For those who have read this work, and enjoyed it thus far, I offer an apology for my alteration of the structure of this post. In recent weeks I have gone over Part 1 and decided that the characterization was threadbare, neither as realistic as I preferred nor supportive of certain assertions. So, I spent a while revising the text, weaving part 1 more closely into the remainder, and breaking up the text into chapters, per the advice of a few different people.
You may also notice that this particular chapter is substantialy longer than the rest. I can't change the node's title, so I felt I had to run the chapter far enough to include the scene that the title refers to.
In the dry season, the lake at Hogwarts became a lakebed as the
Nobody knew where the giant squid went, in the months when the lake was the
size of a pond. In those months, the world was not fit for a squid, nor any sort
of swimming creature; the land had a stark beauty, all sharp shadows and
gleaming rock faces. Not a soft beauty. In such times the soft things that were
green and growing became brown, brittle and hard. A spectral beauty, for those
haunted by what they knew of older times. Those who were old enough could tell
you that the blackened poles upon the farther hills had been oaks, once, that
the long-leaved shrubs stretching out to the horizon now stood in place of
mighty pines. They knew that the dusty dirt stretching from the castle to the
shrubs had been a field of grass.
And so did Sparrow Jones, for, despite her tender age of fourteen, she had a
mother who had survived the drying of the world. And so, in the times when she
told her friends what she thought of the landscape, she never let the memory of
the past go unremarked, heedless of their growing exasperation over the
“I get it,” said Jill. “Our earth was once green. I don’t understand it,
though. Something called Global Warming?”
“Climate Change,” said Sparrow. “It’s not all that warm around here when
November rains come. But, the world used to be softer, and kinder. That’s the
“You’re soft,” said Jill, as she draped an arm over Sparrow’s shoulder. “Maybe
that’s all I need.”
Sparrow was too short to return the favor, or perhaps Jill was too tall, but
then, she never minded putting an arm around the girl’s waist.
To observers, the two girls looked like the sun would give up trying before it
could never manage to burn them, and sink into night, defeated. Yet in all
other respects, they looked as different as moon and sun, as night and day. One
was a short little slip of a girl, and her parents having named her after a
bird was an inspired foresight. The color of her skin might have lent itself to
the name of a darker bird, like a starling, and indeed if one looked into the
girl’s eyes you could just see the stars reflected, though it be brightest day.
And there were some students who called her the African Swallow, for she was always
flitting about the castle, bringing her gifts to her fellow students. Yet,
Sparrow she was and would be, and she sang so prettily of what could be.
The other, in the times when she stood, led people to wonder if she would ever
stop growing, for already she was up there with the older students, and people
wondered how many bludgers she could hold at once, and usually their estimate
was just one over the true limit, and the girl knew that if she worked hard she
could get one more. Jillian Patil was the most feared player on any team at
Hogwarts, for not a single bludger could ever get past her, and when they tried
they tended to be hurtled towards an opposing player at a speed faster than
anyone expected. There were some students that called her “Himalaya”, because she was an
Indian mountain. This latter epithet had only lasted for about three weeks
before Jill’s furious glare had scared the laughter out of half the student
body. You did not mess very long with someone who could hold a bludger in place
with one arm.
For those who met the two the first time, they were always surprised that the
little Sparrow was the more protective. Oft times there was a shield that
sprang up, and those it opposed would cast their eyes to the mighty Jill,
before realizing that it was coming from the wand of the little Sparrow.
Sparrow was only a little ashamed that it seemed to be the only thing she was
good at, for, as she said so often, Wizards could do much, and possibly
anything. But not everything, as Jill said, and yet, when they spoke of such
things, it always devolved to that one topic. For, as Sparrow said, if Wizards could
do so much, why not do more than simply live easy? Why not run to the hills,
and cover them with trees as they once had been? Why not remake the world from
what it had become?
Many was the time Sparrow had asked Jill this question over the previous school
years, and every time Jill had told her friend to leave it be, until finally
she had blown up at Sparrow, and told her to drop the subject for good.
But, here they were, on the highest walkway, between the astronomy tower and
the dragon tower, gazing down at the wide grounds, where the patchy brush had
not tasted a bit of rain since last March, and Sparrow still wondered why the
groundskeeper didn’t at least do a bit of touchup. Jill had taken Sparrow to a
Paradise Garden over the summer. Quite the lush place. Surely a bit of magic
could do the same here?
“We could make this place soft,” said Sparrow. “We could make it green again.”
“My dear friend,” said Jill, turning her bright green eyes upon Sparrow. “Do
not start that again.”
“Because you keep tempting me, and it’s difficult to resist the urge to remake
the world, along with all else I resist. I am scared that I might wind up
agreeing with you.”
“I’m not asking to remake the world,” said Sparrow. “I just want to know why
you don’t even want all this – ” she swept a hand out to the wide grounds – “to
look a bit nicer.”
“Well maybe you should ask the Headmistress,” said Jill. “I’m not in charge of
“No indeed,” said a voice behind them. “And that is an important thing to
understand, my dear students. One might say it is the beginning of wisdom, to
understand what you can control and what you cannot.”
Sparrow turned. There stood Minerva McGonagall. An old woman she was, wrinkled
of face and white of hair. But there are other markers of age, and the
Headmistress wore, as she always wore, the kind of expression that made one
wonder if she had ever been young. Some old people that Sparrow had met acted
like they had been young, but the Headmistress never did.
“How very convenient,” said Sparrow. “I was just going to ask you – ”
“The answer is no,” said the Headmistress. “Believe me, I’ve been hearing about
your question since the beginning of your first school year. I should have put
a stop to it as soon as I did, but perhaps I was curious to see how far you
would go. Was that a mistake?” She fixed Sparrow with her trademark glare.
“Have I let you go too far? Are you planning to remake the world without so
much as a by-your-leave?”
“I hardly even know how to transfigure anything,” said Sparrow.
Jill smacked Sparrow in the back of the head.
“Ow! I mean, no.”
“You have been absolutely abysmal at transfiguration classes,” said
Headmistress McGonnogal. “I’ve never seen anyone turn a teacup into a
blast-ended Skrewt before, at least not by accident. How did you even know what
they look like? They haven’t been a part of Hagrid’s coursework for years.”
“As I said. Worst transfiguration student I’ve ever heard of. Not much in the
potions department either, nor particularly adept with basic charms. You’re not
exactly likely to actually cause much trouble to the world itself.”
“But what about the shield charm?” said Jill. “I’ve never seen anything like
“No indeed,” said the Headmistress. “Nor have I ever seen anyone who actually
pays attention in the History of Magic class, nor in the Muggle Studies class.
You are a most unusual child, Miss Jones, and you have your own talents worth
developing.” She put a hand on Sparrow’s shoulder. “I would not see you throw that
away. Your current line of inquiry could take you down a path that is dangerous
for yourself, as well as for others. Leave it be.”
“But nobody’s ever told me why,” said Sparrow. “They just tell me to hush up.”
“Curiosity,” said the Headmistress. “A terrible thing. Impossible to resolve,
until it is satisfied, or until the quester is given a very harsh lesson. And
yet, if it is satisfied, it may lead to harsh lessons anyway. Well.” She
stepped to the wall and gestured to the grounds. “I will tell you this. The
Paradise Gardens you know of are all enclosed, shielded from muggle eyes. They
are safe. This place has its own protections, yet if it were a bright patch of
green in a world gone barren, no spell could prevent muggles from noticing. It
is for your safety that we leave the grounds looking dull.”
Sparrow hadn’t seen muggle habitation in the last forty miles of the train
ride. But she had seen an aeroplane yesterday, so that had to count for
something. She remained silent.
“And there’s more to it than that,” continued the Headmistress. “Think of who
we are, dear child. We are Wizards. Powerful, dangerous, prone to flights of
fancy and destructive anger. There have been many of us who wished to re-shape
the Wizarding world, and to impose their ideas upon it, without asking anyone.
If you would do so yourself, well, think of it this way: you can’t change
someone’s life for them.”
Jill looked up at the sky. “The sun is moving towards three o’clock,” she said.
“I think it’s time we get to class.”
“What class?” said Sparrow. “Wait. It’s Wednesday, isn’t it? Transfiguration.”
“Don’t blow anything up this time,” said the Headmistress.
The transfiguration classroom was on the fourth floor today. On Monday it had
been on the first floor, but things tended to shift quite a bit in the castle.
Once upon a time it had only been the staircases and the occasional hallway
that moved, but these days, a magically-updating map was on the list of
essential school supplies. Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes had the monopoly on the
supply. Some students, like Sparrow, were annoyed at being forced to enter a
joke shop. Other students, like Jocasta Carrow, made full use of the
opportunity to purchase Invisible Whoopie Cushions and Exploding Cauldrons.
The really mean prank was when Miss Carrow had replaced the dessert selection
for the entire Hufflepuff table with Vanishing Cupcakes. Oh, nobody proved it,
yes. But there was only one person with pranks like that.
And so, when Sparrow and Jill’s journey through the fourth-floor corridor was
interrupted by a sudden bag of flour emptying above her head, she knew who to
blame. Partly because Miss Carrow was nearby. There she was, standing in her
green-trimmed formal school robes as always, wavy jet-black hair tumbling past
her pale face to her shoulders and down her back, her deep dark eyes searching
“You,” said Sparrow.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Jocasta. “Nice shield charm,
though. You’re always quick on the draw. I’ve had to get more creative because
of you. It’s no fun tossing stuff at people anymore.”
The bag of flour had not reached Sparrow’s head, but had been halted by a wide
bowl, a translucent concave shape that glowed with soft yellow light.
“I might say you’ve forced me to become quicker on the draw over the years,”
said Sparrow. “But the truth is, everyone has. I have to break up childish
quarrels all the time around here.” She glanced right and saw a couple of
students nearby, engaged in a battle of poking each other. She flicked her wand
to gently deposit the bowl on the ground, then flicked her wand at the students
to raise a translucent glowing disk between them. They looked around, spotted
Sparrow, and glowered at her.
“Ah yes,” said Jocasta. “Always foiling me and everyone. Well. If I’m not the
only one who causes you trouble then how do you know this one was my doing?”
Jill shifted a bit closer to Sparrow. “It’s always you,” she said. “Nobody
comes up with pranks quite the way you do.”
“Oh, is that a compliment?” said Jocasta. “That’s odd. You have never
complimented me once over the past three years. What’s got into you now?”
Sparrow glanced at Jill, whose face looked a bit flushed.
Jill shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re – ”
“Are you trying to flirt with me?”
Jill crossed her arms and stood a bit more straight. “Fie upon thee, my
arch-rival! I shall vanquish thee in the dueling club tonight!”
“Arch-rival? Now that is definitely a
“Never mind!” Jill departed through the classroom door.
Sparrow and Jocasta watched her go. “What a pity,” said Jocasta. “I enjoyed the
flattery. Alas, this was not my idea. I think this one was a bit…pedestrian.
Not even involving a Wheezy! How primitive.”
Sparrow looked around. Who was looking guilty? There he was. Cormac McKinnon, a
stout lad who had about the reddest hair and the palest skin in the school. At
the moment his face was also red.
“I’m sorry!” said Cormac. “I was trying to get Jocasta and you got in the way.”
“Is that so?” said a voice from the classroom door. The door had been
transfigured to look like a human face, and it spoke. “Mister McKinnon,
pranking people. Ten points from Hufflepuff.”
“Tsk tsk,” said Jocasta. “Never admit fault when you prank someone, Kinney old
bean. You’ve much to learn. I could teach you.”
“I shall not go any further down a dark road!” said Cormac. “I shall not become
a dark prankster wizard like you!” He dashed into the classroom.
“Why don’t you explain yourself,” said Sparrow. She had taken a seat close to
Cormac, hoping that his own struggles with transfiguration would overshadow her
“What’s to explain?” said Cormac. “Jocasta pranks everyone and never
apologizes. And she pranks the Hufflepuffs more than anyone. She’s the reason
we have to check our seats at the table at every meal. So I thought I would get
back at her.”
“You don’t trust me to protect you? Nothing gets through my shield.”
“Sometimes you’re not there.”
“Explain the bag of flour,” said Jill, sitting on the other side of Cormac.
“It seemed like a very Muggle thing,” said Cormac. “Maybe I wanted to show her
up without using magic. You ever thought of that? Doing something without using
“I write homework with my own hands,” said Sparrow. “Does that count? I walk up
stairs instead of flying.”
“No,” said Cormac, “I mean like, washing dishes, digging holes, tying
shoelaces. That sort of thing.”
“Why bother?” said Jill. “You can just wave a wand.”
“Speaking as a muggleborn,” said Sparrow, “you can imagine I’d want to take
full advantage of my wand during the school year.”
“Fair point,” said Cormac. “Just don’t forget muggle stuff. In case you lose
your wand. Or something.”
“Attention!” shouted the professor. “Today we will be learning about Animagi.”
Sparrow had been informed that the Transfiguration Professor used to be
Headmistress McGonnogal, back when Dombledore ran the school. Perhaps if it had
been, Sparrow would have learned how to transfigure something, under the stern
but patient gaze of a legendary professor. As it was, the incident with the
Blast-Ended Skrewts had left her successor Volund Smith in such a bad state
that they had to come up with a hasty replacement. The replacement, named
Petrus Wimble, was the sort of professor who lectured far more often than he
had the students practice. Which meant that half of the time, Sparrow’s mind
was free to wander.
Today was such a day, fortunately. As Professor Wimble droned on and on about
the legal details of animagi and the registration process, Sparrow thought
about what the Headmistress had said. She had said that you couldn’t change
someone’s life for them. But that wasn’t literally true, was it? Especially
with magic involved. Why, there was a muggle story about a fairy clad in blue
who changed a poor washer-girl’s outfit into a beautiful gown, and let her go
to the Ball, and she lived happily ever after! Muggles always used the term
“fairy godmother” when they were talking about someone being granted magic
wishes out of the blue. Why couldn’t Wizards be fairy godmothers? Maybe, once
upon a time, they had been.
Something the professor was saying finally caught her attention.
“The legal penalties for failing to register as an animagi are severe,” said
Wimble. “The Ministry of Magic will levy a fine of not less than twenty
thousand galleons, or impose a year in Azkaban, depending on the financial
status of the perpetrator.”
The entire class shivered.
Sparrow raised her hand.
“Yes, Miss Jones?”
“I still don’t understand. Why is it necessary to register?”
Professor Wimble raised an eyebrow. “I just told you.”
“But – ”
“You are a bold one,” said Wimble. “Perhaps you should have been in
“She’s proposing to break the law,” said Jocasta. “That sounds more like
“But she wants to know why something is the way it is,” said Jill. “That sounds
Sparrow felt her face grow hot.
“Be that as it may,” said Professor Wimble, “we must return to the lesson.” And
he droned on and on, leaving Sparrow wondering, now, about the Ministry of
Magic itself, and how harsh it could be. She’d done magic over the summer and
almost had her wand taken from her. The folks who had appeared at her door had
not been very nice at all. They had used a memory charm on her entire
neighborhood and then magically bound her arms to a chair and yelled at her for
Just for using a charm to make a tree grow. They’d cut the tree down too.
Sparrow couldn’t understand why anyone would want to work for such people. But,
maybe they liked the taste of power.
Just like she did.
That was something to think about.
The Hufflepuff table did not have any cupcakes that night.
“So why ARE you in Hufflepuff?” said Cormac, through a mouthful of shepherd’s
pie. “The way you talk about big things and intervene in things, I’d say you’re
as bold as a Gryffindor is supposed to be.”
“We’re both fourth years,” said Sparrow. “There’s still a few years for you to
find someone bolder than me.”
“I don’t think there is,” said Cormac. “I think if anyone was more daring they
would have run afoul of the Ministry already. You’re right on the edge, you
know. People talk about you. They wonder why you haven’t done anything stupid
enough to get expelled yet.”
“Because I wish to learn,” said Sparrow. “I want to learn everything.”
“Sounds more like a Ravenclaw to me,” said Jill beside her. Jill had cleared
her plate but had not left the table.
“Perhaps we all need a little Ravenclaw in us,” said Sparrow, “if we want to
pass our exams.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” said Cormac. He banged his fork on the
table. “Hufflepuff. Why did the
hat pick you for Hufflepuff?”
“It didn’t,” said Sparrow. “I did.”
“Just like Harry Potter,” said Cormac. “So why didn’t you pick Gryffindor?
That’s the grand old house of brave people. Right?”
“Are you saying Hufflepuff doesn’t have brave people?”
“Well I’m not saying that, but – ”
“Do you think Hufflepuff was a bad choice?”
“I just think it’s the least fitting of all your possibilities. So why bother?”
“Long story,” said Sparrow. “Maybe I’ll explain later.” She leaned upon Jill.
“What about you, my dear? You’re a Patil. Most of them go into Gryffindor.
Why’d you pick Hufflepuff?”
“Think of it this way,” said Jill. “Everyone knows what to expect of a
Gryffindor. Everyone knows what to expect of a Ravenclaw and a Slytherin. But
Hufflepuffs can do what they like, because everyone underestimates them.”
“Ooh,” said Cormac. “Sounds Slytheriny to me.”
“No doubt,” said Jocasta, appearing beside Cormac.
He jumped, scattering bits of potato. At the same time Sparrow was jostled as
Jill stiffened and sat up straighter.
“Oh hello,” growled Sparrow. “Where did you come from?”
“Perhaps from nowhere,” said Jocasta, giving Sparrow an innocent smile.
“Perhaps from the very air itself. Anyway, Jill. I bet I know why you went into
“You were trying to follow Sparrow.”
Cormac made that “OOO” sound with the rising tone, the sound that children make
when they collectively stumble upon a guilty secret.
“I don’t see how that’s supposed to be embarrassing,” said Sparrow.
Jill glanced at Sparrow, and said, “Of course you don’t.” Sparrow was left to
lean on nothing as Jill departed the table and the hall in haste.
Jill did not appear at the dueling club that night in the great hall. Jocasta
looked disappointed. “This is very disappointing,” she said. “I wanted to get
our arch-rivalry going in earnest. I have waited years for her to call me such a thing.”
“Really,” said Sparrow.
“You doubt me? Oh! I suffer the judgment of everyone’s no-nonsense mother hen!
Some of the students giggled.
“What happened to her?” said
Jocasta. “Did she fly her broom into a wall?”
“You happened to her,” said Sparrow.
The students gathered around made that “OOO” sound people make when someone has
delivered a sick burn.
“Why are you even here?” said Jocasta. “You quit the club a long time ago.”
“Figured I could find her here,” said Sparrow. “Or on the Quidditch pitch, I
guess. Figured I wouldn’t find her anywhere else. Thanks a lot, by the way. I’d
say you made a real impression on her.”
“I was just – ”
“There’s no ‘just’ when you talk about stuff like that.”
“Oh, am I going to get a lecture now? Are you going to tell me what it means to
be a good student? I’m all ears.”
“I’m busy.” Sparrow swept out of the room towards the door to the grounds.
There was a figure flying high around the Quidditch pitch in the twilight,
smacking away bludgers as they flew towards her. The figure dismissed the
bludgers with a wave of their wand, and descended as if curious, but, before
Sparrow could determine who it was, they soared upward, off the pitch and
around the castle.
Which was exactly why Sparrow had made her request to get a broomstick from the school supply closet ahead of time.
Of course, the reason she had to make such a request was because she had no broomstick of her own, because it would have been a pointless purchase, because, just as this thing was doing now, broomsticks tended to dump her on the ground at the first opportunity.
Sparrow brushed the dust off her clothing and wondered if it would be possible to cajole a broomstick. Maybe if she told it that love was at stake. Which was true, wasn't it? Jill and Sparrow, arm in arm, a matched set, one with the shield and the other with the flaming sword, partners in crime, bosom buddies, friends to the bitter end. That was worth helping her out for, wasn't it?
The broom said nothing. As brooms tended to do.
In the following weeks, Jill did not speak much to Sparrow, nor sit near her in
classes, nor at the Hufflepuff table in the great hall. Many was the time that
Sparrow attempted to confront Jill on the matter, only for the girl to make a
hasty excuse and slip away. She did not even sleep in the same dorm room as
Sparrow anymore; when Sparrow asked after her current arrangements nobody could
say where she had gone.
There was, at the beginning of October, a point where Sparrow had the chance to
corner her friend, only for Jocasta to distract her with a pink Pygmy Puff. It
was utterly adorable. Sparrow could not look away. When she did look away, Jill
was gone. She looked back at Jocasta, who was wearing an Innocent expression.
“I swear to Christ,” said Sparrow, “it’s like you’re trying to be the next
“Swear to who?” said Jocasta.
“Never mind, never mind.”
Sparrow was already missing her friend. She had thought that their bond was
strong, but evidently Jill’s embarrassment was stronger. Sparrow was
disappointed, and quite cross with the girl, and with Jocasta even moreso.
In the midst of those weeks, when Jocasta tossed things at her, as if to
deliberately bounce things off Sparrow’s shield, the objects tended to ricochet
at high speed directly towards the thrower. Fortunately for Jocasta, her experience
in Wizard Duels meant that she had no trouble dodging these missiles;
unfortunately for anyone behind her they did not have the same skill, and so a
few students wound up with a faceful of flowers, a shirt covered in ink, and,
on one occasion, a faceful of furious marmot.
On those first occasions Sparrow had been deeply embarrassed; the incident with
the marmot was mortifying. Worse, Jocasta’s reaction was hearty laughter, as if
it was in any way funny to involve Sparrow in causing harm to the other students.
Worse still, Sparrow could not figure out how to stop the ricochet effect, nor
could she understand why it only worked when Jocasta threw things at her, not when Cormac tried.
So Sparrow decided that, as her shield spell seemed to be nearly a reflex by
now, she would attempt to control her reaction. To this end she enlisted
Cormac’s aid once more, and had him throw pillows at her until she could at
last let them come.
This effort lasted all night. As a result, the following morning Sparrow was altogether
too tired to notice a bottle of ink hurtling at her face, until it struck her
square on the forehead.
Fortunately and unfortunately for Sparrow, this particular bottle was made in
the typical mode of glass ink bottles, which is to say that it was thick enough
to resist shattering even when it hit the floor. Which meant that a greater
portion of the impact went into Sparrow’s forehead, and, as the bottle had been
travelling at high speed, there was quite a bit of that impact –
At least from Sparrow’s perspective. The girl who had not suffered a hard
strike from anything or anyone in many years was now dealing with a great deal
of bone-cracking pain all at once.
That, at least, was what Sparrow came to understand long after the fact. In the
moment, past the initial shock of pain, there was nothing to consider. Or
perhaps, plenty of things she could have considered, but nothing she felt like
she could pay attention to. Except, perhaps, to wonder why on earth this
raven-haired girl had her wand up in her face, and why her pain was fading, and
“I really can’t figure you out,” mumbled Sparrow. “Thought I could. What’s your
“Add this one to the list,” said Jocasta, and this time, for once, the girl
didn’t look smug at all.
In the next moment she vanished.
In regards to the marmot incident, Sparrow’s embarrassment faded fairly
quickly, as her fellow students seemed to consider the matter little more than
a trifle. So embarrassment was replaced by confusion, as Sparrow thought
everyone would be worried their vaunted Shield Maiden had at last slipped up.
But there was neither insinuation nor rumor to that effect. Nobody cared.
Except for a few people, who seemed to be amused that the high-and-mighty
Sparrow Jones had got a comeuppance. Sparrow found this even more confusing.
How could they object to being protected? Try as she might Sparrow could not
resolve this question in her mind.
As for Jocasta, she spent a week vanishing as soon as she saw Sparrow, then
relaxed enough to simply walk away, before getting up to tricks again – this
time mostly needling the girl from afar. No more thrown objects, for some
In these same weeks, the situation with Jill did not get any better. Sparrow
had hoped that Jill’s embarrassment would eventually fade. But even into
mid-October she remained distant. The Hufflepuff quidditch team was victorious
against the Ravenclaws, and then against the Slytherins in their next match,
and Jill did not even celebrate with Sparrow as she had once done for every
Sparrow began to feel slightly queasy whenever she sat down to a meal. She was
far more distracted than usual, and found herself staring out windows when she
tried to do her homework. She couldn’t figure out what was going on with her.
She had never felt like this before – not physically ill, but mentally
burdened. Wait, that wasn’t quite the case. She’d gone through this right after
losing all of her friends those many years ago. What was this, then? Mourning?
But Jill was not dead.
And yet she might as well be. Sparrow and Jill had not often parted company in
the past three years, enough that they were willing to ask the Headmistress to
put them in the same class schedule. McGonagall had given them a searching
look, and then, miracle of miracles, granted their request without comment. And
now Jill was not dead, no, but certainly gone.
Sparrow had no words for what she was feeling, and no frame of reference. So
she wandered through her life, dazed, nearly lost. If Cormac had not let her
copy his notes she might have failed all her classes. If he had not been
willing to listen to her complain, she would have been lost. Funny how she felt
more anchored, when she was around him.
It was a milder form of how she felt around Jill. It was almost as if she had a
crush on the girl.
On a Tuesday in October, the weather was now gentle enough that Care Of Magical
Creatures could be held outside. Not that Wizards minded a little hot sun, but
Hagrid insisted on working with certain specimens from the world of long ago
that couldn’t take the dry season easily.
“I think he’s a little hidebound in his old age,” said Jocasta. “Look, he’s
bringing out Flobberworms. They’re nearly extinct.”
“Or maybe,” said Violet Brown, “he wants us to understand recent history.”
Violet Brown always wore lavender, in open and typically unchallenged defiance
of the school’s gloomy dress code. Sparrow had never seen her wearing any other
color. She wasn’t certain if the girl bought clothes in that shade, or if she
simply used a coloring charm, or if her clothing simply turned lavender when it
touched her skin, but Sparrow had never seen lavender leather, lavender brass
buttons, or lavender belt buckles. Her wand wasn’t lavender, yet, but perhaps
it was only a matter of time.
As it was, Sparrow thought that the girl ought to have been named Lavender, for
Violet embodied the name of her ancestor, unto the very color of her long curly
hair, unto her long fingernails, unto the very irises of her wide eyes, and
though Sparrow felt that the whole effect did not precisely go well with the
girl’s deeply tan skin, she had long since decided that nitpicks of fashion
were less important than keeping memory alive. Violet embodied her decision
most strongly in the rare moments when a new teacher thought to deduct house
points for her being out of uniform; her glare nearly always got them to back
As to memory, Violet was the only student besides Sparrow who paid any
attention in History of Magic. She was also, somehow, always right behind
Sparrow at the library checkout counter, with as many books. In Sparrow’s eyes,
no Ravenclaw lived up to the house’s reputation as well as she did.
Which unfortunately meant that she was ALSO difficult to approach, because she
always seemed to be running off somewhere, or kicking off on a broom to reach a
high balcony quickly, in either case her head of long lavender curls flying in
the wind of her speedy passage.
But here was an opportunity.
“So,” said Sparrow, as she sidled up to Violet. “Read any good books lately?”
“I read them for information,” said Violet, “not for quality.”
“What KIND of information?”
“I don’t care if it’s interesting.”
“Then why do you bother?”
“To gain knowledge.” Violet didn’t even bother to glance at Sparrow.
But then she did.
“What is it?” said Sparrow.
“I do have a question for you.”
“For me! Little old me? What could I possibly tell you that you don’t already
“Not here,” said Violet. “Not now. Later.”
“Ooh,” said Jocasta. “Someone has a crush.”
Violet’s face turned red.
“Will you knock it off!” said Sparrow as she shooed Jocasta away.
Sparrow jumped, as did the rest of the class. Hagrid had wrinkles and a big
white beard, but age had not reduced his strength. When Hagrid put his foot
down, you jumped, and you didn’t get to ask how high.
“Listen ter me!” he growled, as he pointed to the large slimy mass on his
shoulder. “What ye see here is a Flobberworm.
Used ter be more common. But they aren’t extinct, Miss Carrow. The Scamander
Foundation takes care o’ that, sure as rain.”
“So, not very sure,” said Sparrow.
Hagrid glared at the girl. “Pardon me old expressions,” he growled. “Sure as
sunrise, let’s say. Now, the way Flobberworms work is – yes, miss Jones?”
“When are we going to learn about the Rhiannons?”
“Later,” said Hagrid. “Now, the Flobberworms used to be more common, right, but
things have dried up a bit for ’em, so Wizards take care o’ them these days.”
“Why?” said Cormac. “They don’t, um, do anything.”
Hagrid scowled. “Ye mean ye haven’t even been paying attention to the
greenhouses, then? Young Professor Longbottom never made ye notice the
Flobberworms mulching the leaf litter?”
“Well he did, but – ”
“There ye go,” said Hagrid. “There’s something useful for ye. But I don’t need
‘em t’ be useful to keep ‘em alive. I just figure if they’re alive I oughter
help keep them alive. If I let any magical creature go extinct I’d be letting
meself go as well.”
Sparrow raised her hand.
Hagrid sighed. “Yes, miss Jones?”
“We let the non-magical creatures go extinct.”
“Not our domain,” said Hagrid. “More’s the pity.”
“Seems like we have a small domain,” said Sparrow.
“See me after class,” said Hagrid, “And we can talk more about that."
Sparrow had been informed by Cormac that the Forbidden Forest used to have
towering pines, and that there were deep shadows, and in the deep shadows
lurked all manner of nasty beasties like giant spiders and werewolves, and
snobbish beasties like unicorns and centaurs.
Sparrow thought that the Forbidden Forest of the modern day was not quite as
impressive, for the trees were as short as your regular old apple tree, and
sparse. Mostly it was shrubland. Annoying, perhaps, and maybe fit for a
centaur, but not anything to hide a giant spider. The Forbidden Shrubland. The
name just didn’t ring. Ooh, a forbidden shrubland, what does it have, thorn
bushes and stinging ants? Perhaps it would have been better to call the place
“badlands”, but some names stuck around.
There were few thorn bushes that Sparrow ever noticed along the shrubs of the
edge. Nor a significant amount of vile beasts. They did, however, hide a
surprising number of Rhiannons, which blended into the shrubs perfectly. In fact,
Sparrow was pretty certain that a significant number of these tall birds had
been shrubs a few seconds ago. Then again, it was easy to mistake a tall,
long-legged bird for a low bush. Perhaps that was what they counted on.
It didn’t help that they fixed the girl with a glare far more intelligent than
she was used to getting from any creature.
“Let me tell ye about domains,” said Hagrid, sitting on a wide stump. “Beasties
have their domains. Shouldn’t go out of them, or they might overrun th’landscape
and ruin it. What do muggle call’em…‘invasive species’, I think. These birds
here, they’re a monument to that.”
“How – ”
“Long story. My point is, Wizards also have their own domains. Ye might think
we’re cooped up, but it keeps us safe, and it keeps the world safe. We don’t go
about budging our way into muggle affairs, and they don’t ask us to grant
wishes, and that’s that.”
“You want to keep the wizarding world hidden because you don’t want to grant
wishes,” said Sparrow. “Sounds a bit selfish.”
“There’s more to it than that!” said Hagrid. “Think of me job, right? I know
all kinds of nasty beasties. What do ye think would happen if they could just
run around all over the place? What if a nundu could get into the London
Underground? The Statute of Wizarding Secrecy isn’t just a law, lass. It’s a
whole system, and it keeps everyone safe. And that’s that.”
“Well then,” said Sparrow, “Maybe everyone in the world needs magic, so they
can defend themselves.”
Hagrid clapped a hand on Sparrow’s shoulder, and fixed her with a steady gaze.
“Listen t’ me, girl. Yer trying to go down a dangerous road. I won’t have it. I
said That’s That and I mean it. I don’t want you talking about this subject
again, you understand? And I’ll tell all the teachers about it. I’ll tell them
that if they hear you talking about breaking the Statute, you’ll get a
detention with me. And you’ll see just how nasty some beasts can be.
“Run off t’ yer next class, then.”
Sparrow’s next class, by sheer luck, had been Defense Against the Dark Arts,
and not only was it been Defense Against the Dark Arts, it was the day they
were practicing shield charms. So Sparrow hadn’t missed anything when she
arrived five minutes late.
The professor, Hermetray Budge, decided to discipline Sparrow by making her
teach the entire class how to do a shield charm. She was, after all, known to
be quite competent at it. And the class seemed to be keen on having the mighty
Shield girl teach them.
Yet, for all that the shield charm was simple to say and easy to cast, Sparrow
could see the class growing frustrated. She was confused, for everyone’s shield
was perfectly formed, bright as anything. It took a little work for Professor
Budge to get a stunning spell through them.
“What is the matter?” said Sparrow. “You’re all doing it properly.”
“No we aren’t,” said Bertrand Bulstrode. “Things are still getting through.
These are supposed to be unbreakable. How do you manage to get yours to be
perfect, Miss Perfect Shield?”
“Well, I just – ” Sparrow hesitated. She didn’t actually know.
“Well done, class,” said Professor Budge. “Well done indeed, I think you’ve got
the hang of it. Five points to Gryffindor for Sparrow’s willingness to lead the
“Hufflepuff,” said Sparrow.
“Oh right, right. Now, class, let us discuss cushioning charms…”
After class Sparrow stayed behind, and sat upon the professor’s desk as he went
around rearranging chairs.
“Yes?” said Professor Budge. “What is it?”
“I was hoping you could help me figure out this business with the shield
spell,” said Sparrow. “I don’t actually know what I’m doing. Wound up causing
some people a fair bit of trouble.” She explained the situation with the
“Hrm,” said the professor. “Perhaps you do know what you’re doing, and you just
aren’t paying attention? There is a mental component that goes into spells,
after all.” He finished arranging the chairs, then swept Sparrow off his desk
with a wave of his wand. She brought an ink bottle to the floor with her. The
Professor waved his wand and the stain disappeared. “Yes, magic accomplished
without speaking. Something you will learn eventually. The spoken part is only
to guide your mind.”
“So…what if I say one thing and I’m thinking another?”
“That would be quite a mental trick, to say something out of your mouth at the
very moment your mind was sying something else! But I suppose you would wind up
casting the spell you were thinking of.”
“That must not be it, then. I thought for sure it was. Last year in the
Hufflepuff common room, I broke a mirror because something bounced off my
shield at high speed. I thought it was because I was thinking “expelliarmus”
while I was casting the shield. But that wasn’t it? What could it be, then?”
“I’m not sure,” said Professor Budge. “But you managed to re-create the effect
by accident this year, so there must be some hidden mechanism to all this, some
cause that was replicated. Tell me, what exactly were you thinking, when you
broke the mirror?”
It was a bit difficult to remember one’s specific thoughts of a year ago. “I
remember hating the mirror,” said Sparrow. “It was an ugly, awful thing. I
wanted it gone.”
“And what exactly were you thinking when you were reacting to Miss Carrow’s
“I was thoroughly frustrated with that awful girl.”
“Hm. Well, this all sounds like it could confirm some suspicions of mine
regarding spell mechanics. I have often thought that one’s emotional state has
something to do with how a spell works. Tell me, when you cast a shield, what
are you usually thinking?”
“I am thinking…er…usually I’m offended that people are throwing things at other
people, because that’s rude. And I don’t like it when students hurt each other.”
“Are you saying that you’re casting the shield between other people?”
“You know I can project the thing pretty far.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve seen you do that in class, but you mean you’re putting up
barriers between two people, neither of whom are attacking you?”
“Yes…what are you getting at?”
“I am only thinking that they might not appreciate such interference, that’s
all. You know how it is with human pride, yes? That someone stopped from taking
revenge might feel as though their righteous anger was being casually
disregarded for the sake of keeping Order. I’ve seen that happen a few times in
my travels, where a government trying to establish its authority creates
friction with local customs of upholding personal honor through combat. Did you
not consider this?”
“I have only considered that I am not going to let people harm each other on my
“Ah,” said the Professor. “There we go. You are not merely offended, but
determined. I imagine that is what makes your shield strong. I have never seen
you falter in the face of any challenge I have set you.”
“Strong,” said Sparrow. “Not unbreakable. I’ve had my shield break a few
“And what had happened to your determination in those times?”
Once it had been just after her grandfather had died. Once it had been just
before a duel with Jocasta, when Jill kissed her on the cheek. Once it had been
after she had seen a dragon for the first time. To be sure, the moment of
seeing the dragon has also involved her trying to hold up a ton of falling
rock, which itself had been more daunting than anything before, and Sparrow
might not have even considered trying to meet that challenge if Jill hadn’t
come right up beside her in a most romantic and foolhardy fashion.
“I faltered,” said Sparrow.
“This is excellent evidence for my theory,” said Professor Budge. “I must write
a letter to the Department of Mysteries. You should run along now. Go and
practice your shield charm with different emotional states.”
In the ensuing weeks Jill still did not speak to Sparrow, nor did Violet say
anything in regards to her own desired meeting, and Sparrow began to seek
Cormac’s company even more often. The most communicatino that she got was a
note left on her pillow one evening. All it read was, I am not angry at you. No further explanation. Sparrow was left as
confused as she was reassured, and yet as lonely as ever.
In the back of her mind, she began
to consider the possibility that Jill had simply had enough of discussing the
Statute of Secrecy, and whatever had happened in early September was simply the
straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps Jill was not mad at her, and thought
she was leaving Sparrow gently? It was a horrifying possibility. It was a
horrifying thought, that the friendship between the two girls could be broken
And yet – who had rushed to her side when that mountain of stone had come down
on her, years ago? Who always rushed to her side in the moments her shield
broke? Who had defended Sparrow’s reputation in public even as they argued in
private? Would that same girl up and leave her without a word over an argument
that had only ever been theoretical?
And yet, she had up and left without a word for some reason, and here was
This issue came to the fore at the Halloween Ball.
The ball was one of those affairs that, in an era of greater misery, was meant
to stand in bright contrast. Professor Flutwick had pushed for more
celebrations, for the sake of children who would otherwise feel as dreary as
the wet season was becoming. And so on the evening of 31 October, the Great
Hall was decorated in the professor’s inimitable style, with cut-out paper bats
flittering this way and that between the innumerable Jack-O-Lanterns and the
ceiling, which, in contrast to its usual veracity, was displaying a clear
moonlit night while rain pelted the great windows.
The hall was lit only by the Jack-O-Lanterns, and Sparrow was glad of it, for
her formal robes consisted of a plum gown with white lace sleeves, which her
mother had packed for her with a wink. It was old-fashioned enough that Sparrow
wondered if it had ever been in fashion; the dim light of the hall was the only
setting in which it looked anything besides frumpy.
Sparrow stood there on the sidelines, without her Jill, for the first time in
years. They had always gone to balls togther, and danced mostly with each
other. This time, though, Sparrow could not see Jill in the dim light, nor
could she spot Violet.
And there was a girl, nearly as broad and tall as Jill. One whose name Sparrow
had never learned, for she was older than Sparrow, and rarely in the same
classes, save for one year where she and Sparrow had been placed in the same
time blocks for Care of Magical Creatures. In that year Sparrow had always
homed in on the sight of the girl, for not only was the girl as imposing as
Jill, she was, in a school full of brown and black students, the only one who
had skin darker than Sparrow’s. Which was no mean feat. The girl practically
More to the point, she was the only student who never hesistated to approach
the creatures that Hagrid presented, and always placed herself close to the
front of the class, such that, if Sparrow wished to pay attention, it was
impossible not to notice her. Presumably Hagrid had called out her name many
times, but somehow Sparrow never remembered it.
Sparrow had terrible marks for Hagrid’s class that year.
This evening, the mysterious mighty girl wore a suit that appeared to be
changing colors as she danced with one person after another. On occasion, where
the girl spun her partner into the shadows, her skin blended into the shadows
and made it look as though the suit was empty. In the shadows, only her long
mane of dreadlocks made it clear that there was a head above the jacket.
And she was always in the lead. The girl was as butch as a hunk of muggle
“I noticed her as well,” said Cormac.
Sparrow jumped. She had not noticed him coming up beside her.
Cormac chuckled. “A regular halloween scare,” he said. “Sorry about that. Do
you know the name of that girl?”
“No,” said Sparrow. “Come to think of it, I don’t know the names of many people
“How about that,” said Cormac. “You would protect them, but you don’t know
them. Seems a trifle aloof, don’t you think?”
“Well, I mean – ”
“Do you wish to know them?”
Sparrow frowned. “You sound like you’re trying to suggest something.”
“I’m just saying, this is a perfect opportunity to get to know people. All you
have to do is go and dance with them.”
Sparrow crossed her arms. “Dance with them. With these people? I’ve been
frustrated by their conduct towards each other for years.”
“And I assume you would only wish to dance with Jill in any case.”
“Would you dance with me, then? I promise I won’t step on your feet.”
Sparrow acquiesced, and at last the two spun out onto the dance floor, stepping
as carefully as they could for two fourteen-year-olds in dim lighting, which
involved a fair amount of stopping and starting as they tried to get into each
other’s rhythm. They did their best, and made no exasperated faces at each
other, and, as it happened, looked not a bit different than any of the other
awkward couples their age.
Yet at a certain point, Violet Brown finally appeared, and she cut in, leaving
Sparrow somewhat in the lurch. Violet and Cormac waltzed away, perfectly in
And then appeared the girl that Sparrow had been following, whose suit, in this
light, now looked red and gold. She took Sparrow’s hand and placed a hand on
her waist, and led her in a slow waltz, without saying much of anything.
Sparrow in turn felt no desire to speak, but to stare upward into the girl’s
eyes in fascinated intimidation. Surely there was nothing that could harm
Sparrow Jones of the Mighty Shield, but this girl was already past her
After some time, the girl finally spoke. “I have not asked your name,” she
said, “for I know it already. You are well known, Sparrow Jones. But do you
Sparrow shook her head.
“Do you know anyone?”
“Jillian Patil,” said Sparrow. “Cormac McKinnon. Violet Brown, when she feels
like talking to me. Jocasta Carrow, not that I want to. That’s about it.”
“And yet what I hear of you is that you would – you do – protect everyone. And
yet – ” the girl dipped her low – “you do not know them. You disdain them from
a distance. How strange. Why would you seek to save people you do not know? Why
would you seek to protect people you hold in contempt?”
“You’re talking kind of funny. Did you eat a Shakspeare play for breakfast?”
The girl chuckled. “Funny indeed! I find the tone of such speech amusing,
especially when it comes in an inapprioriate moment. But please, dear Sparrow
of the mighty shield, be so kind as to answer the question of this humble
“If you let me out of this position, I might tell you.”
The girl stood her back up. “Well then. Tell.”
“Tell me. You’re a seventh-year,
right? You must know the shield charm by now. Why don’t you protect them?”
The girl laughed, and her suit turned yellow and black. “Oh, my dear. I fool
many people with my height. I am but a fifth-year. But to answer your question,
yes, I could cast a shield charm everywhere I saw misbehavior in the halls. And
why don’t I? Because I have not been asked. Because I worry about intruding in
the lives of strangers, people who might feel annoyed that someone was barging
into their personal problems. Do you know, I have managed to dance with
everyone on this floor? And it was all to ask about you, girl.”
Sparrow shivered. “That’s, uh. Um.”
The girl grinned.
“You’re not helping!”
“My apologies. What did you wish to say?”
“I wanted to say,” said Sparrow with some shortness of breath, “that it is
intimidating enough to know that the giant of a girl who I have beeen noticing
for four years without bothering to speak to her has, in fact, noticed me. The
fact that you seem interested in me is even more intimidating. What’s your deal
now? Do you wish to take me to bed after all? Do you wish to ravish me? Have you been waiting this
The girl laughed. “Oh! No. No, little bird, you do not have to worry about
that, not at all, not ever.”
“Alright, now I’m disappointed.”
“Do not be. You never had a chance.”
“Now I’m insulted.”
“Do not be. No one had a chance.”
“Never mind. Just take it as it is.”
“Fine,” said Sparrow. “You’re interested in me in some kind of platonic sense
and also went around asking every single person about me. I am simply annoyed,
then. It’s like this entire evening revolves around me.”
“Indeed,” said the girl. “A bit self-centered, eh? Do you want to know what
people think of you?”
“No,” said Sparrow. “No, I think it’s my responsibility to figure that out on
my own. Thank you for your effort, though.”
“No trouble,” said the girl. “It gave me an excuse to learn the names of
everyone here, anyway. But ah, I think there is someone who wishes to dance
with you. I must be gone.”
Sparrow spun around, hoping to find the one person she had been missing this
whole time. Alas, the girl who stood before her was pale as the driven snow,
her dress and her hair both melting into shadows, such that her face, shoulders
and arms stood out in the darkness as if floating. Precisely the opposite color
effect that her immediate predecessor had.
Jocasta giggled. “Your face,” she said, “just fell in the most amusing manner.
I am sorry to disappoint you, my dear adversary. May I have this dance?”
Sparrow hesitated for a moment, as the dancing students twirled around her and
Jocasta. It was a moment long enough that, as Jocasta was waiting in silence,
the amused expression on her face began to look faintly awkward as she held it
Might as well bite the bullet. “You may have this dance,” said Sparrow through
gritted teeth. “I lead.”
“Not a chance,” said Jocasta. “I saw you lead.”
“I think Cormac and I were both trying to lead,” said Sparrow. “But, if you
wish! Very well! Guide me, o great and terrible dancer, my sworn adversary.”
“You sound as though you are attempting to sound archaic.”
“Just trying to imitate a curious new friend. Come, thou beguiling raven-haired
beauty, thou duchess of tricksters and scalawags and scoundrels. Let us dance.”
Jocasta took Sparrow’s hand, and put a hand on her waist, and led her in a
lively waltz around the hall. They managed to find each other’s rhythm in short
order, although managing to avoid other couples was somewhat of a challenge,
for Jocasta seemed to have eyes only for Sparrow, and Sparrow was too busy
following her rhythm to watch where they were going.
“Have you danced with the tall girl?” said Sparrow.
“The one with the suit.”
“The girl who looks more intimidating than pretty.”
“Again – ”
“The one who danced with everyone.”
“Ah, yes.” Jocasta grinned. “You don’t know her name?”
“Stop beating around the bush!”
“Miranda McClivert.” Jocasta tried to dip Sparrow, but did not do it so low.
“Alas, I have not strength enough to sweep you off your feet as she did for me.
I bet she swept you off your feet. Who knows? She may be yet another one who pines
“So you did dance with her, you’re saying.”
“Oh, yes,” said Jocasta. “I think I could do it all night. But oh, if I did. I
would worry that I had given up on Jill. Have you seen her?”
“No,” said Sparrow. “I was hoping you had.”
“What a pity.”
“You fancy her then, after all? You’re not just having a laugh with all this
“I don’t know.” Jocasta’s face, for the first time in a few weeks, registered
an emotion other than smugness. “I do not know. I have seen the way she looks
at you, sometimes. I thought she only had eyes for you. I have also seen the
way you look at her, on occasion. And, um. I’ve seen you with your arms around
each other, up on the walkways.”
“You were spying on us?”
“I was hoping to catch her alone for once! But no, you’re always there with
her, going on about the stark beauty of the land or something. What’s it in
this season? The gathering storm?”
“Gathering blue,” said Sparrow. “Growing cold, not just in the land but in my
heart, for nothing can grow admist endless rain. The sky cries for what the
“Ah ha,” said Jocasta. “You are already skilled with the high-flying tone after
“When the subject interests me,” said Sparrow. “Such as when I consider the
gloomy state of the world. I like to have Jill by my side in those moments,
but…she has grown cold as well. I still don’t know what happened. She won’t
“She’ll come around,” said Jocasta. “I know that girl well enough. The embers
in her heart always catch light again after long. And she’ll come back to you.”
“Back to me? You sound as though you’re not cutting in after all.”
“I could, I could. And that would be quite the prank. But perhaps more awful
than anything I had done.”
Sparrow shook her head as if to clear water from her ears. “Do my ears deceive
me? Is the awful, conniving, scheming Jocasta Carrow giving up the opportunity
of her dreams because she wishes to be kind?”
“Please,” said Jocasta. “If I were to hurt you, I would hurt Jill, and I would
have no chance with her. Alas for monogamy. It leaves me with such a dilemma.”
“On that note,” said Sparrow, “why do you prank people so much anyway?”
“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know. Ta-ta, my dear.” Jocasta spun away and vanished
into the darkness, leaving Sparrow to realize that the girl had somehow managed
to unravel the entirety of Sparrow’s sleeves.
A simple Diffindo charm severed the hanging strands, and Sparrow decided that
the resulting sleeveless gown was much more chic than what she had started out
with. Jocasta had done her a favor. Perhaps she was off her game.
The evening came and went, and Jill never appeared at the ball, her existence
only becoming clear later, when she stepped through the Hufflepuff Common Room
door, swept past Sparrow and entered the second girl’s dormitory without a
In subsequent weeks Jill still managed to avoid Sparrow at every possible turn,
and Sparrow was becoming increasingly frustrated, despite Jocasta’s reassurance.
Which was, in a way, fortunate, because it meant that she was experiencing a
pure emotion that wasn’t the usual determination. And there were even times, as
when Jocasta lured Sparrow around with an Ever-Retreating Galleon, or when she
somehow turned Sparrow’s school robes into Slytherin colors, that Sparrow felt
a pure anger, greater than even what she had felt amidst the Ricocheting Sheild
incident, which the normally reserved girl was not used to.
On this basis, one evening in the common room, Sparrow asked Cormac to help her
practice the shield charm.
“Surely you don’t need any more practice,” said Cormac.
“I need to experiment. Go on. Throw something at me.”
Cormac faffed about for a bit before picking a seat cushion. He tossed it in
Sparrow’s direction. “Protego!” she shouted, bringing her wand up faster than
The cushion hit the shield and disintegrated.
“Erm,” said Cormac. “That’s new.”
“It supports Professor Budge’s theory,” said Sparrow. “Emotions have some kind
of effect on spells. Now I just need to STOP being angry, and my shield won’t
be a hazard to life and limb.”
Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned. There was Jocasta Carrow.
If Sparrow had cast her shield at that moment, Miss Carrow would likely have
“How the hell did you get in here?” said Cormac.
“I have my ways,” said Jocasta. “I just wanted to let you know that your
erstwhile lover wants to meet you at the Dragon Tower at midnight.”
“Which one?” said Sparrow. “Violet, Jill, or you?”
“You’re the one who keeps going on about how people are interested in me. I’m
gonna take a wild guess and say you’re projecting your own emotional state onto
“I – ”
“And you mended my skull after fracturing it. And you danced with me. And you
prank me more often, lately. The bit with the galleon was clever. You made me
look like a right fool. I think you’re also interested in me, Jocasta. Am I
Jocasta’s face was red. “You’re the one who called me a beguiling beauty.”
“I was just trying to have a bit of a laugh!”
“Were you really!” Jocasta gritted her teeth. “Never mind, never mind. Dragon
tower at midnight! Be there!”
There was a small thump of displaced air, and suddenly there was a tiny little
insect where Jocasta had been. It flew away.
“Now that explains a lot,” said Cormac. “Do you think she’s registered?”
“I would definitely put it past her,” said Sparrow.
Argus Filch had been unlucky and cruel in life, and in death he was not much
happier. He had stuck to the mortal plane as a ghost, being happy with the way
he could surprise students more easily than before, but otherwise still
miserable. Happy people do not leave ghosts.
The Slytherin prefect, Percival Bulstrode, had informed Sparrow of Filch’s
ghost, and had advised her on tips for avoiding the old codger. Soft shoes were
essential, as well as a total lack of personal illumination. Preferrably a
disguise charm as well.
“That’s all a lot of rubbish,” said Cormac at approximately 11 PM. “He can see
right through disguise charms, I’ve heard it straight from Lenkin Zabini. No,
we’re going to need a Muggle solution.”
“What!” said Sparrow. “Are you saying there’s no magic that can help us? Surely
there’s an advanced spell in the library somewhere.”
“And you could find it and perfect it in an hour? I don’t think so. You’d have
to get to the – oh, you’ve got the advanced charm book checked out again.”
Sparrow flipped through the pages. “See here, this is the medical section. If
we make our ears twice as large – ”
“Please,” said Cormac. “For once in my life I want a Muggle thing to beat a
Wizard thing. Is that too much to ask?”
“What exactly do you suggest, then?”
There was one professor in the school, by the name of Mincent Warbeck, who
stood approximately seven feet tall.
Sparrow and Cormac, at their age, were both about four feet five inches. So
with Sparrow on Cormac’s shoulders, they came to a little under Warbeck’s
height. It was fortunate that the standard wizarding uniform of black robes
obscured so much in terms of shape and size, especially at night.
“This is completely ridiculous,” whispered Sparrow.
“It will work,” whispered Cormac. “The best way to slip past a guard is to look
like you belong there.”
The going along the upper corridor was tricky. The roof beams nearly hit
Sparrow in the head and Cormac was struggling to maintain a steady pace, and
Sparrow found herself having to lean one way and the other in a
counterbalalance as Cormac struggled to keep Sparrow upright. In the darkness
they looked like a frightening giant man who was more than slightly tipsy. In
the moonlight they looked like two twerps stacked on top of each other.
It was highly lucky, then, that Filch spotted them before they hit the next
patch of moonlight.
“Who goes there?” said the luminous Filch, as he floated up through the floor.
“Who is this wandering the halls at night? Who on earth are you?”
Sparrow put on her best Mincent Warbeck voice. “My name,” said Sparrow, “is
Mincent Vincente Theodolphus Bombastus von Warbeck.”
“Oh right,” said Filch. “The new professor. What do you teach again?”
“Erm – ”
“Arithmancy,” whispered Cormac.
“Arithmancy,” said Sparrow.
“What was that? I thought I head something.”
“I heard it too,” said Sparrow. “Very strange. Almost like someone whispering.
Almost like someone is here with us. Hm. Might be an intruder. Tell you what.
You search that way – ” she pointed behind her – “and I’ll search ahead.”
“Your arms are oddly short for a tall man,” said Filch.
“Er…one of the students played a nasty prank. That black-haired Slytherin girl.
Haven’t shaken the effects off yet.”
“Ah yes,” said Filch. “Jocasta Carrow. She brings back bad memories. But I
don’t think we should search that way. You just came from that way and you
didn’t see anything. Why don’t we search forward together?”
“Uh…Plenty of things in this wizarding world are invisible,” said Sparrow.
“Such as can only be revealed with the wave of a wand. Tell you what. You
search forward that way and I’ll search back the way I came, just to see if I
“If it is an intruder,” said Filch, “I ought to be alerting the castle right
“I’m sure it’s just a student out of bed,” said Sparrow.
“You said it was an intruder.” Filch narrowed his eyes at Sparrow. “Which is
“I must have been mistaken,” said Sparrow. “It is far more likely to be a
student out of bed. Hogwarts security is tight these days, as you said.”
“Right,” said Filch. “Well, Professor Mincent, I wish I could ask why you were
also out of bed, considering that you have a reputation for sleeping like a log
as soon as the sun goes down. In fact, I will ask. What exactly are you doing,
wandering the upper corridor, which happens to lead to the Dragon Tower, where
I just so happened to catch two students waiting for a friend, such that I
nearly had to serve them detentions before I got the whole story?”
“Uh – ”
“Not to mention that the portraits saw them sneaking around. They also informed
me that two other students were out of bed after hours, one of them carrying a
bundle of cloth.”
“Well, you see – ”
“Leave your explanations. I’m inclined to be lenient tonight.”
“Erm – ”
“Goodnight, Sparrow Jones. I will dock you and your friend there fifty house
points each from Hufflepuff, but you may go on to your meeting. There is
someone you should meet.”
He floated off.
“May I present Blaise Brown,” said Violet. “The elder child of my house.”
“Though not its heir,” said Blaise, “after I swore myself to this tower.”
The Dragon Tower stood gleaming alabaster in the moonlight, a tower taller and
far wider than the astronomy tower. The Astronomy professor had raised quite a
fuss when the new tower had risen, because suddenly the there was this shape
getting in the way of seeing Orion. But one does not argue with dragons. The
Astronomy professor had to put up and shut up.
Nor, indeed, was the Astronomy
Professor’s opinion shared by the entire castle, for someone had managed to put
a flagpole atop the point of the tower’s conical roof, assuming Sparrow’s glimpses
of the castle at a distance were accurate.
Nobody was sure why the tower had risen, nor how the dragons had decided to
call it home in the first place, but then, nobody was certain why the castle
had started to shift its corridors on a daily basis either. Some people blamed
the extra defensive spells that had been put on at the battle of Hogwarts,
others said that magic was somehow waking up. Some people blamed goblins. But
these were the people that blamed goblins for everything, including the rise of
And there was Blaise Brown, keeper of the dragons, one who had not come with
the tower, but who, according to the rumors, had appeared there shortly after
the dragons arrived. Whatever that meant.
One normally saw nothing of the Keeper of Dragons. Blaise only ever stepped out
of the shadows on nights when the moon was clear and full. Violet could not say
why, nor could Sparrow tell. Maybe it was a Romantic thing, like the green cape
and the tall green pointed hat. Something to look impressive. The cape
certainly looked nice and dramatic in the evening breeze.
Sparrow wondered if this vaunted Keeper of Dragons could get one of them to
breathe a little fire down on her. The night was getting cold.
“Greetings,” said Sparrow, taking Blaise’s hand. “A pleasure to meet you,
“Maybe,” said Blaise.
“Maybe Brown,” said Sparrow. “Fair enough.” She turned to Violet. “Why have you
called me here? If it was for a Tryst, this location is hardly private.”
Violet’s face turned red. “Excuse me?”
Sparrow shook her head. “Sorry, sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind this evening.
I might have spoken too frankly with someone I like and embarrassed them and
then I did it again and now I’m doing it again and – and um – God Dammit,
please just tell me what’s supposed to be going on here.”
“Violet called you here,” said Blaise, “because of me. Kind of.”
“Explain,” said Sparrow.
“Someday I will,” said Blaise. “But you’re here for Violet’s questions, right?
Violet, go ahead and ask.”
Violet looked sheepish for the first time that Sparrow had ever seen. “It’s a
bit of an awkward question,” she said. “Which is why I wanted to ask it here.
This seems like an appropriately dramatic place. As well as sufficiently
discreet. But now I’m thinking we should have done this in humbler settings.”
“Go on,” said Blaise. “I’m sure your friend doesn’t bite.”
“Except when she wants to,” said Cormac.
Sparrow whirled around. “Cormac! You can’t possibly know anything about that!”
“Anything about what?” said Cormac. “I was talking about your shield charm!
What did you think I was – ”
“Some people still have delicate matters on their mind, did you not consider
“Delicate indeed,” said Violet. “Ooh la la.”
“For God’s sake,” said Sparrow, “don’t you get started too!”
Violet and Blaise were both collapsing in fits of giggles. Sparrow crossed her
arms and waited for them to cease.
After a few seconds Violet regained her composure, still wearing a mirthful
grin. “Sorry about that,” she said. “It was a good opportunity to break the
ice. As for my question, yes, yes, I suppose I ought to get around to that now,
shouldn’t I? All I wanted to know is if you really intend to break down the
Statute of Secrecy.”
For a few seconds no one spoke. The chilling wind alone had its say, as it picked
up enough to set the flagpole clanking, high in the distance above.
“You are correct,” said Sparrow. “It is an awkward question. I’ve had a fair
few arguments about the matter with a good friend. Maybe I wound up driving her
away. Maybe that makes it harder to talk about now. And yet – here you are,
willing to ask me about it. Not openly disdainful like some of my fellow
students, nor visibly exasperated nor chiding. Goodness, you’ve been meaning to
ask me about this for weeks, haven’t you? I should have realized that you were
bringing me here to discuss that subject. I wouldn’t feel like I had been
caught off-guard – ”
“You are stalling,” said Cormac.
Sparrow shot him a glance. “The answer is yes. I would like to bring down the
Statute of Secrecy. At the very least, I would like to be able to use the
powers in our hands to restore some green to the world, without interference
from people trying to maintain secrecy and seclusion. Would you consider that
too much to ask?”
Violet did not answer, nor would she meet Sparrow’s eyes.
“What are your concerns?”
Again Violet did not answer, though she met Sparrow’s eyes this time.
“Would it reassure you to know that I am not entirely committed to such a
“It would,” said Violet. “I study Wizarding History as much as you do, you
know. I’m having my misgivings. I was worried that you were not having
misgivings. Because I know about what muggles did to us. I know what awful
things they did in their fear. If they knew that we existed again…it could go
bad again, and we’d wind up hiding again. But.” She gestured at Blaise. “My
sibling here, they’re practically a dragon by now – ”
“Come now,” said Blaise. “I haven’t even grown scales yet.”
“ – and dragons shouldn’t be cooped up like they are now, forced to wait until
the rainy season to go flying at all. And I’ve been thinking about this idea
ever since you started blathering about it.”
“Ah yes,” said Sparrow. “I haven’t been very discreet about my opinions, have
“Quite. And I’ve been studying muggle history too. Which is why I’m still torn,
because the things they did to each other…do not bear repeating, not now.
That’s a story for later.”
“What would make the decision for you?”
Violet looked up to the heavens. “Ideas too wild to venture. Of all the people
in the school…you’re the safest person to stand behind but possibly the least
safe to confide in. If I explained things to you fully, I might wither under
the stern gaze of the girl who fancies herself something of a Disapproving
Mother to the students.”
“Is…that really how I come across?”
“When you don’t even give me a chance to defend myself? Yes. That’s how I see
it, anyway. So I couldn’t venture ideas around you unless I believed in them
strongly myself, strongly enough to hold onto them despite stern judgement.”
Sparrow considered the possibility of admitting that she did, in fact, hold the
student body in a fair amount of contempt. She thought better of it. “Surely,”
she said, “despite the risk of my haughty air, I would be the most receptive
person in the school for you to ask about the Statute of Secrecy.”
“Ah,” said Violet. “Perhaps so. But then, what if I do discuss it with you, and
you decide it’s time to get the ball rolling? Then I would feel responsible.”
“It’s my idea,” said Sparrow. “I thought of it first.”
“Technically it was Carlotta Pinkstone’s idea first, decades before you.”
“Who do you think I’m drawing inspiration from? I know Wizarding history.”
Cormac was gazing up at the heavens. “Funny it is,” he said. “Muggles think
they can reach the stars, and they have wondrous devices to carry them closer.
But they’ve only gotten as close as the moon. If Wizards could help them, would
they reach the stars eventually? But Wizards can’t help them, because Magic
itself does not want to work with electricity. Talk about a spoilsport.”
Violet blinked. “Okay,” she said, “you guessed my wild idea. And you stole my
thunder. Thanks for that.”
“Ideas go nowhere if we keep them
to ourselves,” said Cormac. “I’ve always admired Sparrow here for being
outspoken about an idea that is, frankly, hazardous to her life and limb.
There’s still pureblood supremacists in the world, you know.”
“I know,” said Sparrow. “But there’s so much I want to know about the world
entire, and the way things are right now…I’m more than a little stifled.”
“Spoken like a Ravenclaw,” said Cormac. “Yet, what is the goal of this
knowledge? A Ravenclaw seeks knowledge for its own sake. A slytherin would gather
knowledge for the sake of power. A Gryffindor gathers knowledge for the sake of
adventure. What does a Hufflepuff gather knowledge for?”
“For protecting my friends,” said Sparrow. “Why do you think I can do a good
“The love of friends,” said Blaise. “Spoken like a true Hufflepuff. Well,
Sparrow. Speaking as the only legal adult in this situation, I should say that
I am simultaneously impressed and disturbed by your great ambitions at a tender
age. Not that I am necessarily surprised. I am quite familiar with Violet,
after all. But, like I said, I am disturbed. You all are how old, exactly?”
“Fourteen,” said Sparrow.
“Thirteen,” said Violet.
“Fourteen,” said Cormac. “But we’re all Fourth Years, is the important part.”
“Exactly. Old enough to get a sense of your distinctive capabilities, yet young
enough to know nothing of patience nor very much of endurance. Just…keep that
in mind before you all get in over your heads. I wouldn’t want to lose my
sister to this business, nor two new friends.”
“You live with dragons,” said Cormac, “and you’re counseling us about danger?”
“They invited me,” said Blaise. “And I keep this door shut. So don’t go
tut-tutting at me, young man. Now, it’s all well past everyone’s bed time and
I’m sure you all have work to do tomorrow. So if you have time later and you
can all sneak back to me, I may tell you more about my situation. I’m sure you
have stories to tell me as well. As for now -- I have my own work to do. Some dragons are restless in the
A long silver head on a long silver neck stuck itself out of a window and
breathed white fire into the sky.
“And restless dragons, only me and Charlie Weasley can handle. Be off, now.”
Cormac and Sparrow stood before the barrels that concealed the entrance to the
Hufflepuff common room. Sparrow raised her hand to knock on what she thought
was the right barrel, but someone in the darkness knocked on a different one,
and there was a splashing sound.
“My goodness,” said Cormac. “It sounds as though someone has tried to prank us,
and has failed. Hello, Jocasta.”
Jocasta spluttered. “I suppose that’s my fault. I should have picked the barrel
above your head. So what happened at the tower? Did you have that romantic
liaison after all?”
“You’re still on about that!” said Sparrow. “For Dimbledore’s sake, Jocasta – ”
“Dumbledore. It’s Dumbledore. You make yourself sound like a total m –
“I am impressed,” said Cormac. “You avoided the M-word deliberately. I think
that’s the first time I’ve ever heard a Slytherin do that.”
“Yeah, well.” Jocasta muttered and waved her wand at her sleeves to dry them.
“Last time I called someone a…M-word…they licked their hand and slapped it on
my face, and then everyone started singing about how I had mud on my face, and
they started stomping and clapping. It was really weird. I’m not going to risk
that again. Anyway, Sparrow. Was there any kissy-kiss?”
“Nothing romantic happened,” said Sparrow. “Just business. It was kind of
“So what DID happen?”
“I don’t trust you enough to tell you,” said Sparrow.
“Humph,” said Jocasta. “Bet I know what that’s about.” She disappeared into the
Cormac prepared to knock on the correct door. But he hesitated. “Argus said
there were two friends waiting for us.”
“Blaise and Violet, right?”
“He didn’t know the situation was about Blaise until he got the whole story from Violet and another student. So who was the other one? How did they get up to the tower
without alerting Filch in the first place?”
“Boo,” said a voice that Sparrow hadn’t heard in a while.
There was Jill at the far wall, holding her broom, a Nimbus Plus Ultra.
Sparrow moved to embrace her friend.
Jill, for her part, reciprocated. “I always enjoy having your arms around me,”
she said. “I wanted to let you know that.”
“Does that mean you want to talk to me again?”
“Maybe. I have some things to think about. Give me a week or so.”
“As you wish.” Sparrow let her go, and turned to Cormac. "Um, Cormac, I was meaning to ask -- ”
"I will help you with anything you need," said Cormac. He gave a pointed look to both Sparrow and Jill, but it was not a look of suspicion or disapproval. he appeared to have a twinkle in his eye.
"No no," said Sparrow. "I didn't need help with anything, I just had a question."
"You can use a broom, right? So why did you want to use the Upper Corridor to get to the tower?"
"I mean, I get that you wanted to do a muggle thing but maybe you could have...had me hang from one of the long-brooms with my hands, or something."
"Oh I bet I know," said Jill. "I bet he likes you. I bet a boy likes you, Sparrow. I bet someone has a crush."
Cormac's face was red. "For heaven's sake," he said, "Don't you go pulling a Jocasta on me after she did it to you! Anyway I've already got someone else in mind and Sparrow's someone I enjoy hanging around thank you very much goodbye." He spun on his heels and dashed through the open common room door.
Sparrow gave Jill a quizzical look. "Pulling a Jocasta?"
Jill gave Sparrow a disappointed look in return.
"Long story. Like I said, tell you next week."
They entered the Common Room.
Unfortunately, within that week someone managed to spread a rumor that Violet
Brown and Sparrow Jones were dating, and the student body was proving very
difficult to convince otherwise.
Which meant that Jill was suddenly not on speaking terms with Sparrow again.
And this time Someone left a note Sparrow’s pillow that said, Now I am mad at you.
It was a morning in late November, and the steady rain down rained down, fully
quenching the thirsty earth. It would become a right downpour in December, and
not let up until January, and the lake would fill once more. In the wet season,
within the concealing curtain of rain, the headmistress saw fit to more openly
manipulate things, and the rain tended to avoid hitting the castle. But it was
still becoming the dreary season. Well. The other kind of dreary.
“The use of charms,” said Professor Flutwick, “is to add properties to an
object. You know that well enough. But why bother to charm something when you
can transfigure it? Yes, Miss Jones?”
“You don’t want to transform the object because you don’t want to hurt it.”
“That is not quite correct,” said Flutwick. “transfigurations, unless Miss
Jones is doing them – ” the entire class giggled – “do not permanently injure
the object, whereas charms, especially dark charms, can cause permanent changes
to the object. What is the answer? Zabini?”
“You want to do something to the object that a transfiguration can’t achieve.
You can’t transfigure a teacup into a portkey.”
“Indeed, Zabini, indeed. One might say that a transfiguration is an illusion
powerful enough to become reality, whereas a charm is a matter of rewriting
reality without bothering with illusions at all. One must be careful, of
course.” And Professor Flutwick went on speaking for some time about the
Sparrow had spent the past few years confused by Professor Flutwick, because
something about him seemed slightly off. Perhaps his nose was too small, or
perhaps his ears were too big, or perhaps he was shorter than anyone seemed to
have the right to be. But earlier this year she had heard that the school once
held a professor named Flitwick, who was about as short as Flutwick, and had a
similar face. In fact…was Flutwick even a different person? There were no
rumors about Flitwick or Flutwick that she’d heard, other than a penchant for
After class, and having plenty of time this time, she confronted Flutwick with
“Bold as ever,” said Flutwick. “Why, you even tower angrily over me.” He waved
his wand at Sparrow, and she shrunk to his height with an awkward squawk.
“What the hell was that for!” said Sparrow.
“It is as I said during class, if you were paying attention. Charms are a way
of writing our will upon reality, even if only for a moment. Now, as for my own
situation, let me say this: Professor Flitwick died and was buried. Wink.”
“Precisely. Now, off you go.” He waved his wand and returned her to her
Sparrow stumbled out the door, dizzy from the sudden changes.
The upper-floor corridor was dark as a tomb in the midnight’s downpour. Sparrow
was practicing the night-vision charm that she had found in a book a few days
ago. It seemed to be working well, although perhaps too well. Argus Filch was
lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Do you want me to be docking fifty house points again,” said Filch, “and
calling the head of your house? Or are you going to go back to bed?”
“I really want to talk to Blaise,” said Sparrow. “I’m ready for the whole
“Hrmph. Well. It’s not like they’d be available.”
“What do you mean?”
“The moon’s not out.”
“But – oh, goodness, you’re right. That means I won’t see them again until the
“Then I take it that means you won’t be trying to sneak by me up here again?”
“I can’t guarantee that.”
The next day Sparrow confronted Professor Flutwick again. This time with her
“You’ve learned,” said Professor Flutwick. “It seems you have learned not to
“Damn right,” said Sparrow.
“So will you be this defensive every time we converse?”
“I think it would be prudent. You did terrible things to me.”
“Indeed, indeed. And I didn’t even ask, did I? What an awful way to treat
people.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“I just wanted to ask you,” said Sparrow, “about the nature of charms.”
Flutwick raised an eyebrow. “I thought we went over that in class yesterday.”
“I mean the nature of spells in general.”
Flitwick raised the other eyebrow. “Well, erm. My dear. That’s a very
high-level question. Shouldn’t you be focusing on HOW to do the spells, at your
age? In fact, I think you should be focusing more in my class. Your levitation
charm is quite a bit wobbly. Yes, that will be your extra homework. You must
practice Wingardium Leviosa tonight. I want to see you do it much better by
“But – ”
“Off you go.”
Good old Cormac was not in the common room that evening.
Nor was anyone else, besides Jill. Which was odd indeed, for the room was
normally full of students doing homework at this hour.
Jill stood there looking like she wanted to speak to Sparrow again. Sparrow did
not acknowledge her, at first, for she was scanning the gaps beneath the doors
of the girl’s and boys dormitories. One of them had an Extendable Ear in it.
Sparrow pointed her wand at the ear and said “Expeliarmus,” but what came out
was little more powerful than a flicking finger.
“We’re not going to get any privacy here,” said Sparrow. “Walk with me?”
“People will think we’ve gone out for a snog.”
“Perfect,” said Sparrow. “It will counter all those rumors about me and
“You mean you and her – ”
“Did you actually bother to ask her?”
“Did you bother to ask me? No. Come on.” Sparrow started for the door and
motioned for Jill to follow her. “If we hit up the library I think Violet would
be the only person there at this hour.”
Sparrow and Jill strode along the middle third-floor corridor. Some Ravenclaw
students were hurrying to bed, under the watchful eyes of the portraits. If the
portraits were confused about why two girls were strolling without hurry, they
said nothing, for the Ravenclaw Tower entrance was, this evening, in the
direction that the two girls were going, and it was not yet after curfew.
Close, perhaps. But the moon had not risen. And so the girls were able to walk
rather close to each other, as close as either dared, though not arm in arm.
“Speak to me for once,” said Sparrow.
“What would you have me say?”
“Whatever you wish to say. I’m sure there is much you want to tell me.”
“I’m not sure how to say it.”
“May I ask a question, then?”
“I can hardly stop you. I can hardly stop you from doing anything. No one can.”
Sparrow sighed. “I wish that were the case. Someday it may be. But answer me
this – why have you been avoiding me for so long? I miss your warmth. Why have
you been so cold?”
“Because of what you said! You said you couldn’t understand why I would be
embarrassed about what Jocasta said!”
“Well I couldn’t.”
“Maybe not. But the situation wasn’t about you, was it? It was about me. It was
about what I was thinking. I feel like you don’t ever really stop to think
about what other people are thinking.”
“I think about other people all the time.”
“But are you thinking about what they’re thinking?”
“Well I hardly know it, do I?”
“You could ask them.”
“True enough, Miss Avoids-Her-Friends. Ah, the library. Here we are.”
The doors of the library were still open. Suddenly they were less open. “Come
on,” said Sparrow. “We won’t get in after the doors close.”
She took Jill by the hand and dragged her inside. The doors closed with a boom.
Sparrow had been in muggle libraries in her early youth. They tended to be
bright places, full of laughter and conversation, with sunlight pouring through
windows. This library, by contrast, was a place of dark old oak wood, and
Mostly from the students.
“Why exactly did you decide to jump in here?” said Jill. “And why did you drag
me with you?”
“I wanted to get your opinion on a particular topic of study,” said Sparrow.
“Someplace we wouldn’t be overheard.”
“Well what if the books hear us?” said Jill. “What if the librarian is still
here? This place just closed. If anyone catches us in here we’ll look doubly
suspicious. And furthermore, I haven’t got a chance to say everything I wanted
to say to you.”
“Go ahead, then.”
“Not here,” said Jill. “As long as we’re in here I’m still mad at you.”
“Then let us leave,” said Sparrow. “We might be able to evade the prefects if
we hurry back.” She moved back to the door and pulled. It would not budge. She
drew her wand and whispered, “Alohamora”. The door still would not budge.
“That’s a problem,” she said. “I guess the librarian takes their security
“Did you plan this?”
“I’m hardly a sneak,” said Sparrow. “And you did say that I don’t care about
what other people think. So, what do you think?”
“I think we might as well have that talk in here, if we can’t get out. Let’s
just find some seats and – ” There was a snarling noise, and an unearthly howl.
“And I need to figure out what the heck that was.” Jill started towards the
direction of the sound.
“Get behind me,” said Sparrow, “I’ve got the unbreakable shield.”
“It’s not a perfect one! And I need to practice mine.”
“I can’t cast offensive spells,” said Sparrow. “If it comes to that I’d like
you to survive long enough to get a stunner in, at least.”
“What about you surviving long enough? Just stay here. I can blast away
anything I need to.”
“You know full well I’m coming with you, Jill.”
“UGH! Stubborn girl. Fine. I’ll be at your side instead of behind you, how’s
They moved forward together, wands at the ready, towards where they had last
heard the snarl. There was a deep growl, farther away this time but in the same
direction. Then, the creak of a rusty hinge, and a metallic slamming sound, as
if a heavy gate had been shut.
“Sounds like it went into the forbidden section,” said Jill. “But…only the
librarian has the key, right? How did that creature get the key?”
“Onward,” said Sparrow. “Our answer lies ahead.”
The forbidden section of the library was forbidden for two reasons. One, it was
full of books that contained knowledge too dangerous for students to be dealing
with on an uncontrolled basis. Dark magic of all kinds. Yech. Not the sort of
thing you were allowed to look at unless you could give your professor a really
good excuse about needing to study evil.
Two, it was full of books that were, by themselves, dangerous. Sparrow had no
idea why the school had decided to stock copies of the Monster Book of
Monsters, but then, if anyone in the Wizarding World was going to put that
stupid thing anywhere, it might as well be the forbidden section of the library
And the Monster Book of Monsters had a lot of friends. So Sparrow had to keep
her shield spell up, and essentially plow her way through a pile of very angry
books. There was one with long spider legs, and one with a nasty stinger tail,
and a lot of books that had big grasping hands with sharp claws.
If the girl had been alone, she might have faltered and been overwhelmed. But
she could not, would not, for Jill was beside her, and Jill had never done a
proper shield spell yet.
Fortunately for them, Jill was pretty damn good at the stunning spell, and put
it to good use by zapping any books that had circled around behind the shield.
And so the girls inched forward through the forbidden section, in a whirlwind
of paper and fangs.
“I think these books are angry at us!” said Sparrow. “I wonder why.”
“Think about it,” said Jill. “For once, think about – stupefy! – think about
what someone else might be thinking.” She gestured to the bookshelves, which
were oddly empty. “Look at this barren shelving. My mother told me this section
used to be full. What do you think happened that – stupefy! – what do you think
happened that would have taken these books away? Stupefy!”
“The aftermath of Voldemort?”
“Stupefy! Precisely. Cormac told me that his father in the Ministry library was
in charge of adding a bunch of new forbidden texts to the restricted section
there. That’s assuming that some titles weren’t destroyed outright. So maybe
all of these forbidden books were whisked away to a section that was a hell of
a lot more secure than this school, and the ones that were left were the ones
that were just mean, not full of dangerous knowledge.”
“And they’re attacking us because we’re on their turf and they’re sad that they
lost their friends?”
“But what about the books that are still on the shelf?”
“Maybe they’re also monster books. And they just haven’t gone after us yet.”
“We passed them, didn’t we? So why did they not –”
There was a sound, as of the rustling paper of many books.
“Can you make that shield a dome?” said Jill.
“I, uh – ”
The rustling was getting closer. “I need that boldness now, Sparrow. Come up
with something fast.” Jill was firing off stunners as fast as she could but the
press of books was beginning to overwhelm her.
“Talk to me,” said Sparrow.
“About what, exactly!”
“About why you followed me into Hufflepuff. You proved yourself as bold as I
am, didn’t you? You were the only one besides me in our first year that wanted
to touch the dragons. You jumped on a broom before anyone else did, and you did
it from a second story balcony. You would have been perfect in Gryffindor. You
would have been able to hang out with all your brothers and sisters every
evening, and speak to them more often before they graduated. So why did you
“How do you know I followed you?”
“Because you were so embarrassed when Jocasta said it. It must have hit a
“Stupefy! Well, now you’re
thinking about other people – stupefy! – so that’s a good start. And you’re
right, and – stupefy! – Jocasta was right – stupefy! – and it was because of
that shield charm you cast. Stupefy! The first one, remember?”
Sparrow had been standing in line with the rest of the first years, waiting for
her turn with the hat. And a Fanged Frisbee had come whirling out of the crowd.
Before anyone else could react, even the teachers, Sparrow had her wand out and
had deflected the Frisbee.
It had been highly unusual, because beginning first years weren’t supposed to
know shield charms yet, or much magic at all. They had purchased their
spellbooks, of course, but nobody had expected them to READ the things, nor to
practice anything in them before the start of the term, nor yet to perfect it.
“Alright, so did you think I was going to go into Ravenclaw?”
“I fully expected you to be sorted into that house, yes, or into Gryffindor.
But you picked Hufflepuff. You PICKED a house. That doesn’t happen often, does
it? People go where they’re placed by a wiser person. Or someone they think is
wiser. Older, at the very least. And you didn’t. You made a choice. So I
decided I would make one, too, and follow you. Because I…wanted to see what you
would get up to.
“And when pranks came flying at us Hufflepuffs over the years, you managed to
intercept half of them. Why did you bother? They weren’t even coming at you,
but you saved people from fanged Frisbees, india-ink eggs, falling chandeliers,
dung bombs…Why? Why save someone that isn’t you or your friends?”
“I don’t like to see people hurt,” said Sparrow. “That’s all.”
“Is it that simple?”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“I want Blaise to hear the whole story too. I don’t want to tell it twice.”
The monster books on Sparrow’s side had gone. So had the books on Jill’s side.
All that was left was a pile of tomes that lay stunned. “I think we’re safe
now,” said Jill. “Let’s press forward.”
Sparrow looked around.
All the books on the shelves had gone.
There was a rustling of paper all around them.
And it was growing very close.
“What I’m gathering from your story,” said Sparrow, “is that you are interested
in me. Is that correct?”
“Of course! We’re still friends, right?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if you still want to be friends. You abandoned me
for weeks, and then ran away again. Perhaps, in the short amount of time we
have, you’d be willing to explain why. I have an idea but I’d prefer to hear it
The rustling of paper was growing louder.
“I, uh –– ”
“It’s clear to me that you’re prone to feeling embarrassed but we’re running
out of time here, so I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you have a
crush on me, and that you’ve had it for a while. Am I right?”
Jill’s face reddened. “Damn it. Yes, I’ve been crushing on you for a couple
The rustling was nearly on top of them.
“I think I’ve been doing the same thing. I just had to admit it to myself. I had to realize I like you. I mean how exactly I like you. I mean – I mean perhaps my
idea here will work. If you would be so kind, kiss me.”
“Oh, do you not want to?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Then do it! We’ve got about three – ”
Jill planted a hard one on Sparrow’s lips. In the same moment, the books burst
out of the stacks from every direction, fully intending to tear the two
children to shreds. Sparrow, still locked in the kiss, pointed her wand in a
random direction and said clearly within her mind, Wingardium Leviosa.
If Professor Budge’s theory was right, and sheer determination could make a
shield spell as hard as iron, perhaps sheer elation could make someone as light
as air. Or, in this case, everything around the caster.
About five seconds later, Jill finally released the kiss, and Sparrow opened
Thousands of books hovered in mid-air around the two girls, having been halted
in mid-leap. They snapped furiously, unable to escape the spell or move forward
Nor would Jill yet let Sparrow out of her arms. “I have wished to keep you
close,” she said, hugging Sparrow a bit more tightly. “I have wished to keep
you close, and safe in my arms, for many years. Even after I came to understand
that you hardly needed such protection.”
“And I have felt the same for you,” said Sparrow. “It was hard to say. Easy to
demonstrate but hard to communicate. As it is, we’ve kept each other safe. So
let’s keep doing that. And keep each other close. Will you run from me again?”
Jill let Sparrow out of her arms at last. “Never more than an arm’s length.”
She gazed around at the floating books. “Goodness, this is an impressive spell.
When did you learn to do this?”
“Just now,” said Sparrow. “I had a bit of help, from a very good friend.”
The two girls awoke at the library table in the morning.
Having escaped the forbidden section intact, Jill had suggested that they go to
sleep at the table by resting their heads on some open books, so as to pretend
that they had fallen asleep in the library.
Yet when they awoke, the books had been moved into a stack next to them.
Even though there was nobody else in the library yet.
Sparrow and Jill rose, and checked the doors. They remained closed.
The librarian was nowhere to be seen.
“I really would like to get out of here,” said Sparrow. “I’ve been caught
sneaking around after dark too often.”
“I thought you liked my alibi!” said Jill. “It’s perfect.”
“I thought it was perfect,” said Sparrow. “But think about it this way. We’re
stuck in the library all night, right? We never sent an owl, never tried to
call anyone for help, and I’m dead certain the administration knows there’s a
monster in here every night, because the library doors can’t be opened after
hours. So what are they going to think when we claim to have just ‘fallen
asleep’ in the library? At the very least they’ll be suspicious.”
“You’re thinking of what other people are thinking,” said Jill. “I’m so proud.”
“I’m giving it a shot. Now, how are we going to get out of here?”
“Wait until the doors open?” said Jill. “And then duck out like nothing’s the
“Hide in the stacks and start studying,” said Sparrow, “and maybe people will
think we just got in before they did. Come on. There’s a book I want to ask you
Sparrow led Jill to the history section. There were huge tomes and skinny
tomes. The section on wizard-muggle relations was fairly substantial. “Here it
is,” said Sparrow. “Late seventeenth century.” She hefted a weighty tome off
the shelf and thumped it down on the table. “There’s only one big thing that
happened in that decade.”
“Oh come on,” said Jill. “I thought you were off that subject for once. Half
the reason I ditched Violet that one evening is because I didn’t want to hear
you two talk about it.”
“Indeed,” said a voice from the end of the stack. “It is a touchy subject. And
the librarian hears many whispers and rumors spoken within his walls. You are
already spoken of frequently, Miss Jones, and not in the best of lights.”
There stood The Librarian.
He was a grey man, grey of hair and grey of face and grey of clothing. No one
knew his name. No one had ever asked. To the students, he was simply the one
who signed out their books, and who put the shelves back in order. Sparrow had
heard much from Ravenclaws about consulting the library, but not one had ever
mentioned consulting the Librarian. For all intents and purposes he was a
background figure at the school.
“What’s your name?” said Sparrow.
The Librarian looked confused. “Name? Name. Erm. You know, I stopped asking
myself after a while. I don’t leave the library, and nobody says much of
anything to me. So, I stopped remembering what it was myself. Perhaps you could
give me one?”
“You must pick for yourself,” said Sparrow.
The Librarian looked around at the shelves. He dragged a massive book off the
shelf, opened it, and pointed to a section. “There. Timothy Treadpoor. You
shall call me Tim.”
“Very well,” said Sparrow. “Tim it is.”
“Now, about this whole studying business,” said Tim. “You want to learn about
the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, hm?”
“I do,” said Sparrow. “And yet, if I were to ask Professor Binns, word would
get back to Hagrid, and I would have a detention. So I thought to ask the
“Books spill their secrets without hesitation,” said Tim. “As might I.”
“Oh no you won’t,” said Jill. “You know we were here last night. We know what
you are. If you leave us alone we’ll leave you alone. Deal?”
Tim was visibly shaken.
“That’s quite harsh,” said Sparrow. “I have a better idea. Mr. Treadpoor, do
you enjoy being a werewolf?”
“I…erm. What’s it to you?”
“What if we could help you?” said Sparrow.
“Figuring out how to cure your lycanthropy.”
“And then you help us learn about the statute,” said Sparrow. “Deal?”
“I cannot make a deal for something impossible,” said Tim. “I am sorry. At the
very least, I will keep your secret if you will keep mine. Just don’t let me
catch you studying that subject in here again.”
Sparrow slammed the book shut. “Fine,” she said. “Fine. Fine. Nobody wants to
help me. But for God’s sake, let me help you. You’ve been shut up here for
years because people are scared of you. At least let me try to get you out of
Tim sighed. “I really don’t think there’s anything you can do.”
“We’re Wizards,” said Sparrow. “The question is what we CAN’T do.”
“We can’t study the Statute of Magical Secrecy,” said Jill.
“I have an idea of where we can,” said Sparrow. “But we have to figure out how
to get there. Which means I have to figure out how to get past Filch.”
"A flipping broomstick?" said Jill. "For once?"
"You know those things hate me. I mean literally. I think they actually hate me."
"They certainly flip you off," said Jill.
“Am I hearing you right?” said Cormac, in potions class. “You want to find a
CURE for Lycanthropy?”
“I can goddamn well try,” said Sparrow, as she was grinding beetle wings in a
mortar. “There’s got to be something.”
“There certainly is,” said Professor Slughorn. “Alas, it has not worked for me,
all these years. I have tried so many times and it just never went right.”
Professor Slughorn was an old man, nearly as old as McGonnogal. He had been
more mobile, once, but these days he tended to levitate himself around on a
chair. Accordingly the spaces between the rows in the potions classroom were
wide. It made it easier to whisper about sensitive topics without being
overheard, at least by other students. The professor, though, had a habit of
managing to come around just when you were getting to the good part.
“Remind me what this method is,” said Sparrow.
“It is a particular potion,” said Slughorn, “that, when drunk before the full
moon, will reduce one’s lycanthropy to the state of a regular wolf, as opposed
to a vicious werewolf.”
“And if you forget to drink it?”
“Ah, well,” said Slughorn. “It is a terrible thing indeed to be a forgetful
“Then the potion isn’t good enough,” said Sparrow. “Not at all. I need
something that only has to work once.”
“Are you absolutely mad?” said Slughorn. “There’s no permanent cure for
“That’s what you think,” said Sparrow. “How many people have tried to find
“Well, I, er…I hardly know what they get up to at the Ministry, so I can’t say,
can I? But nobody likes werewolves anyway, do they? It’s a surprise anyone
bothered to come up with anything for them at all. Why don’t you concentrate on
your potion of hiccup-curing and get back to work, Miss Jones.”
The class passed in its usual dullness. Sparrow had not appreciated potions
last year, and her opinion this year had not changed. There just didn’t seem to
be much to them, not the way Slughorn was teaching. Potions for curing hiccups,
potions for staying warm in the cold, potions for staying cold in the warm, all
rather pedestrian stuff so far. Sparrow wondered if they were going to get into
anything really interesting, or if that was for levels about fourth year.
Surely the possibilities were endless? This was magic, after all. Nobody had
found the boundaries, as far as she knew. Nor did anyone seem to know how to
find them. They just did the things that worked, and they worked, and that was
And even in the library, Sparrow hadn’t been able to find anything in the way
of theory. Just books of spells, history, law, poetry, and bestiaries. There
was a section on theory. But it was empty.
Professor Budge had mentioned a Department of Mysteries. Perhaps they knew what
was up. Or at least they knew how to find out. Or at least they had an idea.
Maybe. At least they were given the job of trying. Sparrow decided to file that
information away for later use. It wouldn’t do to go skipping off to the
Ministry when she had classes to attend.
Her cauldron began to bubble and fizz. Sparrow realized that she had been
grinding the beetle wings far too long, and the mixture was overboiling. She
hastily dumped the ground beetle wings in.
The resulting explosion tossed her back into someone else’s cauldron, which spilled
hot potion all over them[, followed by a terrified scream that quickly became a
snarl, as the poor student was transformed into a large fox. Goodness, who had
she been sitting in front of again? Tall, dreadlocks, wait, could it be –
“Miranda McClivert!” roared Professor Slughorn, now out of his chair and
glowering at the cowering fox. “Making unsanctioned potions in the middle of my
classroom which had bugger-all to do with the lesson! What on earth is the matter with you?”
“Could have been an accident,” said Sparrow. “You know how it is with potions,
professor, you let a bit of the beetle powder boil too long and – ”
“There’s not a single ingredient in the hiccup potion that has anything to do
with transfiguration!” said Slughorn. “Also, twenty points from Gryffindor for
“Hufflepuff,” said Sparrow. “Twenty points from hufflepuff.”
“Don’t tell him!” whispered Cormac.
“I can’t imagine how this even happened,” said Englebert Yaxley, a miniscule 4th-year
Ravenclaw. “I’ve been sitting right next to her the entire time and she hasn’t
been using any ingredients different than me –”
Slughorn glared at Yaxley.
“ – and I’ve been making the hiccupping potion, thank you very much. But, uh.
Her potion sure smells different than mine. Wonder how that happened.”
Slughorn sniffed the air. “If I am not mistaken,” he said, “that’s minced
mandrake leaves. Ha! Ha! Well now, this is interesting, miss McClivert. You
toss in one extra ingredient and that’s all it takes, eh? Didn’t think you knew
potions as well as that.”
The fox peeked its head out from under the desk.
“Let’s say thirty points from Gryfindor,” said Slughorn, “and leave it at
So potions could clearly clearly change a person’s shape. Maybe this was a
means of getting past Filch. If she could take a form small enough, why then,
how would he even notice her?
Slughorn hadn’t taken much effort to change Miranda back, fortunately, and she
was able to walk out of the classroom with everyone else. But she had expressed
no desire to speak with anyone, and had rushed off before Sparrow could catch
Sparrow spent much of the next day, a Saturday, looking through what library
books she could find for details of shape-changing potions. Much of it was
something called Polyjuice. Nasty stuff, and rather complicated. McClivert had
been working with simple ingredients on a short time frame and only added a
single extra ingredient, as far as Sparrow could see. No, there was nothing in
the low-level potion books regarding animal transformations.
“Interested in potions now,” said Tim the Librarian, “as if I don’t know what
you’re up to.”
“I’ll get to your potion eventually. I’m just pursuing a related lead right
Tim put his hands on his hips. “My potion? What do you mean, my potion? It was
your idea. I have no interest in it.”
“Oh come now,” said Sparrow. “Of course you do. Who would want to be a
“Fenrir Greyback and his ilk. Nasty fellows. But that’s beside the point! I
take advantage of my malady, Miss Jones. It gives me an excuse to stay shut up
in here, where things are relatively quiet and peaceful, and I am master of
this domain. If I went out into the castle, why, [that would be a problem.”
“I am resolved to help you,” said Sparrow, “whether you like it or not.”
“You are impossible,” said Tim, and he departed.
In the mid-evening after supper, Sparrow stood at the portrait of the Fat Lady.
“A Hufflepuff,” said the Fat lady. “Are you waiting for a friend?”
“I was hoping you could tell me if someone was in,” said Sparrow. “Miranda
“Quite a strange request, child. I have no knowledge of what occurs on the
other side of me, alas."
"But...you could clearly see them entering and exiting, yes?"
"I might have a chance," said the Fat Lady.
"So then you could tell me if they're in."
The Fat Lady gave Sparrow a cold stare.
"I mean...supposing they even want to be called upon." Sparrow felt her face growing hot. "Perhaps I ask for too much."
The Fat Lady's expression softened. "Ah, well. My dear Hufflepuff girl. Sparrow Jones, righteous wielder of the golden shield, defender of the innocent and the guilty alike."
"Oh! I, um —" Sparrow knelt. "'Tis I, Milady. Ser Sparrow of the Golden Shield."
The Fat Lady chuckled. "Oh please, child, thou hast not been knighted yet. Thou art but a squire."
"Mine sincere apologies, my Great Lady of the Pink Chiffon. Squire Sparrow of the Golden Shield I am. Tell me, how came you to know of me?"
"Gossip," said the Fat Lady. "There are plenty of paintings along these walls, you know. You are always being watched."
"Ah yes," said Sparrow. She stood. "Bit of an unsettling thought, that. Feels a little intrusive. As I feel intrusive, for hoping you could find Miranda and relay a message."
"It is...not an unusual request. But one I do often turn down. We portraits have no wish to be turned into a glorified messenger service. I should also note, dear child, that it is quite a bit difficult to deliver the message in a confidential manner. Anyone in the same room as the recipient will hear it."
"That's fine," said Sparrow. "Just requesting a meeting, is all. But if you don't want to be ordered about by a mere squireling then I can try something else. Like asking someone to deliver a note. Or an Owl. Or asking a ghost. Hm, that might have been a better idea."
The Fat Lady sighed. "Tell you what. You're clearly a noble young Wizard. If I asked you to swear on your honor not to make this request of me again, I am sure you would hold yourself to that oath. Do you so swear?"
Sparrow knelt. "On my honor as a Hufflepuff, I do so swear."
"And what is thine message?"
"That Squire Miranda meet me on the walkway between the Astronomy Tower and the Dragon Tower at noon on Sunday."
"Then rise, Ser Sparrow. And I shall seek the whereabouts of Squire Miranda of the Cauldron."
Sparrow stood, then bowed deeply. She and the Fat Lady shared a hearty chuckle. Then both of them departed in their own directions.
That night Sparrow stole out of the Hufflepuff common room and cast an
invisibility charm upon herself. Then she made her way to the upper corridor
leading towards the dragon tower.
Filch spotted her within three seconds.
“Is that supposed to be an invisibility charm?” said the ghost. “You look like
a heat mirage walking along the corridor. And I can see your footprints in the
dust. Terrible form, girl. Fifty points from Hufflepuff.”
“Is it possible for points to go negative?”
“No…I don’t think so.”
“Then I only have so much to lose.”
In the days leading up to the Sunday that Sparrow hoped to meet Miranda, Jill
was bit less kissy and a bit more handsy with Sparrow than normal.
“I should have thought you would want to get right to the snogging,” said
Sparrow, as the two sat on a love seat in the Hufflepuff common room, hands
intertwined. “Are you holding back?”
“Maybe I’m not as lusty as you, have you ever thought of that? Maybe I want my
love to be as pure as the driven snow.”
“Oh, well. Is that why you ran away from me? Didn’t want to get all dirty?”
“It’s things I still don’t want to talk to you about yet. I’m sorry. It’s a
little complicated.” She stood and turned to face Sparrow, still holding her
hand. “You know I get embarrassed about things easily. Can you wait another
week, and then I’ll tell you?”
“All this waiting for everyone! Fine. I waited weeks for you, I can wait
“Speaking of that. How did you guess I had a crush on you anyway?”
“How could I not? It’s a common Romance trope, you know, to run away instead of
confessing your feelings for someone. Also common in real life. I had that
idea, and Jocasta gave some hints that made me more certain. But I wasn’t going
to ask. I figured it was your decision to tell me, not mine.” She stood, turned
back to Jill, and took the girl’s other hand in hers. “I’m sorry about putting
you in a situation where we were pressed for time.”
Jill frowned in confusion. “I thought I put you in that situation.”
“Surely it was my fault, for suggesting we enter the Forbidden Section.”
“Maybe. But, if either of us had been the one to instigate it, do you think the
other would have even considered staying behind?”
“Well then.” Jill rose, and gave Sparrow a peck on the cheek. “Perhaps we shall
follow each other to the ends of the earth. Not even perhaps. I would follow
you anyway. You get into so much trouble, you know.” She gave Sparrow another
peck. “You could get yourself into a real mess, someday, and then I must be
there for you once more.”
“I certainly would not mind.”
Noon on Sunday. Jill and Sparrow stepped out into the mist, on the walkway
between the Astronomy and Dragon towers. Miranda McClivert was not there.
However, Jocasta was on the walkway, sitting up on the wall with her back to
the grim drear, and looking out across the walkway at the grim drear on the
other side. She had an unfocused look until she noticed the other two girls had
Upon spotting her, Jill made a hasty apology, and departed. Jocasta raised an
eyebrow. Sparrow shrugged, and said, “She’ll be back for me eventually, I suppose,
as always. Now, I fully expected to meet Miranda here. Instead I meet one of my
potential lovers. How fare you, my love?”
“Shut up,” said Jocasta.
“I’ve felt a trifle neglected in these last few weeks,” said Sparrow. “Not a
single prank from you. You’re completely off your game. What has happened?”
“Maybe I got bored.”
“Surely Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes has an endless supply of tricks? Unless
you’ve purchased the entire store by now? Oh, but wait! You only have a limited
supply here at school. You must have used them all up! My dear, you shall have
to start devising your own pranks, instead of buying them from a shop.”
Jocasta gritted her teeth. “That’s not it at all.”
“Well what then? Presumably you are aware of why Miss McClivert decided not to
“I know quite a bit of gossip at this school,” said Jocasta. “And I can tell
you that she takes all blame for what happened. But she doesn’t really wish to
discuss the matter with someone who has a reputation for bowling right through
the wishes of other people.”
“Uh -- ”
"Not that I needed to know any gossip for that. Your message was transmitted to a room full of people, including me."
Sparrow grimaced. "I did anticipate that risk."
“In any case I’m not here to speak for her. I’m here to speak for me.” Jocasta put her finger on her cheek and tilted her head, as if she were lost in thought. “Because I thought, Oh, why on earth would
the high and mighty Sparrow Jones want to talk to Miranda McClivert? It can’t
possibly be to apologize. Sparrow
never does that. And it can’t be to gaze
in rapture at Miranda’s mighty shoulders. Sparrow is too high-minded for that.”
Sparrow put her hands behind her back and adopted a mocking sheepish pose.
“Maybe I’m not all that high minded after all.”
“Well.” Jocasta lowered herself down from the rampart. “It must be because
Miranda has knowledge that you want.” She sashayed over to Sparrow. “And the
only specialized knowledge that Miranda
has that you know about is the
business with the shape-changing potion. Yes?”
“Um – ”
“Yes. Now, why on earth would Sparrow Jones want to know about shape-changing? Perhaps
she wants to become like her namesake? I mean more like her namesake? Or perhaps she wishes to learn how to skulk
after all? Or perhaps is simply bored, and wishes to impose a challenge. Or – ”
Jocasta grinned. “Some incredibly roundabout way of achieving your wild fancies
about the Statute of Secrecy. Who knows? But it is such a tricky business with those potions, they taste terrible. And you have to keep making
them. So, I have an offer.” Jocasta came close.
Jocasta stepped even closer, and clasped her hands in front of her. “Let me
teach you how to become an Animagus.”
There was a long pause as Sparrow took in this concept. Only the wind spoke, as
it set the highest flagpole clanking. Only the wind spoke aloud – Sparrow
fancied that Jocasta’s eyes spoke volumes in silence, as Sparrow held her gaze.
“Does this mean we’re not adversaries any more?”
Jocasta snorted and rolled her eyes. “I didn’t say that.”
“Well,” said Sparrow, “You really should have asked me this at dinner. You
could have had me spit out my drink in surprise. Missed a good opportunity
there, my dear Miss Carrow.”
“Is the concept all that surprising? I know you want power.” Jocasta wiggled
her eyebrows. “That’s why you seek knowledge. You’re always looking through the
spellbooks for new things, even though you can’t cast half of them to save your
life. I can offer you power that is…more reliable.”
“Oh really,” said Sparrow, as she crossed her arms. “And WHY do you think I
seek power, hmmmmmm?”
“To…be more powerful than other people?” Jocasta frowned. “I thought that was
the whole point.”
“No no,” said Sparrow. “Keep going, there’s more to it. What do armies always
say about themselves?”
“I don’t – ”
“That they’re defending their country. Well, maybe I’m like that. I want to be
able to defend my friends and my people. A shield isn’t cutting it.”
“They tend to…not cut things,” said Jocasta. “As I recall, they’re meant to get
in the way of things being cut.”
“And this…Animagus business.” Sparrow waved a hand as if brushing away a fly. “Notwithstanding
that it could get me in more trouble than I’ve ever been in, ever, it feels like a more selfish
power. A snooping power. If I thought snooping would be useful I might consider
it, but it doesn’t seem to be what I need.”
“Oh really,” said Jocasta. “Who’s the one trying to get past Argus Filch?”
“How did you -- goddamit, you really are a fly on the wall. You’re literally a
fly on the wall. How do you avoid getting smashed? How do you avoid spiders?”
Jocasta shrugged. “Luck, I suppose.”
“Can’t you pick a different form? Something safer?”
“Nope.” Jocasta shook her head. “Animagus form is fixed by personality. I don’t
make the rules.”
“Someday I’m going to figure out how to break those rules,” said Sparrow.
“Spoken like a true Slytherin.”
“So why are you asking me about all this?” said Sparrow. “Why not only reveal
to me that you’re a – hang on. Are you even registered?”
“That’s a long story.”
“Ok.” Sparrow crossed her arms. “Assuming you’re not registered, why not only
reveal to me your secret, but ask me to join you? What’s your angle?”
“Think of it this way,” said Jocasta. “I know that you’re asking about the
Statute of Secrecy. Dangerous business, to go poking at that rule. You’re not
very discreet about it. You could get in trouble if word gets beyond these
walls. And I happen to have a very dangerous secret of my own. So, I’m giving
it to you as a gesture of goodwill. As a kind of…hostage for good behavior.”
Sparrow raised an eyebrow.
“Because I want you to trust me,” said Jocasta. “And considering what I’ve been
to you for three years…and what I did with the ink bottle…I feel like earning
your trust would require a high price. So, you now have a secret of mine. A big
secret. A very big secret.”
Sparrow shook her head as if to clear it of clutter. “You’re offering me
blackmail against you?”
“That would imply an unequal relationship. This is mutual. If I try to destroy
you, you could destroy me.”
“Mutually assured destruction,” said Sparrow. “There’s ways that can go wrong,
if one party turns out to be suicidal. Such as, for example, trying to secretly
become an animagus at fourteen years old?
What on earth were you thinking? You could have been disfigured for life.”
Jocasta looked surprised. “You care about me.”
“I care about everyone’s safety. If I ever manage to get past Filch again and meet
Blaise, maybe you’ll hear why. But answer the damn question. Why the HELL do
you want ME to become an UNREGISTERED ANIMAGUS?”
“Son of a troll, Sparrow, keep your voice down. Look.” She took Sparrow’s hands
in hers. “I didn’t ask for this Animagus business. My father told me I had to
uphold the family legacy, or else he’d disinherit me. He shepherded me through
the process but he still didn’t ask if I wanted it. And now I’ve got this great
secret that I can’t tell anyone, that I can’t ask anyone questions about, that
I can’t commiserate with people about, because letting that secret out to the
world would be my end. They’d toss me into Azkaban and I would go mad.”
“There’s a guy named Black who supposedly survived the Dementors because he
could turn into a dog. If you can turn into a fly the place couldn’t possibly
hold you, could it? You could just zip right out of there.”
“Look, I just I need to be able to talk to someone about this whole Animagus
business. That’s all I’m really asking for here. Who better than you?”
“Literally anyone? I’m the most judgmental person in the school.”
“And how much are you involved in spreading gossip?”
“I prefer not to get involved with such a sordid and slanderous business. I
hear but do not repeat.”
“Then there you have it, eh? As long as my secret is safe with you, I don’t
care how judgy you are. I don’t care how judgy anyone around here is. You know
what people say about me, don’t you? That I’m – ”
“A tricky little bitch who needs to get smacked more often. Yes, I have heard.”
“And I really don’t care what they say.” Jocasta spun away from Sparrow and skipped
over to the ramparts. “I care nothing for such pedestrian fools, who would grow
up to be lazy and cynical plonkers, doing little more than what they were told,
trying to hold me down when I wished to do great things.” She leapt up onto the
ramparts and balanced there on tiptoes. “Ha! They are nothing to me.”
Sparrow moved to stand where she might catch Jocasta before the girl fell. “Are
you something to them? To anyone?”
“Perhaps to Jill, my dueling partner of many years. Perhaps to you. Perhaps to
Miranda, though such thoughts are fancies. My goodness, Miranda strikes quite a
handsome figure, does she not? Gives me the vapors. I have never dared to put a
prank in her way.”
“And have you ever spoken to her?”
“Oh, no! I hardly know her! She is a Gryfindor, you realize. I daresay she
would not dare speak to me.”
Sparrow frowned. “I thought Miranda danced with everyone at the Halloween
“She did! But she didn’t say anything when we danced, and I didn’t say anything
Sparrow grinned. “Swept off your feet, eh?”
“Literally and figuratively.” Jocasta leapt down from the ramparts. “A little
frustrating, really. I wish I could have said something.”
“I really think you ought to talk to that girl.”
“Oh!” Jocasta put her hand up to her forehead and did a mocking faint. “But she
is so dashing!”
“About business, I mean. Shape-changing stuff. She clearly has enough interest
in that subject to risk experimenting with it in class. Too much interest,
really. If you ask her about it then she
might swoon over you. Or at least be willing to talk to you. I
know she’d be a sympathetic ear to your secret, far more than me.”
Jocasta crossed her arms. “I can’t risk telling her about that.”
“Well, you’re asking me to risk a lot here. Not for much gain on my part. Nor
yours, really. We can talk about stuff without, you know, making me go through
an incredibly dangerous and difficult and illegal process.”
“I just…I wanted to offer you the possibility, if you would have it. I thought
of it as a gift.”
“Oh, do you fancy me?”
“That’s not a no.”
“Fine.” Sparrow turned towards the grim rain-soaked land. “If you even wanted
to date me, I’d have to ask Jill about letting you in on our thing.”
“You’re dating – well, maybe that’s not a surprise, but I am a trifle
“Ah ha!” Sparrow spun around. “I knew it!”
“Not like that!” said Jocasta. “It’s because…because Jill might be distracted
in dueling, now, especially if you show up. She’s a good dueling partner.
Taught me a lot. And now she’s gonna be all lovey-dovey and stuff so she’d be
distracted whenever you walk in. I mean more than usual. Right?”
“Give her more credit,” said Sparrow. “She’s not going overboard with the
romance even though she’s dating me.”
“Oh, well. That’s because she’s dating you.”
“How do you mean?”
“Miss high-and-mighty doesn’t hold with anything so sordid as taking someone to bed, now does she? I’m sure Jill is
holding back because she knows you have strict limits.”
“Oh come on. I’m not that much of a prude. I’m just…ambitious. Like you. You
know?” Sparrow shrugged. “Easily distracted by my ideals.”
Jocasta winked. “That’s what I like about you, your ambition.”
“But, getting back to the issue of
being an Animagus. My relationship with Jill could make things more complicated.
Because, if I’m dating her, she’s gonna find out about this business eventually.
And she will want in. Because she’s Jillian Patil, and she’s – ”
“Never backed down from a challenge,” said Jocasta. “That’s what I like about
her. Alright. Does this mean you’re interested or not?”
“I’ll think about it. Doesn’t the process involve the full moon? We’re not
going to get another clear full moon until March at least. In the meantime,
feel free to talk to me about stuff.”
“I would consider it a pleasure,” said Jocasta.
Sparrow started to leave the walkway, but as she was nearing the door she
turned back and said, “You know, I’m pretty sure that you fancy me.”
“How do you figure?”
“A Slytherin not only talks to a muggleborn, she dances with her, and then
entrusts her with this much? Old Salazar is rolling in his grave.”
“Never mind,” said Jocasta. There was a small thump of air as she became a fly,
and she zipped away.