The second festivity of the year was the Yule Ball.

In years past, a ball at this time of year had chiefly been a feature of the Triwizard Tournament. And indeed, when the tournament was on, every once in a while, the ball was quite spectacular, with not a few different bands invited to perform, and all manner of decorations. The normal December dance was more subdued, with illusory snow falling throughout the hall, and silver candles, and sky-blue draperies, and a nice, sedate chamber orchestra playing somber winter music.

It would have been better if any of the children fully understood what snow was, but Flutwick was hidebound in his own way, and anyway having rain fall throughout the hall would have put quite the damper on things. So, instead of being an accurate representation of the season it was a reminder of what had been lost.

This time around, Jill came along with Cormac and Sparrow to the dance. She danced with Cormac and with Violet for some time, and danced with Sparrow for a little less time. Sparrow felt disappointed to see Jill waltz away, for the girl was wearing a pretty royal blue gown that shimmered in the candle-lights. Sparrow’s sleeveless purple gown could not compare.

Sparrow waited on the sidelines for one of her friends to be available, and, seeing that Cormac was catching her eye, she took the opportunity. This time around they seemed to have a better understanding of who was leading whom, and so their waltz was less awkward than it had been.

At least in a physical sense. For a while, as they moved over the dance floor, neither child spoke. Cormac did not seem eager to meet Sparrow’s eyes, nor was she eager to meet his. And yet, and yet. Here they were.

At last Cormac opened his mouth to speak. But Sparrow got there first. “I have already resolved,” she said, “to apologize to Jocasta.”

“I was just about to ask.”

“Is that why you wished to dance with me after all?”

“Primarily. I – you’re still a friend. You’re still my friend. And I know you’re not usually as violent as all that. So you know. Give friends a chance.”

“I’m sorry for horrifying you,” said Sparrow. “Especially so soon after you warned me about taking revenge.”

“I told you to keep your response to her actions honest and proportional,” said Cormac. “Didn’t try to talk you out of it completely. And you were completely honest that night in the courtyard. We just…had different interpretations of what was proportional.”

“Ah, well. Proportional, maybe. Honest? No. I don’t think I was entirely honest. Now, I assume you wish to dance more with Violet? I must be going to find Jocasta.”

But as she spun away from Cormac, she spun into the arms of Miranda, clad in a suit that shimmered blue and silver. That was pleasant enough for the time being.

And so Miranda McClivert led Sparrow in a slow waltz once more. For a while neither spoke, and Sparrow felt a similar tension as she had felt with Cormac. Two people with a not-completely-resolved conflict between them, somehow managing to dance together, wishing to smooth over such breaks, yet fearing the first words would open the break again.

They spun over the dance floor, and passed by Cormac dancing with Violet. He winked at her. The two spun around so that Violet was facing them. She also winked. Well, nothing for it then.

“How many people have you danced with so far?” said Sparrow.

“Enough,” said Miranda. “Do you wish to hear what they say of you?”

“Don’t tell me you went around asking about me again!”

Miranda laughed. “Oh, no. That was hardly necessary. The whispers are flying, little Sparrow. You could hear them yourself without moving very far, if you wished. But you could just as easily go around to all the people of our little world, and know at last what they wished to say to you.”

“Go around?” said Sparrow. “Like you? But I cannot intimidate people into dancing with me the way you do.”

“Oh no?” said Miranda. “You who managed to toss the unbeatable Jocasta Carrow into the air cannot intimidate people? You who made it to the edge of the Forbidden Forest and back cannot venture to look your fellow students in the eyes? You doubt yourself too much, girl. But, I know what you are referring to. I trade on my height too much, and my fearsome reputation as a mysterious distant figure. And yet, you were very well able to confront me about my transgression, in the middle of my domain, without a trace of hesitation. Do not be so intimidated by your peers. You are the bold Sparrow Jones, are you not?”

“I don’t know,” said Sparrow. “I wonder if I am bold or if I am foolhardy. Maybe I’ll follow your advice eventually. Maybe I’ll do so now. Very well! I must leave you, friend Miranda, and discover the truth for myself.”


“Friend.” She spun away from Miranda, and, one by one, danced with as many students as she could, inquiring each as to their name, and asking what they thought of her. It was hard to get a consensus, as many of the students did not, in fact, know or care about the girl, and though gratified for the offer of a dance (for many had themselves been standing alone) they were confused as to why Sparrow would ask who they were, for they did not consider that a total stranger would care about them at all.

Still, there were those students who did know of the girl, and many of them, mostly among the first-years, were grateful that there was someone older than them who was looking out for them in the halls, for they had not begun to master defensive spells, nor had they begun to fully understand the culture among the students. And there were also those students, most of them among the sixth and seventh-years, who confirmed what Sparrow had so long been told – that it was somewhat presumptious for a fourth-year to believe that the older students could not defend themselves.

And all of the students who knew of her, even the older ones, were just a little intimidated, for reasons they could not, or would not articulate.

Sparrow had just begun a dance with a second-year student named Melodius Figgle when a familiar pale girl, wearing her customary black gown, appeared beside her, and said, “May I cut in?”

Sparrow apologized to Melodius, and, before Jocasta could say anything further, Sparrow held one of her hands and had the other on her waist. And so they waltzed through the crowd, eyes upon each other.

For a while, neither spoke, and Sparrow felt a great tension as she had twice before – this time, the tension between two people who have greatly wronged each other, and have neither of them mustered the courage to apologize, much less atone.

At last Jocasta spoke. “You have been asking after your reputation directly.”

Sparrow nodded.

“Rather forthright. Arrogant, even. Most people prefer to hear it through a second party.”

“I wonder,” said Sparrow, “if that is why they did not wish to answer fully.”

“If it were only that!” said Jocasta. “If only. No, I think they have good reason to be fearful of you. I think they wonder who you are now. For their great protector, the watchful angel, the girl who values life and peace so much that her wand casts no hexes, has wielded a weapon at last. She has made a weapon out of her own shield. The girl who only wishes to shield people from blows has the heart of a warrior after all. You are now confusing. Unpredictable. Dangerous.”

“If my wand approved of my actions,” said Sparrow, “perhaps it believes those actions do not violate my own principles. For my wand follows those principles strictly.”

“You broke my wrist! That’s offensive magic. And don’t tell me otherwise.”

But it’s not a hex,” said Sparrow.

“Your wand’s principles are by the letter of the law? Well, you sure found the giant loophole. Ow.”

“Indeed,” said Sparrow. "And for all I know, my wand will not let me use that loophole again." She looked up and scanned the room. But Cormac was not visible on the dance floor, not in any view as the two girls spun around. Wait, there he was. Chatting merilly with Violet and Miranda at the punch bowl.

“Are you trying to ignore me in an obvious manner?” said Jocasta.

“Just looking for a friend. Now, related to the matter of injury, I wanted to apologize to you.”

“For knocking me arse over teakettle?”

“Well, I mean. I could have done that to you on the ground instead of throwing you into the air and putting you in a position where you could have landed on your head and died. I’m. Sorry about that.”

Jocasta blinked. “Landing on my head hadn’t even occurred to me. I guess I’m used to getting out of that situation with ease! Careless little me.”

“I could say careless little me too,” said Sparrow. “But careless isn’t what I really want to apologize for.”

Jocasta looked confused. “What are you sorry for, then? What sort of sword are you laying at my feet? Were you intending to defend your beloved?”

“Kind of. I mean, Jill and I aren’t on right now. I’m not sure if or when we will be.”

“You aren’t – oh! Well, ho ho ho! That’s just perfect for – ”

“I wanted to apologize for what I intended.”

“You just told me you were sorry. ”

“I mean the other thing. The whole idea of tossing you into the air was to force you to transfigure yourself in front of everyone. So that everyone would realize you were an Animagus, and then the rumors would spread that you’re unregistered. I wanted to injure your reputation at the school as you had mine.”

“And you’re apologizing for it now? Surely turnabout is fair play.”

“So I thought,” said Sparrow, “but now that I think about it, the Ministry doesn’t like unregistered Animagi, do they? They were remarkably uptight about me using a little magic to grow a tree, I think they’d grind your bones to dust if they knew what you were. And then fine you twenty thousand gold. And then toss you into Azkaban. I might have ruined your Wizarding career. Without even having to break the terms of our special arrangement, at least not in strict sense – although I wonder – what manner of pedantic twerp would have agreed that you were to blame for blowing your cover there, and I was not to blame for forcing you into it?”

Jocasta chuckled, then giggled, then laughed.


“You!” said Jocasta. “My God, you are such a Hufflepuff! You have this secret evil plan that could put away your sworn adversary forever, and then you regret it, that’s fair enough, we all do that. But then you go straight to them and apologize for it? If I tell this story to the people in Slytherin house their heads would explode.”

“From what I’ve read,” said Sparrow, “Helga Hufflepuff valued honesty and loyalty.”

“And Salazar Slytherin valued cunning and ambition. A properly devious person would only apologize if it furthered their ambitions.”

“And you think I’m not doing that right now?”

“What, by being transparent?”

“By being honest. Miranda repaired her relationship with me through honesty. Now I wish to do the same for you. I need you in my good graces, Jocasta, for the months when we can see the full moon.”

“We – oh. Oh. Yes. Ahem. Perhaps you shouldn’t have told me even that much.”

“And more to the point,” said Sparrow, “In such an arrangement I need to be certain that I am holding onto myself. I have been disturbed, of late, to think that I might be adopting a cynical attitude to match yours. That is not who I am. I am a Hufflepuff, honest, loyal and kind, and more to the point, I am Sparrow Jones.”

“How idealistic.”

“Also practical. I keep thinking that if I turn into a flea then I would only think flea thoughts. I would have to be able to hold onto myself then. Might as well get in some practice now. Am I correct?”

“Pretty close to the mark,” said Jocasta. “Now, how can you be certain that I wouldn’t decide to just burn my entire life down and give the whole game away?”

“Because you’re a Slytherin,” said Sparrow. “You value ambition, correct?”


“Considering my current lack of talents in the area of transfiguration, this task, this journey, is a great ambition of mine. Not the greatest, but close. I am eager to see it through. I believe that Miranda will be eager to aid me on this quest as well, considering the ingredients that the potion requires. More to the point, this was your idea from the start, your ambition, your soul in play. If you were to attempt to foil my ambition, you would foil yours, and gain nothing.”

“Oh, um – ”

“Unless, perhaps, you were the type of person who thought they could only magnify themselves by seeing the people around them fail, or unless you thought my ambition was in the way of yours, such that you accompany me on a great challenge, then betray me at the final moment in order to secure the prize for yourself alone. I have considered such a possibility, and decided that it makes no sense for the current effort, because you’re working towards your goal through me. My achievement is your prize.”

“I see,” said Jocasta. “You’re less naïve than I thought.”

“If you take me down, you go down with me. Not as a matter of each of us blackmailing the other, but as a matter of your own heart breaking.”

“Oh, my dear Sparrow.” Jocasta sighed. “You believe in integrity too much. I have heard many tales of people betraying their closest friends and dearest wishes for the sake of gaining temporal power.”

“And I’m saying you’re not one of those people.”

“Oh,” said Jocasta. “But what if I’ve been lying to you this entire time? What if it was never about teaching you to be an Animagus? What if it’s all an illusion?”

Sparrow looked Jocasta dead in the eye. “That’s not you. You don’t have it in you to be that cruel.”

“You…still trust me? After everything I’ve done?”

“I trust you with this, at least. And I am offering you a chance to atone for your own transgressions. I do detect some regret in your voice.”

Jocasta chuckled. “Let sworn enemies work together, then. I would ask to shake hands on it, but we are already holding hands.”

Sparrow drew her dancing partner close, and looked her square in the eye once more. “My dear Miss Carrow. You have been a vexing adversay. But you are in no way my sworn enemy.”

Jocasta pouted. “But I worked so hard!”

“You tried. You nearly succeeded. Yet through it all, I have known that you were trying to help me. And you were the one who put your secret in my hands to begin with, weeks ago, because you trusted me. I don’t think you ever wanted to be a real enemy. Just annoying. I am sorry that I treated you like a real one at the dueling club, and deliberately risked a violation of your trust. I was…you could see I was furious.”

“I sent you into the Forbidden Forest,” said Jocasta. “I don’t blame you.”

“As if that was all!” said Sparrow. “Then I would have been content to let you look like a fool pounding my shield and getting nowhere. No, I was taking revenge for something few people know about, least of all you. You put me in a position to open an old wound from a time long before we met, from an incident I have never described. I was answering my own pain by giving some of it to you.”

“Terror of…something worse than the Forbidden Forest?”

“Immeasurably worse. What you have done to me this year, what happened to me out there in the wild, none of that compares to what I have already experienced before I came to this school.”

What did you –

“Someday I will place all my trust in you, and you will hear the full story. But only if you set out with me, on the journey you set for me. Not before then.”

“My my,” said Jocasta. “Sealing the bargain by appealing to my curiosity. Very well, my dear, it shall be done. As for me being unregistered – that’s actually an open question. Even I don’t know how to describe it.”

“How the hell do you not know?”

“It’s a strange tale of attempted deceit,” said Jocasta. “You shall hear the full tale only after I am certain that you will set out on your journey.”

“Does that mean I apologized for nothing?”

“Hardly!” Jocasta drew away from Sparrow, and spun around. “You have salvaged your conscience, shored up your soul and strengthened the relationship between us. That’s something. On the other hand, the way you’re going about it…does remind me a bit of my father. All this high-and mighty rhetoric just because you don’t fully trust me.”

“Should I?”

“I’d like you to. It would make a nice contrast to home life. There’s your reason that I won’t betray you. Not because you hold curiosity over my head, not because I value ambition, but because I’m already sick of plotting and conniving.”

“The merry prankster, sick of conniving? Who would have thought.”

“There’s a difference between pranks and what my father does. You don’t know what it’s like to have people try to tear you down deliberately because they think it will hone your skills. Wait. Goddamit. That’s what I did, didn’t I? I’m turning into my father after all. Look – ” She drew close to Sparrow again, pulling her into an embrace, and said softly, “Please. Don’t go down the road my father has done, and don’t let me.”

“The way you joke about things makes it sound like you’re already going down that road.”

“A thin veneer. Please. You value protection. Protect both of us from that dark road. Turn away from what you did to me. Be a soft place to land, always. You have been bold, you have been intimidating far above your stature. Keep in mind that those who seek your protection may also be seeking warmth. Do not forget that. Promise me you won’t forget that.”

“Oh, now you’re talking all dramatic?”

“Promise me.”

Sparrow sighed. “You have my word.”

“Good.” Jocasta backed away. “Good. And if we work together I won’t hit you with any more pranks. Except for one.”

“What would that be?”

Sparrow suddenly felt a curious chill upon the small of her back. She turned. There was an oval of purple fabric on the floor. “Why you – ”

“That old thing was so frumpy,” said Jocasta. “I figured I could improve it. Ta-ta, dearie.” She disappeared into the crowd.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.