With a loud whistle the train started moving. Another year at Hogwarts was starting. And Madison Stewart was excited. Against all reason and common sense. After all, her previous years at the school were not strictly typical. Although filled with lessons and homework, detention and house points, her school years were also full of dangerous creatures, life and death situations, longing and confusion. Unfortunately not the “I-can’t-get-this-potion-right” sort of confusion either.
Madison Stewart was on a mission. To find her brother had been her one goal when first starting at Hogwarts. This goal had brought her face to face with redcappas, acromantulas, curses and death-threats. Any other teenager would count the days until school year ended when faced with that kind of pressure. But Madison was nothing if not determined. Her brother meant everything to her. How could he not – among death eaters, pureblood fanatics and all around self obsessed narcissists, Jacob was the only family-member to pay any attention to Madison growing up. He talked to her and played with her when they were younger and sent her long letters after he went to school. Madison still remembered the hollow sensation when her brother went to Hogwarts. The house seemed empty and Madisons insides seemed empty. The hollow feeling had only increased when she learned her brother had gone missing. It seemed to stick with Madison where ever she went – the emptiness, the numb indifference to everything and everyone except Jacob.
But then, she had gotten in to Hogwarts. And things started to change. The hollowness in her started to diminish, being replaced with decisiveness, resolution and optimism. At first she thought it was because she was actually doing something to search for her missing brother. Or maybe it was because she was closer to the last place Jacob lived. After 3 years she knew better. The change had come because for the first time in her life Madison had friends. She, who had only ever confided in Jacob, had only cared for Jacob, had actual friends. Rowan was the first one she made. They met in Diagon Alley and had been best friends ever since. Now Madison could not imagine her life without the dark haired book-worm who shared her dorm room and deepest secrets. As time went by, Madison had made more friends. All different in their background and nature, but all of them as close to Madisons heart as Jacob was. And they were the true reason the hollowness was gone. Her insides were not empty anymore, the were full of love. Love for her brother yes, but also love for her friends. How did she manage to be so lucky as to find people, that didn’t mind, that her parents were Voldemorts followers. Didn’t even mind, that she had an infamous brother and she herself was declared “cursed” the moment she stepped into Hogwarts in her first year. Lucky, that’s what she was. And that’s how she felt when she laughed and talked to her friends during the train ride.
The buzzing in the hall was almost deafening. All the students who had missed each other in the train were catching up, first-years were oohing and aahing at everything they saw, ghosts were gliding through people and Peeves was flying around holding someones toad.
“Madison!” someone yelled. She looked around. Penny Haywood was pressing her way through people to get to the Gryffindor table.
“Hey Penny! I missed you in the train. How are you?”
“I was at the prefects compartment. I’m fine. I missed you! How was your summer?”
“Fine, nothing special. Could not wait to get back here actually. Wait..prefects compartment? You’re a prefect? Oh Penny, that’s wonderful, congratulations!”
“Thanks!” said Penny beaming with pride.
“A prefect ey? Thats splendid, now we have one in our corner when we have some leftover dungbombs to move around” said Tonks grinning with glee.
“I dont want to have anything to do with dungbombs, thank you very much.” said Penny smiling sternly.
“Oh you wont, don’t worry.” said Tonks innocently.
“I really missed you Madison” said Penny sitting down next to her.
“Me too Penny, I’m glad to be back here with you all again.”
Penny Haywood. The blond haired hufflepuff was one of Madisons closest friends. She seemed to be Helga Hufflepuffs reincarnation – sweet and kind to everyone she met. Fiercely loyal to her friends and one of the smartest witch in her year. When thinking about Penny, Madison found, that she felt especially lucky.
“I hope this year will be a bit ..er..more normal than last one.” said Penny slowly. “My little sister Beatrice started Hogwarts this year, I wouldn’t want her to see all the things we saw last year.”
“Aww, don’t mollycoddle the kid Penny. Where’s the fun without some imminent death omen hanging over you. The kid has to toughen up, doesn’t she?” said Tonks only half jokingly.
“You wouldn’t say that if it was your sister now would you?” asked Penny amused.
“Cant say. Only child speaking” answered Tonks.
“Well I’m with Penny. I hope the only thing I have to worry about this year is whether it will be Snape who poisons me or Kettleburn who maims me. That’s enough to be going on with” said Madison.
Penny looked at Madison curiously. “Does that mean you won’t search for the next vault this year?”
Madison sighed. Searching for the vaults had been the only link to finding her brother. But the deeper she delved into the mysteries concerning Jacob and the cursed vaults, the further she seemed from answers.
“I don’t know. It seams that the more I search, the more trouble I find. Last year was crazy, I don’t want to bring that kind of danger to the school, or to you guys.” Madison sagged a little. As much as she longed for a normal school year, she felt as if she was betraying her brother by giving up. Penny seemed to understand her.
“Listen Madison. As I said last year – you didn’t ‘bring trouble’ to us. Trouble was here to begin with. And if its gone now, its only thanks to you. But no one can blame you for wanting to live your life like a normal student, without all the drama. Cheer up, its going to be an awesome year!”
“Speak for yourself. If there wont be any drama, whats the point in going to classes at all? I have to find Tulip and see hows her stock of fanged frisbees holding up. If drama wont come to me, well then...” grinned Tonks and went looking for Tulip.
Penny looked after her apprehensively. “You are not on duty yet prefect, don’t worry.” smiled Madison. “Right. But I’m going to have my hands full with these two this year, wont I?” asked Penny.
“Oh, no doubt about it. Be prepared...and carry an air freshener for the dungbombs.”
“I will. Have to run, the headboy and girl are supposed to give us instructions soon. Bye Madison, I’ll see you in class.” Penny stood and headed towards the main door where there seemed to be a little group gathering.
Madison sighed again. No one could blame her..that’s were Penny was wrong. There were people who could blame her for giving up on Jacob. Madisons parents talked about nothing else than Jacob. He was there firstborn after all. The pride and joy of the Steward family. Ever since he went missing Madisons parents could not wait until she too left for Hogwarts. She had become a tool in her parents disposal to finding Jacob. What would they say if they knew, that the only thing Madison wanted to do was to study and play quidditch.
Rowan was already at the dormitory when Madison arrived. “Hey! Where were you for so long. I already unpacked my stuff.”
“I was at the hall, enjoyed the feast. Didn’t you?”
“Not everyone wants to eat two helpings of shepherds pie on top of pot roast. How you don’t weigh a ton is beyond me.”
“I well...I..was hungry.” Madison felt uncomfortable. Rowan looked at her sharply “They are feeding you at home right?” “Of course they are.” said Madison quickly. A little too quickly it seemed, because Rowan exhaled deeply and murmured “oh Madison, I’m sorry. I thought they would be better this summer”.
“Its just..they just forget sometimes. They go out a lot and they forget when they come home. And I don’t want to remind them, because I don’t want to talk to them anyways. And I can’t use magic and...its nothing, I’m fine. Its not a big deal.” Madison felt herself become red and started to busy herself with her trunk.
“What classes do you have tomorrow?” she asked to try and divert the conversation topic. Rowan was silently looking at her for a few moments, but then seamed to decide to not push it further. “Potions and transfiguration first. Same as you I think.”
Madison unpacked her trunk and fell into her bed. It had been a long day and she was drained. She hadn’t talked or eaten as much for the whole summer as she had with her friends in the train and at the feast.
“Did you see Penny? I didn’t find her at the train.” asked Rowan who was also in her bed and fixing her curtains.
“Yeah, I saw her at the hall. Shes a prefect, that’s why she was awol. She was in their compartment.”
“Shes a prefect? Cool! Well if anyone deserves to be one, Penny does.”
“Right! Shes so kind and caring, and smart and pretty, she will be a perfect prefect.” mused Madison half asleep already.
“Hmm..yes.” chuckled Rowan “kind and perfect, that’s our Penny. Maybe you should help her with her duties. You know – spend some quality time together?”
“If I can, of course I’ll help her..wait? What are you talking about?” asked Madison stirring from her slumber.
“Oh come on Madison – she’s-so-pretty-and-kind – you like her don’t you?”
“Yes I like her, its Penny. Who would not like Penny?” Madison asked bewildered.
“I mean you like-like her” explained Rowan.
“What..I don’t..I mean..I haven’t even..shut up!” sputtered Madison wide awake now.
“Don’t worry, I wont tell. But I just have to say, that I think you guys would make a nice couple.” said Rowan and closed her curtains.
There was a long silence until Madison said quietly, almost as a whisper “I don’t think shes into girls, she only ever seams to date guys.”
“You wont know for sure until You ask her” whispered Rowan back.
Next couple of weeks passed in a whirlwind. Madison was trying to focus hard on studying. For one thing, keeping her grades high was a matter of personal pride for her, but she also enjoyed most of her classes and sincerely wanted to learn as much as she could. So she became a human sponge of knowledge and spent most of her free time at the library. The only classes she didn’t care about and wasn’t interested in were astronomy and divination. Probably because both of them involved unreachable subjects, that had little to do with life on earth Madison thought to herself.
She did give herself little brakes from studying. Once or twice a week, she sneaked out after dinner and went flying around the Hogwarts grounds. Flying over the lake at twilight was her favorite route. Madison sped up as fast as her broom allowed and felt the thrill of the unknown. The vast darkness slowly creeping over the dark forest and the equally dark lake glimmering mysteriously below her. She finished her nights at the room of requirements, which turned into a sort of a gym for her. She spent the last hours of the day training. When she finally returned to her dorm room, she was exhausted, but content. She fell asleep instantly after these nights and indulged in a dreamless sleep – a luxury for her.
The promise she had made to herself (and also to Dumbledore) to not search for another vault proved difficult to keep. She made no effort to learn new information about the vaults nor Jacob, but that didn’t mean, she was spared from it. Every night she didn’t manage to train and exhaust herself physically, she spent tossing in her bed, dreaming. The dreams were all about Jacob. Her brother in the mist, surrounded by golden lines, calling out to her. She ran to him through the mist, but every time she got closer to him, an invisible wall, like glass, blocked him. Sometimes he spoke to her, but his voice was weak and muddled. When she woke up sweaty and drained, she could not remember his words, only the feeling of weight and guilt.
“What’s up?” asked Tonks sitting down next to Madison during breakfast.
“Not much. What’s up with you?” answered Madison taking a sip of her pumpkin juice.
“Doom. Ruin. Despare.” sighed Tonks melodramatically.
“What’s wrong? Is it the vaults? Is someone hurt?” exclaimed Madison half-rising from her seat.
“No. Unfortunately not. It’s nothing.” answered Tonks gloomily.
“Oh. Well you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But if I can help..” said Madison feeling confused.
“No. I mean it’s nothing. Nothing is going on. Nada. Zip. No curses, no vaults, no danger, no nothing. If this keeps up I’m going to transfer to Durmstrang just to find some excitement.”
“Well...what about dungbombs or fanged frisbees or..?”
“Naah. I can’t make myself throw a frisbee when Penny is looking at me with her “I-expect-better-from-You” look. Besides it’s not the same as the action we saw last year. I swear, if something doesn’t happen right this moment, I’m going to” but Tonks stopped mid-sentence and gaped at the teachers table.
At the very moment Dumbledore cleared his throat and spoke to the hall. “Good morning everyone! I hope you are all enjoying a delicious breakfast and are eager to start another day full of knowledge. Before you do however, I have some exciting news for you all. School council and our outstanding staff have decided to revive an old tradition.”
“Dueling for housepoints!” cried Tonks.
“Lessons in the lake?” cried an eager hufflepuff.
“Shackles for students!” cried Filch. Everyone went quiet and looked at Filch. He cursed under his breath and shuffled away using a tapestry passage as a quick getaway.
“Hm..hmm. Well no.” said Dumbledore with a slight frown looking after Filch. “We have decided to bring back the Celestial Ball.”
The hall started buzzing excitedly. “The ball will be held in two weeks”. The buzzing grew louder. “It will entail live music, food and dancing.” The racket in the hall was deafening now. “And you may all invite a friend, classmate or someone special with you as your date.” The hall went deadly quiet for a moment and then erupted again, louder than ever.
“Well I’ll be..” said Tonks. “Just when I was giving up hope.”
“That’s cool I guess.” said Madison impassively.
“Cool? Of course it will be cool. What’s wrong with you?” asked Tonks looking bewildered.
“Hey guys!” Rowan joined them looking exited. “Some news right?”
“See – this is how one should look, when they have just learned, that something fun will happen to them.” said Tonks pointing to Rowan.
“What’s wrong Madison? Not excited about the ball?”
“No, I am. It’s just..”
“Aaah. I get it. You don’t know who to go with.” said Tonks with a knowing smile. “Well take your time and choose well. If you need, then I have a perfect test to weed out the bad seeds.”
“What do you mean a test?” asked Madison with interest.
“Well, this is what you do. You get like five or six dungbombs”
“Why do ALL of your plans involve dungbombs?” interrupted Rowan rolling her eyes.
“As I was saying” Tonks looked at Rowan sternly “you get like five or six dungbombs and then find the most crowded spots in school. Like corridors after class ends, or quidditch stands before a game or something like that. Then – you drop the bomb.”
“And?” asked Madison.
“When the crowd clears. The ones who are left standing are the good seeds. It’s a sure thing, I assure you.”
“Wait? The ones left standing? You mean the ones who don’t run away from the smell?”
“Exactly! They are the fun ones. The ones, whose noses are trained after years of practice. Try it, I guarantee you a good time, date or no date” smiled Tonks and got up.
“I think her method might guarantee me a date with a stuffy nose.” said Madison grumpily.
“What are you even talking about. We both know you want to invite Penny.” said Rowan.
“Shh! We most certainly don’t know that. And even if I did, that doesn’t mean, that I was going to.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Well for one thing – she’s straight.” - “You don’t know that!”
“She’s the most popular girl in school, she has probably been invited like fifty times during our conversation.” - “That doesn’t mean she has said yes to anyone.”
“And most importantly – I don’t want to mess with our friendship.” - “That’s just code for ‘I’m scared’.”
“Shut up. Who are you going with anyways?”
“I don’t know yet for sure. But I’m hoping Ben might ask me.” answered Rowan blushing slightly. “Ben? Really? Well if he won’t, I’ll talk some sense into him.”
“Thanks, but no need. I’ll ask him myself, if he hasn’t done so by the end of the day. You see, some of us still have balls” said Rowan with dignity and stood from her chair leaving for class.
Hearing Rowan say balls with such bravado was too much for Madison. She started giggling to herself.
But Rowan was right. Madison did want to ask Penny to the ball. Rowan was also right in assessing, that she was scared. What if Penny said no. What if she laughed and then said no. What if she said no and then they couldn’t even be friends anymore. But during the next few days Madison started to notice something strange. Penny, who was always busy with hundreds of friends and classes and, more recently, prefect duties, started to hang around Madison more and more. She sat next to her during every meal, she found her at the library and one morning, when Madison had been training the night before, Tulip informed her, that Penny had came looking for her.
“She said she just wanted to study together, but I think, she had something else in mind.” winked Tulip.
Against her own will, Madison felt the shimmerings of hope in the pit of her stomach.
She saw Penny at the potions class and sat next to her.
“Hey, you were looking for me yesterday?”
“Yeah, where were you? It was pretty late.”
“I was blowing off some steam, training.”
Penny looked at Madison appraisingly and bit her lip. “Oh I see.”
“What did you want?” asked Madison blushing slightly at her gaze.
“Nothing much, just to hang. You are hard to track down, busy schedule it seems.”
“Well hello pot, I’m kettle and we are both black” laughed Madison.
Penny chuckled “You’re right. I’ve been so busy lately with the decoration committee for the ball, that I haven’t even had a chance to find a date for it.”
Madison felt her mouth go dry. Was she giving her a hint? Did she want her to ask her to the ball?
“Well I have...” But right at that moment Snape glided into the classroom and everyone went quiet. Talking in Snapes class was a high risk affair. And asking someone to the ball an even bigger one. Madison decided to postpone her conversation with Penny and focused on Wideye potion instead.
When class ended, she ran after Penny who had finished her potion first and left in a hurry.
“Penny wait!” she caught up to her near a painting of two witches casting a spell on a cow.
Penny turned around and looked at Madison.
“I wanted to ask..” why was this so hard ? “I didn’t get a chance to..” The witches in the painting looked away from the cow, now more interested in the conversation about to happen. “Want I meant to say was..”
Penny looked at her with slight disappointment in her eyes.
“You wanted to tell me who you are taking to the ball? Snape came in before you could. Well, who’s the lucky chosen one?” she smiled sadly.
“What? No, I’m not taking anyone.” oh crap! “I actually wanted to ask you, if you might want to come with me? It’s totally ok if you don’t, I just thought, well maybe, if you did, we might..have..some..fun..” Madisons voice sank to almost a whisper. Might have some fun? She wanted the floor to open up so she could just fall away into oblivion.
The smile that broke in Pennys face was dazzling and for a split-second Madison feared, that one of the scenarios she had played in her mind of how this might go was coming true and Penny would laugh in her face.
“Of course I want to go to the ball with you!”
“Are you sure?” whats wrong with me?
“Yes I’m sure” laughed Penny and hugged Madison.
“You get that I will be your date and you will be mine?” Madison knew she sounded crazy, but she needed to make sure, that Penny understood what she meant.
“Yes I get that! I want to be your date and I want you to be mine. Why do you think I have been hanging around so much lately?”
“To study...” answered Madison slowly.
“I wanted you to ask me, you doofus. And I’m so glad that you finally did. We ARE going to have so much fun together!”
Slowly, almost carefully, Madison started to smile too. “Well then. Great. I mean..great! Excellent! That’s settled then.”
“Yes, it is. Oh, you just wait when you see my dress, it’s perfect for twirling.”
“Twirling? Oh, you mean dancing, right right. Of course, I know how to dance, of course” Oh hell. Madison suddenly felt she had missed some crucial points about the ball – like the fact that people danced at balls.
“Well I have to run to care for magical creatures now. I’ll see you at dinner Madison.” Penny started to leave, but turned around and kissed Madison on the cheek “Thank you for being braver than I was.”
Madison stood still as a statue long after Penny was gone and felt the spot on her cheek tingle and a warm glow spread through her whole body. Dance? Never mind dancing, with Penny Haywood as her date, she could probably fly to the ball.
The slightly euphoric feeling of having Penny Haywood as her date stayed with Madison for the whole of the week prior to the event itself. She felt giddy with happiness for many reasons. The main one was of course that Penny had said yes. But she was also proud of herself for actually asking her and not chickening out. That feeling was mutually shared by Rowan, Tulip and Tonks. All of the girls could not stop talking about the ball. Who was going to wear what and who was taking whom. Ben had asked Rowan the very day of the announcement and Charlie Weasley and Tulip were always together both in class and outside of it, so they were naturally going together. Tonks had asked a boy from ravenclaw Madison didn’t know. “He started throwing stink pellets when everyone was running away from my dungbombs. I knew he would be good fun then and there.” explained Tonks.
Finally the night of the ball arrived. Madison had agreed she would meet Penny at the hall entrance and went to the dormitory to get dressed. Her room was a mess. All of the occupants had emptied their trunks and the room was full of discarded clothes and make-up kits.
“Who is Barnaby going with?” asked Tulip while applying eye-liner.
“Ismelda I think.” answered Madison.
“Really? And who did the asking?”
“Ismelda did. She asked him after transfiguration on Monday.”
“Wow. An odd couple if there ever was one” said Rowan raising her eyebrows.
“You think? I don’t know. I think they might go well together. Barnaby is so sweet and kindhearted, it might do Ismelda some good to be around him. And she obviously likes him a lot. I think it’s nice.”
Madison opted to wear a black vest over a white shirt and black trousers as she never really liked dresses nor skirts that much. She did wonder for a moment if Penny expected her to show up in a dress, but then thought better of it. After all, Penny knew her well and would not want her to be uncomfortable. She did try to manage her hair, but was not successful. Her hair was naturally curly and she kept it shortish for practical reasons. When she tried to force it straight, Rowan had to spend 15 minutes untangling her comb from her dark main. The other girls took a lot longer than Madison, so she lounged in her bed and waited as they got ready.
When the time came to go downstairs, Madison felt butterflies in her stomach and her palms started to get sweaty. Everyone were nervous it seamed and the common room was unusually rowdy. Girls were giggling loudly and boys were poking each other and behaving especially boisterously to ease the tension. Madison went ahead of the others as she didn’t want Penny to have to wait for her before entering the hall.
The noise at the hall entrance was impressive. Even the teachers seamed to enjoy the festive mood as they did nothing to silence the students, quite the opposite – Madam Hooches roaring laughter was heard all over and professor McGonagall smiled at Peeves who glided above the students throwing glitter over them. Madison stood near the entrance and looked around. She saw Barnaby and Ismelda enter the hall, deep in conversation. Ismelda was holding Barnabys hand and he was explaining something to her. Smiling at the sight Madison felt someone tugging her sleeve and she turned around. Her mouth fell open and she felt her heart starting to beat faster. Penny was standing before her in a yellow skirt with a white top, her golden hair flowing down on her shoulders smiling shyly.
“Huh? Oh hey”
“What’s wrong” asked Penny with a slightly perturbed expression.
“Nn..nothing..khmm. I. You. Khkhmm.” stop acting like an idiot. “You look. Well you look beautiful!”
“Thank you, so do you” beamed Penny. “Shall we go in?”
“Yes. Let’s go.” Madison took a deep calming breath. Maybe I could take her hand? Or would that be too bold. Maybe she thinks we came as friends and I will mess it up. Or maybe if I...
“Come on, I want you to see the hall already. We finished decorating it just like two hours ago and I think it looks amazing.” said Penny and took Madisons hand.
The hall was indeed gorgeous. Instead of long table candles, bouquets of flowers were floating in the air, with little tea candles in the middle of them. As a result, the hall was dimmer than usual and the air smelled like spring. The four long housetables were replaced with many smaller ones, that seated 5-6 people around them and were also decorated with flowers and candles. Hundreds of fireflies were flying slowly around the hall and the ceiling above was a clear night sky full of stars that were much closer than they normally would be. Stardust fell from some of the stars and descended slowly down among the students, fading away before reaching the floor.
“Dumbledore charmed the ceiling especially, it’s a celestial ball after all.” said Penny when she saw Madison looking up.
“Everything looks stunning, you did an amazing job decorating Penny.” answered Madison still looking around in awe.
“Thanks. Come on, let’s sit down for a moment. Dumbledore will speak before the party starts.”
They sat near the teachers table and were soon joined by Tonks and Adam, the-stink-pellet-guy, and Ben and Rowan. Dumbledore greeted everyone jovially and thanked Penny especially for her work as the head of the decorating committee. Everyone clapped and cheered and Penny blushed with delight. Soon everyone were on the dance floor. Madison had been afraid of this. She hadn’t had much practice dancing, having never really been at parties that involved that particular skill, but it seamed to come naturally as she started to listen to the music and keeping a rhythm with Penny. Soon she had forgotten all of her trepidations and feeling relaxed, she let the music and the mood of the night take a hold over her. She even had the courage to lift and twirl Penny during one of the faster songs. Penny squealed and held Madison tightly around the neck. Madison put her down quickly, feeling that she may have overstepped.
“Sorry. I just, got carried away.” she said sheepishly rubbing the back of her neck.
“No, it’s fine. I just didn’t know you were so strong.” said Penny and grabbed her hands, pulling her closer as they swayed around to a slower song.
“Hah! You weigh like nothing. A pixie could lift you.” laughed Madison. “And you did say your dress was perfect for twirling, so twirl I did.”
Penny laughed “That you did.” She put her arms around Madisons neck. “And I didn’t mind at all” she said more quietly in her ear.
Madison felt her nape grow hot and her heart rate increase. She looked at Penny who was suddenly very close to her, her hands still around Madisons neck. She looked back at her and the blue in her eyes darkened slightly. Madison licked her lips. She didn’t hear the music clearly anymore, something was wrong with her ears. Everything sounded as if it came through a pillow, muffled and far away. She leaned a bit closer still. She could see Pennys eyelashes now. She tightened her hold on Madisons neck and looked at her lips, her eyes darker than ever. “Penny. Can I...”
A loud gong ran through the hall and suddenly the music stopped. All the torches shined instantly and the hall was abruptly filled with light. Blinking with confusion Madison looked around. Dumbledore was on his feet with his wand in his hand. It must have been him who had sounded the gong and stopped the party. Snape, McGonagall and professor Sprout were next to him, their wands also in their hands.
“Everyone! Listen to me. You are not the leave this hall. All prefects find the headboy and girl, you will be given instructions. Everyone else stay where you are and do not leave this area. I will explain everything in a short while.” Dumbledore moved swiftly through the students and exited the main doors, Snape, Sprout and McGonagall close behind.
“What the hell?” Madison looked around. Everyone were looking confused and a bit scared.
“I have to go.” said Penny “I’m a prefect.”
“Right. Go, go.” said Madison and let go of Penny with a sinking feeling. “I’ll be at the table when you are finished.” Penny started pushing herself through the mass of people in the dance floor, looking back at Madison with an apologetic smile.
Madison slouched back to the table slowly pondering the unexpected interruption. What was going on? It had to have been something really serious for Dumbledore to end the party so abruptly. It also might still be going on, because Dumbledore had left with no explanation. Rowan, Ben, Tulip and Charlie were at the table when Madison sat beside them.
“What do think is going on?” asked Charlie
“No idea, nothing good I bet” answered Madison.
“Yeah, it doesn’t look like it” said Ben throwing an arm around Rowan.
“Really weird that they didn’t explain anything to us. Dumbeldore isn’t usually like this.” said Tulip thoughtfully.
“I know. It made me think, that something, might still be going on, he was in a hurry.”
“Well whatever it is, it interrupted one hell of a night.” said Rowan in a calm voice.
“It did indeed” said Madison looking wistfully at the flowers hanging above her.
“For you especially I think” snickered Tulip.
“Yeah, you were pretty close with Penny there. Couldn’t have squeezed a pygmy puff between you two.” said Charlie with a smirk.
Madison only scoffed and looked around trying to spot the blond prefect in the crowd. If something was still going on and it was dangerous enough for Dumbledore to ban students from leaving the hall, she wanted to keep Penny close to her.
Students were getting restless. About half an hour had passed since Dumbledore had left. No one had moved from the great hall. Most of the pupils were sitting around the small tables, whispering anxiously among themselves. Madam Hooch together with professors Sinistra and Kettleburn were walking around the edges of the hall. Madison noted, that all of them had one hand in their pockets, clutching their wand.
Suddenly someone started crying on the other side of the hall. Madison looked around to see who it was, but the wall of students and the massive decorations were too thick.
“What now?” asked Ben startled.
“Someone’s crying.” said Rowan quietly.
“Nerves probably” said Tonks, who had joined the table. “It’s getting on my nerves too, being stuck here.”
“It sounds familiar...” said Madison getting up from her chair.
“It’s your golden girlfriend Steward” Merula was walking past them “started bawling out of the blue”.
Madison was halfway across the hall on her way towards Penny, when the main door opened and professor McGonagall entered. The hall fell still and silent except for Penny, who ran towards the grave looking professor. She met her near the door and McGonagall whispered something urgently into her ear. She looked at her wide eyed, with tears still leaking, but nodded and ran outside into the corridor. McGonagall moved quickly through the students and whispered something to professor Sinistra and Madam Hooch. Then she left as hurriedly as she had appeared.
Madam Hooch climbed up the small steps in front of the teachers table and yelled out in a booming voice “All students line up behind your prefects and band together. We will escort you back to your dormitories.” This was so confusing, that almost everyone started grumbling loudly. Professor Sinistra joined Madam Hooch at the podium and raised her hands in an attempt to quiet the crowd. “Professor Dumbledore will explain everything to you tomorrow. All we can say right now is that, no one is injured..as such...but there has been an attack concerning a student. Now please form lines and return to your dormitories.”
Madison stood dumbfound in the middle of the hall, when she saw Ravenclaw prefect Andre Egwu pass near her. “Andre! Wait a moment.”
Andre stopped and stood waiting for Madison to reach him.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“What happened? I mean with Penny? Why did she cry? And why did she leave after McGonagall came? Why did the prefects have to congregate?”
“We had to do a headcount.” answered Andre in a gloomy voice “and we found one student missing” Madison understood before Andre could finish his sentence “Beatrice Haywood from Hufflepuff, Pennys little sister.”
“Poor Penny.” said Rowan when they had returned to their rooms. “I wish we could go and..help..or something..”
“I know, me too.” said Madison. It was maddening to put on her pyjamas and go to bed as if nothing had happened, as if somewhere in the castle Penny wasn’t crying her eyes out. Madison wanted to go to her so badly, she even considered sneaking out. That plan was a no go though, as she had no idea were Penny and her sister would be. Beatrice wasn’t hurt as professor Sinistra had said, so that ruled out the hospital wing. And if that wasn’t enough to deter Madison from going, Rowan had explained in a stern voice “There is an unknown danger lurking around in the castle, we have no idea who or what or where it is. No way you are leaving this room in the middle of the night. I will block the door myself if I have to. We will find Penny first thing tomorrow, I promise.” Reluctantly Madison agreed and threw herself on her bed.
Sleep didn’t come easily, but that didn’t surprise Madison. She tossed and turned for hours thinking about Penny and Beatrice. When the first pink light of a new day started to appear behind her window, she finally fell into a fitful sleep. Familiar mist arose around her. Already expecting it, she saw the golden lines, she had seen many times in her dreams about Jacob in the distance. She started towards them, running as fast as she could, her brothers muffled voice in her ears. The lines came closer and closer and she could see, as she had many times before, that they formed a square. As soon, as she registered this, she collided with the invisible wall. But something was different than before. She could not see Jacob. There was someone standing before her, someone much smaller, with blonde hair. And she was crying. “It sounds familiar...” thought Madison to herself. And suddenly she jumped in shock. The mist was gone, she was sitting upright in her bed, sweat pouring down her face.
“Beatrice!” The small someone, who had replaced her brother in her dreams was Pennys sister.
Madison was out of bed and almost halfway out of the portrait door before she realized–she had no idea were to go. She knew, that she had to do something. But what? She stopped herself and backtracked into Gryffindors common room. The Fat Lady muttered something in an annoyed voice before closing. Madison sat down in front of an extinct fireplace and put her head in her hands. She had to calm down first and think. What was it she had seen? It was only a dream. No doubt Beatrice had replaced Jacob in her mind because she was the last thing she thought about before she fell asleep. Right? And Dumbledore had ordered Madison to stop looking for the vaults, in effect asking her to stop looking for her brother. But the dream was nagging Madison. The presence of Beatrice in it had unraveled something in her brain. The mist seamed less dense somehow, the golden lines seamed more defined. Was this something Dumbledore should know? But know what? That she had had a dream about Pennys sister? That was stupid. Madison was feeling more and more foolish as the minutes passed. She stood and sighed. Light was pouring in from the windows. There was no point in telling anyone about the dream. What good would it do? The only thing she could do, was to find out what had happened to Beatrice and help and console Penny. Resolved, she climbed out the portrait door. The Fat Lady looked after her with mild irritation as she disappeared behind a statue.
There were only a couple of early birds having breakfast when Madison entered the hall. The decorations for the ball were gone. Everything was as it had always been. It was hard to believe, that less than twelve hours ago, she had danced here with Penny. In fact, she had done more than danced. She had almost kissed her. Madison shook her head. This was not the time to think about that. She had to find the Haywood sisters. Looking around, hoping to find someone to ask, she saw professor McGonagall having breakfast. Of course she was up with first light, even on a Saturday. Slowly, Madison approached the teachers table. She didn’t want to disturb her during her meal and decided to wait until she was finished. Sitting down at the very end of Gryffindor table, where she was closest to the teachers table, she gulped some orange juice and kept an eye on the professor. McGonagall had already finished her porridge and was drinking her coffee when her eye met Madisons. Madison blushed slightly and looked down. When she looked up, she saw that professor McGonagall was waving her over. She got up quickly and climbed up to the teachers podium.
“Good morning miss Steward.”
“Good morning professor.”
“Well? I have never seen You having breakfast this early before. In fact, you have been late on more than one occasion to my morning classes. So, what can I do for You?”
“I’m sorry professor, I didn’t mean to disturb You. I just wanted to know, what happened to Beatrice Haywood and were is she?”
McGonagall sighed. “As we said yesterday, professor Dumbledore will explain everything to you today. I believe, he will address the school during lunch.” Seeing Madisons face fall, McGonagall leaned back in her chair. “I do believe you are asking about the whereabouts of miss Penny Haywood as much as you are about her little sister?”
“I..well yes. I want to..I don’t know..be with her and see how she is.” answered Madison a bit sheepishly.
“I figured” said McGonagall more kindly. “Well I can’t tell you all the details, but I can tell you, that you will most likely find the elder miss Haywood in her common room. I sent her there myself just half an hour ago.”
“Thank You professor!” exclaimed Madison and jumped down the podium, running to the main door.
“No running in the hall!” barked professor McGonagall after her.
She rushed downstairs and passed the potions classroom. The Hufflepuffs common room was near the kitchens and if she waited long enough, someone was bound to come by and let her in or at least tell Penny, that she was there. But Madison didn’t have to wait. She ran into Penny herself in front of a painting of a fruit bowl.
“Penny!” puffed Madison. “I was just looking for you. What is going on? What happened to your sister?”
Pennys eyes were red and she looked thoroughly miserable. She hiccuped and threw her arms around Madison. “Oh, it’s awful Madison. I can’t help her. I can’t even talk to her properly. And Dumbledore can’t help, no one can help.”
Madison held Penny gently and asked again “But what happened? Where is she?”
“She’s inside a painting.”
“Oh she’s. What?”
“Inside a painting. I know, it sounds unbelievable. But she is. On the second floor next to the stairs. She’s inside it and can’t get out. And no one knows how she got there or how to get her out.” Madisons head was buzzing. She hugged Penny more tightly “Oh Penny, I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
“Nothing, that’s the worst part, even the teachers have no idea how it happened or who or...professor McGonagall said I should go and try to sleep, but I just can’t leave her there.”
“I understand. Is it ok if I go with you and see her?”
“Of course, thank You.”
Penny didn’t let go of Madisons hand when they moved back upstairs through the corridors. Approaching the second floor staircase, Penny held Madisons hand tighter and Madison squeezed her hand back, wanting to comfort and encourage the blond haired girl all at once.
The staircase was not empty. Professor Dumbledore, Sprout and Snape were all standing in front of a portrait Madison assumed was the one Beatrice was trapped in. Dumbledore turned and looked at them kindly. “Miss Haywood. I expected, that professor McGonagall was laboring in vain trying to send you to bed.”
“We should think about sealing off these stairs Dumbledore. More students will come nosing around when the story spreads” said Snape under his breath.
“Well even so, we can’t deny miss Haywood access to her sister” said Sprout sternly looking at Snape.
Madison inched closer, keeping her distance from Snape. The painting they were standing in front of was a large one. In the middle of it stood a little blonde girl tapping her fist at them as if trying to break a window. She had tears in her eyes and her lips were moving, but no sound reached them. She was surrounded by the golden frame of the painting.
Madison blinked, her mouth went dry and she felt her knees grow weak.
“Madison?” asked Penny who had felt Madisons hand tremble.
“I’ve seen it.” said Madison quietly, looking at Beatrice intently.
“What do you mean miss Steward?” asked Dumbledore turning himself fully to face her.
“I’ve seen it in my dreams. I mean I saw Beatrice last night, but I’ve seen my brother trapped inside this painting for months now.”
“Please explain further.” said Dumbledore intently.
“The golden lines, they are the frame” Madison was speaking to herself as much as to the others. Everything made sense now. The golden square she had seen form around her brother was a frame and the invisible wall that stopped her from reaching him was not a wall, but the surface of a painting.
“And you never thought to tell someone about these dreams you were having?” asked Snape looking at Madison.
“Severus, please.” said Dumbledore “I suggest we move this conversation to my office. Could you please accompany me miss Steward? Miss Haywood, I suggest, as professor McGonagall tried, that you go and rest. I will keep you informed, I promise. Severus, Pomona – I will talk to you after breakfast.”
Madison tore her eyes away from Beatrice and looked at her sister. Penny had let go of her hand and stared back at her with a look in her eyes, that made Madison shudder. “Penny, I..”
“You knew?” whispered Penny and stepped away from Madison.
“No, I didn’t. I mean I didn’t know I knew you know. I mean...”
But Penny turned her back to Madison and walked down the stairs disappearing behind the same corner they had arrived from.
“Penny!” Madison wanted to go after her and try to explain, but Dumbledore took her shoulder gently. “She is tired and worried, she has not slept. There will be time for explanations later on, but for now I must insist, that you come with me and tell me the whole tale, it will be in the best interest of both miss Haywoods, I assure you.” Dumbledore guided Madison up the stairs. Looking back she saw professor Snape still standing in front of the portrait, watching her curiously.
Madison had been to Dumbledores office before. Her search for the vaults had lead her there on many occasions. “Hi Fawkes” she whispered when she passed the bird. Fawkes blinked at her and spread her wings as if greeting her back.
“Now then” Dumbledore sat at his chair and gestured for Madison to sit as well. “Could you please tell me everything you can about your dreams. And I must stress, that I mean everything. No detail is insignificant.”
Madison sat, and drawing her breath, she recounted every detail she could to Dumbledore. Everything about the dreams she remembered. The golden lines, the mist, her brothers voice and the invisible wall that was separating them. She kept her head down, looking at her shoes instead of Dumbledore. When she was finished, she waited a bit, but when Dumbledore didn’t say anything, she looked up at him.
Dumbledore was looking deep in thought, the tips of his fingers together on the table.
“Professor?” said Madison quietly.
“Thank You for telling me all this Madison.” said Dumbledore, still seemingly wrapped in his thoughts.
“I’m sorry.” said Madison in almost a whisper.
“I peg your pardon?” asked Dumbledore, coming out of his thoughts.
“For not telling you about this earlier. If I did, then maybe –”
“I’m sorry to have to interrupt you, but I can’t let you think, even for a second, that you are in any way to blame for what happened to the youngest miss Haywood. If anyone is to blame it is me.” said Dumbledore in a heavy sigh.
“You see – looking back now, I think, that I was too severe on you last year. In my defense, I was worried for your safety and hoped to spare you hurt by blocking your attempts at finding your brother. It would seem now, that this approach was, though not completely wrong, too extreme. A bond between siblings is strong indeed and in trying to keep you safe, I have unwillingly let open a new, undesirable connection between the two of you.”
“I don’t understand Sir.”
“You see, your brother was a very competent young wizard. One, among his many talents, was legilimency. This particular gift is the only explanation to your dreams. He has been trying to contact you through your dreams.”
“So I should have said something, I could have helped.” said Madison in despair.
“How could you have possibly known? It would be understandable for you to dream about Jacob, he is your brother after all. No one would have made the connection between these dreams and the vaults.”
“But what has this all got to do with Beatrice and the portrait?”
“Well I can’t be sure of course, but I would guess, that the trapping of miss Haywood signals, that another vault has been opened.”
Madison stayed quiet for a while. Voices of students could faintly be heard through the window. Breakfast was over.
“All of this. The vaults, the ice, the boggarts – all of this is because of me and Jacob. If I hadn’t been looking for him, none of this would have happened.”
“As I said before – a bond between siblings is strong. I’m quite sure in presuming, that even if you had not been looking for your brother, he would have found ways to contact you. As he has now.” said Dumbledore.
“But what was he doing? Where is he? And why is Beatrice trapped?”
“Ahh. An old professors deepest fear – questions one can’t answer. All we know for sure, is that miss Haywoods predicament is connected to your brother and, by extension – you. And in light of that information, I urge you to come and talk to me if your dreams change, if any information may come to light. But I stress, that you yourself do not try and look for your brother. The contains of the cursed vaults are unknown and the dangers inside them are not for students to conquer.”
“But my brother, he looked for them.”
“You and your brother are very different people Madison” Dumbledore smiled at her “He was always very calculating and resolute, driven by his mind and will. You are driven by your heart. This does not make you weaker” said Dumbledore, seeing the look in Madisons eyes “on the contrary, it is my humble opinion, that this makes you stronger. One should not only measure ones actions, but look at the heart of those actions as well. You are an extraordinary witch Madison, it is time you recognize that and judge yourself separate from your brother.”
Madison didn’t say anything to that. She wasn’t sure, she was understanding Dumbledore completely, but didn’t know what to ask from him anymore. She couldn’t help the feeling of guilt in her guts and Pennys angry face lingered in her mind making her feel worse by the second.
“Go on now. Find miss Haywood and talk to her. And remember – any new developments in your dreams, come find me.”
“Thank You professor.” Madison smiled slightly at Dumbledore and left the room.