Or maybe it was just that she didn’t mind at all being busy. Being busy meant she didn’t have to think about what was going on on the other side of the ocean. Being busy meant she had less moments to worry if something had happened to Ernie or Susan or especially Justin and Alice since she’d last received an owl from them(and obviously time passed while those owls went back and forth). Being busy especially meant she didn’t have to think about the fact that her mother was dead.
Even if a couple of mornings she woke in tears. But even that didn’t happen too often.
Francesca insisted on praying for her mother’s soul, and made a point of telling Hannah repeatedly that she was in her prayers every night. Hannah appreciated hearing it the first time, really she did, but the seventh time it began to honestly feel less like an expression of support and more of an indirect preaching of her own virtue as a Christian. She began to think more and more of the hatred and pain and even occasional death that Muggle religion had brought to witches and wizards throughout history, remembering more about the Salem Crisis that had led to the official adoption of the Statue of Wizarding Secrecy than she had for her O.W.L., and generally feeling the need to bite her tongue in her attempts to respect her roommate’s faith.
For the second Saturday after the year began, she accepted an invitation from Sappho to go flying over the woods surrounding the school grounds, maybe all the way to the Catskill peaks. She was shocked to hear Hannah didn’t own her own broom. “I thought you grew up in this state!” she exclaimed.
“I grew up in New York City,” said Hannah. “That’s different.”
When she mentioned the incident to Francesca, her roommate laughed, and said, “Sappho is a little sheltered. But it’s okay; you can borrow my broom. It’s a little uncomfortable, but it goes pretty quickly.”
Hannah wasn’t surprised to find Francesca’s broom was a Streamer. Streamers were relatively cheap brooms, manufactured and sold by a Connecticut broommaker which had been in business for sixty years, which were known for being very easy to control. They were a tried and true design that hadn’t changed much from when Hannah’s mother had purchased the broom she’d sometimes taken Hannah on when her daughter had been a toddler before it had broken and gone unreplaced. When Hannah saw the familiar label on the broomtail, her hands and heart clenched a little once more.
Sappho raised her eyebrows when she saw what Hannah had showed up with on the stairs, but said nothing. She had a proper racing broom, an imported Nimbus 2001(more than one of her classmates had informed Hannah Americans were hopeless at making racing brooms), which might serve her in good stead. Hannah was aware she had narrowly missed making the school Quodpot team the previous year, and that she would be going to the tryouts held later that day. This was just a friendly ride for Hannah, but for Sappho, it served as a vital warm-up.
On the red brick steps to the school, with them both nearly blinded by the morning fog, Sappho did the whole thing properly too; while Hannah was content to merely throw her leg over her broom and nudge herself lazily up, Sappho actually summoned her broom into her hand first, the way almost noone did once they’d learned the basics of flying, and kicked off so hard she’d shot off into the fog, then whirled around and come back, all before Hannah had even gotten five feet off the ground.
“I’m sorry,” said Hannah softly. “I’m afraid I’m going to be holding you back.”
“Not too much, I hope,” said Sappho. “Come on, let’s get above this stuff.”
The fog shrouded much of the Dutch-style building; only the higher towers built into the sides poked above the white sea. When Hannah popped above it; Sappho patiently waiting for her, she was stunned to see how few clouds there were higher in the sky. Below her she could see dimly the roof of the school’s low-set center, around which the ground itself rose on both sides, so the juncture where the dormitories were placed on top of their lower levels was visible above the mist’s top. Beyond that tower there was more white, which eventually gave way to the dark green of the woods, which climbed up the surrounding mountains.
“What do they call those woods?” asked Hannah.
“What?” Saphho looked confused. “I don’t think they call them anything. I suppose they call them something at Hogwarts.”
Hannah’s cheeks burned, but as they made for the green, she ended up telling Sappho about the Forbidden Forest, and about centaurs, and she was intrigued to hear that Hannah had actually seen a centaur, of which there were very few in North America; there was a small community of them up in Canada somewhere, but that was all. “It all sounds much more exciting than our woodlands,” she said. “No dangerous beasts in there, and in fact, students can go in and out as they please, and you have to to get your homework done for Herbology 7. It’s a place you want to wear good leggings and boots in, though. There are rumors of unicorns, but personally I don’t believe them.”
As she spoke beneath them the fog began to thin, and the trees became visible. There were a lot of maple trees, mixed with spruce, hawthorn, and especially ash. Hannah had never seen the Forbidden Forest from up above like this, only its edges from the grounds, she thought it looked less gnarly and twisted than what trees from the latter she had looked at.
Next to her Sappho was continually speeding up and slowing down, dipping down to look at the trees, then darting back up at steep angles, looping around and nearly colliding with Hannah until the latter wished she’d knock it off. She was a natural on a broom, but she flew with a certain swagger and heedless grip to her broom that Hannah had once heard Madam Hooch say was likely to get a flier colliding into the tree they hadn’t thought to check for. She pinned her hair loosely, unlike Hannah, who now normally twisted her hair up into a bun, so that it kept getting whipped in front of her face, but she seemed to have no trouble navigating. It was she who plotted their course; and she spoke of a stream, and a clearing.
They were going at a leisurely pace, taking time out to see the tallest of the trees with their broad old branches and deeply colored leaves, the first of which to fall were blown off by their tailwind. One gust of harder wind sent a whole flurry of red and yellow leafs flying upward; a flick of Sappho’s wand and they surrounded the two girls who charged through them. Hannah laughed as she soared through the beautiful leaves, dove after them as they beckoned to her, let them fall around her and flick off her new spring green robes, her heart turned lighter than it had been in a long time.
“Hey,” called Sappho when they finally got tired of playing with the leaves and let them drift back down to their forest. “Is that smoke coming back there, from the east?”
It was, a thin stream of it, darker than one would expect from a natural fire. In fact, Hannah was reminded very strongly of Potions classes. “I think someone’s brewing something,” she said.
“Oh Hannah, don’t be ridiculous! I told you, there are no centaurs in this wood, nor anything else intelligent, and who would be all the way over there brewing a potion before nine o’clock on a Saturday morning?”
But Hannah was already swerving her broom over, taking the Streamer as fast as it would go, Sappho gliding lightly behind her. “Noone else lives anywhere near this valley?" she asked. "No villages, no communes, no nothing?”
“Noone,” said Sappho. “Who’d want to live so near a magic school?”
She asked the question as if it should be obvious why they wouldn’t want to, though it was an utter mystery to Hannah, who had never heard any complaints from anyone in Hogsmeade, not even in her third year when the proximity to Hogwarts was probably the reason they’d had to put up with the Dementors, and even heard countless shopkeepers say they liked the business. Something about the self-assured way Sappho asked angered her companion, who flew on without waiting for her to answer.
When they got closer, Hannah started to get pretty certain that she’d been right; even she knew a potion when she smelled it. And finally even Sappho exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be! And I think I know just who that is, too.”
Hovering above, Hannah could see three witches that looked about her and Sappho’s age, all wearing school uniforms: a tall redhead, a short blonde, and a black girl somewhere in the middle. She didn’t recognize them, but Sappho did: “Ah, Vivian Dett, Ophelia Elliot, and Beatrice Sitreen.”
“Those are the Chasers for the Quidditch team, aren’t they?” Hannah whispered. She did happen to know who they were, mostly because Vivian was from very near New York City, and Alfred had crushed on her hard back when they’d been fourteen; it was a little surprising they’d never met but there it was.
“Yeah,” Sappho whispered back. “Think they’re all that. But the Quidditch matches never sell out, not like the Quodpot matches do. Up in New England maybe they do.”
But she wasn’t being quiet enough; the three girls looked up, and the black girl called, “Who’s there? It’s not you, Brian, is it?”
Hannah didn’t know why she didn’t have the urge to flee. She wasn’t even sure why she wasn’t prompted to by the whoosh that indicated Sappho was doing so. But instead she just floated slowly down.
Much to her relief they didn’t seem to recognize her; with her black Hogwarts robes she’d stood out a bit more than she’d wanted to that first week. More surprising was what she recognized: the potion. The valerians lying to the side and the ground up yellow power floating on the surface meant some sort of sleeping potion, and she remembered just where she had seen that color of smoke before. During her final days as a Potions student, when one of the last concoctions Snape had taught them to make had been a delayed sleeping draught, one that took effect about an hour after it was drunk.
They must have seen her staring at the cauldron, because the black girl demanded, “Who are you? Did somebody send you here?”
She sounded hostile, and again, Hannah supposed she ought to be retreating, but somehow she just didn’t want to. “No,” she said. “I was out for a morning flight and saw the smoke.” If they’d heard Sappho’s flight and asked her about it, she decided, she wouldn’t lie, but maybe they hadn’t, and she had the feeling hearing about a girl so associated with the Quodpot team being there would make them really angry. “You’re not brewing that potion to cheat, are you?”
“Of course not!” exclaimed the indignant redhead. “We’d never do that!” Hannah found herself believing her, at least mostly.
“Really, are you an idiot?” asked the blonde girl. “We’re not the first students to come in here to brew a potion and we won’t be the last. Now will you please go away and leave us alone?”
Hannah knew not to fight when she wasn’t wanted, so she said, “All right, but I better not hear about your next opponents falling asleep in the middle of the match,” and flew away.
Sappho had been circling the area and Hannah rejoined her quickly enough. She learned from her that Vivian Dett had been the black girl, Ophelia Elliot the blonde, and Beatrice Streen the redhead. “I actually knew Beatrice a little when we were both children,” she said; “Her family lived in Ash’s Valley when I was seven. But I don’t think I’ve talked to her in years.” As for the potion, she shrugged and said, “Prank. The Quidditch players love to prank each other. Sometimes they even go after the Quodpot team too, but that’s not something they do often. Thankfully.”
Alfred knocked on the door before he came in, which was a welcome difference from just about everybody she’d met at both her schools, except Ernie and Ruth Hemmings. “How’s it going?”
“Normal,” she answered. There was so little that had been at all normal about her life this past year. “I suppose you’ve finished this already.” Alfred was actually pretty good with Potions, which was really strange when he wasn’t so good at Herbology. Sure she’d known at least one infamous case of a Herbology expert who had been terrible at Potions, but for the opposite to be true made less sense.
“Actually...” he looked embarrassed. “I haven’t started that assignment yet.”
She was too nice to actually scold him, but she wasn’t pleased, and she didn’t try to hide that from him either. “I spent almost all the morning doing the Transfiguration homework, okay?” he pleaded. “I still don’t think my headache’s gone.”
“Get rid of it,” she said. “I thought you knew how to do that.”
“Not very well when I’m tired too.”
That made Hannah wish she could get rid of headaches. It was an ability Justin had developed and perfected back in January, and it had been godsend to everyone. Uneasily she wondered if her classmates might expect her to have special abilities like that.
“Anyway,” he said, “I thought you’d like to know Sappho’s made the shortlist. They’re going to have another tryout tonight.”
“That’s good,” said Hannah, but she knew it wasn’t much of a surprise; she’d done that last year too.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “By the way, did you know your roommate’s trying to convert me?”
“Oh no,” Hannah groaned. Alfred had actually been raised a Christian, but from a difference sect than Francesca, and anyway he hadn’t really practiced much since before they’d met. “I’ll tell her to leave you alone.”
“She might try to convert you,” Alfred warned her.
“After the quarrel my father got into with her and her parents she should know better,” Hannah laughed.
“She might not...”
“No, she must,” she insisted. “She’s not an idiot.”
“Right,” said Alfred, but he really didn’t seem to agree. But then he changed the subject to one that blew all other thoughts out of Hannah’s head. “So is it true you were part of a real Defense of the Dark Arts group, and that’s where you learned all you taught me this summer? That the whole Dumbledore’s Army thing was just something Albus Dumbledore said to keep you all from getting expelled?”
“How’d that get out?” Hannah demanded, shocked. Then a moment later, realizing she’d pretty much admitted it, she hastily felt along her face, but there weren’t any pimples breaking out. The more she thought about it, the more she thought maybe Hermione Granger had been going too far, doing that sort of thing, without even telling them either, and leaving her in fear of what would happen if she ever let anything slip to anyone. But she felt nothing break out. Maybe the jinx had expired.
“I don’t know,” he said, looked confused at her actions, as she wondered how to explain without freaking him out. “But I heard two different freshmen swear to it. I think one of them might have relatives in Britain, but I have no idea where the other one might have heard it from.”
“Who was this first one?” asked Hannah. She didn’t know if she really wanted to do a thorough investigation, but she was aware that if she didn’t, noone would. It made her feel very alone out in Upstate New York where she was.
“His name’s Milo Runcorn.”
“Runcorn! There was a Runcorn in my year at Hogwarts.”
“So maybe that’s how he knew. But my point is, Hannah, is I’ve been thinking. If you were in a Defense group, which Milo Runcorn was saying was led by no less than Harry Potter, then you must know even more than you had time to teach me, right?”
“I suppose,” she said hesitantly. “Though I wasn’t exactly its best student. I wasn’t that anywhere at Hogwarts.”
“Still,” he pressed. “I was already thinking there was a lot you could teach us all here. Remember, you know a lot more than we do. We could have our own version of the group.”
“How many would there be?” asked Hannah. The idea sounded like a good one, and something she sure ought to do. But she had doubts about her ability to teach a large group of people.
“Well, there’d definitely be me and Max, and I assume Fran. Probably Sappho too. Beyond that I don’t know.”
“A lot of our classmates don’t like me though, do they?” Hannah had to ask then. It was only to be expected when she knew more than they did.
“They’re fools,” said Alfred. “I really want to see who else we can find. There have to be some classmates with sense.”
“I suppose we should help everybody we can,” sighed Hannah, though deep down, she knew, she’d be relieved if they didn’t find anyone else. The four of them she thought she could handle.
She had nearly been done with the potion ingredients, and Alfred watched as she copied out the number of pine needles, then put her quill down and rubbed her fingers. “I don’t like this potion,” she felt like announcing.
He leaned over to see which one it was, and said, “Really? I thought you said you were happy when Hogwarts’ entrance hall got turned into a swamp.”
“Do you think they used that potion?” Hannah mused; she hadn’t thought of that.
“Don’t let anybody hear you talk that way,” Alfred grinned. “You have a reputation to hold up now, Han.”
“I don’t care about reputations,” she snapped, mildly irritated at the nickname. “I suppose people think I’ll be a good teacher too, just because I supposedly know so much. I mean, it was okay when it was just you...”
“Weren’t you a Prefect too?” Alfred pointed out. “You’ve been in a position of authority before.”
“That was different,” said Hannah quickly. “I was always with Ernie. He really did everything; I just backed him up. He always was the leader of our little group. He’s completely responsible for us all joining in the DA too.”
“Then maybe you could just do what he did? Him and Harry Potter?”
That actually didn’t sound too unreasonable. Hannah paused to try to remember what exactly they had always said and done. Looking back, what she could remember most about Ernie's behavior was that firm tone he always seemed to use, which worried her, because she wasn’t sure she could really do that.
Alfred took advantage of the pause to say gently. “You have to realize, Hannah, we need you. We don’t have Harry Potter or Ernie McMillan or anyone like that here at New York State. Even if you aren’t the best teacher, or best expert, or best guide, or best authority figure, or best person to harangue us into paying attention, you’re all we’ve got.”
For a moment she thought it was desperation that was straining his voice. But then she looked into his eyes, saw the wild fire in them, striking beneath the steep slants of his brow, and knew rather it was a wish to fight her battle; he still didn’t believe it might be his too, even after what had happened to Francesca’s roommate. She didn’t even know what to make of that.
But she understood his point. “We’ll do it,” she said. “I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll try.” She glanced down at her parchment again. “I think I’m just about done with this.”
“Want to see how the auditions are going? They should be close to wrapping up by the time we get down to the field.”
At some level, Hannah was aware that despite what it felt like, it wasn’t true that it took longer to get anywhere at New York State than at Hogwarts, and that on the contrary, the building was a lot less confusing and she’d probably get around faster once she was familiar with it. But she still wasn’t; she had to follow Alfred’s lead down two flights of stairs, up another short one, down a long corridor, and down a last flight of stairs that led to a side-door out. The morning fog had long burned away; it was a cool September afternoon where the sun’s glare was nonetheless so harsh her skin felt too heated within minutes. There were no trees on the grounds immediately surrounding the school, not like Hogwarts, where one was never further than five minutes walk, ten at most, away from some gnarled old plant with a history of three hundred years at the very least. The ground was less flat, though, rising and falling continually, and she couldn’t see as far as she could when looking from the Hogwarts steps.
So it was a couple of minutes before they spotted the pair of sleeping students, sprawling out on the grounds, one of them wearing what looked like Quidditch robes, carefully placed on knolls and away from rocks, and with their faces scribbled over to give them mustaches, and the one out of Quidditch robes instead wearing robes so loose his chest was exposed: it had The Wiz written on it.
The two of them stood over the two of them for a moment, just staring. “The team’s Beaters,” said Alfred.
“Should we wake them up?” Hannah asked.
“Not worth it,” said Alfred decidedly, and he began walking quickly away. Hannah, unwilling to just leave them there completely, tried a Cleansing Charm, but when the markings proved immune, she had to give up and hurry after him.
She ended up telling Alfred then about seeing the girls brewing the potion that morning, and he laughed, but added, “You know the Quodpot players probably helped them out. There’s a bit of friendly rivalry between the two teams. Well, usually friendly.”
It might be usually friendly, but to Hannah’s ears that didn’t sound so nice. Still, he knew a lot more about this place than she did, so she didn’t say anything more.
As they reached the pitch and climbed into the stands, Hannah saw there were now six players in the air wearing two different color vests, playing what looked like a miniature game, while a sixth student, a tall black boy with a very serious face, refereed and watched them closely. “Julius Morgantop,” Alfred whispered to her. “He’s team captain.”
Down below, Hannah saw an older wizard whom she thought might be a coach also watching, leg throw half over his broom, along with eight other students. “I think they’ve been chosen already,” whispered Alfred. “Six of them were on the team last year.”
Which meant two spots left, plus any reserves. But as the game went on, Hannah found herself relaxing. Sappho was clearly the best of the remaining six; she was faster and lighter on her broom and had a lot more control of it. When she finally got her hands on the ball and just flew around with it and kept it away from the others so long Hannah was left convinced it had to be enchanted to not explode at the moment, the coach and Julius Morgantop nodded at each other, and the older man blew his whistle and called her down.
As the competition among the remaining five for the final spot intensefied, Hannah found herself watching the ball closely, until she found herself musing out loud. “I don’t think that’s a quod. I think that’s a quaffle.”
“You think?” replied Alfred carelessly. He was focused on the game, and it wasn’t like he wouldn likely be able to tell the difference. Hannah wasn’t the biggest expert there herself.
Nonetheless, by the time all five were called down and one last player and two alternates chosen from among them, she was convinced it was a quaffle. She’d spent more than enough time around Megan Jones to recognize that ball when she saw it. Megan had brought one of her famous aunt’s old quaffles with her to school which had ended up constantly getting underfoot and confusing Ruth’s old cat Marina. Hannah had handled it more than often enough to recognize a quaffle when she saw one, even from a distance.
Maybe they thought it smarter to use a quaffle for the tryouts, she thought. Quods could be messy sometimes when they exploded, especially when they weren’t well-made, and Sappho had told her a few horror stories about the cheap mass-produced quods that schools were known to buy.
In any case, the tryout was now over, and she and Alfred were making their way down along with most of the crowd, heading towards Sappho. By the time they got down there, she was surrounded by three other girls, but she waved them over, introducing her companions as she did-Amanda Hess, Gabrielle Naughton, and Lucy Kennedy, and received their congratulations with warm thanks. “Of course you two will come to all the games now,” she smirked at them.
“We will,” said Hannah without hesitation.
“We all will, Sappho, you know that,” said Lucy Kennedy.
“We want to talk to you about something, though,” said Alfred. “Or rather, Hannah does.”
So soon, she wanted to ask. But Sappho was saying, “Sure, let’s go. Catch you girls later,” and all but yanked herself away.
It was right for them to start right away, Hannah reminded herself. After all, people like her mother had been murdered already.
It was that thought, in fact, of her mother, that sprung forth a sudden, hard resolve: that no matter how hard this was, she would not only do it, but she would do it well. Her mother deserved no less from her.
When they were out of hearing range, Sappho leaned in and said softly, “Thanks. I can’t say I’m sorry to get away from Amanda. She’s actually not nice at all.”
“Then why were you hanging out with her?” asked a confused Hannah.
Sappho looked equally confused by the question. “I couldn’t not. Didn’t you have girls like that at Hogwarts?”
“I think they all stayed in Slytherin Tower,” said Hannah. At any rate, she’d been safe from them in Hufflepuff.
“Lucky Hogwarts,” replied Sappho. “So what did you want to tell me?”
“I...” She’d just resolved to do this, but the problem was, Hannah didn’t even know where to start. Alfred squeezed her hand in encouragement, and she began. “I believe word has gotten around that at Hogwarts I was part of a group that studied and practiced basic and advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts, as Ministry of Magic interference wasn’t letting us learn it in class.” Again her hands touched her face; again she felt nothing. Looked like she was completely safe there.
“Word is going around about a lot of things,” said Sappho. “But wasn’t the official story that Albus Dumbledore was gathering you all to deal with the Ministry, because they were threatening to destory Hogwarts completely?”
Hannah hadn’t heard anything about the Ministry actually trying to do the school in, but maybe the Ministry had just managed to keep the public from hearing about that part. At any rate, she clarified, “Dumbledore was nice enough to say that when we were caught, because if he hadn’t, we all would’ve been expelled. It was a good thing we’d actually decided to call ourselves that! As I said, I was in the group, and we learned a lot. Of course Mr. Jared’s fine as a teacher, and he certainly isn’t actively trying to keep us from learning anything the way that cow Umbridge was, but I still think if anyone wants me to teach them what I’ve learned, I should try to see if I can do that.”
“You’ll be two degrees removed from Harry Potter, too,” Alfred chimed in.
“That definitely sounds like a good idea,” said Sappho. “I assume Fran’ll be there too?”
“Probably,” said Hannah. “Though we haven’t asked her yet.”
“Do you want me to ask the rest of the team if they’re interested?”
At this question, Hannah had to hastily squash the impulse to say no, because it was too many people. The more, the better, she reminded herself. “Go ahead,” she said. “Don’t let them expect miracles, though,” she felt the need to add.
“Oh don’t worry,” grinned Sappho. “If you teach Defense Against the Dark Arts as well as you’ve learned it, they’ll see miracles as having happened anyway."