"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."
I'm sure the phrase You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone is a phrase that both Muggles and wizards are familiar with. I know I grew up hearing it quite a bit, but never thought much of it until my eleventh birthday. That's when things began to really change and put that saying into perspective.
I know that every witch and wizard associates the age of eleven with getting their Hogwarts letters. I used to do that, too, until my eleventh birthday actually came, that is. I turned eleven on October 31st, 1988. Obviously, the September 1st deadline had already passed and I hadn't been eleven on time like all of the other kids born before the first of September. That meant that I would get my Hogwarts letter the following summer and go to Hogwarts the September after that. And, yes, my birthday does fall on Halloween. People love to point that out to me for some reason. As if I don't already know.
Anyway, my eleventh birthday started out normally enough. I was sitting at our very long, very shiny dining room table with my eight year old brother Julian. We were just wrapping up our lessons with Miss Sullivan, our tutor.
You see, magical children don't officially start school until age eleven, and even then, they're just learning how to control and improve their magic. While we don't need all the skills Muggle children go to school for, we do need some. We need to learn how to read and write and do some basic math. My mum hired Miss Sullivan two years ago when I was about to turn nine and Julian was six. She worked with me alone until this fall when Julian was finally old enough to join us. By then we actually already knew how to read and write, thanks to Dad, but we still needed to learn math and apparently some grammar stuff and writing mechanics.
I never saw why my dad couldn't just do all of it. He had successfully taught two children how to read and write after all. But I guess my mother didn't think he could efficiently teach us everything else. She probably felt more secure in hiring an actual teacher for that. So, she hired Miss Sullivan to come to our house five days a week for a few hours a day, because my mother herself certainly didn't have time to teach us.
My mother works at a wizarding book publishing company. She's very driven and also very good at her job, which has resulted in quite a few promotions over the years. She likes everything to be just so and she likes everything to be perfect.
My dad, on the other hand, is more laid back. He also has a very different career. You see, my dad's best friend, Jesse—Uncle Jesse to me and Julian—is a Muggleborn. He and my dad have been friends since they first met on the Hogwarts Express at age eleven and my dad learned a lot about Muggles through Uncle Jesse. Also, if there's one thing you should know about my dad it's that he's loved to make people laugh for as long as he's lived. He positively lives off of it. Before he became friends with Uncle Jesse, my dad didn't really have any friends. He also didn't have any siblings like Julian and I at least have each other. Needless to say, my dad was lonely. To amuse himself, he would invent all these crazy voices and work on making them as funny as possible. He would also mimic any interesting voice he heard and became quite good at doing that as well.
Because the wizarding world doesn't have many job options for what my dad wanted—he couldn't really stand office work, didn't feel cut out for being a professor and didn't feel that working with plants or animals was for him—he spent most of his life unsure of what he wanted to do once he left school. But then when he and Uncle Jesse were fifteen, Uncle Jesse got an idea. He suggested my dad be a stand-up comedian. It was a Muggle job, but it was exactly the kind of thing my dad was looking for. Ever since he left Hogwarts, it's what he's been trying to do with his life, with only minimal success so far. He secured gigs and all that, but he still wasn't at the level he wanted to be at. Or the level my mother wanted him to be at, for that matter.
My mother was never really a fan of the whole comedy thing. Not as a career anyway. She thought my dad was funny and talented and he could make her laugh no matter what. But those days seemed few and far between lately. My mother always thought making a career out of jokes was foolish and she thought it was a phase for a long time. But it wasn't. The thing that annoys Mum the most is that Dad has the grades and the intelligence to get an 'amazing' and 'appropriate' job. But he loves what he does, even if he's sort of struggling, so to him, his current job is amazing and appropriate.
Anyway, as I was saying, Mum is too busy to teach me and Julian all we need to know prior to starting Hogwarts. She works long hours and we hardly even get to see her. Usually it's dad who's home with s all day and who spends time with us when Miss Sullivan isn't here. He even uses the time we're being tutored as time to work on material for stand-up gigs. That way, his schedule will be free to spend time with me and Julian once Miss Sullivan leaves. It was a perfect plan, really. Especially since Julian and I loved spending time with Dad. He could make us laugh just by opening his mouth. Nearly everything he said was hilarious. And sometimes when he was joking around with us or practicing a routine for us—and usually Uncle Jesse too—I'd have to ask him to do it a second time because the first time I was too preoccupied with simply watching him go. I don't know how else to describe it. He's a constant ball of energy, especially when he was performing. He was always moving and switching between voices, all of which were very funny. The second time he ran through a routine for me was when I had to actually try to listen to the words. Some jokes I didn't get because I wasn't old enough, but others I did and they were hilarious. Mum hated it when he practiced routines in front of us "children", but Dad said she never had to find out. Besides, I already knew that he took out anything inappropriate and simply ran those jokes by Uncle Jesse for approval. Mum was just overreacting if you ask me.
So, on this particular day—my birthday, as I've said—Julian and I were working on our math with Miss Sullivan. I hate math. The basic stuff like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division weren't so bad. Counting money—both wizard and Muggle money, which was a request from my mother. Just in case, she said—wasn't so bad either. But fractions, which are what we were learning now, were going to be the death of me. I just couldn't seem to understand them, no matter what I did or how much I tried.
Our time with Miss Sullivan was almost up for the day, though, and I was thankful. All I wanted to do was stop thinking about fractions and get ready to go trick-or-treating later.
Trick-or-treating had been a tradition in our family for as long as I can remember. Every year, Dad and Uncle Jesse take me, Julian and Tess, Uncle Jesse's daughter and also my best friend, trick-or-treating through our neighborhoods. This was one of the perks of Uncle Jesse living only a few streets over. Not many other kids in the area went trick-or-treating, but we didn't mind. We had fun. Also, before we left, my mother would try to make it home early from work, although she hadn't in the past few years, and we'd all eat pizza and cake and I'd open presents. All of it was part of the tradition; a tradition that I wasn't looking to break any time soon.
"Lilah Fitzgerald, where is your head today?"
Miss Sullivan's voice snapped me back to reality and I even jumped slightly in alarm as my cheeks flushed pink. Miss Sullivan wasn't exactly strict, but I still hated disappointing her. She was probably in her mid-forties and very nice and very patient. It was also obvious she wanted me and Julian to learn. I adored her and wanted to do my best for her, which was another reason why not being able to understand fractions was annoying.
"Sorry," I said, looking back down at my paper. I felt Julian lightly kick me under the table and I knew he was smirking. Part of him loved to see me get reprimanded, but that also depended on the severity of it. The more I got yelled at, the more upset he was. It was sweet, really.
Miss Sullivan sighed. "I know today is a big and exciting day for you, dear, but you still have to focus on your work."
I nodded as I stared down at the numerous math problems in front of me. All fractions. All gibberish. I sighed.
Miss Sullivan was quiet for a moment. "You know," she finally said, "considering it is your birthday, I was thinking of ending your lessons a little early today."
"Yeah?" I asked, looking up in excitement. Even the prospect of ending lessons only by a few minutes was exciting. Anything to get me out of doing any more math.
She nodded and sent me a small smile. "I can see that continuing to the end of our time wouldn't be all that productive anyway."
"No, not really," I agreed cheerily as Julian and I began to pack away our things.
"I did want to give you two your last quizzes back, though," Miss Sullivan said, beginning to flip through a folder sitting on the table in front of her.
I felt myself deflate a little bit. I had been hoping Miss Sullivan would have forgotten about the quizzes. I was certain I had failed mine, just like I had failed the three math quizzes before it. And if I failed another one, Mum said she wouldn't let me go trick-or-treating or let Tess sleep over tonight. And the sleepover was a pretty big deal considering sleepovers hadn't been allowed up until now. As you've probably guessed, Mum is pretty particular about certain things, and apparently sleepovers were one of them. She always mused that she didn't know why they were even called sleepovers considering people never got any sleep, which was her biggest gripe with them. Apparently, children needed a good night's sleep. Always. It had taken a lot of convincing to get her to agree to my birthday sleepover which was why I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect of giving it up.
"Maybe we can wait until Monday," I suggested. "I mean, I wouldn't want you to waste too much time looking for them. I'm sure you're just as glad about getting out early as we are."
"I'm insulted, really," Miss Sullivan said, "but no worries. I've found them." She pulled two sheets of paper from her folder. Great.
She passed Julian's quiz to him first and he flipped it over and grinned widely. I scowled. Julian was awesome at math. Even though he got easier work because he was eight, he was still a lot better than I had been at that age. It wasn't fair. I mean, I had always been able to get by before, usually with extra help, but with fractions, well, clearly no amount of extra help could get me to understand those. Believe me, I've tried.
Miss Sullivan handed my quiz back to me then and I took a deep breath. I didn't even want to look, but I expected it was best to do it and get it over with quickly, just like ripping off a bandage.
Making my decision, I quickly flipped my paper over, looked down, and felt my heart sink. I had failed, just as I'd thought I would, but just because I had expected it didn't mean I was any less disappointed.
"Can I, um, maybe get more extra help?" I asked Miss Sullivan, my voice coming out in a whisper. "You know, and go over the problems I got wrong?"
"Perhaps on Monday," she said with a smile.
"Why not today?" I asked, mainly because I knew my mother would want me to. I still wanted the extra help, but I had no problem waiting until Monday. Part of me really wanted to go over my quiz and be able to master fractions, but another part of me just wanted to be done with lessons for the day and enjoy what I would be able to have of my birthday. Because surely trick-or-treating and the sleepover would be off.
"It's your birthday, isn't it?" Miss Sullivan asked. "Why don't you take this weekend off and enjoy your day?" She paused before continuing, surely after seeing my skeptical expression. "You work hard, Lilah, and you do put in a lot of effort. You try. You deserve a few days off. I'm not going to give you any homework and we can work on your fractions more on Monday. You'll understand them soon, I promise."
"How can you know that for sure?" I asked.
"Because you're a smart girl who doesn't give up," she replied.
I nodded and toyed with the corner of my quiz paper. Miss Sullivan kept saying she wanted me to enjoy my birthday, but as I said, chances were that all of my pans would be cancelled once my mother saw my quiz grade. We'd probably still have dinner, but then everyone else would go trick-or-treating without me and Tess wouldn't be able to sleep over. And I would only partly be enjoying my birthday if that happened. It would just put a damper on the whole thing.
"I'm telling you, Liles," Miss Sullivan insisted, "one day it will just click. But for now, why don't you and Julian run along and relax for a bit, okay?"
I nodded and thanked Miss Sullivan before getting up from my seat and gathering my things. Julian did the same and we walked Miss Sullivan to the front door.
"You know," Julian said, once I had shut the door behind our teacher. He nicked a piece of candy from the bowl by the front door. Mum had specifically told us it was for trick-or-treaters and to keep our hands off, but it hadn't stopped us from sneaking a few pieces here and there.
"What?" I prodded Julian as I took a piece of candy for myself. He had that look on his face as if he were lost in thought or thinking up some idea.
"Just because you got your quiz back today doesn't mean you have to tell Mum today," he said, sticking the candy into his mouth whole.
"I guess not, but isn't that really sneaky?" I asked.
"We've done plenty of sneaky things before without Mum knowing," Julian answered with a sly grin, taking a second piece of candy and dangling it in my face as he grinned even wider.
"You're corrupt for an eight year old," I giggled. But then my smile faded. "Mum knows we took a quiz recently, though. Do you think she'll ask if we got our scores back?" I knew Miss Sullivan usually talked to Mum whenever she got the chance and Julian and I always informed her about what we were learning and about any upcoming quizzes, so she was aware we had taken one recently. I just didn't know if she'd think to ask if we'd gotten them back yet.
"You could always say we didn't get them back yet," Julian shrugged. "It won't hurt. I'll even go along with you. And then you can tell her the truth on Monday so it'll all work out."
I couldn't help but giggle again. "You really are such an evil mastermind."
Julian smirked. "That's me," he said before throwing a piece of candy at me and running upstairs to his bedroom.
"Get back here!" I cried, laughing more as I picked up the fallen candy and chased after my brother, ready to pelt him with it like he had done to me. But what I didn't notice was that I had dropped my quiz in the process. It drifted down and landed on the floor right in front of the front door. And, as luck would have it, my mother actually did make it home early that day. Naturally, she walked in the door shortly after Julian and I had gone upstairs and before I could realize my mistake. And from there, everything continued to go downhill.
A/N: Well, it's certainly been a while, hasn't it? I didn't really intend to take such a long break from writing but that's what happened. I'm a little nervous about this story since I haven't posted in a while and I liked writing Promise of a Lifetime so much that I want this one to be just as fun. But I am really excited to get this chapter up as well because I've really missed writing.
So, don't be afraid to let me know what you think so far and thanks for reading!