“You can’t use your Gift, it uses you,” Professor Dorsett tells Sybill, and over the years Sybill finds out how lonely a Seer’s life can be. But when she turns to drink to help her manage it, she finds help from an unexpected source.
Despite her grandmother’s warning, Sybill rejoiced.
She was a Seer!
At last, there was something she could do that would be valued in the wizarding world. She didn’t have much magic; her mother had always said so, and it had been amply demonstrated when her grandmother took her to Mr Ollivander’s. Six tense hours elapsed before they found a wand that would produce even anaemic sparks in Sybill’s hand. Mr Ollivander gave her a queer, almost satisfied smile.
“That’s silver lime and unicorn hair,” he told her. “The first I’ve ever sold. My father harvested the wood from a Tilia tomentosa he found in Belgium. He estimated it at over three hundred years old. It was struck by lightning and incinerated only hours later. Extraordinary.”
Sybill didn’t know if he was talking about the tree or the fact that this unusual wand had chosen her.
She turned it over and over, her fingers leaving smudges on the polish, as she stood on platform nine and three-quarters, waiting to board the train. Would it ever produce real magic for her? Or was this rare wood wasted in her trembling hands?
She’d been dreading Hogwarts since hearing her mother’s tales about Transfiguration exams and Quidditch matches—stories which Sybill found bewildering and more than a little frightening. When Deputy Headmaster Dumbledore’s letter had arrived in June, Sybill had half hoped Gran would forbid her to go.
But now she was hopeful. Happy, even.
It lasted until she met Minerva McGonagall.
Sybill had just found an empty compartment and placed her trunk on the seat next to her when the door slid open and a tall, dark-haired girl wearing a pleated white shirt and a green tartan skirt appeared, looking annoyed.
“You’ll need to move that,” she said, pointing at Sybill’s trunk. “We’re going to be full today.” She took a pair of square, wire-rimmed spectacles out of her breast pocket, put them on, and peered at Sybill. The specs made her eyes look small and beady.
“Oh,” she said, softening a little. “A firstie, I presume?”
Sybill nodded, unable to produce a sound in the presence of this imposing young witch.
“I’ll help you get this on the rack,” the girl said, entering the compartment and pulling a very long, highly polished wand from a hidden pocket in her skirt.
Sybill found herself saying, “That’s not a good idea. The vibrations suggest disaster.”
The girl’s lips pressed together in a thin line, and Sybill couldn’t tell if she was trying not to laugh or to shout. Sybill was accustomed to both.
“Nevertheless,” the girl said, the rolling “r” of her brogue making the word sound harsh and unforgiving. She pointed her gleaming wand at Sybill’s dirty old trunk, which rose and settled itself on the rack above Sybill’s head. Eyeing Sybill’s peasant top and orange georgette skirt, the girl said, “Tuck in your blouse. We like everything shipshape at Hogwarts.” Then she left, letting the compartment door clatter closed behind her.
The compartment filled up with other students. They chattered excitedly, which Sybill found disturbing. It was as if voices were competing in her head—the ones coming from the students and the ones coming from inside her, telling her about them. This one’s brother would be called “Merwyn”; that one hated parsnips but didn’t yet know it; another would place second in the Hogwarts Gobstones tourney . . .
Sybill put her hands over her ears, and the other students went quiet, staring at her.
The train gave a lurch, and a moment later, Sybill was thumped on the head by several heavy books, then showered in cloth. The latch on her trunk had broken, and her belongings rained down upon her, prompting gales of laughter from her compartment-mates, who, having found a common object of derision, became the fastest of friends.
Sybill had to take a stocking and tie it around the trunk to keep it closed. Nobody helped her.
When Sybill disembarked from the Hogwarts Express, the stocking ripped and the trunk opened again, depositing half her things in the dirt and owl droppings that coated the Hogsmeade Station platform. The other firsties looked at her, tittering, while the older students were too busy rushing to get queued up for the carriages to notice her plight.
She tried to gather her clothes, which were scattering as the winds blew them about the platform.
Sybill looked up through watery eyes. The tall girl from the train was holding out several items, including, Sybill was mortified to see, three pairs of knickers.
“Thank you,” Sybill said. She stuffed the clothes back into her trunk and closed it. It popped open again, and several items spilled out before she could slam it shut.
The girl, who was now wearing black robes and a badge that read: Minerva McGonagall, Head Girl, knelt down and picked up a book, squinting to read its title, Daughters of Hecabe: A History of the Womynly Art of Prophecy.
Her lips pursed.
“Divination isn’t until third year,” she said.
“I know,” said Sybill. “It’s going to be my best subject.”
But that had clearly been the wrong thing to say, not that she could have helped it.
Hoping it might erase the sour look on Minerva’s face, Sybill took the book and said, “My great-great-grandmother’s in here. She was a famous Seer.”
“Put your robes on, and be quick,” Minerva said.
“I’ll sort it for you.” Minerva pointed her wand at Sybill’s trunk.
“Adhære! That ought to hold it until you get to the castle. Have one of your prefects remove the charm if you can’t do it.”
Minerva McGonagall wielded her wand as if it were part of her arm, her movements seeming both natural and precise. It left Sybill feeling a little in awe and a lot uneasy. Was everyone at Hogwarts as good at magic as the Head Girl?
A frowning Minerva said, “Go on with you, now. Everyone’s waiting.”
As Sybill struggled to fasten the black robes over her full skirt, she watched Minerva stride off calling, “Gussie! Wait!” She caught up and took the other girl’s arm, and Sybill had a feeling that the laughter that erupted from them both was at her expense.
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