"Hello," the girl next to me says. It is meant to sound confident, but I can detect underlying fear and timidity. Perhaps it is my gift as a Lion, I muse.
I tip my head and repeat, "Hello."
"I don't believe we've been properly introduced, though we're in the same year..." The girl sits forward eagerly and the movement catches my attention. She is in Ravenclaw. She mentioned we are in the same year—of course it is likely, given our shared class—yet I have an undeniable feeling that she is younger. Such things ordinarily do not matter, but this is a very noticeable sensation. She evidently is not finished introducing herself. "My name is Helen Gregran. Is this your favourite course?"
That at least strikes my interest. I am almost always willing to talk about school. I angle myself toward her. "Transfiguration? Yes, it is. Do you enjoy Transfiguration?"
"I do, very much. I could never be pushed to pick a favourite but I certainly appreciate it over, say, Divination." The new acquaintance shudders and wrinkles her nose. An embarrassed look crosses her face. "Apologies! I haven't asked your name!"
"Minerva," I answer, smiling lightly at the possibility of a new intellectually-oriented friendship. I never have kept many friends. Any peer who scorns Divination for Transfiguration is a step closer to becoming a friend of mine. I can certainly overcome the slight feeling of an age gap for a possible future friendship. I offer my hand, preferring distant manners to girlish giggles over a new bond formed. "Minerva McGonagall."
I look her over in earnest for the first time. Straight red hair and pleased brown eyes, pale skin and neatly pressed clothing. Compared to the other mussed and rebellious third-years, this Helen is composed and poised for lessons. I am honestly pleased to make her acquaintance.
Professor Dumbledore strolls into the room, robe billowing about him, and we both look front and foremost, immediately dropping our conversation. We are proper students. But when the Professor mentions a prophecy made in history about Muggle alchemy bearing truth, Helen and I share smug smirks over our quills as they scurry over our parchments.
Yes, I do believe Helen and I will grow to be friends.
Professor Dumbledore catches my eye before I leave the classroom. I tuck my belongings into my briefcase and walk to his desk. I dip my head in salutations and smile some, partially in confusion, although I like to think I dissemble that feature.
"Minerva," he greets with a gentle smile and sparkling eyes. He always looks delighted to see me. It lends grateful butterflies to my stomach, that he might value a mere third year—although to some degree I understand he values every student of all years.
"Hello, Professor," I respond. "Thank you for the lesson."
He waves a hand, as if to say 'it is my job, nothing for which to thank me,' although I disagree. He glances up at me. "Did I see you speaking with Helen?"
I halt surprised laughter from escaping. I should not find it as astonishing as I do that he sees so much more than I expect. He was not in the room when Helen and I spoke. Our quick change in positioning and shared smiles through lesson must have given us away.
"I did. I'm surprised not to have noticed her before today." I smile fully—Professor Dumbledore is always one of the few people to experience such a feat. "She seems...intelligent."
"She is," he replies, although he looks slightly surprised. "Did she not tell you of her arrival?"
"We did not have much chance to speak," I tell him politely. "Class started soon after our introduction."
He nods his head, perpetually understanding. "Perhaps you should invite her for transfiguration homework over tea, hmm?"
"Begging your pardon, Professor, neither of us appears to need much help," I say with a chuckle. He joins me. His eyes are authentically amused.
"No, no, certainly not. She may have some enlightening views on Muggle alchemy and life in general—from America, as well."
"A Muggle-born from America?" I repeat, perplexed. I did not notice either from our meeting, although the first is always difficult to determine without being told. "She doesn't sound American."
"Sounds may be as deceiving as looks," he informs me, smiling sagaciously over his glasses. He's sharing a conspiratorial look with me. "She may have some interesting experiences to share. You think about that transfiguration over tea. I can see you two as fast friends."
At tea-time I catch sight of straight sanguine hair and walk towards Helen. She looks up at my approach. I clutch my briefcase tighter. I never get used to these friendly interactions with my peers.
"Is this seat taken?" I ask her at last. She shakes her head quickly and inches over to give me more space. I drop my briefcase and take a seat, smiling what I hope is a grateful smile. "Thank you."
"Not a problem."
She seems equally at a loss for what to say, which makes me more comfortable rather than less. I decide to be honest, even if it does involve hiding behind the words of a professor.
"Professor Dumbledore suggested I invite you for transfiguration work over tea. Would you be interested?" I give what most people presume to be a snobbish smile on my part, but my deepest secret conceals that it is a shy smile. It is shy because I am shy. I prefer to be considered snobby than have others know the truth of my social fears.
"I would like that very much. Muggle attempts at transfiguration especially fascinate me. Shall we work through this assessment during the leisure time after tea?"
"I would be delighted." I smile broader to know that the statement is entirely true.
She giggles to herself and I raise my eyebrow at her, but the jollity is contagious. I finally question her action. "What is so amusing?"
"My excitement to be here. Hogwarts. It's everything I read and more; it doesn't cease to amaze me." She looks at me and her eyebrows rise together, lips spread and white teeth peeking. "I've heard the pudding is to die for."
I look left and right, sure that none of my peers are paying attention or likely to be listening. I lean near Helen and whisper, "I have a secret sweet tooth and I agree with that assessment."
"Goodie!" She claps her hands together just as steaming fowl, vegetables and more appear on the table. We both laugh at her response as we reach to fill our plates.
Helen escorts me out of the Great Hall; she finished her meal precisely as I did. A few of my fellow Gryffindors watch me carefully as I leave. Few students take advantage of informal evening meals to sit with those of other houses. I never have and never intended to. Helen just smiles and waves at her fellow Ravenclaws. I turn once before exiting the Hall. Professor Dumbledore, as I guessed, is smiling at me. I always have the feeling he has a number of plans—some involving me—in his enigmatic mind.
I converse with the Ravenclaw as we make our way to Gryffindor tower—she seems to follow me without a settled agreement on location. I take no notice. I'm pleased that she doesn't interrupt my speech to ask for definitions of words, as all the other third-years seem to do.
"Wow..." she murmurs as we enter through the fat lady. As usual, she was far too fixated on the silly knight to properly acknowledge my password. I could have mumbled anything and she would let me in. It's no wonder I have stopped requesting others call her the "corpulent lady" so she wouldn't know the adjective so many used on her. She was still under the impression that a corpulent was a sweet. I grin. It was, in a way...
"Do you ever get tired of walking into these awe-inspiring rooms?" she asks me. I turn to her and feel a flush. I shouldn't let my mind wander so, especially not to be lost in rants.
"No, I can't say I do. It would be cliché to say they're magical, but..."
"They are," she finishes for me, smiling, with another look around the room. "Everything is so antique and beloved."
"Different from Ravenclaw?" I wonder, authentically curious.
I read a look of surprise on her face. "You've never been?"
I shake my head.
"You seem the worldly type. Or, if not worldly...Hogwartsly? I'm surprised you haven't been in Ravenclaw." She hushes, acknowledging that she has rambled.
I smirk and offer a laugh. "I've never been invited. Nor to Hufflepuff, and least of all Slytherin."
"You should give them a try," she informs me, but I don't believe her face or her tone. It seems she agrees with my opinion of Slytherin but is merely pretending otherwise.
I show her to my favourite chairs before the fireplace and question over my shoulder, "Ravenclaw affiliation, hmm?"
"In a way," she answers with a sheepish look. "They're not my favourite students. Can be cunningly clever, so I see the draw from my House...Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't meant to be in Gryffindor myself!"
Helen drops her briefcase next to her chair and taps it with her wand. It spreads out as a knee-high table before her and she plucks up her Muggle Alchemy book and her parchment. I gasp over the display and book.
"You're the one who took it from the library!" I exclaim first, in an elated whisper—just like me to comment on a book before an act of genius Transfiguration. I take a quick breath.
"Guilty as charged." She pulls it open to the chapter on gold and sits back, expecting my question.
"Where did you learn to do that?"
"I had a teacher in my previous school tutor me in helpful school spells. Said I was too scholarly for my own good sometimes and could use some assistance." She dips her quill in purple ink—I raise an eyebrow—and scribbles down two words. She rips the corner and passes it to me. I read the spell and smile. Of course, simple combination of Latin and old Witching tongues.
I take my wand from my coiled braid, whisper the words and tap my case. It turns to a fully formed table, which nicks my knee. I sigh. I never enjoy botching a spell, even my first time.
"Enunciate the third syllable a touch more. It creates the minuscule size." At this point she is not looking up from her book. I see only a crown of red hair as she leans over her desk. She whispers another spell and touches over some lines. They are transcribed to her parchment in bulleted points, the perfect arrangement to combine multiple sources and write an assessment. I marvel.
By the time my second attempt is successful—of course—she is offering her hand with another ripped parchment piece. She rests it on the corner of my new table and gets back to work.
I smile. I don't mind being bested by an ardent worker. It means I can work hard enough to best back.
I have just finished my note-taking from a Muggle History book when she closes her book and looks up. She takes in the pages I've just finished reading and smiles.
"That book." She turns to look at the spine and nods. "I looked for that one as well!"
"If you're done, shall we swap?" I propose. I remove my finger from the pages and let it shut fully, then offer it to Helen. She grasps it gingerly and passes me hers. I smile when she does. "Pleasing business arrangement."
"You have a lovely sense of humour," she says, not directly to me, but as if she were talking to her newly-acquired book. It is soft, said shyly as if she isn't sure how I will take the statement.
"Thank you. It's matched." I open the new book without further thought or pause, but I'm smiling as I investigate attempts to recreate silver.
It's nearly nine when we've finished with our second books. She yawns and leans back as she closes the book in her lap. Her legs are curled up underneath her, a concentrated pose. My limbs would get stiff. I twist my back and sigh at a few audible cracks. It appears I already am stiff. Such an old maid! I chide myself and laugh.
Helen looks up abruptly. "Some more arbitrary amusement?" she inquires, teasing me with a delighted grin.
"I feel like an old woman, stiff and twisting about so. Crack crack!" I imitate the noise of my back and blush. That is very unlike me. I am acting very...childish. But I am thirteen, am I not? My mother would point out that I still am a child and have every right to act in such a manner. I decide to contemplate it more before sleep and put it off for now.
"You sound like a chiropractor." She touches her wand to the short table before her and ignores its movement, instead reaching out to return my library book. I trade her back her book. She slides it into her briefcase and closes the latches. "I'm knackered."
"Aren't we a bunch of rebels, then, heading to sleep before ten on a Friday night." I smile lazily and leave my work where it is. I do glance to it, though, and then blink. I turn back to Helen. "Could you tell me the counterspell?"
"Oh, counterspell!" Helen presses her fingers to her temple and shakes her head, laughing in a shamed manner. "I would make such a terrible teacher!" She scribbles down the counterspell to the spell she had previously given me and packs her belongings again.
"You, hmm, you put the parchment back in..." I mention, as gently as I can muster. I can feel she is already embarrassed. She flushes further and fishes for the small piece of parchment, then slips it into my waiting hand. I try not to make it eager.
"I'm sorry about that," she says softly. "All of it."
"The pleasant evening focused on our studies, as well?" I ask softly. I don't remember my face feeling so tensionless. She recognises that I'm teasing her, that she has no reason to apologise, and closes her mouth. I have a feeling she was about to apologise for apologising. Girls can be so silly sometimes. I dip my head and stand, stepping around my new study table. I'm a night-owl; I'll work on a few lines before I go to sleep.
Helen stands and bends for her briefcase. She follows me to the painting and stands clutching her belongings, almost nervous but I don't fully believe it.
"Would you like to get together soon to finish the work? I know it isn't due for two weeks, but with end of term assessments quickly coming upon us..."
"I would love to," I answer before she can continue rambling. "You'll have to show me Ravenclaw tower some time. I'm a fan of heights."
"Then you will love the tower!" she gushes, smiling ear to ear.
I nod and match the expression. "I've read Hogwarts, A History," I declare, which somehow widens her smile. "It has pictures."
"It did each of the three times I read it," Helen answers, eyes bright. "Perhaps Sunday, then, after Quiddich."
"Provided Ravenclaw beats Slytherin into the ground, sure," I agree. I pause and cross my arms. I give her a look up and down that I've always known my peers were overly capable of but one I never knew I possessed: one of amused attitude. "We can even turn a blind eye to the fact that you won't be conflicted when one team wins."
"'One team,' you say. Ravenclaw!"
"Maybe this time. Until a fortnight from now."
"I'm not frightened of your Gryffindor lion's pride," she remarks with a laugh and slips out from behind the painting. "See you soon."
I hear the bells chiming and push her gently through. "Not if you don't get going, you'll be sent to the dungeons with the first years!"
She hurries down the corridor toward the tower. I watch her go and duck back into the common room. I work for another half an hour, write down the first half of my essay plan and pack for bed.
When I reach my the third-year dormitory floor the other girls are still awake, munching on fiery fluffs and gossiping about, I imagine, boys. I park my briefcase next to my bed and pull my sleeping clothes from under my pillow. The others are staring at me as I walk from the bathroom. I uncoil the bun from my fake-wand wooden stick and let the ebony plait fall down over my shoulder.
"Is something the matter?" I inquire, looking the four other girls in the eye. They blink at me and shake their heads, nigh simultaneously. Sometimes I wonder if young Gryffindors are just sheep in lions' attire.
One, however—Aurora—stops her shaking. "Did you have a Ravenclaw guest?"
"I did," I answer honestly and sit on my bed, tucking my night skirt underneath me.
"Is she your new friend?" The authenticity of her statement drives the others away into further conversation amongst themselves, with twitters and snickers. Aurora just gazes at me with deep dark eyes.
"She is, I think."
Aurora smiles. I always consider it a slightly frightening gesture, given how much it effects her usually blank or contemplative features. I have never received a smile from her before and never witnessed one so full of thoughts and positive conclusions. She brings her hands together in her lap and nods her head. "I'm glad."
Just like that, she's back with the others of the group, as if she had no depth at all. A sea-bottom floor of jewelled treasures pretending to be the flint speck in a walkway. I shake my head and tuck myself under the covers, then draw the curtain closed.
As I rest my head against the pillow the thoughts cloud my mind again. For a few moments, I will humour them. Then I will clear them for sleep.
Friends, I think repeatedly. Have I had one of those before?
Do I have one now?
I have the faint recollection of falling asleep with a smile, but the concept is so foreign to me I ignore its implications.