rhiannon MacDougal had drowned.
Lara sat up suddenly. She was panting, and her brow was damp with sweat. As she struggled to slow her breathing, she reached out and grasped her wand. She lit the tip and saw that she was in her own bedroom room. Dawn’s light glowed faintly through her window. She was wearing her favourite green print nightgown, and above her head was a flowery print canopy.
It was a dream, she thought. A prophetic dream. I must record it.
She set her wand, its tip still glowing, into her lap. Out of her narrow nightstand drawer she pulled the diary in which she kept records of all her prophetic dreams. With it were her quill and ink bottle. She dipped the quill into the inkwell and then quickly began to record the dream before it faded from her memory.
Lara Guishar wanted nothing less than to be a normal girl, one who did reasonably well in school, kept a few close friends, and helped her mother with the cooking. Several circumstances, however, conspired to keep her life from being anything but ordinary.
For one, she was named for a famous character in a Russian novel. Every so often, someone called attention to this fact, usually a friend of her father’s. Lara would then have to admit that she had never read Pasternak’s book, Dr. Zhivago, nor had she seen the movie. She had faced this question often enough that she had learned to say, “But, I hear that Julie Christie is very beautiful. It’s flattering to think someone would make the comparison between her and I.”
Second, perhaps more significantly, Lara was a witch who attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the happy, peaceful days following the fall of Lord Voldemort. Her favourite subject was Healing Arts. She picked up concepts quickly and seemed to have a knack for it.
But, most extraordinary of all, she was visited by vivid, frightening prophetic dreams. Twice, she had dreamed her own death. She had escaped being eaten by an acromantula only by coaxing another boy, Liam Wren, to save her. She had made Liam angry with her, and she had to ask for his forgiveness to be sure he would come and rescue her when the time came.
Before she had even met Liam Wren, she had dreamed that she would marry him. When she did finally meet Liam, he seemed quite taken with her. However, Lara didn’t feel herself immediately fall in love with him. She wondered if she could escape this fate and set herself on a new path. She chose to be cold and aloof towards him, to see if he would become interested in someone else instead.
But on her twelfth birthday, right before the end of term, he saved her from the giant spider, and now their families were increasing intertwined. She had since dreamed a different potential death for herself. If she were to escape this second doom, she was certain it would be Liam again who would save her life.
She tried as best that she could to keep her prophetic powers to herself. The last thing she wanted was to be fielding a lot of silly questions, like “Who will win the next World Cup?” or “Will the next Star Wars movie be any good?” Her powers gave her no insight into these trivial matters.
All her dreams seem to involve matters of great import, literally life and death. Yet, the future was not a firmly set thing. It was ethereal, and somewhat malleable. She had saved herself, after all, once before.
Can I save Rhiannon?
She stared down at the words she had written. The wet ink glistened in the wand light. If Rhiannon goes alone to the lake’s edge, she will trip on a stone, fall, hit her head on a rock that is just below the surface of the lake, and drown.
Which lake? She wondered suddenly. She had assumed this was the lake near Hogwarts, but now she was unsure. Lara knew that Rhiannon’s father had died at the Battle of Hogwarts. Afterwards, Rhiannon, sister Shona and their mother Vivian had gone to live with Vivian’s mother, Mrs. Ashfeld. The Ashfelds have a large estate on the edge of town.
Do they have a water feature?
Lara and Rhiannon were only acquaintances. Both were shy girls, and Rhiannon was often cold and aloof to strangers. Lara thought of the friends they had in common. Morwena will know. I must see her today and ask if there’s a lake on the Ashfeld Estate.
That same day, Morwena Felwich awoke late. The night before, she had been unable to sleep. She tossed and turned while her mind schemed, planned and plotted. Now, it was late morning, and she had missed breakfast with her family. She quickly rose, brushed her hair, and went downstairs.
It had all started the previous evening. As her family were arriving to dinner at Cassiopeia's, an exclusive restaurant in Godric’s Hollow, their friends, the Kanes, were just leaving. Morwena’s father stopped to speak to Mr. Kane. Morwena found herself gazing up into the eyes of fourteen year old Cyrus Kane.
When Cyrus attended Hogwarts, he was a small, spoiled eleven year old. He got into fights with boys from other houses, and angrily pushed back on Morwena when she tried to keep him out of trouble.
Since then, Cyrus had spent two years at Durmstrang. Every so often, during school breaks, he and Morwena would cross paths. Every time, Cyrus had grown a little taller. He was still proud, but he had learned to be gentlemanly. He always greeted Morwena graciously.
Last night, he had grown taller yet, so that he was nearly six feet. His hair was long, and his cheeks had a healthy, ruddy glow. He was so handsome that Morwena’s knees buckled.
Cyrus took her hand, held it and gazed deeply into her eyes. “Wen, it’s great to see you.” While she stammered her reply, he draped an arm around her sister Freya and said, “You’re starting your second year, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” said Freya, solemnly. Morwena was grateful Cyrus giving her a moment to compose herself. Grateful, too, for the little bit of affection to assuage Freya’s jealous nature.
Finding her voice, Morwena asked, “How long are you in town?”
Cyrus smiled wistfully. “Alas, I’m leaving in the morning. Heading to Primorsk, this little town on the Baltic Sea, northwest of St. Petersburg. I’ve been accepted into the Sea Serpents. In Durmstrang culture, this is a big step up socially. My new mates have a boat. They want to give me some sailing lessons before the start of term. I told them I’ve never sailed, but they think, because I’m English, it’s in my blood. We’ll see,” he added deprecatingly.
Morwena gazed fervently up at him. “Do they talk to you in English?”
“God no. But, after two years at Durmstrang, my Russian’s getting pretty good. My German, too. I’ll get by.”
Their parents were wrapping up their conversation. “It’s too bad you’re leaving so soon,” said Morwena. “Have a good term!”
He patted her arm. “I shall. You, as well.” With a nod to Freya, he left with his parents.
For the rest of the night, Morwena had obsessed over Cyrus. She tried to recall anything anyone had ever told her about Cyrus’ time at Durmstrang. She even mulled over the bragging of Cyrus’ annoying cousin, Reginald Dennison, who was Freya’s age. Cy picked up a female servant at Durmstrang. She’s an English squib who was sent to Durmstrang during the war. Cy’s family has adopted her. But, Tabitha is quite a few years older than Cyrus, and, she’s a squib. Not really marriage material.
Morwena had long thought that Cyrus would be a good match for her. She had researched their lineage, and they were not closely related. (Most Pure Blood families are related to one another, if distantly.) He was annoying and rude as an eleven year old, but now . . . .
I could marry him, if he doesn’t have some other girl I don’t know about.
After dinner, she retired to her room. She lay on her bed and gazed into her crystal Witchter ball, which is a social media platform for wizards and witches. Durmstrang was an all-male school, but there was a sister school for witches nearby, called Snegurka. The two student bodies combined for several social functions throughout the year.
Cyrus had posted his promotion to the Sea Serpents on Witchter and received a hundred and eighteen messages of congratulations. Most were from boys. Morwena researched each girl on the list. Two were older cousins who had gone through Hogwarts already and were now married with children.
Seven girls from Snegurka had sent their congratulations. They were all Morwena’s age. Two Russians, three blond Swedes, one from Bavaria and another from Romania. They all seemed to be in the same clique. None seemed to have the upper hand over the others.
Still, seven of them. And, some of them are quite pretty.
It was enough to make her worry, ponder and scheme late into the night. Hence, she had overslept.
After a quiet breakfast alone, she decided that she must write Cyrus a letter. If I post her a note on Witchter, those other girls will see it, and they’ll do their best to thwart me. If I send something to him directly, they’ll be none the wiser.
She repaired to her room once more and sat at her desk while a grey slate rain fell on the lawn and trees of her estate. She wrote, “Dearest Cyrus,” but quickly wiped it out and started again. (Parchment and quill both being enchanted, they acted like a word processor.) “Dear Cyrus.” Better, she thought. Don’t tip your hand too much.
“It was so nice to see you last night. I’m sorry that you and I didn’t have longer to talk. I would love to hear more of your Durmstrang adventures.”
Here she paused, and gazed with trepidation upon what she had written. Am I coming on too strong? She closed her eyes and gathered her courage while outside, the summer rain turned into a fine mist.
“Perhaps, when you are back in town, we could . . . .” Am I asking him on a date? This seemed completely improper.
She erased the line. “If ever you are out of school, and we all are still at Hogwarts, you should swing by and see all of us. We’d be thrilled to see you.”
Her shoulders rose, as if someone were tickling her. Her courage was seeping away. Am I really going to send this to him?
At the door of her room there was a soft knock. Morwena cried out, “Just a moment!” She swept the letter into a stack of parchment and dropped it into the canvas bag she used for her books at school. She quickly checked her face in the mirror to make sure she was at least somewhat presentable before calling out, “Come in.”
Freya opened the door and announced solemnly, “Lara Guishar.” She stood aside, and there was Lara, in jeans and a green knit sweater. Her sandy blond hair was pulled back with a green headband.
“Oh Lara,” cried Morwena happily. “It’s so good to see you. Did you tromp all the way over here in the rain?”
Lara smiled. “My umbrella, coat and rain boots are all downstairs. Freya said it would be alright if I were in my stocking feet upstairs. She raised one foot to show off her white socks, stretching just to her ankles.
“I’ll go,” said Freya solemnly.
Morwena had a large room with a canopy bed, a desk with a wooden chair for homework, and another plush chair in the corner for reading. A full length mirror hung on one wall. Morwena stood and greeted Lara with both hands. “Please, have a seat,” said Morwena, offering the plush chair, with its pattern of pastel pink flowers.”
Lara sat down with her hands in her lap. She seemed nervous and shy. Morwena was bursting to tell her about Cyrus, yet, she didn’t want to tip her hand. After all, Lara was a relatively new friend. Mostly, they studied together.
“How is your summer going?” asked Morwena.
“Fine. The days seem long and slow, yet they’re slipping away from me faster than I realize. We’ll be back in school before I know it.”
“Yes. It is nice, having a little break. My family traveled to Italy for a few weeks. Lovely, but a little warm for my English blood.”
The plush chair seemed poised to swallow Lara up. She drew in a breath and straightened, so that she was perched right on the edge of the seat. Gazing right at Morwena, she asked, “How’s Rhiannon doing?”
Morwena gazed keenly back at Lara. This did not seem to her mind to be an idle question. “She’s doing as well as she can. Rhi . . . she never makes things easy for herself.”
Lara nodded. “I’ve always pitied her a little, when I wasn’t scared half to death of her.” Lara gave a nervous laugh. “She’s so tall and gruff. But, she must have a hard life, to be that way from such a young age.”
Morwena nodded. “She has had a hard life. And, she makes things harder for herself by being so . . . well, as you said, gruff.”
Rhiannon was often teased by the other girls. Her height made her awkward and clumsy. Morwena was instinctively protective of her. Yet, Morwena didn’t sense that Lara held any malicious intent towards Rhiannon. She decided to divulge a bit of gossip.
“You know, Rhi has been spending time this summer with Philip Harkenborough.”
“Oh! I didn’t know, honestly.”
“They hatched a plan while I was in Italy. When I got back, they had convinced Grandmother Ashfeld that Philip was courting Rhiannon!” The girls laughed lightly. “Mrs. Ashfeld approves of this of course. She’s quite pleased that Rhianon found herself a proper boy from a respected family. She has allowed the two of them to meet regularly all summer, so long as I, or Rhiannon’s sister, Shona, is around to chaperone.”
“They aren’t really courting, are they?” asked Lara.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Morwena, “but as to what they are up to, I have no idea. They are being quite secretive about it. I think they are researching something. Philip is doing the research and then sharing his findings with Rhiannon.
“As part of the ruse, they purchased matching sets of stationery. Philip’s is blue, and Rhiannon’s is pink. Can you imagine? She hates the color pink!”
“Philip is quite the historian,” said Lara. “Maybe they’re researching her father’s family.”
“Perhaps. But, they are also practising spells.”
“Spells?” Lara’s eyes were wide. “What sort of spells?”
Morwena shook her head. “They won’t tell me. It’s really not like her to be this secretive, at least, not with me. I think they’re afraid of Mrs. Ashfeld discovering their true intentions.”
“What’s the Ashfeld Estate like?”
Morwena sighed. “It was a grand estate once, but now it’s completely fallen into disrepair. Overgrown trees crowd the paths, the gate has rusted, the tennis court hasn’t been mown in ages. It’s really quite sad.”
“Do they have a water feature? Like, a fountain, or a pond or something?”
Morwena shook her head. “No. Just a tangled, overgrown garden.”
Lara suddenly relaxed, and sunk back into the chair. “It’s funny about her and Philip. I wonder what they’re up to?”
Morwena gazed keenly at Lara. It was typical of Slytherins to ask purposeful conversations, designed to flatter or curry favour with someone powerful, for instance. But, she knew that girls from the other houses just talked. They made conversation without any ulterior motive.
Yet, Lara the Hufflepuff appeared to need desperately to know about the features of the Ashfeld Estate. Did she really walk all this way in the rain to ask me if Rhiannon’s grandmother had a water feature on her property?
Morwena didn’t know what to make of it. She made a mental note to record this conversation in her diary later that night.
[And with that, we are off! What are Rhi and Philip up to? Will Rhi drown? Stay tuned!
It’s so good to be back writing for HPFF. All during the year that I was away, my audience read my stories. I count my reads every month, and I’m always encouraged when I see those counts rise. I was quite eager to come back and continue this series.
It’s been a busy year for me! The big news is that I have finally found a publisher for my novel, The Gospel of Thomas! It’s about a boy named Thomas dating Adeline, the daughter of an Evangelical church pastor. I wrote Gospel after Dragon Wand. I make references to it in the Author’s notes at the end of Dragon Wand and during the writing of Witches of Slytherin. It took longer to find a publisher than it did to write! I’m delighted to finally be able to share this story with my readers.
The manuscript is so long that my publisher and I have decided to split the story in two. Book One: Revelation is out now. Book Two: Rapturewill come later.
Warning: The Gospel of Thomas is intended for an older teen. There is strong language, vivid sexual scenes and some scenes that are flat out scary. The younger members of my audience should definitely wait to read it. Everyone else: Revelation is on sale now, in paperback and ebook, exclusively at Amazon.
As for the chapter you just read - HarryPotter.Wikia describes at length the mysteries and controversies surrounding Durmstrang. Where is it located? Is it an all-male school, or do girls attend Durmstrang also? Rowling stated in Pottermore that Durmstrang was in Sweden, but others feel that Krum’s descriptions from Goblet of Fire fit Norway better, or even Western Russia. The movie Goblet of Fire portrays Durmstrang as an all male school, but there is a reference in the book to an unnamed female Durmstrang student.
In Prophesies, I’m voting for Durmstrang to be in Western Russia, near Finland. I also think that it’s an all male school. Durmstrang girl, as Potter.Wikia calls her, must be from a sister school, which I invented a name for on the spot, as I wrote this chapter. (Snegurka, or Snegurochka, refers to a Russian fable about a girl made of snow.)
Details of Durmstrang hierarchy, the clans, etc., are all my own invention and should not be considered canon. However, I consider everything I do here at HPFF to be Open Source. If you would like to use these concepts in one of your stories, please do so. Just give me a nod in the author’s notes.
That’s enough rambling for now. Thank you very much for coming back and reading me! There is much, much more to come. I better get back to it! Fondly, Cartmell.]
Chapter 2: Raid on the Attic
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Raid on the Attic
That morning, while the rain fell, Rhiannon MacDougal lay on her bed and waited for everyone to leave the house. First to leave was Rhiannon's younger sister, Shona. Their mother, Meriam, took Shona to a friend’s house, but a few minutes later, Meriam was back. Rhiannon heard her talking to Grandmum downstairs. Meriam called up the stairs to Rhiannon that she was leaving again to go shopping.
Rhiannon called back down, “All right! Have a good time!” in her most cheerful voice, trying to keep out the bitterness and sarcasm that was so prevalent in her conversations with family these days. She didn’t want her mother to come back up the stairs and ask how Rhiannon was feeling. She didn’t want Meriam to delay her shopping trip. She wanted her mother to go.
Downstairs, there was the screech of the tea kettle. Rhiannon waited, tapping her feet impatiently on the footboard of her bed, waiting for the old woman to finish her tea and to leave. It was Grandmum’s day to play bridge with three other equally evil curmudgeon witches.
Finally, the Estate’s House Elf, Hattie, scampered up the stairs to the door of Rhiannon’s room. “Miss Rhiannon!” she called. “Miss Rhiannon! The Mistress has left. You wanted me to tell you.”
Rhiannon got up and opened the door. “Thank you, Hattie.” Rhiannon was polite to Hattie. She felt an affinity to the House Elf, for Grandmother Ashfeld treated the both of them with hatred, cruelty and disdain.
Rhiannon pulled her curly orange hair back and slipped a black scrunchie through it to keep it in place. The effect was comical - she now looked as if an orange explosion was erupting from the back of her skull. But, now was not the time to be fashion-conscious. She had a dangerous mission ahead of her, and she needed her hair out of the way.
She closed the door again and removed her skirt. She pulled a heavy knit sweater, dyed Slytherin green, from her dresser drawer. Tucked within it was a pair of pants Rhiannon had purchased while out shopping with Morwena earlier in the summer. She had smuggled the pants into the house by hiding it within the sweater, and they had stayed hidden until that moment.
I’ll need pants up there, too. I’ll be crawling around on my knees. Better to be in pants than one of these skirts.
There was a time in her life when Rhiannon wore pants or shorts every day. She climbed trees and played football with the boys in her neighborhood. All of that ended when Meriam moved herself and her two daughters back home to live with her mother.
Grandmother Ashfeld did not approve of girls climbing trees or wearing pants like a boy. She ordered that Rhiannon wear dresses and skirts, and grow her hair long like a “proper girl.” She pointed out Rhiannon’s every shortcoming and failure. Meriam gave most of her attention to the younger sister, Shona. Rhiannon bore her grandmother’s assaults without any protection.
Rhiannon was always taller and more awkward than her peers. Clothes never fit her right. Her feet were too big for pretty, dainty shoes. Her hair, which was manageable when kept short, became a tangled mess as she grew it longer.
The girls of Godric’s Hollow were not quick to accept Rhiannon in their midst. Rhiannon played rough. She was loud and temperamental. The girls were cold and cruel back to her.
If I hadn’t met Morwena, I might have thrown myself in the river.
Rhiannon pushed away these thoughts and slipped out of her room. Hattie was still standing there. “Miss Rhiannon!” she said, aghast. “You know how the Mistress feels about you wearing pants!”
“I need to wear them today,” said Rhiannon coolly.
“Well, you best have them off again before the Mistress gets home. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Rhiannon ignored the elf, and strode to a corner of the upper landing that was out of sight of the main hall. There, hidden from view by a curtain, was a ladder, connected to a metal track. Rhiannon slid the ladder along the track until it locked into place, below the hatch which led to the attic.
Hattie was still lingering, looking around worriedly, as if her Mistress would be returning at any moment. “Where are you going, Miss?”
“I need to get something out of the attic.”
Hattie began to wring her hands. The attic was off limits to Rhiannon and Shona. “Shall I fetch it for you?”
“No. I want to get it myself.”
Hattie was now wringing her bat-like left ear. “But Miss, there are dangerous things in the attic. Forbidden things!”
“I know. I’ll be careful.” Rhiannon smiled at the elf, then she climbed up the ladder and pushed open the hatch.
The air was stale and dusty. Rain patted prettily on the tiles above her head. All around her were scattered boxes and trunks. Only the nearest were fully visible in the darkness.
Despite her upbeat manner towards Hattie, a deep unease was filling her. She could feel the Dark Magic as a cold, piercing force.
She clambered the rest of the way up the ladder and sat down in a narrow space, with her feet dangling in the air. The hatch lay under a peak in the roof, so in this one section there was room for her head. The roof narrowed sharply to her left and right. There was no path to crawl amongst the hidden treasures. The item she sought was, predictably, not readily at hand.
She raised her wand. (Below, Hattie, watching, gave a gasp of alarm and then covered first her mouth, then her eyes.) Rhiannon waved the wand and uttered a firm incantation, one that she and Philip had been practising. The spell illuminated any magical objects that were nearby.
The attic space was suddenly lit with a bright golden light, as everything in the attic had some magical property. Rhiannon squinted into the glare as she gazed around the room.
With some additional wand motions, she was able to modify the spell so that it illuminated only benevolent magical objects in the bright golden light. This lowered the brightness considerably. Other objects in the room began to glow dully purple. Some of these had an aura that was bright red.
Purple for Dark Magic artifacts, recalled Rhiannon. Red signifies magical traps.
The Ashfeld family had been turning out Dark Wizards for two and a half centuries. The attic was full of ancient evil treasures, protected by potent curses. A wrong move here could end her life, or leave her permanently disfigured.
Rhiannon wasn’t interested in any of the Dark Magic artifacts. She wanted something more personal, intimate.
It’s here somewhere. Mother said she kept most all of his stuff.
It belongs to me. Shona doesn’t even remember him. He died when she was two.
Rhiannon continued to gaze into the gloom. There were some gold glowing boxes near her. She stacked them one on top of the other, and inched deeper into the space. The wood roof was now pressing a little on her hair. A few meters away from where she knelt, against the wall of the house, some boxes were glowing brightly yellow gold.
Sticking out of one of the boxes was a slender wooden pole smoothly carved. Carved into the pole were some letters. In the golden light she could see their shape: the name MacDougal, and a number, 42.
This was what Rhiannon sought: A 1994 Firebolt, etched with her father’s name and number, from his days as Chaser for the Wimbourne Wasps.
Between her and her quarry was a large trunk with a domed lid. It was glowing deeply purple, indicating Dark Magic objects were contained within it. Around the lid was the red aura, indicating a trap. Rhiannon edged as close as she dared to the trunk. Whatever was inside was chilling her to the bone.
Philip had been studying magical traps and relaying instructions to Rhiannon via the blue parchment stationery Morwena had seen. Rhiannon and Philip had convinced Grandmother Ashfeld that they were now a romantic couple and would be sending love letters back and forth to each other. By this ruse, they were able to meet regularly. Philip had access to books that Grandmother would have never allowed Rhiannon to read, because they were improper subjects for a lady. He sent her copious notes each day on the blue parchment.
Whatever you do, don’t touch anything that glows purple. Assume it has some curse or trap embedded in it that will activate when you touch it. The traps will also be tuned to react to certain spells, like the Summoning Charm, Accio. Any use of Accio in the attic is likely to trigger one or more of the traps. Setting off a single trap in such a confined space could set off several others, so you must be very cautious not to touch anything that isn’t glowing golden yellow.
Philip pleaded with her repeatedly. You can’t use Accio. Don’t even say a word that starts with A. Don’t take chances.
But, there is a command for brooms alone that should be safe to use . . . .
There had been no way for them to test this hypothesis. Rhiannon would simply have to try, and see what happened.
She reached out her left hand and called out in a clear voice, “Up!”
Ten feet away, the wand shivered, then lay still against the wall.
“Up!” she cried again. Another shiver, then nothing.
Rhiannon scooted as close as she dared to the domed trunk. Its dark magic was probing her, like icy fingers, trying to divine her intentions. She pushed her thoughts away from it and focused on the broomstick.
Philip had worried that the broom might not immediately respond to her command, especially if there were some distance between Rhiannon and the broom. He wrote in one of his letters: Most magical objects want to be used. They want a master who will treasure them and use them with vigor and enthusiasm. So, don’t be afraid to speak to the broomstick. Tell it who you are and why you want it.
Pulling in a deep breath and straightening herself as best that she could in the cramped space, she called out, “Firebolt! I am the daughter of Kellan MacDougal. Come to me! It’s time to fly again! Up! UP!”
The broomstick lept from the wall and came at her with such blinding speed that the handle’s tip nearly hit her in the jaw. When she grasped it, the wood felt warm, like her wand did after a vigorous practise session. She eased it carefully over the trunk and pointed it down into the open hatch.
“Go down and wait for me,” she told it. She let go, and it floated downwards, stopping parallel to the floor about four feet in the air.
Rhiannon climbed backwards out of the hatch, easing her feet into the open space until, one by one, they found the ladder rungs. She made two steps down and closed the hatch behind her.
Hattie was still wringing her hands. Her large, bulging eyes flitted from Rhiannon to the broomstick and back again. “This is Mr. MacDougal’s broomstick,” said the elf. “The Mistress will not like that you have it.”
Rhiannon, her feet on the carpet once more, dragged the ladder back to its hiding place behind the curtain. “Well, I have it. And, I’m going to take it somewhere so she can’t come and confiscate it from me.”
She grabbed the broomstick and headed back to her room. The elf followed nervously behind her. “You’re not going out in those pants, are you, Miss? Mistress might find out, and she will be dreadfully angry.”
Rhiannon sighed. This was far too likely. She grabbed her skirt off the floor where she had left it. Instead of putting it back in her drawer, however, she grabbed her black satchel and roughly shoved the skirt into it. Then, she pulled a cloak from the closet and drew the hood over her head.
“Where are you going now, Miss?” asked Hattie.
“Will you be back for lunch?”
“No. I’ll be home for supper.”
“Where shall I say you’ve gone?”
“Very well, Miss. I’m so glad you made it out of the attic. I hope you don’t make a habit of going up there.”
Rhiannon shook her head. “I got what I came for.”
“And, you best not let the Mistress catch you wearing those slacks!”
“I won’t,” said Rhiannon, sternly.
Rhiannon was truthful when she said she planned no more raids on the attic. But, she didn’t tell the whole truth. She needed the broomstick far from her grandmother’s sphere of influence. If I’m going to keep it forever, I need to get it to Philip’s for safekeeping.
[Next up: A rendezvous between Rhiannon and Philip!]
Chapter 3: The Rendezvous
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All morning, while the rain fell, Philip Harkenborough sat in his upstairs room, gazing down at the street, worrying about Rhiannon. He had crafted the plan with her, but he could not help her execute it. Rhiannon had been adamant: If he had entered her house when her mother and grandmother were both gone, her grandmother would find out, and Rhiannon would be in deep trouble.
“But,” argued Philip, “if you touch one of those Dark Magic traps, you could die!”
She had only smirked at him. “I promise I won’t die, Hark.”
They planned to meet that morning at 10:30, rain or shine, at the edge of town, near a practice Quidditch field. At 10 am, the rain turned to a fine mist. Philip got ready to go. He wrapped a waterproof cloak around himself. He took with him his own broom and a bag with a Quaffle, a practice Snitch and two water bottles inside.
He said good-bye to his House Elf and left the house with his bag on his arm and his broom across his shoulder. He walked through the cobblestone streets of town, amongst the quaint houses, until he came to the field at the edge of town. He checked his watch, but it was only 10:15. He doubted very much that Rhiannon would be early. He set his bag down on a park bench, mounted his broom and flew slowly in a wide arc.
A voice called out, “Oi, Hark!” It wasn’t Rhiannon, however, but his old friend, Michael Bendrix. Michael was flying his own broom. He was taller than Philip, and his brown hair was looking unkempt and shaggy.
Philip called back,“Hullo, Mike!” Philip landed, and Michael dropped down on the grass beside him.
“Is that your new broom!” asked Michael, excitedly.
“Yes. I got it for my birthday.” Philip turned the handle, showing off the word Nimbus carved into the handle.
“Oh, very nice,” said Michael. “The Nimbus 550 isn’t as fast in a straight line as my Comet R, but it turns quicker. Fancy trying out for the House team this year?”
“Yes. I’ll try out for Seeker.”
Michael nodded sagely. “The 550 is a good Seeker’s broom, but it could use a little more horsepower.”
Philip took his friend’s digs in stride. “Fancy a race?” he asked, politely.
Michael’s eyes lit up. He loved the opportunity to show off the straight ahead speed of his Comet R. “Where to?”
Philip pointed off across the field to a lonely oak tree, standing on top of a knoll, about a half kilometer in the distance. “To the oak and back.”
Michael continued in his wise tone, in perfect mimicry of his older cousin, Archie Stollencroft. “You know you can’t keep up with me in a straight line, but you might catch me on the turn, and make this a close race.”
Philip nodded. He could barely contain his glee. This won’t be a close race, Mike, he mused. This isn’t a 550.
The two boys mounted their brooms. Michael conjured a Formula One style starting gate, with lights that dropped from red to yellow to green. When both riders had a green light, they started forward.
Philip’s broom started quicker, for the Comet Rs have what Liam Wren called “turbo lag.” Philip kept a steady pace and waited for Michael to shoot past him. Philip lowered himself slightly on his broom, but kept about fifteen meters behind his friend.
As they approached the tree, Michael broke into a wide arc. The Comet Rs turn with reluctance. Alright, thought Philip. Time to take the wrapper off this broom.
He pulled up on the handle and the broom came to a gut wrenching halt. With a sharp yang, he turned around so that he was facing the direction they had come. Michael was just coming out of his wide turn when Philip leaned down on his broom and whispered, “Go!”
The grass below him became a blur. The mist stung his face and eyes as he shot forward. Before he knew it, he was above the roofs of the houses, a hundred meters past the place where he meant to stop.
He eased to a stop and coasted back to the lawn where Michael was waiting for him, laughing. “What the hell is that thing?”
“It’s a Nimbus,” said Philip coyly.
“That’s not a 550.”
“No. It’s an 850 XF.”
Michael let out a loud laugh. “An 850 XF? That’s a pro broom! How’d you manage that? They cost a bloody fortune!”
Philip smiled. “We were in the shop, and the salesperson showed us the 550, and my dad said what you did, that the 550 didn’t have enough horsepower. ‘My boy’s gonna be Seeker, see?’ he says. So, the clerk started showing us some of the pro brooms, and before I knew it, we were walking out of there with this little beauty.”
“If you were a con man, Hark, you could win a few wagers, racing that thing, ‘fore word got around.”
Philip smiled. “That’s not my intention. I don’t want to call attention to myself by having the model number on the broom handle. I’ll let people know I’ve got a Nimbus. They’ll figure out soon enough it’s not a 550. They don’t need to know I’ve got the pro model.”
“I think you’ve gotten sly and subtle all of a sudden,” said Michael, adopting his sage tone once more. “It’s your Slytherin friends rubbing off on you.”
Philip laughed. “Actually, it was Morwena Felwich’s idea to tell Father to get me a broom for my birthday! She said to appeal to his ego by telling him I was going to try out as Seeker for the House team. Now, he thinks he’s gone and made me into the next Harry Potter.”
The boys laughed. Philip’s eyes drifted from Michael to the direction of the Ashfeld Estate. Sure enough, there was a black cloaked figure flying towards them. Philip broke into a wide grin and cried, “She did it!”
Michael turned his head to see what Philip was looking at. He quickly cottoned on. “Oh, I see,” he said teasingly. “This is a rendezvous!”
Rhiannon eased to a stop and dropped to the grass next to the boys. She gave Michael a cautious gaze and a curt nod.
“Hullo MacDougal,” said Michael. “Whatcha got there?” he asked, indicating her broom. She turned it towards him, but did not speak. Seeing the name carved into the handle, he said, “You got your name carved onto it already?”
Rhiannon still would not speak. Philip said, “That’s a 1994 Firebolt.”
“Oh! Your dad’s broom, then. Hence the 42. I see it now. Was that his number for the Wasps?”
“Yes,” she said softly.
Philip gestured towards his sack. “Mike, I’ve brought some balls. Rhiannon and I were going to fly around and play catch. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Oh, I don’t want to intrude on your date,” said Michael teasingly. “I’ll see you too around.” He flew off.
Rhiannon let out a sigh, though of relief or exasperation, Philip couldn’t tell. He reached out and touched her arm. “You did it! Well done.”
“Thanks.” She pulled down her hood and fiddled with her hair, drawing it back into the black band. “Everything worked just like you thought it would. It came right to me when I called for it.”
“I see you’re wearing your slacks.”
“Yes,” she said, blushing. “Don’t fancy flying in a skirt.” She pointed to Philip’s broom and asked, “How are you managing that thing?”
“First time I got it up to full speed, I blew past my target by a hundred meters.”
“We both need practise. Let’s fly around for a bit.” She mounted her broom and shot up into the sky. Philip followed her.
Rhiannon flew hard towards the lonely oak tree. Philip had wondered if the old Firebolt could still accelerate to 150 miles per hour in ten seconds. He had no way to measure its speed, but it seemed plenty fast enough. He stayed right on her tail, but her sudden swerve at the oak tree caught him by surprise. He shot wide of the tree, made a sharp turn and then hustled after her.
At their starting point, the place where they had left their bags, Rhiannon made another tight turn and shot off back towards the oak. Philip knew his 850 was capable of hairpin turns at gut wrenching speeds. He had seen plenty of professional Quidditch games, with Seekers and Chasers flying 850s at breakneck speeds.
Just because something is possible doesn’t make it wise, he reminded himself. He made another looping turn and continued chasing Rhiannon.
After another lap, she came to a stop and landed in the shade of the oak. Philip landed beside her. “You’re really flying well,” he told her.
She nodded. “I fly whenever I get a chance to, which is next to never. I could never stand the school brooms.” She gazed wistfully off into the distance. “Can’t wait to get on the pitch, with a Quaffle in my hand.”
“I’m looking forward to watching you play Quidditch. Maybe one of us will finally beat Gryffindor. They haven’t lost a match since before our first year.”
“Do you know why the Gryffindors fly so fast?” she asked.
Philip shrugged. “I suppose they all have good brooms.”
Rhiannon shook her head. “They mostly fly Comet Rs, like your friend Bendrix, or Cleansweep Silverstones. None of them have pro brooms like yours and mine. So, why do they fly so fast?”
“I don’t know,” said Philip.
Rhiannon gazed down at him with her blue eyes bright and fierce. “It’s their courage. They’re not afraid. That’s what gives them the edge.
“If you’re going to beat the Gryffindor seeker, if I’m going to outfly a Gryffindor keeper and score a goal, we can’t sit back and let the broom do the work. We’ve got to fly like they do, with the same nerve, the same bravado.”
Philip smiled. “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“So, you’re going to try out for the Silver Snakes as a Chaser?”
“Yes. I don’t want to be a reserve, either. I want to start. I want to set a school record. Most goals scored, farthest shot, something.” She added harshly, “I’m not gonna be the girl and collect assists, making the boys on the team look good with my perfect passes.
“I want some brat twenty years from now to be dusting my trophy during detention, and have to read that on such and such a day, Rhiannon MacDougal did this!”
Philip smiled. “Well, if you’re going to be a record breaking Chaser for the Silver Serpents, we better practise your shot.”
Rhiannon flushed. There was a surge of emotion which she held back, biting down on her lower lip. Then, she said, “Yes. We’d better.”
Though Rhiannon and Philip didn’t know it at the time, a couple hundred miles away in Northern Ireland, two Gryffindor boys were pondering which trick from the Slytherin playbook they might steal. As it happened, they were thinking about Rhiannon and her sister, but, a month passed before Rhiannon and Philip were aware of the plot.
Nearby was the neighborhood Quidditch pitch. The hoops stood like barren, windblown trees all year long. In the winter, when the grass was covered in snow, people still came out and played Quidditch. Not just children, either. Teams of adults played as well.
There were no other teams flying at that moment. Philip tossed his Quaffle to Rhiannon and watched as she streaked towards the hoops. As she drew close, she slowed. She held the broom with her right hand and cradling the Quaffle under her left arm. (Like Philip’s friend, Liam, Rhiannon was left handed.)
She eased the ball out of the crook of her arm and let it roll down her forearm to her hand. With a swift rotation of her arm, she sent the ball hurling towards one of the hoops. Her aim was off, however, and the Quaffle clanged off the rim.
Philip retrieved it and tossed the ball back to her. “Go on!” he cried. “Try it again.”
She came around for another pass. This time, fifteen feet from the hoop, she reared her broom and fired off another shot. This time it went through.
Philip raced after the ball. Quaffles are enchanted. While they don’t fly of their own accord, like Bludgers and Snitches, they also don’t fall immediately to the ground. They float along in the air until a Chaser or Keeper sweeps them up. Philip gathered the ball in his arm and brought it back to Rhiannon.
“I’m rubbish at this, obviously,” she said. “Any Keeper could have blocked that shot.”
“You just need practise,” said Philip, earnestly.
“When the f- am I gonna get practise?” she snapped back, angrily.
Philip continued, undaunted, in his gentle tone. “At school. Even if it’s raining, I’ll go out to the pitch with you and chase after your shots. Come on. Have one more go, and then we’ll pack it in and get lunch.”
Rhiannon swooped around and took one last shot. She was still deliberate in her throwing motion, and Philip could see her worry that she wasn’t yet good enough to start for the Serpents.
[Philip's date with Rhiannon continues in the next chapter! Stay tuned!]
Chapter 4: The Honourary Badger
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The Honourary Badger
At lunch, they reviewed the recent pro Quidditch final between Wimbourne and Tutshill. Both Philip and Rhiannon had been routing for the Wasps, but the Tornadoes won. “Only because Tutshill’s owner spent a fortune on those two Spanish flyers,” said Rhiannon, bitterly.
Philip nodded. “Michael said the same thing.”
“And, the refs missed that foul! Did you see it? Barker for the Tornados clearly hit our Seeker, Whittingly, with his beater bat.” Rhiannon gestured angrily. “But, nothing! Not even after they showed it on the replay!”
“Yes, the referees do seem to miss the most obvious of fouls,” said Philip, politely.
“Of course, I had to go to Wennie’s to watch the match. There was no way I could watch it at home.” Philip had only just learned this meant Morwena Felwich. He had never heard anyone else call her Wennie. Rhiannon continued, “Grandmum would not approve of me hollering at the Omnivision like a drunken sailor.”
Philip laughed. “I’m sure you sounded nothing like a drunken sailor!”
Philip was amazed at how verbose Rhiannon was when she was with just one other person. When they first became potion partners the previous autumn, she would hardly speak to him at all. Only after a period of months, as Philip continued to display kindness and loyalty to her, did she slowly open up. Now, it seemed, he was learning new things about her every day, like her passion for Quidditch, and her dedication to her father’s former team, Wimbourne.
After lunch, Rhiannon went into the hall bathroom and changed back into her skirt. Philip heard her cursing loudly through the closed door. When she emerged, she wore her skirt, but her feet were bare.
“I forgot my shoes and stockings,” she said morosely. In her hands, she held her grey cotton socks and black athletic shoes. “I can’t wear these with my skirt! I’ll look ridiculous!”
“What would happen if you wore your slacks home?” asked Philip. “Would your grandmother scold you? Ground you?”
Rhiannon huffed, and dropped her shoes and socks onto the floor. “She’d probably just beat me. It’s quicker.”
Philip forced himself to be calm, but his eyes were wide, and he shuddered. “She has this enchanted staff,” continued Rhiannon, casually, as if she were discussing the weather. “She leans against the doorframe of my room and sends the thing after me like a rabid dog. The more I yell and scream, the longer it hits me.”
Philip looked down at her shoes and socks, so she wouldn’t see the pain and sorrow in his face. “Maybe we could get you a different pair of shoes,” he said softly.
“Where am I going to get shoes?” She asked, hostilely. She bent her knee and raised her left foot. “Nothing fits these feet.”
“That’s why we have magic!” he said brightly, finding his courage once more. “We can transfigure these shoes into black flats. When you get home, you can switch them back.”
“What about stockings?”
“Same solution. We’ll make some out of these athletic socks.”
Rhiannon gazed worriedly at him. “How good are you at Fig?”
“Well, it's not my best subject,” admitted Philip. “You know who's really good at this sort of thing is Stacy.” Rhiannon gazed worriedly at Philip. “Don’t be shy,” said Philip gently. “She’ll want to help us. Let me text her.”
He fished his Witchter ball out of his pocket and sent a text to Stacy. Are you home?
She replied right away. Gimme 10 min
Philip gave Rhiannon an encouraging smile. “She’s busy at the moment. Let’s try again in a few minutes.” Rhiannon crossed her arms tight against her chest. Her teeth bit down onto her lower lip. To distract her, Philip asked, “Isn’t Shona eleven now? Is she coming to Hogwarts?”
Rhiannon nodded. “She can’t wait. She’s been peppering me with questions ever since she got her owl. The Four Houses, sorting, classes, the Forbidden Forest. She wants to take Magical Creatures with Greenleaf, as a First Year, if possible.”
They laughed. They sat back down at the kitchen table to wait. Rhiannon began discussing some of their other friends. “Tess’ sister Aylie is desperate to come to Hogwarts, but she’s only ten. She’ll have to wait another year. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to stow away in Tess’ trunk.”
She smirked at Philip and said dryly, “Not that I care at all, but there are girls in my circle who are quite keen to know who Liam Wren’s next girlfriend will be.”
“No idea,” said Philip, laughing.
There was a soft knock at the front door. The House Elf answered it, and announced, “Master Philip! It’s Miss Stacy!”
Philip rushed to the entryway. Stacy gave him a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “Hullo,” she said, cheerfully. Suddenly, she noticed Rhiannon sitting at the table. “Oh! Rhiannon. It’s so good to see you. How’s your summer?”
Rhiannon’s expression became opaque. “Fine.”
Stacy rushed to Rhiannon’s side and gave her a hug. Rhiannon, not expecting the sudden show of affection, instinctively tensed her shoulders and pulled back.
“We were wondering if you could help us,” said Philip. “Rhiannon is switching from slacks to a skirt, but she doesn’t have the right shoes or stockings.”
“Well, that’s easily fixed,” said Stacy. “What are we working with?”
Philip and Stacy went into the hallway, where Rhiannon’s socks still lay on the hardwood floor. Stacy knelt and poked the socks with her wand. “These won’t do. Philip, fetch me a clean pair of your dress socks, please. Beige, if you’ve got them. Navy, if you don’t.”
Philip ran up the stairs. Stacy looked to Rhiannon, who was still sitting at the table. “Come on,” motioned Stacy. “Let’s try on some shoes, shall we?”
Reluctantly, Rhiannon rose and came over to her. Stacy waved her wand over Rhiannon’s left shoe. The shoe took on the blurry, glowing, malleable form of their Transfiguration lessons. As Stacy bore down in concentration, the shoe’s laces and tongue disappeared. The eyelets became smooth black leather. The foot opening widened, and the profile became narrower. In a few moments, the athletic shoe had become a girl’s leather flat.
“Go ahead and try it on,” said Stacy. “It should be the same size.”
Rhiannon lifted her foot and set it into the shoe. Stacy helped her slip it the rest of the way on. “There you go!” said Stacy brightly. “That fits you pretty well, doesn’t it?”
Rhiannon nodded. Stacy set to work on the second shoe. Philip came down stairs again, with a pair of beige socks. Stacy paused her work to run her fingers across them. “Oh, these are lovely, Philip. They’ll be perfect!”
“Those look like nice socks,” said Rhiannon, worriedly. “I don’t want to wreck them.”
“I have plenty of socks,” said Philip, firmly. “I can give you a pair.” This made Rhiannon flush, and she bit down on her lower lip.
Soon, Stacy had transfigured the other shoe, and turned Philip’s socks into a pair of girl’s knee socks. “I even put a little flower on each one,” said Stacy. “Is that alright?”
Rhiannon nodded. When she touched the socks, she flinched. They're silk!”
“Only the best for you,” said Philip amiably.
Rhiannon sat with her back to Philip and pulled the up the socks. She gazed at her knees for moment before standing. “Thank you,” she said softly.
Stacy was now gazing critically at Rhiannon’s skirt. It was wool plaid, and it hung above her knee. “Is that a school skirt?” asked Stacy.
Rhiannon nodded. “It’s getting small. I need new ones for school. I just hate shopping for clothes.”
“This is more fun, isn’t it?” asked Stacy. “Making clothes with magic!” She stood and took Rhiannon’s hand. “Come,” she said. “Let’s see what we can do about that skirt.”
Stacy lead Rhiannon to a nearby room. “You seem to know your way around this house,” said Rhiannon, a hint of accusation in her voice.
Stacy answered, “Oh yes. I’ve even stayed here, in this room. At Christmas, sometimes, my house gets so full of relatives, I just come over here and move in. Mr. Harkenborough, he’s so busy with work around the Holidays, he doesn’t even know.”
The guest room had a queen sized bed with a flowery bedspread. At the foot of the bed was a crochet wool blanket. Lace curtains were drawn over the curtains, letting in a gauzy afternoon light. Stacy closed the door behind them, then went over to a mirror in a wooden frame, standing on the hardwood floor. “Let’s work over here, shall we?”
Rhiannon lingered by the doorway. “Do I have to take the skirt off?”
“Yes please.” Stacy turned towards the window. Rhiannon removed the skirt and wrapped herself in a blanket. She tossed the skirt over to Stacy, and Stacy began to work on it.
“Is this your hobby?” asked Rhiannon.
“Yes! Just a few weeks ago, I was fixing up Lara’s favourite nightgown. It’s green and flowery, and very pretty, but it had gotten tight, you know, in the chest, and short. I made it bigger and longer so she could keep wearing it.”
Rhiannon, the blanket wrapped around her legs like a towel, stood by the bed and watched the other girl work. She asked, in a cruel tone, “Are you still in love with Tess Covenshire?”
Stacy knew this about Slytherins, that they often asked aggressive questions in order to assert control over a situation. She laughed it off. “Can you blame me?”
Rhiannon pressed on. “She’s straight.”
Stacy sighed. “I know. That didn’t stop me from falling in love with her.” Turning her attention back to the skirt, she added, “Aren’t you in love with Pauline Langlet?”
Rhiannon flushed deeply at this, but she offered a soft, “Yes.”
“Pauline’s such a pretty girl,” continued Stacy. “Prettier by far than Vanessa Ables, if you ask me. Why the boys go gaga over Ables all the time, I’ll never understand.”
“She’s blonde,” said Rhiannon, meaning Ables.
“Is that all there is to it?”asked Stacy. “Maybe I should dye my hair.” She laughed at her own joke.
“Pauline . . . is straight, too,” said Rhiannon softly.
“Then, we’re in the same boat,” said Stacy, with a hint of reproach.I’m helping you. You should be nicer to me.
Stacy held her wand tip over the skirt and made looping motions with her hand, as if she were sewing. “What are you doing?” asked Rhiannon.
“I want to make it pretty!” said Stacy. “So, I’m making eyelets.”
Rhiannon’s brow furrowed. She maintained a cross, confused expression. Stacy flipped the skirt over and continued making little loops with her wand.
At last, Stacy was done. She set down her wand, and the skirt lost its glowing, liquid form and became solid again. Stacy held it up. “Here you go!”
The plaid wool had been transfigured into light, summerweight cotton; blue, the same shade as Rhiannon’s eyes. The skirt had two layers. The thin outer layer was covered in tiny eyelets, while the heavier inner layer was solid.
Rhiannon took the skirt from Stacy. Turning her back on the other girl, she dropped the blanket and stepped into the skirt. Like her old skirt, there was a zipper and a clasp. The zipper closed smoothly, but she struggled a bit with the clasp.
“Come and see it in the mirror,” said Stacy.”
Rhiannon stared coldly, critically, into the mirror. The waist was smooth and flat, save for a small blue decorative button. The hem now fell just below Rhiannon’s knees. She gave the skirt a little swish with her hand. She tried, in her offhand way, to say, “I almost look pretty in this,” but her voice cracked and her eyes suddenly welled with tears.
Stacy quickly stood and gently brushed her hand against Rhiannon’s arm. “Don’t cry,” she said. “You do look pretty.”
Rhiannon turned away from the mirror and rubbed her eyes roughly. “I don’t know . . .” she struggled to find the right words, “. . . how to repay you.”
“You don’t need to pay me anything,” said Stacy, tenderly. “You’re an Honourary Badger, now. We take care of each other.”
Rhiannon smiled weakly and rubbed her eyes once more. “I should go.”
She took a moment to collect herself, while Stacy sat on the edge of the bed and waited. They went out of the guest room together. Philip was waiting in the front room, reading an old, leather bound book. When he saw the girls, his face brightened, and he stood.
“Rhiannon! You look lovely. Stacy, that skirt is perfect.”
“It just came to me,” she said. “I knew just what I wanted to do.”
To Rhiannon, he asked, “What shall we do with your socks and slacks?”
“I don’t know,” she said morosely. “I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to get away again.”
Philip nodded. “I’ll wash them and keep them here, in case you can. If not, I’ll bring them with me to King’s Cross, September the first.”
Rhiannon touched his arm, then, on impulse, pulled him into a brief hug. “Keep my broom for me.”
“Yes,” he said firmly. “I’ll keep it with my own. We’ll ride them together, again, at school, for certain.”
Philip opened the door for her, but on the threshold, Rhiannon paused and reached one of her long, freckled arms back for Stacy. She pulled Stacy into a hug and said simply, “Hind, thank you.” Then, she was off, walking with long strides back to the Ashfeld Estate.
Philip watched her until she was out of sight, then he gently shut the door. Stacy said, “When she put on the blue skirt, she started to cry.”
Philip nodded. “She’s not used to people being kind to her.”
“She’s so gruff all the time! We wonder why you put up with her. And then, just now, I think I started to get it.”
“I don’t always know how to help her,” said Philip, “but I know she needs all the love we can give her.”
[That’s all for this batch! It may be a few weeks before I can post another chapter. Next up: we get a summertime update from our hero, Liam Wren! And, the Gryffindors execute a Secret Plan! Stay tuned!]
Chapter 5: The Gryffindors Plan Ahead
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The Gryffindors Plan Ahead
Liam Wren, meanwhile, was spending a quiet summer in the town of Biggleswade. This was the first holiday in a while where he felt he could relax. There would be no deluge of letters from Sadie that he had to read and somehow respond to.
He wondered if his mother would notice. He hoped she had forgotten that her eldest son had a girlfriend. Maybe she was relieved when she didn’t see another teary farewell at the train station. Perhaps she was as tired of the steady stream of pink envelopes as Liam was.
At any rate, Liam’s mother, Annie, didn’t say anything about it for several days after his return home. Then, one morning, she brought it up.
She and Liam were cleaning up after breakfast. Liam was clearing the table while Annie was loading the dishwasher. Liam’s younger brother Patrick had gone off to shower. Annie gazed at Liam with a sad and tender look, and said, as gently as she could, “No pink envelopes this summer. No little owl pecking at the window.”
Liam let out a little sigh. “No,” he said after a pause. “We broke up.”
“I’m sorry. Did she break your heart, or did you break hers?”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Liam sadly. Indignation rose within him and he said forcefully, “She has a crazy temper! Flying off the handle over every little thing! Then, she had a go at Lara!” He added sternly, “I wasn't going to put up with that.”
Annie nodded. “I think Sadie was always a little jealous of your special relationship with the Guishars. Having saved Lara’s life and all. The way they foot your tuition bill, and your books.”
Liam wondered how Annie seemed to know all of this about Sadie, but then again, his mother was a girl once. “Anyway, we broke up after that. I must say, it’s a bit nice not having to write a letter every few days. I always felt guilty, sending her one letter for every five she sent me.”
“Do you have your new girl picked out already?”
“No,” said Liam. “I’m not worrying about that. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’ll just have more time to play Quidditch.”
The summer months passed slowly. Liam and his brother couldn’t do magic, except at night, in the house, away from the windows. Liam couldn’t fly his broomstick or practice Quidditch until he returned to school.
Instead, Liam and Patrick played football with the neighborhood boys. Liam stood in goal most times, though he practised his shot as well. Patrick mostly played forward. The two boys relished competing against one another. Patrick tried every trick he could think of to push the ball passed Liam. Likewise, Liam brought all his concentration and experience to bear when Patrick had the ball.
Liam did get a letter that summer, but it was from Philip. Philip told him of the hunt he and Rhiannon made for the old Firebolt, and how she had overcome the traps in the attic and called the broom to her.
Liam was always suspicious of Rhiannon. She was brusque and cold and, to his eye, not particularly pretty. She had been cruel to Philip early on, and though Philip had forgiven her, Liam had not.
Liam also held a grudge against those Slytherin girls, due to an incident that occurred when they were all First Years. Over a period of months, Liam had won over the Dragon Wand from Cyrus Kane, a First Year Slytherin. Liam was able to summon the Dragon Wand to himself in a moment of great peril.
Once the Dragon Wand had chosen Liam, it refused to work for Cyrus at all. The school offered to compensate the Kanes for the expensive wand, but the Kanes refused. Instead, they pulled their son from the school and installed him at Durmstrang.
Morwena and her friends had taken Cyrus’ side in the controversy, and had called Liam a thief. Liam felt he had approached the Dragon Wand innocently, and he deeply resented the girls’ accusations. That Rhiannon had been one of the girls calling Liam a thief was another black mark against her.
The next day, he and Patrick both received letters, via owl post, from the school. It was their annual supply list. Liam scanned quickly through the list. One item caught his eye: Formal Robes were now a required item.
He checked his list against Patrick’s. Patrick’s list was identical to the one Liam had received as a Second Year. There was no mention of formal robes. I better find out what this is all about, he thought.
He could have written back to Philip, but, since this was the summer of not writing letters, he procrastinated.
On the following Tuesday, he received a phone call from his friend Michael. Mike was unused to telephones, and he was caught up in the novelty of them. “These little things are quite useful, aren’t they?” said Michael. “It’s almost magic!”
“And, you can use them to check your email, and go on the internet,” said Liam.
“Yeah, but not to Witchter.”
“Too bad. Hey, got a letter from Hark the other day. He went on for pages about him and the MacDougal girl.”
“Yeah,” said Michael darkly. “Saw them together. They were out flying.”
“Not sure what he sees in that girl,” said Liam.
“Me neither,” said Michael. “That girl’s nothing like Vanessa.” Blond Vanessa was Michael’s favourite, though she never showed any interest in him.
“Oh, hey,” said Liam, “I just remembered. Got my supply list last week. Says we have to buy formal robes.”
“Yeah. They’re required for Fourth Years, and up,” said Michael.
“I thought this was just Madam Malkin trying to make an extra galleon.” Liam was famously frugal with his money.
“No. It’s just that we can go to the Winter Ball this year.”
“A dance. It’s in January. Don’t you remember everybody getting dressed up for it? Archie went when we were First Years.”
“I don’t remember,” said Liam.
“Well, they used to do these dances just every so often, you know? It was called the Yule Ball. Now, they do them every year, but it’s in January. December’s too busy, see, with finals and stuff.”
“Do we have to go?” asked Liam.
“I dunno,” admitted Michael. “But, everybody goes. That’s what the formal robes are for.”
To himself, Liam mused, Just when I lost my girlfriend, I get invited to a dance. At least it's not until January. No need to worry about it right now.
The first weekend in August, Liam went with his mother and brother to Diagon Alley to purchase supplies for the new school year. He was hoping to meet up with Michael during the trip. They tried to coordinate over the phone, but it didn’t work out.
“My Grandmum doesn’t want to go to the Alley on Saturday,” said Michael. “She says it’ll be too busy. She wants to go next Wednesday instead.” Michael’s mother was badly injured during the war. His grandmother took him most places.
“Well, we can’t go on on Wednesday,” said Liam, “‘cause our mum works. We have to go on Saturday.”
Liam tried to coordinate with Philip, but that proved complicated, as Philip was going with Stacy’s family to the Alley, and he had no say as to what weekend it would be. Liam had resigned himself to the fact that, during his one foray into the wizarding world over the summer, he wouldn’t see anyone he knew.
Yet, just as he, Patrick and Annie crossed through the brick wall into Diagon Alley, there were two of his Gryffindor friends, Paul Hewson and Dave Evans, loitering near the ice cream shop.
“Mum,” said Liam. “There’s some friends of ours.”
Annie smiled. “Go and see your friends, boys. I’m going to sit here and enjoy the sights.” She took a chair at the ice cream parlor and began gazing avidly at the passersby.
Liam and Patrick went up to the Gryffindor boys. Paul and Dave both had dark brown hair, but Paul’s was longer. Paul was the more gregarious of the two, but Dave had a sharp wit. They were standing across the alleyway from the entrance to the bookstore. As Liam and Patrick approached, Paul beckoned to them. “Wrens!” he called.
Liam shook each boy’s hand firmly, and the older Gryffindors ran their hands roughly through Patrick’s hair. “You’re just in time,” said Paul, “to see Dave and I perform a Daring Gambit.”
Liam laughed. “What are you planning to do?”
“We have a surprise for the Slytherins,” said Dave.
While Paul spoke to Liam and Patrick, Dave kept looking down the alleyway, as if they were waiting for someone to come along.
“Think about it, Wren,” said Paul to Liam. “When do the Slytherins ever get the better of the Gryffindors?”
Liam smirked, amused. He had Slytherin friends and Gryffindor friends. He had often wondered when one side would ask him for advice about the other. “Well,” said Liam, in a neutral, non-committal way, “you always beat them at Quidditch.”
“Oh yes,” said Paul and Dave together.
“But, they always beat you in points.”
“And, why is that?” asked Paul.
“They care more than you do what the teachers think of them.”
“They certainly love to kiss ass, don’t they?” said Paul.
Liam ignored this comment and continued. “When we want to do something, we just do it. But, Slytherins aren’t like that. Everything they do is planned ahead: what to do, when and with who.”
“They think ahead,” said Paul, gravely. “Exactly.”
Liam wanted to know what the boys had planned. He didn’t want to be in the middle of a conflict, so he attempted to cut them off. “Umberto thinks ahead more than anybody I know. If you were going to try something with him, he thought of it six months ago and made a plan. If you try it, he’ll know what to do.”
Paul gave Liam a firm pat on the back. “Wise words, Wren. Calais is probably the smartest kid in the school. It would be very tough to pull something over on him.”
“But,” said Dave, “Calais is not our target.”
“Who is, then?” asked Liam.
“They just went into the bookstore,” said Dave.
“Come and see, Wrens,” said Paul grandly, “what happens when the Gryffindors plan ahead.”
Paul and Dave led the way into the bookstore. Liam and Patrick followed them. Paul and Dave hunted among the rows, clearly searching for something or someone. Abruptly, they stopped and began discussing Quidditch.
“Tough loss, that Final,” said Paul.
“Really thought Wimbourne was going to pull that one out,” said Dave, sadly.
“My uncle was watching with us,” said Paul. “The whole game, he kept saying, ‘If MacDougal were playing, this would be a rout.”
Liam thought at first that the two simply did not have the attention span to accomplish whatever it was they had set out to do. They had already lost track of their goal and fell into an ongoing conversation about the Quidditch Final.
Yet, just past the boys was a little girl in a black knit dress, a mop of orange hair on the top of her head. At the sound of the name “MacDougal,” she turned her head and began to gaze avidly at Paul and Dave with bright blue eyes.
Encouraged by her interest, Paul began to speak more animatedly, emphasizing each word with a wave of his hand. “MacDougal was my uncle’s favourite player! He could score from anywhere on the pitch. Whenever MacDougal would score a goal, the whole stadium would chant in unison, ‘Mac! Mac! Mac!’”
It was just dawning on Liam who this little girl was when she spoke. “That’s my dad!”
“Who?” asked Paul, feigning innocence.
“MacDougal, the Quidditch player,” said the girl, earnestly. “He was my dad.”
Paul’s face brightened, and he set a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Then you must be Shona MacDougal, the sister of our peer, Rhiannon.”
“How old are you now?” asked Paul.
“I’m eleven! And, I got my owl! I’m buying my books. I’m coming to Hogwarts!”
Paul bent his head so that he was eye to eye with the young girl. “Now Shona, we have nothing but respect for your sister, don’t we boys?” he added, with a look towards Dave and the others. Dave nodded, and with a shrug, so did Liam.
“Your sister is in Slytherin,” continued Paul, speaking softly now. “But your dad was a Gryffindor. You could be a Gryff . . . .”
Before he could continue, around the shelf of books came Rhiannon MacDougal. She was even taller than Liam remembered her being, and she was furious. She stepped right between Paul and Shona and gave Paul a firm shove backward.
“Leave my sister alone!” she shouted.
“Now, Rhiannon,” said Paul gently, “we were just having a nice little . . . .”
She cut him off again. “Stop it! I know what you’re doing! Stop it!”
Paul and the other boys backed away. “Let’s have a chat outside, shall we?” said Paul. Just as they turned to go, Liam looked back and caught little Shona’s eye. She smiled sheepishly and rolled her eyes, as if to say, Sorry about my crazy sister.
Outside in the hazy sunshine, Paul said, “That went about as well as to be expected.”
“Except for the big sister there at the end,” said Patrick.
Paul shook his head. “Thought she'd come on sooner. I’m surprised I got as far into my pitch as I did. You see Wren,” he continued, speaking to Liam, “Rhiannon MacDougal should have been a Gryffindor. She’s not the Tea and Crumpets type! In Gryffindor, she would have been happy. She could hang out with Jill and Alma. It would have been much better for her.”
Dave, sternly: “And we wouldn’t have put up with any lip coming from the Ravenclaws, either.”
“That we would not,” said Paul, firmly. He shrugged, “But, Felwich got to her first, and so, she’s a Slytherin. And then, last June, on the platform, Dave and I saw the little one, and we said to ourselves, we can’t change the past. What’s done is done. But, we can change the future! We are going to do whatever it takes, even snagging a few tricks out of the Slytherin playbook, but we are going to make Shona MacDougal a Gryffindor.”
Setting a firm hand on Patrick’s shoulder, Paul said, “Did you get a good look at Shona?”
“Yeah,” said Patrick. “She’s kinda cute,” he added, slyly.
Paul nodded. “You see her, September 1st, on the platform, on the train, anytime before sorting, say hello. Make her feel at home.”
“Got it,” said Patrick.
“All right,” said Liam. “We really do need to get our shopping done. We’ll see you two later.”
Liam and Patrick went back into the bookstore, while Paul and Dave went on their way. None of them knew that, with their warm-hearted outreach to Shona MacDougal, that they had set a deadly doom upon Shona’s sister, Rhiannon.
But, Lara Guishar knew. Far away in Godric’s Hollow, Rhiannon’s fate weighed heavily on Lara’s mind. She must not go to the lake alone . . . .
[Next up: We spend September the First with little Shona! Patrick makes a surprise move! Stay tuned!]
Chapter 6: The Free Agent
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The Free Agent
It was Tuesday, September the first, 2008. When the Felwiches arrived at Platform 9 ¾, the whole walkway in front of the Hogwarts Express was packed with families. Freya, feeling suddenly shy, clutched her cart and kept close to her mother.
Her father stopped to greet Mrs. Ashfeld, while her mother greeted Aunt Meriam. Morwena gave Rhiannon a firm hug, while Freya gazed cautiously at young Shona. The younger girl wore a shapeless black knit dress, and her hair was piled on top of her head like a mop. Shona has no more fashion sense than her sister does, thought Freya.
Just then, Alyssa Pitchfork emerged from the crowd, wearing a jeans and a very pretty blue and yellow blouse. Her wavy blond hair was pulled back in a scrunchy band, and she had a wide grin on her face. “There you are, Freya! Come on. Let’s socialise!”
Alyssa grabbed Freya by the hand and dragged her into the crowd.
They stopped suddenly in a circle of Second Year girls. Meriko was there, looking incredible in a black and white houndstooth wool dress. Meriko gave Freya a hug, while Alyssa gave a firm hug to Belladonna Took.
Next to Bell was her twin brother, Benedict. The Tooks both had dark brown hair and brown eyes. Bell wore jeans and a white top, while Ben wore jeans and a green polo. Ben gazed longingly at Alyssa. He looked like he was torn between wanting a hug from Alyssa and being terrified that he might actually get one.
Freya caught his eye and asked, “Hello Benedict. How was your summer?”
“Fine, thanks.” Speaking to Freya, he quickly became at ease. “We live in the country. I spent the summer climbing trees and swimming. The Boy’s Life, except that Bell was doing all the same things.”
Freya smiled weakly. Alyssa makes him nervous, but he can talk to me. Because he doesn’t love me.
Shona watched as Alyssa Pitchfork emerged from the mob of people, grabbed Freya by the hand and dragged her off. On impulse, Shona followed them.
There were very few children in Godric’s Hollow who were eleven. Shona had spent her whole life with kids who were either older or younger than she was. Before they went off to Hogwarts, Shona often hung out with Freya and Freya’s old best friend, Penny.
This past year, when everyone else was at Hogwarts, Shona spent most of her time with her younger cousin, Aylie Covenshire.
Shona didn’t know Alyssa Pitchfork well, but she knew Alyssa was popular. Shona tagged along in the hope that Freya would introduce her to Alyssa. Shona reached the circle of girls and found Freya talking to a handsome young boy. She caught Freya’s eye and waited patiently for Freya to introduce her to the boy. Freya, however, said nothing.
Just then, the two boys from the bookstore walked by! Hewson and Evans, Rhiannon had called them. Shona didn’t know which name went with which boy. The more handsome of the pair had long hair and blue eyes, while the other had short hair and brown eyes.
That morning, she had put on the same black dress she had worn to the bookstore in the hope that the boys might see her and recognize her. Sure enough, as they walked passed, they smiled, and the long haired boy said, “Oi, Mac!” Shona grinned back at them.
Freya stormed up to her and grabbed her arm. “You were told not to talk to them!”
Shona pulled her arm away. “I wasn’t talking to them! They just said hi to me!” Freya was older than Shona, but Shona was taller. Those two advantages, in Shona’s mind, cancelled each other out. She can’t boss me around like she’s my sister!
To Shona’s delight, the boy Freya had been talking to came to her defence. “Freya! She’s fine. I’ve never heard anything bad said about those boys.” While Freya fumed, the boy offered Shona his hand. “Hello there. Benedict Took.”
Shona shook his hand. “Shona MacDougal.”
“What year are you in?” he asked.
Shona laughed, embarrassed. He thinks I’m older than I am, ‘cause I’m tall for my age.
Freya answered the question for her. “She’s a First Year.”
“Oh! Then, welcome,” said Benedict. In a kindly tone, he added, “Don’t worry about Sorting. The Hat knows where you belong.”
Shona noted Benedict’s kind attention was making Freya miserable. Before Shona could exploit this further, Rhiannon came up to them. In her bossy, big sister voice, she said, “Come! Say good-bye to Mum and Grandmum.”
Shona followed her sister, with Freya nipping at their heels. “She was talking to Hewson and Evans again!”
“I wasn’t talking to them! They just walked by me!” countered Shona. “And Freya’s boyfriend, who she wouldn’t even introduce me to, but he introduced himself, Benedict said they were nice boys.”
“Hush!” snapped Rhiannon. “No more about it,” she said sternly.
Rhiannon wrapped her arm around Shona and pushed her towards their mother. Meriam’s blue eyes were full of tears. She wrapped her arms around Shona and said, “My baby’s going off to school!”
Shona squirmed out of her mother’s embrace. “Mum! I’m not a baby! I’m eleven!”
“You’ll always be my baby, Shona,” said Meriam.
It was Grandmother’s turn now. Shona gave her a quick hug. Grandmother Ashfeld, leaning on her gnarled staff, fixed Shona with a piercing stare and said solemnly, “You know what is expected of you, young lady.”
“Of course!” said Shona, cheerfully. Her grandmother was always saying cryptic things like that, and Shona never knew half the time what she really meant. Shona always answered her grandmother in a cheerful, agreeable manner, however, which seemed a far better strategy than arguing and carrying on the way Rhiannon did.
Rhiannon slipped her arm around Shona and said gently, “Come on. It’s almost eleven. Let’s get our stuff on the train.”
Rhiannon was quick and athletic. That morning she was wearing a blue skirt that no one in Shona’s family could remember her buying. It just appeared one day as part of her wardrobe. Rhiannon hauled her trunk up the train steps and deposited in an empty compartment.
Shona, eager to keep up with her sister, hauled her trunk up the steps herself. Rhiannon took it from her in the passageway and stowed it beside her trunk. Shona stood in the doorway of the compartment while Rhiannon, with quick efficiency, stowed away the trunks of her other girlfriends.
Up the steps they came, one by one: Morwena Felwich, a taller, older version of Freya, with a piercing, intimidating stare that was very much like Grandmother Ashfeld’s. Like Freya, Morwena was wearing a modest plum dress, over which she wore a deep green knit sweater. Morwena set a hand briefly on Shona’s shoulder as she passed.
Next was Aylie’s older sister, Tess Covenshire. Tess wore a blue sweater over jeans, with cute black boots and a lovely green scarf. Tess gave her a hug. “Hi sweetie!” she said. “Are you ready?” Shona nodded.
After Tess came Pauline Langlet. Pauline wore an oversized pink sweater with a giant heart on it, over black tights. She too wore cute leather boots, though hers were brown. Rhiannon kept Pauline away from Grandmum, because Pauline was Muggleborn and Grandmum was likely to say something rude to her. Shona had never been this close to her before.
Pauline bent down a little and gazed into Shona’s eyes. “You must be little Shona! You are so adorable!”
“Thanks! I love your sweater!”
Freya, too, was lingering by the doorway. The train, with a lurch, started forward. Shona heard the voice of Alyssa Pitchfork call out, “Freya! We have a room over here!” With a wave, Freya turned and began walking towards the other compartment.
Rhiannon gazed down at Shona and said, “Do you want to go with Freya or stay here with me?”
As curious as she was about Pauline, Shona felt out of place amongst the older girls. Freya’s friends were closer to her age. “I’ll go with Freya.”
“Don’t go wandering off again,” added Rhiannon, sternly.
Shona followed Freya into a compartment that was already full of girls. As soon as she entered, Alyssa Pitchfork stood up. “Shona! Oh my gosh, this is so great!”
Alyssa gave Shona a firm hug. Then, she rattled off the names of everyone in the compartment. It was too many names, too quickly, for Shona to take any of it in. She noted, happily, that Benedict was in this compartment, the only boy, sitting by the window. Next to Benedict was his sister, and directly across from him was Alyssa. Across from Shona and Freya were two other girls, but Shona could not remember their names.
Shona sat down in the corner by the door, with Freya beside her. Shona sat with her hands in her lap, listening to the conversation that swirled around her. She focused first on Benedict, and noted that he gazed avidly at Alyssa, and hardly looked towards Freya at all. He’s friends with Freya but he’s in love with Alyssa, she decided.
Sitting between Freya and Alyssa was Meriko Furukawa. Freya, Meriko and Alyssa together are the Little Coven, recalled Shona. Rhiannon, Morwena, Tess, Pauline and sometimes Vanessa are the Big Coven. Morwena is the leader of the Big Coven. There was some drama last year, when the Little Coven adopted Tess as their mentor instead of Morwena.
The Little Coven are all Slytherins; there are only three Second Year girl Slytherins. So, who are these other girls? After listening and watching for a while, Shona decided that they were all Second Years, but from which House, she wasn’t sure.
Before she could make a determination, however, there was a knock on the compartment door. The girls’ conversation ceased abruptly. The compartment slid open, and a boy stuck his head in. He had tawny hair, and his cheeks were splashed with freckles. A jaunty smile lit his face.
“Hello ladies,” he said, more cocky than smooth and gentlemanly. “Nice to see you all again.” Shona’s immediate impression: This is a Gryffindor boy.
Alyssa answered for the group. “Hello Patrick. How are you? Did you enjoy your summer?”
“I did. But, it’s nice to be back. Can’t do magic while I’m home, see. Muggle village and all. Not allowed.” Patrick gazed at Benedict, and with a tone of command, said, “Took.” He nodded his head towards the hallway.
Benedict immediately stood. “Excuse me,” he said softly. He gave a quick smile to Shona, then he and Patrick bumped fists.
As Benedict squeezed out into the hallway, Patrick looked back into the compartment to see at whom Benedict had smiled. When he saw Shona, he raised his eyebrows and grinned rakishly.
Sticking out his hand, he said, “Hullo there! Patrick Wren, Gryffindor.”
Shona smiled and shook his hand. “Shona MacDougal, Free Agent.”
Patrick laughed. “I like it,” he said. “I love a girl who can talk sports.” Then, he did something that astounded everyone in the compartment. He bent his head and said to Shona, “I could be wrong, but you don’t look like the Tea and Crumpets type. You wanna come have lunch with me and Took and the rest of our buddies?”
One glance at Freya’s red, furious face and Shona had made up her mind. “I’d be glad to.”
Up until that moment, Shona had assumed the incident in the bookstore had been a happy coincidence. The two boys had come to buy books for the upcoming term. They started talking about the Quidditch final and her father, and, since she was right there, Shona introduced herself. Rhiannon was being paranoid (paranoia being a common ailment of Slytherins).
Even Mother had taken Shona’s side. When Rhiannon complained the boys had targeted Shona, that they had stalked her, Mother had just laughed. “Rhi, honey, Gryffindor boys don’t scheme. They don’t plan ahead. They just do whatever is in their heart at that moment. And, they don’t stalk little girls!”
But, the moment Patrick Wren stuck out his hand and introduced himself, Shona knew Rhiannon had been right. She didn’t remember Patrick being in the bookstore that day, but she knew he was acting on orders from Hewson and Evans. If you see a little girl with orange hair . . . . They picked Patrick, because Patrick is brave and can talk to girls without getting stupid.
As she walked, tense with nerves, following Patrick and Benedict down the passageway and into the next car, she thought, The Gryffindors want me to be with them. Because Dad was a Gryffindor. They’re doing everything they can to steal me away from the Slytherins.
She felt a sudden flurry of nerves. What the heck am I going to do in a room with a bunch of silly, rowdy boys? She recalled what her cousin Tess would say. “Act like you belong, and you will belong.”
Shona, being at least half Slytherin, began to calculate out what she needed to do next. Don’t embarrass Patrick and Benedict. They invited you to be here. Make this a good decision.
Patrick slid open a compartment door. There was indeed a bunch of rowdy boys on the other side. “Hey,” said Patrick. “Found him,” meaning Benedict. “And, I invited someone to join us. Boys, this is Shona MacDougal. She’s a First Year.”
The boys looked puzzled, perplexed. Shona, sensing that she needed to strengthen her hand, sauntered into the room. She saw a boy wearing a Wimbourne shirt, caught his eye, and nodded her head in the same way Patrick had signalled to Benedict. He scooted over and she sat next to him.
“Wasps are going all the way next year,” she said to the boy.
“Yep,” he said back.
She looked back to Patrick for approval. He nodded, pleased. “Her dad played for Wimbourne back in the 90’s. Isn’t he like a record holder or something?”
This brought a blushing grin to Shona’s face. She nodded. My Patrick. You have done your research.
The boy asked politely, “Is he retired now?”
Shona shook her head sadly. “He died in the war.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
Benedict: “Patrick, why don’t you do introductions.” Patrick went around the room. The boy Shona was sitting next to was Matthew Duffy. “Everybody calls me Duff,” he told her.
The boys began talking Quidditch teams. Shona followed along just fine, but then there was an abrupt change of subject. Though they were still discussing sports, Shona suddenly didn’t know any of the teams.
She asked Matthew quietly, “Duff, what are we talking about now?”
“Oh, EPL. You know, Football.”
“Oh. Who’s our team?” If this had been a room of Slytherin boys, Patrick’s team would have been everyone else’s team, too.
But, this was not a room of Slytherins. “Well, I’m from Liverpool, see, so I’m for the Reds. But, Flan, there, he’s from Manchester, so he supports Man City. And Patty’s from north o’ London - way north, mind - so he’s for Arsenal.”
Since she had him talking, she fed Matthew another question. “What House are you guys in? Are you all in Gryffindor?”
“Most of us are,” said Matthew. “Took’s in Hufflepuff.”
“Oh, is his sister a Hufflepuff, too?”
“Who’s your big Slytherin rival?”
“Reginald Dennison?” scoffed Shona. “I remember him from primary school. He’s a whiney punk. He said something mean about my sister one time, and I yanked on his hair. Got in big trouble from my teacher.”
The boys, who were still talking football, fell silent at the name Dennison. The boys laughed at her story. Patrick nodded, pleased, and offered Shona his fist to bump. “See boys?” he said. “This girl’s all right.”
Shona stayed with the boys all the way to Scotland. As the train neared the station, Benedict said, “Patty, we ought to take her back.”
Patrick nodded. “Alright. Ben, Duff, let’s take Shona back where her big sister can find her.”
They walked back to the other car. Rhiannon was standing in the hallway outside the compartment where Alyssa, Freya and the other girls were sitting. Matthew and Benedict hung back shyly, for Rhiannon was tall and fearsome in her anger.
But, brave Patrick strolled up to Rhiannon and announced, “I have returned your sister to you, safe and sound, and no worse for wear. We gave her first dibs at the food cart, and she had to listen to us ramble on about football and Muggle movies for a bit.
“We didn’t bore you, did we, Shona?”
Shona laughed. “No, Patrick. It was fun.”
He gave Shona a sly smirk. “I’ll see you later, then.”
With a wave, Patrick led the other boys back the way they had come.
Shona gazed meekly up into her sister’s eyes. “I really did have a good time. They’re goofy boys, but they were very sweet to me.” Seeing Rhiannon’s anger begin to soften, Shona added, “I hope I didn’t make you worry.”
Rhiannon wrapped her arm around Shona. Her long fingers dug into Shona’s arm. “I swear, Shona, you’re going to be the death of me.”
[Next time: Shona makes a fateful decision. Stay tuned!]
Chapter 7: Shona's Choice
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Rhiannon brought Shona back to the compartment with Morwena and the other older girls. They were very near the station, and everyone was putting on cloaks. Shona bent down and opened her trunk. Her black cloak was on the top. She grabbed it and pulled it on. Rhiannon opened her own trunk and took out a dark grey wool skirt and a pair of black tights. “It’s miserable out there,” she said. “I need to change.”
At the door of the compartment, she poked a long finger out at Shona. “Stay put!”
Tess, always the peacemaker, said, “We’ll watch her, Rhi.” To Shona, once Rhiannon was gone, she added, “We’ll make sure the boys don’t run off with you again.” This made Shona laugh.
The hood to Shona’s cloak was still bunched up from being in the trunk. Tess loosened it with a gentle pull. “Are you excited?” asked Tess.
“Are you getting a little nervous, now?” asked Tess, gently.
Shona grinned and shook her head. “No.”
Shona peered out through the train’s window at the darkened landscape. She could see nothing of the Scottish countryside, but gusts of rain lashed rain against the window. A dreadful night for a boat ride, mused Shona.
Rhiannon returned just as the train came to a stop at Hogsmeade station. The older girls moved out into the passageway. Both Tess and Pauline gave Shona hugs, and both wished her good luck.
Rhiannon, however, stayed by Shona’s side. The two sisters waited for the crush of students to subside before making their way to the train platform.
“You know what to do, don’t you?” asked Rhiannon gently.
“Yes! I go down the path and wait for Mr. Hagrid to show me the boats.”
“Keep your hands out of the water. It’s going to be wet enough. Do you remember the spell I showed you? The one to keep water off the benches?”
“Yes. I’ve been practising it!”
“Good. Alright now, go on.” She gave her younger sister a gentle push towards the path.
Just then someone called out to them. “Excuse me! Um, what do we do with our trunks?”
Three young children stood together on the train steps. They were all of Indian descent, with brown skin, black hair and deep brown eyes. Two girls and a boy, they were in their school uniforms already. The girls wore plaid skirts and white blouses. The boy had on his white Oxford shirt, his blue tie and navy slacks.
There was a side of Rhiannon MacDougal that few strangers ever saw, the gentle big sister who would sit at a side table during dinner parties, drawing pictures with little Aylie Covenshire. To Shona’s surprise, that was the Rhiannon who emerged suddenly on the train platform.“Leave the trunks,” said Rhiannon, gently. “The porters will get them. Button up your cloaks, now, it’s raining.”
“Oh yes, good idea,” said the boy.
“Are you First Years?”
“Yes!” said the boy.
“So is my sister, Shona.”
Shona stepped forward and offered each her hand. “Hello! I know the way. Follow me!”
She led them down the path, where the half-giant, Hagrid was calling, “Firs’ Years, this way!” At the edge of the lake, he counted them. “Jus’ thirteen little war babies,” he mused, sadly.
"On you go,” he said, gesturing to the little boats beside him. “No more ‘n four to a boat.”
The three children with Shona shirked a little from tall, broad Hagrid, with his bushy beard, wet with rain. Shona urged them on. “Come on!” she said cheerfully. “We’ll take this boat.”
In her eagerness, she almost forgot to do the spell Rhiannon had taught her. She was standing in the boat before she remembered. She drew her wand and blasted the rain from the seats. Then, she turned and beckoned to the others. “Come on!”
The boy joined Shona at the bow, while the other two girls sat to stern. As soon as the last girl was settled, the boat took off at a steady pace across the dark lake.
Shona felt full to the bursting. She had been waiting her whole life for this moment, and despite the cold rain, she felt that she had never been happier. She said brightly, “I didn’t properly introduce myself. I’m Shona MacDougal. That was my sister, Rhiannon, you saw earlier.”
“I’m Surmit,” said the boy. “This is Dalwinder and Mandeep.”
Shona shook everyone’s hand again. “Is this the first time for all of you? Did you have anyone else in your family go to Hogwarts?” The girls shook their heads.
Surmit, proudly: “My father went to a magical academy in Kashmir. When we moved to London, Hogwarts came highly recommended.”
“Did you know each other?”
The girls shook their heads, shyly. “We met going into the station,” said Surmit.
Dalwinder, who was to Shona’s left, asked, “What did the man mean by calling us ‘war babies?’ We’re not a war, are we?”
“No,” answered Shona. “We were born during the war. There was a war between the wizards. We were born just as things were getting bad. Not many families had children then. But, there’s a whole bunch that were born just after the war. Next year, the class will be much bigger.”
Surmit had been peering ahead into the darkness. He turned to ask, “What House are you in?”
“I”m not in a House yet,” said Shona. “I’m a First Year like you. Before dinner, we’ll be sorted.”
“Won’t you be placed with your sister?” asked Mandeep.
“Maybe,” said Shona, coyly. “But, it’s not for sure.”
Dalwinder: “I’m sure you want to be with your sister. She was so kind to us!”
Shona laughed. “You caught her at the right moment. Rhiannon is not usually that friendly. She’s been cross with me all day, bossing me around. If I end up in Slytherin with her, I’ll be under her thumb until she graduates.”
The sound of the word Slytherin made the girls eyes widen. They must have heard bad things about Slytherin people, thought Shona. “Slytherins aren’t so bad,” she said. “Most of the really popular girls are in Slytherin.”
“What about the other Houses?” asked Mandeep.
“The smart kids are mostly in Ravenclaw. I mean, there are smart kids in every House, but everybody in Ravenclaw is really smart.”
Surmit, with a pompous air: “All the great heroes were from Gryffindor.”
Shona laughed. “My dad was in Gryffindor, and yes, he was a hero. But, my mom was a Slytherin, so I guess I’m fifty-fifty.”
“Where do you think you’ll end up?” asked Dalwinder.
“I don’t know,” said Shona. “The hat picks for us.”
Surmit turned and looked forward once more. Despite the spell Shona had cast, they were getting cold and wet. As they drew close to the far side of the lake, they could see some torches glowing dully. Then, they crossed into the cave. It was still quite dark and cold, but at least they were out of the rain.
At the stone wharf, the boat stopped. Surmit hopped out and then offered a steadying hand to each girl. Shona shook the raindrops from her cloak, then rubbed her hands over her arms. She was chilled to the bone.
Hagrid rode in on the last boat. He clambered awkwardly onto the wharf, then made a quick count. “Thirteen. Didn’t want to lose anyone! No one to spare in this lot,” he chuckled. “All right, this way.” He led the way up the steps to a door, where he handed the First Years off to Professor Gregor. The Head of Slytherin led the children to a waiting room.
Shona knew that, in a few moments, she would be standing in front of the whole school, waiting to be sorted. For the first time that day, she felt a flurry of nerves about the momentous choice that awaited her.
Though, on the boat, she made it seem like the hat would make the decision for her, Shona had recently learned that the hat takes requests. One of her Ashfeld uncles had mentioned it, and when Shona questioned Rhiannon about it, Rhiannon confirmed the story. You could tell the hat where you wanted to land, and the hat would oblige.
What do I want to be? A Slytherin or a Gryffindor? She discounted the other two choices. She didn’t feel nearly clever enough for Ravenclaw, and she doubted she would fall to Hufflepuff. Up until that day in the bookstore, she had always assumed she would land in Slytherin, like her sister, mother, and grandmother.
Heck, the whole Ashfeld side of my family were all Slytherins!
But then, Hewson and Evans put the thought in her head that she could be a Gryffindor, like her father Kellan MacDougal. Shona had no memories of her father, and there were no pictures of him in her home. Her mother had told her a few stories, but that was all.
But, one day that summer, when Rhiannon was out with her friends, Shona had gone snooping through her sister’s room. In one of Rhiannon’s favourite hiding places, Shona had found a cache of books, including the recent bestseller, The Battle of Hogwarts.
In the middle of the thick, heavy book was a chapter on her father. It was marked with a bent corner, and the pages were well-turned. There were even crumbs in the binding of this chapter. Shona had read the chapter through, and returned to it several times that summer.
She was suddenly aware that her father was a famous figure, a hero who had died bravely fighting to save the school. When Hewson and Evans started to talk about her father in the bookstore, she was drawn to them. She was desperate to hear what these boys knew about her father.
Shona tried to imagine what Kellan MacDougal had been like as a boy. The trouble was, she didn’t know any boys from Gryffindor. All her older male cousins and uncles were all in Slytherin. They tended to be cold, scheming, and dismissive of females.
Rhiannon’s boyfriend, Philip, was a proper gentleman, but he was in Hufflepuff. None of the boys that she remembered from primary school had been sorted into Gryffindor, either. The only Gryffindor she had ever met was a girl who visited Shona’s house last Christmas. Morwena had invited this girl to join a large group of carolers.
Patrick’s offer that afternoon to join him and his friends for lunch was too good to pass up. She hardly needed to be told he was a Gryffindor. He was bold and cocky, yet he had a little of Philip’s proper gentleman-ness, too. She imagined a young Kellan MacDougal acting with the same daring bravado as Patrick Wren. As she sat in the room next to Matthew, listening to Patrick and the others talk about sports, she figured that these were the types of boys her father would have had as friends. The type who, as adults, would rally to his side to fight and defend Hogwarts from the Dark Lord.
It was like going back in time and being with Dad when he was twelve.
If I end up in Slytherin, I may never feel that way again. This dream of dad will go away, and I won’t remember him anymore.
Shona was jarred from her musing by the return of Professor Gregor. He led the children into the Great Hall, and ordered them into a single, straight line in front of the staff table. Shona again felt a flurry of nerves as she walked amongst the tables. She had come to Hogwarts on tours with her family, but she had never been in the Great Hall when it was full of students, when the candles were floating in the air, and the rain fell from the ceiling without ever hitting the floor.
One by one, Professor Gregor called the names of students. Shona paid little attention who went where. Her eyes darted from one table to another. She spotted Rhiannon sitting with her friends. Next to them was Freya, Alyssa and Meriko. She spotted two boys she remembered from her days in primary school at Godric’s Hollow, Reginald Dennison and Jason Carter.
I wouldn’t have spent an afternoon with those boys, she thought. They were mean boys back when I knew them, and Freya said they’re even worse now.
At the Hufflepuff table, she saw Philip Harkenborough. She also spotted Benedict Took and his sister. At the Gryffindor table, there was Paul Hewson and Dave Evans, Patrick Wren and Matthew Duffy.
Professor Gregor intoned deeply, “MacDougal, Shona.” Shona felt a flurry of butterflies in her stomach as she walked forward. She set the hat on her head and sat on the stool.
Right away, she heard the voice in her ear, “A Slytherin mother, but a Gryffindor father. It’s more common, actually, than you might think.
“So, where shall I put you?”
Shona looked nervously at her sister. As much as she loved Rhiannon, she also chafed under her stern, cross commands. She looked at Dennison and shuddered.
Across the hall, sat Paul, Matthew and Patrick. Her stomach gave another flutter.
“I think we have a decision,” whispered the hat. In a loud voice, it called out, “Gryffindor!”
Paul Hewson leaped to his feet. Clapping his hands, he led a loud chant: “Mac! Mac! Mac! Mac! Mac!”
She set the hat on the chair and ran to the Gryffindor table. As soon as she was close enough, one of the older girls swept her into a big hug. “Hi! I’m Haven. I’m your prefect!”
“Hi!” Shona tried to say more, but her voice cracked, and her eyes filled with tears. She was smiling so wide that her cheeks began to hurt. She wiped her eyes, then sat on the bench, with Haven the Prefect’s arm around her, as students up and down the table introduced themselves.
There was Freya’s former best friend, Penny Periwinkle, giving her a hug and saying, “Oh Shona! I’m so happy you’re with us!” Across the table from her, Paul and Dave looked on, their eyes full of pride. “You’re going to be happy here, little one,” said Paul, proudly.
Patrick came over to Shona, but as he drew close, he hesitated, suddenly unsure of how to greet her. She smiled at him and offered him her fist. He grinned and gave her first a gentle bump. “My kind of girl,” he said.
Another girl came up to Shona and gave her a hug. She had brown eyes and skin of cafe a lait. “Hi! I’m Alma. Do you remember me?”
“Yes! You came to my house once! You were with the carolers.”
“Yes.” Alma took Shona’s hands and held them. “I want you to know that my friends and I have never teased your sister. All that unpleasantness was with the Ravenclaws.”
Shona nodded. “Are you her friend?”
Alma laughed, nervously. “Not really. But I respect her.”
“Rhiannon is a hard person to be friends with. She’s not very friendly at first. But, she can be very nice and sweet, too.”
So far, Shona was the only First Year to be sorted into Gryffindor. Dalwinder and Mandeep both went to Ravenclaw. There were just two students left in the line. When Professor Gregor called out, “Singh, Surmit,” Shona whispered to Haven, “I met him on the boat!”
The hat called out, “Gryffindor!” Another cheer went up at the Gryffindor table. The boy prefect, Steel, said, “Finally! Someone I can watch over.”
As Surmit walked towards the table, Patrick called out, “Hey! You’re with us. You can be part of our gang.” The two boys shook hands. Steel came over and introduced himself.
The last girl was Tavers, Zoey, and she too went to Gryffindor. She won another loud cheer. As she settled on the bench next to Shona, she asked, “Are you famous?”
Shona laughed. “No. My dad was in Gryffindor, and everybody really wanted me to be here, too.”
After a full meal and a generous serving of apple cobbler for dessert, it was time for Shona to face Rhiannon. She was waiting in the Entrance Hall for Shona, tall and foreboding. Shona approached her sheepishly. “Are you mad at me?”
“Yes! You were supposed to come to Slytherin! That’s what Grandmother was telling you! ‘Do you know what’s expected of you!’ When the hat asks, say ‘Slytherin!’”
“How was I supposed to know that?” asked Shona. “I never know what she means!”
Rhiannon’s face was flushed, and she was quaking with rage. She closed her eyes and forced herself to become still. Shona gazed up at her and asked shyly, “Do you still love me?”
“Of course I still love you.” Rhiannon reached out her arms and pulled Shona into a firm hug. Then, the tender moment was over, and she was cross again. “But, you have to be the one to tell them. Write to both of them tonight and tell them where you ended up.”
Rhiannon looked up and gazed warily at Haven. The prefect was standing a discreet distance away, holding Zoey’s hand. Then, Rhiannon turned and went down the stairs without a look back.
Shona went up to her prefect and took her hand. “That’s my grumpy sister,” she said.
“I know,” said Haven.
“She said I have to write my letters tonight.”
“Yes, both of you should write your parents. Let’s go upstairs and get started.”
Philip also lingered in a shadowy corner of the Entrance Hall and watched the exchange between the two MacDougal sisters. Though Shona’s enthusiastic welcome into Gryffindor House had warmed his heart, he now felt a deep unease.
As he turned towards the stairs, he noticed Lara Guishar standing nearby. She too had been watching the sisters. She smiled encouragingly at Philip. He said, “I’m worried about Rhiannon. She’ll get blamed for this, I know. Her grandmother will turn this around and make it Rhiannon’s fault.”
Lara nodded. “I was worried about her, too. Every time I look at her, she seems so unhappy.”
“She’s not always like that. She can be happy. I’ve seen it.”
“So has Morwena. But, I still worry.”
Philip gave Lara a pat on the arm. They made their way to the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room.
Lara did not fully speak her mind. A deep dread filled her, like the gathering of storm clouds. Rhiannon’s fate has moved out onto the razor’s edge between life and death. By the end of the week, she will fall on one side or the other.
[Oh no! What will happen to Rhiannon? Stay tuned! And, tell your friends, KJ Cartmell is back!]
Chapter 8: Slytherin Schemes
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On the train ride north to Hogwarts, Aiden Thompson had lookout. He sat by the compartment door with the door cracked slightly open, giving him a view of the hallway. Adjacent to him was the compartment where Alyssa Pitchfork held court, and Benedict Took was the only boy.
Joining Aiden was the other Second Year Slytherin boys. Collectively, they formed the Second Year Conservative Splinter, under the guidance of Fourth Year Spencer Osgood. Reginald Dennison was their leader.
Aiden only reluctantly submitted to Dennison’s leadership. He simply didn’t have the numbers to take control of the group himself. He found Dennison to be erratic and unpredictable. Dennison was obsessed with the idea that Benedict Took was courting Alyssa Pitchfork, and that this must be discouraged at all costs.
Aiden had no desire to tangle with Alyssa. He thought it poor strategy to dictate to her which boys she could befriend, for she would simply do the opposite of whatever Dennison wanted her to do. Benedict was meek and shy. Perhaps that’s why Dennison targeted him, because it looked easy. But, Took is handsome and likeable. Threatening him will only gain him sympathy.
The real target, to Aiden’s mind, was their Second Year Gryffindor rival, Patrick Wren. Patrick was bold and strong; defeating him would not be easy. Which is why we must do it, Aiden reasoned. Took is irrelevant.
So, Aiden kept watch - not for Benedict Took, but for Patrick Wren.
When his rival strode down the hallway alone, Aiden could hardly believe his luck. He didn’t bring any of his gang with him! We have him completely outnumbered! To the others, he whispered, “Get ready! He’s here.”
“Who?” asked Jones. “Took?”
Aiden pulled his eyes away from the door and glared at Jones, the dullest of the five boys. “No, ass. Wren. And, he’s alone.”
Aiden turned back towards his view of the hallway. Jason Carter, Dennison’s right hand man, leaned over him and took a peek himself. “Yes, it’s just Wren and Took now. Perfect time to make a move.”
The other boys drew their wands. Patrick was still halfway in the girl’s compartment, talking to someone. Then, out into the hallway came a gangly little girl in a black dress, a wild mop of orange hair on the top of her head.
Aiden pulled the door shut. “Abort!” he cried.
“What do you mean, abort!” cried Jason, angrily.
“The girl! That’s Shona MacDougal! We hit her with a spell, and her sister comes down on us like an angry bear. It’s a no go. Too dangerous.”
Jason forced the compartment door open, but it was too late. The three were gone. “You let them get away!” snapped Jason.
“It was too risky!” Aiden argued. “We can’t take on the Big Coven like that!”
Aiden and Jason, along with Terrill Reese and Jones, looked to Reginald Dennison to settle the argument. Dennison had yet to draw his wand. He was sprawled out on the bench, taking up as much room as humanly possible. “Let them go,” he said, contemptuously. “Let Took and Wren think that we’ve forgotten about them. Let them continue to let their guard down. When they’re least expecting it, we will strike.”
“That’s wise,” said Aiden, quickly. Jason Carter sat back down. Aiden pulled the door closed, but left his tiny opening, so he could continue to spy into the hallway.
That was Shona MacDougal, I’m sure of it. But, what is she doing with Patrick Wren? They can’t have known one another!
As the train neared the station, Patrick returned with Shona MacDougal. Aiden watched the reunion between Shona and Rhiannon and felt vindicated. I was right. That was Shona MacDougal. And, Rhiannon is fiercely protective of her. She’s furious with Shona for running off with Patrick.
But, that didn’t answer the question of how Patrick and Shona had paired up together. That was fast work. Patrick’s taking after his brother, Aiden decided. Liam Wren had dated Aiden’s sister Sadie for over a year, starting when the two of them were Second Years.
When the train arrived at the station, Aiden opened the door of the compartment all the way. The boys waited, however, while the adjacent compartment discharged girl after girl. Last to leave was Alyssa Pitchfork. She eyed the boys warily as she passed them by.
They followed behind her, their hoods up against the rain. In the line, the argument began again, with Jason hissing, “We should have moved on Took when we had the chance.”
“I told you, it was too dangerous! Rhiannon would have brought her whole coven against us!”
“I’m not afraid of a bunch of girls,” said Jason, dismissively.
Aiden glared at Jason with contempt. You forget, it was a girl, my sister, who blew up our ice fortress last winter. Sadie knows more about magic right now than you ever will. And Covens, groups of witches working in concert, make dangerous foes.
They stood in the rain until finally it was their turn to board a coach. They got in, and the thestrals started right away towards the castle. Dennison slouched and stretched out his legs once more, crowding the other boys. “Don’t worry about Took,” he said to Jason. “Or Wren,” he added, turning to Aiden. “Let them relax their guard. Let them think we’ve forgotten about them.”
Dennison spoke in an offhand way, yet Aiden thought he was mimicking someone, perhaps his father, or his older cousin, Cyrus Kane. “They are arrogant and careless. Took, especially, needs to be punished. He was in the compartment with Alyssa. We have told him to stay away from her, but he persists.”
With a cruel, evil expression, Dennison said solemnly, “Took must learn that when Lord Mahglin tells you to do something, you must do it!”
Aiden was grateful for the shadows of the darkened coach. They hid his look of horror and disgust. He managed to say in a fawning way he had been practising all summer, “Are you still using that title?”
“Of course I am!” Dennison made a dismissive gesture. “But, I’m keeping it hidden at the moment. I don’t know enough magic, yet. I need to learn some Dark Magic, but my cousin says I’m too young. I’d never master it.
“When the time comes, I will reveal myself to everyone as the Dark Lord Mahglin. For now, we’ll keep this to ourselves.”
“That’s wise,” said Aiden. The other boys nodded. Aiden turned and gazed out the coach window. You’re a fool for using that title, Dennison. Umberto says it’s bad luck. The original Mahglin betrayed others and was betrayed. He amounted to nothing. You should have picked your secret name more carefully.
The coach dropped the boys in front of the castle. They hurried up the stone steps into the Entrance Hall. Students lingered in the hall, greeting one another. Dennison led his troop into the Great Hall. They took a seat at the Slytherin table to wait.
Slowly the table began to fill. Aiden watched and made eye contact with as many people as he could. Umberto Calais arrived with his sidekick, Gordon Sumner, in tow. Umberto, had grown some, Aiden noted, but Gordon still towered over him.
With them was Vanessa Ables. Half the school, it seemed, was in love with this girl - the classic fair skinned blond with sky blue eyes. Aiden, however, was indifferent to her. Way above my price range, he mused.
Some Third Year boys approached Umberto and Gordon and shook their hands. These are known associates of Umberto, thought Aiden, his acolytes. As opposed to me. Everyone assumes I report to Umberto, but we try to keep people guessing. People like Reginald Dennison especially.
Then, there’s Q. She spies for Umberto too, but nobody knows it. She’s too quiet, too subtle.
Q was a Third Year girl that Aiden had never seen speaking to Umberto. She had slipped Aiden a note from Umberto expertly, right in front of Dennison and Carter. No one was the wiser.
At the time, there was too much on his mind to reflect on her skill as a note-passer. But, as his first year wound to a close, he became more curious about the girl. He tried to listen and learn her name. All her friends, however, called her Q.
There she is. Dark hair, brown eyes. Completely anonymous in this crowd, with everyone wearing the same black cloaks.
What is your name? He caught her eye and smiled at her. She turned away from him with an offended huff. That’s right. Let people think I’m fond of you, and you’re above being interested in a younger boy.
I know who you work for. And, I’m going to find out your name.
Gordon Sumner sat down next to Aiden. Between him and Umberto sat Vanessa Ables. Umberto sat next to Freya Felwich and across from Morwena. The Big Coven had split, with Morwena, Rhiannon and Pauline on one side of the table, and Tess, with her acolytes Alyssa, Meriko and Freya on the other side.
Freya watched the door from which the new crop of First Years would come. Alyssa said, “I’m excited to pick up some new girls!”
Morwena, coolly: “There won’t be many. This is a small group.”
“That would be fine,” continued Alyssa amiably. “Two more would give us five. That would be a very strong number.” She was already planning, Freya noted, to incorporate any new girls into the Little Coven.
No one mentioned Shona’s name. Though they kept a brave, lighthearted front, Freya could tell the Big Coven had been quite shaken by the Gryffindor’s determined attempt to win over Shona. Rhiannon’s face, so often stonily impassive, was lined with worry. She had planted her elbows on the table. She was holding her head, rubbing her temples. Pauline ran her hand gently against Rhiannon’s back.
Freya spared a look over at Umberto. He was quietly watching Rhiannon.
Just then, the door opened, and Professor Gregor led the First Years to the front of the Great Hall. Sorting began. The boys ranks increased by two. The table was tense, waiting for a girl - waiting for Shona MacDougal.
Finally her name was called. She sat, ankles crossed, on the stool, the brim of the hat level with her eyebrows. A feeling of dread slowly filled Freya. She’s going to do it. She’s going to leave us for the Gryffindors.
The hat’s announcement was met with a hiss of shock up and down the table, which grew into an angry murmur at the Gryffindors’ overly enthusiastic display. Rhiannon sunk her head onto the tabletop, while Pauline bent and whispered into her ear.
Umberto turned to Freya and asked, “What does Paul Hewson have to do with Shona MacDougal becoming a Gryffindor?”
Freya told him the whole story, including Patrick Wren’s surprise offer on the train, and Shona’s even more surprising acceptance. Umberto listened intently, and, when she finished, offered this summary: “So, it was a multi-pronged attack, planned in advance. I’m impressed.”
Alyssa, worried that some of the blame for this might fall to her, announced to all, “We had been very welcoming to Shona. She was sitting with us for a time, and we did our best to make her feel included. We were quite shocked when she ran off with Patrick Wren this afternoon.”
Tess, gazing across the hall at the table of Gryffindors, watching Shona receive hug after hug, “She looks so happy there. I guess that’s where she belongs.”
No girls came to Slytherin that year. This only reinforced the idea amongst the Slytherins that Shona should have come to them, that the Gryffindors had stolen her.
No girl came to augment the Little Coven, either. Freya failed to gain an ally she could have used to change the balance of power within her coven. As a result, the Little Coven became even more insular and intimately intertwined.
The Slytherins were in a dour mood as they descended the stairs to their common room. The password, Conquest, seemed ironic, inappropriate. Once the door opened, however, a new mood swept the group. Standing by the fireplace, warming his hands, was a tall, lanky figure, a mop of dark blond hair on the top of his head.
The seventh year boys recognized him straight away, and called out to him, “Kaufmann!” Soon, there was a mob of older students around the visitor. Robert Kaufmann shook every hand offered him, and gave a few boys hearty pats on the back.
Tess Covenshire slid into the group and wriggled her way to Kaufmann’s side. “Robert!” she called, eagerly.
Kaufmann turned and said tenderly, “Tess! God, you got beautiful.” He wrapped an arm around her and gave her a quick hug.
“What are you doing here?”
He gazed down at her, his grey eyes glinting red in the dim firelight.“I wanted access to the Hogwarts Library. It’s one of the best Wizard Libraries in Europe. I’m wrapping up my degree in History from the University. I’m writing a thesis on Goblin History, comparing Goblin texts and Wizard text to source materials. It’s a grand expansion of my NEWT work.”
“How long will you be here?”
“A week or so. I’ll be staying in the Halls. Gregor found me a room. I’ll be around.”
That was her cue to go. “Great! I’ll see you, then.” She gave him another squeeze, then slipped out of the group.
Freya had lingered in the shadows, watching. Tess wrapped her arm around the younger girl and led her to the dormitories.
“Who was that?” asked Freya.
“Robert Kaufmann. He’s a friend of my older brother, Devon. He was a Seventh Year when I was a First Year. We helped him research an old photograph.”
“Are you in love with him?”
Tess laughed at the bold question. “Of course not! He’s much older than I am!” She laughed again, then said, “Well, maybe when I was eleven, I was, a little. But, not now. He’s an old friend. I was just happy to see him.”
“The white haired girl. Not Ables, but the other one?”
Freya nodded. “She wasn’t happy with you flirting with Kaufmann.”
“Thank you,” said Tess primly. “I’ll deal with her.”
They came to the room where Alyssa and Meriko were unpacking their trunks. Freya stopped short and tugged on Tess’ arm. “Do you think it’s my fault that Shona went to Gryffindor?”
“Of course not!” Seeing the wide look of fear in Freya’s eyes, Tess bent and gave the girl a kiss on the forehead. “Nobody blames you, Freya. Shona is a Gryffindor. There’s nothing any of us can do about that right now. Don’t worry about it.”
Tess lay a finger at the tip of Freya’s nose. “What were you going to do? Tackle her as she tried to leave?” This made Freya giggle. Tess gave Freya a gentle push towards the room. “Go unpack. Get into your nightgown. Then, I’ll come and brush your hair.”
Freya gave Tess a tight hug, then went into her room.
Tess made her way to the Fourth Year girls’ room. Celeste Carmichael was waiting for her. Celeste ran the Favours program, of which Tess was the youngest member. As Tess approached, Celeste lit into her. “What were you doing, flirting with Robert Kaufmann?”
“He’s my brother’s friend!”
“Well, you did it right in front of your Secret Admirer. He was quite displeased with you!”
Tess held firm. “My Secret Admirer needs to stop hiding and make his move. I’m not waiting for Winter Ball for my first date. If he doesn’t step up soon, I will find someone else!”
Celeste, angrily: “That’s not how this works! You need to be available to him. He picked you especially!”
“And he can have me,” said Tess, “but can’t wait. I’m pretty and I have options.” Tess turned and left the older girl standing in the hallway.
[Note: Robert Kaufmann is a key character in my earlier novel, The Witches of Slytherin. He guides Tess and the other girls in uncovering the secret of Scott Highcross. He has another important scene to play, coming up in Chapter 10.
Next up: Classses begin! Philip and Rhiannon enjoy a bang-up Magical Creatures lesson! Stay tuned!]
Chapter 9: Start of the Autumn Term
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The Start of Autumn Term
Autumn Term began early for the Little Coven. The three girls got up at 5:45 am to shower and dress. Freya could go through her morning routine more quickly, and would have appreciated a little more sleep. It was Alyssa and Meriko who took forever to get ready in the morning, fixing their hair and putting on makeup. But, Freya rose with them anyway. She didn’t want to be left out of any plotting or gossip.
At five minutes to seven, they ascended the stairs to the Great Hall for breakfast. The hall was silent, save for the clinking of silver on plates. Then, the Gryffindors arrived, around 7:15, en masse, laughing and jostling one another.
Freya watched Shona MacDougal prance around the Gryffindor table in one of her plain knit dresses. This one had been transfigured overnight, probably by her Prefect, from the drab black Shona usually wore, to Gryffindor Scarlet. She showed off her gown to Patrick Wren and got a fist bump in return.
Meriko was watching too. “Your friend is a little flirt.”
Freya lowered her eyes, back to her scrambled eggs. “She’s not my friend anymore.”
The first class of the day for Liam, Philip and Lara was Arithmancy. The class started at 8 o’clock, a far more reasonable starting time, in Liam’s mind, than their 7:40 am History class on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The Hufflepuffs arrived at Professor Parabola’s classroom door a few minutes early. The Ravenclaws were already there. There was cool indifference between the two groups. Calliope and Liam had clashed on several occasions over the years. Calliope’s disdain extended to the rest of the Hufflepuffs, and her friends fell in line.
The exception was Sadie Thompson. Sadie stood apart from Calliope and the other girls, her dark hair in a pixie cut. Philip called out to her, “Hello Sadie. How was your summer?” She smiled brightly and came over to him. Sadie chatted brightly to Philip about the trips she had made with her family, and the books she had read. Liam, listening, thought, This is the letter I didn’t get over the summer.
The Slytherins arrived a few minutes later. Liam shook hands with Umberto and Gordon. Umberto gave a warm “Good morning!” to Sadie. “Good morning, Umberto,” she answered cheerfully. She proceeded to give the same report she had given Philip, while Umberto listened attentively. Lara gave Morwena a quick hug. Though she was feeling shy, Lara smiled and gave a warm “Good morning!” to Pauline.
Philip and Rhiannon broke off from the group for a somewhat private conversation. Philip said softly, “I have your broom still. It’s in my room.”
Rhiannon nodded. “Hold on to it for a few more days. Let’s go flying this weekend.”
“Yes,” said Philip. “But first, you’ll need your slacks back.” He opened his bag. Her grey slacks were right on the top, along with a pair of black socks.
“I’ll need those, too. Thank you.” With a quick sweep of her arm, she picked up the clothes and dropped them into her bag.
Stacy left the Hufflepuff Common Room with Lara and the others, but she didn’t climb the stairs to Professor Parabola’s room. She waited instead in the Entrance Hall for Tess. As she stood there on the cold slate floor, rubbing her arms to keep warm, she thought, I need to keep a little emotional distance from Tess, this year. We can be friends, but she isn’t in love with me. She has a boy that she likes. I need to hold a little of myself back.
It was wise advice, but easier to think than to do. A few moments later, Tess and Vanessa came up the stairway from the Slytherin Halls. Despite the early hour, the girls’ hair looked perfect. Vanessa had pink blush on her pale cheeks. Tess’ eyes were round chocolates.
Tess ran to Stacy and pulled her into a tight hug. “Ready for a new school year?”
“Another year of gazing up at the handsome centaur,” added Vanessa drolly.
Stacy hardly heard Vanessa. Her whole being was centered on Tess: Her body was alight from the hug; Tess’ perfume filled her lungs; and Tess’ lovely, soft voice rang in her ears. I guess I can be in love for a little while longer, thought Stacy. She’s not dating that boy yet.
Arithmancy finished at nine-thirty. Lara stuck by Morwena’s side. Behind her, Pauline chatted away to Rhiannon. The four girls went downstairs to the Entrance Hall, where they met up with Stacy and Tess. There was another round of hugs. Lara listened to the chatter of the other girls, but, feeling shy once more, she held back and didn’t say anything.
As often as she could, she would look Rhiannon’s way, but Rhiannon was quiet and watchful, too. Lara’s best chance was when Pauline spoke. Rhiannon gave Pauline her full attention, and Lara could gaze at the tall, freckled girl undetected. I hope I’ve done enough to save you. I have my plan. I’m ready.
A sense of unease came over her that was quite separate from her anxieties over Rhiannon. She looked to the stairway leading to DeVere’s Potions lab and lecture hall. Up the steps he came, Reginald Dennison, the future Lord Mahglin. The boy who will one day try to kill me. Reginald paid Lara no mind. He and the other boys swept past her and climbed the steps, on their way to their Astronomy lecture.
Lara felt a heavy weight pressing down upon her. She closed her eyes tightly. A great Doom, the likes of which she had never experienced, was forming inside of her. The time was drawing near for her to deliver it.
At ten minutes to ten, the group dispersed. Lara and Morwena went to the Hospital Wing for Healing Arts. Liam climbed the stairs to Professor Obscura’s classroom. He found himself walking beside Vanessa Ables. She said, “This is the one class where I wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’” She laughed, and set her hand on Liam’s arm. “You’ll help me, won’t you, Wren? I wouldn’t have made it through Runes 1 without your help.”
“I’ll need as much help as you do, Ables,” he told her. “This is the hardest class on my schedule, too.”
“Those little picture-glyphs were cute,” continued Vanessa, “but once we got into proper runes, I couldn’t take it. It was all so pointless!”
“Well, proper runes come in damn handy in advanced Potions,” said Liam, thinking of the secret potion scroll Lara had shared with him the previous year.
Vanessa laughed again. “You’re definitely my Potions Expert, Wren. The next time I need a love potion, I’ll know who to ask to make me one!”
“Why would you need a love potion?” asked Liam.
She squeezed his arm and beamed at him. “Aww, you’re sweet.”
Philip walked with Stacy, Tess, Pauline and Rhiannon across the wet lawn to the edge of the forest for Magical Creatures. The air was cold and damp. The fog was just clearing. Up ahead, Philip could see waiting for them was Mr. Hagrid and Professor Greenleaf. The Gryffindors were already there. Magical Creatures was the only class for which Paul and his friends arrived early.
As Philip and the girls drew closer, Greenleaf strode towards them with long strides. “Rhiannon,” she called out, “I’m so pleased that Shona came to Gryffindor. She was so happy last night. She’s really making friends quickly.”
Rhiannon wouldn’t make eye contact with her teacher, but gazed up at her through her bangs, with her chin pointed towards the ground.
“Shona wants to hear stories about your dad,” continued Greenleaf. “I’ve got some to tell her, as does Rubeus. We can tell it all to you as well. Just come ‘round during one of your breaks.”
Rhiannon still didn’t look up at Greenleaf, but she nodded her head. Greenleaf turned and called out to the class, “Alright everyone, I’ve got a great first lesson for you all, today! Let’s get started!”
Philip and the girls joined the rest of the group. He smiled in greeting to Michael and Fortney, who had arrived just ahead of him, but he stayed by Rhiannon’s side.
Greenleaf led them to the eaves of the forest. Philip put his hood up, as big drops of dew fell from the tree branches. “Be very still, everyone. It’s important that you are quiet and respectful. Oberon is a prince of this forest.”
Greenleaf called out in a clear voice, “Oberon! We’re ready when you are, sir.”
There was a stifled gasp from the Gryffindors clustered towards the front of the group. Philip fanned out wide to see around them. Stacy and the Slytherin girls followed his lead. Pauline was the first to see. “Oh my goodness!” she whispered.
There, in a small clearing, lit with the rising sun and with his own moonlight sheen, was Oberon, a unicorn. He was the size of a small horse, with a brilliant white coat. A long, beveled horn grew from his forehead. His eyes were sapphire.
“Approach him slowly, in ones and twos, please,” said Greenleaf.
The first to approach were Alma and Gillian of Gryffindor. Though she was too far away for him to hear, Philip imagined Jill was speaking to the unicorn telepathically.
When it was Paul and Dave’s turn, they approached too quickly. Oberon shook his head and pointed his horn at the boys. “Let’s try another pair of girls,” suggested Greenleaf.
Rhiannon shirked from the unicorn, so Tess and Pauline approached together. They each stroked his coat and mane. Pauline walked away weeping tears of joy and wonder.
Tess urged Rhiannon, “Go on. It’s your turn now.”
Rhiannon shook her head. “He’ll reject me,” she murmured.
Philip took Rhiannon’s hand. “Come,” he said. “We’ll go together.” Philip led her slowly forward. About twenty paces away, he stopped and called out, “Hail Oberon, Prince of the Forest. Well met!”
He bowed, and, following his lead, Rhiannon made an awkward curtsey. “I am Philip Harkenborough, and this is my friend, Rhiannon MacDougal. May we approach?”
Oberon nodded his head, so the two approached slowly. Philip stroked the unicorn’s cheek and neck, while Rhiannon ran her hand through the long, silky mane. Her blue eyes were wide as she gazed at the creature.
A long hair clung to the sleeve of Rhiannon’s black wool coat. As they walked side by side back to their friends, Philip saw it. “Look! A unicorn hair. Those are good luck!”
Rhiannon plucked it off her sleeve and held it up to gaze at it. Immediately, she offered it to Pauline. “Here, love,” she said.
Pauline took the hair from Rhiannon, her face alight, her green eyes sparkling in the morning light. She dropped the hair into the pocket of her coat and gave Rhiannon a quick kiss.
Philip turned away, blushing at this show of affection. He felt the tap of a soft hand on his. He turned and gazed into Tess’ big brown eyes. “That was well done,” she said, tenderly.
Paul, following Philip’s lead, took Stacy by the hand and introduced her formally to the unicorn. Dave took Gillian, and Larry asked Pauline to accompany him. Eventually, all were able to greet and stroke Oberon.
When each student had seen the unicorn up close, Oberon turned and cantered off into the forest. Greenleaf turned to the class and asked, “Did any of you come away with a hair?”
No one spoke. “Rhiannon did,” said Tess, finally. “She gave it to Pauline.”
“Wonderful!” said Greenleaf. “You can make a wand out of that, if you’re so inclined.”
Pauline smiled, her green eyes still wet with tears. “Right now, I just want to have it.”
Wednesday morning, as the Slytherins gathered in the Great Hall for breakfast, the owls came, bringing letters and gifts from home. Rhiannon got a letter from her mother. Rhiannon was fiercely private, and rarely read her letters at the table. However, this morning, she opened the envelope right away and scanned its contents.
Meriam wrote: “Glad you all made it safely to school. I know nothing ever happens on the train, but as a mother, I worry. No big announcement from Shona yet. It’s unlike her to keep me in such suspense . . . .”
Rhiannon angrily shoved the letter in her pocket and finished her breakfast. As the Gryffindors got up to leave for their first class of the day, Rhiannon rose also. With long strides, she overtook her sister before Shona could climb the steps.
“Shona!” she called sternly.
Shona turned immediately and came to her sister. “Hi. Um, what?”
“Why didn’t you write mother?”
“I did!” Shona protested. But then, she clapped her hand over her mouth. “I forgot to send it!”
Rhiannon gave an angry huff. “Show me your schedule.”
Shona took her parchment schedule out of the pocket of her cloak. “It’s Wednesday,” said Rhiannon, pointing to the schedule. “Your last class ends at 2pm. Go up to the Owlry right away after Astronomy, and get that letter sent!”
“Okay! I promise!” Shona rejoined her First Year friends, who had all waited for her at the bottom of the steps.
Despite her protestations to the contrary, all the First Years had concluded that Shona was a famous person. They all followed her lead, except for the two Slytherin boys, who felt they had to hold up their end of the rivalry by spurning her.
Zoey asked, “What did your sister want?”
“She yelled at me ‘cause I didn’t send my letter home. I better do it today, after Astronomy.”
“What do we do?” asked Zoey.
“We have to go to the Owlry, to see all the owls.”
“I don’t know!” said Shona with a laugh. “We’ll have to find it.”
At lunch, she spoke to her prefect, Haven and explained the situation. “I can show you where the Owlry is,” said Haven. “Bring some of this ham sandwich for the owl who takes your letter.”
Shona wrapped up a ham sandwich in a paper napkin and put it in the pocket of her cloak. When they were done eating, Haven took Shona and Zoey to the base of the tower leading to the Owlry.
“It’s up this way. You might have time before your next class to make it up and back.”
“There’s no need to rush,” said Shona, brightly. “We’ll go after Astronomy.”
After their last class of the day, the First Years went back to the Entrance Hall. Shona led a small group of students up the stairwell to the Owlry. Shona and Zoey walked back and forth, gazing at every owl. Dalwinder and Mandeep shirked from the large birds. They hung back and spoke quietly to each other in Punjabi. Surmit and a Ravenclaw boy went from corner to corner, gazing out at the castle and the grounds.
Finally, Shona selected a barn owl to send her letter. She fed the bird a little of the ham sandwich, and then watched as it flew away in the direction of Godric’s Hollow. She and Zoey joined Surmit and his friend looking at the views.
They could see turrets and courtyards within the castle, and the paths leading to the Quidditch pitch, and the forest. Golden light fell on the trees and the grounds, but the lake was slate grey under a sky heavy with clouds.
[Oberon is the name of the Fairy King in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The name pops up in popular culture from time to time. For this story, I was thinking of a toy plastic horse, part of the Micronauts collection. Micronauts were intricate and fragile toys that were popular in the late 70’s. The ones I had are all broken now. (I never had an Oberon, but as a boy, I wanted one.) Oberon was the white horse that accompanied the white knight, Force Commander. This Oberon was not a unicorn, but when combined with Force Commander, he could become a centaur. I have a few pictures of this toy on my Micronauts board on Pinterest, if you’d like to take a look.]
Chapter 10: Free Friday
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Friday morning, a full hour after most students had risen and gone to breakfast, Morwena gathered her coven and led them to the hearth at the main floor of the Halls of the Serpent. There, they met up with Umberto, Gordon and Spencer. Waiting for them, by the crackling fire, was Robert Kaufmann.
“Oh, Fourth Years!” he called to them. Tess went quickly to his side, while the others turned and gave him their attention. “You have Free Fridays this term do you not?”
“Yes!” said Tess eagerly. “We have the whole day off!”
Kaufmann nodded. “Later in the term, you’ll need the extra time to study. It’s early yet, however. I was wondering if you all could spare me a few minutes of your time. There are some things I'd like to ask you about.”
Morwena spoke for the group, “We were about to upstairs for breakfast. Do you have a quick question for us?”
He waved his hand towards the far door at the end of the long entryway. “Go and grab a bite to eat. Let’s meet back here at nine o’clock. I won’t take more than a half hour of your time.”
The Slytherin Fourth Years enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. The Fourth Year Hufflepuff girls were lingering at their table, talking. Liam Wren and his friends had come and gone already.
Sadie Thompson sat alone at the Ravenclaw table, reading a book while absentmindedly eating an English muffin, topped with blackberry jam. Umberto went up to her and greeted her. He set his hand on her shoulder, and they spoke for a moment before Umberto joined Gordon and Vanessa at the Slytherin table.
Tess and Pauline chatted amiably with each other during breakfast. The others ate in silence. Vanessa nibbled on toast and mostly brushed her hair. Finally, Morwena asked Tess, “What do you think he wants?”
“Who, Robert?” asked Tess, distractedly. “I don’t know! But, he has fond memories of us as First Years. I’m sure he just wants to know how we’re doing.”
Umberto: “Kaufmann has been questioning the Seventh Years on the school’s discipline policies, how consistent McGonagall and Gregor have been, and whether there’s any evidence of House bias.”
“I doubt we would have anything to add to that subject,” Morwena retorted.
Tess rolled her eyes. Slytherins are so suspicious! “He’s inquisitive, and he likes to know what’s going on. He’ll have a few questions for us, and then he’ll send us on our way. We’ll have the whole day to do whatever we like.”
Tess looked across the table to Spencer Osgood, sitting slightly apart from the others. If anyone was going to bolt, it was likely to be Osgood. Yet, Robert Kaufmann was a respected alumni whose interest brought with it some prestige. That was enough to keep Osgood in the group as they went back down to the Common Room.
Kaufmann was waiting for them by the big hearth. He stood with his back to the flames and watched them approach down the long narrow entranceway. “Fourth Years! Thanks for coming back to speak with me!”
Morwena, again, spoke for the group. “What can we help you with, Kaufmann?”
“I was always very fond of this class,” he said. “I graded your History papers for Binns when you were First Years, and of course, I had that little project with the Coven. I remember quite a few names of your classmates. So, tell me, who among you will be Prefect next year?”
No one spoke, but each of the Fourth Years pointed either to Morwena or Umberto. Kaufmann laughed, pleased. “Good, good. I like to see consensus, especially when discussing future Slytherin leaders. Now, how about the Gryffindors?”
Vanessa spoke first. “Hewson.”
Morwena promptly contradicted her. “Hewson’s too erratic. McGonagall will choose Evans. He’s more level-headed.”
Umberto: “I agree with Morwena. I think it will be Evans.”
No one else had an opinion, so Kaufmann moved on. “What about the Gryffindor girls?”
“Alma Krauss,” said Morwena. “We’ve collaborated on projects in the past, and she went caroling with us last Christmas.”
This assertion was met either with shrugs or nods. “Alright,” said Kaufmann. “Ravenclaw.”
This time, Morwena did not offer an opinion. She crossed her arms and waited. There had been tension between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw girls for some time. The hostility between the two covens was higher even than the traditional Slytherin/Gryffindor rivalry.
Umberto answered, instead. “Calliope Addleson, for the girls, and Ronald Reuel for the boys.”
Kaufmann nodded. “Both were top History students as First Years. Which leaves us with the Hufflepuffs.”
Morwena quickly asserted herself once again. “The girl will be Lara Guishar. Her sister was a prefect.”
“Good call,” said Kaufmann. “These things often run in families.”
Before Morwena could continue, Vanessa interjected, “The boy will be Liam Wren.”
Spencer Osgood, who had sat down and now had his feet up on on one of the sofas, said derisively, “Wren’s a thief! They better not pick him as Prefect!”
Vanessa rounded angrily on Spencer. “Liam Wren didn’t steal the Dragon Wand from Cyrus Kane. The wand left Cy like a jilted lover!”
Her retort was greeted with embarrassed laughter. “Interesting choice of words, Ness,” said Gordon.
Morwena, primly: “I believe the boy will be Philip Harkenborough.”
Umberto shook his head. “I have to disagree, Morwena. I, too, think it will be Liam Wren. Philip is a nice guy, but Wren is the leader. He will be prefect.”
Kaufmann: “As I recall, Wren was a good student of History, too. Tell me again about Kane, Wren and the Dragon Wand.”
Umberto stayed and told Kaufmann the whole story, while the others dispersed. The prefect debate had ended, and there was nothing else to discuss, at least, not openly. There was one bit of new gossip for Morwena and her friends to dissect and devour.
Morwena led Rhiannon, Tess and Pauline up the stairs, to the library. It was a place Vanessa was not likely to follow them. They found an open study room and took seats around the table.
When they were all seated, Morwena asked, “What was with Vanessa rushing to the defence of Liam Wren? I don’t recall any interactions between them, prior.”
Pauline: “Wren’s friend, Bendrix, tends to drool around Vanessa, but she doesn’t pay him any attention.”
Tess: “I’ve never seen Liam Wren try to talk to Vanessa.”
Rhiannon stared out the small window of the study room with a bored expression. With an irritated voice, she said, “If you’re so curious about this, why don’t you ask Wren? He and Bendrix are sitting at a table together right over there.”
This retort brought a flush to Morwena’s face. “I don’t think we need to make a direct inquiry,” she answered primly. “But, the next time we see these two together, we should pay attention.”
Liam Wren was indeed sitting right outside the study room the Coven had chosen. He and Michael Bendrix were bent over a battered copy of Beaters, Bludgers and Quidditch Defence. They had been there, slowly turning pages of the book, for over an hour.
Earlier that morning, while they sat at breakfast together, Liam had said to Michael, “I want to find that Quidditch book I borrowed last year, the one about Beaters.”
“I hope it’s still there,” said Michael with a laugh. “That book was pretty beat up after it rode around in your bag all Spring Term. Madam Pince might have chucked it out.”
“It was like that when I found it,” said Liam, defensively. “And, she better not have thrown it out. That book had the best diagrams for how to set up Quidditch defences. You and I are going to raise the Badgers’ level of play this year.” Liam was determined for the Badgers to win the Quidditch Cup under his watch.
Right after breakfast, the two boys headed for the library. They went to the Sports section of the library, and found, shoved amongst the larger books, the tattered paperback copy of Bagman’s Beaters, Bludgers and Quidditch Defence.
There was a large picture of a grinning Ludo Bagman, bearing his beater bat, on the front cover. “You know he really didn’t write this,” said Michael.
“Yes,” said Liam. “You told me. I don’t care who wrote it. I just want what’s in it.” They took the book to a table and began carefully turning the pages. The book contained diagrams of defensive formations involving the Beaters, Chasers and the Keeper. Each diagram was accompanied by a paragraph detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the formation, and which teams made the defence famous.
The formations assumed that the Beaters were controlling at least one Bludger. Some configurations involved controlling both Bludgers.
Liam pointed to one “Double-Bludger” defence and asked, “Do you think we could pull this one off?”
Michael shook his head. “This one’s way too complicated. Pro teams have difficulty doing formations like this. Bludger are tough to control.”
They carefully examined each diagram. Finally, they found one that looked relatively simple. “What about this one?” asked Liam. “The Morphy?”
Michael bent his head over the diagram. “This could work. Formations like this harrass the Center Chaser and disrupt the passing lanes.” He pointed to the diagram. “One Beater is down by the Left Hoop. I’d put you at that end, ‘cause you’re left handed,” said Michael. “I’d be way up here, on the right side, by the quarter pitch flag. That’s a long way to hit a Bludger. You have to hit it really hard to keep it straight for that far.”
Liam nodded. “We could pull it in a little tighter.”
“Not too tight, though, or we’ll obstruct the Keeper’s vision.”
“We could practise, so when the season starts, we’re ready,” said Liam. “It’ll be like hitting groundstrokes in tennis.”
“Maybe,” said Michael, “if you played tennis on broomsticks.”
They continued pouring over the books diagrams, but they didn’t find anything as feasible as the Morphy Defence. Morwena’s Coven passed them by, but neither boy looked up to acknowledge them. They had no idea the girls were gossiping about the two of them.
“We’ll make this work,” said Liam, decisively. “We’ll practise every weekend, and by the time spring rolls around, we’ll be pounding the Bludger across the pitch. The Center Chaser better watch where he’s flying!”
The Coven gossipped for an hour, but then pulled out their books and caught up on their homework. At quarter to twelve, they walked together back down the stairs to the Great Hall for lunch.
They were the first to take their seats at the Slytherin table, but soon others came as class after class was dismissed for lunch. The conversations swirled as each new group joined the table.
When the Hall was full of students and the clatter of voices, an owl flew over the Slytherin table. It dropped a letter in front of Rhiannon MacDougal and flew off again without asking for a scrap of food.
Rhiannon stared at the letter without opening it. The letter began to shake and smoke. Morwena ran her hand across Rhiannon’s back. “I’m sorry, Rhi,” she said. “You better just open it.”
Rhiannon had been expecting this Howler all week. It was only because Shona delayed sending her letter home that it took this long for her grandmother to send her Howler in response.
With a sudden motion that made the girls around her flinch, Rhiannon ripped the envelope open. Her grandmother’s voice didn’t scream out at her. Instead, she spoke in a hushed voice, low and venomous.
“Of course, I can’t say that I’m surprised at Shona’s decision. Disappointed, of course, but not surprised. How could she see being a Slytherin young woman as something admirable, with you as an example!
“Slytherin women are beautiful, noble, desirable. It is a great honour to be so chosen! But, how would Shona know this, having you, graceless, clumsy, ugly Rhiannon as a sister! Of course Shona would want to run away, to be swept up with the first whim that caught her fancy. Anything to distance herself from you!
“You are a disgrace, not only to Slytherins, but to all womenkind! I kept hoping you would find your way, grow into yourself, yet you fail constantly! Clothes hang better on a barbed wire fence than they do on your body! Your hair is constantly a rat’s nest! How I wish you would have died, and not my beloved grandson!”
With another angry swipe of her arm, Rhiannon swept the ashes from the table. They floated up into the air and settled slowly onto the floor.
Pauline, her voice choked with emotion, “I’m sorry, Rhi. That was really awful.”
Rhiannon stood up abruptly, and marched with long strides out of the Entrance Hall. Morwena said to the others, “Let’s give her a moment to collect herself, and then let’s go and comfort her.”
At the Hufflepuff table, Philip watched Rhiannon stand and race from the Great Hall. He felt a great welling of sadness and pity. He had watched the owl land, and, though he could not hear its contents from across the room, he could well imagine what was said.. He too had been expecting a message from Grandmother Ashfeld this week, blaming Rhiannon for Shona being sorted to Gryffindor.
As Rhiannon disappeared from view, Philip looked down at his half-eaten sandwich. He was no longer hungry.
An urgent voice called to him. “Philip!” He looked up into Lara’s wide brown eyes. Her face was ghostly pale. “The lake! You’ve got to go after her!”
[Oh no! The Prophesy! What will happen next? Will Rhiannon drown? Stay tuned!
That last scene with Rhiannon was tough to write. I’ve hinted that Grandmother Ashfeld was abusive towards Rhiannon, but this is the first time I’ve really had to show it. Verbal, psychological abuse is often more traumatic than physical abuse. Physical wounds heal, but psychological ones endure, sometimes for decades.
I take no pleasure in scenes like that. I love Rhiannon as if she were my own daughter, and I truly see her as admirable and noble. My intent for that scene, and scenes like it involving Adeline from Revelation, and Camille from Every Time You Speak, is to show violence against women as something reprehensible and repulsive. Trust that, in the end, in my books anyway, love will prevail.
I have great fun expanding the world of J.K. Rowling. I’ve given much thought to Quidditch strategy, and I look forward to the scenes later in this book when Liam and Michael play in games as Beaters.
Morphy was a chess grandmaster about a hundred years ago. There is indeed a defence formation in chess named after him. The Morphy defence in Quidditch is of my own invention, but if you would like to use it in your own writing, please do so. Just give me a line of credit in your author’s notes.
That’s all for now! I’ve got to get some more chapters written! I watch my read counts, and I love that all my books are finding readers. Please send me a note sometime! Fondly, Cartmell]
Chapter 11: The Lake
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Lara’s face was pale, and her eyes were wide with fright. “Philip! The lake! You’ve got to go after her!”
Philip gazed back at her, momentarily disoriented. “The lake? She’s going to the lake?”
“Yes! Go after her! Keep her out of the water!”
Philip rose, and walked quickly out of the Great Hall. At the Entrance Hall, he hesitated. What am I doing? He wondered. She probably went to her common room.
Yet, he felt a desperate, urgent compulsion to go forward. Lara knows things that no one else knows. At least look outside and see if Rhiannon is walking towards the lake.
He went out the front door. From the top of the steps, he could see her, running as hard as her skirt would allow, down the path towards the lake.
The desperate voice was in his ear again. Keep her out of the water! Philip scampered down the castle’s stone steps. As soon as his feet hit the path, he began to run. His strides were quick, and it was easier for him to run in his slacks than it was for Rhiannon in her skirt and flats. Still, her legs were longer, and she’d had a couple minutes’ head start. As hard as he sprinted, Philip seemed to gain no ground.
A cramp burned in his side, but still he ran. Rhiannon broke from the path. She was heading through the long grass straight for the lake. She reached the edge of the embankment and vanished from his sight. Philip gulped in a deep breath of air and kept running. Suddenly, there was a long scream, a cry of rage and anger that chilled him to the bone. On he pushed, off the path, through the long damp grass.
Finally, he was at the cusp of the embankment. He skidded to a stop and looked down. Rhiannon was stomping along the rocky shore at the edge of the lake. She was waving her arms and crying audibly.
He called out, “Rhiannon!”
She turned to his voice and looked up at him. As she did, her foot caught on a stone and she tumbled forward. Her knees slammed down on the rocky ground. She let out a cry of pain and then called up to him, “It’s not my fault, Hark! It’s not my fault!”
Philip gingerly eased himself down the sandy embankment. “I know,” he said kindly. She was right at the edge of the lake. The hem of her cloak was floating in the dark water. Somehow, he kept the fear out of his voice as he said, as lightly as he could, “Come on. Let’s get up before you fall in the lake.”
He reached out his hand and helped her to her feet. Her tights were torn and bloody. She staggered against him. Her weight was too much for him. He lost his balance, and they fell together against the sand and grass of the embankment.
He was on his side, with the full weight of her pressing down upon him. Slowly, he eased himself onto his back. She set her head above his heart and began to weep. He stroked her back and ran his hand through the tangles of her curly orange hair.
“It’s not my fault,” she whimpered. “Why does everything have to be my fault?”
Philip felt such a welling of love and pity within him that he lifted his head off the damp grass and pressed a kiss into Rhiannon’s hair.
Rhiannon let out a soft sigh, like a whimper, and whispered, “If it wasn’t for you, and Pauline, and Wen, I would have killed myself by now.” Philip felt a shiver of fear, for he knew that she meant it.
Pauline was the first to go and check on Rhiannon. She checked their bedroom and the alcove where the girls often sat in the evenings to gossip. She looked into several of the bathrooms. Rhiannon was not there.
Lara, meanwhile, sat at the Hufflepuff table, in a trance. The Fourth Years stayed loyally by her. The Second Year Hufflepuffs, who also had Friday afternoons off, stayed at the table as well. They sensed the tension and were worried, too. Benedict couldn’t take his eyes off of Lara as she gazed, transfixed, on a scene no one else could see.
At the Slytherin table, Morwena and Tess had gone to the Entrance Hall, intent on following Pauline down to the Halls of the Serpent. Umberto, however, kept Gordon and Vanessa with him at the Slytherin table. “Something’s up with the Hufflepuffs,” he said. “Harkenborough got up a minute ago and left. None of the other Fourth Years have even moved since then.”
Alyssa, Meriko and Freya were keen to join their Hufflepuff girlfriends in conversation. They too stayed at the Slytherin table and kept watch. “What’s going on?” asked Meriko. “Nobody’s getting up.”
“I don’t know,” said Freya.
Suddenly, Lara pulled in a deep breath and muttered, “He did it. He got there in time.” Weak and unsteady, she slowly got to her feet.
Stacy, at her side, slipped her arm around Lara in support. “Are you okay?”
As Morwena and Tess walked down the steps towards the Halls of the Serpent, they met Pauline running up the stairs. “She’s not there!” cried Pauline. “I’ve looked everywhere!”
Back to the Entrance Hall went the three girls. There, they were met by a large crowd: the Fourth Year Hufflepuffs, boys and girls, all save Philip; the Second Year Hufflepuffs; the Little Coven, who were now mingling with their girlfriends; and, at the edge of the crowd, still watching and curious, Umberto, with Gordon and Vanessa.
Morwena saw Lara in the center of this crowd and asked, “Have you seen Rhiannon?”
Lara smiled. “They’re down at the lake. Philip is with her.”
Rhiannon was silent for a time. Philip stroked her hair and back, and waited for her to speak again. Finally, she said, “I hate my life. I hate my hair. I hate my body. I’m ugly and I’m clumsy.”
“You’re not!” Philip protested.
“I am!” She lifted her head so that she could look him in the eye. “I’m not beautiful like Tess or Pauline. I’m not graceful like Wennie. I’m not even cute like Shona. I thought I would just grow into myself, but I never do! I’m going to be ugly and awkward forever!”
“Rhiannon, please,” Philip pleaded, “if you hate your hairstyle, change it! Get a pixie cut like Sadie has. If you feel awkward in dresses and skirts, switch to slacks! Buy some sensible shoes. Wear blouses with a tie if you like!
“You’re not awkward up on your broom! You’re as athletic as anyone I’ve ever known. And, by the way, you run like the wind, even in your dress and flats!”
She trembled slightly as she listened to him. Then, she sunk her head back down on his chest. “It’s pointless. I don’t have money for new clothes.”
“I have money,” Philip countered. “So does Morwena, and so does Tess. I’m sure, between the three of us, we can get you a new wardrobe. It’s not like you’ll be buying dresses at Andromeda’s,” he added, mentioning the haute couture boutique in Hogsmeade.
She laughed mirthlessly. “What would Grand-mum say if I came home from school with a pixie cut, and slacks?”
“You wear your hair long now, and you wear dresses,” said Philip, sternly. “Does that spare you?”
“You need to start being yourself. You need to stop trying to live up to whatever standard she has set for you, and start being Rhiannon MacDougal.”
Rhiannon sighed. “I don’t even know who that is.”
“I played Quidditch with her once,” said Philip lightly. “She’s a nice girl, and very athletic.”
She sighed again. “I don’t deserve you.” Suddenly, she tensed. “I hear something.”
Philip could hear it too. Voices. A large group was heading towards the lake. Rhiannon sat up and shook the grass from her hair and cloak. Philip stood and stretched. He gazed with concern and pity at Rhiannon’s torn tights. “You should have one of our Healing Arts friends take a look at those knees.”
Over the hill came the Second Year Hufflepuff and Gryffindor boys, running and laughing, Patrick Wren in the lead. The boys ran down to the water’s edge and began skipping rocks across the surface of the lake.
Behind them were the Fourth Year Hufflepuffs and Slytherins, all save Spencer Osgood. The older students stopped at the edge of the embankment and looked down at the water’s edge for Philip and Rhiannon. Tess was the first to spot them. She gave a happy cry and waved.
Rhiannon stood and walked towards them. Philip followed behind her. With quick, athletic strides, Rhiannon climbed the embankment. Philip clambered after her. Liam stepped forward, but Rhiannon was on the grass before he could offer her his hand.
Instead, he helped Philip up the steep side of the embankment.
Pauline said, “Oh my goodness! Your tights! Your poor knees!”
She gave Rhiannon a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and Rhiannon kissed her back. Philip watched, faintly embarrassed. If that were any other girl, that kiss would have come to me.
Morwena and Lara bent down and together began to work on Rhiannon’s knees, gently pulling the fabric of the tights away from the scabs and casting healing spells.
Pauline turned and saw Philip standing there. “Oh Hark,” she said, “You are such our hero!” She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Tess followed with a hug and a kiss, and Stacy followed Tess, until Philip was thoroughly flustered and embarrassed.
Nearby was the Second Year Hufflepuff girls and the Little Coven. They had followed the Fourth Year girls out to the Lake. They sat a discreet distance away and began to talk amongst themselves.
Benedict broke away from the other boys and sat down with the girls to listen to their gossip. He sat as close to Alyssa as he dared, and gazed at her avidly as she spoke. He had watched the older girls give hugs and kisses to Philip, and he longed for a time when girls would be so affectionate with him.
Liam climbed down the embankment. Mike Bendrix followed him. “Be careful with those rocks!” Liam called to his brother. “Don’t go hitting some Mer-person and causing an inter-species incident!”
Patrick made a face at his brother, then rallied his troop. “Hey guys! Let’s go for a hike. This way!” He led the other boys on a circuit of the lake. Liam stayed where he was, but gazed off after his brother, watchful.
Behind him, he heard the voice of Vanessa Ables. “See! What did I tell you?”
Liam turned and saw Vanessa, Umberto and Gordon walking towards him. They had gone further to the right and found an easier path down to the lake’s edge. Umberto said, “I agreed with you earlier, Ness. I didn’t need convincing.”
Umberto strode up to Liam and shook his hand. “Fine day, now that the clouds have cleared,” he said.
Liam nodded. “There’s just enough time before dinner for my brother to get into trouble.”
Gordon: “Well, if they keep walking, they’ll end up back where they started.” Vanessa laughed at this, and Michael gazed at her, dreamily.
Umberto asked Liam, “How is it that Lara knew Philip and Rhiannon had gone to the Lake together, while Morwena and Pauline didn’t know?”
Liam shrugged. “Lara knows things other people don’t know.”
“But, how does she know?” pressed Umberto.
“She just does,” said Liam evasively.
Vanessa laughed again. She eased beside Liam, forcing Michael to give way and go to Liam’s other side. “Such the loyal Hufflepuff,” she said, taking Liam’s arm. “You’d keep my secrets, too, wouldn’t you Wren? If I told them, you’d keep them for me?”
Liam shrugged, then nodded. Gordon: “Are you afraid you might lose your secrets, Ness? You need Wren to look after them?” She greeted this jibe with another laugh. Still, she held Liam’s arm.
Liam mused, I always thought Ables had a harsh laugh. The only part of her that was ugly. It doesn’t seem so bad to me now. Maybe she’s changed it.
Up on the embankment, the girls chatted. Pauline and Rhiannon were holding hands, and Pauline had sunk her head into Rhiannon’s shoulders. Philip sat on Rhiannon’s other side. He gazed at Rhiannon and Pauline while listening to the conversations of the other girls.
Morwena sat between Lara and Tess. Stephanie and Monique were closest to the edge of the embankment. They gazed down at the Liam and the others at the water’s edge. Stephanie remarked, “Wren and Ables are getting cozy.”
The chatter of the Slytherin girls ceased immediately, and each girl looked down upon Vanessa, their rival, laughing, the center of attention amongst that group of boys. Still, she kept her hand on Liam’s arm. Dark looks passed between Morwena and her friends, but they did not speak openly in front of the Hufflepuffs.
Lara leaned back on her hands and gazed affectionately at Rhiannon. Lara was not at all embarrassed by the bold affection between Rhiannon and Pauline. It pleased Lara to see the look of peace and comfort on Rhiannon’s face, a face that was so often clouded by pain and sorrow.
I saved you, she thought. I kept you from drowning. And, I kept my secret. No one is the wiser. No one here knows that I foresaw your death and stopped it from happening.
It was only a brief moment of peace. Soon, Lara’s secret would be out, and the Slytherins would hear of it first.
[That’s it for this batch! Part One of Prophesies is now complete. Next up, Lara is forced to deliver The Doom of Mahglin, and her secret will be out! Stay tuned!]