Chapter 3

Dumbledore's Office

Hogwarts Castle

September 1, 1975

The walk to the headmaster's office wasn't long to a student who knew the corridors of Hogwarts well, but the walk seemed to be both longer and shorter than it ought to be. Pan felt like she was dreaming; she jumped at small noises and in between constantly twitched at the strange silence in the corridors. Pan reached the corridor that contained the headmaster's office without meeting a soul.

She did find people where she least expected them: standing in front of the entrance to Dumbledore's office were a bleary-eyed brunette and a tow-headed boy in hushed conversation. The first she identified as Alice Moran, a fifth-year Gryffindor, and the other as Win Paxton, a Hufflepuff who was also in her year.

Curiosity overcame surprise, and Pan asked, "Why are we here? Do you know?"

"Not a clue," said Alice. "That's what we were trying to figure out. Pandora, right?"

"Pan. And you're Alice and Win." The two nodded. She had a thought. "Did either of you two ever break into the Restricted Section?"

"No way," said Alice firmly; Win merely shook his head. Either he was naturally quiet, or very tired.

"Weird. Guess we're back to guessing." Pan heard running footsteps and turned to see a dark boy, out of breath, halt just beyond their small group. He was Alexander Dorn, a Slytherin--and also a fifth year. He looked around, panting, and said, "Well, looks as if there's more than one of us."

"Let's give a round of applause for his amazing skills of observation," said Alice sarcastically to Win. It seemed she had the typical Gryffindor view that "Slytherin" was synonymous to "evil, conniving dastard."

The four of them stood in silence a moment, listening to Zander's huffing breaths, and then the carved stone gargoyle stood aside to reveal Dumbledore standing in the entryway. His smile alleviated Pan's fears; surely he wouldn't be smiling if they were in trouble.

"Well! All on time then, I see. Come in." He moved to the side and beckoned them towards the door. Alice straightened her shoulder and crossed the threshold first, followed closely by Win, who appeared to be her friend. Pan and Zander looked at one another for a moment, and then Zander invited her to precede him with a jerk of his chin. Pan complied with a nod of thanks and entered. She stopped short, fascinated by the curious staircase, with its risers moving slowly upward in a spiral. Conscious of Zander and Dumbledore behind her, she stepped onto the staircase. The steps wound upwards, not troubled in the least by her weight. When her step reached the landing, Pan hesitated a moment too long and the stepped pressed her toes against the raised lip of the landing, sending her stumbling as she scrambled to get off the step. Zander stepped off the staircase behind her with embarrassing ease, steadying her elbow momentarily in the same movement. She looked up in surprise; usually the Gryffindors were right, and Slytherins were mean-spirited gits. It seemed she'd stumbled upon one of the few exceptions. She said, "Thanks" and they followed Alice and Win into Dumbledore's office.

Pan stared. She supposed the staircase ought to have been ample warning as to what lay ahead, but the office was a feast for inquisitive eyes. Her eyes darted from instrument to curious instrument, and she wondered what their uses were and how they worked. She heard a click as the door closed, and Dumbledore's soft, amused voice: "A collection of useful items, all nearly as strange as they look." She jumped; she hadn't had much dealings with the headmaster, and his seeming omniscience never failed to disconcert her. Not for the first time, she wondered if he were a Legilimens.

The headmaster stepped around her and crossed to his desk, sitting and steepling his fingers in a characteristic gesture. His eyes twinkled kindly as he said, "Relax. You're not in trouble." Alice let out an audible sigh of relief and Dumbledore smiled. "Now, I'll keep you as briefly as possible from your beds, You four are here because of your exceptional work in Charms and Transfiguration, as well as for your enthusiasm for learning and most particularly for spell-casting."

Dumbledore paused and looked around at them. Alice was grinning, Win stared shyly at his shoes, Pan was waiting raptly for what came next and Zander had a tilt to his chin and a set to his shoulder that indicated pride in his accomplishments.

Dumbledore continued, "The Ministry of Magic allows us to choose four students each year, one from each house, to participate in a special extra course in the creation of new spells. The Ministry controls the privilege of learning this process tightly, because it can be a troublesome and dangerous business, and I want you four to take this course very seriously. You will not be required to pursue a job in Charm Research, but if you decided that is the path you wish to take, this course will speed up your training considerably. Now, because this is such an exclusive class, it has not been put in your normal class schedule. Instead, your class will meet two Tuesdays a month in Professor Flitwick's office after dinner." He looked around at them again, but this time their reactions were the same: they were all stunned.

Pan was ecstatic; she had never heard of this class, and to be singled out so was very gratifying. Besides, it sounded so fascinating: spell creation! She had never wondered how the spells she used every day had been formulated, but now it seemed glaringly obvious that somebody--many somebodies--had learned a science that she had never known existed. Her own curiosity made her eager to be counted among that number. Pan broke the silence, her eagerness evident in her voice: "When do we start?"

"Tempting as I'm sure esoteric knowledge is to you, Miss Laird, you'll be happy to learn that your first lesson is next Tuesday. Now, I will release you four. Sleep well, and welcome back to Hogwarts." He gestured towards the door, and the four trooped out.

* * *

When Pan reached the common room, having given the knocker its "earnest" answer, Iona pounced.

"Well? What did Dumbledore want?"

"I'm not in trouble," said Pan. Iona, rather than calming down, looked even more interested. "I got picked to be in this class, all about learning how to make up new spells. Apparently it'll help with training if I decide to do it for a living."

"Wow! That's great!" Iona had no trace of envy in her voice; Charms was rather a weakness of hers. "So who else got picked?"

"Alice Moran, Win Paxton, Zander Dorn."

"Seriously? Just four?"

Pan shrugged. "I guess it's pretty exclusive."

"I'll say," said Iona.

Pan yawned. After he gluttony at the feast and the excitement of the announcement--not to mention the trip to Hogwarts--she was so exhausted that her bones felt heavy.

"I'm gonna go to bed, all right?" said Pan, when Iona showed every sign of wanting to settled in for a nice long chat in the armchairs. "I'm tired."

"Okay. 'Night."

"Good night," said Pan through another yawn. She waved half-heartedly and turned towards the dormitories. She walked past the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw and into the dormitory stairwell. The landing was semi-circular, its stone walls lightened by arched windows. A narrow stair went up to the right and down to the left. The downward flight led towards the boys' dormitories, which weren't in the tower proper but rather in an adjoining section of the castle, all on one floor. The girls' dormitories were upstairs, on four different floors of the tower; all the floors had landings in the same shape as the landing outside the common room. The three floors between the common room and the seventh year girls' dormitory were each bisected by a narrow hallway, pierced by arched doors made of dark, glossy wood on the right and left. One either side of the hallway was a room, large enough for the comfort of its inhabitants, but not quite spacious, with arched windows along the curved wall. When Pan entered the fifth years' dormitory on the east side of the fourth floor of the tower, she was pleased to see that it was no different from last year's dormitory, apart from an extra flight of stairs. Five bedsteads were pushed up against the flat wall the room shared with the hallway, draped in indigo quilts embroidered with glittering bronze stars. Two desks, which were destined for very little use whatever as few wished to work in the dormitories, abutted the northern flat wall. A plush window seat upholstered in the same fashion as the beds provided seating. With a tired sigh, Pan changed into her nightgown. The soft feather mattress felt like the sweetest of reliefs against her body, which ached with weariness. She was asleep within minutes.

* * *

A loud crash woke Pan. Groggily, she looked to the window and noted, confused, that it was still dark. Her ears picked up soft murmurs, but they were cut off by a loud thump before her brain could process them. She looked around for the source of the noise with sleep-blurred eyes. The first thing she saw was one of the desks, which had shifted position. It no longer stood flush with the wall, but rather awry, as if its had turned to look out the window. A leather-bound tome lay nearby.

The second thing was Iona. She stood, heavy book in hand, her face contorted with anger. Suddenly Pan understood the sounds that had woken her: when Iona was angry, she threw things. Only in extreme ire did she throw her precious books; something was terribly amiss.

"Iona?" Pan asked. "What's wrong?" Past Iona, she the murmured, shy, even-tempered Adina Bright, look at her with relief. Adina had never been very good at coping with Iona when she was in a rage.

"He's such an ass!" Iona cried, throwing the book. It landed against the base of the window seat with a dull thud.

"Who is? What happened? Tell me everything." Pan stood and crossed to Iona and took her next projectile firmly out of her hands. She led her to the bed Pan had recently vacated and sat, watching her expectantly. Iona sat too, and took a deep breath, trying to compose herself. "Tell me everything" was their time-honored signal that it was time for Iona to calm down and get her wrath out in words, not violence against inanimate objects.

"Conor is an ass. I was bored, and I asked if he wanted to take a night walk. You know we did that all the time last year!" She did. Pan had often been amazed at their uncanny ability to get out onto the grounds, walk around a bit and get back again without once getting caught. "Well," continued Iona, "this year he's all high-and-mighty prefect." She spat the word out as if it would leave a nasty taste in her mouth. "He refused. Told me if I even tried a stunt like that he'd know and he'd be forced to report me. Some crap about 'duty' or whatever. Stupid, tattling rat!" She slammed her clenched fist down on the mattress. "He'd sell out his own girlfriend just 'cause his precious teachers told him to."

"Did you break up?" Pan asked gently.

"Break up? Of course we broke up! The guy can't be trusted to protect me after all this time we've been together, what use is he?" She sniffed in what she wanted Pan to think was disgust, turning away to hide the uncontrollable frown. When she had got her urge to cry under control--she hated crying in front of anyone--she turned back to Pan and said, "I hate him. We're done, and he knows it."

Pan hugged Iona wordlessly, knowing Iona would only scoff if she offered words of comfort. "Thanks," Iona finally said, breaking away and going to her own bed. Pan looked around and realized Adina had left, probably not wanting to intrude.

"Good night," said Iona presently, and before long they were both asleep.