Light as a
feather, stiff as a board.
AN: Well, this one has been a long time
in the making! It’s been sitting around on my hard drive since 2001, only on
our old Macintosh which I never use, so I had entirely forgotten about it. I
found it sometime around Christmas, thought it was a neat idea and rewrote most
of it. Then I sent it to Z for beta and she proved that her status as the world’s
fastest beta is well-earned. However, I was moving from Iceland to Prague at the time, and when I
finally got around to taking a look at correcting it, the story refused to
cooperate for a very long time. Thanks go to Zsenya for the patience, and to Hildi
and Circee for the encouragement.
“Ouch, Mum, don’t pull at it!”
“Stop moving, Hermione and maybe it’ll be
“I hate braids anyway! And I don’t want to
go to Lydia’s birthday party!
Can’t you call and tell them I’m ill or something?”
“Now Hermione, we’ve been through this
already. You've been invited and not going would be very impolite. You’re
going. End of story.”
“But why do I have to go? Lydia is so boring; she’s not interested
in anything except boys and makeup! I’d much rather stay home and read or
“Read or something! All you ever do is
read. I haven’t seen you for the last four years not reading. All this reading
can’t be healthy for a ten year old girl!”
“No buts. You’re going.”
“Yes, Mum,” Hermione sulked.
Thirty minutes later, Hermione was still
sulking, only now in the back of her mother's car. They were sitting outside
the house where the party was being held and Mrs. Granger was considering using
brute force to extract her daughter from the back seat.
“Hermione, you’ll have fun. Don’t be like
this. Of course it’ll be fun. I think they’re going to order some pizza.”
"I don't want to go! They're not my
friends!" She was right, really. Hermione was a very introverted bookworm
who spent most of her time either losing herself in a fictional world or
studying for school. She’d already gained the dubious status of a ‘Know-it-all’
in the eyes of her classmates, and they wouldn’t let her play with them.
After a great deal of coaxing her mother snapped.
“Hermione, if you’re still there when I look into the rear-view mirror, you might not find all your books in their place
when you come home. I might keep ‘The Little Princess’ in my study for a
Hermione sighed and opened the door. ‘The
Little Princess’ was her favourite book, she read out of it every night before
she went to sleep. It opened automatically at her favourite spot, right at the
end, where they figure out who Sarah really is and where Ermengarde is telling
all the other girls the news. She could giggle forever at the thought of the
look on Sarah’s mean classmates as they found out. Sarah was a sort of a role
model for Hermione, she adored her and when life at school became very
difficult Hermione pretended, just like Sarah had that she lived in some sort
of magical world where she was a princess... although Hermione was a very
reasonable girl, and knew quite well that magical worlds simply don't exist.
“Don’t eat a lot of sweets,” her mother
called before she drove away. Hermione sighed again and when her mother was out
of sight she pulled at the rubber bands holding the braids and freed her hair.
She wished it wasn’t this bushy, but she really, really hated braids.
The party was just like she’d expected it
to be. It was obvious all the time that Lydia’s parents had insisted she’d invite Hermione. The girls ate pizza
and then they droned on and on about boys
while putting makeup on one another in Lydia’s bedroom. It wasn’t until everyone wore makeup, even Hermione, and
the subject of boys had started to wear a little thin, that they started
searching for something else to do.
“Why don’t we play truth or dare?” Eleanor
“We played truth or dare at Justin’s party
last week, and we know everything there is to know. Besides it isn’t any fun
without the boys,” Lydia
Despite herself, Hermione felt hurt. She
hadn’t been invited to Justin's party, she hadn’t even known about it.
“Why don’t we try ‘Light as a feather,
stiff as a board’ again?”
“Oh, I don’t know,
Claire. It didn’t work the last time,” Lydia said.
“Yeah, but the boys were with us then. You
know boys, they can’t take anything seriously. Let’s give it another try, I
thought it was very exciting.”
“Who wants to try if we can make ‘Light as a feather, stiff as a board’ work?”
No one seemed to mind the suggestion and the girls started to prepare a game
that Hermione had never heard of, dimming the lights and lighting a few candles
“Harriet, you’ll be in the middle,” Lydia ordered.
“Sure” Harriet lay on the floor and the
girls sat in a circle around her. Lydia glanced around and saw Hermione sitting in the corner.
“Hermione, aren’t you going to join us?
Everyone’s got to participate.”
“I don’t know this game,” Hermione
“Well then, maybe you better watch the
Hermione shrugged and watched the proceedings on the floor with some interest.
She’d never seen a game that worked remotely like that.
“Everybody concentrating?” Lydia asked. There was an agreeing murmur.
“Then join hands. Right. We’re gathered here to say goodbye to our beloved
friend Harriet. She was a very special person. She was - light as a feather, stiff
as a board.” Here all the girls joined in the speech and they started chanting
the last words over and over again like it was an incantation. Then they let go
of each other’s hands and started trying to lift Harriet with only one finger,
all the while repeating “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” However, Harriet was too heavy and they couldn’t move her
an inch and the mood was ruined when Harriet started laughing because she was
“One more try,”
Lydia said. “Hermione, why
don’t you join us? You saw how it works; you’ve just got to concentrate on
something really sad. She’s supposed to levitate if we concentrate hard enough.”
Hermione moved in and took her place in the
circle, although a bit apprehensively. She found this ridiculous; magic simply
didn’t exist. She'd know if it did, after
reading all these books. Lydia said the words and she joined in the chanting,
without concentrating very hard on anything except how pointless this was. Yet
something happened when she put her finger underneath Harriet. Somehow she felt
heat waves rise in her chest and then surge through her veins down to the
finger and suddenly Harriet was rising up into the air, her body gone rigid and
her hair hanging loose, and all the girls were squealing with delight, until
they realized that Harriet was still rising and going higher than their heads
and coming dangerously close to the ceiling.
“Girls, you can stop now.” Harriet's voice
was a bit timid. “Don’t you drop me. Let me down!” The girls looked at their
hands realizing that nobody was still keeping the charm going and Harriet was
levitating very much on her own now.
“Um, Harriet we’ll figure out how very
soon” Lydia said timidly.
“What! This is not funny! Stop! Now! Let me
down! I’m scared of heights! Let me down!” Just about then Harriet reached the
ceiling and stopped. She was now levitating like a balloon and screaming
extremely loudly. The noise soon attracted Lydia’s parents, who came running to
see what was wrong and paling when they saw the girl that was bobbing by the
ceiling. Mr. Clark tried to reach her and pull her down, but she was too high up now and he wasn’t reaching her by several
feet. Mrs. Clark had gone very angry and was now shaking Lydia, trying to
figure out what the girls had done and how to undo it. Nobody noticed Hermione, who had retreated into a corner and was standing
there timidly, still feeling the power in her veins and wondering if this was
somehow her doing. When Mr. Clark went to the garage to try to find a
stepladder, Hermione had to fight back
laughter and she felt the birthday party had turned out to be rather much more
fun than she had expected. It was quite amusing to hear that Harriet was scared
of heights, because Harriet was the kind of
girl who pretended not to be scared of anything and just last week she and a
few friends had held Hermione dangling over the railing in the stairway on the
third floor at school while one of them stole her homework. Harriet really was
the typical bully - she had once said that the only thing she feared was waking
up one morning with Hermione’s hair - and Hermione was only too happy to see
her squirm a bit.
Harriet remained close to the ceiling, and
continued to scream, although nothing coherent came out of her mouth. Suddenly there was a popping noise. If Hermione
hadn’t felt the power surge in her veins she would have guessed that Harriet
had hit an electric line or something. Her hair now looked like a tangle of
curly wires, it didn’t even hang down any more, it was too bushy. Hermione was
now certain that whatever was going on she had something to do with it. She was
torn between trying to figure out a way to stop all this and thinking of more
things Harriet would absolutely hate to happen to her when the doorbell rang.
Mr. Clark who had just brought in the
stepladder looked at Mrs. Clark. The doubt was evident in their faces. What if
this was Harriet’s mother coming to pick her up? How would they explain to a
parent what their daughter was doing levitating by the ceiling? Then Mrs. Clark
raced out of the room with a look of determination on her face, obviously
intending to get rid of the intruder as fast as she could. Yet there were soon
voices from the hallway and the sound of hurried footsteps and Mrs. Clark
saying, “Really, mister, get out or I will call the police...” A very tall man
wearing something that looked a bit like a grey cloak burst into the room. His
hair was receding but what was left of it was vibrantly red and he had clear
blue eyes which surveyed the scene in front of him; the chaos on the floor and
the screaming girl by the ceiling. Finally they settled on Hermione and she
thought she saw the corners of his mouth creep upwards, but it might have been
a mistake because the next second the man had turned around and whipped out
a... stick... and shouted; ‘Finite Incantatem’! Suddenly Harriet
seemed weightless and then she started drifting very slowly towards the floor.
The man was still pointing the stick at her, and suddenly Hermione realized
that the man was actually guiding Harriet to a soft landing. When Harriet
finally reached the carpet, she remained vertical, apparently in shock. The
whole room was quiet when he turned around and looked at Hermione and this time
he was definitely smiling.
“Good day, Miss Granger. If you would
please follow me...”
The man ushered her out the door and then
pointed his stick inside muttering to himself: ‘Obliviate’.
“They will feel a bit confused for a while
now,” he said, still smiling. “Meanwhile, I want to talk to you. My name is Arthur
Weasley, and I work for the British Ministry of Magic. I usually just work with
Muggle artefacts, but the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad was a little short of
staff at the moment so I offered to step in for a while...” he obviously
noticed Hermione’s confusion. “Ah, you apparently have no idea what I’m talking
about, do you? Perhaps you’ve never heard of the Ministry of Magic before?”
Hermione shook her head. Her mind was whirring. Magic? Ministry? She was torn
between fascination and indignation – he just had to be crazy... “A Muggle-born
then. When is your birthday, Miss Granger?”
“Only a couple of months away. I’m going to
be eleven,” she answered shyly. She didn’t quite know what to make of Mr.
Weasley, with his stick, and the strange things he was talking about.
“Ah, so you’ll be starting Hogwarts this
year. My guess was right. You’re going to be in Ron’s year.” The man smiled
like this was something quite pleasant while Hermione didn’t have the slightest
idea of what he was talking about.
“What do you mean? Who’s Ron?”
“Ron is one of my sons. Maybe you’ll be
friends. But one thing I can tell. You’re going to be very good with Levitating
Charms, young lady. Well, Miss Granger, I must get going. It was a pleasure to
meet you.” He shook her hand like she was a grown-up, and she was already
planning to head to the nearest library to look up information on this
‘Ministry of Magic’ when he turned towards
her and pointed his ridiculous stick at her and said something...
Hermione stood dumbfounded in the hall, and
not quite sure what she was doing there. The last she’d remembered was sitting
in Lydia’s bedroom watching
some ridiculous game involving nonexistent magic that wouldn’t work. There were
footsteps on the pavement outside, which suddenly quit, like someone had gotten
into a car or something. Still, there wasn’t any sound of an engine. Suddenly a
shrill scream emanated from Lydia’s bedroom. Hermione turned on her heels and ran down the hall,
tearing open the door. The sight that greeted her was so surprising she stopped
dead in her tracks. In the middle of the bedroom, Harriet was standing with
hair that looked like a very badly done afro.
“So how was it?” Hermione's mother asked in
“It wasn’t that bad, I guess."
Her mother beamed at her in the rear-view
mirror. "See! I told you that it wouldn't be all that bad! Now, you ought
to start thinking about what you want to do for your birthday!"