Chapter 3: Early Wednesday November 24th
Copyright© 2008 by BarBar
Mom's voice jerked me out of the warmth and comfort of deep sleep.
I felt a double tap on my backside as Mom whacked me through the blankets.
I blinked in the sudden light.
"Come on, you three, get out of bed. It's time to get ready for school."
I lifted myself up on one elbow and peered over the bulk of Dan's body. Sure enough I could see Tara's head, face-down on the pillow beside Dan. Mom turning the light on and calling out hadn't woken Tara, but that was normal.
"Wait a minute! I've already had this dream," I told the room – my voice still creaky from having just woken up.
Mom glanced at me as I spoke but didn't reply. She leaned over me and put one hand down on my hip so that she could stretch across the bed and slap Tara on the low lump that represented her backside.
"Ow!" Tara's voice was muffled by the pillow.
"I might have known the two of you would be in here after that business last night." Mom looked and sounded unhappy. She turned and walked out of the room without saying another word. In my first dream she had been a lot more cheerful.
I clambered out of bed. I felt old and awkward compared to that memory of the way I used to spring out of bed when I was six. A quick check of my body and my brain revealed that this time I was dreaming about being thirteen year old Bec instead of six year old Bec.
Or maybe I was awake this time.
Dan groaned and crawled out of bed after me. Remembering his condition in the last dream, I glanced down and – sure enough – his boxers concealed a noticeable lump. I smiled quietly to myself about that and then I stretched up on my toes to kiss Dan's cheek.
"Good morning. Thanks for the cuddle."
Dan looked at me through bleary eyes. "If you aren't going to claim the bathroom, then I will." He stumbled out through the door, veering to the side at the last minute in order to avoid crashing into the door-frame.
I stood in Dan's bedroom and looked around. I was feeling a little lost. This dream was way more confusing than the last one. In the last dream, everything that happened seemed to follow naturally from the thing before. Maybe that should have been my clue that I was dreaming – real life doesn't work that way. This time, things weren't making sense. I had no idea what to do next. Maybe that was a clue that I was actually awake.
I looked at Tara. She was sitting up in bed and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
"So how come you ended up in here too?"
She peered at me through a curtain of unbrushed hair.
"Probably the same reason as you."
"I came in here because I had a fight with The Parents and I didn't want to be alone."
"Well I came in here because The Parents shouted at me and I couldn't sleep, so it was more or less the same reason. I stayed in my room and tried to get to sleep for ages before I gave up. You were both fast asleep when I came in so I just squeezed in. I went to sleep pretty quickly after that."
I nodded. "Dan has magical sleeping powers."
She pulled her tangled hair apart so she could stare at me, but she didn't say anything.
"I call dibs on the bathroom as soon as Dan is finished." I turned and headed for the door, but I stopped and turned back to her. "Don't take too long getting ready this morning. There's a good chance that Martians are going to blow up our house before we get to finish breakfast."
Tara didn't reply until after I'd left the room. I didn't hear exactly what she said then, but I think it was something about me having gone completely nuts.
Breakfast was a cold and silent affair. Neither of The Parents was in the mood to talk. Tara hardly ever talks at breakfast. Even Angie was unusually quiet. I quickly changed from thinking I might be dreaming to wishing that I were dreaming. If this was a dream, I'd be able to wake up and get my normal happy family back.
I kept my head down and focused on eating my own breakfast. I also had my usual task of making sure Tara stayed awake enough to keep eating hers. I'm quite sure sooner or later she will go to sleep in the middle of breakfast and land face first in her bowl of cereal. Every morning Tara looks like she could do it any second. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't happen. To be perfectly honest, I don't really want it to happen. Thinking about it makes me laugh, though.
Tara was more or less fully awake by the time the two of us walked out the front door and headed down the road towards the bus stop. She walked beside me, mostly watching the pavement but occasionally glancing at my face as she spoke.
"I never found out why The Parents were yelling at each other. I came to see what all the noise was for and as soon as I arrived, they opened the door and started yelling at us. So what was the fight about?"
"I asked them for the real reason why we migrated here and changed our name."
Tara walked in silence for a moment. We arrived at the bus stop and seated ourselves on the bench.
"They told us that it was because of Dad's job," she offered.
"Yeah! But that has to be a lie."
"Why? Oh! Because if that were true, we wouldn't have to change our name!"
"Oh! So why did we come here then?"
"I don't know. That's what I asked The Parents."
"So what did they say?"
"Nothing! They just told me that I don't need to know. Then they went into their room and started fighting."
"Dan says that something happened about six weeks before we left. He doesn't know what happened but obviously it's connected to us moving. Before that time, nobody was talking about moving."
"Is that all you can say? Oh?"
"I'm thinking! It never occurred to me not to believe The Parents. They told us we were moving because of Dad's job and that was that."
I sat and let Tara think.
"Hmmm! All I remember is that suddenly they told us we were moving to Australia. Round about then was the time you broke Mom's favorite vase and wouldn't 'fess up so all of us got grounded."
"I don't remember breaking any vase."
"You did it. I know you did it. Seven years later and you still deny it! Once a brat, always a brat."
The school bus chose that moment to arrive so Tara stomped up the steps and sat away from where we normally sit. I rolled my eyes at her back and sat in our usual seat. Two stops later, Liz got on the bus and sat next to me. She asked me why Tara was sitting off on her own, but I just shrugged. As far as I was concerned, Tara was just being stupid and she'd get over it soon.
Liz and I chatted about our plans for the Thanksgiving holiday and I talked a bit about having Melissa over for dinner the night before. We arrived at school and joined up with Melissa at the lockers.
The three of us exchanged brief hugs and chatted while we waited for the start of homeroom. Melissa and Liz did most of the talking. Melissa was filling Liz in on her visit to my place. I hadn't realized how much of an impression our relaxed and casual family meal had on her. Liz agreed with her that our meals were always friendly and relaxed. I was glad that neither of them had been at breakfast. If they had been, they might have changed their minds.
At one stage in the conversation, Melissa said, "I didn't realize how good a painter Bec's mother is."
Liz nodded and glanced around to make sure no one was listening.
"So what did you think of Bec's room?" she asked quietly.
"It's awesome! It's amazing! I must admit, I found out more about Bec than I was expecting to."
Liz grinned. "And me too, I guess."
"Yes! There were two paintings of you as well. That was a surprise too!"
Liz kept grinning. "Maybe Bec's Mom would do one of you, if you asked her."
Melissa shivered. "I don't think I'm ready for that yet."
"That's okay!" I spoke up for the first time in quite a while. "You don't have to."
I glared at Liz to reinforce the notion that she wasn't to pressure Melissa into something like that.
Liz shrugged at me and grinned.
"Oh, and Bec did one of those zoning out things that you told me about."
"She went zombie on you?"
"Yeah! I see what you mean about it being a bit freaky. One minute we were talking normally, the next minute she's staring into space. She was completely oblivious to everything. Of course, her family told me not to worry about it. Then they started leading her around by the hand like she's a three year old."
"Ah, hello!? I'm standing right here!"
They both turned to look at me and laughed in a friendly way. The bell sounded to summon us to homeroom just then, so they each linked an arm with me and we headed down the hallway together.
Our first class of the morning was English with Mrs Stone. I sat in my usual seat and watched her moving around the room. I wondered for the first time if perhaps she was a distant relative. She was a Stone, we were Stones – at least we were before we changed our name to Freeman. She didn't look anything like anyone in our family so I decided it was probably just a coincidence. There must be an awful lot of people called Stone – just like Freeman is a fairly common name too. There's even that famous actor – Dad always calls him Uncle Morgan. I've always assumed that was Dad trying to be funny. I'm fairly sure that Morgan Freeman isn't my uncle – not even a distant relative.
Mrs Stone was handing back our assignments about what Thanksgiving meant to us personally. She'd given me an A+ grade which I thought was pretty awesome because Mrs Stone had a reputation for being a bit tight about giving A+ grades. She'd also written a little comment about my report, picking out some things she thought were good about it and also pointing out places where I could have done better. One thing she highlighted was a few places where I should have started new paragraphs, or places where I had started new paragraphs and shouldn't have. It's one thing I really like about Mrs Stone, she keeps helping me get better, even when she gives me good grades. Not all the teachers do that.
Mrs Stone was continuing her crusade about getting members of the class to write in full sentences. It wasn't a problem for me but quite a few people in the class didn't seem to be able to do it. She congratulated those who had improved and encouraged everyone to keep trying.
While Mrs Stone talked to those people, I relaxed and read the opening paragraph of my report: Every year, for nearly four hundred years, individuals, families and even whole communities have left Europe and made their way across the ocean to start a new life in America. Many were fleeing persecution or famine or war. Some were just seeking new opportunities in a brave new world. When my family joined that exodus six years ago we were just continuing a centuries-old tradition. However, the only thing we were escaping from was the English weather. We came here, like so many others before us, so that my father could find work and so that our whole family could have a better life.
I sighed to myself. I should tell Mrs Stone to take back the extra high grade. My report was simply wrong. Wrong reports shouldn't get the maximum grade. I felt as if I should probably rewrite it. But I couldn't – I can't. I won't be able to rewrite the report until I solve the mystery of my family. And once I have solved it, I may find that I can't tell Mrs Stone anything anyway.
A little part of my brain was telling me that I shouldn't talk about my family mystery with other people until I know more about what's going on. My whole family is hiding for some reason. It would be fairly stupid of me to run around telling everyone that my family name was really Stone and that we were in hiding. Especially since I don't know what's going on. What if we're illegal immigrants? Me blurting out stuff like that would get us found out. We'd get rounded up and thrown onto the next bus to Mexico.
Until I know more, I am determined not to talk about it with anyone outside the family. I can't even tell my best friends. That will be hard for me, but I just have to do it. I feel safe writing it here because you promised. You said I'm a patient, so it's against the law for you to tell anyone about what I tell you. But I can't tell anyone else.
All of that ran through my mind as I sat in English class and stared down at my report. I had drawn little cartoons every so often to illustrate it. I was pretty pleased with the way the cartoons had worked out. The cartoon that went with that first paragraph was a whole bunch of different people all packed into a little rowboat that was halfway between a little map of Europe and a little map of America. The people were in clothes from lots of different time periods – all the way from the first Pilgrims through to someone in a Manchester United shirt. Some of the people weren't as clearly belonging to their particular group as I had hoped – my starving Irish peasant looked more like an anorexic harem girl from Arabia. I had fixed that by putting little speech bubbles above everyone's heads with a word or two in different languages or dialects. That way you could tell who they were supposed to be by what they were saying. I think the overall message worked.
I sighed quietly to myself again and focused my attention back on Mrs Stone. She had written some simple sentences on the board with blanks and wanted us to copy the sentences and fill in a suitable word or phrase. I entertained myself by using phrases to make the sentences as silly as I could manage.
Later in the lesson, Mrs Stone told us that our next assignment was to be a short talk to the class next Monday or Tuesday. I could feel my heart sinking as I listened to her explanation. We could base the talk around our report about Thanksgiving, or we could talk about the life story of one member of our family.
I felt totally sick in the stomach. I hate class talks. I don't mind listening to other people. That can be interesting. I loathe having to stand up in front of people and speak. My mouth dries up, my tongue swells and clogs my throat, my brain shuts down and my voice reduces to a little squeak if it doesn't disappear altogether. The result is that I end up standing in front of the class mumbling to myself. Most of the class stare and snicker. Hannah Fargo jeers and calls out smart-ass comments. I end up completely embarrassed – completely humiliated. The teachers make me do it anyway. They say it's part of the course, so I have to. They say that I will get better if I keep trying.
That seems pretty stupid to me. If you are allergic to peanuts, do they say you should keep eating them because you'll get better if you keep trying? I don't think so. It's like I'm allergic to public speaking. Every time they make me do it, I just get more allergic. One day, I'll be like those people that are so allergic to peanuts that if they just get a bit of oil on their skin, they swell up and die. My pencil started doing a sketch of me standing in the front of class. I'm all swollen up, like a balloon, and I'm gasping for air like I'm choking. I put a little speech bubble over the teacher's head, saying "Keep trying! You'll get better!" I made sure the teacher didn't look anything like Mrs Stone. I don't blame her. It's not her fault.
At the end of the class I made my way to the front to talk to Mrs Stone. She smiled when she saw me coming – we had been through this routine before. She knew what I was going to ask. Liz and Melissa hung around nearby and watched as I spoke to Mrs Stone.
"I don't think I can do the talk."
"I'm sorry, Rebecca. You have to. It's part of the course."
I sighed and shrugged.
"Is there something I can do for extra credit?"
This is how I maintain my A average. Every time I'm supposed to give a talk I either get a lousy grade or fail completely. So every time I offer to do some extra credit assignment to balance it out. The teachers are kind of used to it now.
Mrs Stone was looking at me through slightly narrow eyes.
"Have you read any interesting books lately?"
I bit my lip as I thought. I'd read a few books lately, but there was only one book in the front of my brain.
"I read The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. That was pretty interesting."
A smile welled up from the depths and burst out all over Mrs Stone's face.
"A wonderful story – rich with metaphor and social commentary."
I gaped at her and frantically tried to remember any metaphors or whatever in the book. I had a nasty feeling she was going to ask me to identify some off the top of my head.
"What did you notice about the book? What was different about it compared to other books you've read?"
"Er..." The question caught me by surprise. I had to suddenly change my brain around from thinking about metaphors to thinking about differences.
"Um ... he always used long sentences with lots of big words. I knew some of them but I had to keep stopping to look the others up in a dictionary."
"Yes! Yes! Wells had an extensive vocabulary. He was writing for educated adults and didn't dumb down his writing the way so many authors do these days. What else?"
"Um ... I noticed that the Martians only invaded England. The people only had to escape from England and they were safe. Why would he write as if only England was important?"
"An excellent question. An Anglo-centric viewpoint. Very much a sign of his times. For extra credit, you can write me a report about The War of the Worlds. I don't want you to tell me the story. Give me a summary of the plot in one paragraph. After that, I want you to focus your report on the evidence in the book that tells you about the author. Who was he and what was the context in which he was writing? Do you know what I mean by context?"
I nodded at her. I've had enough conversations with Mom about the context behind paintings so I knew exactly what she meant.
"The two points you've raised with me should be featured prominently, but you should also be able to find other evidence."
I gave her a half-smile and thanked her before walking away. This assignment sounded hard. Mrs Stone's extra credit assignments for me have been getting more difficult as the year goes by. The first one she asked me to do was to write a simple story about an encounter between two very different people that I know. I had written a story about Nana playing Nintendo with my cousin Sam. Every extra credit assignment since then had just gotten harder and harder.
I joined up with Melissa and Liz and we started walking towards Math. Liz looked at me with one eyebrow raised.
"I think somebody is going to be doing some Googling in the near future."
"Googling! As in – Google for HG Wells to find out about the context in which he was writing."
"Oh! Yeah! I expect I'm in for some serious Googling time. Sometimes I wonder how people found out anything before they had Google."
"They read books – lots and lots of books," said Melissa.
"And libraries had those funny old index catalogues that had everything written out on cards telling you which books to look up for whatever subject you wanted," added Liz. "You see them in old films all the time."
I sighed. "Google is my friend."
"So what did you get on your Thanksgiving assignment?" asked Melissa.
I suddenly felt all shy and shrugged at her.
"We both got As," said Liz. "We were showing each other while you were talking to Mrs Stone. Did you get an A too? You usually do."
I shrugged again. "More or less."
"More or less? What does that mean? More or less!"
Liz sounded offended. I didn't mean to offend her. I just didn't want to sound like I was boasting or anything.
We had to move aside for a bunch of boys who came charging down the corridor in the other direction. Liz took the opportunity to snatch my English book from my arms and open it up to the place where I'd tucked my assignment.
"Hey!" I guess it was only a half-hearted objection. I should have expected Liz to do something like that and I was annoyed with myself for not preventing it much more than I was annoyed with Liz for trying it in the first place.
"A+! You got an A+! That's awesome, Bec."
"Thanks, Liz. You didn't have to yell it so loud! I'm sure the people in Ecuador didn't need to find out what grade I got."
"Congrats, Bec! Mrs Stone hardly ever gives A+s," added Melissa. "That's pretty special."
"Thanks! Liz, can I have it back now, please?"
"Hold your horses. I'm just looking at your pictures. They're pretty cool!"
"She did pictures? Show me!"
Melissa and Liz walked down the corridor with their heads together as they looked through my assignment. All I could do was trail along after them like some little lost sheep while they giggled and snorted and pointed things out to each other. I always get nervous when other people look at my pictures. I know those two are my friends, but still...
To make matters worse, just when they finished looking at the last one, along came Mikael and Phil. They were walking towards the same class and just called out to say hi, but Liz and Melissa waved them over. As if she were deliberately looking for a way to humiliate me, Liz insisted on showing the boys my assignment. I started looking for a hole to crawl into.
I don't know if I can explain what I was feeling, or why. You're the doctor. Maybe you can explain it to me. I know I'm okay at drawing. I know that my drawings are fairly good – especially when compared to what most other people my age can draw. But any time people see my drawings, I find myself panicking. I have this terrible fear that they will point out the mistakes and the flaws and laugh and jeer. I have this terrible fear that they will walk away, saying things like, "I thought she was supposed to be good." It terrifies me.
I was getting angry at Liz. She knows how I feel. She sometimes gets excited about something and forgets. I don't blame her. That's just the way she is. But I was still getting angry.
I sidled up to the little knot of four people – all closely crowded around my assignment as they slowly turned the pages and moved from one picture to the next. I poked Liz in the ribs hard enough to be sure of getting her attention. Her head lifted up out of the crowd and spun around until she was glaring at me.
"Hey! What was that for?"
I looked at her with big eyes and gestured at the little crowd around my assignment. I tried to tell her without words that what she was doing was upsetting me. She was too hyped up with the excitement of sharing. She didn't get it.
I turned and ran.
I ended up sitting in the little alcove at the end of the hallway. In the alcove there's a set of stairs that lead up to the roof. The door at the top of the stairs is always locked – as far as I know. That means the stairs never get used except as seating when it's too cold or wet to go outside. There's a little open space under the stairs where Liz and I sometimes go. We call it our little Harry Potter hideaway.
The bell for the start of class rang, and doors slammed down the hallway as the last stragglers scurried into the classrooms. I hugged my legs to my chest and wiped my face dry on my denim-clad knees.
I briefly thought of making a frantic dash to class. I was supposed to be in Math and Mr Palu likes me, but then I decided I was comfortable where I was and it was too late anyway. I'd never actually had a detention for not going to class before. I guess there's a first time for everything.
Things were quiet for a few minutes and then there was a scraping sound as someone else crawled into my little space. I couldn't see who it was because my eyes were closed but I had a fairly good idea who it was. My guess was confirmed when I felt an arm wrap around my shoulders and a head rest again mine. Now there were two heads resting on my knees. Fortunately, I was pretty confident which head belonged to me and which head belonged to Liz. My life is confusing enough with only one head.
We sat like that for a short while, then I felt Liz stir and thrust a rolled up tube of paper into the small space between my legs and my stomach.
"Here you are, Ron," she whispered in her outrageous idea of a posh English accent.
Since this place was clearly Harry's cupboard under the stairs, we sometimes hid in here and pretended to be Harry and Ron or Harry and Hermione taking on Voldemort or avoiding Professor Snape. Who was who swapped around regularly, depending on the mood we were in at the time.
"I got your wand back from the twins," Liz continued. "It's a bit dinged up, but I stuck it back together with tape and now it'll be as right as rowing."
I lifted my head off my knees and gave her a thin smile. "Thanks Harry. You're a good friend. I don't know what I'd ever do without you. But it's rain, not rowing."
"Now it'll be as right as rain!"
"Oh! That doesn't make any sense either. What does it mean?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. That's just the expression."
Liz shrugged. "Whatever!"
At that moment, an extra person clambered into our little space – it was Melissa.
"What are we doing under the stairs?"
"Hiding from Dudley."
Melissa looked back and forth between the two of us as she tried to decipher that bit of code.
She looked carefully at me. "Are you okay? Why did you run off?"
I waved my rolled up assignment at her. "Harry rescued my wand from the twins and fixed it up with tape. Now we're hiding in the cupboard under the stairs."
I could see the understanding grow in Melissa's eyes as she put all the bits together. Then the corners of hers got all crinkled as she tried not to laugh.
"Ah!" she said, with her best attempt at a serious face.
"Shhh!" whispered Liz. "I can hear Dudley coming."
It was the student hall monitor. We all sat quietly and looked at each other as he walked past the alcove and then turned and went back in the other direction.
"I've never cut class before," whispered Melissa, once he was gone.
I rolled my eyes at Melissa. "Trust Hermione to be upset about cutting class."
"She has a point," offered Liz. "Dumbledore will be upset with us."
"Shouldn't that be Professor McGonagall?" asked Melissa.
I shrugged. "Miss Webster used to be McGonagall, but lately she's been more like Dumbledore."
"Besides," added Liz with a quiet enthusiasm, "Neither of them is here right now so it's up to us to solve the mysterious riddle that will help us defeat Voldemort and save the world from a fate worse than Middle School."
"That's right, Harry," I agreed. "We have to save the world! Hermione, we're going to need your help."
"Okay then, so what's our first clue?" asked Melissa. She leaned forward with a gleam in her eye.
"Well," said Liz. "So far, we have a word – a strange and foreign word."
She leaned across me and plucked my new math book from the top of my pile of books sitting on the ground beside me. It's the textbook for my new college math course that I haven't started yet. It's not really a proper book. It's more like a stack of photocopied notes that are stapled down one side and then some tape wrapped around the spine to make it into something like a book. The book is effectively a primer that covers everything that's taught in all the various high school math classes – the important stuff, anyway.
Since I'll be starting the college course quite a while after the start of term, I have a fair bit of catching up to do. Mr Palu agreed to let me sit in his math classes and work through the start of my college book. Melissa and Liz found its contents a great deal more interesting than what the rest of the class are doing. With the approval of Mr Palu, we've formed a little study group in the back of class, where the three of us stick our heads together and work on deciphering the notes. It's fun.
"It's the name of a strange and arcane spell that's hidden here, inside of Ron's Book of Spells. The spell is full of weird symbols and mystical glyphs."
Liz put the book on the floor between the three of us and started flipping past the first few pages.
"So Harry, what is this mysterious foreign word that we have to decipher?" asked Melissa.
Liz found the page she wanted and pointed to the heading dramatically.
We huddled around the book and stared down at the closely written pages. Soon we had paper spread around us and pens in our hands as we deciphered and practised the mystery that is algebra. We kept the Harry Potter comments going, except that by unspoken agreement, we swapped roles. Because I'm the best at math, I got to be Hermione, Melissa became Harry and Liz became Ron.
"Well, this is new!" The sudden loud voice made us jump and squeal. It was Miss Webster, leaning down with her hands on her knees so that she could peer into our little hidey-hole.
"After thirty years in education, I thought I'd seen it all. Congratulations! The three of you have just proved me wrong."
All three of us blinked up at Miss Webster in stunned surprise.
"Would one of you please explain to me, why three of my top seventh graders have suddenly decided they should cut math class so that they can ... do more math?"
The three of us looked at each other. I think all three of us were feeling pretty guilty. We should really have gone back to class.
"It was time for math class," I blurted out. "Math just seemed like ... the right thing to do – even if we weren't actually in class."
Miss Webster sighed and squatted down, keeping her knees together and twisting her legs to one side so that we wouldn't be forced to stare up her skirt. This allowed her to look into our little nook without actually crawling in there with us.
"Am I to understand that if you three had decided to skip English class, I would have found you here writing essays?"
All three of us looked at each other and shrugged.
"Probably," said Melissa. "I'm really sorry – I mean – we're really sorry, Miss Webster. We shouldn't be here. We didn't..."
"Hush, now," said Miss Webster – cutting off Melissa in mid-apology. "I have another question. Before I interrupted you, I distinctly heard you calling each other by different names. Would someone care to explain to me why you were pretending to be characters from Harry Potter?"
She stopped herself and looked around at the concrete underside of the steps we were sheltering in. "Actually, don't bother. The answer is obvious. You are hiding under a set of stairs. Who else could you possibly be, but Harry Potter and his friends? Though why you would need to pretend to be Harry and company while doing math is another mystery. Actually, no it isn't. You are all thirteen and each of you has a vivid imagination. Those two facts alone are sufficient answer to that mystery. There is, therefore, only one unanswered question. What should happen now? Hmmm?
She gazed sternly at the three of us in turn, with her steely eyes. Melissa and Liz hung their heads slightly, obviously fully expecting to be hit with a series of detentions at the very least.
I gazed back at her with steady eyes. I'd resigned myself to being in trouble the instant that bell had gone and the doors had all slammed shut. The only question was, what form would that trouble take?
"I'm sorry, Miss Webster. This is totally my fault. I got all upset about something and Liz and Melissa stayed with me so they could try and cheer me up."
"And their idea of cheering you up is to make-believe you are Harry Potter and solve math problems together."
She made it sound so ... weird. It hadn't been weird. It had just been ... fun.
I shrugged. "Yes." I said it as plainly as I could, so that she wouldn't be in any doubt.
I could swear that I saw a mischievous glint in Miss Webster's left eye.
"I doubt there are any other students in the school who could tell me that story and have me believe them. That isn't a criticism, by the way. I'm finding the experience delightfully novel. Rebecca, are you sufficiently cheered up that you will be able to attend classes after morning recess? Have you solved enough math problems to overcome your temporary upset?"
"Yes, Miss Webster."
"Splendid. Would the three of you please report to Mr Palu before the end of recess? I think he deserves an apology for your absenteeism. As for the rest – it's Thanksgiving. I shall give you all something to be thankful for by taking no further action on this matter."
"Thank you, Miss Webster," the three of us chimed in unison.
"Please don't make a habit of doing this. I rely on the presence of the three of you in classes to remind my faculty that teaching is sometimes actually pleasurable." She smiled as she said it, to let us know she wasn't being completely serious.
"How did you find us, anyway?" I asked, feeling genuinely curious.
Miss Webster focused that steely glare on me. "Young lady, I have been the principal of this school for quite some time now. Not all of the young people in my care are as well behaved as the three of you. I assure you that I know the location of every single possible hiding place within the school buildings and out in the grounds. I even know many of the hiding places in the local area outside the school grounds. When I received the message from Mr Palu that the three of you were missing, I simply started checking each possible place in turn. It was merely a matter of time before you were found."
She pointed at me and then reached up and gently tapped my forehead. "The problem with being Harry Potter is that the faculty takes extra notice of your movements and your moods."
I wasn't sure if, by tapping my forehead, she was referring to Harry Potter's scar or my brain. I suspected she was being clever and doing both at once.
I jerked a thumb at Melissa. "She's Harry, I'm Hermione."
Miss Webster raised her eyes to the roof and then looked back at me.
"You know what I mean."
I nodded and hung my head. I missed the days when I could sit in class and be anonymous.
"Well, I'm sure at this point that Professor McGonagall would tell you to stay right where you are and get on with your math."
I gave her a little grin. "We were kind of calling you Dumbledore. He is the principal at Hogwarts, after all."
"Oh, really?" she didn't seem to know how to reply to that.
"I quite like Professor McGonagall. She has many admirable qualities. And I am quite envious of her ability to transform into a cat and prowl the hallways of the school."
"Very well," said Liz. "Professor McGonagall it is."
"Thank you, dear," said Miss Webster. "I wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving."
We chorused suitable responses and she smiled warmly at all of us.
She stood up and straightened her skirt before tapping her way down the hall on her low heels.
Melissa looked at me and blinked a couple of times. "I'm officially impressed. Hermione just talked us out of a detention."
Liz agreed. "And what's more, you told me Miss Webster could be cool, but I didn't believe it. I'm impressed that you got her to smile. I've never seen her smiling like that before."
I smiled back at the two of them. "Personally, the thing that impressed me the most was that she just squatted and held that position, balanced on heels, for all of that time." They both nodded in agreement.
"Now, we've got ten minutes until the bell. Let's see if we can finish this page."
The bell rang just as we were finishing off the last problem on that page. We declared ourselves satisfied and packed up our things. It was recess time and soon the hallway beyond our little nook was filled with noise.
I reached out a hand to each of my friends and gripped each of them firmly around the neck. I drew them into a seated, three-way hug and kissed each of their cheeks.
"Thank you so much for doing this with me. I shouldn't have got upset but it was sooo nice of you both to come and sit with me."
"Don't be silly," said Liz. "It was my fault in the first place. You tried to tell me to back off but I wasn't listening."
"I still don't really know what happened," said Melissa. "Except that suddenly you were all upset and running away."
At that moment, a couple of legs came right up to our little nook. We stopped talking and watched as Mikael and Phil bent down and peered in at us.
"Can we come in? We want to say something," said Mikael.
We glanced at each other and shrugged and nodded.
"Sure, come on in," said Melissa. "It's a free cupboard."
They both looked confused by the cupboard comment but they started crawling in anyway. With five us in there, things became a little bit tight. We all had to scrunch up and stick our knees under chins to make room for everyone. It took several minutes before we were settled enough to talk.
Mikael and Phil glanced at each other as if deciding who was going to do the talking, then Mikael shifted and looked at me.
"Bec, Phil and I were talking during math. We obviously did something to upset you. We don't know what we did, but whatever it was, we're sorry."
I gaped at them – taken by surprise by the sudden and unexpected apology.
Liz coughed in surprise. "You guys didn't do anything wrong. I got carried away and pushed Bec just when she was already upset. All this was my fault."
"So what happened?" asked Phil.
"Bec was stressing out about having to do that talk in English."
"Why? It's just a class talk," said Mikael.
"Bec hates talking in front of a group. She gets all tongue-tied when she sees everyone staring at her."
"That's right," said Phil. "I remember that last one we had to do. People laughed. I felt really bad for you."
I gave Phil a half-smile and looked down at the floor between my feet.
"Then, there was Bec's assignment. She gets freaky about people looking at her artwork when she isn't ready for it. She has to psyche herself up to show her stuff to people. I kind of took the assignment from her and started showing it to all of you. If I'd left her alone, she probably would have showed us later on anyway, but I got all impatient and Bec freaked."