Act Two - A Black Comedy
Tales of Summer
The Tale of Emma
A light breeze rolled through the surrounding open fields, and the sun shone brightly despite the clouds dotting the sky. Along with them, a figure slowly drifted from cloud to cloud, its shadow easily tracked along the ground in the midday light.
Far from clouds on foot, three people trekked through the tall grass and hidden roots and rocks. Two of them held Shooting Star brooms rescued from the bargain bin in Quality Quidditch Supplies. They were old and tame, much slower than today’s best models, but they were perfect for beginners about to take their first flight.
Once Harry apparently decided they were sufficiently far into the middle of nowhere, he began his descent to the ground. That was Hermione’s cue to split off from the group and stamp out an area for her to lie down and bask in the sun with a book. Surprising no one, she would not be flying today without a great deal of coaxing. She had a broom in her mokeskin pouch, but she had it as a last resort in a desperate situation.
Perhaps ten metres in the air, Harry disengaged his broom and plummeted toward the ground. Halfway down, he suddenly slowed with no apparent cause before finally landing softly in the grass. All the while, Hermione appeared unconcerned, so Emma presumed an explanation would be forthcoming.
“Alright, um…class,” Harry said with a great deal of nervousness.
“Relax, Harry,” Emma said, putting a hand on his shoulder. She tried her best not to react when he flinched at the contact. “It’s just me and Dan. Nothing to get worked up about.”
“Ah. Right. Well, first things first.” Harry withdrew a pair of small potion vials and handed them over. Each contained a bright, near-white yellow liquid. Shaking her own vial, Emma found that the contents were very viscous. “Drink these, please.”
Dan frowned at the unknown the potion. “What is this?”
“Feather falling potion,” Harry said. “In Hermione’s and my first flying lesson, we learnt the importance of being prepared second hand.”
Wincing at the unstated, Emma pushed the thought away and uncorked her vial. She plugged her nose and downed the contents in one go. “Vile,” she muttered. “Absolutely vile.” She then looked to Dan expectantly and soon watched him gag on his own dose.
“You’d think someone would have invented an artificial flavouring of some kind for potions by now.” Dan regarded the vial with one last scornful look before passing it back to Harry along with Emma’s.
“Most people just pinch their nose and numb their tongue,” Hermione idly commented from nearby. At the look Harry was sending her way, she added, “Yes, I know the spell. I’ll teach it to you later.”
“Great! Anyway” – Harry turned back to Emma and Dan – “if you go down too fast, on your broom or not, the feather falling potion will kick in and slow you to a gentle fall until you hit the ground. It’s only good once, but Hermione and I brewed a lot, so we shouldn’t run out.”
That gave Emma an idea, a wonderfully, exciting idea. For now until she learnt how to fly, she tucked that thought into the back of her mind.
“So, just flying isn’t really that hard or complex.”
“Lies!” Hermione said.
“Unless you’re afraid of heights.”
“More lies! Libel! Slander!”
Emma quietly chuckled at the back and forth between those two. While Emma was reasonably confident that Hermione did not suffer from acrophobia – or at least no more than was healthy for anyone – she sure acted like she did at times. Regardless, she certainly knew how to get Harry to relax.
“The controls along a plane are straightforward for the most part. Lean left to turn left. The more you lean, the tighter the turn. Same with turning right. Similarly, if you lean forward, you’ll accelerate forward.”
“Lies!” Hermione once more said.
Harry rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated huff. “Fine, you don’t accelerate. You just sort of go. You shouldn’t feel anything like you would in a car, so don’t worry about losing your grip or sliding off your broom.”
Harry stopped there, looking expectantly at Hermione. The latter went on reading her book before eventually realising he was waiting on her to interrupt. “What? That one is true.”
Leaning toward Emma, Dan whispered, “Sounds like that rubbish delta function the engineers always talked about.”
“Be nice,” Emma whispered back, lightly slapping his arm.
“As I was saying, you lean forward to move forward. Lean back to fly in reverse.”
“Not recommended!” And there it was. Emma wondered if Hermione had opted not to help teach out of simple principle, and this was her way of participating without actually seeming to.
“The neutral position, that is where you’re not moving, is set when you first kick off the ground. In general, when you’re flying, it usually works best to start with it a little up–”
“Thirty degrees from the horizontal!”
“–so that when you’re going forward, you’re actually looking where you’re going. There’s a fairly large dead zone on your models, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty stopping. There’s also a manual reset useful for tricks and sports, but for now, let’s just try having you two fly along the ground. We can deal with up and down after you master steering.”
Harry instructed them to mount their brooms, and he quickly corrected their grips and emphasised particularly that they should not under any circumstances move their hands. Given that he had just said they would deal with ascending and descending later, Emma assumed hand positions controlled the broom’s vertical speed.
Within minutes, both Emma and Dan had grown comfortable floating along leisurely just above the top of the local flora. Flying instinctively, fast, and while otherwise occupied would take time and practice, Emma was sure, but she only needed a very basic competency to be allowed to meet Harry’s godfather.
From there, the rest of Harry’s instructions were simple enough. To go up, one merely moved their top hand up. To go down, one moved the bottom hand down. Without both hands on the shaft, the broom would maintain its course. Thereafter all that was left to do was practice, much like learning to ride a bicycle.
The afternoon passed slowly at first with Emma and Dan growing more and more competitive as they got used to flying. Side by side flights quickly turned into races, and with the feather falling potion in them, neither felt particularly worried about flying in loops or upside down. They stopped briefly for a picnic when Hermione called them down to eat, but the two of them stayed in the air the rest of the time until evening.
While Hermione was packing up for the day, Harry had one last thing to say.
“Okay, both of you are capable of making extended flights. Certainly the flight out of Azkaban, if you really want to come. There’s one more thing a broom can do, although it’s more of a convenience function than actually important.” Harry dropped his broom onto the ground and held his hand out over it. “If you’re too lazy to either bend down to pick your broom up or to kick it up with a foot, all you have to do is call for it. Up!” The broom shot straight up to his hand with a definite smack. He then gestured with his broom for them to try.
Shrugging, Emma dropped her broom and held her hand out. “Up!” Nothing happened. Dan had a similar lack of success when he tried.
“Don’t worry. Hermione took forever to get her broom to do anything more than roll around pathetically.” Harry smoothly sidestepped a grape thrown in his direction.
Five minutes of absolutely zero success later, Emma was ready to give up. Something, obviously, was wrong.
“Maybe Shooting Stars don’t do it?” Harry mumbled. “Let me try.” Standing beside Dan’s broom, he called, “Up!” and the broom shot to his hand. “That’s odd…”
“Are you sure you’re not casting a spell?” Emma suggested.
“I can’t be. I’m not using a wand.”
“Do you really need it?” Dan asked.
Harry nodded. “A wand is a focus. Casting spells without one is like trying to paint with a mop.” He scrunched his brows together and sunk into thought. He stroked his chin once in his contemplation. Then all of a sudden, his eyes widened, and he spun in place before dashing off. “Hermione!”
“I’m right here, Harry,” said a thoroughly unamused Hermione. “What is it?”
With no further warning, Harry launched into a ramble more characteristic of Hermione than himself. “When you work with a tool, you expect it to do its job the same way every time. A screwdriver screws screws the same way no matter how you orient the screw. You spin it clockwise, and the screw goes in. You spin it counterclockwise, and it comes out. Every single time.”
“Well, there exist left-handed screws, but they’re not common. So what?”
“A broom is a tool. When you’re flying it, it always behaves in the exact same way. Every single time. It’s…” Harry snapped his fingers as he tried to recall something. “It’s deterministic. That’s the word. You always know exactly how the broom will react to a stimulus the same way you know what a screwdriver will do.”
Clearly humouring Harry, Hermione said, “It would be pretty hard to fly if you had to deal with randomly changing controls.”
“That’s not the point. You miserably failed at getting your broom to jump to your hand. I didn’t.”
“Gee, thanks, Harry. I can see exactly why you’re my best friend.”
“You’re still missing the point. You failed. I didn’t. But your broom still rolled around like it was trying or unsure if you were actually asking for it. If we’re expecting a broom to behave the same way all the time, why was it that most of our class each got slightly different reactions as they practised?”
“Oh.” Realisation struck Hermione, and it was her turn to look thoughtful. “That’s a good question. That doesn’t make sense. Not unless…” Her eyes widened.
“Unless we were learning a wandless spell!”
“Yes!” Hermione grabbed Harry’s hands and jumped up and down in obvious glee. “Oh, that’s wonderful! We have a starting point to learn wandless magic!”
“Even if it’s a very, very simple spell,” Harry added.
“Oh!” Hermione spun toward her picnic basket. “Does it only work on brooms?” She held her hand over the basket’s handle and firmly said, “Up!” The basket shot to her hand, eliciting another cry of joy from her. “Harry, you’re a genius!”
Finally joining the two, Emma said, “I’d like to think I provided the inspiration for this little revelation.”
Harry nodded, and Hermione said, “You’re a genius, too, Mum.”
“I can’t help but feel left out of this joyous occasion,” Dan commented.
Rolling her eyes, Hermione said, “Fine. We’re all geniuses.”
“And I think this genius in particular deserves a little reward,” Emma said. She waved Harry over and whispered her idea this afternoon into his ear. They exchanged mischievous smirks right after.
“I agree,” Harry said, bringing out a wary look on Hermione’s face. “Hermione, grab your broom and follow us.”
Harry kicked off and headed nearly straight up into the sky. After shooting a reassuring look at Dan, Emma joined him in ascending to the clouds. Dan followed soon after, but it took a long time before Hermione slowly and cautiously joined them, clinging to her broom for dear life and shivering.
“What are we doing up here?” Hermione asked. “It’s freezing! We must be three kilometres up at least.”
Hermione had a point. Emma made a mental note to ask for a transfigured jumper later. But all the answer Hermione got was Dan’s shrug. Meanwhile, Harry withdrew four vials of feather falling potion from his pouch and handed one to everyone.
Emma held her vial up as if to toast. “Drink up before you hit the ground.” With that, she spun herself off her broom but kept hold of it as she accelerated down, just in case. Skydiving had always been one of those things she wanted to try but never got around to.