The Unexpected (Stensin)

“Gabardine,” commanded Professor Stensin as he tapped the end of his ebony-hued wand on the last finger of the smallest cherub on the largest statue in the longest hall of Katmeers.

Without more than a moment’s hesitation, the statue became animated, each of the sculpted figures moving with claymation jerkiness until they surrounded a hidden hole in the wall in a semi-circle. Slipping his wand back into the inner pocket of his robe, he waited patiently for the gilded mirror at the back of that hole to slide to the front, the glass already twisting so that the reflected image no longer showed the wallpapered corridor, but instead the ornate office of the big kahuna herself, Professor Fettigoose – the headmistress. She wasn’t alone, as Stensin already knew, and the headmistress turned to face the mirror on her side of the passage with Professor Bumblewatts at her right.

“Give us a few more minutes, and then I’ll open it for you,” Fettigoose said with her most business-like air, and then the view on the mirror returned to its normal state, though the hole stayed in the open and the mirror remained at the front.

“Enidrabag,” came the next mandate, and with another tap of his wand, this time on the first finger of the biggest cherub on the largest statue in the longest hall of Katmeers, the figures came back to life in order to return to their original positions.

By the time all of this took place, Fettigoose and Bumblewatts must have finished their discussion because as soon as the statue that hid the hole stopped moving, the painting just to the left of it began to change. A dark, stormy sky above a snow-covered meadow morphed slowly, the clouds letting in patches of sunlight that melted the snow and eventually offered a green meadow in which wildflowers bloomed. Once the sky was all sun and clear blue, it deepened and became painted stairs.

Ducking his head, Stensin stepped up into the painting, clearing the thin portion of the wall not effected by the magic before stretching back out to his full height. The stairs wound up in a spiral until they came to an intricately carved door, which stood open to give him light as the painting shut behind him.

The office itself was hardly an office at all, with the outer wall completely decked in stained glass windows that looked out on the vineyard behind the school and the surrounding fields. The traditional Headmaster’s desk was settled off to one side, enough so that it was out of the way, but not so far that it couldn’t be seen and used. In the open space that was the rest of the room, a few pillows and woven carpets covered the wooden floor, and paintings in progress sat on easels against the wall, interspersed with the occasional cage of native birds.

Standing with their backs to the room, Fettigoose and Bumblewatts were looking out the window, surveying the land beyond the walls of the school while whispering quietly together, obviously aware of his presence. Finally, their chattering became silence, and the headmistress turned with that usual friendly smile to face Stensin.

“Reliably early, as usual, Professor Stensin. Although I do hope the others make a point to get here on time for once. I’d like to start at least somewhere close to the time I sent out on the memo. I do have a schedule to keep, no matter what the rest of the world may think.”

Professor Bumblewatts continued to stare intently out the window, allowing the younger teacher a few minutes with the headmistress before the other teachers began to arrive.

“You mistake my boredom for punctuality, Professor Fettigoose. It’s simply that I have nothing else to do,” Stensin offered with a wry grin and a flourish of the black velvet cape that covered him from shoulders to heels.

It was then that Professor Bumblewatts turned from the window, carefully shifting a woolen shawl that hung from her shoulders rather than looking up at him. He was never entirely sure what those shawls were intended to do, as it was generally warm in the summer, particularly inside, and the only effect the shawl accomplished was to complete the homesteader look of the stout, plump woman known as Gertrude Bumblewatts, Assistant Headmistress. Nevertheless, he had never seen her without one of the sturdy objects covering her torso, the same texture as the thick gray bun that hung at the nape of her neck.

“It will be punctuality from now on, Professor Stensin, because with what we’re about to put on your plate, you won’t have time for thought, much less boredom,” she offered softly. The words sounded sympathetic in conjunction with the maternal air that was always present in Professor Bumblewatts’s voice – perhaps they were – but Bumblewatts had never particularly cared for Stensin that he had been aware.

What was it they were ‘about to put on’ his ‘plate’? Last time someone had used that expression with him, he’d ended up nearly dying of pneumonia in a remote archaeological dig in the Lost Runes region of Antarctica without a new spell to show for it. He became a teacher to get away from having things put on his plate.

Forcing a smile, he quirked an eyebrow at the two women. The look had been called dashing once, but that was by his mother. “Well, I trust it won’t be too much for me to handle. I certainly don’t mind a little boredom every now and then.”

Fettigoose looked almost offended, though the look was pure act to anyone who knew her well, and began quietly, “Stensin, if we’d thought it was too much for you to handle, we wouldn’t have put it in your capable hands. Furthermore—“

A circular mirror on the wall matching the one in the hidden hole below them made a twinkling sound, as though a soft breeze were blowing through garden chimes, and the glass contorted to reveal the faces of several more teachers in a cluster.

“Spatula,” Fettigoose commanded before they had a chance to so much as open their mouths to speak, waving her wand distractedly toward the mirror. The door to the room, hidden when not being directly enchanted, suddenly appeared on the wall from which Stensin had entered. It creaked open slowly, resulting in a tsk from Fettigoose, who was obviously displeased with its performance.

A few moments later, as the mirror returned to its normal reflective state, a line of five professors entered more or less in single file. Ariadne Grieg entered first, her step leonine with self-confidence and an amused smirk painting her lips. She was followed by Ciara Rayne, who was in turn tailed by John Dunlap, whose robes, to no surprise, were covered in dirt and fur and who-knew-what-else. Rick Campbell fell in line behind Dunlap, his wand stuck messily behind his ear, and bringing up the rear was the motherly Esther Rosenbaum, gorgeous despite her age. When the last of them had stepped out of the enchanted wall, the door there closed and disappeared again with another rusty whine.

Fettigoose promptly ushered every other person into the room toward a row of vibrant pillows and bid them to sit while she herself moved to settle down on a beanbag a few feet away, facing the teachers. Stensin found himself dropping with a muffled thud to a chair that was both lower than he had expected and rather unstable.

It took several minutes for all the teachers to at last find a position that was comfortable, for the pillows beneath them continued to shift with the stubbornness of the goose down that filled them every time one of the wizards attempted to readjust themselves. Finally, when the dulled squeal of feather against feather died away, Fettigoose cleared her throat and began.

“As I’m sure none of you have heard yet, we lost our dear Caspian this summer to old age. I’m sure you all saw it coming, as old as he was. He asked that no one know until they absolutely had to and his ashes were spread out along the peak of Mount Everest. I’d ask us all to take a moment of silence for him, but, knowing Caspian, he wouldn’t have wanted any such thing.”

The only teacher present who was not in a state of utter shock was Bumblewatts, who no doubt had already known for some time now. Stensin himself was fairly shaken. After all, Caldwell Caspian had been around when Fettigoose had been a girl. The swollen silence that filled the room was suffocating. It seemed as though every last person present was screaming at the top of their lungs, but quiet came out instead.

Through this racket of nothing, the headmistress’s voice chimed, surprisingly cheerful despite the solemn news she’d just delivered, “Obviously, this leaves open both Native Magic and the head of Soryitherwin House.”

The silence continued, but this time the other teachers exchanged puzzled looks. None of them knew any more than they had been taught in their time at Katmeers about Divination, and the only old Soryitherwins in the room were Fettigoose and Stensin. The headmistress couldn’t very well appoint herself head of a house – she was supposed to be all houses and none at the same time, for equality’s sake – and Stensin…

Stensin was only forty-two! There was no way he could possibly be considered for the head of a house at that age! “Stensin?” But, then, was there another choice? “Professor Stensin?” There were only so many Katmeers professors who actually attended Katmeers as children, and none of the ones that had were logical choices. “Stensin!” But neither was he! “Lucas!”

“I’m sorry, what?” Stensin nearly yelped as he snapped out of his thoughts, blinking at the headmistress while attempting not to show his embarrassment. He was usually so levelheaded (he was a History teacher, after all) – it was completely unlike him to simply zone out like some… some first-year student!

“Do you accept, Lucas?” Fettigoose inquired again, her usually patient smile warmer toward him this time. She had once been his History teacher, and always seemed fond of him when he was growing up.

“Accept?” came his quiet question. He’d obviously missed more than he thought he had.

“Accept the position of Head of Soryitherwin. No one else can do the job quite like you can.”

Did he accept the position of Head of Soryitherwin? For a man his age, it was more than an honour – it was a rare exception. To refuse it would be absolutely stupid of him. Did he accept! Pah!

“Absolutely, Professor. I’m honoured,” he stated, slowly collecting himself.

“Good. You’ll find the door to Caspian’s rooms unlocked and all his things in order on his desk. The next order of business, then, is the new teachers. I’ve hired a new Native Magic teacher by the name of Natalia Vernik. She’s Russian, but she doesn’t have an accent, and she’s supposedly one of the best. I trust you’ll all treat her well. Also, we’ve lost Ojo Motogayo to some new school they're building in Japan, so Elizabeth Mesmeric will be teaching Dissimulations. Try not to treat her like a child. Oh, and we’ve finally gotten ourselves a Theatre program this year, led by an English woman. Paprika Silk. She’s a bit melodramatic, but I’m sure you’ll all find that she…”

Stensin, despite his best efforts, lost track of the conversation again. Twice in one day. Perhaps he was sick. He certainly was beginning to feel that way. How was he going to fill Caspian’s shoes? Caspian, who had run Soryitherwin with a firm hand for over five hundred years, was gone. And now Stensin, who had barely been alive for forty-two of those years, was supposed to just… take over? But then, it did sound good, didn’t it? Professor Lucas James Stensin, world famous historian, and now Head of Soryitherwin.
Katmeers

The Reunion (Roan)

Like every year before this, the Enchanted Airlines flight to Katmeers arrived at the terminal precisely three minutes and thirty-two seconds late. This was because, as one of the stewardesses had explained to Roan last year, when the routes were first being ensorcelled, the wizard’s watch was exactly three minutes and thirty-two seconds behind what it should have been, and so every flight since then suffered the same fate.

And, like every year before this, Roan stood alone, waiting in line patiently and silently to board the plane and be on her way. She’d been looking forward to coming back all summer, especially since her younger sister, Aidan, had discovered the wonders of boys and decided to hold their shared bathroom hostage for most of the two months’ break.

Roan herself had never really discovered boys – they were always just there. She was one of those girls who made fun of them while she was growing up and made fun of them even more once she hit puberty. Other than that, the opposite sex was something to conquer in due time, but not right then.

“Load ‘em up!”

The shout shook Roan out of her thoughts, and she didn’t even bother looking up to see the flight attendant hanging out the door as the stairs lowered for the students. It was the same every year, and there was no reason to get excited now when there were a good ten stops before they actually got to dear old Katmeers. So she wandered into line behind all the younger kids and waited her turn to wander up the stairs so she could wander down the aisle to her usual seat at the front of the roomy plane before pulling out a book and settling down for the ride.

The first time she’d ridden it, she’d been absolutely amazed. In the Muggle world, planes had rows and rows of seats with no real personality. The only bonus was obtaining a window seat so that total boredom could possibly be avoided. Enchanted Airlines was different, though, and it was obvious from the start. The seats were velvet-covered and done in little circular patterns around tables. A small café was positioned at the back, and there were even booths where exhausted students could collapse and take a nap. The whole thing was decked out in the different colours and emblems of Katmeers’ houses. One section of tables was emblazoned purple and gold with panthers for Soryitherwin, the next groupings’ décor was silver and maroon with foxes for Lapexopus, the third offered haven for Eltiathans with red, black, and dragons, the fourth warmly touted the orange, yellow, and stags of Caprantlerus, and the final was simply the Katmeers’ coat-of-arms for the first-years who were not yet placed.

There were, of course, the rare groups of friends from differing houses that sometimes occupied the neutral tables, but houses generally stayed to themselves. Roan, however, was seated directly in the middle of the safe zone because that was where she and Zeenat had first met, and it was now a tradition.

The plane went through Texas, and two boys sat across from her, chatting to themselves and leaving her to her story. It wasn’t until three stops later that Roan actually stopped reading to pay attention. The plane had landed in Florida, which meant that Roan’s best friend Zeenat would be boarding shortly.

“Load ‘em up!”

Roan dog-eared her page and set it back in her bag, pressing her face against the nearest window as she waited anxiously to see her favourite person in the world appear. She tracked Zeenat’s progress up the stairs and counted the seconds until her dark-skinned friend slid into the seat beside her.

“Zee!” Roan squealed happily, just as Zeenat offered a similar, “Ro!”

“It feels like it’s been forever, Roan! We should write more during the summer. And make your parents let you visit me! They can tell your siblings that you’re going to a seminar or something, can’t they?”

Zeenat took a breath after she squeezed out all her greeting exclamations and inquiries, beaming a smile and taking off her pointed witch’s hat. After setting it on the table in front of her, she flew forward, enveloping Roan in her arms for a hearty hug.

“It has been forever, Zee! Two whole months and nothing but paper! I hate it, but they probably won’t let me get out to see you until I’m on my own. And then you and I will have that house next to the old Hutchinson place, am I right?” replied Roan, using just as little air in her words as her counterpart.

“Definitely,” agreed Zeenat as she let go of her friend and sat back in her cushioned chair to survey the plane. “You got my last letter?”

Roan nodded quickly, leaning toward the edge of her seat to put her elbows on the table. “Aye, I did. The one about the new teacher, am I right?”

“That’s the one, all right. Professor Vernik or Vernikski or Vernikov. I heard my parents talking about her. She’s supposedly from Moscow, and she’s going to be teaching Native Magic, which means we’ll have her first thing in the morning because I heard that’s when they’re scheduling us. At least, that’s what I heard my parents say.”

“Russia, huh?” Roan repeated as she digested the information. Nodding to herself, she settled her chin on her hands, both of which rested against the tabletop. With a wrinkle of her nose, she sighed, “I wish my parents were wizarding. It’d make everything so much easier. Just think about it.”

Zeenat put a hand on Roan’s head and ruffled her hair with playful affection, grinning wryly. “I can’t. Thinking gives me headaches.”
Katmeers

Like Taking Candy From A Baby (Inge)

Olga kept poking her nose into the bag of candy, and it was beginning to get on Ingeborg’s nerves. Hadn’t she told that little brat that she’d get the candy that Inge didn’t like? Olga was about to get a firm shove in the nose when something better caught Inge’s eye, and the blonde slapped the brunette on the side of her head to get her attention. As Inge pointed out to the street, both little girls turned their attention to an older girl garbed entirely in black dropping a bag of candy into the hands of a small child and then vanishing around the corner.

“Let’s go,” snapped Inge, starting off toward the door without waiting for her sidekick. Olga followed faithfully, keeping close like a whipped puppy all the way out of the candy shop, past the other customers and into the street.

Inge stopped in front of the little boy who stood outside the window to the store, bubbling joy over the pleasant surprise he’d found inside the strange girl’s gift. He held it lovingly in his hands, not daring to feel inside the bag, but instead to simply stare at it in awe.

All the easier for me, thought Ingeborg, and with a subtle flourish, she shifted her back to the street and stepped past the child.

By the time the toddler started bawling at his now-empty hands, Inge and Olga were at least five feet away with the sack stowed away inside their own. The milling wizards and witches in the street stopped to look curiously toward the source of the shrill wails, and out of the crowd stepped a round-faced girl of about thirteen, her hair the same shade of dirty blonde as the little boy’s.

A look of recognition flashed across the girl’s face, and she rushed to kneel beside him, holding out her arms for him to cling to her. The toddler took to the arms more than willingly, sobbing into the shoulder of her robes.

“Petey, it’s okay. It’s okay, Petey. Shush, Petey, don’t cry. Don’t cry,” she soothed while Inge watched in disgust. Olga attempted to imitate the expression of her partner-in-crime, crossing her arms over her chest.

Petey wouldn’t stop crying, though, his little fists working to clutch a bunch of the fabric that formed the girl’s hood. “Sissy, my candy’s stoled!” were the only discernible words behind the sobs.
Squatting awkwardly, Petey’s sister pulled the little boy up on her lap, rocking him gently as she glanced about her in muffled confusion.

“Candy? What candy, Petey? Where’d you get candy?”

“The lady, Sissy. The nice lady gave me candy and it was stoled,” Petey sniffled, one hand freeing itself from his sister’s robes to rub sloppily at his cheek. “I didn’t even get to eat any!”

His sister sighed, pulling slowly to her feet with Petey still wrapped in her arms. “Peter, can you tell me who stole your candy? Can you point them out to me?” Petey’s crying had subsided to a dull sniffle, and his small fist was shoved against his mouth as he surveyed all the strange faces in the sea around him.

Inge and Olga slowly slipped further into the gathered people, shadowing adults and keeping out of sight while still watching the scene. Of course, they should probably leave the area of their tormenting before someone finally was able to identify them, but Inge’s confidence in her abilities was unshakable. Who could have possibly seen her? She was smooth; she was suave; she was cunning!

Petey shook his head after several minutes of floundering for the culprit’s visage, and a Grinch-like smile oozed its way across Inge’s victorious expression. Olga, trying desperately to fit in with her friend’s mood, giggled under her breath.

And then, as one of the customers from the candy shop – a girl about a year older than Inge with brown hair and a package of Birtie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans – stepped out of the crowd, things took a turn for the worse.

“Elizabeth? I saw what happened. This blonde girl and her friend went out of Tricks and Treats a few seconds before your brother started crying. I didn’t see them take it, but it couldn’t have possibly been anyone else,” the newcomer said, spoiling everything.

“Come on, Olga,” Ingeborg muttered irritably, yanking on the hood of her follower’s robes and slipping out of the crowd. Behind her, the drama continued.

“Do you see them anywhere, Cerelia? I can’t see much over all these adults. They’re all too tall,” Elizabeth replied, shifting Petey’s weight to one arm.

Like clockwork, the mass of people parted just enough to see a blonde ponytail and two brown braids bobbing as their owners made a getaway. Without another second to lose, Elizabeth and Cerelia started after them, the tails of their robes billowing behind them.

“Hey! Hey, stop! Hey, you!” Elizabeth’s voice rang out, echoing against the cobblestones until it seemed to be all around Inge. She swirled around for an instant with Olga mimicking her actions, running backwards down the street.

And then she was on the ground, her bag of candy spilling all over the dirt of Vertick Alley. Indignant, Ingeborg snapped her head toward the thing that had the audacity to be in her way, snarling in the voice she used for her servants.

“Why do you not watch where you are going, you cretin?”

“You were the one running backwards, y’swine!” The voice came from a red-faced girl about Inge’s age with crimson ringlets tossed over green eyes for a tumbled look that probably came as a result of the fall she’d just taken.

“Why don’t you say that again, peon?” Inge pulled angrily to her feet, ignoring for now the candy and Olga, who was frantically pointing toward Elizabeth and Cerelia, standing just behind her.

“Why don’tcha eat me, you stupid son of a—“ But the girl was cut off mid-sentence by a shadow that cast itself over the group of five girls.

“Gun,” finished the shadow. “Ey think tha’s qui’e enough o’ this, don’ y’? Miss Selveggio, woul’ y’ please tell me jus’ wha’ is goin’ on ‘ere?”

Every last one of them froze and turned in horror to see a woman of middling years with auburn hair spilling out from under her pointed witch’s hat, her arms crossed beneath her chest as she raised an imperious brow over the lot.

“P-Professor Rayne,” greeted Elizabeth and Cerelia simultaneously, their momentary shock clearing into confidence. They’d walk out of this completely unscathed. It was just Professor Rayne.

“Professor Rayne,” Cerelia repeated, “These two girls stole Liz’s brother’s candy, so we were chasing them, and then they ran into this girl and they all fell down.” Unfortunately, Cerelia had failed to point to which girls she meant for which part of the story, so while Petey squealed happily, Professor Rayne moved to lay a jail warden’s hand on the redhead’s shoulder.

“And we all fall down! Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies…”

Inge couldn’t have been more pleased to see this Professor Rayne mistake the cretin for the culprit, and she and Olga smiled broadly as the woman’s fingers locked around the girl’s unrobed shoulder. She’s probably a Muggle-born.

The girl tensed and attempted to shy away from Professor Rayne as the woman’s grip tightened, her gaze shifting from one end of the street to the next, looking for a way out of this, no doubt.

“An’ wha’ve we ‘ere, another Weasley?” The redhead stared for a long moment at Professor Rayne, obviously confused.

“N-no,” she finally managed to stammer. “I’m Artemis. A-Artemis O’Connell.”

Professor Rayne’s face changed completely, going from assertive to almost thrilled before she composed herself again. Artemis was just about to say something else when Elizabeth stepped forward, pointing with her free hand to Inge.

“Professor Rayne, it wasn’t her. It was this one and her friend here.”

Inge wrinkled her nose at this new twist of events, shifting uneasily as she looked for a place to run. But just as soon as she began to fidget, that hand of doom found itself fixed on her own shoulder.

“Y’ an’ y’r frien’ ‘ere, Miss, ‘re comin’ wif me. We’re goin’ t’ ‘ave a li’le talk abo’ the kin’s o’ things we do and do no’ do in a civilized worl’,” Professor Rayne said coldly. Her demeanor changed completely as she turned to Artemis, though, offering her other hand and a warm smile. “’Re y’ Athena’s sis’er, then? If y’re anythin’ loike ‘er, y’ll go far a’ Ka’meers. Ey’m assumin’ y’re goin’ t’ be a firs’ year? Ey’ll be your Defense Agains’ the Dark Ar’s teacher if y’ ‘re. Professor Rayne.”
Artemis, that simpering twit, took the offered hand in a firm shake, though she didn’t look particularly assured by the teacher’s words.

“I’m Athena’s sister, and I’m going to be a first year, yes. Pleased to meet you, Professor Rayne,” she replied, blowing flame-coloured frizz from her face.

“Loikewise, chil’, loikewise. Now, then, which can’y was y’r brother’s, Miss Ren’on? The things in tha’ small bag there? Aye, y’ jus’ take tha’, then, and I’ll take these two girls and y’ can all be on y’r way,” Professor Rayne wasn’t even done issuing her orders as she stepped aside with Inge and Olga, leaving the others to their business.

“Professor, my candy is still on the ground. I would like to go and get it,” Inge said calmly, using her best charming smile. She didn’t think it would work, though, and she was more than right.

“Y’ can ge’ I’ af’er Ey’ve finishe’ explainin’ t’ y’ jus’ how disdainful i’ is t’ take can’y from a toddler when y’re – why, y’ mus’ be nearly eleven. An’ probably on y’r way t’ Ka’meers, as well! We don’ condone this kin’ o’ behaviour there. We’re an upstandin’ school and ‘ave been for hundreds of years!”

This was going to be a long day.
Katmeers

Sex And Candy (Gazzellia)

Gazzellia waited in the dark, fixing her disheveled hair as she watched Justin Ryan, Eltiathan Quidditch captain, slip as inconspicuously as possible back into the lowing masses of witches and wizards. The occasional clueless Muggle parents that wandered past stuck out like sore thumbs in their summer dresses and T-shirts as they attempted to navigate the strange world their magical children had forced them to enter. Such was Vertick Alley.

She watched Justin find his way back to his gaggle of friends, all gawking and drooling at the newest Quidditch supplies. Once he was at a safe distance, she followed him out, careful not to look in his direction, as he’d specified vehemently just before he’d left her in the side alley.

If she’d cared about him, it might have hurt her feelings, his not wanting to be seen with her, but he was just one pair in a school full of pants – all of them magic and most of them already hers.

Speaking of pants, Gazzellia thought with a wry smirk as her careful route of avoidance took her past a group of Soryitherwin seventh-year boys congregating at the side of the street, all of them more than familiar to her.

“Gentlemen,” she purred, running a hand down the curves beneath her robes before sweeping into the nearest store entrance. Behind her, the whole loitering bunch of young men cleared their throats nervously and glanced at one another in awkward silence. It wasn’t that Gazzellia’s extra-curricular activities weren’t common knowledge. In fact, there wasn’t a Katmeers boy above his fifth year that didn’t at least know of her escapades. What they never found out was how she chose which boys she wanted.

As for the female population of the school, all that was known of the mysterious Gazzellia Gordon was that she was dark, quiet, and to be eluded if at all possible. And that’s just the way she liked it. There were few people in the world worth getting to know, and it was Gazzellia’s firm belief that she knew all of them already.

And the boys? A girl had to have some fun in her life, even if it was meaningless. At least, it was meaningless to her.

Over the past few years, more than one guy had fallen for her – brief infatuations that went beyond flesh in only their minds. Gazzellia had encouraged none of them; had cared for none of them. None of them but one, and he had graduated, never knowing of her affections. That’s just the way life went, though, and there was never any reason to cry over spilt pumpkin juice. No reason at all.

Especially for Gazzellia Gordon, who never showed emotion – not even when she nearly suffocated keeping it to herself.

“No, Olga, I get all the Chocolate Frogs! You can have the things I don’t like.”

Gazzellia grimaced as the young voice drew her attention to two girls barely into their robes, standing next to the counter of the store Gazzellia’d used as an escape from the Soryitherwins outside – the candy store, apparently.

The two little girls were huddled on either side of a positively enormous bag overflowing with candy. The one who had spoken – very obviously the leader – was so blonde her ponytail was almost white, and with the cold blues eyes to match, it was more than evident she was Danish in descent and rotten in character. Her cronie – was her name Olga? – was taller than she, but only just so, and cowered behind her brown braids. The snitched Chocolate Frogs were quickly replaced into the sack and the blonde girl continued chattering with an irritatingly pompous air.

“Disgusting,” was the only sound Gazzellia uttered as she pushed out the door with a grand flourish of her robes, only to nearly trample some toddler in a patch-covered cloak.

“Sorry, kid,” she muttered at the child’s startled look, already beginning to trek past the scene of the would-be collision. But the sight of the tiny wizardlet after she moved on stopped her in her tracks. The poor kid stood just outside the window to Tricks and Treats, his grubby palms and his stubby nose pressed intently to the glass. Gazzellia recognized that look. She’d worn it herself several times – the wistful longing for something desperately desirable and utterly unattainable.

Without a second thought, Gazzellia turned around and slipped silently back into the candy store. The two bratty girls were still there, the blonde digging into her hogged chocolate while the brunette watched and held the bag.

Gazzellia didn’t even spare them a glance as she made her way to the counter, pointing out her order to the witch behind it and swiftly exiting with a lighter purse thanks to the small parcel now clutched in one of her hands. As soon as she was outside, she hunched over and let her robes spread with the wind, covering herself in order to hide her identity from the passersby. The child still stood by the window, and with a quick glance down the road to make sure no one was watching, Gazzellia pressed the sack of sweets into the toddler’s hands.

Before the kid even had time to look up in surprise, Gazzellia was gone – around the corner and into the shadows.

There, Gazzellia thought with a thin smile of finality. Now I can wreak havoc for the rest of the day.
Katmeers

Cerelia and Vertick Alley (Cerelia)

A strand of dark brown hair fell into Cerelia’s eyes and she brushed it aside lackadaisically, her attention on the familiar windows of Vertick Alley. Her parents were inside Haggerty & Hart’s, the biggest store for wizarding books in the world, and it’s heaven-touching stories towered over her head. She had told them that they should go ahead and get her books for Katmeers while she got fitted for a uniform.

She had told them that. Unfortunately, the candy shop was right next door to the robing place, and the windows of the former were so much more interesting than that of the latter. Coins jingled in her pocket, and she scuffed a booted foot against the cobblestones of the road. Surely her parents wouldn’t miss a few of the galleons they’d given her to buy her Katmeers robes.

It took several minutes for Cerelia’s conscience to finally kick in fully, and when it did, she grimaced and started toward Gabbling’s Robes and More, pausing in mid-step to kick a rock across the street before entering the store’s door. She’d get a uniform and then use the extra money to get candy. Maybe she’d have enough for a package of Birtie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

Gabbling’s looked much bigger on the inside than the outside shell showed, and the enchanted ceiling looked like it went straight up into outer space. The reasoning was obvious upon entering the shop as the counter loomed above the customers and over the counter stood perhaps the tallest old man that Cerelia had ever seen.

He stood at least eight feet tall and was all skin and bones, his wrinkled visage the only part of him that didn’t look like a corpse. Liver spots marked age across his forehead, and the sparkle in his blue-eyed gaze denoted a grandfatherly kindness that made him a favourite among the youth of American wizardry. Tipping his bifocals down the end of his pointed nose, he peered down at Cerelia, who stood a midget on the other side of his desk.

“What do we have here? Hmm, Miss Selveggio, eh? I say, didn’t I fit you last year for your Katmeers robes?” The warm intonation in his voice was more than enough to tell he was smiling behind his bushy white beard.

“Yes, Mr. Gabbling, you did, but I grew out of them,” replied Cerelia, standing up straighter to show off the acquired inches and offering him the galleons from her pocket. Gabbling’s smile became toothy behind his facial hair as he took the money.

“Ah, so you did, so you did. Well, then, well, then, well, then, why don’t you just step right up on that stool right there? Stand up straight, that’s it. Now, tell me, Miss Selveggio, which house did that rascal of a Sorting Cloak settle you in, then, hmm?”

All this while Cerelia stood perfectly still on the indicated stool and watched the bewitched measuring tape take her height, her inseam, her waist, and every other measurement under the sun.

“I’m a Caprantlerus,” Cerelia said easily, her attention divided between the jovial giant of an old man and his measuring device.

“Ah, the ol’ noble stag, eh, eh? Yes, yes, yes, I was a Caprantlerus in my day as well. Congratulations, child, congratulations. Congratulations, indeed,” Gabbling chimed as the measuring tape rolled itself up and returned to the desk in front of its owner. The old man leaned over to reach Cerelia until it looked like he was going to topple and crush her. Tucking the change from the galleons into her hand, he said with finality, “Well, there we are, young lady, there we are. You’ll just come back in a moment or two, won’t you, hmm? Indeed, you’ll come back in a moment or two and your robes will be ready and waiting. Ready and waiting.”

“Thank you, Mr. Gabbling,” answered Cerelia courteously as she slipped the sickles and knuts into her pocket and walked out a door that stood barely a foot above her head.

I wonder how a man that size gets out a door like that, she thought idly as she walked the short distance from Gabbling’s to the entrance of Tricks and Treats, content with herself that she’d get her Birtie Bott’s after all.
Katmeers

Artemis Gets Her Wish (Artemis)

Artemis was ecstatic when the letter finally arrived. It was nerve-racking, watching her sister’s owl come in and out the window all those long summer months and never once seeing in its talons the official envelope from Katmeers’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The whole family - all non-magical - had been so pleased when the first one had come; her parents even held a reunion in honour of the occasion. Of course, the first letter wasn’t for Artemis. It was for her older sister Athena.

There wasn’t a person that didn’t know Athena who didn’t love her – even Artemis adored her sister, though she would never let anyone know. It was no surprise to anyone, then, when Katmeers offered the eldest O’Connell girl a place in their magical midst. And it was no surprise afterward when Athena, who was wisely named, prospered tremendously in this new world with grades at the top of her class and a veritable cauldron-full of new friends that visited and kept in touch ritualistically over the long breaks between terms.

Through five lonely years, Athena would go off to Katmeers during the school year and write a letter a month that would be delivered with compliments to her trusty owl, Cupid. Their parents would read the letter at dinner the evening it arrived before anyone was allowed to eat, and then they would turn and look at Artemis, who was still attending public schools in Texas and who had never received a letter from Katmeers. Artemis could tell what they were thinking: If only Artemis could be as wonderful as our Athena.

If only Artemis were a witch. It was the younger sister’s firm belief that her parents would cease to love her should she never receive one of those beautifully-scripted acceptance letters in one of those beautifully-scripted envelopes that came by owl to lucky little boys and girls with magic in their veins. The scenes that Artemis was convinced would come if the thing were never to arrive kept her awake in the long hours of the night all that summer after her eleventh birthday.

Mom and Daddy beamed a smile at the newest arrivals to their Christmas party, ushering the gorgeous Athena toward them with a hand to the small of her back. “Oh, this is our oldest, Athena. She’s a wonderful student; so pretty. Just look at her eyes. She’s a witch, you know. Oh, yes, at the top of her class. She’ll do great things one day.” And then they’d motion with a small cringe to Artemis, standing in the shadows behind them. “This one’s Artemis.”

Artemis’s parents were extremely pleasant people – not at all the kind to do something so drastic – but they still could have paid a bit more attention to the growing girl they had on their hands year ‘round. She was loved and nurtured and given the same things and opportunities as their firstborn, but when it came right down to it, Artemis was really just an afterthought.

So when Cupid finally dropped the Katmeers envelope on Athena’s bed, Artemis couldn’t even breathe through the suspense. With her eyes shut tight and her fingers crossed, the younger O’Connell waited for her big sister to open the envelope and read the contents.

“You’re turning blue, Artie,” Athena said without looking up as she pulled the papers out and began to thumb through them. Her supply list and letter went on her left while she stuck the remaining sheets of parchment back into the envelope.

“Just read the letter, Athie!” came the snap of her younger sibling, who really had been turning blue until she spoke. Tossing the envelope in Artemis’s general direction, Athena flipped her hair in irritation and busied herself with her own half of the letter.

“Don’t call me Athie.”

Artemis finally opened her eyes at the weak thump of paper against her stomach and squatted to pick up the envelope with shaking hands. With a deep breath and a final, “Then don’t call me Artie,” to her sister, Artemis drew the remaining papers out of their casing and slowly unfolded them.

And then she fainted in relief.