Emma was sitting in her compartment, casually flipping through a book she would have normally been devouring. Right now, she couldn't concentrate. She would be seeing Fred and George after a long summer apart. Typically, they made time to come and see her for her birthday, but this summer, they weren't staying at home. That was all they could tell her, they said, and they wouldn't be able to see her, but they sent her thoughtful and sweet presents and while she had been disappointed, she wasn't mad. Everything had changed with Cedric Diggory's death. The Daily Prophet could say all the crap it wanted, but she had met Harry Potter several times, and he didn't seem like a disturbed, fame-grubbing maniac. What's more, Fred and George believed him, and that was all she needed to believe herself. You-Know-Who was back.
Before she had time to dwell on the horrible ramifications of this, Fred and George came into the compartment she had saved for their group, talking excitedly with Lee Jordan, Katie Bell and Angelina Johnson.
"-And then you take the other end, and all the bleeding stops!" cried Fred triumphantly as he threw the compartment door open and his eyes fell on hers. He was discussing Skiving Snackboxes, of course, one of Fred and George's inventions for the joke shop they hoped to found once school was over. Fred's eyes lit up when he saw her. "Emma! Happy belated birthday, Miss Norwick, so sorry we had to miss it."
He slid into the seat beside her and threw and arm around her shoulder, beckoning Katie Bell to the other one. The motion would have made Emma happy and flushed, had he not included Katie. Of course, he was just being smarmy. Typical Fred. Meanwhile, Angelina sandwiched herself between George and Lee. To Emma's untrained eye, it appeared that there was something very real going on between her and George. Good. Ever since Angelina had gone to the Yule Ball with Fred, Emma had liked her far less, but if she was dating the other twin…
Of course, the jealous was not only petty and immature, it was just pointless. Emma had been helplessly taken with Fred for years, but it didn't matter. Not only would such a wonderful boy have any interest in her (his own taste was certainly for the more glamorous, more exotic specimens like Anglina and Katie), but Fred didn't date. Lee joked that the boys were married to their jokes, and it could be true.
"How was the birthday without us, Emma?" said George, settling into his window seat. "Horrifically boring?"
Emma gave him a wry smile.
"Undoubtedly, George, you've guessed it," she drawled. "I was awake in a cold sweat for a week, so troubled that you hadn't been there."
They all laughed. Of course, it hadn't been a big deal. Emma hadn't minded. Emma never minded. Emma was just a little Ravenclaw, who never got competitive, or jealous, or upset. She was cool and logical and would certainly never stay up in a cold sweat over a problem any less pressing than world peace itself. What lovely mental boxes her friends put her in. Too bad they weren't true at all.
Yes, she was a Ravenclaw. Yes, she was logical and calm. But she still got competitive and jealous and upset, especially where Fred was concerned. And that was completely illogical of her, but she couldn't help it.
"Who wants to take bets on the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?" said Lee eagerly. "I figure, we've had two Death Eaters, a werewolf and a fraud since Harry got here. There's got to be something exciting."
"Maybe another Death Eater?" said Katie anxiously.
"Nah, I'm sure Dumbledore's upped his security screening after last summer," said George. "How about a vampire?"
"Maybe it'll finally be Snape," Emma suggested over her book.
The heads all snapped to look at her and she looked around at their faces.
"What?" she said defensively. "It's bound to happen eventually. Dumbledore's going to run out of not-so-reasonable candidates. Personally, I want the werewolf back."
"Yeah, he's pretty cool," said the twins together, with a grin at Lee. There was something they weren't saying. They hadn't put that in the past tense. Had they seen Professor Lupin over the summer?
The rest of the train ride passed with games of Exploding Snap (Lee's eyebrows were properly singed) and everyone swapping stories of their amazing holidays, except for the twins. They said nothing other than that their joke shop was really coming along and they expected all of us to sign up to be testers for their products. In Emma's opinion, anyone who would willingly sign up for that would have to be crazy.
The boys chivalrously went elsewhere to change (one of the nice things about being a Gryffindor), and came back with stories of the prank they just pulled on a compartment of unsuspecting first years. Emma rolled her eyes and laughed with the rest of them, settling in next to Fred again, book in hand, but she wasn't reading. She was soaking in this moment with her friends, a moment of laughter and mirth in the impending war.
When the train finally arrived at Hogsmeade station, the six of them climbed onto the platform and made their way to the carriages, where they all packed into one carriage. It was a tighter squeeze every year, and now that they were in their seventh year and the boys were at their prime, Emma found her body sandwiched between Fred and the wall of the carriage. It was slightly uncomfortable, she had to admit to herself, but her entire left side was pressed against his right side, and to alleviate some discomfort, his arm was dangling around her shoulders. A little piece of Emma couldn't find anything wrong with the seating at all. In any event, Angelina had a much tighter squeezed, locked between George and Lee.
They arrived at the castle and rushed inside, Emma joining the Ravenclaw table and her companions filing into the Gryffindor one. Cho Chang and Marietta Edgecombe sat beside Emma, but Emma looked over at her Gryffindor friends, wishing, not for the first time, that the Sorting Hat had been mistaken and that she was braver than she was; wishing she was a Gryffindor. Fred caught her gaze and winked, causing her to blush furiously and look down as the other students filed in.
Hagrid wasn't at the staff table, which made Emma frown. She loved his Care of Magical Creatures lessons, not because he was that great of a teacher, but because she and the twins appreciated his sense of adventure and danger. She had learned lots of things from Hagrid, if not things that she had used on her O.W.L.s. Not to cross a manticore with anything, for example. That was a very important life lesson.
The Sorting Hat's song was very different this year, but she didn't really listen. She never listened to the song. It wasn't a topic of discussion in Ravenclaw. They had far more interesting and important topics to discuss, such as the meaning of life and the origin of magic, and all those academic things. She spent the feast ignoring and avoiding all such talk, glancing over at Fred every now and again. He winked at her once again, this time with a bit of a smirk. She was stroking his ego. That was never a good thing. Dumbledore stood, and the hall fell silent.
"Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices," said Dumbledore. "First years ought to know that the forest in the grounds is out of bounds to students — and a few of our older students ought to know by now too."
Emma thought for a moment of the time Fred and George had talked her into going into the forest with them. She had almost gotten eaten by a giant spider. They actually had gotten detention for that one, because Hagrid found them, which had turned out to be lucky, because he called of the spiders. Emma never thought detention would be a good thing, but her tears of relief turned into tears of shame when she was actually in detention. Fred had held her for a whole hour after they got out of detention, calming her and soothing her, telling her it wasn't her fault and how sorry he was he had gotten her in trouble, that he had put her in danger, and swearing he'd never do it again. It had been so perfect, being in his arms, and he had held true to his promise. He didn't get her into trouble or danger ever again.
"Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four hundred and sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch's office door.
"We have had two changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
There was a smattering of polite but uninterested applause across the hall, which died down as quickly as it ought to. Emma didn't applaud. She wasn't happy that Hagrid wasn't there, however good of a teacher Grubbly-Plank was, and she didn't like the look of this Umbridge woman. Emma might not be a fashion expert, but did that woman really think that was a sweater?
Dumbledore continued, "Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the —"
He paused and looked around at the toad-faced woman in pink. She cleared her throat in a deliberate manner, and Emma realized that the toad-faced woman in pink was about to speak. Or croak. It would be an interesting revelation, whichever way.
"Thank you, Headmaster," Professor Toad-Faced Woman in Pink simpered, "for those kind words of welcome."
Her voice was not a croak, most unfortunately, but fit in more with the sickeningly-pink sweater she was wearing, high and girly, like a six-year-old with excellent grammar and diction. It was a bit disconcerting.
"Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!" She smiled, revealing very pointed teeth. "And to see such happy little faces looking back at me!"
Emma raised an eyebrow. Happy? Where? She didn't see the happy. Unless this woman was using a previously unknown definition of the word happy, Emma thought the woman must be blind. It would certainly explain the outfit.
"I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all, and I'm sure we'll be very good friends!"
Emma's eyebrow shot up even higher and she saw Fred and George breaking out in fits of silent laughter. Well, at least it was silent this time. It probably wouldn't go over well, laughing at the new Professor of Toadiness during her first, and hopefully last, speech.
"The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the Wizarding community must be passed down through the generations lest we lose them forever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished, and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching."
Emma had never seen Professor Flitwick look so angry. Why did that little man look angry? Nothing upset him, no matter how many times they accidentally knocked him off his stack of books, or sent him zooming around his classroom, that man was always good-natured. Now, he looked anything but.
"Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation . . ."
At this point, it became difficult to listen to, not because the speech got any worse (it was all quite terrible), but because nobody else seemed to be listening. Cho Chang and Marietta Edgecomb had begun chatting vibrantly, and they weren't the only ones. Luna Lovegood, who had settled herself on the other side of Emma, was sticking her nose back into her copy of the Quibbler, and Fred and George were making faces to amuse the first years. Fred caught her looking at them again, and made one at her, and she giggled in spite of herself. The face wasn't funny at all. She had seen him pull it dozens of times. And yet, somehow, from across the crowded Great Hall, she couldn't help but giggle at the thought that he had made it just for her, and the sight of her giggling made him smirk. She had to stop stroking that ego.
". . . because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgment. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."
Dumbledore continued his speech as normally after a clapping round led by him, followed reluctantly by the teachers, and not observed at all by the students on behalf of Professor Toady-Wartface's speech (Okay, she didn't have warts that Emma could see at this distance, but she ought to. Perhaps Emma should suggest it to the twins…). Emma saw Fred and George readying their fliers for the Gryffindor common room at the end of the speech, preparing to put them up as soon as they got to Gryffindor Tower. She gave them a little wave as the Great Hall stood up, and headed off to Ravenclaw Tower.
She didn't expect them to walk with her. They had to get their password, after all, and they had notices to pin up and the like. She wandered off to the Ravenclaw Tower, getting in behind Luna Lovegood, who never needed to wait for someone else to answer their question. She was a question-answering fiend. As Emma stalked off toward her dormitory, exhausted, she felt someone grabbed her arm and saw a boy from her year smirking at her.
"Well, well, Miss Norwick," said Roger Davies, a boy in her year, and the Ravenclaw heartthrob. Quidditch Captain and all that. He went to the Yule Ball with the Beauxbatons champion, actually, which Emma didn't really hold to his credit. He was so taken with the girl that he tripped over his own feet multiple times.
"What, Davies?" she said, pulling her arm out of his grasp.
"Just wanted to know when you developed your little crushy-poo on Weasley."
"What?" she gasped. "What are you even talking about? Who are you even talking about? There's a lot of Weasleys, you see."
"I was hoping you could tell me. You see, all I could tell from where I was sitting was that it was one of the twins."
"Whatever," said Emma, shaking her head. "You didn't see anything, Davies, because nothing was happening. The twins are my friends, and there's no crush. I'm going for a walk. I'll be back by curfew, in case you were thinking of alerting the prefects or something."
Emma wandered around, and before she realized where her feet were taking her, she found herself standing right outside Gryffindor Tower. The Fat Lady looked down at her.
"Ah, Miss Norwick. A bit late at night for a wander on the first night?"
Emma shrugged, knowing she was blushing.
"I got into a bit of a conflict with someone in my House and I started wandering, and I ended up here, I guess."
"Always do, dear," said the portrait with a wink. "I'll bet it's the magnetic pull of a certain red-head?"
Before Emma could attempt to deny it, which was silly, really, lying to a portrait about her love life, or lack thereof, the portrait swung open and Fred and George were standing there, with Lee behind him.
"It is Emma, guys! Hey, Emma, a little early in the year for sleepovers, yeah?"
George grinned at her. She grinned sheepishly back.
"Well, I didn't intend… I mean, that is to say… Well, I had a bit of a friendly disagreement with… oh, but it doesn't matter. How is everybody?"
"Better now you're here, love," said Fred with a wink and a grin, which made her heart flutter. If she didn't know he just talked like that with everybody, she would have felt like the luckiest girl in the world. As it was, she knew better.
"Nice flier," she said, crawling into the common room and nearly tripping over the portrait hole. Fred caught her and pulled her to her feet, but he didn't let go. He just hugged her, thanked her, and led her to an armchair, where he, to her shock, settled her down on his lap.
"Why, thank you," he said. Emma could feel the eyes of their friends on them, but Fred didn't seem to notice. "So, who did you fight with?"
"Davies," she said with a blush.
"That idiot?" said George, handing her a butterbeer. How did they get stuff like that so quickly into school?
"He's not an idiot," Emma said honestly. Well, he wasn't. He was a Ravenclaw, after all.
"What was it about?" said Fred, before taking a sip of his own butterbeer.
"Oh it was just… it was… never you mind."
"Ah," said Lee knowingly. "You were debating the meaning of life and it got heated."
"Something like that," Emma muttered. And it was. They had been talking about Fred, after all. What did it really matter if she was abusing the stereotypes of her House? Telling the truth wouldn't change a thing anyway, except maybe alienate her from her best friend. From where she was sitting, lying was a much better option.