There was but a day left before the Christmas break, when students would be going home. Sparrow debated whether she should go, and be with her family, or stay with the castle’s few orphans.

It would be more convenient for her to study the history of magic, if she could do it without anyone walking in on her in the library. And perhaps she could ask the ghosts without being overheard, for once. Yet by the same token, her parents expected her home, and she had not actually made any arrangements with the school to remain over the holidays.

She was torn, and there was less than a day to decide, and she had things to do on this particular day that might land her in trouble with the headmistress anyway. For she had taken Jill’s advice to heart, about thinking of others, and she had taken Hagrid’s advice to heart, about the sheer dangers of the Wizarding world. She had to research, extensively, before acting in any direction.

Hagrid had also said that she could not ask the teachers. But he said nothing about the ghosts, nor, indeed, the headmistress.

So, Sparrow found herself standing outside the statue that barred the way to the Headmistress’ office. What was the password this time? “Potter,” said Sparrow. Nope. “Granger.” Nope. “Weasley.” Nuh-uh. “Fiddlesticks.”

She looked around, hoping to find a teacher who had business with the Headmistress. There was only a cat, with markings around its eyes in the shape of spectacles. “Oh hello Headmistress,” said Sparrow, and turned to the statue. “Where was I? Longbottom. Hagrid. Moody. Wait – ”

The cat meowed, and the statue stepped aside.

You call that security?” said Sparrow. “Anyone who brings a cat could get in.”

“I am the security,” said McGonogall, as she swept by. “And from what I hear of your capabilities, someday you may be the security for the school.”

She had not beckoned Sparrow to follow, but the girl did so anyway.

McGonogall turned. “What exactly is it that you want?”

“Your own experiences regarding the Statute of Secrecy.”

“Hasn’t Hagrid forbidden that subject for you?”

“It didn’t stop me.”

“Didn’t you have a detention regarding that very subject?”

“Yeah and if anyone had bothered to explain to me why we need the statute I wouldn’t have had to go all the way to the edge of the forbidden forest and nearly get killed. I would appreciate understanding the nature of the statute instead of having to absorb it. And you’re old –”

McGonogall huffed.

“ -- so you have more experience than I do. And I figured that the office of the Headmistress would be a safer place to talk about it than echoing halls. What do you say?”

“I say, what is the magic word?”


“Step into my office.”



The office of the headmistress occupied the entire floorspace of the upper part of the tower. Which tower, Sparrow never knew. They tended to shuffle around. Today the view out the tall window was of the mountains.

The office consisted of many, many bookcases, and not for browsing, it seemed, for they were all behind glass. And there were portraits, many portraits. Pictures of the headmasters of the school. Sparrow wondered if they went all the way back to the beginning.

“If it isn’t Sparrow Jones,” said the portrait of Albus Dumbledore. “The girl who keeps sneaking out at night, or so the other paintings tell me.”

“Is that so,” said the Headmistress, taking a book off her shelf. “I recall having to punish some students severely for such behavior. And you’re doing it repeatedly. Shall we test to see if house points can go negative?”

“We could,” said Sparrow. “But it sounds as though Filch hasn’t been telling you and the portraits haven’t told you. It sounds as though you have a discipline problem at this school, and not with me.”

“Ooh,” said the portrait of a young witch with dark hair neatly tied back in a bun. “The attack reflection! She’s got your number, Minerva.”

The Headmistress looked like she was ready to tell someone off, though who, at this point, was difficult to choose. She composed herself, and said, “I shall have to have some choice words with Filch. Now. As for your question, Miss Jones.” She motioned Sparrow to take a seat at a couch near the fireplace. “A few photographs might aid your comprehension.”

Sparrow sat, and McGonogall sat in a chair before her. She opened the book, a weighty tome full of photographs. Some of them, pictures from what appeared to be the 1940s, waved and smiled. There were earlier photographs that were entirely static.

“My mother and father,” said McGonogall, pointing to one where a carousel was going around and around. Sparrow wasn’t sure which people on it were the mother and father, but politely said nothing.

“Mother was a witch,” continued McGonogall, “and Father was not. She married him without telling him. She had me without telling him. But then, once I started summoning toys to my hand, I suppose she had to let the secret out. And what happened after that…it took years for them to reconcile. Father resented Mother for keeping such a secret so large for so long. Mother resented Father for taking so long to marry her, thus preventing her from telling him about magic.”

“I never knew my grandparents, on either side.” She pointed to some of the moving images, which looked like they were from the 1890s. “Mother’s side had disowned her.” She pointed to the static images, from about the same time period. “I was not permitted to know Father’s side. These pictures are the only memory I have of them.” She sighed. “I grew up without much connection to my heritage. A small sacrifice, I suppose, for the sake of upholding the Statute of Secrecy. Father was the only person in his family permitted to know of Mother’s abilities. He was never permitted to know of her world. That’s the law, for the sake of protecting us from muggles. Let the witch hunts never arise again.”

“She couldn’t tell him straight off?”

“Legal precedent is that only spouses are permitted to know.”

“This sounds like it wouldn’t make marriages easy.”

“Decidedly not. Nor does the Ministry of Magic employ any marriage counselors for mixed marriages. That would be giving away too much, you see. Nor would a muggle marriage counselor be able to make any headway. Orford Umbridge once told me that he had tried to seek the aid of one, only for the effort to be completely useless because he couldn’t reveal the precise cause of the conflict. He could let his wife Ellen say that it was a conflict over magic, Oh, that was fine – as long as the spouse said nothing to back her up. There’s the rather nasty loophole – you can say what you want but your spouse can’t save you from sounding like a fool, and that is why the Umbridge marriage fell apart.”

“Did you ever regret this kind of secrecy?”

“After meeting Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington…perhaps.”

“Oh yeah, the nearly-headless guy. I should have asked him earlier, but he seems to favor the Gryffindors, for some reason, so I’ve never really met him. Are you saying he got his head cut off by muggles? How could that even happen?”

“I was without my wand when they caught me,” said the nearly headless Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, as he floated up through the couch, causing Sparrow to jump out of the way. “Which is precisely why I tell students to always have their wands.”

“Really!” said McGonogall. “Startling students like that. How did you even know we were talking about – ” She glanced up at the portrait of Dumbledore. He was missing.

“Discipline problem,” said Sparrow.

McGonogall glared at the girl.

“Sorry. Mr. Porpington, please tell me. Why did muggles decide to cut your head off in the first place?”

“A sad story,” said Nick. “It was at the court of King Henry VII – ”

“The court! Of the King!” said Sparrow. “I thought Wizards were hated and feared!”

“Witches,” said Nick. “Not Wizards. Witches were associated with worship of the Devil. Wizards, ah well. You could get yourself a nice appointment as the king’s Court Astrologer. Many Wizarding fortunes were founded upon such a plum position. Alas, if something went wrong…”

“What happened to make witches get hunted?” said Sparrow.

“Muggle propaganda,” said McGonogall. “Scurillous screeds. Perhaps wizards did not do enough in those years to counteract such lies, in the years when we had the chance to operate more openly.” She raised an eyebrow at Nick.

“I was busy being an astrologer,” said Nick. “I was not appointed for my political opinions, my dear young witch. I imagine the King would have cut my head off for venturing such impudence. Anyway. I met lady Grieve. Ah, lady Grieve, such a beautiful young thing, but her teeth were not straight. I elected to fix them. Alas, alas. My spell misfired and I gave her tusks. I was unable to fix the mistake before I was dragged before the king, tried quickly, and beheaded ineptly. I wonder if anyone ever fixed her teeth.”

“Oh yes,” said McGonogall. “Oh yes. She was a pretty young thing, except her teeth. How old were you when you were killed, Sir?”

“Seventy years. Please, my dear Headmistress, I had no prurient designs upon the lady. I only wished to…fix something that I could.”

“Did you ask her?”

“Erm. No, as a matter of fact, I did not.”

“There you go. And now you can see, Sparrow, why associating with muggles has always been dangerous. No wonder my mother kept her secret for so long. She could not be sure that her husband would attack her, until she knew him well.”

“Now hold on a minute,” said a voice from the wall. The portrait of the young witch looked indigant. “It wasn’t always as dangerous as all that. Why, when I was Headmistress everyone in the entire isle was doing magic.”

Sparrow looked at the nameplate on the woman’s frame. Maud McKinnon, AD 999-1035, Headmistress 1034-1035.

“Everyone?” said Sparrow. Her face brightened.

Magic was a thing everyone tried,” said Maud. “Only, there were few who actually had the talent, and the rest were reciting things that would never work for them. We trained the talented ones. It wasn’t until the whole row with Slytherin leaving the castle that we began to make a significant distinction between muggles and wizards. Muggles themselves didn’t stop trying to do magic in my lifetime. I’m not sure if they ever did, until…well I wouldn’t know. Nick here makes it sound like it was still common for them to try in his day.”

“It was!” said Nick. “As I traipsed through muggle society I had the opportunity to read many of their texts for summoning demons and preparing spells of invisibility. I laughed at it all, for it was a lot of overcomplicated nonsense. One wonders when they left off that rubbish and turned towards…whatever it is they do now.”

“Discover their own secrets of the world,” said Sparrow, “and build bombs that can obliterate an entire countryside in an instant.”

There was a gasp, as of a hundred voices. Sparrow looked up. All the portraits she could see were staring at her now in rapt wonder and fear.

“That’s impossible,” said Nick.

“That’s insane,” said Maud.

“That was the state of their world,” said Dumbledore, “although from what last I heard, they’d tacitly agreed never to use them.”

“And always live on the knife’s edge,” said McGonogall. “I read muggle newspapers, you know. They were always on about Mutually Assured Destruction.”

They have their own magic,” said Sparrow, “and it is hard, and cruel. I know you’re all worried about me revealing Wizards to the world. After what Cormac told me about their weapons, I can tell you for certain that I have no interest in trying to somehow let the Wizarding world live openly alongside such proven danger. And yet, I burn. I want so badly to be able to share the wonders of our world. Imagine if the muggles knew ghosts existed! So many religious questions would finally be answered! Imagine if children knew there were unicorns! They would grow up more fascinated with the wide world, because they would never have to tell themselves the lie that there is no magic. And yet, they can never know.”

“They can’t do magic,” said McGonogall. “They would never be able to do more than look, and be jealous, and angry, and scared.”

“And that is resolutely unfair,” said Sparrow. “Imagine if the whole world had magic. Imagine if everyone could fly on carpets and brooms and mortars instead of running around in smoke-belching metal beasts. They never would have had to invent their bombs. They never would have had to invent their furnaces that poisoned the air until the world was left a dessicated ruin. And nobody, in all of Wizarding, ever figured out how to bring magic to the muggles. Did you even bother?”

She looked up to the paintings. There were people in them, now, besides the headmasters. There was the Fat Lady, there was Sir Cadogan. Perhaps all the portraits in the castle were gathered around her now. Ghosts of all kinds hovered where they would not block the view.

“We never bothered,” said Sir Cadogan, “Because it’s impossible.”

“Tell me that for certain!” shouted Sparrow. “Tell me that any of you, at any point in the entire history of magic, tried to figure out how to give muggles the gift! Tell me that you tried and failed!”

The portraits mumbled between themselves, but nobody answered.

“And what do you think would have happened if that had been achieved?” said McGonogall.

“There would have been no pureblood bullshit,” said Sparrow. “Perhaps Salazar Slytherin would never have left. Perhaps there would have been no witch hunts. And Tom Riddle would have grown up to be Tom Riddle, not Lord Voldemort.”

There was a gasp, as of a thousand voices, and the crowd murmured.

“And I shall tell you what else,” said McGonogall. “For, as Harry Potter once told me, he had impressed a Goblin by bothering to dig a grave with a shovel instead of using a wand. As for me, I wash my dishes by hand, when I have a mind, in memory of my father. There is something to be said for doing things the hard way, every once in a while, and I am less than impressed with wizards who wave a wand to do everything. Imagine if all of humanity had only to wave a wand to do anything. We would be indolent, fragile. And, perhaps, as hidebound as Wizards are now. What I know of Muggles indicates that they have uncovered secrets of the universe that Wizards do not know. If everyone was magic, would those secrets have been uncovered at all? Would the basic principles of motion in space be understood? Would we know how large the universe is? Most wizards don’t. I have lost count of the number of times that a pureblood wizard from one of the old families has told me that there are only four elements. There are ways, my dear Miss Jones, in which we’re a pack of idiots. Would you wish that upon the entire world?”

“I would,” said Sparrow, “if it meant that the world as you knew it could have survived. But it didn’t, did it? There’s little left of the wild green, now.”

“You are trying to be kind,” said McGonogall. “Yet in your kindness you may do things that threaten the world. I am sorry that Hagrid forbade you this topic before I could help you understand it, such that you have been burning for so long. Please.” She put her hand on Sparrow’s. “Remember what I told you at the beginning of the school year. You cannot change someone’s life for them. Only they can change their own life. I could force an end to this business with magic, but only you can convince yourself that it might be wrong. And I can tell you that trying to do what you wish, without consulting anyone, will lead you to Sir Mimsy-Porpington’s end, and that is if you’re lucky. If not, many would suffer the same fate, even many people you love.”

“I already lost some of the people I loved,” said Sparrow. “Because they could not protect themselves. If they had possessed my abilities, they might have been saved.”

“Is that what this comes down to?” said McGonogall. “Grief propelling you into madness? Many dark wizards have taken the same path.”

“Does this school have counselors of any kind?”

“I usually handle that business.”

“So, nothing professional.”

“Once long ago,” said Nick, “the students told each other that every dark wizard had arisen from the house of Slytherin. I cannot say from my long experience if that has been true. Yet, it is true that nearly every British wizard of the past thousand years has come through our halls, not one of them receiving anything like professional mental care. One wonders if the students who turned to darkness would have taken such paths, if they had been consoled in time.”

“I’m not a dark wizard!” said Sparrow. “I can’t even cast those kind of spells. My wand doesn’t even want to. I’m trying to save people from evil, as I was unable to do years ago.”

“So it seems,” said McGonogall. “You would not spread darkness over the land, yet you would shine like the sun. Yet if you shine like the sun, your light may well burn the world to ash, as the real sun has nearly done to the world of muggles.”

“Oh, touché.”

“I should certainly hope so,” said McGonagall. “I should certaintly hope that I have touched your heart well enough to warn you away from a path of destruction. I wonder if I have. Sometimes I do speak to children who plan to do terrible things in the name of good, like you, and I am able to reassure them that the world is not so terrible as to merit their wrath. Young Rodolphus Carrow would have burned his family’s house down if we had not had the chance to converse. Other times, they refuse to listen, and I can’t understand why, because I am being perfectly reasonable. That was the fate of young Antonio Bolu, who said he would try to apparate across the sea, despite all my warnings, and he was never seen again. Perhaps some ambitions are too great to discourage, and they consume their bearers. I fear that this will be your fate. It would be a tragedy to see someone of your skill and your compassion come to the same end as a Wizard like Grindelwald.”

Sparrow frowned. “Does the Wizarding World have professional counselors anywhere?”

“Professional in what sense?”

“I mean like, have they gone through training to practice proper therapy. Have they got a license to provide counsel. Is there a board of people at Saint Mungo’s or wherever that certifies people to do mental health care on a professional basis.”

“I have not heard of such a thing. Not from the Wizarding World.”

Sparrow sighed. “Problem number one, I suppose. Problem two is what my Father always tells me – just like what you said. You can’t change someone’s life for them, and you can’t give mental health care to someone who refuses it. They have to choose to change. I think the more stubborn children you’ve spoken to decided not to listen to you, and sealed their own fate. You hoped that being reasonable would change them, but in the end the choice came down to them.”

“As it does to you,” said Nick. “What have you chosen?”

I am willing to be less hasty and more circumspect, at the very least.”

Nick did not look pleased with this answer. “I had hoped you would be willing to give up this mad quest entirely.”

“Is it mad?” said McGonagall. “Madly done, if not guided properly, but mad in itself? I cannot say. I have given you what warning I can, child, and that is all I can do. Goodness! I go too far as it is. I, the Headmistress of this school, endorsing criminal behavior? Such a thing is not done!” She winked. “Now let us say that we shall have no more talk of your mad ambitions. I am officially forbidding the topic of violating the International Statute of Secrecy.” She winked again. “You are forbidden to discuss the subject with students or professors.” Wink.

“Something in your eye?”

“It’s dreadful, I can’t seem to get it out. Oh, and feel free to speak to me any time you wish, about what troubles you. I would hear more about what happened to your friends.”

“Bad memories.”

The headmistress put her hand on Sparrow’s. “Tell me if you wish, when you wish. Not before then.”

“Perhaps when the moon is full,” said Sparrow.

“And I will admit,” said the Headmistress, gazing up at the portraits, “our world does have its manifest cruelties. You ought to talk to Argus Filch about his life as a squib.”

“A what?”



“Miss Jones,” said Filch, floating in the moonlight. “I told you there would be consequences if you tried this again.”

“I’m not here to sneak past you,” said Sparrow. “I’m here for you.”

Filch’s expression froze. He blinked. “Me?”

“I wanted to ask you about what your life was like as a squib.”

For the first time in a long time, Filch’s face softened. It was entirely possible that nobody had ever asked him this question before. “Well, erm…I mean…” He squinted. “Did you lose a bet or something? Are you planning to ask me a personal question and blab about it to the whole school? I bet that’s what this is.”

“I just want to know,” said Sparrow.

“Oh yeah? Why?”

“Well, I figure if I know why people are born as squibs, then I can have an idea of how to make muggles into Wizards.”

“Oh I see,” said Filch. “You’re not here for me. You’re here for your mad plan. Well forget it. I’m not telling you anything.”


“I have never,” said Filch, “Ever, in my entire life, yielded to a student who said ‘please.’ So run along.”



The train ride to London was largely uneventful, in the sense that there was no possibility of it having anything that could be called an event, because nobody in the entire student body wanted to sit in a compartment with her. Some of them started to, but then they realized who they were about to sit near, muttered implausible excuses, and fled. The train ride was thus spent by staring out the window at the passage of dull grey countryside.

It was not until near the end of the journey that Violet Brown deigned to enter her compartment.

“I’m sorry for not getting to you sooner,” said Violet, as she sat down on the opposite bench. “I was taking a survey. Let’s see…” She fished a paper out of her pocket and unfolded it. “61 percent of the student body thinks you’re barking mad, thirty percent believes you’re an idiot, five percent believe you’ve been possessed by Peeves, two point nine seven percent think you’re a muggle spy, and one percent want the Ministry of Magic to arrest you immediately. Zero point zero three percent are of the opinion that you are on to something interesting, and wish to see where this is all going.”

“Good heavens,” said Sparrow. “There is a storm between my light and the gentle earth.”

“How’s that?”

“Never mind. I’m interested in that last bit. Who is it?”

“Me,” said Violet. “And Cormac. Jill’s on the fence.”

“Oh,” said Sparrow. “I would have expected you, with your exhausting knowledge, to tell me that I had no chance.”

“Please. This is a topic that I’ve never even heard of. How could I resist looking into it? And Cormac’s interest is piqued because he wants to get into the nature of magic itself. Something to do with Wandlore, I’ll be bound. And Jill is torn because she thinks she isn’t supposed to totally disavow you. Something to do with her wand. Oh, and she loves you.”

“I knew that much. But she didn’t want to be with me in the train car? Nor Cormac?”

“There is such a thing as keeping up appearances for the sake of staying safe,” said Violet. “I’m only getting away with talking to you right now because everyone thinks I’m here to make fun of you. So, I am giving you a directive. Don’t contact any of us over the holidays. It might look suspicious. Wait until we’re back at the castle when we have plenty of secret passages to use.”

The train stopped.

“Got to go,” said Violet. “Remember. Until the holidays are over, you never heard of me.”

Sparrow pouted. “But I like you.”

“Officially, you don’t. Ta ta.” She left the compartment, joining the mass of students shuffling through the corridors.

As Sparrow brought her bags down and waited for the line of students to end, she wondered about Violet’s admonition. What did she mean about looking suspicious? Did the ministry consider her a threat already?

Sparrow departed the train and, stepping out of the barrier between Platform 19 ¾ and Queen’s Cross, greeted her parents with a look of pity in her eyes. They would never have the chance to see her school, nor her world, not as long as the Ministry stood there like a menacing door guard. She embraced them, and wondered if she was already in over her head.

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