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Gravel on the Ground: From the Ashes by 1917farmgirl
Chapter 2 : Chapter 1
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 33


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Chapter 1

Minerva was completely lost in the gripping pages of her novel.

It was a perfect day for reading. Not too hot, not too cold. She was curled up in her favorite, most comfortable chair, tea and biscuits within easy reach on the side table. Outside the August heat stifled the air, but the stone walls of Hogwarts kept it at bay and made the fire that burned cheerfully in her grate not unwelcome.

Many of the other professors chose to leave the school and travel to other homes during the summer holidays, but Minerva had decided long ago that Hogwarts was her home; it was where she felt most welcome and at ease. She and the castle had an odd sort of understanding, as if they both needed each other. It was nice.

Absorbed in the story, she turned another page. It was only during the holiday months that she let herself indulge in fiction, and she relished every minute of it.

She was just reaching the climax of the plot when her fire suddenly sputtered and spat, ruining her concentration. She snapped the book shut and glared at the offending flames.

A woman’s head wearing the official emerald green hat of the Floo Office popped into her hearth.

“Will you accept the charges for an International Fireplace Connection?” she asked without preamble.

Minerva’s glare changed to a look of mild puzzlement. International Floo? Who on earth would be Flooing her from out of the country?

“Of course,” she answered politely, setting her book aside and rising from her chair to approach the fire. Her curiosity was piqued.

“Then please apply an extra handful of Floo powder to boost your fire’s strength in exactly two and five-eighths minutes.”

The woman’s head disappeared without a goodbye and Minerva scrambled for her Floo powder; she didn’t communicate this way very often. She preferred the elegance and dignity of the written word over conversations spent crouching in the soot and ashes. Still, it wasn’t every day that someone contacted her long-distance! As she waited the requested time she couldn’t help wondering what this was about.

Exactly two and five-eighths minutes after the Floo Official’s head had disappeared, Minerva threw in the handful of powder. Five foot green flames leapt out of her fireplace, forcing her to step backwards slightly and shield her face from the glow.

“Minerva! It’s the height of summer! Will you never learn to leave the stodgy, heavy robes behind during the holidays and loosen up? Let your knees breathe once in a while?”

Minerva pulled her arm away from her eyes and back to the fireplace. A woman’s head sat in the middle of the flames, her smoky gray hair covered in a shockingly blue turban.

“Ophelia,” she said, shaking her head with a smile. “Never once in my life have my knees needed to breathe.”

“And that is entirely your problem, my old friend. You need to live a little! You should see the summer robes they’re putting out over here! They’re marvelous! I’m sure we could find you one in a nice tartan. Of course, with the insane weather we’ve been having lately, it has been a bit chilly but –”

“Ophelia,” Minerva broke in with a laugh before her friend could really get going. “To what do I owe the honor?”

“Oh, yes, right,” Ophelia said, and suddenly her teasing expression of before had become serious. “I wasn’t sure at first. Had to investigate for a few days, double check.”

“Check what?” Minerva prodded a little impatiently, settling onto a footstool where she had a better view of her friend’s head. Even when they were in school, Ophelia had always had a bad habit of talking around and around a subject but forgetting to get to the actual point of it.

“Well, the girl of course. But after four days I was positive, so I went to fetch her. Stubborn little thing didn’t want to come with me, though. Had to use my rubber chicken spell but it worked a treat.”

“Wait, wait,” Minerva said, frowning. “Are you telling me you found a girl, and turned her into a rubber chicken?” she asked aghast.

“Minerva, don’t look at me like that. I couldn’t very well carry a teenage girl home, could I?”

“So, you found a girl, turned her into a rubber chicken, and then carted her off to your home? Ophelia, what were you thinking! We don’t turn people into objects against their will and you know it!” Minerva was shocked and horrified by what her friend was telling her.

“I had no choice!” Ophelia snapped back, giving her a nasty glare. “I needed to get her home!”

“Why?” she asked with a heavy sigh. “Why on earth would you need to take a girl home with you in the first place, especially one who didn’t want to go with you?” Her thoughts were muddled, confused, and worried. Ophelia had always been a bit of an odd duck, but she was starting to think her friend had finally gone completely round the twist! Living among the Yanks for all those years must have done something to her!

“Because I found her, Minerva!” the head in the fireplace said with a big grin, argument forgotten. “I didn’t mean to, just ran into her on accident, but I’m sure it’s her.”

“Found who? Ophelia Oddsocks, please stop flying around the houses and tell me what you’re talking about!”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last five minutes but you keep interrupting.”

Minerva fought the urge to roll her eyes; something which she felt was very noble of her.

“Charlie and Jenny’s daughter,” her friend continued softly. “The McLauchlin girl.”

Minerva’s head snapped up at those unexpected words and she clutched at her heart, suddenly shaking. For several moments she couldn’t speak. “You found Sadie McLauchlin?” she finally whispered, overwhelming emotions coursing through her. “She really is still alive?”

“She’s alive.”

“Are you sure it’s her?” After all these years and completely out of the blue… Minerva was finding it hard to think straight.

“As sure as I can be. After all, I’ve never met or seen the girl before, but she bears a striking resemblance to Charlie in the photo you left me.”

Minerva sat silent and frozen on her footstool.

Seven years. It had been seven years since the events of that horrific day, the loss of so many innocent lives. Seven years since one little girl had vanished like smoke, never to be seen again. At first she’d held out hope, but as time passed it was dimmed by the harsh voices of reason and reality. It had been many years since she thought of little Sadie with anything other than sorrow for her probable death.

“Well,” Ophelia interrupted her wandering thoughts. “Are you coming or not? I can’t wait all day – this long-distance Floo is putting a terrible strain on my little fireplace!”

Minerva straightened. What was she doing just sitting there, letting her emotions run rampant? This was not a time for sentimentality!

“Of course I’m coming. I’ll go to London and arrange an International Portkey immediately,” she said, standing quickly.

“Wonderful!” Ophelia beamed. “We can owl out for Chinese when you get here. Oh, and I’ll need to wash the spare sheets…and restock the ice chest…”

Her friend’s head suddenly disappeared without even a goodbye, Ophelia already lost in the list of tasks she was giving herself.

Quickly, Minerva pulled an ancient carpetbag from beneath her bed and set it to packing itself. Then she left her chambers heading for the Headmaster’s office, heart full with the news she had to share.

*****

“Minerva!”

Minerva tried not to cringe at the enthusiastic greeting as the door she’d just knocked smartly on swung open.

“Come in, come in!”

She stepped into the small flat and set her bag down, looking around.

“This isn’t the same place you had before,” she said with interest.

“Oh, no. That place was much too big for me alone, and filled with too many memories of Ralph. I’m much happier here. Now, let me get your cloak; you’re soaked. How do you like all this rain?”

Minerva handed off the garment while Ophelia continued to talk on as she blasted the sodden wool with a drying spell.

“Usually, New York is hot and beautifully sunny this time of year. Shame you can’t see it!”

“I’m certain I can picture it just fine,” said Minerva, giving her friend a warm smile. Ophelia had her faults, but there was nothing false or pretentious about her, which was one of the reasons they had remained good friends despite time and distance. “Ophelia, where’s the girl?” The tiny living area of the flat was empty of anyone other than the two witches.

Her friend sobered slightly and gestured with her head to one of the few doors placed at intervals around the room. This one was shut tight.

“Poor thing just doesn’t trust me. She tried to go out the window when I was making tea.”

Sorrow filled Minerva and she stepped up to the door. “May I?” she asked.

“Of course. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck than me. I’ll owl out for food while you two talk.”

Full of a mix of emotions, Minerva turned the knob on the door and pushed it open.

The room was dim, but a lamp burned in one corner, throwing off a warm glow. A cozy bed commanded the center of the space, a tray of tea and toast sitting at the foot of it, but both bed and food were untouched. A strange rope of what looked like knitted yarn stretched from one of the bedposts to where it disappeared in the space between the bureau and the wall. At the window, a pair of rather determined looking knitting needles stood guard.

She entered the room completely and closed the door behind her. Then she stepped around the end of the bed so she had a clear view of where the yarn rope led. A teenage girl sat on the floor, wedged into the small space with her knees drawn up and her head on her arms, sleeping lightly. Around one small wrist the yarn rope attached to a knitted cuff, enchanted to keep her from escaping the room.

Minerva shook her head. Leave it to Ophelia to set her knitting on the girl so she wouldn’t run off. She pulled her wand from her robes and flicked it, breaking the strengthening spell and letting the cuff and rope unravel. The yarn retreated obediently, rolling up into a ball.

Feeling the motion at her wrist, the girl woke with a start, her head jerking up, and suddenly the two of them were staring at each other.

Minerva’s voice caught on a lump in her throat. The child was older – sixteen now, although she didn’t look it with her small stature – and the pair of glasses clinging to her face were new, but she still had no doubt that she was gazing at a young girl she hadn’t seen for seven years but used to know quite well. The bright red hair and expressive brown eyes were unmistakable even when filthy, and in her features she was an equal and undeniable mix of Jenny and Charlie.

“Sadie McLauchlin,” she finally breathed in joyous awe. The girl blinked at her name but didn’t speak. “She really found you.”

The child looked at her fearfully, her brown eyes dark and weary, but she didn’t say a word. Gazing into those eyes, Minerva knew this was a girl with horrors that haunted her past. It broke her heart because the last time she’d stared into those eyes they’d been full of happiness and life.

With a sigh, she drew up a chair and sat beside the bed in front of Sadie, who other than raising her head hadn’t moved.

“I’m sorry if Mrs. Oddsocks frightened you. I know she can be a little…I believe intense would be a good word, but she means well.”

Sadie still said nothing.

Minerva frowned.

“Sadie,” she said gently. “Do you remember me?”

Silence stretched after her question, long and heavy, but she let it, simply watching the girl as she was in turn studied with the most intense of gazes. Finally, barely noticeable, Sadie nodded.

“Then you should know I’m not here to harm you. I don’t know where you’ve been or what has happened to you over the years, and I know your strong wariness of strangers has probably kept you safe during that time, but you must decide if you want to continue to live that way, or if you can try trusting again. I’m here to take you to England with me. There’s a place for you at Hogwarts, always has been, if you’d like it, and people who care deeply for you.”

For the first time some of the fear and distrust slipped off Sadie’s face, replaced by a flicker of curiosity, but before Minerva could tell her more, a loud rumbling sound split the silence.

“Are you hungry?” she asked at once. The child was scared and traumatized, but there would be time to address that later. Now she would get farther by providing for her practical needs first.

Sadie nodded slowly.

“Then come. Mrs. Oddsocks promised a fine spread of New York City cuisine. I’m sure we don’t want to miss it.”

She stood up, returning the chair to its original place, and then turned to Sadie and waited. After a long moment, the girl haltingly moved out of her hiding spot. Minerva took in the bare feet and ragged, dirty, ill-fitting clothing with a great sadness, but forced herself not to react openly.

“Shall we?” she asked, gesturing to the doorway, but the girl paused, drawing back nervously from the window with its knitting needle sentries they would have to pass.

“Oh, Merlin’s fallen arches,” Minerva muttered whisking out her wand again. “I’ve told Ophelia time and time again to just get a nice pet cat! Those blasted needles are entirely too full of themselves anyway,” she said as she fired off a tiny stunning spell and the silver needles fell to the floor. For the first time, the faint glimmer of a smile pulled at the corners of Sadie’s eyes and mouth.

“Come, child. Let’s get some food in you before you faint. Just make sure to ask the cutlery politely before you use it; Mrs. Oddsocks possessions can be so persnickety.”

Together – Minerva pretending not to notice the girl’s trembling, hesitant steps – they left the spare bedroom.

*****

She stood on the roof and watched as the rising sun inched above the horizon, waking the city with rays of amber and gold that bounced off the millions of windows and shimmering puddles still left in the streets.

The rain had finally stopped and the sun emerged, the world washed clean and born again to a new day.

The symbolism of it all wasn’t lost on her.

Silently, Sadie scanned the metropolis, pausing now and then to commit a roof to memory, dwell on the deep green of a park, remember the maddening smell of roasting peanuts…

This city held dark and dangerous corners, where nightmares stalked and hunger and cold tormented. Hidden, evil secrets and terrors. For those reasons, she hated it.

But it also held great beauty. A memory of a friendly smile, a kind word… Cool wood and the smell of old books… A mind finally unlocked… And for those reasons she loved it as well.

The city was an enigma – the canyons of steel and stone could swallow you whole and steal your soul, and yet it had been her home, kept her safe, sheltered her. It called to her, in a way she would never understand, but knew she couldn’t ignore.

“Sadie?”

She turned at the voice and stepped guiltily away from the ledge. She hadn’t been given permission to come up here and she was still unsure of these people.

“There you are, child,” the older woman – Professor McGonagall, Sadie corrected herself – said. “It’s almost time for us to go. Our Portkey departs in an hour…” The professor’s voice trailed off as she came to a stop beside her and gazed out at the sparkling city. “Oh,” she said after a moment. “I must admit that is quite the sight. Beautiful, in its own way.” She looked at Sadie. “You will miss it, won’t you?”

Sadie considered the words carefully, weighing the secrets that she kept, before she nodded.

They stood in silence for a few more moments, soaking it in. Then Professor McGonagall turned smartly toward the stairs that would take them back down into the building. “Come, Sadie. It’s time to go.”

Fear and trepidation welled up inside Sadie and she fought the urge to back away, flee. Here, in her city, life at least was familiar, but to follow the older woman was to take a terrifying leap into the unknown. And yet, for reasons she couldn’t explain, her heart told her to go.

With one last look, she bade the concrete jungle farewell…at least until they met again, and then followed the professor to the stairs.
 

Author's Note:  I posted this second update quite quickly because the prologue was so short I figured I owed you guys a bit more.  But from here on out I plan to update on a two week schedule.  I have quite a bit of this story written, but I'm a teacher just starting back into school and a schedule like that gives me enough leeway to hopefully always stay ahead and so never run out of chapters to post.

As always, please let me know what you think of the story.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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