As preoccupied as I was with Merle’s health, it didn’t stop the feeling of happiness I felt upon entering the Entrance Hall. I was sure most of the other students at Hogwarts must have felt something similar each time they returned to the school after the summer. I suppose that the feeling was inevitable since we spent more time at Hogwarts than at our own homes.
Professor Sinistra left me in the Entrance Hall to rejoin the staff at dinner in the Great Hall. I had assured her that I would deposit the belongings I was carrying in the Ravenclaw common and return to join my House for dinner.
My footsteps echoed in the corridors as I made the journey to towards the Ravenclaw common room. It was when I was alone in castle corridors that my nerves started to creep out. The castle seemed a little daunting at night. I was almost at Ravenclaw Tower when I suddenly realised that I didn’t have the password.
“Bugger,” I muttered, annoyed with myself.
“Excuse me?” came a cold voice I knew too well but didn’t care to hear. Just great. Where the hell had he come from? Of all people to meet in a dark corridor after a long day, it had to be him.
I turned around to face Professor Snape. I swore that man never changed from year to year. The same greasy black hair. The same billowing black robes and dark piercing eyes.
That’s right Armilla, I thought. Make an idiot out of yourself in front of the one person who’ll use your stupidity against you.
My friends and I had always boasted to each other, like all the other Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, and Gryffindors that one day we would stand up to the Potions Master and let him have it. But every time those cold black eyes met mine, it was like most of my English vocabulary went up in a cloud of smoke and the only language I was fluent in was gibberish.
Snape waited for me to finish my sentence of utter gibberish. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow. I hated it when people did that. I wished I could tell him to just put that eyebrow back down in its proper place…but I don’t know the gibberish for that sentence.
“Miss Kemp,” he said coolly, eyeing me with distaste. “By your fifth year you must be aware that such language is not permitted in this school. Ten points from Ravenclaw. If I ever hear you curse again it will be detention. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” I said quietly, forcing my expression to remain indifferent. If I looked defiant he would probably linger for longer and find reason to take away more points.
He glared at me once more before sweeping away in the direction of the Great Hall. I waited a few moments and then followed to join the other students.
“Armilla!” cried Terry Boot as I made my way towards the fifth years at the Ravenclaw table. I sat down next to him and greeted all the other Ravenclaws around me. I was especially glad to see Terry, and my best friend Lisa Turpin. I hadn’t seen them at all during the holidays.
“I’m sorry to hear ol’ Merle’s been unwell, Mill,” said Terry. I smiled at him briefly, wondering how Merle really was at the moment.
“How’s fifth year going?” I asked, changing the subject. “How many sleepless nights am I to endure before I’ve caught up?”
“Forget about that Mill,” said Lisa. “I’ve made copies of all my notes and filed them in a special folder for you. All you have to do is tap it with your wand and it will appear a number of formats of your choice – alphabetically, chronologically according to date or according to what I believe will most likely come up in the OWLs.”
“Er…thanks Lisa,” I said. “You didn’t have to go to that much trouble.”
“Honestly, she’d rival Hermione Granger any day,” said Terry rolling his eyes at Lisa, who glared at him, put her nose in the air and turned to talk to Luna Lovegood instead.
“So, feel good to be back?” yawned Terry, stretching sleepily.
“Well I did, until I lost ten points for Ravenclaw after being inside the castle for only five minutes.”
“What! You never lose points. If Lisa here wasn’t in Ravenclaw, I’d nominate you Miss Perfect Ravenclaw right now. What hideous crime did you commit in the space of five minutes?”
I looked up at the staff table and held my gaze on one slimy git. Terry followed my gaze and understood at once.
“Well, don’t worry about it then. That old bat gets nastier every year. But he’s certainly got a rival this year. He may have held it for many years now, but he may not hold the trophy for Hogwart’s Most Hated Teacher for much longer.”
I laughed. “As if anyone could ever triumph over Snape in that category,” I said. “Even Lockhart was no match.” This time I followed Terry’s gaze along the table until my eyes came to rest on a squat toad-like woman in a fluffy pink cardigan.
“What the hell is that?” I whispered. “Is that thing human?”
Terry shivered. “You had better believe it. That’s Professor Umbridge, and she’s as evil as they come. We all reckon she’s been sent by the Ministry of Magic in order to drive Dumbledore out,” Terry glanced at the other students nearby before whispering, “and a lot of parents are all for it.”
“What! Why? Is this over Potter and what happened with You-Know-Who last term?” I shook my head. “It’s all true, I know it is.”
“Hey I’m not disagreeing with you,” he said, his eyes lingering briefly on Harry at the Gryffindor table, “but I’m just saying you had better be careful who you express your opinions to because Umbridge has eyes and ears everywhere. And I hear her detentions are worse than bed pans in the hospital wing. I don’t know what she makes students do but apparently they really learn their lesson.”
I watched this Umbridge woman for awhile. This coming year didn’t sound so inviting. So now I had to be extra careful who I was talking to, be really wary around more than one teacher, and study for my OWLs…and then there was poor Merle to think about.
My head was swarming with too many thoughts as Terry, Lisa and I made our way towards the common room. I was playing with my bracelet absent-mindedly, as I often did when I was wrapped up in my own thoughts.
“Do you think you’ll ever get that bracelet off?” Lisa asked, after watching me for some time.
“I don’t know. I’ve tried everything. It seems to want to hang around for good,” I replied as I let go of it.
“You say you’ve tried everything, but what about someone else?” said Terry, looking closely at it. “The knowledge surrounding these things must have been handed down to someone. There were a couple of hundred made after all, you say.”
“True,” I admitted. “Only Merle has really tried. But I agree with her that it could be dangerous to use dark magic to try and get it off. I think that it has to be on my wrist for a reason.”
“Duh,” said Terry smirking at me. “It saved your life. That’s the reason.”
“No, I think there is another reason, something really deep,” I said hastily. “There are so many superstitions around about this sort of bracelet that I don’t know what to believe.”
“Socrates,” said Terry when we reached the entrance to the common room.
“Well if something is meant to happen, it will happen in due course,” said Lisa wisely.
“Hear, hear,” said Terry with a dramatic bow as we passed by him into the common room.
I barely heard them. I had heard the same sort of thing so many times before. I was always being told that it was up to fate in regards to me finding out about my family history. Perhaps it was just my impatience, but I was tired of hearing the same old thing. I hated not knowing who I was. As much as I loved Merle, wasn’t it normal that I would want to know the name of my own mother or my father or any brothers or sisters?
I followed Lisa up to our dorm after bidding goodnight to Terry. As I lay in bed that night, I thought for the millionth time of what my mother looked like, what she smelled like, what her laugh sounded like…
And then, as usual, my pessimistic side stepped in and reminded me that she was probably dead, and it didn’t matter anymore what her laugh sounded like. I did have Merle after all, and I did enjoy hearing her laugh.