For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #150, where we write about the image below from Pixabay.
It was 10th September, Mary Fisher’s first week at Hogwarts. Everybody told her how incredibly lucky she was, to be offered a place at such a prestigious establishment, but the apprehensive Mary felt flustered as she subconsciously placed her long, dark ponytail into her mouth.
She had only found out a fortnight ago, and tried her best to prepare by visiting Diagon Alley, but… all these cumbersome books! Ill-equipped, Mary had at least secured the very last broomstick in the shop, but so far, she could only make the thing fly backwards.
“Welcome, welcome, Miss Fisher”, beckoned Professor Dumbledor enthusiastically, before explaining: “you’re incredibly lucky, you know, that one of our pupils had to drop out.” Dumbledor’s eyes became vacant for a second as he seemed to be pondering something. “Yes, most unfortunate…”, he tutted, before regaining his composure.
“We did want to offer you a place last year, but there was so little competition, and so many spaces… We have plans to increase the intake”, he continued, “but for now”, he sighed, “we just have to make do,” Allowing his voice to trail away, Dumbledor thought it inappropriate to share the latest round of the Ministry’s budget cuts with the new starter: she’d find out soon enough how this once-great school had been forced to… economise… here and there.
“Thank you, sir”, responded Mary, meekly, with a tiny curtsy. She was simply grateful, as first reserve, to have secured the place. Joining the school in the Second Year was better than missing out altogether.
During the first week, Mary learned about the now-infamous original student, Marmaduke McMuddle, apparently a promising talent who had been experimenting with magic over the summer, had not memorised a spell correctly, and had ended up turning himself inside out. It had been touch-and-go, the poor boy required a six-hour operation to remove the wand, and would miss the entire year, still assigned exclusively to bed rest, while his insides were allowed to settle back to their rightful locations.
But the vast outpouring of sympathy for McMuddle did not help Mary. Missing her home, missing her parents, she felt completely disoriented, had struggled to find her bearings and had been rushed off her broom all week. While her contemporaries had already attended the school for a year, she had struggled. More often than not, she had arrived late for her lessons in this magnificent rabbit-warren of a building. And the school’s lofty standards were drummed it at every opportunity, reminding her that she was now among the “best of the best” young wizards, and how the staff expected her to hit the ground – or rather not hit the ground – flying.
This lesson is a prime example. Second lesson, Friday. Spelling.
“Go and get yourself cleaned up, Hector”, chides the gown-clad teacher. Professor Twitch, as the students had christened her. A bad-tempered, balding old woman who made up for her follicle deficiency by seemingly growing facial hair instead.
As her name suggests, she has a nervous tick, which as Mary has already learned, means that much of her sorcery meets with only approximate success. Reaching for another tin of tomato soup, Twitch adds: “And if you hurry about it, you’ll be back in time for your next lesson.”
Hard Luck Hector opens the classroom door to make for his dormitory, and as he steps into the corridor, the class hear the voice of a startled Miss Fortune, who exclaims: “Good heavens boy, you’re covered in blood! Are you all right?” The last words that the children hear are from Hector, who mutters, “It’s only soup, miss”, as he retreats as quickly as possible to his dorm to change.
In the classroom, Professor Twitch has finished pouring the new tin into the saucepan.
“And let that be a lesson to you”, she bellows, “do not disturb my train of thought while I’m concentrating”. The class simply look at each other.
And with magic words and a flick of her golden wand, the warmed soup rises from the pan, at Twitch’s command. The pupils silently part as the consommé, as graceful as the Hindenburg, passes slowly, silently overhead. They hold a collective breath; none wishing to share the hapless Hector’s fate. In symmetry, they collectively exhale, as the strawberry-coloured mass drops cleanly into the bowl which lies in wait on the far side of the classroom.
“Now”, commands the professor, “which of you will transport it back into the pan for me? And remember – magic only. No cheating!”
With no volunteers, Twitch continues. “New girl! What’s your name? Mary! Yes, Mary Fisher! Come up here and show us what you’re made of.”
Mary shrinks. Out of her depth, the last thing she wants is for her classmates to learn how ill-prepared she is. But there is no escape. Called to the front, the child adjusts her glasses. The words, a wave of a simple wand which resembles a second-hand chopstick, and…
Nothing. Five times she tries, but the soup is simply becoming cooler by the minute.
“Dear, dear”, interrupts Professor Twitch, “this will never do. This charm is elementary. I can see you have some catching-up to do, child.”
As if a public scolding were not enough, Twitch adds, “a month’s detention. That should give you a chance to learn the spell. Report to this classroom, every night after lessons. Now, back to your place.”
Dismissed. And with that, Mary’s chastisement is over. But not her embarrassment.
At lunchtime, the still-friendless Mary sits alone in Hogwarts’ library. I’m gonna learn how to turn that ugly old crone into a frog if it’s the last thing I do.