Meera followed the Prefect to the Hufflepuff dormitory. The entrance to the dormitory was the same as the kitchen. Meera followed quietly trying not to signal a single sound of amazement. When they reached the entrance with large barrels, the Prefect tapped the second barrel from the bottom four time in a distinct rhythm. Meera was told to memorize the rhythm which is the only way to enter the dormitory.
‘Tap—Tap-Tap———-Tap.’ This was presumably the rhythm of Helga Hufflepuff, the founder of the Hufflepuff house. The barrel opened revealing an entrance to the dormitory. Meera is amazed to see the room. It was cheerful as were the students already inside of it. The common room was decorated with colors of earth, and the house colors black and yellow. The honey colored wooden furnitures and the plants placed neatly on the walls, added to the ambience of the room.
Neal, the boy who Meera had met earlier was already sitting in one of the wooden chairs. He rose as he saw Meera arrive. There was a little girl with him, who seemed a lot younger than him.
‘Meera, meet my sister Benny,’ he said. Benny raised her hand to wave and said, ‘Hello’ in her meek little voice. They were to share the same dormitory.
Neal’s sister was starting her first year in Hogwarts and he was extremely happy that Benny had been sorted into Hufflepuff. He also told Meera that it was not necessary despite being family, that they should be sorted into the same house.
‘How do you come to Hogwarts then?’ he asked Meera.
‘To be honest, I do not know,’ Meera replied.
‘May be Meera’s a great witch…and so,’ Benny was quick to add. But she shyly turned away immediately.
Meera smiled. ‘Thanks,’ she said. May be Hogwarts wasn’t that odd after all.
Meera’s classes were to begin the next day. She was to start with the first years with a couple of extra subjects to be able to cover as much as possible. She looked at the heavy bag Zuck had bought for her. It was filled with books of all kinds. While the topics looked much different from what she had ever seen, the fact that she had to learn all of it made her realize that magic must be studied too. It wasn’t something that was passed down or given without effort.
Meera entered the first class. It was called Charms. A tiny little professor, who was named Zelda was already sitting. The students were ready to begin the class. Meera sat down besides Benny.
‘Wands out!’ Professor Zelda said sharply.
Meera searched her little bag for her wand. She remembered putting everything Benny had told her the night earlier. But she could not find her wand. How could she perform magic without it? She looked left and right. Everyone was ready. Meera felt ashamed for not knowing something so obvious.
‘I don’t have mine,’ she said meekly.
‘Magic without wands!’ yelled a girl from behind, giggling. She was Redna from Ravenclaw.
‘Silence!’ Professor Zelda said. ‘You will have to go and get your wand Meera.’
Meera nodded and headed out, clueless as who to approach. After a while she realized that perhaps Zuck could help her. So she headed out to the staff room.
Zuck was sorry for forgetting such an important detail. He was supposed to take her to Diagon Alley to pick her wand, but he was stuck in some unexplainable work and forgot. He immediately arranged for a portkey that transported them to Leaky Cauldron. The portkey was an uneasy experience to Meera as she felt sucked into a warp and then out again.
They reached the Leaky Cauldron. It was in London. The street was filled with muggles, but they were too busy to notice anything else apart from their phones. It was Meera’s first time in London. She had heard about the weather there in many poems in her school text books but it looked a little different now.
Zuck tapped a brick three times in wall and they entered the alley. It was buzzing with witches and wizards shopping for their essentials with heavy bags. Meera called it a shopping mall in the magical world. She looked amazed but Zuck made it clear that they had to return immediately after finding her wand. They were headed to the Ollivaders, famous for wandcraft.
Ollivanders was a weird place for Meera. There were stacks of wand everywhere. It was like an ocean. And Mr. Ollivander was no less weirder than the place itself. He was neck deep in work when they arrived.
‘Ah!’ said Mr. Ollivander as he noticed the two of them. Zuck bowed slightly to show his curtesy.
‘We need a wand for this little lady here,’ he said looking at Meera, cutting off any question from Mr. Ollivander’s side.
Mr. Ollivander went inside and bought a huge chunk of wand. Meera got nervous. How was she going to pick her wand? Mr. Ollivander asked her to pick one of them and do some gestures in the air. She picked the first one. Nothing happened. She picked the second one. Nothing happened. Meera felt a little lame. What was she doing, whirling the wand in the air like a mad person?
She picked another, then another. It was may be the 9th wand, she had lost count. Meera lifted her hand and moved her hand in the air to form a circle. Suddenly a spark went off. A circle was visible in the air.
‘That’s it!’ Mr. Ollivander exclaimed. Zuck looked satisfied.
Mr. Ollivander examined the wand.
‘Black walnut with dragon heartstring core, hmmm….,’ he said.
What did this mean, Meera wondered.
‘Black walnut…hmm…hard to master. Requires an honest master. Prone to self conflicts,’ he added. ‘Dragon heartstring… prone to accidents.’
‘Ah! don’t scare little Meera here Mr. Ollivander,’ Zuck intervened.
Mr. Ollivander gazed away from the wand and handed it back to Meera. Zuck signaled to leave. As fast as they had come, they had left.
Zuck arranged another portkey to take them back to Hogwarts. It was still an uneasy journey back.
Meera went back to class. She had missed Professor Zelda’s charm’s class. She hurriedly caught up with Benny and she took her to the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. It was taught by Professor Rufus, a funny looking wizard. Neal had warned Benny that while Rufus looked funny, he had been a top Auror of his time and had caught many dark wizards. Do not judge a book by its cover, Meera thought.
It was almost lunch time when Benny and Meera were leaving the class. Professor Rufus had not taught anything extra ordinary that day. They had reached the corridor that led to the great hall when Benny suddenly remembered something.
‘I think I’ve forgotten one of my books in class,’ she said. ‘Wait there Meera I’ll go and get it!’
Meera stood there waiting for Benny as she watched the students enter the great hall. Some of them smiled at her, some even waved, especially the young ones. But many looked at her like she did not belong there. A few giggled as they passed. She turned to look at the sculptures carved into the wall unaware of what was going behind her.
‘Expelliarmus!’ shouted someone.
Benny had arrived at the exact moment and ran across the corridor. Meera turned back startled at the scene. A boy was standing with his wand held high. A group of other boys were on the floor, their wands at the other end of the hall and a case of rotten eggs spilled all over.
A group of teachers hustled to the scene.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Professor Rufus.
‘Those boys were trying to hurl eggs over Meera,’ said the standing boy.
‘You have no proof!’ said one of the boys on the floor as he stood up.
‘I heard you plotting by the door,’ the other added.
‘Enough!’ said Professor Rufus. ‘20 points off of Slytherin!’
Everyone cleared away. Meera and Benny headed to the great hall where the news of the scene had apparently reached before they did. Neal was already seated in the table.
‘Who is he?’ Meera questioned Benny as they sat down to have lunch.
‘He’s Li, the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain. Almost the Head Boy of the school.’
‘Almost the Head Boy?’
‘Yes. Almost but not,’ Neal added.
‘What did he utter?’
‘Expelliarmus. It is a disarming spell, forces the victim to release whatever they are holding, especially used to release wands,’ he added.
‘We haven’t reached that lesson,’ Benny said.
Expelliarmus, Meera thought.
Li stepping in to save Meera from a case of rotten eggs had become the talk of the school. It was clear that many students did not like her, especially her Ravenclaw classmates. She was having a hard time catching up and taking extra classes to catch up faster. Why was magic so hard to learn, she wondered.
Benny and Neal would often stay up late to help Meera finish her homework. Meera was able to master a some basic spells in a few weeks, but she was still way behind her classmates. Hogwarts was getting ready for Magic Week where students participated in different magic competitions and won prizes, all of these would be added to the house points.
‘I’m going to win it!’ Benny said during breakfast.
‘Are you not going to participate in any?’ he asked Meera.
‘I’m not sure I can manage to remember a spell that amounts to anything,’ Meera replied slightly dejected at the thought.
‘I think you should,’ Benny added.
‘A 16 year old competing with the children!’ someone remarked as they passed Meera’s side.
‘Don’t you dare say anything,’ Benny snapped back.
It was Redna standing with a look of disgust. She ignored Benny and went straight to her table and sat down.
‘Don’t be bothered by them,’ Neal remarked looking at Meera.
‘But she isn’t wrong.’
‘It’s on you whether she is right or wrong,’ said Neal as he stood up and headed for class.
Every evening students gathered in groups to practice for the upcoming competitions. The hall and the Quidditch ground lit up in spells sparked from the wands of the students. It was as if the school was lighted in different colored bulbs.
Meera had not yet been able to thank Li for his help earlier. He was a seventh year student and there was very little chance they’d ever meet, except for the Great Hall during breakfast, lunch and dinner. But Meera did not have the courage or the will to walk up to the Gryffindor table and thank him. She was waiting for a chance face off where she’d meet him accidentally.
While the whole school was caught up in action, Meera was trying to memorize basic spells and getting used to the food at Hogwarts. She deeply missed Mayna and her tasty rotis, the black teas and the smell of the sweets by the alley near her home. She wanted to go straight up to the Headmistress and ask why she was being put in the difficult position, why couldn’t she just get back home and finish all of it.
When Benny had left the dormitory to prepare her spells, Meera curled up in the corner and started scribbling words over scrolls. There was a mountain remaining to go. Tears dripped over the paper and smudged her handwriting. She would have to redo it again.
The Hufflepuff common room was filled with chit chats as Meera stepped out of her dormitory and into the common to get some distraction. Everyone seemed busy arranging banners and pamphlets, nobody noticed her slipping in. Meera had soon moved outside the common room and in the corridor that led to the nearest balcony.
There were wands everywhere, in action. Buzzing incantations in the corridors and the sound of papers. Meera stepped out. She was welcomed by a cold sensation in the air. She could see the Quidditch ground from where she stood. Sparks of color everywhere, laughter that engulfed the entire school.
‘Why aren’t you practicing?’ asked a familiar voice. It was Zuck.
‘It won’t be necessary.’
‘Why? Do you intend to flunk your examinations at the end of the year, is it?’
Meera was slightly shocked at Zuck’s reasoning. Couldn’t he see that she was feeling dejected, could he please keep his un-understandable humor apart for now.
‘No. I won’t be participating in the competitions,’ Meera said softly.
Zuck laughed. ‘You’re thinking why can’t I see that you are dejected, why can’t I keep my un-understandable humor apart, aren’t you?’
Meera looked confused. Can Zuck read my mind?
‘Yes, slightly,’ he answered. Meera was baffled. ‘But I’m not that good. Its because you aren’t feeling very good at the moment that I can pierce into your minds so easily. Now tell me why do you seem so bothered. I shall not continue my attempts to read your mind.’
‘I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve to be here,’ she said.
‘Says not who?’
‘Hogwarts has some of the best wizards and witches, but that should not bother you, should not bother anyone else,’ he said.
There was silence for a moment as they watched the commotion in the ground.
‘Lumos!’ said Zuck and a spark of light lit up on the end of his wand. He held it higher so that it would light the area.
Meera thought the light looked beautiful.
‘Now,’ he said as they continued to gaze at the ground. ‘Their light can never cast your darkness no matter how bright. Only you can.’ He signaled for her wand and walked out.
‘Lumos,’ Meera said and her wand lit up.
She was finally able to cast a spell properly.
Firstly, apologizes for the delay in getting the third chapter ready. The past month was a wave of adventure. As I sit down to write, clueless, the first 17 minutes are awfully hard. What on earth am I doing? Is there a purpose? Should there be a purpose? I don’t know. After the 17th minute, the story slowly sinks in and in my own unique way I rejoice the imperfect story that is evolving in front. May be that’s the purpose, may be not.
A big thank you to everyone’s who’s been following Meera’s journey as she figures out her way into Hogwarts. Your little comments and encouragement means the world.