Chapter 6 : The Cackling Stump
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I sit on the edge of my desk in the Transfiguration classroom I use with the N.E.W.T students. In four minutes the bell is going to ring and I am going to walk out in to the corridor and let my seventh year class in for their first lesson of the new term. I just have to stay focussed, remember to breathe and, you know, not have a complete break down again in the middle of lessons.
Oh sweet Merlin, I can’t do this!
Three minutes. I stare at the back wall of the classroom, trying to remember the structure of the lessons for the day. Listing the details in my mind seems to calm me somewhat.
First lesson: Seventh years. Human Transfiguration, specifically animagus. Review basic aspects of animagi and responsibility of witches and wizards who choose to become an animagus.
Two minutes. The first lesson is easy, it’s a theory lesson and my seventh years are a clever bunch. There shouldn’t be too much trouble.
Second lesson: fifth years. Vanishing spells, review small vertebrates and then begin practising medium vertebrates – guinea pigs.
One minute, don’t forget to breathe.
Third and fourth lessons: Double sixth years. Review botanic conjuring spells, assess practical application, students need to conjure a bouquet of flowers featuring a minimum of five varieties of flower. If time permits, begin explo –
The sound of the school bell echoes in my ears, causing me to jump in surprise. Taking a deep breath, I stand up and walk towards the door. I pause for a second, my hand on the door handle and take another deep breath for good measure.
Breathe in, breathe out, you can do this.
I pull the door open and smile at the ten students waiting outside. Good old seventh years, they can always be relied on to be punctual.
“Welcome back everyone,” I say, holding out an arm to indicate they should enter. I smile at the students as they pass and they smile back; I even get a couple comments of ‘welcome back professor.’
“We’re on page one hundred and forty-three,” I say, holding up a copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration. “We are going to begin looking at the most difficult area of human Transfiguration – personal Transfiguration. Now, who can tell me what we call a witch or wizard who can Transfigure themselves into an animal?”
“Professor Morgan! You’re back!” I let out a gasp of surprise as Andrew Newitt throws his arms around me. I pat his back awkwardly and try to hide my smile as best I can as the other members of my fourth year Slytherin-Ravenclaw class file in to the classroom. “I’m so sorry professor,” Andrew continues as I usher him inside and close the door behind us. “I promise to never do anything stupid ever again. Ok, I promise not to do anything stupid in your classes. Well I won’t point a loaded wand at my own face.”
“That’s all I could ever ask for Mr. Newitt,” I shake my head with a smile. I couldn’t possibly admit this to anyone, but I am relieved that Andrew is so happy to see me. I was petrified about this class, more than any other I had to teach today, and his jovial yet genuine attitude has put me at ease. Andrew moves to his usual seat in the back row and I move to the front of the room. “Now Professor McGonagall tells me you have all mastered Part-Isolation Transfiguration of inanimate objects, so today we are going to begin looking at how to Transfigure part of a living thing – I’m talking about an animal Mr. Newitt, not yourself.” I add and the whole class laughs, helping my confidence to grow.
The class is one of my best in a while, no doubt due in part to the fact that the students are noticeably on their best behaviour and I realise for the first time that my ‘incident’ must have frightened them just as much as it had frightened me. I feel a little bit guilty that the thought hadn’t really occurred to me before now and I make an effort to be extra nice to them all, to prove that everything is normal – that I am normal.
“I’m glad you’re ok Professor,” Andrew Newitt says on his way out of the classroom at the end of the lesson, stopping at my desk just long enough to share the sentiment in a stage-whisper before he disappears into the crowd of Slytherins.
After lessons, I drop my work off in my office and then make my way up to the Headmistresses office to meet with McGonagall. It was her suggestion that I check in with her at the end of my first day to make sure things are ok, and I am happy to comply, especially since the day went better than I had anticipated.
“Golden Snidget” I inform the stone gargoyle that guards the Head’s office and make my way up the stone staircase, knocking gently on the door before entering.
“Come in, Emily,” McGonagall calls. She is standing by the painting of Professor Dumbledore when I enter, obviously just finishing off a conversation. She gives one last nod to the painting before turning to me indicating towards the chairs in front of her desk; the painting of my old Headmaster winks at me, before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep. “How did today go?” McGonagall asks kindly as we both sit on opposite sides of her rather large desk.
“Very well actually,” I smile. “The students were all well-behaved and focussed. Thank you for everything you did with them before Christmas, they’re all further along than I could have hoped for.”
“We have some very good students,” McGonagall nods, her face still rather serious despite the kind tone to her voice. “And what about the fourth years this afternoon? Any issues with that class?”
“None whatsoever,” I smile again. “Andrew Newitt even apologised for trying to transfigure his own face.”
“I’m not surprised,” McGonagall gives me a small, knowing smile. “He was very upset when he realised you were ill. He thinks very highly of you.”
Well I let him make his jokes and probably don’t reprimand him as much as the other teachers, I think to myself, though I just smile and nod politely.
“And how are you feeling in general?” This last question catches me off guard, and it takes a few moments for me to formulate a response.
“I’m feeling better. The whole…incident last term wasn’t pleasant, but things seem to be fine now.” I turn my lips up into what I hope is a smile. McGonagall doesn’t return the smile so maybe she doesn’t quite believe me; but then again, a serious facial expression is perfectly normal for the Headmistress so maybe I’m just imagining things.
“I actually have a request for you…Minerva,” I say, still unable to say McGonagall’s first name without stumbling over the word.
“A request?” She looks genuinely intrigued.
“Yes. The seventh years began looking at Animagi today, and I thought their study might be helped by a practical demonstration from you. If you agreed, we could also have a question and answer session.” I fold my hands in my lap and look at the Headmistress expectantly. She gives me another small smile.
“Of course, I would be glad to. Do you have a lesson in mind?”
“Well, they are writing an essay on the basics of personal human transfiguration which is due on Monday. Perhaps next Wednesday’s double lesson would be best, if that works for you?” I suggest.
“Next Wednesday would be fine,” McGonagall says, making a note on a piece of parchment on her desk. “Have you ever thought about becoming an Animagus yourself Emily?”
“Me?” The question catches me completely off guard and I can’t disguise the surprise in my voice. “I don’t think…well I…it’s incredibly difficult isn’t it?” I stammer.
“Yes,” McGonagall nods seriously. “But certainly not impossible if you are skilled enough at Transfiguration. And you are.”
“Thank you,” I mumble, blushing furiously. “I’ll give it some thought.”
It’s not quite as scary the second time I go to see Helen Jensen, but I do hesitate at the front gate of her Healer Office nonetheless. I organised for the appointment to be during my free lesson on Wednesday afternoon, and for a moment I’m distracted by the fact that I’ve never been off school grounds at this hour on a weekday in my entire time as a teacher. The sun is already setting behind me as Heather opens the door and greets me with her kind smile. We go to the same office and settle in the same chairs, following the same ritual with pouring the tea again. And just like last time, I feel calmer and more settled by the time Heather summons her clipboard and quill, though this time it has a blue feather.
“So your lessons have started up again?” Heather asks, resting the clipboard on her knee.
“Yes,” I nod, feeling oddly formal. “For nearly two weeks now.”
“And how was it returning to classes after what happened just before Christmas?”
“Not as bad as I thought it would be,” I say. “I was very nervous, but things have been…alright.” Heather nods her head and writes something down before looking straight at me.
“Do you enjoy your work, Emily?” Wow. Straight to the point.
“Well I…” I begin. “It’s a very…well it’s such an honour…The students are…and I always loved Transfiguration…” I realise that none of what I have just said would constitute a complete sentence and it certainly doesn’t fit in to the category of ‘making sense’. I give Heather a rather pathetic look, kind of hoping she’ll take pity on me and change topics, but she doesn’t say a word, she just waits.
The problem is that the question just isn’t that simple; it’s not a yes or no sort of situation. Realising that Heather isn’t going to let me off the hook, I do my best to explain.
“Hogwarts is a really good school,” I begin, “And I’m teaching an area of magic that I really enjoy.” Heather nods once and continues to watch me with her kind eyes which tell me that she’s listening. “The staff are really fantastic and I love living here, I’ve always had a soft spot for Hogsmeade…” Heather’s smile widens a little at this, but she knows as well as I do that I’m avoiding the point. “I…it’s just that I don’t want to sound ungrateful…” I can feel the lump rising in my throat and I try to blink back the stinging in my eyes, but I’m fighting a losing battle. When the words come out, they are half sob-half whisper. “I’m just so miserable.”
Heather doesn’t speak, or move, or raise an eyebrow or do anything at all. She doesn’t look surprised and yet she doesn’t have that smug ‘told you so’ look people get when you give in and tell them something they already knew you had been hiding. I take a deep breath and try to compose myself, but the tears aren’t about to be stopped and I find myself swatting at them as they try to roll down my cheeks.
“I’m sad all the time,” I hear myself saying. “I just want to be happy again.”
Heather nods, and scribbles something down on her clipboard. I take another deep breath, this time managing to gain a little more control over my emotions.
“I imagine it is an incredibly demanding job,” Heather comments and I nod in agreement.
“It can be. Sometimes it’s not so bad, I mean the first years are a lot of fun, and some of the students are really great,” I smile to myself for a moment, remembering some of Andrew Newitt’s funnier jokes. “But it’s a lot of pressure, especially for the students sitting their O.W.L’s and N.E.W.T’s. Did you know that you need a Transfiguration N.E.W.T for almost every single job in the Ministry of Magic? The only departments that don’t require it are Muggle Relations, the Archives, Security and Administration. Even then, Administration and Security still expect a Transfiguration O.W.L.”
Heather’s hand is flying across her parchment again, but her eyes stay on me for the most part.
“And if a student wants to be a Healer, they need their N.E.W.T’s and if they don’t pass, then how are they supposed to achieve their goals later on in life?” It’s a rhetorical question, although I find myself wishing that Heather had an answer for me. Instead, she answers my question with one of her own.
“And you feel a lot of responsibility for your student’s success?” She says.
“Of course I do,” I reply. “If they fail, it’s my fault. I mean that’s my job isn’t it? To make sure my students pass Transfiguration?” I can feel the tears returning and I look down at my lap, embarrassed at how I am carrying on.
“So if a student doesn’t study, never turns in their homework, makes no effort whatsoever and fails their exam, that’s your fault.” Heather says this calmly, as though she’s drawing the most obvious conclusion.
“Yes,” I say, and Heather raises her eyebrows at me, looking almost amused. “If a student is behaving that way, I should deal with it well before we get to exams. I would be shirking my duties if I ignored a student who never did their work.”
“And what if, despite all your efforts, that student just wouldn’t work? Even if you met with their parents and got the Headmistress involved. Would it still be your fault then, when that student failed his or her exams?” I can’t read the expression on Heather’s face this time.
“I would still feel guilty about it,” I concede. “I would have let that student down.”
Heather looks down at her clipboard for a full thirty seconds as she writes. When she is done, she puts her quill down and meets my gaze.
“Emily, it is understandable that you feel responsible for your students,” She begins. “In fact, it is a quality of an exceptional teacher that they care about their student’s success.” She smiles at me for a moment before continuing. “But your students are human beings, some clever, some not-so-clever; some are dedicated and driven, whilst others will be happy to coast through life; some of them will be serious whilst others are funny, or pranksters, or airheads – ” I let out a small laugh at this. “– or quite possibly a combination of several of these qualities. You can guide them, you can instruct them, you can even care for them. But one thing you cannot do, Emily, is control them. By believing that you are responsible for the happiness and success of every student you teach, you are setting yourself up for failure.”
I’m stunned by Heather’s words, but she isn’t finished just yet. “You will have students that will fail, I would almost put money on that,” She says. “But it will not be your fault. You can only control the actions of one person, Emily. You can only control yourself.” These words are somewhat comforting, but they are confronting too. I nod slowly to show Heather that I’ve understood her.
“I don’t expect it to be as simple as all that,” Heather adds. “Changing your perception isn’t an easy thing to do. But, you do need to be more compassionate with yourself, and try to remember that some things are out of your control.”
Heather and I talk for another half an hour; she asks about my life outside of teaching, and I confide that I don’t really have one. When I tell her about Michelle, she smiles encouragingly, and near the end of our session she makes a suggestion.
“Have you got a pet Emily?” She asks.
“A pet?” I repeat. “No. No I don’t.”
“It has long been known to magical people that animals possess a special kind of power, and that an animal companion can be very beneficial to the work and mood of a witch or wizard. You might like to consider getting a pet; if nothing else, having an animal familiar will give you something new to focus on and invest your affections into.”
“I’ll think about it,” I reply honestly. The thought of getting a pet had never occurred to me, but it was something that sparked my interest. I like animals – maybe a pet would be a good idea.
I glance at my watch as I leave Heather’s office, it is already dark outside and the lampposts in the street have been lit. Classes will be finished back at the school, but there is still an hour or so before dinner will be served. I’m really not in the mood to go back to the castle and do any work, so I make the quick decision to stop at The Three Broomsticks for a drink.
The pub is nowhere near as busy as it had been on the Friday night I’d visited with Michelle, but there are still plenty of occupied tables in the main bar. I make my way to the bar where Madam Rosmerta, the lovely and incredibly pretty middle aged owner of The Three Broomsticks, is standing, chatting with a wizard in charcoal coloured robes. He has his back to me, but there’s something about his slightly too-long brown hair that looks vaguely familiar. Madam Rosmerta glances up and notices me approaching, flashing me a friendly smile. The wizard, obviously following Rosmerta’s glance, turns to look over his shoulder. As he does so, I realise why I recognised that hair, although the last time I saw him he’d been in Muggle clothes not wizard’s robes.
“Emily Morgan,” Timothy beams when he sees me.
“Hi,” I reply shyly, hoping that I’m not blushing bright red.
“The usual, Emily?” Madam Rosmerta asks at that moment.
“Yes, thank you,” I reply, reaching in to my pocket for some sickles to pay for the drink as the barmaid turns away to make my drink.
“Allow me,” Timothy says, pulling a few coins from his own pocket. “Your ‘regular’ isn’t 400 year old Ogden’s that costs thirty Galleons a glass is it?” He adds.
“No,” I smile. “Just butterbeer with elf-made liqueur.”
“Sounds good,” he says thoughtfully as Rosmerta returns with my glass. “Would you like to join me?” He adds once he’s paid for my drink, indicating to the bar stool next to him.
“Thank you,” I pull myself up on to the wooden stool, hooking my heels over the foot rail.
“So, teaching’s that bad that you need to pop out for a pint after classes?” Timothy raises an amused eyebrow before taking a sip from his own glass.
“Sometimes,” I laugh nervously, wishing I didn’t sound so awkward. “But actually I just had an appointment in the village and decided to stop by for a drink.”
“Well I’m glad you did,” He says, tipping his drink towards me slightly as if to toast my presence. Despite the relatively comfortable conversation we had on New Year’s Eve, I am feeling slightly embarrassed to be sitting in the pub having a drink with Timothy Briar. I’m trying not to stare at his lips, but I seem to be fighting a losing battle, and as I remember the kiss he planted on my cheek, I feel myself blushing.
“So what about you?” I ask, forcing the adolescent fantasies out of my brain and asking something grown-up and sensible. “What brings you to Hogsmeade on a Wednesday afternoon?” On New Year’s Eve, Timothy had told me he lived in York, and even though his sister lives in Hogsmeade, it’s still odd that he would be sitting alone in The Three Broomsticks on a weeknight.
“I’ve bought a pub,” Timothy beams.
“In Hogsmeade?” I gasp. There are only two pubs in the village and I hadn’t heard anything about Madam Rosmerta or old Aberforth Dumbledore selling up. Although, I wouldn’t exactly say my finger is on the pulse when it comes to local gossip.
“No,” Timothy laughs. “Just outside of York in a little village called Bishopthorpe. The old wizard who owned it wants to travel so I got it at a really good price.” The excitement is evident in his voice.
“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”
“Oh, right. Well I worked here in the summers after my sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts, so I knew I could get some good advice from Rosmerta.” He explains, nodding towards the barmaid who is wiping down the bar not far from where we are sitting.
“Buys a competing pub and wants my help!” She teases. “Timmy boy, you have certainly got nerve,”
“Aw Rosie…it’s halfway across Britain, and I don’t think you need to worry about competition, not when the proprietor of this place is such a good-looking witch,” Timothy gives her a wink and she shakes her head.
“Watch this one Emily, always was too much of a flirt for his own good,” And with a roll of her eyes, she moves further down the bar to serve two elderly looking wizards who have just sat down.
“So what’s this pub called?” I ask.
“The Cackling Stump,”
“Like the story of Babbity Rabbity?” I ask.
“The very one,” Timothy nods. “But how do you know that story, I thought you said you were muggle born?”
“I worked in Flourish and Blotts for a while after Hogwarts,” I explain. “Assistant manager in charge of children’s literature.”
“That’s a far cry from Transfiguration teacher.”
“Teaching’s my third career path,” I shrug. “I worked in the ministry for three years before I came back to Hogwarts.”
“Oh yeah, I think you said something about that on New Year’s,” Timothy nods. “Sorry, I had one too many glasses of Chelle’s punch that night, a few details were bound to slip through the cracks.”
“It was potent,” I grin over my glass.
“And the scariest thing is that Mum makes it with an extra bottle of firewhisky. I don’t know how the adults at all those parties my parents threw when we were kids were able to stand up at the end of the night. Although I suppose it does explain my old Aunt Bertha’s tendency to sing Celestina Warbeck songs whilst waving her pants in the air every single Christmas!”
The laugh that escapes my throat is completely natural and involuntary. It’s also a sound I don’t make very often these days. Timothy smiles at me.
“You have a lovely laugh,” He says and I feel the blush creeping back into my cheeks. I look down at the polished wood of the bar. “Hey Rosie, can I get one of these butterbeer and liqueur concoctions?” I hear Timothy call out after a few moments of silence, and I glance up at him again. “Hey, I’m going to be running a pub, I better know what’s good and what isn’t.” He shrugs.
Rosmerta wanders over with the glass and Timothy hands her another three sickles with a cheeky wink.
“Stealing ideas for drinks now are we?” She scolds him in a clearly not-serious voice.
“Rosie, I’m telling you that I am not your competition, not when you single handedly have wizards coming here from all over the country, just to have you serve them and give them your incredibly alluring smile.” Timothy flashes her a rather charming smile of his own.
“Timothy Briar, after the months spent pulling butterbeer behind this very bar, you think you would have learnt not to flirt with a barmaid while you’re having a drink with an immensely pretty young witch; especially one as smart as Emily.” Rosmerta plants her hands on her hips and fixes her eyes on him.
“Right, good point,” Timothy looks suitably abashed and nods his head in understanding. “Terribly bad form.”
Rosmerta winks at me before leaving us alone again.
“Do you like it?” I ask, as Timothy takes a sip of his drink.
“Not bad,” He nods, licking the foam from his lips. “Is this your creation?”
“Well, sort of. Patricia Hughes and I may have snuck a bottle of liqueur into the celebratory party after Cedric Diggory won the second task at the Triwizard Tournament.” I say, trying to look suitably ashamed of myself. “We tested this combination out on a few people and everyone seemed to love it.”
“Are you saying that you’re the reason half of Hufflepuff house ended up drunk that night? Three chairs were broken, a fifth year was found sleeping in the kitchens and that corner of the common room near the fireplace was covered in someone’s vomit!” Timothy raises his eyebrows, looking half shocked, half impressed.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I try to sound nonchalant before taking another sip of my drink.
“Does McGonagall know that her Transfiguration teacher is responsible for promoting underage drinking and destruction of private property?” Timothy can’t hide his smile.
“No, but I’m pretty sure Sprout knows I had something to do with it,” I grin. “She’s always dropping hints at staff parties about me having ‘one too many’ and being a bad influence!”
It’s Timothy’s turn to laugh this time.
“Are you hungry, do you want to get something to eat?” He asks, when his chuckles have subsided.
“Oh, I can’t,” I say, glancing at my watch. It getting rather late and I still have work to do. “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I have a rather gargantuan pile of essays waiting for me back at the castle.” I gesture in the general direction of Hogwarts.
“No rest for the wicked, eh?” Timothy says with a smile, although he does look genuinely disappointed; or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
“Unfortunately,” I smile as I slip down from the bar stool. “Thanks awfully for the drink, this was fun.”
“Dinner next time, then,” Timothy grins and I can only nod.
“Good luck with the new pub,” I stammer, before walking away, although I can’t resist the urge to chance a quick look back at him when I reach the door. Timothy is still watching me with a smile, and I step out in to the cool night air, blushing as violently pink as a WonderWitch bottle.
AN: Thanks so much to everyone who is reading this. To those of you who have left reviews, thank you so much! Your thoughts and encouragements are amazing! I'd love to hear what you think of this chapter so please leave a review :)
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