Chapter 3 : Chapter Three - Avrille
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I spent my last few free days finishing up my sightseeing in London. I particularly enjoyed the Jack-the-Ripper tour of the Whitechapel district, especially since none of the Muggles on the tour nor the tour guide himself knew that “Jack-the-Ripper” had actually been Nigra Bodewell, a serial-murdering Dark witch with a serious Muggle-hating problem. After the fifth murder of the Muggle prostitute Mary Kelly, Nigra was finally caught and sentenced to life in Azkaban.
Finally, the day before I was to depart for Hogwarts, I had satisfied my goof-off urges and decided I should really get some final preparations underway. After having some delicious pub fare in the parlour of the Leaky Cauldron, I made my way through the secret entrance to Diagon Alley with my purse full of Galleons. I wasn’t sure how the shopping situation would be in Hogsmeade, so I figured it’d be best to get everything I’d need for the year here.
For some reason there was an enormous crowd of giggling witches and annoyed-looking wizards outside of Flourish and Blotts, and I seriously considered coming back later when it had mostly dispersed. However, curiosity got the better of me, so I walked closer to read a sign that had been placed against the side of the store. Plastered across it was a very large colour picture of a young wizard with flowing blond hair wearing robes of goldenrod with matching gloves, scarf, and hat of jade green. The sign read, “New Release: Magical Me!” and above the door stretched a banner proclaiming, “GILDEROY LOCKHART will be signing copies of his autobiography Magical Me today 12:30 P.M. to 4:30 P.M.” [1.]
So that had to be the reason for the line. I’d heard of Lockhart, of course, simply from his constant appearance on the newspapers’ bestseller lists, but I’d always imagined him to be … well, more mature looking, I suppose. From what I heard of his accomplishments, it seemed like they had been done by a powerful older wizard, where the wizard in the photo in front of me looked to be no more than thirty. Maybe he was simply a genius like Professor Snape, though Mr. Lockhart didn’t seem to have any reservations about publishing his picture in his books; the man’s photographed image kept winking at me and flashing the most enormous, white smile I’d ever seen. Kind of morbidly intrigued, I pressed my way into the shop and found myself at the end of a line that wove through the reference section from the A’s (Abracadabra? There’s More to Magic Than You Think!: A Definitive Reference for the Inquiring Muggle) all around to the T’s (Three Hundred Sumptuous Ways to Cook Giant Squid).
Well, I certainly wasn’t going to wait in a line that long for some silly autograph from an author I’d never read, so I made my way to the back of the store to browse. Without consciously meaning to, I found myself in a section labelled, “Works by Hogwarts Teachers.” There were three whole rows devoted to Headmaster Albus Dumbledore alone with nearly as many books by Professor Minerva McGonagall. I couldn’t stop myself from tracing a finger across the leather spines of works by Professor Snape. I had all of the titles here already (obviously, since I owned every book he’d ever published), but I did find one in a first edition print that was completely impossible to get at home. I picked that up, along with Professor Sprout’s The Complete Healer’s Guide to Medicinal Plants, which I thought would be very useful since I was going to be apprenticing under her as well.
I squeezed past two very voluptuous witches fixing each other’s hair and worked my way slowly to the front to make my purchases. Glancing to the back of the store once more, I caught my first sight of Mr. Lockhart, who was sitting at a long table flanked by mountainous stacks of his books. He was flashing his toothy smile just like the photo outside and constantly running a hand through his golden curls. He was dressed in silk robes the colour of forget-me-nots, and with his other hand (the one that was not constantly attached to his head) he was signing books with an enormous peacock quill.
I couldn’t help but stare, though for a much different reason than the middle-aged witches around me. They obviously thought him darling, but for me it was like being unable to tear your eyes away from a horrible car wreck or a house on fire. I really couldn’t get over how incredibly stupid he looked. Shaking my head slightly to banish the sight of a grown wizard in pastels, I pushed through once more until I had regained my place in front of the checkout counter. A frazzled-looking assistant stood behind it, muttering to himself and shaking his head. He was slowly ticking things off a list with his quill, and it seemed like it was an inventory of Lockhart’s books. I didn’t envy him his job one bit at that moment.
“Excuse me,” I said quietly. He looked up like I had screamed in his ear, his eyes bulging and his mouth hanging open.
“Of course, of course,” he muttered and swept his papers to one side.
“So, these two and a copy of Magical Me, correct? Or will you be wanting the entire Lockhart set in its limited edition, dragon-leather collector’s slipcase?”
“Uh, I don’t want a Lockhart book. These two only, please,” I said, trying to keep from laughing. The assistant squinted his eyes suspiciously at me, his hand frozen in the air after stamping “PAID” on the inside cover of my Herbology book. He at least seemed to have enough of an attention span currently to note the other volume was a rare edition and thankfully refrained from marring it.
“You … don’t want Magical Me?” he questioned, as though I’d just refused a huge bag of free Galleons instead of some overpriced, fad publication.
“No, I’m all set.” The assistant shook his head and slid my two books into a paper bag.
“That will be eight Galleons, please,” the assistant said to me, his face looking quite like he had just eaten a spoonful of Giant Squid tartare. I had a sneaking suspicion that Flourish and Blotts had over-ordered on the Lockharts.
I paid quickly and scurried out of the store, which was becoming increasingly warm and stuffy with the amount of people squeezed into it. I took a nice deep breath of fresh air outside and stretched my arms up to the sky. It was a wonderfully cool day for August, luckily for me since I doubted I would’ve felt like shopping being all hot and sweaty.
I ducked into Madam Notion’s Fyne Witch Attyre to try on some new dress robes. Deputy Headmistress McGonagall had suggested in her welcome letter that I bring a set since Hogwarts did have some formal occasions throughout the year, such as the annual Solstice Ball for fifth- through seventh-years the week before Christmas. Madam Notion herself happily outfitted me with two very stylish sets of dress robes when I simply couldn’t choose between them, one deep rose and the other forest green. The sight of Lockhart had turned me off pastels for the moment. She also convinced me to buy three sets of gloves (“These elegant fashions are so in now, dear.”), four new pairs of shoes (“Two for evening, two for day wear …”), and a fur-lined coat (“Very cold winters they have up there at Hogwarts!”). With my purse considerably lighter, I made my last stop at The Magical Menagerie to pick up some more Kitty Kibbles and magic-motion mice for Caligula.
Back in my room at the Leaky Cauldron, I packed away my new purchases, placing my new books in my carry-on bag in case I was bored on the train. I spent the rest of the night playing poker with three old warlocks from Glasgow and managed to win back almost all of the money I’d spent earlier in the day. Of course after that, the warlocks refused to play anymore and kept shooting me dirty looks over dinner …
The next day, after some frenzied last-minute packing, I arrived at King’s Cross Station with little time to spare. Fortunately, Professor McGonagall’s introductory letter provided me with a detailed description of how to find platform 9 and ¾. The station was absolutely packed with hurrying Muggles suddenly released from their jobs like hounds from a stifling hot kennel. Business men ran by me with their arms pumping their briefcases back and forth and their ties flying behind them like medieval knightly standards. I saw many tired, middle-aged women desperately trying to keep hold of three or more children with one hand while, in the other, balancing multiple parcels from a day’s shopping in town.
Following the signs, I found myself easily on the walkway between platforms nine and ten. I dragged my laden pull-cart behind me, cursing myself for deciding to wear heels. Even though the sun was low on the horizon, sweat dripped down my forehead, and I was looking forward to nothing more than a nice, iced pumpkin juice on the train. Standing next to a column, I glanced nonchalantly at the departing train on track ten before pushing myself and my cart sideways through the barrier. It was even simpler than I’d thought it would be. A slight whoosh of air blew past my face, and I was suddenly in front of the Northbound Hogwarts Commuter train; the Hogwarts Express only ran for the students.
A kind porter aided me with the stowing of my larger bags and gently deposited an irate, puffed-up Caligula in the animals’ compartment. I glanced at the large station clock as I boarded, 4:50 P.M., and breathed a sigh of relief that I had actually made it! The train was mostly empty since most London-working witches and wizards chose to Apparate or use the Floo Network to go home. This commuter train ran only a few times a week for those who preferred or, like me, required other means of transportation. I passed one elderly witch looking out the window while three small canaries circled her head, apparently refusing to be caged for the journey. I made my way to the middle of the first car; no use walking farther than needed! I slid open the door and gratefully fell into the red plush seat. I’d just closed my eyes for a minute when a jaunty rapping on the compartment door snapped me to attention. I glanced over and standing in the doorway, if you could believe it, was Gilderoy Lockhart!
Lockhart flashed me one of his mile-wide smiles and said cheerfully, “Mind if I sit here? I find traveling by one’s lonesome dreadfully dreary, pardon the pun!”
What pun? I thought to myself, but replied politely, “No, of course not. Please,” and gestured to the seat across from me, never guessing how much future personal anguish I could’ve saved myself by simply yelling, “Beat it, you pastel freak!”
Yes, once again, Lockhart was dressed head to toe in a matching pastel ensemble, this time the palest mint green. He also held a mint green satin clutch bag. Lockhart took the seat across from me and held out one of his white-gloved hands. I shook it reluctantly, wondering how on earth he had made it through crowds of Muggles looking like that. Maybe they just thought he was gay.
“I know it’s probably immensely silly to bother introducing myself, but I feel proper introductions are just one of those wonderful, quaint formalities that seem to be disappearing from society. As you know, I am Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League, and Five Time Winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award, but,” and he tapped his nose with a leathered-finger, “I have a sneaking suspicion that count will be up to six with December’s vote!” He sat back and smiled at me, obviously wanting some sort of congratulation.
“Oh, that sounds really exciting,” I lied. “I’m Avrille Asphodel and I’m …” I began, thinking I should add something to my name to compare with his impressive list, but he cut me off before I could even start.
“—Great Scott!” Lockhart clapped a hand to his forehead. “I should be introducing myself as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League, and Five-Probably-Six Time Winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award!”
“P … Professor?” I asked weakly.
“Yes! I’ve been hired as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Seems there was some sort of accident with the last fellow. If you want my opinion, they should’ve asked for me last year and saved themselves that bit of trouble! But then again, I was currently touring the continent promoting advanced sales of Magical Me, so I can’t say I would have been able to accept …”
Lockhart amazed me with his ability to talk without taking a single breath or breaking his perfectly symmetrical smile. By now the train had begun moving, and I groaned inwardly knowing I would have to see this babbling narcissist daily now. The thought really made me wonder about Professor Dumbledore’s mental state. I mean, hiring Lockhart?! Well, perhaps he figured Lockhart’s immense experience would counterbalance his insane personality.
“So, would you like the one of me on my broomstick?” Lockhart’s question pulled me back to his conversation reluctantly.
“I’m sorry … what?” I asked, wondering how that question could have relevance in any conversation, let alone the one he was having happily by himself.
“Well, it’s obvious you want my autograph. Most people are too shy to ask, you know, all that fear of celebrities not being like real people. I mean, I try my best to relate to the common witch and wizard, but I’m only one undeniably talented and handsome man, and it’s no easy task. So, would you like your autograph on this picture?” he asked once more, and this time I noticed he had held up several glossy black and whites of himself, the most prominent one indeed of him reclining on a speeding broomstick.
“Sure,” I said hurriedly, wanting to get this embarrassment over with as quickly as possible. Lockhart pulled out a large eagle quill, not as fine as his peacock one, and scrawled across the bottom in a loopy cursive: “To Miss Anderson, my most adoring fan. Ever Magical, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin Third Class et cetera.” He handed it to me when the ink was dry like it was the greatest reward in the world. Luckily at that moment, the refreshment cart came to our compartment, and while Lockhart was distracted ordering a Pink Pixie with extra grenadine (what the hell?!), I quickly buried the photograph in my carry-on. I would simply die of mortification if anyone at Hogwarts saw me carrying something so pathetic.
The snack-witch left, and Lockhart appeared ready to release another torrent of oh-so-stimulating banter about his numerous awards. Before he could begin, I forced an overtly loud yawn and gave my regrets, but I really needed to rest since I didn’t sleep well the night before.
“That’s quite all right! I have reams of work to get through myself, you know. Lesson plans … book signing schedules … and I just can’t seem to finish the colour scheme for my office!”
Stifling a snicker, I bade Lockhart luck and turned toward the window with my face buried in my arms. I really was very tired and glad that it gave me a legitimate excuse to tone out Lockhart’s company for a few hours. However, after only three of the eight plus hours the trip would take had passed, I awoke and found myself unable to get back to sleep. Seeing my alertness, Lockhart dove right back into an explanation of the difficulties of forming a colour scheme built completely around the exact shade of his blue eyes and how he had bought out the meagre forget-me-not supplies of practically every textile shop in Diagon Alley without finding the proper hue. Thanks to two hours of that engrossing topic and a highly detailed recount of his latest book release party, I did manage to fall back asleep very easily. I only woke once briefly to the slightly disturbing sight of Professor Lockhart discreetly applying eye cream with his pinkies, aided by a levitating compact mirror. I guess he didn’t want to show up at Hogwarts with under-eye baggies.
At long last the train pulled into the Hogsmeade Station at nearly two in the morning. Feeling worse for my naps, I grudgingly gathered my things and followed Lockhart off the train onto the platform where awaiting us stood the most gigantic man I had ever seen. He wasn’t fat, however, just … huge! He had to have been twice as tall as me and three times as broad as Lockhart. Lockhart whispered to me, “Probably part ogre, you know. Seen lots of them in Kazakhstan.”
“Evenin’!” our amazing greeter said cheerfully. “I’m Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore sent me down to meecha two and to getcha situated.” He gave a “little” bow to Lockhart saying, “Professor Lockhart, sir … heard all about yeh, o’ course!” Then he turned to me and held out a hand the size of a frying pan, “An’ you must be Mistress Asphodel. A pleasure it is, miss!” I took his hand happily and returned his cheery smile with one of my own.
As I got a grip on Caligula’s carry-case, Mr. Hagrid took control of my luggage cart, leaving Lockhart to his own means. The air in Hogsmeade was fragrant and sweet like it was wafting toward us from the window of a sweets store. Of course I later learned that its smell was mostly due to the all-night cooking of Honeydukes to be ready for customers in the morning. The night was perfectly clear with hundreds of stars strung throughout the heavens.
Mr. Hagrid led us through the station gates to where a magnificent mahogany coach stood on the street. I stumbled when I saw what pulled it: a thestral. I had never seen one before, but I had read about them and seen artist renditions in books. I also knew that if I ever did see one I would, well, see it. Upon noticing the carriage and what must have seemed to him an empty set of shafts, Lockhart laughed merrily and said, “Ingenious! A carriage without the need of a horse! Whatever will Dumbledore think of next?” and climbed aboard. Mr. Hagrid gave him a polite smile then looked at me and saw the recognition on my face.
“It s’alright, miss,” he said quietly and placed his large hand on my shoulder, “she’s harmless.” He looked at Lockhart already happily situated. “Can’ blame his ignorance. Probably lucky he can’ see ‘er anyway.” Personally, I found it rather odd that Lockhart couldn’t see the thestral after all of the encounters with Dark creatures he had had. Certainly he had seen death before …
Mr. Hagrid motioned for me to get into the carriage too while he saw to the stowing of our baggage on top. Then he somehow managed to board the carriage himself, forcing me to squeeze unhappily close to Lockhart, who smelled like lilac oil and facial powder. Caligula emitted a low growl once he realized he was not going to be free yet. I think he also probably found Lockhart’s proximity just as offensive as I did.
With a quick double rap on the wall behind him, Mr. Hagrid signalled for the thestral to move. We were quickly, but very bumpily, propelled toward the castle. It was not a mode of transportation I would choose voluntarily in the future. But fortunately, uncomfortable through the ride was, it was over in a few minutes.
Since Lockhart held the window captive, the first sight of Hogwarts I was allowed came as we awkwardly disembarked with the grace of a drunken hippopotamus. We were standing in a large cobblestoned cul-de-sac that swept around a colossal fountain. The grounds around the castle seemed immense and were spread out over rocky vales and sweeping forest. In the distance I could see the edge of a vast black lake that lay as still as an obsidian tile in the breezeless night. Hogwarts itself was breathtakingly beautiful with its rough granite walls thick with ivy that seemed to climb all the way to the heavens and interrupted only by countless stained-glass windows. I had to tip my head completely back to take in every towering spire stretching into the night sky. The immenseness of the castle only further clenched the anxiety that had been gnawing in my stomach since my arrival on the train. I could easily surmise that twenty Berkshires Schools could’ve fit inside the cavernous edifice in front of me, with room to spare.
By now Mr. Hagrid had unloaded the baggage and lifted it onto his shoulder while motioning for us to follow him. We climbed the prodigious stone steps, Mr. Hagrid taking three at a time, with the only noises the thudding of Mr. Hagrid’s boots and the quiet chirps of bats flying overhead. At the top of the stairs, a vast pair of oak doors magically swung open to admit us into a large, shadowy entrance hall. In front of us, another marble staircase climbed into the unseen, to the left was a long, wide corridor, and to the right was another pair of oak doors practically as large as the ones we had just passed through. These doors, however, remained closed.
“Professor Dumbledore wishes ter see yeh before yeh get all settled,” Mr. Hagrid said. He placed my luggage down by the stairs and motioned for Lockhart to as well. I placed Caligula on top of my trunk. “These’ll be brough’ to yer rooms in a mo’. We’d better see the headmaster now, if tha’s alright.” Lockhart and I nodded in agreement and followed Mr. Hagrid up the stairs.
When the stairs wrapped around themselves once, I saw that they branched off into a series of other flights that seemed to stretch to the very top tower. My breath caught as I looked at the spectacle before me as several staircases shifted to different landings with a rumbling groan. The walls were entirely covered with paintings, their occupants either snoozing lightly or gazing down on us with lazy looks.
Mr. Hagrid led us up six more flights, making me guess that the inhabitants of Hogwarts must be in excellent shape. We took a corridor that meandered to the back of the school and seemed to lead to a dead end. Mr. Hagrid walked on confidently nevertheless and stopped where the hall came up short in front of a large, stone gargoyle that seemed to be blocking some sort of archway. Mr. Hagrid paused in front of the gargoyle, scratching his head.
“Ah, what’s the password … Oh, righ’! Sherbet lemon!” Mr. Hagrid called out confidently, and the gargoyle sprang to one side revealing a hollow containing a spiralling stair. Mr. Hagrid held out an arm for Lockhart and me to precede him. I stepped onto the revolving stair, which reminded me rather of escalators in Muggle malls. Lockhart came next, hitching up his mint green robes to reveal black, heeled leather boots. Mr. Hagrid followed last, hunching over and sucking in his gut to fit in the small rotating chamber.
When I reached the top, I saw before me a large shining oak door with a bronze knocker shaped like a griffin. I took a deep breath and knocked quietly. Lockhart and Mr. Hagrid had both reached the top now and were pressing me rather uncomfortably in the small space. Fortunately, the door opened right away to admit us into a large circular office. Portraits of dozens of sleeping witches and wizards adorned the walls in the few spaces not covered with bookshelves. Numerous silver instruments were strewn about on spindly tables, and to my left an enormous golden bird perched with its head resting under its wing.
“Ah! Hagrid!” a voice to my right called. Albus Dumbledore, for it could only be he, stepped out from behind the opened door where he had apparently been browsing his books. He was still dressed in his daywear composing of elegant navy velvet robes that made his long hair and beard glisten like polished silver. His aged face broke into a large, friendly smile when he saw me.
“Mistress Asphodel,” he said as he extended a wizened hand from his robes. He then surprised (and charmed) me by taking my hand and bringing it lightly to his lips. “I am most enchanted to finally meet you,” he said as he clasped my hand with both of his. His hands were warm and surprisingly soft.
Then he turned to Lockhart, who had already extended his hand in greeting. “And Gilderoy, I’m so grateful you were able to take time out from your busy schedule to assist me this year,” Professor Dumbledore said as he shook Lockhart’s hand. I could’ve sworn he also gave me the tiniest of winks while Lockhart was looking down to adjust his robes. The headmaster looked up at a magnificent clock over his desk at the far end of the room as it chimed for two-thirty.
“Well, I hardly wish to keep you at this late hour. I’m delighted to see you both have arrived without trouble, and I am eager to talk with you in depth tomorrow at breakfast. For now,” Professor Dumbledore motioned to Mr. Hagrid who had hung back by the door, “Hagrid, our esteemed gamekeeper, will show you to your rooms so you can settle in for the night. Breakfast is at nine o’clock. I look forward to seeing you both there!” With that, Professor Dumbledore gave a little bow and stepped back to allow Mr. Hagrid to open the door once more.
I had to admit my mind was much more relaxed as we took the staircase back down. Professor Dumbledore seemed like a truly wonderful man, and most of the anxiety I’d felt about starting at Hogwarts seemed to vanish when I saw his twinkling blue eyes. Mr. Hagrid led the way back down the dead-end corridor to where several others branched off before leading to the changing stairs.
“Yer room’ll be righ’ down here, Mistress Asphodel,” Mr. Hagrid said as he clumped his way down more than half of all the stairs we’d climbed and led us along a smaller corridor that diverged from a main one. We passed several rusted suits of armour, which whistled and wheezed slightly, as well as more portraits including a fairly amusing one of five vampires playing dominoes. Mr. Hagrid stopped outside a sturdy door across from a tapestry of three young unicorns, who were amusing themselves by taking turns jumping over a large rip down the center of the fabric.
“This is it,” he said as he dipped a broad hand into his large moleskin coat. From a deep, inside pocket, Mr. Hagrid pulled out a large iron ring of keys of all different sizes, running the gamut from some as small as my pinkie finger up to others as long as the average wand. After a minute of fiddling, Mr. Hagrid managed to remove a rather medium-sized key and held it up for me to see.
“This’ll be yers alone; no one else’ll have a copy. Dumbledore allows fer staff ter add any spells yeh may want for extra protections, but I reckon yeh won’ need ‘em. Hogwarts students mind their own business.” With that, he fit the key into the lock and gave it a sharp wiggle. The door sprang open and instantly alight were several candelabra throughout the room as well as a large fireplace by the door.
“Well, I’ll leave yeh to it then,” Mr. Hagrid said as he handed me the key. “I’ll come round ten o’ nine if yeh like to bring yeh to breakfast.”
“Yes, that would be great. Thank you so much,” I said and squeezed Mr. Hagrid’s massive hand with mine. Lockhart was starting to poke his head curiously around the edge of door, but Mr. Hagrid backed up suddenly and almost sent him sprawling. Stifling a laugh, I said, “Good night, Mr. Hagrid. And good night, Professor Lockhart.” Both nodded their heads at me then turned back to go to the main staircases.
I shut the door, grateful for a moment’s peace. However, it was quickly interrupted by a series of loud yowls coming from the next room. I hurried through to find Caligula had already been brought up with my luggage and was fighting to get out of his case. His frantic pacing was making him very close to tipping off the edge of the bureau on which he’d been placed. I sighed and walked over to open his door. Caligula purred appreciatively and began to sniff out every inch of the room, ignoring his toy mousie I’d taken from my pocket and thrown across the floor.
I turned to take in my new rooms as well. My bedroom was absolutely lovely and consisted of an old mahogany wardrobe and dresser and a large four-post, canopy bed with tapestry hangings. The bedroom led to a comfortably-sized bathroom with marble tiles. Turning back to the parlour, I saw that it was styled very much in the same manner as the bedroom with mahogany furniture, but the upholstery and curtains in the parlour were dark maroon as opposed to the bedroom’s ice blue. There were several bookshelves lining the walls filled with interesting-looking volumes that I couldn’t wait to delve into. However, despite my naps on the train, the sights of Hogwarts had utterly exhausted me, so I took the necessities out of my trunk and prepared for bed.
A lovely moonlight was filtering in through the bedroom windows as I extinguished the lamps. After climbing into my luxuriously comfortable bed, I contented myself to stare out through the tall windows at the starry sky before falling into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning I woke up just as the school’s bell was tolling half past eight, and a good thing, too, since Mr. Hagrid had said he’d be over to fetch me in twenty minutes. I reluctantly crawled out of bed and cracked a window to let in the fresh, rainy morning air. I regretted not putting my things away fully the night before as I picked unceremoniously through my clothes trying to find something suitable for my first day at Hogwarts. I finally settled on a simple green linen dress under a goldenrod summer robe, hoping breakfast wasn’t anything fancy. I’d just finished brushing my hair when a resounding knock thundered through my apartment and seemed to threaten to bash the door clear off its hinges. I quickly opened it to reveal a beaming Mr. Hagrid, who apologized for his over-zealousness.
“Jus’ wanted to make sure yeh were up!” he proclaimed as he offered his arm to me. I had to admit that being escorted somewhere by Mr. Hagrid reminded me rather of wrapping my arm around the leg of an elephant. As we walked down the few staircases to the ground floor, Mr. Hagrid pointed out various classrooms and areas of interest to try and help me get myself oriented with the castle more quickly.
“Blimey,” he said as we waited for the staircase we were on to stop moving to another platform, “I remember me firs’ day here. Took me a week jus’ to remember how to get back to me common room!”
“You were a student here?” I inquired with interest.
Mr. Hagrid’s hairy face flushed. “Ah, well, was once. Got expelled though … Long story.” Mr. Hagrid seemed fairly embarrassed by the topic, so I changed the subject and asked him what sort of animals he looked after as gamekeeper. With this, he noticeably perked up and spent the rest of the walk down to the Great Hall telling me about his pet dragon, Norbert, he’d taken care of for a little while last year.
“’Course I couldn’ keep a dragon in me hut, so I had to send ‘im to live in a colony with others like ‘im. Wish I knew how he was doin’, though,” Mr. Hagrid murmured as we crossed the entrance hall and stopped in front of the massive doors I’d seen last night when we entered the castle.
Mr. Hagrid gripped one of the enormous iron rings on the door and wrenched it open, allowing me to pass through first. I gasped aloud, like a little kid, at my first glimpse of the Great Hall. Even though I’d skimmed Hogwarts, A History before coming here, it didn’t fully prepare me for the immense spectacle of it all. The ceiling truly did mirror the real sky, but it was such a cunning reproduction that if I couldn’t see for myself that the rain overhead wasn’t dampening the room, I could’ve easily believed there wasn’t a ceiling at all. Ominous, blue-black clouds swirled menacingly together while spewing forth fat droplets that faded a dozen feet above the ground. Looking up at Mr. Hagrid, I was surprised to see that the rain was in fact real and was coating the top of his bushy hair with a misting of silver.
He grinned at me, touching his head, and muttered, “Happens a lot ter me. No one else tall ‘nough ter be bothered by it, though!”
The Hall was very deep and consisted of four finely carved tables that stretched its whole length. At the end of the Hall was a raised platform where the staff members were currently sitting, most gazing down interestedly at our entrance. Mr. Hagrid led me back to them with his casual swagger that more than once almost sent me crashing into a long table next to me. A knot was slowly working its way into my stomach like last night, choking my breath. There were less than a dozen teachers currently there, but I was nervous as if the Great Hall were filled with them. I immediately saw Professor Snape seated at one of the ends and spared a moment of gripping anxiety to note with amusement that he’d kept an empty chair between himself and Lockhart. I could feel those dark, melancholic eyes studying me as I came nearer.
Headmaster Dumbledore rose as we approached with a warm smile and a twinkling in his eye that once again helped to dispel at least some of my nerves. “Ah,” he said, “and here they are!” He motioned toward the stairs, which I took so quickly I nearly stumbled. Mr. Hagrid helped himself to a seat near the stairs while Professor Dumbledore beckoned me to his side. He placed a kind hand on my shoulder.
“This is Mistress Avrille Asphodel, whom I told you all about. She will be apprenticing under Severus and Pomona this year. Why don’t you take a seat there, my dear,” he said to me and pointed to—oh wonderful—the empty place between Lockhart and Professor Snape. Professor Snape gave me a slight nod of recognition and stood to pull out my chair for me. Wondering what on earth he must be thinking right now, I whispered a thank you and sat, feeling his presence move from behind me back to the seat beside me.
Seeing everyone was settled, Professor Dumbledore continued, “Let me quickly introduce the rest of the staff to you before we begin our meal. This is Minerva McGonagall, our deputy headmistress and professor of Transfiguration,” he said with an open palm to a mature witch to his right. She wore her hair in an unforgiving bun and looked like one not to cross, though she gave me a tight smile nevertheless. “To her right is Professor Filius Flitwick, master of Charms.” Professor Flitwick was a tiny old man with fluffy white hair, who waved a small hand enthusiastically at me. “And, of course, you traveled with our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, on the train so no introductions needed there!” Lockhart winked at me with a hearty grin, as though we were sharing some sort of private joke.
“And on the end next to you is our Potions master under whom you’ll be studying, Severus Snape.” Professor Snape looked at me with an unreadable expression and his arms crossed but said nothing. I felt my face warm self-consciously, but Professor Dumbledore was not quite finished.
“To my left here is Madam Pomfrey, our excellent matron. I’m sure she’ll be all too happy to give you an insider’s look at healing.” Madam Pomfrey gave me a warm smile and inclined her head toward me. “Then, of course, there is Pomona Sprout, our learned Herbology professor. Without a doubt you’ll be spending plenty of time in her greenhouses.” Professor Sprout was a stout little witch with wild grey hair but a face so friendly one couldn’t help liking her instantly. “Next down is Madam Rolanda Hooch, Hogwarts’s flying instructor and foremost authority on Quidditch. She also referees the school matches.” Madam Hooch had sharp features that reminded me very much of an owl, the thought facilitated by her spiky silver hair and golden eyes.
“And last is Professor Lavinia Sinistra, head of the Astronomy department.” Professor Sinistra was a young witch, probably no more than twenty-nine or thirty, with long, flowing black hair and skin as pale as moonlight. She gave me a friendly little wave. “Of course, we have many more teachers here, but they have not all arrived back yet from summer holiday. You’ll meet them soon enough, I dare say. Well, if that’s all settled, let us all tuck in!”
At his final words, the table was instantaneously filled with every sort of tantalizing breakfast food imaginable: heaps of fluffy scrambled eggs; towers of buttery toast; mounds of fresh croissants, biscuits, scones and muffins; stacks of pancakes (plain, blueberry, banana and chocolate chip); plates of ham, bacon and sausages; bowls overflowing with fruit salad and stewed tomatoes; pitchers filled with icy pumpkin and orange juices; pots of rich coffee, velvety cocoa, and spicy teas … All spread out in front of me, begging to be eaten. I also noticed some specialty items on the table in front of professors who’d apparently requested them; Professor Dumbledore immediately dug into a large breakfast burrito, Mr. Hagrid was smiling down at four thick steaks topped with fried eggs and Tabasco sauce, and Professor Sprout contented herself with nothing more than a grapefruit half and a sigh. My mouth watered instantly; I’d barely had anything to eat since my last lunch at the Leaky Cauldron almost twenty-four hours ago. I took as much food as I dared, not wanting to seem like a gluttonous pig, and ate up gratefully.
However, much to my chagrin, Lockhart immediately reinstated the thread of his conversation that I’d hoped had ended when we disembarked the train.
“Professor Dumbledore was kind enough this morning to recommend a seamstress in Hogsmeade for me to try … thousands of swatches lying around … might just be the thing to bring my quarters together! Of course, I could very well survive furnished as it is now. I’ve gone months without proper shelter, you know, a season in Transylvania hunting vampires here, a summer in a haunted Russian forest there … Even had to spend most of January two years ago in an igloo provided by some very kind Inuit natives. They, of course, were only too obliging once I rid their glacier of the fearsome Abominable Snowman! But that Professor Quirrell before me really left the place in such a state of disarray! It was as if he were too busy to even tidy up the place once in a while, and I must say, I find the lingering odour of garlic most disagreeable …”
I really thought I would die if he kept talking. It was bad enough having to pretend to listen attentively, but his constant chattering was quickly making me lose my appetite. Fortunately, my discomfort must have been radiating like a beacon, for Professor Flitwick politely interrupted Professor Lockhart and proceeded to ask him questions about his books. I sighed with relief and turned back to my toast.
“I pity your spending the trip from London with that,” a low voice, dripping with disdain, muttered into my right ear. I almost shivered at Professor Snape’s proximity, his breath raising the little hairs on my neck.
“I tried to think of it as a character-building exercise,” I replied with forced nonchalance and turned to look at Professor Snape, who had sat back once more, his eyes focused on Lockhart. His glance hardened for a moment then flitted back to me. For the first time, I noticed that his eyes were not brown like mine, as I had assumed, but a dark, piercing grey; the same colour as storm clouds over the ocean.
“So we meet again, although slightly more formally this time,” he said, louder than his first comment.
“Yes, I’m … I’m so sorry about last week. I had no idea who you were, and I feel like such an idiot about it; almost breaking your neck and making you late for the lecture and all that …” I trailed off, poking at my eggs with the prongs of my golden fork.
“Did you enjoy the lecture nevertheless?” he asked in complete seriousness.
“Oh, absolutely!” I said shyly, turning back toward him. “It was completely fascinating.”
Professor Snape held me fixated with one of his haunting stares before replying, “Then there is nothing to worry about.” With that, he turned back to his own meal leaving me to overhear snippets of Professors Lockhart’s and Flitwick’s conversation (“Was preying on five villages in the area, you know! Absolutely devastating!”).
When breakfast was over, the food vanished, and all the plates were magically clean once more. Everyone at the table rose, except for me since I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Professor Snape swept from the Hall through a door behind the staff table without any further acknowledgement of me. I guessed maybe I should simply to return to my rooms, so I got up as well and made to leave, nervously wondering if I’d be able to find my way back by myself. Fortunately at that moment, Professor Dumbledore called out my name and gestured for me to join him at his side once more. I saw now that Professor Sprout had remained behind as well and looked quite beside herself with delight.
“Avrille,” Professor Dumbledore said when I reached the pair of them, “Professor Sprout wishes very much to show you the school greenhouses now, if you have no other plans.”
“That would be lovely!” I exclaimed. I simply couldn’t wait to see what sort of flora Hogwarts kept.
“Excellent, then, excellent,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Professor Snape has offered to give you a tour of his classrooms in the dungeons and an introduction Tuesday morning if that is agreeable as well.” With that, Professor Dumbledore gave us a polite little bow before disappearing through the same door as Professor Snape. I stood rooted to the spot, slightly relieved that I didn’t have to spend time alone with Professor Snape until after the weekend. I couldn’t deny that I was looking forward to it … a lot … but I just couldn’t help feeling like he thought I was some silly little girl he had to baby-sit.
“Come now, my dear, shall we go?” Professor Sprout asked and descended the platform stairs with her skirts hitched up over her ankles. I was pleased to see that unlike Lockhart’s shining designer boots of last night, Professor Sprout wore simple suede boots of brown, but then again, that could’ve just been all the dirt caking them. Fighting back a smile, I followed Professor Sprout out of the Great Hall.
Author’s Note: [1.] From Chapter Four, “At Flourish and Blotts,” of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended.
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