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The train ride was again uneventful. Even Violet did not visit her compartment. The landscape of grey mud and rain slid by.

Sparrow wondered if it was going to be possible to speak to Jocasta now that she was notorious.

 

 

The answer was no. In the week that followed Sparrow’s re-arrival at the castle the Carrow girl never spoke to her once nor communicated any desire to do so. She tended to leave halls that Sparrow entered, along with other students who didn’t want to be in the company of a raging madwoman.

Nor did any of the students speak to her of any matter that was not academic. It was not exactly the silent treatment, but the message was clear anyway.

There were, however, two people who were, from the start, unafraid to show open interest in her goal.

One was Professor Slughorn, who, being quite the Slytherin, felt it invigorating that someone had ambitions beyond what even he dreamed of. “Give it a shot,” he said. “I would love to see what you could come up with.” But he said little more to her, not even offering to invite her to the Slug Club.

So Slughorn wasn’t directly useful. But. Nobody in the school administration was stopping him from expressing his open support. Nor were they attempting to stop her. Either the Ministry was still preparing to send a Howler to the Headmistress’ office, or McGonogall was making good on her tacit offer of support. That was promising.

The other one who showed interest in her goal was Tim, the Librarian.

“Finally lost interest in that werewolf business,” said Tim, “and thank goodness. I can try to help you find what information you’re looking for.” Sparrow judiciously neglected to tell Tim that she hadn’t forgot the werewolf matter completely. It would be better to have him on her side.

And so Sparrow spent her days in the library, reading of the beginnings of magic itself, or its supposed beginnings, with stories like the man who summoned a giant patronus. Useless, really. Even the earliest texts had wizards acting as the stuck-up prats they always were. If history wouldn’t help, then perhaps the magical equivalent of Physics would. There was, or had been such a section, on experimental charms. Where had all the books gone?

Ted regretfully informed her that most of those texts had been removed to the Ministry. He practically snarled when he said it.

Oh, yes, of course. Violet had pitched a very loud fit about something involving the Ministry in their second year of school. Sparrow had been afraid to ask Violet what she had been on about. This must have been it.

She shifted her focus to the advanced potions section. There were a few books in the library that Zygmunt Budge had made good use of, back in his day. Ted would only let her read them by carefully flipping the pages for her, with magic. Here was a dissertation on the effect of moonlight in healing potions. There was a study of how vigorously and how long to stir a cauldron. All empirical business, none theoretical. Where was the theoretical material for potions?

Also removed to the Ministry.

This did not make the Ministry look any better than it already did.

And where was the book of bibliographic references for Granger’s Advanced Potions? Still missing. And Tim would not tell her who had it out. He had his professional sntandards to maintain.

One January morning, Sparrow had her head down on the table in frustration. She had spent the better part of an hour trying to get through an extremely dry treatise on Silverbeetle Shell powder, hoping to glean something from it about the basic nature of potioncraft. She now had a headache.

Someone grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away from the table, and into the secret alcove behind the bust of Saint Snerd.

It was, of all people, Jocasta Carrow.

Who proceeded to pin Sparrow against a wall and get right up in her face.

“This is very rude,” said Sparrow. “Uncouth. Discourteous.”

“Don’t you dare,” said Jocasta, shoving Sparrow a bit harder against the wall. “Don’t you dare get cute with me after you threaten to destroy my world.”

“Aren’t I already cute?”

“Well yeah but…shut up.” Jocasta’s face got noticeably pinker.

“I’m not trying to destroy your world,” said Sparrow. “I’m just – ”

“Shut up! Just – shut! Up! ” Jocasta put her face even closer. “And let me show you what you’re going to lose.”

“I don’t understand what you’re – mmph!” Sparrow’s words were cut off as Jocasta kissed her hard on the mouth.

When she was at last released from the kiss, Sparrow said, “I have half a mind to call that sexual assault. What the hell are you playing at?”

“I – I – ” Jocasta blushed. “God, that was stupid. I’m sorry.” She released Sparrow and leaned against the far wall, letting out a long breath.

“Have you got that out of your system then?”

“No!” Jocasta glared at Sparrow. “I’m still mad at you because of your mad ambition! I like the fact that you’re ambitious but this is a real threat, Sparrow.”

“I’m just trying to open our world up, that’s all. Is that a bad thing?

“Yes!” Jocasta threw up her hands. “It’s not supposed to be opened! Opening it will destroy it!”

“Oh no? What exactly does it mean, that your world can’t stand up to openness?”

“It means it’s too small and to fragile to have everyone come barging in at once,” said Jocasta.

“What,” said Sparrow, “is the Wizarding World like a pub that only ever caters to local loyal customers, so a bunch of tourists at once would put a severe strain on the employees?”

“Like a – yes, let’s go with that. Only this pub? Has wine glasses that bite you and random trapdoors, and someone in the back room performing human sacrifices.”

“How do you – ”

“Hello?” said Jocasta, waving her hands in front of her. “My last name’s Carrow? I’m a Slytherin? Got the green-trimmed robes and everything? Girl, there’s things in my father’s house, there’s things in the castle, there’s things in my common room that would try to obliterate you if they knew what you were up to. Salazar’s legacy around here doesn’t stop with the Chamber of Secrets.”

“So what,” said Sparrow, “did you want a taste of me before I was disintegrated? Is that what this is?”

“This is desperation,” said Jocasta. “I had hoped that if you had a taste of me then you might think twice about going off kaboom.”

“I think I did that before the break,” said Sparrow. “I’m kind of waiting for the first howler to arrive.”

“How can you be so flippant about this!”

“I’m just glad to have you in my presence again. I wanted to talk to you about a few things. Like our shared goal.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I wanted to get started on that.”

“You – ugh!” Jocasta crossed her arms. “I am hardly in the mood to discuss that at the moment. I’m still mad at you.”

“Mad because I’m a threat? Or mad because you might lose me? Because it sounds to me like you’re more concerned about the latter. I’ve had the feeling for a while that you care about me a lot more than you would for a sworn enemy. I think you care for me. Am I correct?”

“Don’t get all romantic on me, girl.”

“You’re the one who kissed me!”

“I mean like storybook romance. Immature romance. That kind of nonsense.”

“Shoving someone up against a wall and kissing them is very much storybook immature nonsense romance! And now you’re telling me you’re not into that? Give me a clear answer here. Do you fancy me or not?”

“I…”

“Jocasta. It doesn’t have to be a hard answer. You’ve been joking around about being interested in me all year. I’ve been interested in you every since you tried to help me cast an offensive spell. Maybe even before that, when you went out of your way to let me know that Violet was waiting for me. If you feel the same way you shouldn’t be beating around the bush. It doesn’t do a body good.”

“Don’t drag it out of me!” said Jocasta. “It’s mine to say, not yours. Why are you interested in me anyway?”

“Think of it this way,” said Sparrow. “I’m the Aspiring Prefect, right? Never suffer a student to break The Rules if I can help it. And here you come, Breaking The Rules. Being annoying. Being spicy. Challenging me to become a better wizard, in your own way. I think you’d make a better Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher than Professor Budge, to be honest. He’s a little too easygoing.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Jill and I are a matching set when it comes to magical skills. I think you and I could be a matching set when it comes to our approaches towards authority. Not just this business with transfiguration. I’d really like to have you at my side. Especially since you know how to duel and I only know how to smash, right now.”

“Hang on a second,” said Jocasta. “I thought we were talking about romance.”

“Love grows in partnerships, sometimes. Like between me and Jill. So I can do romance if you want, but I can also leave it, because it might get in the way of my goals.”

Jocasta put her face in her hands.

“What is it?”

“You,” said Jocasta. “I think you somehow became a Slytherin over the Christmas break. You’ve got such a towering ambition that you won’t even stop to let yourself relax. Have a little fun, will you? Have a little snog with a friend. Get off your goddamn high horse long enough to get a little dirty with us mortals. Even Zeus knew how to get his rocks off, girl.”

“I’ve…never really done that before.”

“You just did!”

“Doesn’t count. I didn’t want it.”

“What about with Jill then?”

“We barely had time before we stopped.”

“Fine. Would you like me to show you?”

“Will it take too much time? I wanted to have a look at the potions textbook again and class begins in ten minutes.”

Jocasta turned to the wall opposite Sparrow and thumped her head repeatedly.

“What?”

“I’m starting to think you’re not actually interested in this.”

“I didn’t say that, did I?”

“You’re being evasive. If you’re not interested it doesn’t work.”

“That’s pretty rich coming from you, miss pin-people-to-the-wall. And haven’t I been flirtatious enough this year? Haven’t I already expressed my interest in you? I’m just having trouble saying it in the way you want me to. I know how to say it my way but your way is -- goddammit. Kiss me again, please.”

Jocasta spun around and planted a kiss on Sparrow’s lips, then let go. “So you do like this after all.”

“Of course,” said Sparrow. “Far more so when you don’t ambush me with the whole business. And I think this kind of relationship has the potential to strengthen our working partnership – ”

“You’re making it sound like a business deal.”

“You said no romance!”

“No foolish romance. No soppy stuff. But there’s still such a thing as having fun, isn’t there?”

Sparrow huffed. “Fine. But we can’t let it get out of hand. Not if it gets in the way of our shared goal. Because that was why we got talking in the first place, right? No sense forgetting that. So no stupid romance stuff. No pining, no jealousy, no love songs, none of that. And no love poems.”

Jocasta grinned. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art – ”

“No! No! Bad girl!”

“Ooh, getting kinky. I like it.”

“None of that either!”

“Yes mistress.”

“Stop that or I’ll get my whip. Anyway, ideally we’ll have no focus on monogamy either.”

“No focus on – you need to choose, girl!”

Do I? I know both you and Jill want me, and I know you want both me and Jill. And I’m a nice sweet little Hufflepuff covered in sugar. How could I be so stingy as to restrict myself to either of you? But that’s something I need to ask Jill about, when I get the chance, because we’re not exactly broken up, just, you know, Off. And I could not say that I love her, if I were to betray her trust by taking up another relationship without telling her. Or, you know, inviting her in. A love triangle that goes unresolved by the simple solution of polyamory is one of the most annoying stories I could read.”

Jocasta blushed. “You know I’ve never had someone seriously propose such a thing to me before. Polyamory. Hoo boy. Well. Let’s…not get that started just yet. You still have certain ahem things to learn. And you want Jill on your side too, right?”

“It would be good to have the school’s best duelists working with me, instead of potentially against me.”

And you’re inexperienced when it comes to matters of lust.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Then, let us say that I shall teach you the ways of lovers, and you shall use them to please Jill. Because I do care about her. I would hate to see my favorite dueling partner experience an awkward and sloppy romance from an inexperienced prude. If I teach you, you can avoid messing up with your one true love.”

“Jill is my best friend,” said Sparrow. “Not my one true love. I don’t like the idea of One True Love. I would like to think I could have more than one. There is no sense being stingy.”

“But do you like my offer?”

“I do.” Sparrow grinned. “It sounds like a win-win.”

“And…no soppy romance if we can help it.”

“We shall strive to avoid it.”

Jocasta let out a breath. “Thank god. I’ve had quite enough of that nonsense already. Alright then.” She tapped her lips. “There’s only one proper way to seal this deal.”

Sparrow kissed her back, at last, long and hard.

 

 

Sparrow had said no romance. But there are some things about human relationships that are hard to avoid, and that few really try to avoid at all, for it is the rare and strange few that actively try to avoid feeling happy about a new kissing partner. Sparrow tried to remain stern and businesslike for a few days, then gave in and allowed herself to feel like she was floating.

Fortunate she was, for it allowed her to blithely ignore the angry stares of her classmates.

Jill’s angry stare was not something she could ignore.

Unfortunately Jill was not giving her a chance to figure out what it meant, because the girl was stomping out of the Hufflepuff common room without a word. Sparrow elected to follow her out, since she didn’t exactly feel wanted in the common room. Then again, she didn’t feel wanted anywhere inside the castle, save where Jocasta was in the room.

She elected to wander down to the greenhouses. It would be some time before the Herbology lecture. She could get brownie points for showing up early. She could also talk to Miranda.

And so Sparrow found herself in front of the door to the little private greenhouse. Miranda was in. Would she open the door, though, that was the question.

The door swung open without Miranda moving an inch.

Sparrow stepped through. She felt a curious tingling all down her lower back.

“Decontamination field,” said Miranda. “No sense letting spores get out. North America lost an entire tree species that way. Now what exactly does the madgirl want, hm?”

“Your help.”

“Out of the question,” said Miranda. “I have no desire to risk my work by attracting the wrath of the Ministry. You are much too open about dangerous ideas.”

“That’s not what I’m after,” said Sparrow. “That work will take years. Decades, maybe. It’s got to be beyond-advanced magic. What I’m after here is much more up your alley.”

Miranda paused, with her trowel full of dragon dung poised above a pot. “Yes?”

“See I have this werewolf problem…”

“He’s not a problem,” said Miranda.

“Oh yeah? Who’s not?”

“The librarian.”

“How on earth did you know I was talking about the librarian?”

“Is it so difficult to deduce?” said Miranda. “Grey hair, dresses all in gray, incredibly shy, shuts himself behind unbreakable magical locks in the library every night? Not much of a secret at all. So what do you request, then? Do you want me to make him a potion to calm his raging soul, on the nights when the full moon finds him?” She turned to her pot and continued to shovel dragon dung in. “Professor Longbottom handles that business. What could I do?”

“I want you to help me find a cure for lycanthropy.”

Miranda froze. “Excuse me?”

“If anyone can do it, it’s either you our Slughorn, and I don’t think he’d be interested.”

“I feel,” said Miranda. “A tingle in my feet. A twitch in my fingers. A buzz in my ears.” She shimmied her shoulders. “Oh, it comes upon me again. My old friend Pride. I must resist. But I can’t. I must resist. I must!” She clenched her fist. “I was tricked before! I shall not be tricked again!”’

"And you didn't...overhear me mentioning this topic in Potions class?"

"You can imagine that I was deep in concentration at that moment."

"Ah."

"So yes, this is a newer topic than it should be for me, and I do worry about being tricked into another mess."

“No trickery,” said Sparrow. “No lies, no deceit. Not with me. I want this potion because I would help someone who needs it, and even if he doesn’t, many would gladly take it. That’s all.”

“Really.” Miranda crossed her arms. “No ulterior motive at all?”

“Well, I mean, it would also be a chance to be studying fundemantal components of magic without catching the attention of anyone important. But never mind that bit, you never heard me mention it. What say you to this challenge?”

“We will discuss it later. And don’t expect results soon. Or at all.”

“Fair enough,” said Sparrow.

 

There were a scant few students who had come around, in the course of a few weeks. Mostly Slytherins, who believed that the entire world ought to be pureblood in the first place. This gave Sparrow some pause.

She decided to confide in Cormac, who was a level-headed fellow. And a pureblood. So he had some perspective.

She managed to find him in a particular disused classroom that he had turned into a surreptitious repository for his books of advanced wandlore. It was typically on the fourth floor. Fortunately for Sparrow, it was one of the rooms that moved according to a clear schedule, and so as today was Wednesday she would be certain to find it on the first floor close to the great hall, which meant that Sparrow could sashay straight to it from lunch.

And so she sashayed straight into the room, whereupon Cormac, seeing the face of his friend who he wasn’t supposed to be talking to openly, rushed to close the door. At the same moment Sparrow realized her mistake, and waved her wand to close the door.

Unfortunately Cormac was also hit by the spell, so he wound up being scooted out of the room as the door closed.

He opened it, and said, “There’s such a thing as being too Wizardly, you know.”

Then he closed the door, still on the outside of it. And the door did not open again.

No matter how long Sparrow waited, Cormac did not come back. So, she elected to peruse Cormac’s tomes of lore. Ah, here was a good one. Effects of wand components on spellcasting, volume one. By Yassen Gregorovitch.

Introduction.

The middling wand maker knows that Bowtruckles are the key to blah blah blah blah alright so this book was boring already. Goodness only knew what Cormac got out of it. Well, Cormac also knew. Maybe Cormac was Goodness. He seemed level-headed enough for it. Especially compared to Sparrow.

The door banged open. There stood Cormac, looking angry, with a gaggle of students behind him. “There you are!” he said. “Out of my study!” He marched over to Sparrow, arms swinging manfully. “What secrets are you stealing from me, eh?” He leaned over Sparrow’s shoulder as if to check the book and whispered, “Just play along and meet me behind the One-Eyed Witch after dinner.”

“But sir!” said Sparrow. “I wished only to partake in thy knowledge! I beseech thee, let me become thine apprentice in wandlore, and we shall rival Ollivander together!”

“Out!” roared Cormac. “Never darken my books again!” He grabbed her by the back of her shirt neck and, with Sparrow’s assistance, tossed her out of the room. “And stay out.” SLAM.

Some of the students giggled. “Hey look,” said Violet standing among them, “It’s Dent-head Jones.” The students sniggered.

Sparrow backed away from the gaggle in haste, turned, and put her face in her hands, pretending to cry. “You are all so MEAN!” she said. “Perhaps no one deserves to have magic!”

A chorus of offended cries.

You can’t mean it!

Surely everyone deserves to have magic!

Please don’t take magic away from us, mistress!

Sparrow felt a hand upon her shoulder. Sparrow looked up. It was Percival Bulstrode, head held high, eyes upon the crowd with a mighty expression. “She’ll spread magic to the whole world,” he said, “and you’ll all be grateful.” Being a head taller than her, he had to decline his head pretty far to beam at her. “Don’t worry, Sparrow. The Slytherins have your back.”

“Hang on a minute,” said Maledictus Bulstrode. “If she gives magic to the whole world then bein’ pureblood don’ mean nuffin’ anymore, do it?”

“I have warned you about speaking in the tongue of lower-class Londoners,” said Percival.

“But he’s right!” said a Slytherin girl named Belladonna Burke. “How do you lord it over anyone if they’re just as magic as you?”

There was a chorus of disappointed muttering from the crowd of Slytherins, and a few half-hearted insults. All of them slowly sidled away from her except for Percival. Sparrow couldn’t tell if this was a good thing or not. “I shall stand by her,” said Percival, “though the world itself may turn upon her. What do you say, Sparrow? Shall we achieve this lofty goal together?”

“I, uh.” This was getting out of hand. “I’ve got a partner. Already. I mean, um…Oh! Bulstrode, you cad!” she put a hand up to her forehead and swooned. “I have pledged my love to another, and you shall not take me from her! How dare you even suggest such a thing! My love for her is undying!”

“Hang on a second,” said Percival, “I didn’t – ”

Masher!” said Sparrow. “Scoundrel! Be gone from my sight!”

“Shall I duel him in the name of your honor?” said Jill’s voice from the crowd.

“Nay, he is not even worthy of that! Let the base churl depart in peace, knowing of his shame!”

Percival departed, barging his way through the crowd, muttering angrily.

The crowd, meanwhile, was now on to the sort of thing that teenaged children pay attention to in great detail: who is kissing whom. If teachers could somehow manage to make their lesson plans involve romance, grades would go up all over the world. The chorus of queries was all towards that subject.

Some of them were asking about second base.

My love is pure as the driven snow!” said Sparrow, as she put her hands on her hips. “I should not sully myself with such base acts!”

“I bet that’s because you don’t know how to do them yet,” said Jocasta from the front row of the crowd.

“Well, I –”

“I can teach you if you like.”

“What shameless impudence!” said Sparrow. “Fie upon you all! I shall tell you nothing more of the subject!” She turned, and marched away with her head held a little too high.

 

 

The One-Eyed Witch was a part of the castle architecture that moved every day. People swore the old bat was alive, somehow. Well, who knew. She was annoying, at least. Sparrow wasted an entire hour looking for her, only to discover her on the wall opposite the Hufflepuff Common Room door.

How the secret passage moved with her was hard to fathom, but move it did. Sparrow tapped the witch’s hump. A hatch on the top sprang open and Sparrow climbed in.

Cormac was in the passage, along with Jill and Violet. They were lit by a single Lumos from Cormac’s wand. Very spooky. Very conspiratorial. Sparrow would have felt more of a thrill of illicit plotting if it wasn’t for the fact that her wand seemed to be tugging her pocket towards Jill. Sparrow sidled away from Violet, not wanting to deal with any awkward questions. Jill was also standing at a slight distance, and looked peeved.

“Do you think we fooled them?” said Cormac. “Excellent performance, by the way. Wonderful improv.”

“It was good enough,” said Jill, “that I felt as though some of the students were playing along. Jocasta really sold it. Maybe you two should do improv classes together.”

“Sorry about the dent-head thing,” said Violet. “That was Jill’s idea.”

“Because I think you must have been knocked in the head,” said Jill. “This whole plan is ludicrous.”

“Well,” said Sparrow. “Hopefully it’s ludicrous enough that the Ministry thinks it would never even begin to work. There is such a thing as taking cover under absurdity, you know.”

“How very devious,” said Cormac. “You’d make a wonderful –”

Don’t say it.”

She’s dating a Slytherin anyway,” said Violet.

Jill pursed her lips.

“That explains why the improv went so well,” said Cormac. “Drawing from life, it seems.”

“We’re not dating!” said Sparrow. “She’s just helping me with transfiguration and– ”

“Jocasta Carrow,” said Jill. “You’re dating Jocasta Carrow.”

Cormac put his face in his palm.

“Yes. No! It’s a perfectly casual relationship!”

“Uh huh,” said Cormac, somewhat muffled. “That’s going to work out perfectly.”

Jill was looking extremely put out. But she gritted her teeth and said, “I still have my misgivings about this entire plan. How do you know this will work? How do you know this is what anyone wants? I told you to think about others, girl. You’re bringing water to a desert that’s evolved to live without it. You might sweep away many innocent creatures in the flood.”

“I…haven’t even been able to ask the people I would be affecting most. You know how the Ministry is. I’m assuming that’s why we’re all here instead of by the fire in the nice cozy common room, right? If I go around asking muggles if they want magic I’d be in Azkaban before I knew what happened. So Jocasta’s going to help me on that front. I can’t tell you how but – ”

“She’s going to teach you how to become an unregistered animagus,” said Violet.

Cormac looked up at Violet in shock, then at Sparrow.

Sparrow crossed her arms. “I didn’t say that!”

“She’s the transfiguration witch around here,” said Violet, “and there’s genuinely no other transfiguration topic that anyone would want to keep discreet. Unless you’re transfiguring a teacup into a sex toy, I suppose, but that wouldn’t help you talk to muggles. I think.”

Sparrow blushed. “I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of your…oh, hang it all. Yes, Jocasta’s helping me become an Animagus. Are you happy? Boy, I’d make a godawful Secret Keeper.”

I want in,” said Violet. In the light of their wands there was a strange gleam in her eyes and a strange smile on her lips. “It sounds like it would be great fun.”

“Violet!” said Cormac. “I thought Sparrow here was insane, but now you’re jumping in as well? This is…this is. Oh dear. Oh dear dear dear. I think you’ve bit off more than you can chew, girl.” He shook his head slowly. “I think you’re going to make a mess of things.”

“Not if I have help,” said Sparrow, placing a hand on Violet’s and Cormac’s shoulders. “Not if we help each other. Each of us brings great talents to the table already. Jill of the sword, I of the shield, Cormac of the wand, Violet of the book. Together we can work miracles. Yet we may be sundered, and it would be to the ruin of all. This goal, this challenge, can bring us all closer together. What do you say?”

“I’ll do it,” said Cormac, “if you survive. That’s a big ‘if’, you know. I could just jolly off and make wands for myself and never give a whit about you again. But I care too much about muggles to just let them dwindle. And I don’t want to see you explode or anything. So. Succeed and I will follow. Only until you succeed will I follow. Violet, I recommend you wait as well until Sparrow blazes the trail.”

“I’m not stupid,” said Violet.

“You’re wanting to become an Animagus before you’re even fifteen,” said Cormac.

I’m insane. I’m not stupid.

“Jocasta’s either going to be delighted or furious,” said Sparrow. “Jill? What about you?”

Jill was still looking frustrated.

“What is it?” said Sparrow.

“Nothing! Nothing! Nothing at all! I’ll explain on the morrow. In the meantime let us all be sworn to secrecy.”

And so they placed their hands in the center of their circle, and pledged upon their sacred honor.

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