A/N: I know I'm a horrible, rotten excuse for a person. It's been ages since I've updated. All I can say in my defense is that I've been horribly busy . . . and yes, I'm well aware that that's a pitiful excuse. I should be drawn and quartered.
Ugh, I just made myself shudder.
Anyway, I just wanted to thank those of you who have stuck with me. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and I doubly appreciate those of you who grace me with your excellent feedback (hint, hint!) You guys are amazing.
And now, without further ado (I believe I've made you wait long enough) . . . CHAPTER 9!
Our journey back to the Leaky Cauldron passed even more quickly than our whirlwind trip from the pub to the wand shop earlier in the day. I jogged along at Hagrid’s heels, panting and tripping over myself in an effort to match his massive strides.
“Er, Hagrid,” I wheezed, pulling on his coat sleeve, “All that stuff that just happened . . . What was that all about?”
“I dunno,” he replied, his eyebrows knitted together. “Mr. Ollivander’s always been a bit funny.”
“Oh.” I paused, and immediately regretted my decision – in the half second that I stood immobile, Hagrid, who hadn’t noticed my brief sojourn, managed to increase the distance between us to nearly thirty yards. I scrambled to catch up to him.
“So, you don’t think . . .” I gasped, desperately sucking down huge gulps of the crisp evening air, “. . . You don’t think he was telling the truth about the wands being designed by the Hogwarts founders, and all that?”
He shrugged. “Could be. I s’pose there’s no way we can know fer sure. But I wouldn’ think too much abou’ it.”
“Oh.” I clutched my side, fighting off a vicious cramp, and silently resolved to do something to get myself in shape. This was just pathetic. “So, you don’t think it’s anything to worry about? I’m not going to suddenly start, I don’t know, channeling the spirit of Salazar Slytherin, or anything?”
Hagrid chuckled. “I doubt it.”
“Right,” I rasped. “Good to hear.”
We spent the rest of the way back to the Leaky Cauldron in silence. I was too winded to attempt any more conversation, and I suspect that Hagrid was tired of answering my incessant questions.
I held my breath as Hagrid squeezed into the fireplace in the pub, but we made it back to Hogwarts without incident. I tumbled out of the fireplace (again – I decided I was going to have to work on a more graceful way of arriving when traveling by Floo Powder. But I wasn’t too optimistic – I’ve always been about as graceful as a blind elephant on ice skates) and stood up cautiously, fingering my wand in my pocket and trying to avoid scattering ashes all over Professor Dumbledore’s office.
The headmaster, who had been conversing with Hagrid in a low voice, broke off and smiled when he heard me crash through the grate.
“Ah, Miss Farrell. I am glad to see that the two of you have returned safely. You were gone for quite some time, and Diagon Alley is, understandably, a bit more hazardous to navigate these days.”
I pushed my hair out of my eyes and tentatively returned his smile. “Thank you, sir. I’m glad to be back.”
“I assume you’ve obtained a wand?” the professor queried. “May I see?”
I reached into my coat, slowly pulled out the box that contained my wand, and set it on his desk. He lifted the lid with his long, slender fingers and drew the wand out.
I held my breath as he looked it over; I felt, for some reason, like it was being inspected, or tested. I silently prayed that it would pass the examination.
He raised his hand and pointed the wand at a spindly silver instrument that rested on a table across the room. As I watched, the contraption leaped into the air, landed gracefully on the floor, and performed a rickety rendition of the Macarena, waving its slender appendages around and swiveling left and right. I stifled a giggle; it looked ludicrous.
“Everything seems to be in working order,” Professor Dumbledore pronounced, returning my wand. The dancing device collapsed in a heap on the floor. “Yes, it’s in fine condition. That is an extraordinary wand, Miss Farrell. Use it well.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best,” I replied, hoping fervently that I wouldn’t be a bitter disappointment. I mean, what if I got to class the next day and couldn’t wield the thing? With my luck, I’d probably end up amputating my nose trying to perform a simple Cheering Charm. Or worse . . . what if I waved my wand and nothing happened? I’d never tried to cast a spell before. What if I just . . . couldn’t?
I turned to leave the headmaster’s office, smiling at Hagrid as I exited. “Thank you for taking me to Diagon Alley, Hagrid.”
“My pleasure,” Hagrid muttered gruffly, waving one of his massive hands.
As I closed the door, I heard them pick up their conversation again. I briefly considered eavesdropping again, and then thought better of it. Feeling very virtuous, and quite proud of my newfound will power and impressive restraint, I squared my shoulders, lifted my chin, and took off down the corridor.
My stately march lasted about ten seconds; it was hard to feel impressed with myself once I realized that, once again, I had no clue where I was going. It gave way to a dejected slump as I made my way, slowly and painfully, back to my dormitory, cursing my lack of a sense of direction. It was late; the halls were dark, the only light emanating from a few flickering torches positioned along the walls that had very nearly burnt out.
Finally, I found the picture that guarded the entrance to my dormitory. I exhaled a mighty sigh of relief and reached out my hand to pull it open, envisioning about my warm, comfortable bed.
"Hold it!" the woman in the picture screeched, her eyes snapping open. I quickly withdrew my hand, stumbling backwards away from the painting.
"Did you think you could just waltz in here?" she demanded, crossing her arms haughtily. "Oh no, that's not how it works."
"But I'm the only one living in there," I pointed out, more than a little irritated. "Why can't I just walk in?"
"I told you, that's not how it works," she sniffed. "Honestly! I don't care if you're the bloody Queen of Britain. I can't just let you in."
"Er, right. It's all clear to me now," I replied sarcastically.
I get snippy when I'm tired.
"I suppose having a password is a bit recrementitious," the woman mused, "but we have to do something. I'm a portrait. I guard a portrait hole. I can't just-"
"Yes, yes, I know," I interrupted. "You can't just let me in."
She was silent for a moment; she pursed her lips and fluffed the already voluminous petticoats under her frilly, poofy dress. "I've got it!" she enthused, smiling smugly. "Sing for me."
I blinked incredulously. "Excuse me?"
"Instead of providing me with a password in order to gain entrance to your quarters," she clarified, "you will sing. I do love music."
"You won't after about two days of this," I replied, crossing my arms. "My aunt's bathroom mirror used to scream bloody murder when I'd sing in the shower."
It's true. It also used to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince me to wear my hair in a bouffant. Unfortunately, it had a little . . . accident about a month after I arrived at Aunt Estella's house. Somehow, it fell off the wall, despite the semi-permanent sticking charm that held it up, and was smashed - by the fall, of course - into about a million tiny little shards. It was tragic.
When the woman in the portrait didn't respond, I laughed uneasily. "Are you serious?"
She narrowed her eyes at me. "Quite. Sing or my frame stays shut."
I weighed my options. Loathe as I was to give in to this pretentious little terror, she did have the power to lock me out of my bedroom whenever she saw fit. I scrutinized the cold stone floor of the corridor, and wistfully compared it to my bed; there was no contest.
"Wouldn't it be nice if we were older," I intoned flatly, crossing my arms and tapping my foot impatiently, "Then we wouldn't have to wait so long. And wouldn't it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong."
I stopped singing and raised my eyebrows at the portrait. "Satisfied?"
"Certainly not!" she scoffed. "Put some feeling into it, won't you?"
I groaned and resumed the song, trying to inject some pep into my toneless, exhausted voice. "You know it's gonna make it that much better when we can say goodnight and staaaaay together. Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up in the morning when the day is new, and after having spent the day together, hold each other close the whole night through. Happy times together we've been spending. I wish that every kiss was neeeeeeverending. Wouldn't it be nice . . . " I trailed off, picturing my soft, squishy mattress and my warm, fluffy blanket.
"Much better." The vicious little tyrant nodded approvingly and the picture swung open to reveal the door to my room, my blessed, beautiful room. "We're going to have fun this year, I can tell."
"Oh yes," I muttered rancorously, resisting the urge to give her a swift kick in her ample, ruffle-covered backside. She's just a painting, I rationalized. She probably wouldn't feel it anyway. I stumbled into my room, collapsed on my bed, and was dead to the world before my head hit my pillow.
"Excuse me, Miss," a penetrating voice was whispering somewhere far, far away. I frowned and pulled the blanket further over my head, trying to block it out. "Miss," the high, squeaky voice persisted, "Miss, Snarky is sorry, but Snarky has been sent to wake you, Miss, and to bring you your school things."
I burrowed deeper under the covers, wishing for all the world I could sink into my mattress and never emerge, like a butterfly interred eternally in its warm, safe, comfortable cocoon.
"Miss!" the voice squeaked. "Miss must wake up!"
I murmured something incoherent and rolled over, determined to do exactly the opposite of what the voice demanded.
"Miss leaves Snarky no choice," the voice peeped gleefully. I heard a loud PING!, and felt my covers drop away. My head sagged; my pillow was no longer propping it up. I grudgingly cracked my eyes open and resisted the urge to scream. I was floating near the top of the high, vaulted ceiling of my quarters, staring down at the top of the black silk canopy covering my bed.
I thrashed around in the air, trying desperately to steer myself toward the ground. After about thirty seconds of manic flailing, I deduced that my efforts were useless. All I had managed to do was flip myself upside down.
I spat my hair out of my mouth - a few tendrils had fallen in and were, for once, unwelcome - and surveyed the room, blinking sleep out of my eyes and searching for the cause of my current . . . predicament.
I finally spotted my tormentor. A House-Elf of indeterminate sex was rolling on the ground, beating its miniscule little fists against the floor and fighting tears of laughter.
"Snarky told Miss . . . Snarky told Miss she must get up!" the snotty little cretin wheezed between gigantic bouts of sniffly chortling. "But Miss would not, no, so Snarky . . . Snarky had to . . . Snarky had to do it for Miss!"
With that, the fiendish creature surrendered to another fit of frenzied mirth.
"Oh, you think this is funny, you miserable little monster?" I snarled, resuming my frantic midair acrobatics. Somehow, I swung myself around so I was right-side up again. "I was sleeping. You sadistic, wicked, vile little maggot, if you don't let me down right now . . ."
As you can see, I'm a veritable geyser of sunshine and good cheer in the mornings.
There was a loud crack, and I felt my body shoot through the air like a stone loosed from a slingshot. I plummeted to the ground, landing oh-so-conveniently on my backside about six inches to the left of my bed.
I sat completely still for a few seconds, trying to master both the aching pain in my bum and the overwhelming desire to leap to my feet and throttle the little bugger who had caused it. Seething, but under control, I staggered to my feet and limped across the room.
"You," I croaked, glaring at the House Elf. "What the fuck are you doing in my room?"
The elf clambered to its feet as well and bowed deeply. "Snarky is here on the orders of the Headmaster. Snarky has brought your school things, Miss." She - I was close enough now to be able to assert, quite confidently, that she was female, though it's often hard to tell with House Elves - snickered as she straightened up again, her wide eyes twinkling maliciously. "Snarky was also told to wake you up, Miss. Your first lessons are today."
I sank into my desk chair, wincing as I plunked my sore bottom on the seat. "What the bloody hell is wrong with just . . . just . . . prodding me or something?"
Her impish eyes widened innocently. "Snarky didn't think of that, Miss."
I groaned. Loudly. "Your name is incredibly fitting." I pointed to the door. "Please, get out."
She bowed again, mockingly, and pointed to my desk. "Your books and things are there, Miss. Snarky will try to remember to prod you the next time she sees you."
I had a feeling she would do so whether I was asleep or awake the next time we met.
Then, with an earsplitting CRACK!, she was gone.
I moaned and laid my head on my desk. In my case, full functionality kicks in around ten in the morning, on a good day. I consulted my watch, frowning intently at the bleary hands until I was able to sort them out. It was seven a.m.
I had never particularly liked being home schooled, but I realized now that it had its advantages - namely, self-determined starting times for lessons.
Somehow, I managed to get myself into my uniform - I encountered a brief snag when I tried to button my shirt around my waist, forgetting, momentarily, that it went on the top half of my body, not the bottom, but I sorted that out eventually - and quickly washed my face, brushed my teeth, and ran my fingers through my tangled hair. I consulted the timetable Professor Dumbledore had given me and grabbed the books I would need for the day's lessons (Double Transfiguration, Divination, and Potions) out of the jumble of supplies Snarky had dumped on my desk, as well as a quill, some ink, a few rolls of parchment, and my wand, and shoved it all in a black bookbag that was hanging over the chair. I shot out the portrait hole, sparing only a quick glance backward to check for forgotten materials. It was now 7:10; according to the timetable, my first lesson was at 7:30.
The Great Hall was less crowded than the night I was Sorted (or, more technically, not Sorted), but still, it was packed. The low hum of conversation washed over me as I plowed through the doors, calculating absentmindedly how long I could afford to spend on breakfast without putting myself at risk for tardiness. I slowed to a halt, however, as I approached the four long tables, not sure of where to sit. I didn't belong to any of the Houses, obviously, so I was reluctant to plop down anywhere, but the smells of the breakfast foods were so appetizing that I was sorely tempted to throw myself at the nearest dish and tuck in.
As I stood, weighing hunger against potential for embarrassment, Professor McGonagall's curt, unmistakable voice cut into my reverie, emanating from the area directly beside me. "Good morning, Miss Farrell."
I started, and turned to face her. "Good morning, Professor," I replied, marveling at the quiet, lithe, almost cat-like way she had snuck up on me.
"You have Transfiguration first this morning, I believe?" she inquired.
"My seventh year NEWT class is mostly Ravenclaws," she told me, gesturing at the middle table to my left. "You may sit here, and Miss Brocklehurst will escort you to the lesson when you have finished eating."
I murmured a "thank you," but she had already swept off down the aisle back to the high table in a billow of black robes.
I slid onto the end of the bench on the near side of the Ravenclaw table. The girl Professor McGonagall had enlisted to shepherd me around shot me a quick, warm smile. "Hi. I'm Mandy."
I smiled back, loading the plate in front of me with bacon, eggs, and toast. I was ravenous. "Dublin Farrell. I'm pleased to meet you."
"Welcome to Hogwarts, Dublin." She paused, scrutinizing me with a pair of bright, intelligent blue eyes. "What do you think of the castle so far?"
I laughed, nearly choking on the piece of bacon I had crammed into my mouth. "Well, I've gotten lost nearly every time I try to go somewhere, I was chased all over the castle by a particularly touchy suit of armor, I have to serenade a portrait every time I want to get into my bedroom, and I was levitated out of my bed this morning by a vicious little twit of a House Elf," I responded unconsciously. I was too focused on my eggs to pay full attention to the words that were coming out of my mouth. "Naturally, I love it here."
When my brain caught up with my mouth, I gasped, horrified. "Oh no! That came out wrong. I really do love it here. It's just . . ."
Mandy snorted into her goblet of Pumpkin Juice. "Don't worry. I understand. Hogwarts takes some getting used to. That sounds an awful lot like my first week in the castle."
My panic subsided as I realized that she understood. "And it's only been two days for me," I replied cheerfully, buttering my toast and stuffing it into my mouth. I chewed and swallowed this time before continuing. "I have an unsettling feeling that the craziness will not be abating any time soon."
That elicited a chuckle from the girl. Then she glanced down at her watch and stood up, a frown creasing her forehead. "Bugger. We'd better be off if we're going to make it to Transfiguration on time. You really don't want to be late to McGonagall's class."
I shot a glance up at the high table, remembering my first meeting with the formidable professor. "I got that impression."
I grabbed one last piece of bacon and munched on it contentedly as she led me out of the hall and through a progression of corridors that blurred together in my memory, chattering amicably all the way. With the distractions of hunger and sleep-induced hebetude removed, I crawled back into my awkward, socially retarded shell, no longer capable of stringing more than two syllables together at a time. As a result, I could say little more than “oh” or “no” or “uh huh,” so I was relieved that she was inclined to pull most of the weight in the area of conversation.
“We’re studying human transformation,” she explained, ever the studious Ravenclaw. “It’s fascinating, really, but extremely difficult. Hermione Granger is the only person who’s been able to make any remarkable change in her body so far – she actually transfigured her ears into an elephant’s last class.” She scowled darkly and muttered something that sounded like, “And she’s not even a Ravenclaw . . . disgraceful.”
I ignored her disgruntled murmuring. “Wait. Hermione Granger’s in this class?”
“Hogwarts’ resident genius herself,” Mandy confirmed, hauling me bodily out of the way of a herd of stampeding adolescents who raced around the corner ahead of us. “Bloody first years. Probably on the way to Snape’s class, sometimes he tells them he’ll curse their fingernails off if they’re late . . . We’re almost there, the classroom’s just at the end of this next corridor.”
“Right,” I managed, slowing down my pace a bit. “Er . . . who else is in there?”
“In Transfiguration?” she asked, matching her speed to mine. “Terry Boot, Padma Patil, Lisa Turpin, Anthony Goldstein, Su Li, Kevin Entwhistle, and Michael Corner for the Ravenclaws; Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchey, and Hannah Abbot for the Hufflepuffs; Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, and Blaise Zabini for the Slytherins; and Granger, Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil, Dean Thomas, and Ronald Weasley for the Gryffindors.” She paused and furrowed her brow, ticking off each student on her fingers. “Wait, I’m missing someone.”
We reached the end of the hallway finally, and Mandy pulled open the heavy oak door that presumably led to the Transfiguration room. “Who did I leave out . . .” she mused.
We stepped inside, and as I surveyed the room and took in the students who were already seated, I felt my heart flutter insanely and then try to drop out of my chest as my eyes locked on one in particular. I licked my lips nervously and twisted them into a pained grimace. “Harry Potter,” I finished for her. I quickly scanned the ground in front of me, checking for obstacles that I could potentially throw myself over, as I always seemed to do when Harry Potter was in the room.
Not that I even need an object, per say. I’m one of those rare people who possess the innate ability to trip over air, in some circumstances.
It’s a gift.
“Right, Harry Potter. Don’t know how I forgot him,” Mandy chuckled. “Come on. You can sit over here with me.”
I made to follow her, but a hand on my shoulder arrested my momentum. I spun around and nearly lost my balance, and I had to grab the nearest chair to keep myself upright.
See? Air. Most people think of it as a life-giving, benevolent substance, but I know the truth.
“Miss Farrell,” a familiar voice sounded.
“Hello, Professor,” I squeaked, once I had stabilized myself.
She narrowed her eyes at me, but otherwise ignored my little display of clumsiness. “Please take your seat, Miss Brocklehurst.” She nodded to Mandy and beckoned me over to her desk. “This is an incredibly difficult class, with very advanced material. Professor Dumbledore was adamant that you be placed with students your own age, but if I had my way, you’d be studying with my fifth years, at least until I could get an estimate of your abilities. Studying theory, as I understand you have done, is all very well, but it’s only half the equation. There is no substitute for actual spellwork.” She rapped her wand on her desk emphatically. “I never thought I’d see a student in my NEWT class who had never so much as transfigured a beetle into a button. It will be hard work, Miss Farrell. Very hard. You’re going to have to work out of class to catch up. For that reason, I’ve asked Miss Granger to tutor you. She is one of my top students, and I think you would benefit from extra instruction.” She shuffled a few blank sheathes of parchment and glanced up at me. “I’m not going to have you attempt any wandwork today. I want you to study human transfiguration in your textbook and go over these notes.” She stabbed the blank pile of parchment with her wand and words and diagrams blossomed, swirling out from the tip like ink spilled from a bottle. “I want you to have a very thorough understanding of the topic before you attempt to transfigure yourself – it’s very advanced magic, and it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.” She handed me the notes, and I had to stifle a groan; the pile of parchment was nearly six inches thick. So much for casting my first spell today, I thought bitterly.
She stationed me in the back of the room and I immersed myself in my studying, pausing only occasionally to observe the other students. It was quite interesting to watch; Hermione managed to change her nose to a trunk, which looked incredibly out of place sprouting from her tiny face. Not all of the students were having her success, however. Ronald couldn’t seem to do anything more than turn his face an unattractive shade of grey; a short, pug-faced girl in Slytherin colors succeeded in transfiguring her teeth into tusks, but she was unable to stop them from growing, and they were nearly five feet long before Professor McGonagall noticed and shrunk them; and Ernie Macmillan, one of the Hufflepuff boys, couldn’t seem to effect any change in his appearance but did apparently transfigure his vocal cords, because he trumpeted like an elephant periodically throughout the period, and Professor McGonagall couldn’t do anything to put him right. “It’ll wear off in time, I expect,” she sighed wearily.
During one of my study breaks, I looked up to find Harry watching me from across the room. As our eyes locked, I blushed ferociously and dropped my quill. Silently cursing myself, I ducked under my desk to retrieve it and slammed my head on the underside as I came back up. Wincing and red-faced, I emerged from under the table slowly, fingering my tender head. Thankfully, Harry didn’t seem to have noticed. I propped my chin up on my hand and went back to work, ignoring the throbbing pain above my left temple.
Finally, Professor McGonagall called a halt to the lesson. “Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do. I want two feet of parchment on the importance of proper enunciation while attempting human transfiguration on my desk by Monday. Class dismissed.”
I shoved my textbook and the notes in my book bag and followed the other students out of the classroom. “Dublin!” a cheery voice called out. “Dublin, wait!”
I slowed down and seconds later, Hermione appeared at my side. “So what did you think of your first lesson?”
“It was fascinating,” I breathed. “I never knew half of what the Professor had in her notes about human transfiguration. I can’t wait to try it!”
“Oh, it is fascinating,” Hermione replied. “Horribly difficult, though. I was hoping to have a tail by the end of the class, but the spellwork was more complicated than I expected.”
“Don’t listen to her,” a voice instructed. I turned and saw Ronald ambling up to us, shaking his head. “She’ll be a full elephant by next week, and all I’ll have managed is to turn myself the color of my old socks.”
“You really just need to practice a bit more, Ronald,” Hermione began eagerly. “I’m supposed to help Dublin, maybe you could study with us as well . . .”
“No, thanks,” he replied vehemently. “I know you, you’ll have us at it all night. I’ve got Quidditch. And anyway, who wants to turn themselves into a bloody elephant in the first place? It’s a ruddy waste of time if you ask me . . .”
“If you spent a bit more time on your studies instead of loafing around or playing Quidditch, Ronald,” Hermione retorted heatedly, “maybe you would find that your lessons are actually interesting, and not a . . . how did you put it? Ruddy waste of time.”
As they bickered, Harry came up alongside Hermione. He smiled at me, a smile so slight that for a moment I thought I had imagined it. I blushed (again – I was starting to worry that my face would be stained permanently the hue of an overripe tomato), stiffened, and focused my attention on putting one foot in front of the other without incident.
I trotted through the corridors back to the Great Hall with the trio, silent as if my mouth had been stitched closed. Ye gods, it was only lunchtime, and I was already ready to crawl up into a ball in some dark corner, sucking on my hair and avoiding all human contact. It seemed to be the only safe thing for me to do.
A/N: Hey. Me again. Sorry, I'll make it quick . . . I know there wasn't too much action in this chapter, but I've got some majorly important events planned for the next one, I promise. Now, if you would be so kind . . . scroll down the page a few inches, find that lovely little box marked "Reviews," and let me know what you think . . . I welcome feedback of all sorts, so rip me to pieces, tell me you hated it, have a go at my mother - whatever you're feeling right about now, I'd love to know.
Well, except maybe the bit about my mother. I love her to death, and it's really not her fault if I'm a horrible writer.
Thanks so much!
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