Mum smiles at me and tucks my hair behind my ear.
“Now, darling, I want you to have some fun,” she says. “This is your last month, and the weather is beautiful, so now that all your exams are over you can afford to relax, okay?”
“And don’t - ”
In my head I begin to sketch on her. I take charcoal and exaggerate the laugh lines gathered at the corners of her eyes. I dot little vines that twirl up the side of her cheek, create little swooping spirals growing off them. Shade her lips in black, fill in the shadows thrown on her neck. I flick through different shades for her hair, before settling on the same black as the charcoal. Then I pin it back intricately with silver spiralling hair grips.
And then I’m back, and the waitress is handing me a ham sandwich.
I force a smile and take it. Mum’s forgotten that I’m a vegetarian. Again. It’s not her fault, though. I know she’s been busy lately.
We get together for lunch every other Hogsmeade weekend. We both have to force ourselves to make the effort, but in the end I think it’s probably good for us. Me and my mum used to be real close, but since I started Hogwarts I guess all the months apart, added to the fact that she’s a Muggle, so she can’t really relate, have meant we’ve drifted.
That’s sadder than it sounds, because now I’m not really close to anyone. Of course, I’m friendly with my dorm mates, and Rose and Tally know me quite well. But I don’t have a best friend like I used to in Mum. She was pretty young when she had me - apparently it was some big scandal at the time - so even though we didn’t always have a lot in common, we had fun together. Now we only just have time to tell each other what’s going on in our lives.
I tried to think of a way to not eat my sandwich without hurting Mum’s feelings. She’d ordered without me, trying to surprise me I guess. I wished she hadn’t. She thinks it’s my favourite, and I briefly considered just eating it without saying anything, but my hands trembled as I went to pick it up, and I couldn’t force myself. Normally I was so good at thinking my way out of tricky situations, but my mind was racing and not coming up with anything. I honestly thought smoke was going to start coming out of my ears.
And then the Gods gave me a gift.
It was Rose and her cousin Lucy stood outside. Rose was tapping on the window excitedly. They waited until they caught my eye and then hurried in to the shop. Rose ran a hand across her brow with relief as the air conditioning hit her a few steps in. It was the beginning of one of the hottest summers on record.
I pushed my sandwich away with relief, beckoning them over.
“Hey, guys, you remember my mum, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Rose said happily. “Hi, Karen!”
My mum smiled back and greeted them both, inviting them join us. They declined.
“No, no, we can’t stay,” Rose said. “I just couldn’t wait to tell you Renny! We just had lunch with our family, and they let it slip that we’re going on holiday this summer! They said that because so many people are graduating this year, we should all have a treat. We’re going to Italy!”
My heart skipped a beat.
Rose nodded excitedly, and Lucy clapped her hands together, grin threatening to split her face. My mother had gone very silent, and I couldn’t really bring myself to glance over at her. I just forced a smile onto my face for Rose instead.
“I know how obsessed you are with their culture,” Rose continued. “So I just HAD to tell you when I saw you! Anyway, I’ll let you guys get back to your lunch, I’m sure you have loads to catch up on. Ha, I’ll send you a postcard!”
Then she gave a cheery wave and they swished out the door again. I averted my eyes down.
“So, you’re ‘obsessed with their culture’, are you?” my mother said after a few seconds of awkward silence. “I… did not know that.”
“You’re the one who taught me Italian,” I grumbled, folding up my napkin.
“Yes, well, that’s irrelevant. You still didn’t tell me you were that interested. You know, you don’t have to hide that from me. I’m fine.”
“Please,” I muttered. “You freeze up anytime somebody even mentions the name. Grandma says you used to be just as in love with it as me. What the hell happened to you over there?”
“You know perfectly well what happened to me,” she replied coldly.
“I really don’t think I do,” I admitted. I couldn’t look her in the eyes, so I stood up and awkwardly mumbled, “Bathroom”, before making my escape. We were in this tiny café, our favourite place in the Muggle village just a few miles away from Hogsmeade. It was a popular haunt for Muggleborns or people with non-magical friends, because you easily get there on Hogsmeade weekends to meet up. Me and Mum had explored it for ages before discovering this cute café, but now it was the only place we ever met up in term time.
I stood in the bathroom for a few minutes, staring at myself in the mirror. It’s the same boring reflection I’ve been seeing for sixteen years. When I was little I could play on the cute thing, but I kind of grew out of my looks. Nowadays, I’m no beauty, but at least my olive skin and dark honey toned hair make me seem a little exotic; I have a large, straight nose which hints at Roman roots, plump pouty lips, and unflattering eyebrows. I’m too tall, too thin, and too nerdy. I’m not pretty or
ugly enough to get noticed. Story of my life. I’ve never been to either extreme in any aspect of my looks, intellect, or personality.
I take a few deep breaths and run my hands under the cold tap before placing them on the back of my neck. For as long as I can remember it’s been the only way I can really calm down. I don’t know why I suddenly got so mad at my mum for basically nothing. Usually I’m quite calm, especially with her. But whenever somebody mentions something about Italy, or husbands, or even calls me by my full name, she totally freezes up, and it’s starting to get on my nerves. Honestly, she’s the one who made the decision to create so many ties between us and Italy; if she didn’t want to be reminded, or never intended on letting me go there, why did she teach me the language, or give me an Italian name?
I know that yelling won’t get me the answers to any of these questions, however, so I take a few more deep breaths and go back to lunch with Mum. The weird thing is, even though not all my anger had dissipated, I still felt too bad to tell her about the sandwich. I pretended I was feeling sick, instead. She said she understood.
There were a few minutes of hideously uncomfortable silence before I really couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Umm, did I tell you I got an Exceeds Expectations on a Charms test last week?”
This wasn’t true - there hadn’t been a Charms test, and even if there had, I would have barely scraped an Acceptable. But it broke the tension, and the rest of the afternoon passed with the easy banter we were so used to, the argument-that-never-was practically forgotten.
I got back to the castle a little earlier than everybody else. This was something I tried to make a habit of, because having the common room to myself or wandering down empty corridors was a rare treat. On that particular day I headed into my favourite unused classroom. You could tell I was there a lot because the entire room was decorated. The desks had twirling patterns etched into them with a blunt quill, and they all joined together with spiralling charcoal lines. From an aerial view, it would look like a face; the desks were arranged in a sort of oval, with chairs twisting away like hair blowing in the wind.
But this class was being put back on to the timetable. With a sigh, I took my camera out of my bag and levitated it up into the air. The flash went off, and I started to tidy up.