“So.” Hollis sank into a chair next to the burly old giant, bestowing him with a playful, albeit slightly smug, smile.
He didn’t say anything, but it didn’t matter. Hollis preferred for Hagrid to just sit there and listen, anyway, as she had waited for this delicious, happy moment for three long years. No matter how much it irritated him, there was no way she was going to let the afternoon pass into evening without ruthlessly taking the mickey out of the man who once taught her the difference between harmless Mongolian Millipedes and their blood-devouring relatives in the arctic. “Getting to trust me, are we?”
He snorted in protest, propping one of his enormous legs on a table laid out with a few dozen Crumple-Horned Snorkacks in cages, which had been brought in by the adventurist Luna Scamander. “Never.”
“Oh, codswallop,” she dismissed jovially, clasping her hands over her knees and smiling across the lawn. Students still trudging up the hill toward the castle after a particularly grueling lesson in Care of Magical Creatures threw frightful looks over their shoulders at the wriggling crates, as though one of the Snorkacks might try to escape and follow them. “You just allowed me to teach that entire class period without interrupting once. Let us all note the day that Professor Rubeus Hagrid handed over the reins.”
“To the likes of you?” he exclaimed. “I would sooner light me own hair on fire.”
“Mm.” She smiled in a self-satisfied way, cracking her knuckles (which she knew quite well would aggravate him). “I think not. I think you’re getting old and exhausted and you’re going to retire one of these centuries. And when you do, old man, I will be waiting.” She stretched her arms out in an exaggerated yawn. “I’ve got all day to watch you turn into a fossil.”
“Yeah, well, don’ hold yer breath. Reckon I’ve still got enough energy left ter prevent yeh from runnin’ me out of me own job.” He side-eyed her suspiciously. “I’ve seen yeh measurin’ me walls, tryin’ ter see what sort of whatsits could fit up there.”
“True. One can never have too many whatsits and I intend to bring all of mine with me when I move out of the castle and into my hut over there.” Hollis pointed at his house, waving lazily. As expected, his face began to redden, his beetle-black eyes flashing.
“Now yeh listen here just a righ’ minute –”
She laughed and stood up, patting his shoulder quick enough so that he couldn’t swat her away. “No worries, Hagrid. I won’t take your house. I’ll just build mine right next to it, so that we can be next-door neighbors. I’ll introduce you to all kinds of loud music at night. We’ll get you cultured right up.”
He grumbled about the prospect, but she knew that secretly he wouldn’t be at all displeased to have some company in the pumpkin patch. As much as he hated to admit it, ever since she butted her way into the post of co-teacher for Care of Magical Creatures five years previously, the irritating woman had grown on him just slightly. At times he even considered her a friend, and invited her over to tea, remembering very soon afterward why he rarely invited her over, as she often enjoyed poking through his things in her quest to locate a book about Spotted Slugfish she stubbornly refused to believe he was not harboring.
Little did Hagrid know that Hollis was not really searching for a book at all, but was actually cleaning up his hut behind him while trying to be discreet about it, as he’d gotten forgetful with age and sometimes neglected to take the cauldron off the fire or sweep up puffskein nests under his bed. Due to the pride of both parties, Hollis never mentioned this.
“You don’ want ter be down here with me,” he replied gruffly after a while. “You should be off with people yer own age, laughin’ and makin’ weekend plans or summat.”
Hollis ground her back teeth together, knowing exactly what he was hedging at. “Think I’ll just wander inside for a bit,” she said, trying to sound natural and unfazed. “Well, I’m beat from teaching all by myself while you’re sat on your backside right there, observing. The free period before my next class could be well-spent doing some –”
“Our next class,” he interrupted.
Hollis grinned at him, and when he realized he had finally acknowledged the subject as belonging to both of them rather than just to himself, he scowled darkly. “Don’ be gettin’ no ideas there, Wright. I’m still the one in charge here.”
She strolled away from him, chuckling under her breath. “Right, right. You can only last against your arthritis for so long…”
“I don’ have arthritis!” he boomed after her, but she just sped up faster and pretended not to hear him. Truthfully, she herself sometimes wondered why she had accepted the teaching post after Headmaster Slughorn sent her a letter explaining how Hagrid’s better judgment had been eclipsed by his own comfort around dangerous creatures as well as an incline in absentmindedness.
Certainly, there was a great deal of other things she could be doing with her life rather than playing second-fiddle to a stubborn old giant at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But she knew, in the back of her mind, that she had experienced some of the happiest years of her life at Hogwarts and was subconsciously hoping to find that spark of excitement once again.
Sunlight layered everything with canary diamond dust, and a warm breeze ruffled the grass. It was the perfect day to be outdoors, as proven by the children chasing each other all over the Great Lawn. And there, running around the trunk of a scrawny cherry tree with square spectacles and two limp pigtails flying out behind her, Delphine’s daughter Juniper was chasing a ginger-haired boy who looked like he wanted to cry. At long last, she caught his shoulder and he tripped over a tree root, soaring head-first into the dirt; Juniper skidded into a passing first-year boy, instantly sprawling into a heap at his feet.
“Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, wrinkling up her nose and wheezing with asthma.
“Nah, it’s all right.” The boy she’d smacked into extended a hand to help pull her up. Hollis watched Juniper’s eyes widen to the circumference of Galleons as she took in the emerald green eyes, the messy black hair, the Gryffindor emblem displayed proudly on his chest.
“Al Potter?” she squeaked.
Hollis barely contained a grin as she walked past them. “Run,” she advised Albus in an undertone only he could hear. He looked quite like he didn’t understand what was going on. “Run as fast as you can.”
One of the colossal doors to the entrance of Hogwarts was held wide open, with the stiff old frame of Mrs. Norris working as a door-stopper. Hollis prodded her with the toe of one shoe as she sauntered by, testing to see if the cat was still alive, and the pair of yellow, bulbous eyes narrowed slightly in reproach. The old cat had, remarkably enough, outlasted Filch and so took it upon herself to serve the school as the last line of proper discipline. Undoubtedly, she was keeping herself alive out of pure spite, ceaselessly watching the corridors for students out past curfew, switching her tail and reporting any tomfoolery to the crudely-painted portrait of Argus Filch.
“Only the best sponsors,” someone was saying in a rich, sleek voice from just inside the doorway. “Waterproof uniform, self-warming Snitches, and if you sign early, we could throw in a free one-year subscription to Quaffle Waffle.”
Hollis crooked an eyebrow. She knew that voice. And sure enough, when she rounded the corner, she came upon Lee Jordan; he had yanked Gillian Lorksport to the side and was doing some quick-talking in her ear while trying to remain unseen.
“Oi.” Hollis crossed her arms, leaning against one portrait (who snarled indignantly and stomped off into the portrait above) with an air of amused annoyance. “How do you keep sneaking back into this castle? The nickname ‘Flea Jordan’ suits you better and better with every day.”
Lee gave a tremendous jolt, the long dreadlocks tied back with a ridiculous-looking multicolored elastic fanning out as he spun around. “Wright!” he sang in his most charming voice, baring his many teeth in a cheesy smile and spreading his arms open wide as if expecting a hug. He strolled forth and Hollis stretched out one hand to stop him, a thin frown worthy of McGonagall beginning to form at her lips. From behind them, Gillian Lorksport looked as though she wasn’t sure whether or not she was allowed to flee the scene.
“Go to class,” Hollis ordered steadily. Lee’s shoulders sank, dark eyes snapping as his prey escaped with a flutter of bushy blonde hair.
“Now, Wright, I was just –”
“Oh, I know exactly what you’re doing,” she cut him off. “You might pretend to be an innocent Quidditch reporter for Quaffle Waffle, but I happen to have it on good information that you’re paid well by teams to recruit players under the table. It’s no mistake that you happened to run into poor Gillian, being the little Ravenclaw Quidditch prodigy that she is. Everyone knows that every team in the business is out to sign her to a contract inked in blood.”
“I’ve never heard of this Sporklort character in my life –” he began glibly, but Hollis steamrollered on, talking over him.
“Every morning in the post she gets bribes from everyone from Jamaican Jobberknolls to the CEO of British Quidditch International. She can’t focus on her studies; she’s got her friends and parents giving her conflicting advice. I once saw her face floating in a bowl of celery soup because she was so exhausted from the pressure that she fell asleep in the middle of dinner.”
“Celery soup is disgusting,” he interrupted in a well-what-did-you-expect voice. “She should have gone for mushroom – it’s much more stimulating. I like to sponge little pieces of bread in it – it absorbs like a dream –”
“And it doesn’t help that you keep tailing her, trying to coax her over to the Winbourne Wasps. You are absolutely shameless, do you know that?” She ticked off the number of times on her fingers that he’d been apprehended lurking around Hogwarts and promptly kicked out: “The Owlery with the Davies twins; the Chamber of Secrets – I don’t even want to ask how you managed that one – with a boy you thought was Carmichael but actually turned out to be a second year Slytherin wearing someone’s glasses he nicked. You’ve been spotted in the Restricted Section, squeezed inside a shelf halfway up the wall with a dodgy Invisibility Cloak that made you look like a chameleon with an identity crisis.” She snickered at the memory, recalling the rapid shifts of his Cloak from polka dot to foliage to newsprint patterns while a very angry Madam Pince shouted her head off from below.
He pursed his lips, surveying her through scowling, half-closed eyes. “I recall no such thing.”
“Very convincing,” she remarked dryly. “Tell me now. How do you keep getting back into Hogwarts with all the spells and charms we put against you? I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve caught you running out to the gates, a dozen copies of your magazine under your arm…”
“Look at the statistics!” he cried dramatically, waving his arms. “They speak for themselves. If Lorksport signed with the Wasps, they might have a real shot at the Cup next year. Do you know how many people bet against the Wasps? Haven’t won in over a decade, but with Lorksport they could get the biggest victory Britain’s ever seen and I would be filthy stinking rich. I for one don’t see why you’re having such a fit over this. Don’t you want to see Lorksport do well in life? Hmm? Do you want her to become a nobody working as a reserve for the –” he screwed up his memory, trying to think of the worst team he could imagine – “the Harpies, scraping chewing gum from benches on the Underground just for something to eat? Is that what you want?” He tried on his most disapproving expression, fancying her cornered. “Huh?”
“Oh, don’t you even try that on me,” Hollis scoffed, sticking her nose up in the air. “You blithering idiot. You’re lucky I don’t go tell Flitwick that you were accosting one of the students in his House without a professor present to protect them, to ensure that the student’s best interests were being represented and –”
“You talk like I’m a Death Eater trying to round up more crazies –” he raved, but then abruptly stopped, pausing as a slow sparkle made its way to his eyes. “So you’re saying that if she had a professor hanging around, I could have a go?”
“If she had a representative from the school with her,” Hollis replied hesitantly, instantly regretting what she’d just said, “then I suppose it might be all right.” Her frown deepened. “She’s only a seventh year, you know. There are months and months to go before she leaves for the real world and I don’t want her signing up prematurely with someone only to change her mind later and not be able to back out of it. We don’t want her trapping herself when it’s clear that she doesn’t know what she wants yet and there are vultures like you flapping around, trying to take advantage due to your own personal gain…”
“Oh, of course I won’t try to take advantage,” Lee pressed with the worst-concealed enthusiasm Hollis had ever seen, still waving his arms in wild gestures of uncontrolled zeal. “Of course! Who wants that? Not me, that’s for sure, and I’m not even a gambling man, not one whit. I’m sure no one wants her to make uneducated choices while she’s young and impressionable and seduced by waterproof fabric and not one, but two years of free Quaffle Waffle issues, edited by yours truly…” He winked, talking a mile a minute. “I can get you a coupon for Gladrags if you promise me two minutes alone with Norman McLaggen.”
“Lee!” she growled. “Enough already, I have a moral code, you know – wait, did you say Gladrags?”
He suppressed a smirk, eyes lighting up greedily, and she glared at him with a pinched face. It was a battle of wills. They both knew that everyone had a price and he’d just struck on hers.
“He practices Beater tactics one-on-one with another student every Friday evening on the Quidditch pitch,” Hollis relented at last through gritted teeth. “I’m not telling you this because of the coupon, though. I’m just mentioning it very casually – even though I still want the coupon – because Norman McLaggen is a…” She grappled for the appropriate words, ignoring Lee’s eyebrows, which were quickly disappearing into his hairline. “Well, he’s thick-headed. Quidditch is his only option, unlike poor defenseless Lorksport, who could do anything she wanted.”
“Gasp!” Lee exclaimed in phony astonishment. “Look at how the saintly hath fallen! Selling your soul for a coupon that gives you a half-off discount on any product in the store.”
“Half off?” Hollis interjected quickly, glowing. “Really? Imagine the scarves…”
He regarded her slyly. “So, Professor… What say you to a nice little meeting in Hogsmeade this upcoming weekend? You bring the underage Ravenclaw, I’ll bring the butterbeer. Let’s say…The Hog’s Head at four?”
Her mouth gave a twitch. “I’ll be requiring another coupon if you want to make sure no one follows.” She sniffed, tossing her hair. “Not that this is a bribe, of course. And I’m not going to let her sign anything without a parent or legal guardian there to oversee.”
Lee wasn’t the least bit fazed. “Either way, the Wasps will still buy up half of November’s issue of Quaffle Waffle with ads if I can prove that I’ve at least talked to her –”
“Enough with the name-dropping,” Hollis said irritably. “I already know what the magazine’s called; you don’t have to shove it up my nose.”
A clattering of footsteps in the corridor signaled Lee’s cue to make a dash for it; he whipped a card out of the pocket of his silver-and-orange robes and tossed it at her like a Fanged Frisbee before rushing off. Platinum lettering on the card read:
Junior Editor of Quaffle Waffle
Number 33, Diagon Alley
Upon flipping the thick paper over, she saw more:
Present this card to any local retailer who sells Quaffle Waffle and receive a five-percent discount!
Hollis rolled her eyes and grudgingly shoved the card into her pocket. She then took a full forty-five seconds to stare around the Entrance Hall and try to remember what she had been doing before stumbling into Lee Jordan and his shady ventures. “Junior Editor,” she grumbled, feeling the card’s sharp edges chafe against her ribs. “You’d have thought he invented it, by the way he goes on and on.”
With her head full of prospective new clothing from Gladrags and a rather frustrating admiration for Lee’s shiny white teeth, she tromped up the stairs to her office and adjacent chamber on the fourth floor – an out-of-the-way set of rooms that used to belong to someone called Professor Merrythought very long ago. Merrythought’s name was still inscribed on several plaques on the walls that Hollis hadn’t bothered binning; she was still keeping her eye on Hagrid’s cozy little hut. In the meantime, however, she supposed that these rooms would suffice.
She closed the door behind her, beaming affectionately across a variety of familiar pictures on the walls. Pasted over the plaques and peeling wallpaper, was an extensive postcard collection contributed to mostly by Delphine, Katie, Cho, and Orchid. Hollis could still envision Delphine’s face perfectly after learning about her correspondence with Orchid, and it never failed to bring a smile to her lips.
Orchid had grown rather lonely in the months following Alice’s death, and, to a great deal of public surprise, latched onto Hollis, revealing herself to be strangely tolerable company. They dined on tea and biscuits on Orchid’s vine-wrapped veranda and regaled each other with tales of Peeves and Filch as though they were grand old riots and had never made life difficult for either. Every now and then Alice or Matilda’s name might crop up, which prompted either sad, reflective spaces of silence or shrill, merciless gossip.
No matter how reasonable Hollis tried to be about the friendship and any preexisting sensitivities, however, some hatchets apparently refused to stay buried; the first time Delphine visited while Orchid was over, the two of them got into such a furious row that the ceiling and two walls in Hollis’s old flat were riddled with holes from misfired, wonky jinxes that neither foe knew how to cast properly.
Hollis had also struck up an unlikely friendship with Cho Wood (née Chang). It was boggling – some of the people she barely spoke two words to during her Hogwarts days had become invaluable in the years that followed, and it wasn’t long before Cho and Hollis had quite convinced themselves that yes, they must have been friendly as schoolmates, and yes, they must have always been that close from the start. It was only Delphine’s wounded “harrumphs” that kept them from enjoying these rose-colored memories too much, as Delphine unsurprisingly still did not care for Cho. Delphine couldn’t see the benefits of having a friendship with someone she not-so-fondly referred to as a “sniveling hosepipe”.
She knew a thing or two about coping, that Cho.
Hollis absentmindedly fingered the white card in her pocket, turning it over and over while her eyes strayed across the windows and leaf-like patterns of light pouring through the lace curtains. She paced back and forth in front of the cupboard in her small bedroom, her state of mind in that curious limbo between deep and distracted, speedy and still. It was not the first time she had experienced this exact scene – pacing back and forth in front of the cupboard, turning something over in her hand and staring at the window without seeing anything past it.
“Oh, not again,” she groaned. But it was too late. Once she got to pacing, Hollis was a goner. Before she was even aware of her own movements, she’d crossed to the door in three easy strides and turned the knob.
The air in the cupboard was thin and dank, like the interior of a cave, and she released an involuntary shiver as she reached up on her tiptoes to grab a little round parcel, rather like a hatbox.
She swallowed as she laid it out on the bed, smoothing the creases in the duvet around it. Very slowly, as though Hollis was about to speak to a person who was deathly ill, she sat down next to it and crossed her ankles. Twelve seconds ticked by, the face of the clock staring down at her as though wondering when she was finally going to lift the lid.
Hollis looked up at the window and temporarily reveled in the brightness of the blue beyond, and the tufts of cloud like her uncle’s springy white beard. It all felt, for a short moment, as though this could have been happening very long ago, as if yesterday was tomorrow and there was nothing but cool air rushing to meet the warm grass and a girl with strawberry blonde hair lying between.
Hollis sighed. She was being sentimental. “You silly fool,” she murmured to herself, still twisting the card about. She examined it at length, trying to rub it flat from where her incessant twirling and twisting had bent it up in the middle into a horseshoe shape.
Quickly, at the forty-seventh second, Hollis removed the lid. Her fingers sprang back from it after it was opened, as though the contents within might burn at the touch. But all she had to do was lay eyes on the things nesting inside the hatbox-of-sorts, and very soon she was taking them in her hands again.
The box itself used to be a medicinal kit for wounded birds, purchased at Magical Menagerie. After her breakup with Pete Fillwater, she’d happened upon it whilst cleaning the rubbish out from underneath her bed in her old London flat; realizing that she was still wearing the bracelet Pete gave her for Christmas, she dropped it neatly inside the empty box and shoved it somewhere without another thought.
She didn’t rediscover the box again until after the relationship with Gulliver Humphrey turned sour, and she added to it a pair of train tickets she’d been keeping in her wallet, from when they caught the train together and went to see a midnight play. By the time Tierney Smith came and went, leaving behind a miniature stationary set not two feet from where the box lay hidden under a pile of books, Hollis knew it was fate; and it was tucked inside the box as well.
All of the trinkets given to her by a past string of boys – some of the relationships official, some of them mostly her own wishful imagination – took up residence in this box she kept on a cupboard shelf. There were the New Year’s party favors from Terry Boot’s lavish get-together that spanned four rooms above The Leaky Cauldron, and a napkin with Adrian Pucey’s home address on it (she shook her head at this, wincing in shame and distaste).
She poked through a letter of recommendation written by James Spencer, a renowned expert on Magical Creatures in the Orient (who was definitely a crush and never more, unfortunately), a candle stub she’d nicked from the desk of handsome Professor Bogg, and a key to Owen Cauldwell’s flat that she staunchly refused to give back after their quarrel that could be heard by all the neighbors. And there beside a swan of words woven from parchment and a flash of blue feather, wrapped in a silk cloth in the center of a jumble of useless things, was the Patented Daydream Charm.
She picked it up, eyes widening slightly at the weight, as she had not touched it since she put it in there several years previously. Still purple and polished, the wispy blue smoke inside eternally undulating like the magic within had just been created yesterday. There was still a triangle floating right-side up, scrawled with achingly familiar handwriting. She smiled tenderly, passing the large ball from one hand to the other with gentle rolls, recalling how it had flown to her through a storm, across miles and miles and dangling from the leg of a falcon named Silloh, to greet her in Muggle Studies. Hollis gazed at the ceiling above, halfway-thinking that she might see through the corridors and floors and ceilings to the desk she had been sitting at when she heard the tap, tap, tap at the window.
There were very few people who could do such extraordinary things like Fred Weasley did, who could live freely and beautifully and reach for whatever they wanted, and get away with it. Very few indeed.
Hollis tapped her fingernail on the card sitting next to her on the bed, distracted. “I wonder what you would think if I met him at The Hog’s Head, and didn’t bring a student,” she said softly to the Patented Daydream Charm. “I wonder what you would say about me and Lee? I'll bet you'd have some great advice for how I could seduce him.”
She peered into the swirling, foggy blue depths and the bobbing white triangle. Nineteen years later and she still felt a gravitational pull toward the object, a mischievous aura radiating from the heart of it. There was nothing simple or innocent about the Charm at all – it was inviting her, challenging her, waiting with shrewd eyes to see if she had enough nerve. I dare you, it seemed to say with the grin of an old friend.
A conspiratorial smile twisted at Hollis’s mouth, and the tip of her wand rapped twice atop the glass eye of the ball.