The Legend of Sparrow Jones, book 1, part 1A
Part 1B -->
In the dry season, the
lake at Hogwarts became a lakebed as the shoreline receded.
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, or 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
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 subject.
“I get it,” said Jill.
“Our earth was once green. I don’t understand it, though. Something called
“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 who called her “Himalaya”, because she was an Indian mountain, hardee
har har. 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
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?
could make this place soft,” said Sparrow. “We could make it green again.”
“My 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 this school.”
“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 McGonnogal. 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 that.”
“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 kept her mouth
“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
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.
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.
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.
“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 disc made of soft yellow
light. For Sparrow had been forced to practice her reaction time, over the past
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
Jill folded her arms and
stood a bit taller. “Fie upon thee, my archrival! I shall vanquish thee in the
dueling club tonight!”
“Archrival? Now that is
definitely a compliment.”
“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
“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 own.
“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
“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 magic?”
“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
“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
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 Gryffindor.”
“She’s proposing to break
the law,” said Jocasta. “That sounds more like Slytherin.”
“But she wants to know
why something is the way it is,” said Jill. “That sounds like Ravenclaw.”
Sparrow felt her face
“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 an hour.
Just for using a charm to
make a tree grow. They’d cut the tree down too.
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
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. “You’re about
the boldest person I’ve ever seen at this school.”
“We’re both fourth
years,” said Sparrow. “There’s still a few years for you to find someone bolder
“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
“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
“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
“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 Hufflepuff.”
“You were trying to
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 why that’s
supposed to be embarrassing,” said Sparrow.
“Of course you don’t,”
said Jill, and 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. What happened to her? Did she fly her broom into a wall?”
“You happened to her,”
The students gathered
around made that “OOO” sound people make when someone has delivered a sick
burn, although at least one was making the sound that children make when they
hear of an embarrassing secret.
“Why are you even here?”
said Jocasta. “You quit coming around to the club last year.
“Figured I could find her
here,” said Sparrow. “Or on the Quidditch pitch, I guess. Thanks a lot for
“I was just – ”
“There’s no ‘just’ when you
talk about stuff like that.”
“Oh, am I going to get a
lecture from the high and mighty Miss Jones 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.
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
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 Peeves.”
“Swear to who?” said
“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, enough that when the Slytherin girl tried to
bounce things off Sparrow’s shield, they tended to ricochet at high speed right
back towards her.
Sparrow had hoped that
over a few weeks Jill’s embarrassment would 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 Hufflepuff
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 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
As it was, 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 down.
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. 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
But here was an
“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
“I don’t care if it’s
“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
“I do have questions for
“For me! Little old me?
What could I possibly tell you that you don’t already know?”
“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
to 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
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
“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
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
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
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. Understand?”
“Run off t’ yer next
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?”
“Well, I – ” Sparrow
hesistated. 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 class.”
“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
“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.”
“Hrm,” said the
professor. “Perhaps you do, 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?”
“Then you would cast the
spell that you are thinking.”
“That might 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. Was I right?”
“I’m not sure,” said
Professor Budge. “I’ve never seen your shield do that again, so perhaps it was
a fluke. Unless…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.”
“Perhaps that is it,
then. It would 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 thinking?”
“I am thinking…er…usually
I’m offended that people are throwing things at me, but that’s because I can do
a proper shield in the first place.”
“What is your emotional
state? Oh, what am I saying. You are always determined. That must be it. You
will never let anything through if you can help it.”
“But my shield has broken
a few times,” said Sparrow.
“And what had happened to
your determination in those times?”
Once it had been just
after her grandfather had died. Once it had been 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
to of falling rock, which itself had been more daunting than anything before.
“I faltered,” said
“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 would have felt quite bereft if not for
Cormac’s company. The most 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.
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 somehow never in the same classes, and Sparrow
would have noticed if she had been, would have homed in on the sight of the
girl, as she had done in the hallways, as she was doing now, 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 absorbed light. And she 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 tight braids 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 machinery.
“I noticed her as well,”
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
“No,” said Sparrow. “Come
to think of it, I don’t know anyone’s name.”
“How about that,” said
Cormac. “You would protect them, but you do not know them. Seems a trifle
aloof, don’t you think? Perhaps you will know them if you dance with them.”
Sparrow folded her arms.
“I do not wish to dance with anyone besides Jill.”
“Indeed not,” said
Cormac, “nor have you ever, it seems. Well then. Dance with me? I won’t step on
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
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 sync.
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
Unbreakable Shield, but this girl was already past her defenses.
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 know me?”
Sparrow shook her head.
“Do you know anyone?”
“Jillian Patil,” said
Sparrow. “Cormac McKinnon. 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. How strange. Why would you seek to save people
you do not know?”
“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. You must know the shield charm by now. Why don’t you protect
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.”
“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, then? Do you wish to bed the
adorable little Sparrow after all? Have you been waiting this long?”
The girl laughed. “Oh!
No. No, little bird, you do not have to worry about that, not at all, not
“I am a trifle
“Do not be. You never had
“I am a trifle insulted.”
“Do not be. No one had a
“Never mind. Just take
that as is.”
“Fine,” said Sparrow.
“You are interested in me in a platonic sense and went around asking every
single person about me. I am simply annoyed, then. It is as if 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 is 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 erstwhile adversary. May I have this dance?”
“You may,” 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.”
And Jocasta took
Sparrow’s hand, and put a hand on her waist, and led her in a more 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
“Ah, yes.” Jocasta
grinned. “You don’t know her name?”
“Stop beating around the
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 has a crush on
“So you did dance with
“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 rivalry business?”
“I don’t know.” Jocasta’s
face, for the first time in a while, registered an emotion other than smugness.
“I don’t 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, 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
“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 land lost. 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 tell me.”
“She’ll come around,”
said Jocasta. “I know that girl well enough, the embers in her 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 word.
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, such as 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
“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 blinking.
The cushion hit the
shield and disintegrated.
“Erm,” said Cormac.
“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
Someone tapped her on the
shoulder. She turned. There was Jocasta Carrow.
If Sparrow had cast her
shield at that moment, Carrow would likely have been disintegrated.
“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 other people.”
“I – ”
“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.
“Never mind!” she said. “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 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
There was one professor
in the school, by the name of Mincent Warbeck, who stood approximately seven
Sparrow and Cormac, at
their age, were both 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 – ”
“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 missed something.”
“If it is an intruder,”
said Filch, “I ought to be alerting the castle right now.”
“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 it?”
“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 – ”
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
He floated off.
“May I present Blaise
Brown,” said Violet.
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.
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 Voldemort.
And there was a keeper of
the dragons, one who had not come with the tower, but had appeared there
shortly after the dragons did. Blaise Brown.
Not that one would normally see the
keeper of the Dragon Tower. 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.
Or maybe Blaise was a
Sparrow, taking Blaise’s hand. “A pleasure to meet you, mister…miss?”
“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.”
“It’s because of me,”
said Blaise. “Kind of.”
“Tell,” said Sparrow.
“Someday I will,” said
Blaise. “But you’re here for Violet’s questions, right? Violet, go ahead and
Violet looked sheepish
for the first time that Sparrow had ever seen.
“Go on,” said Blaise.
“I’m sure your friend doesn’t bite.”
“Her shield charm does,”
“You have but to ask,”
said Sparrow, “And I will answer.”
“Fine,” said Violet. “Do
you actually want to break down the Statute of Secrecy?”
Sparrow frowned. “I guess
I haven’t been very discreet over the years, have I? Well, let’s say I’m
thinking about it. I would love to, at the very least, be able to restore some
green to the world without interference. Is that too much to ask? And why are
you so concerned anyway?”
“Because I study
Wizarding history same as you, and I’m having my misgivings. I know about what
muggles did to us. A lot of things. If they knew that we existed again…it could
go bad again, and we’d wind up hiding again. But.” She jerked a thumb at
Blaise. “My sibling here, they’re practically a dragon themself, 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. 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 to tell anything, but…I have to believe it myself, first. I’ll let
“And why were you
embarrassed to ask me about this? Surely I would be the most receptive person
in the whole school for your question.”
“Because,” said Violet.
“Because. If I asked
anyone else they’d laugh it off. But if I asked you…there would be a chance
that you would get the ball rolling. And I would feel responsible for that.”
“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
“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 shield charm?”
“The love of friends,”
said Blaise. “Spoken like a true Hufflepuff. Well, Sparrow. If you have time
later, and you can sneak back to me again, I may tell you more about me. You
sound as though you have a story to tell me, as well. But the hour is already
late, and I’m sure you have work to do tomorrow. I have work of my own to do,
for some dragons are restless in the moonlight.”
A long silver head on a
long silver neck stuck itself out of a window and breathed white fire into the
“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
“My goodness,” said
Cormac. “It sounds as though someone has tried to prank us, and has failed.
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. You make yourself sound like a total m – muggleborn.”
“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
folded her arms. “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?”
happened,” said Sparrow. “Just business. It was kind of annoying, really.”
“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 shadows.
Cormac prepared to knock
on the correct door. But he hesitated. “Argus said there were two friends
waiting for us.”
“Blaise and Violet,
“He didn’t know the
situation was about Blaise until he was informed. And they’re not a student
anyway. Who was it then? 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
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 they entered the common room.
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
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,
“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 cheering charm.
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 treacle.
After class, and having
plenty of time this time, she confronted Flutwick with her suspicion.
“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 returned her to her original height.
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
“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 story.”
“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 dry season.”
“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 wand ready.
“You’ve learned,” said
Professor Flutwick. “It seems you have learned not to trust me.”
“Damn right,” said
“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
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 tomorrow.”
“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 Violet.”
“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
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 stolling 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,”
“What would you have me
“Whatever you wish to
say. I’m sure there is much you want to tell me.”
“I’m not sure how to say
“May I ask a question,
“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
“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,
“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 hushed whispers.
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
“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 seriously.”
“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 that?”
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
“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 of Hogwarts.
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
Fortunately for them,
Jill was pretty good at the basic 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
“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 barrenness. 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
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
“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 follow me?”
“How do you know I
“Because you were so
embarrassed when Jocasta said it. It must have hit a nerve.”
“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
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
“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
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
“What I’m gathering from
your story,” said Sparrow, “is that you are interested in me. Is that correct?”
“Of course! We’re still
“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 from you.”
The rustling of paper was
“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’ve had a crush on me for a while.
Am I right?”
Jill’s face reddened.
“Damn it. Yes, yes I do.”
The rustling was nearly
on top of them.
“And I likewise. I like
you. I mean – I mean perhaps my idea here will work. If you would be so kind,
“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 let go, and Sparrow opened her eyes.
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 at all.
“That’s very impressive,”
said Jill, as she looked around. “When did you learn to do that?”
“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
“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 matter?”
“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 about anyway.”
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
“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
He was a grey man, grey of
hair and literally?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
“What’s your name?” said
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
“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.”
“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
“What if we could help
you?” said Sparrow.
“Figuring out how to cure
Tim stared in confusion.
“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 that mess.”
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.”
“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
“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
“And if you forget to
“Ah, well,” said
Slughorn. “It is a terrible thing indeed to be a forgetful werewolf.”
“Then the potion isn’t
good enough,” said Sparrow. “Not at all. I need something that only has to work
“Are you absolutely mad?”
said Slughorn. “There’s no permanent cure for Lycanthropy.”
“That’s what you think,”
said Sparrow. “How many people have tried to find one?”
“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 above 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 that.
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. There was a terrified scream that quickly became a snarl, as the poor
student, Miranda McClivert, was transformed into a large fox.
Well that was
interesting. Potions could 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?
Ten points from
Hufflepuff for being negligent. Twenty points from Gryfindor, as McClivert
appeared to have been concocting a potion that had no relation to what Slughorn
had been teaching. Slughorn would have taken more points, but considered
himself at fault for failing to pay attention.
The poor girl hadn’t
taken much effort to change her 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 her.
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, presumably. 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 now.”
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 werewolf?”
“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, I could get lost.”
“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 McClivert.”
“Quite a strange request,
child. I have no knowledge of what occurs on the other side of me, alas. The
most I can do is relay a message to this person, when they happen to meet me
again. What would you have them know?”
“To meet me on the
walkway between the astronomy tower and the dragon tower at noon on Sunday.”
“If that is what you
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
“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 there’s only so far
I can make the house fall.”
In the days leading up to
the Sunday that Sparrow hoped to meet Miranda, Jill was bit less 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
“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
“All this waiting for
everyone! Fine. I waited weeks for you, I can wait again.”
“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.”
“I certainly would not
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, looking out at the grim drear.
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 haven’t seen a prank
from you in weeks,” said Sparrow. “You’re completely off your game. What has
“Maybe I got bored.”
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 show up?”
“I know quite a bit of
gossip at this school,” said Jocasta. “And I can tell you that she blames
herself 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
“Uh -- ”
“In any case I’m not here
to speak for her. I’m here to speak for me. 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
drink in the sight of Miranda’s mighty shoulders. Sparrow is too high-minded
for that. It must be because Miranda has knowledge that Sparrow wants. And the
only knowledge that Miranda has that Sparrow knows about is the business with
the shape-changing potion. Now, why on earth would Sparrow Jones want to know
about shape-changing? Who knows? But I have an offer.”
“Let me teach you how to
become an Animagus.”
There was a long pause as
Sparrow took in this concept.
“I think I wasted an
opportunity to spit out my drink in surprise,” said Sparrow. “You should have
asked me at dinner.”
“Is it all that
surprising? I know you want power. 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? 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. A shield isn’t cutting it.”
“They tend to not cut
things,” said Jocasta.
business. 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?”
“Luck, I suppose.”
“Can’t you pick a
different form? Something safer?”
“Nope. 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
“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. 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. And I happen to have a very
dangerous secret of my own. So, I’m giving it to you as a gesture of goodwill.
I’m making things mutual between us. Because I want you to trust me.”
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
“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.”
“I hadn’t thought of
that. But it’s beside the point. The point is, I need to be able to talk to
someone about this whole animagus business. Who better than you?”
Jocasta snorted. “She’s a
Gryffindor. And I hardly know her.”
“No, seriously. Miranda
McClivert. She clearly has some interest in shape-changing. I think she was
mixing that potion in class deliberately. She must have been using ingredients
that weren’t in the supply cabinet. You need to go and ask her about shape-changing.
I think she will be a sympathetic ear.”
“I can’t risk 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….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 let go of
Jocasta’s hands and turned towards the grim rain-soaked land. “I’d have to ask
Jill about letting you in on our thing anyway.”
“You’re dating – well,
maybe that’s not a surprise, but I am a trifle disappointed.”
“Ah ha!” Sparrow spun
around. “I knew it!”
“Not like that!” said
Jocasta. “It’s because…because she 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. Right?”
“Give her more credit,”
said Sparrow. “She’s not going overboard with the romance even though she’s
“Oh, well. That’s because
she’s dating you.”
“How do you mean?”
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? Easily distracted by
Jocasta winked. “That’s
what I like about you, your ambition.”
“But, getting back to the issue of
Animagism. My relationship with Jill presents some complications. Because, if
I’m dating her, she’s gonna find out about this thing 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
“It is always my
pleasure,” said Jocasta.
Sparrow began to depart,
but as she was nearing the door she turned and said, “You know, I’m pretty sure
that you fancy me.”
“How do you know?”
“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
“I heard a rumor that you
fancied Jocasta Carrow,” said Violet.
It was mid-November,
still at the beginning of the rainy season. There were a few sunny days left.
Sparrow was sitting near Violet in the library. They were both working on
History of Magic essays.
“Okay,” said Sparrow,
“I’ve heard of rumors growing wild in the retelling, but I’ve never heard of
them getting flipped backwards. It’s Jocasta that fancies me.”
“Good for you then.”
“Are you jealous?”
“Well, your rumor self is
cheating on my rumor self, and on Jillian Patil, according to what I hear.
Quite the scandal. You should be ashamed.”
“Let’s say there’s a
rumor that I’m ashamed.”
“Fair enough. I also
heard that you wanted to cure lycanthropy.”
“Well, yes…I mean, I’ve
kind of got that idea shelved right now. If I can’t make a potion without
seeing it explode then I probably shouldn’t be making experimental stuff for
anyone. I wanted to ask the McClivert girl about that shape-changing potion
first, that seems like it would be more simple. But eventually I’ll work on the
lycanthropy one. I just can’t find any good information in this library. At
least not the regular section.” She winked.
“Maybe you just don’t
know how to do your research properly,” said Violet. “Have you asked the
Sparrow glanced left and
right. “I have the feeling that he’s not going to help me look for this
particular info. Let’s just say he’s sensitive about that topic.”
Violet raised her
eyebrow. “If you’re trying to not imply that he’s a Werewolf – ”
“You can’t get anything
past a Ravenclaw, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah, hype up your
house. Anyway, how do I research properly?”
Violet stood and motioned
Sparrow to follow. She barely gave the girl time to roll up her essay as she
moved to the end of the row.
Violet led Sparrow to a
section that she had never seen before. A lot of large tomes with the same
binding. It looked perfectly boring.
“This is the reference
section,” said Violet. “This is where you look for bibliographic references and
“Did nobody teach you how
to do your own research?”
“That’s never really come
up in any of my classes. We’re still working out of the textbooks.”
“So all this time,” said
Violet, “you’re in the library and you’re not taking full advantage of it? I
thought you were studious. You were just looking for the cool stuff, weren’t
“All I look for is new
“Of course. Because you
“I want to protect my
“So I am told,” said
Violet. “Protect them from what, though? We haven’t had a real dark wizard
since the Voldemort War. Potter’s Army killed half of them and the rest haven’t
been seen since.”
something I want to talk about. It’s a long story. If you can help me sneak
past Filch and reach Blaise on a moonlit night, you may hear it.”
Violet crossed her arms.
“If you’re not going to tell anyone what you’re protecting them from, they
can’t help you or themselves.”
Sparrow shook her head. “Bad memories!
Leave it be for now. I haven’t seen anything nasty hanging around the castle so
it’s not like it’s an immediate problem.”
She dragged a giant tome off the shelf. “Cross reference, hm, alright.
Shall we get to it?”
It turned out to be the
first time in a while that Sparrow’s time in the library could be called truly
productive. She managed to follow references all the way to a tome of experimental
potion-crafting. By Hermione Granger, of all people. Did she know anything
about potions? That wasn’t part of the legend of the Second Wizarding War. But,
as the introduction explained, the tome itself was produced by copying all the
liner notes of the potions textbook of someone named “Severus Snape.”
particular tome was far more effective than the regular potions textbook could
ever be. Sparrow wondered why it hadn’t been famous enough for her to know
about already. Maybe the regular textbook writers didn’t appreciate a young
student who outdid them, nor yet a famous witch who tended to outdo everyone.
Unfortunately the book
still didn’t have anything related to lycanthropy. Mostly what it had was
improvements on the basics. But, it was a demonstration that experimenting with
potions was possible and productive. Sparrow wondered how many times this
Severus Snape had blown up his cauldron.
This was volume 1. There
was supposed to be a volume 2 with all the bibliographic references. But it was
not on the shelf. In fact there was an obvious hole where it must have been no
more than a day ago. Someone had taken that volume, and that volume alone.
Someone else was trying
to make advanced potions. Perhaps. But why take the second volume with all the
references, and not the first volume with the actual information? Why not take
them both together? The question was, did this person want to gain knowledge
for themselves, or keep it from someone else?
Sparrow had the feeling
that Tim the Librarian wasn’t going to give her any answers, if he had the
slightest hint that she was looking for information about lycanthropy or
She resolved to wait, and
see if the book returned to the shelf. Three weeks. That was a good time to
wait for the book to come back.
In the ensuing weeks
while she waited, she attempted every trick she could think of to get past
Filch. She attempted to improve her invisibility charm, which didn’t get past
his searching eyes. She attempted to use a shrinking potion and creep through
the shadows, but Filch spotted her in a patch of moonlight. She tried making a
potion that would turn her into a puff of air, but all it did was send her to
the hospital wing for three days. She tried riding a broom out the Hufflepuff
window and up to the tower, but nobody would lend her one, because she was a
terrible flyer. She tried conjuring up an illusion to distract him. He floated
right through it. She tried hiding in the astronomy tower until after dark.
Filch checked it thoroughly.
The idea of becoming an
animagus for the sake of getting past Filch began to look more appealing. A
petty impetus for a noble goal, perhaps, but it was an impetus. Besdides which,
if she got caught trying to pass him again he was going to restart the fifty-point
It was a dreary Monday
morning in November, getting closer to December. Sparrow stood at the front of
the Defense Against the Dark Arts class and, as ever, completely failed to
produce an effective Stunning Charm. Professor Budge exclaimed that he had
never seen anything like it. It was only when Sparrow had the opportunity to
look in Jill’s direction and see her giving the thumbs-up sign that she even
managed to get anything out of her wand at all.
After class, Professor
Budge asked Sparrow to stay.
“Are you going to tell me
that I shouldn’t take your class?” said Sparrow.
“My dear Miss Jones.”
Professor Budge chuckled. “Think about your performance over three years.
You’ve managed to master every defensive spell I’ve taught you, and quite a few
that I haven’t. If it came to a fight you would be a wall the very world could
not break. Yet you’ve never once managed to cast a proper offensive spell. Do
you even want to?”
“No. No, I don’t want to
hurt anyone, at all.”
“Yet we are speaking of a
defense against the Dark Arts, child. These are, or were, or will be, very
nasty people. What if they decide not to attack your wall at all? What if they
go after someone else?”
“I’ll just have to make
my wall bigger.”
“You can’t put a wall
around the entire world,” said Budge. “Nor would anyone wish you to. It would
be quite annoying for people to discover that they couldn’t go down to the
candy shop because there was a glowing yellow wall at the end of the lane. No,
my dear, sometimes you do have to take action. Sometimes, yes, you do have to
hurt someone, in order to save someone else.”
“But hurting people is
wrong,” said Sparrow. “If we do it, how are we any different?”
“You are fourteen years
old, child, and to you the world looks very simple and straightforward. But as
you grow older, you will learn that some moral situations are complex, and you
cannot always hold to your highest principles. Sometimes your goals are more
important. You, of all the people I have known, are most desperate to defend
the innocent. Set that as a goal, above even a pledge to do no harm. Do you
“I think so.”
“Now, let me see your
Sparrow produced her
wand. It was a long one, nearly twelve inches, made of hornbeam. She handed it
to Professor Budge with reluctance.
“A highly passionate
wandwood,” said Budge. “The kind of wand that hews closely to the principles
and style of the owner, and refuses to do anything uncharacteristic. Indeed it
practically absorbs the user’s code of honor. And what is the core?”
“Ah yes. The core least
suited for dark magic. If you were to attempt to cast the Cruciartus Curse with
this wand, it might jump up and hit you square in the nose. If you’re lucky.
What did Ollivander tell you, when this wand selected you?
Sparrow thought back to
the shop in Diagon Alley. Ollivander had tested a fair few wands with her.
Applewood, a rare kind, for being suited to high ideals. Walnut, for those with
the talent for magical innovation. Yet it was the hornbeam, the wood of those with
great passion and singular vision, that had been the most lively in Sparrow’s
“He warned me,” said
Sparrow. “He said that if I had strong principles, the wand would take them to
heart, and it would be harder to convince the wand to ignore them than it would
be to convince me. He said I ought to be careful about which principles to
“And you have chosen the
principle of defense, above all others.”
Well. That one had come up shortly after the wand had chosen her. Before the
wand itself had chosen her, what Sparrow had been thinking was that everyone
ought to see a dragon.
She decided to keep that
to herself for now.
“I chose defense, yes. I
can’t even imagine smacking someone in the face with my bare hands, much less
using a wand.”
“There is such a thing as
offensive defense,” said Budge. “Remember that. I want you to practice the
basic stunning spell on your own. I expect you to perform it within two weeks.”
Sparrow left the
classroom feeling like she’d been chastised, even though she knew Budge hadn’t
Among the extensive
grounds at Hogwarts there were many open walkways and covered walkways.
Normally they stayed put, although, on occasion, the walkway would shift its
endpoint in full view of the students, as if to mock them for thinking they had
a chance of getting to class on time. Even the walkway to the Dragon Tower
would, on occasion, detach and move all the way around to the Ravenclaw tower.
This particular one,
crossing a narrow chasm to connect a disused tower to a little-used courtyard,
occasionally shifted itself to become a staircase going down the side of the
chasm. Violet had taken careful note of its timing, and deduced that it became
a staircase every eight days, for the space of twelve hours. The trick was that
those twelve hours could begin any time on the day of shifting. If you were at
the bottom of the chasm, and the staircase left you, you’d better hope you had
a broom, or it was going to be a long walk to get back into the castle.
Currently it was in staircase
mode. It was also the rainy season. Which meant that the chasm was full of
flowing water. Not exactly a safe place to step into unless you were a mermaid.
Perhaps even if you were a mermaid.
Sparrow, Cormac, and Jill
had hoped to reach the disused tower for a little more privacy. They had
forgotten what day it was.
“Well how was I supposed
to know?” said Cormac over the pounding rain. “Violet didn’t tell me what day
it shifted last week.”
“Never mind,” said
Sparrow. “Let’s just get practicing.”
Jill had suggested the
disused courtyard for the sake of Sparrow. She herself would not have raised
much fuss if she’d been practicing her shield charm in the Hufflepuff common
room, but for Sparrow, firing off a stunner might have caused a few problems.
They tended to ricochet, as Jill had learned the first time she cast one. It
had not been in a safe place such as a charms class, but in the very great hall
where Sparrow had first demonstrated her shield spell to a surprised crowd.
Jill had seen the Fanged Frisbee, attempted to stun it out of the air, missed,
and bounced her spell off the wall back at the crowd. Thus Jill’s introduction
to the school was someone as bold as Sparrow, but dangerous.
This evening, then, the
goal was for Jill to perfect her shield spell, and Sparrow to perfect her
“Tell you what,” said
Jill. “I’ll try to cast a shield while you try to cast a stunner at me. We’ll
see who manages it first, alright?”
Sparrow drew her wand.
“Hang on a minute,” said
Cormac. “Shouldn’t you perfect the spell before you cast it at each other?”
“It’s perfectly fine,”
said Sparrow. “It’s not like I can do it anyway.”
“I have faith in you,”
said Jill. She kissed Sparrow on the cheek.
“Dammit,” said Sparrow.
“Now it will work after all. Alright, we’ll see how this goes.”
It did not go. Sparrow
tried, and tried, yet nothing more than a little mote of red light came from
her wand. Likewise Jill, no matter how hard she waved her wand, no matter how
loudly she shouted “protego”, could not produce a wall of yellow light.
“Maybe I’m just not in
the mood for it,” said Sparrow. “Professor Budge said there was an emotional
component for spellcasting. Then again, I’m never in the mood for it. I’m not
sure how I can be. He told me there were times when I would need to hurt people
in order to save others, but…what if I can’t cast an offensive spell until that
moment comes? I’d have no practice at all.”
“I don’t understand why
you always want to play defense,” said Jill. She flicked her wand again. Still
nothing. “It means you’re always ceding the initiative. Unless your defense is
perfect – ”
“It is,” said Sparrow.
“No it isn’t.” She
flicked her wand again. Still nothing. “Three times in your life, you faltered.
Three times your shield was broken. If an enemy can make you falter, then they
can get past your supposedly mighty defense, like water through a tiny crack in
a dam. You have to learn how to attack.”
“I don’t want to,” said
Sparrow. “There’s got to be another way.”
“There is none,” said
Jill. “There is attack and there is defense, and you’re missing half.”
“So are you,” said
Cormac. “I’ve never seen you cast an effective spell of defense, no matter what
it is. Shields and counterspells alike, you never bother. That only works if
your assault is relentless. And you have to take the initiative, instead of
waiting for your opponent to make the first move.”
“Exactly,” said Jill. “If
I can get in the first blow hard enough there doesn’t have to be a second.”
“And what if you can’t?
What if your attack does nothing? Do you then retreat? How do you retreat
without a good defense?”
“Turn into a spider and
hide,” said Jill. “Or something.”
“You don’t want to cast
defensive spells,” said Cormac. “Can I see your wand?”
Jill hesitated for a few
seconds, glancing at Cormac as if he were asking her to spill a mighty secret.
Then she relented, setting her mouth into a grim line and handing the wand
Cormac studied the wand
intently. “Hornbeam. Hm. The kind of wood that follows its owner’s principles
to the letter. And the core?”
“Unicorn tail hair.”
“Least susceptible to the
dark arts,” said Cormac. “So you’re strongly committed to an offense, yet there
are some spells where you won’t go. Length, I’d say fourteen inches – ”
“Hang on a minute,” said
Sparrow. “I’ve got a hornbeam with unicorn hair. Did you grab my wand by
mistake, Jill? Wait, no. It’s in my pocket here.”
“Most unusual,” said
Cormac. “Ollivander tries to vary his wood and wand cores in order to present
the greatest range of possibilities to first-time wizards. Why on earth would
he make two wands of precisely the same type?”
“Maybe he always does,”
said Sparrow. “Like if he needs to have a few of each type on hand, just in
case there’s high demand.”
Cormac was stroking his
chin. “Possible,” he said. “Although that’s a muggle way of doing things,
right? Supply and demand, market forces. But we’re Wizards, and there’s only so
many of us. Always few. We don’t do market forces. The Ollivander family is
pureblood through-and-through, so I doubt that old Garrick would be thinking of
supply and demand at all.”
“Just in case then,” said
Jill. “On the rare chance that he’d meet two wizards on the same day with the
Cormac. “But you two are hardly the same. One desperate to protect and defend,
the other eager to strike down foes – ”
“Same goal different
methods,” said Jill. “And we’re both stubborn when it comes to certain topics.”
She gave Sparrow a knowing look. “Pig-headed, even.”
“Oink,” said Sparrow.
“So I don’t find it a big
surprise that we’d wind up with similar wands. Is it supposed to be a big
“Yes,” said Cormac.
“Enough so that Tom Riddle had no reasonable expectation of what would happen
when his wand met Harry Potter’s. Priori Incantatem is an extremely rare occurrence.
You only get it when you have two wands with cores taken from the same animal,
and think about that – trying to get more than one tail feather from a phoenix,
or more than one tail hair from a unicorn…you can get lots of heart strings
from dragons, mind you…”
“We’re not talking about
sibling wand cores,” said Sparrow. “These are just two wands of the same type. We’re
not dealing with Priori Incantatem here.”
“That remains to be
seen,” said Cormac. “There is, after all, only one way to find out.”
“Ask Ollivander?” said
“Two ways to find out,”
said Cormac. “Sparrow, may I see your wand?”
Sparrow glanced around
her. “As long as we’re safe.”
“We’re at Hogwarts, for
goodness sake. The wards are strong.”
“But safe from a flying
“Have you always been
this nervous?” said Cormac.
“Yes,” said Sparrow and
Jill at the same time.
“What,” said Cormac,
“were you born nervous?”
“No,” said Sparrow. “But
in my life I have been given great cause to keep my eyes and ears open. I have
no wish to leave myself vulnerable, not even for a minute.”
Cormac looked concerned.
“It’s fine,” said
Sparrow. “I’m fine, it’s just…never mind. Maybe I’ll explain later. The point
is I’ve never let my wand be more than an arm’s length from my hand, and never
given it to anyone.”
“You rely on it,” said
Cormac. “Perhaps too much. I told you about muggle solutions. Maybe you should
be thinking about how to use them, just in case your wand is lost.”
“It won’t be,” said
“May I please see your
Sparrow shook her head.
“What if you stood real
close to me while I held it? Then you could grab it out of my hands in case a
big hairy monster attacked.”
Sparrow stepped close to
Cormac. Still she held tight to her wand.
“Come on,” said Cormac.
“I don’t bite.” He held out his hand, where lay Jill’s wand.
Sparrow shivered as she
held her wand over Cormac’s open palm. She let it stay there for a few seconds,
then let it go. She did not stop shivering.
Jill moved to her side
and placed her mighty arm around Sparrow’s shoulder, drawing her close. “You
are safe with me,” said Jill. “Always.”
ceased, and she let out a deep breath.
Cormac peered at the
wands in his hand. “I think I made a mistake,” he said, “by putting them in the
same hand. I can hardly tell these apart in the dim light.” He drew his own
wand from a pocket of his robes. “Lumos.” He held the light over the wands.
“Damn. It’s still difficult. Precisely the same length, extremely similar grain
pattern, clearly from the same piece of hornbeam. The only real difference is
the pattern on the handles, but even that’s close enough to keep fooling my
eyes. If I were to toss these wands from hand to hand – ”
“Don’t even think about
it,” said Sparrow.
“ – I would wind up
forgetting which was which. These wands look like identical twins. A veritable
Fred and George Weasly of wands. In fact, I think I have forgotten already. Do
either of you remember which one was – ”
Jill pointed to the wand
on the right side of Cormac’s palm. “That one’s mine.”
“Are you sure?”
“No idea. I just am.”
“Fair enough.” Cormac
passed the wand on the left wie of his palm to his left hand, and held up one
wand to each ear in turn, then both together.
The two girls stared at
him with quizzical expressions.
“They sound about the
same,” said Cormac. “Almost as if their cores came from the same animal after
all. I think these wands were born at the same time. I think they are identical
twins. But, let us be more certain.” He handed the wands back. “Why don’t you
cast some spells at each other that will strike each other, so we can see if
they get a real Priori Incantatem going. And it would have to be a spell both
of you could cast…something that wouldn’t be offensive or defensive. A cheering
charm. Try that.”
“After as much as you
have asked already,” said Sparrow, “you would have me alter someone’s mind
without their permission?”
“Perhaps a color-changing
“A warmth charm,” said
Jill. “Perfect for a night like tonight.”
“I don’t know,” said
Sparrow. “If you turned up the heat on that one, it could become an offensive
“For Harry’s Sake,” said
Cormac, “stop trying to talk yourself out of this and cast the damn spell!”
Sparrow and Jill
separated and stood facing each other. They lined their wands up, readied their
proper dueling stances, and said “Ciribiribin.”
Out of the ends of both
wands floated a line of visible water vapor.
The two lines met, and
held there. At the place where they met they began to glow more brightly, and
more again as the seconds passed.
For those seconds, no one
At last Cormac broke the
silence. “This is it then,” he said. “The Priori Incantatem. Two wands with a
core from the same animal cast spells at each other, they meet in the middle,
they struggle, they push against each other, until one wins the duel and – now
hang on a minute.”
The lines of water vapor
were not pushing against each other, but wrapping around.
“They’re supposed to be
fighting,” said Cormac. “I don’t know what’s going on here.”
“Perhaps,” said Jill, “Each
wand loves the other too much.”
“Perhaps,” said Sparrow,
“each wand thinks it is one half of a whole, and refuses to fight against
The water vapor had
become a cloud, glowing bright white now, and growing ever larger, and larger,
filling the space between the three students. Sparrow put out a finger and
tried to touch the cloud. No spark jumped to her finger, nor did her finger
dissolve. Perhaps it was safe.
In the next moment
Sparrow could only hope that the cloud was harmless, because it suddenly
expanded to engulf all three students. Within was bright white light, and she
had to put her hand in front of her eyes to avoid being blinded. She could not
look around to see where Jill was, but she felt a fumbling hand grip her
shoulder, and then another one.
It almost felt like Jill’s
hands. Large, strong. Yet not nearly as heavy. Couldn’t be Cormac’s hands
either. His were always gentle. So whose –
The cloud vanished.
Sparrow looked around.
There was nothing in this courtyard but three students, some stone benches, and
And yet…there was
Not oven heat, but soft
heat. Tropical heat. Just like the Ciribiribin spell. Sparrow put a hand out to
one of the stone benches. It was pleasantly warm.
Cormac. “The two wands must have amplified the spell a thousandfold when
working together. If we can find a place that we wouldn’t worry about
destroying then we ought to see what else happens with that effect.”
“I think I’m perfectly
satisfied for the time being,” said Jill, sounding and looking like she was
about to cry, this time, as Sparrow had a few minutes before.
“But – ”
“I said. I am. Satisfied.
Sparrow, maybe you ought to practice with Cormac instead of me for the time
being. And…hold off from dating, for a while. Until we figure this thing out.”
“We’re Off then?” said
“Would you still hold me
“If ever you feel afraid.
Otherwise, I am…I don’t want to make you afraid, that’s the thing.”
“So you abandon me
minutes after promising the opposite?”
“Like I said. I’m here if
you need me. But only in that capacity. I am sorry.”
“I’d like to think you
could still experiment,” said Cormac.
“Not that either.”
“But – ”
“You seem to know
wandlore,” said Jill. “Go and ask Ollivander. This is his fault anyway. Come
on, let’s get into the common room before we’re spotted being out of bed.”
“I think I know how you
can cast an offensive spell,” said Jocasta.
They were in the History
of Magic classroom, approximately ten minutes before the class was to begin.
“You have to hate your
Sparrow frowned. “I’m not
sure that I hate anybody specific.”
“Nobody at all?”
“There’s plenty of people
in the world who have made bad choices, I suppose, and plenty of people I would
have strenuous disagreements with, if I knew them personally. But, around here?
No. I don’t have any personal enmities.”
“So little miss nice-nice
doesn’t want to hurt anyone and doesn’t hate anyone,” said Jocasta. “You’re a
sweet little angel covered in sugar.”
“Are you trying to goad
me?” said Sparrow.
Jocasta sat down heavily
at a desk. “I’m just…I mean, I thought it would be easy for you to follow my
advice. Now I have to come up with something better.”
“I haven’t thought of it
“Why do you even want to
help me with that?”
She said nothing more to
Sparrow, as they waited the remaining time before the class began.
At the sound of the clock
striking one, the remaining students shuffled reluctantly into the classroom,
sat down at their desks, and prepared to take a post-lunch nap. Professor Binns
floated out of the blackboard and started his usual drone. “In the mid
seventeenth century, the Welsh Wizarding Council blah, blah, blah…”
Jocasta leaned over to
Sparrow and whispered, “your mother’s a whore.”
“She was,” whispered
Sparrow. “Is, kind of. I never asked her much about it though. Who knows? Maybe
I’m a half-blood.”
“Are you serious? Fine.
Your father’s a whore.”
“I thought I had made it
clear that I don’t consider that an insult.”
Jocasta said nothing more
for a while, but fumed silently, drumming her fingers on the table. Then she
“Knock it off,” said the
“I said knock it off.”
“Quit it!” Sparrow
flicked Jocasta’s hand away.
Jocasta kept trying, with
Sparrow trying to fend her off. They went at this for about twenty seconds
before a glowing yellow wall sprang up between them.
Sparrow looked around.
The entire class was staring. Including, of all people, Professor Binns.
“Twenty points from
Slytherin,” said Binns, “and twenty from Hufflepuff.”
“I’ve never heard of
Binns doing anything with house points,” said Cormac, as he played a soft tune
on his ukulele.
The Hufflepuff common
room was busy this evening with people doing homework. Nevertheless, people did
their best to stay away from Sparrow and her friends. Apparently losing
Hufflepuff more than a hundred house points within the first 6 months of the
school year could put a dent in your reputation.
Sparrow was sitting in a
comfy chair by the fire, holding her wand in the palm of her hand. “Oh, I’m
sure he’s done it once,” she said. “Maybe back in 1960. But I wanted to ask you
“I am surprised,” said
Cormac. “After what I put you through in the Courtyard.”
“I have my wand in hand,”
said Sparrow. “And so I have my confidence in hand.”
“But not your girl.”
“Now that’s a touchy
“I’m just saying, I blame
myself for that one too.”
“Don’t. Jill’s been
running away from me this entire school year so far. Maybe the wand thing is
just an excuse…but I can never think that badly of her, can I? She’s got to
have good reasons. I just wish she would tell me what they were. I wish she
“Likewise you to me,”
said Cormac. “I’d appreciate knowing why you’re always nervous.”
“I said I’d tell you
later. On a night when we can get to the dragon tower again. That’s a promise.
Anyway, wands. You said that my wand had absorbed my own principles. It’s not
alive, though, is it?”
“They’re alive,” said
Cormac. “That’s the first chapter of the book on basic wandlore. The question
is, how much can they think? Even Ollivander isn’t certain. Then again, I don’t
know if he’s ever bothered to figure out. That’s something to ask him, I
suppose. As it is, your wand is learning along with you. That’s why we’re in
school, Sparrow. That’s why it takes so long to become a proper wizard. You’re
shepherding your wand along the path to power as much as the teachers are
shepherding you. You have to figure out how to work with the wand.”
“So can I, like, talk to
“Oh sure! But it might
not talk back.” Cormac winked. “If you want a conversation, well. I’m sure
there’s something on that in the library. Maybe. The wand lore book makes much
of wands having personalities, but maybe it’s the same way a dog has a
personality. You can tell it what to do, but it can’t tell you what to do.”
“That’s been bugging me.”
Sparrow held her wand up to the light. “We talk about mastering the wand, of
owning the wand, but if it’s a living thing – ”
“It’s like being the master
of a dog. You’re not some kind of slave driver.”
Sparrow glanced at
Cormac, a lad as pale as anything. Then she glanced at her own hand, which had
a tendency to blend into shadows. “I should certainly hope not. But it’s still
uncomfortable. I do not want to be a master. I want to be a partner. I want to
have a relationship with this thing that isn’t just ‘do this do that.’ What I
mean is, I would like to be able to convince this wand to do some basic
offensive spells. I’m a little more amenable to the idea now, but this thing is
a real…stick in the mud. Har har har.” She pocketed the wand.
“A relationship? The wand
isn’t a person, Sparrow. It’s a tool. Like a boarhound or a farm cat. It has a
personality but there’s only so much you can do to connect with it.”
“But what if that isn’t
true? Come on. You’re the wand expert around here, you have to at least
entertain the possibility.”
“Are you going to turn
into another Hermione Granger? Going to Liberate the Wands?”
Sparrow gave Cormac a searching glance.
“Are you saying the
liberation of the House Elves was a bad thing?”
“I mean, it caused a bit
of mess, didn’t it? Wizards had to start doing things themselves, things they
didn’t exactly know how to do.”
Sparrow glanced at her
hand, then back to Cormac. “It only caused a bit of mess, did it? Yes, you’re
right. That’s all it caused. A bit of mess. Wizarding society was able to pick
up where the House Elves left off. Which means they never needed the elves in
the first place. They were just a bunch of lazy twats who liked to boss elves
around. Now, think about what it would have meant if the loss of the House
Elves DID cause a real problem. It would mean that we’re not as powerful as all
that, and that we did, in fact, require slaves to do the menial tasks, the
heavy lifting, et cetera. Either way Wizards don’t come out looking good, do
“They liked it!” said
Cormac. He strummed a discordant note, grimaced, and set the ukulele aside.
“Granger’s first effort flamed out because the House Elves genuinely enjoyed
serving Wizards! She went around calling for freedom and the house elves did
not want it. She thought she knew what they needed and when they told her she
didn’t listen. Just like you sometimes. I’ve heard you want to break the
Statute of Secrecy down. Did you ask anyone if they would benefit?”
“To be fair,” said
Sparrow, “I haven’t had a chance. You know it’s a forbidden subject for me.
Nobody’s explained why, exactly. I’m just supposed to get the idea. I mean, if
it were true that Wizards were only so powerful, maybe we’d be in genuine
danger from the muggles, but. We can just wave a wand and have things happen.
What can they do to us?”
“Obliterate an entire
section of countryside in an instant with one bomb.”
Sparrow’s eyes grew wide.
“Are you serious?”
“How on earth – ”
“And,” said Cormac,
leaning forward in his chair, “Despite their troubles in recent decades, they
still have the capability to launch half of the bombs they’ve got.”
“How many do they have?”
“Enough to blow the world’s
surface to oblivion a hundred times over.”
There was a long pause.
“Well,” said Sparrow.
“You’re the muggleborn,
girl. You ought to know about this more than I do.”
“Hey, I’m the kind of kid who had their wildest dreams come true when they went
to Hogwarts. I haven’t studied muggles much lately. You’re more interested than
me. It’s like when you go to a friend’s house and they’ve got all kinds of new
toys that you don’t, so you say ‘wow’ and they say ‘ho hum’. I’m a kid in a
goddamn candy store here at Hogwarts. But tell me more about this
county-obliterating bomb. It sounds positively wizardly.”
“You know from Muggle
Studies that by this era, long after we abandoned them, they’ve managed to come
up with their own kind of wizardry. They’ve unlocked secrets of the universe
that we never bothered with, just as we unlock secrets that they don’t even
know how to look for. They’ve found elements beyond what we know, and
discovered the smallest unit of each, and discovered how to break those units
in two. That’s where the bomb comes from. They figured out that there’s quite a
bit of energy packed into each of those units. They discovered the fundamental
properties of light itself, peered into the heavens and discovered cold heavens
far beyond what we know, and cold heavens far beyond them, and beyond them, and
beyond them. They figured out how to focus light to go all in one direction, so
as to travel miles upon miles in a tiny straight line, burn through metal, and
so forth. They strapped a kind of internal combustion engine to wings, attached
those to long narrow vehicles – ”
“I know what aeroplanes
“Believe me, some
pureblood wizards don’t. Ignotius Travers – you know him, he was the one who
put a knee through the Cadogan portrait last year – he asked me if I knew what
those tiny things zooming along in the sky were, and couldn’t understand me
when I said that they’re thirty thousand feet above. Some people don’t bother
to teach their children about muggle things and don’t care if their children
fail the Muggle Studies class.”
“Mostly,” said Cormac.
“Sometimes you get mixed parents who figure their children will be totally
ensconsed in the Wizarding World anyway so why bother. But everyone else has some
idea of what Muggles can do. If Voldemort had ever revealed himself to the
Muggle world, if he had ever tried to overthrow them, he would have been vaporized
in short order. They’ve got bombs that can level entire city districts. They’ve
got aeroplanes that can fly without humans in them and throw a missile straight
at your house. Muggles would have been able to erase the entire Death Eater
squad in one fell swoop if they’d had a mind to. Mr. Riddle and his ilk, all
the pureblood-superiority people, they’re totally ignorant of what muggles can
do. They’re lucky that we hide ourselves away. If Muggles were ever exposed to
Lethifolds, they’d probably start dropping bombs like crazy.”
“A black blanket creature
that smothers people and eats them.”
Sparrow’s eyes grew wide.
She began to shiver. Even as she left her chair and sat directly upon the
hearth, she shivered.
“Something the matter?”
“Nothing,” said Sparrow.
“Does this have to do
with your being nervous all the time?”
“Please drop the subject.”
“It sure sounds like you
were attacked by a – ”
Sparrow turned her head
towards Cormac, glaring at him with nearly as much fury as a tiny schoolgirl
Cormac fell silent.
After a few seconds, he
picked up his ukulele and played a soft tune, head bent to his work. For a
while he played, one tune after another, never speaking, never raising his
head, as if he did not dare to meet Sparrow’s gaze again.
Sparrow was the first to
break the silence. “I think I remember that song,” she said. “I’ve got
sixpence, jolly jolly sixpence…”
“Just playing the muggle
tunes I remember,” said Cormac. “Try this one.” He plucked out another tune.
“Mm-ah went the little
green frog one day…”
“Marvelous. I didn’t
expect you to know that one, it’s an American tune.”
“Well how do you know it,
“Now that’s a long story
that I’ll have to explain later.” Cormac winked.
Sparrow did not smile at
this, but set her mouth in a grim line.
Cormac set the ukulele
aside. “I am sorry,” he said. “I have crossed a line tonight that I should have
known not to cross. Or come much too close to it, anyway. I would appreciate
hearing your story someday, even if it is far from now. But that’s up to you.
As for me and my story…you hear the muggle songs out of me, and you already know
I have an interest in the things they do. I had hoped our efforts to get past
Filch would benefit from being a muggle method, something he was unfamiliar
with, I mean, he’s lived so long at this school he can’t possibly know the
muggle world – no such luck, that time.”
“Why are you interested
in muggles?” said Sparrow. “Wizards are cool.”
“Are we?” said Cormac.
“Are we really? I don’t feel it. I’m actually insecure about the whole thing. I
think that if Wizarding Britain ever revealed itself to Muggle Britain they would
look like laughingstocks. Look at what we have around us and what we use.
Candles? Coaches? Quills? This world is practically frozen in time.”
“It makes me wonder,”
said Sparrow. “If we’d never done the Statute of Secrecy, would we have gotten
stuck like this? Or would we have taken the opportunity to integrate Wizard
magic with muggle magic?”
“Judging from personal
experience I’d say neither. But that’s a story for another time.” Cormac
winked. “Keeping my lips sealed about that for now.”
“Just like me, huh? Well
maybe when I tell you my story you can tell me yours. For now…I can see that
we’ve got our world and muggles have theirs. I can’t say I like it. But at the
very least, I understand why it’s worth being hidden at the moment. Thank you,
Cormac, for the explanation. That was more about the subject than anyone has
ever told me.”
“Glad I could help. Say,
where’s Jill got to lately? She used to hang around here more often. I only see
her in class now.”
Sparrow sighed. “It’s
like I said. She’s running away from me again. I wonder if I can even blame
her? Imagine if we cast a fireball at each other. We’d probably blow up the
“Next time I see her,
I’ll tell her you’re disappointed.”
“And I will tell her that
you understand her actions.”
“Fair enough.” Sparrow
rose from the fire, and departed without a word.
In the ensuing weeks,
Sparrow had to admit, reluctantly, to herself, that Cormac had helped her by
mentioning Lethifolds, even if he had touched a painful nerve. In his
blundering curiousity he had given Sparrow the opportunity to name the fear
that had haunted her for so long, to give it shape, to set it in the world,
such that she could at last confront the matter –
Through study, of course.
If Lethifolds were indeed the culprit of the worst night she’d ever had, then
they were extremely dangerous, and not the sort of thing one should attack
without understanding its patterns.
So she asked Hagrid about
these curious black blanket things, hoping for some further explanation. He
could offer little more than what Cormac had told her. According to him
Lethifolds were tropical things, rarely seen even in the tropics. He’d seen two
in the Forbidden Forest during the later part of the blooming season – Sparrow
had gone pale at this news, and Hagrid was only able to get her to stop shaking
like a leaf when he told her that he’d only seen one Lethifold at a time over
two decades, and never again. That information plus a great deal of tea had
settled her nerves.
Hagrid didn’t know what
the Lethifolds were made out of, because he’d never been able to catch one, nor
how they reacted, because he’d never wanted to stay around long enough to
observe one. His reaction was the same as that of anyone who had sense – to
blast it with a patronus, instead of standing there taking notes like an idiot.
So even big strong old
Hagrid didn’t feel safe around these things.
Sparrow then turned her
attention towards the Magical Creatures section of the library. One book after
another she searched, from thin catalogues to weighty tomes. And yet no matter
how weighty the tome, no matter how much it could go on about unicorns and
dragons and grindylows and centaurs, there was always the same paltry
explanation of Lethifolds: Tropical creature, nocturnal, devours sleeping
people, can only be repelled by a strong patronus charm. There was almost
nothing more, in any text, than what she could find in any other text. She
might as well stick to her magical creatures textbook, for all these books were
So, at the same time that
Sparrow was pleased to have an idea of what had happened to her so long ago,
she was immensely frustrated to have no further information than that.
Typically an entry on any animal would explain its habitat, diet, living
arrangements, method of reproduction, and so forth, such that someone wishing
to deal with, say, a man-eating lion, or an elephant in Musth, would have some
assumptions from which they could craft a counterstroke. Villagers in India
used to wear masks on the backs of their heads because they knew tigers never
attacked when someone was looking at them. Doves would fly out of a bush if you
beat the ground. Deer were extremely sensitive to movement from the side but
could be more easily approached from the front. That sort of thing.
For Lethifolds there was nothing, a
blankess, a blackness, like the creature itself. And who could blame these
writers? Nobody in their right mind would attempt to study these things up
close. Not Hagrid. Not Mr. Scamander. Not Dangerous Dai Llewellyn. Maybe not
even Godric Gryffindor. It would be more insane than trying to study a
dementor. At least those things had restraint. When you looked at a Dementor,
the abyss gazed back; when you looked at a Lethifold the abyss tried to eat
The only clues available
were personal accounts of attacks form survivors, and those were few. Less than
few, in fact: two. One, the ubiquitously repeated tale of Flavius Belby, whose
successful repelling of the Lethifold with a Patronus was Sparrow’s one slim
hope of defense; and the attack on Lady Warbeck, wherin a Lethifold…disguised
itself as a stage curtain, apparently. They could be clever, then. Even
That was more troubling
than anything. What if any shadow, any curtain could be waiting to devour her?
What if it was right behind – but such thoughts did not bear entertainment,
lest she collapse into paralyzing terror once more. The castle had wards. And
And open windows.
The days would have
become difficult to bear, if a certain someone had not been distracting Sparrow
from her darkest thoughts. For Jocasta was trying everything she could to get
on Sparrow’s bad side. She disguised a plate of rocks as cupcakes and gave it
to Sparrow. She stole Sparrow’s potions textbook. She tried to trip the girl.
All of it happened, but none of it worked. Sparrow knew what Jocasta was
trying, and couldn’t muster any hatred for her, because she knew that Jocasta’s
ultimate goal was to help.
It got more annoying when
Jocasta started going after other students. Finny Wambsgans, for example,
missed the content of a Muggle Studies class because he’d been slipped a
Daydream Chocolate. Percival Bulstrode had his favorite shoes turned barf
orange. There were at least three Fanged Frisbees per week. That was Jocasta
losing her touch. She must have known that there would always be a shield to
block a Frisbee.
Then the Quidditch teams
started finding their brooms missing, the quaffles acting strangely, the snitch
let loose on the pitch. Not the bludgers, though. Nobody in their right mind
would mess with a bludger.
And still Sparrow knew
that Jocasta was trying to help her. So none of it worked.
The staff was beginning
to get more than a little annoyed, and they were watching the students much
more closely in the hallways now. The pranks, at least the violent ones, began
And then, they ceased
Jocasta had given up.
Sparrow felt sorry for
the girl. She had tried so hard, and none of it had stuck. Sparrow wished she
could offer an apology, but the girl did not visit Sparrow, nor stop to talk to
her in the halls. She simply walked away, as quickly as she could.
The student body breathed
a sigh of relief.
One fine December
morning, in about the middle of the month, there was frost on the windowpanes.
It was one of the few days in the year that it would happen. A pretty scene,
and Sparrow was in high spirits for once. She was in high spirits as she
traipsed to the library, past the curious glares of her classmates. She was in
high spirits as she dragged a history tome off the shelf and opened to the
seventeenth century. She was in high spirits as she read passages about wizards
in the royal court of William and Mary.
She was in high spirits
as she looked up from the book at Rubeus Hagrid standing there at the end of
“Perfesser Binns tells
me,” said Hagrid, “That yer’ve been asking after the Statute of Secrecy like I
told ye not to.”
“Hagrid, I – ”
“’E said ye said yer’ve
been thinkin’ o’ letting muggles know about us.”
“How on earth did – I’ve
never spoken to the man.”
“’E said ye asked him all
kinds o’ questions about the statute.”
“And when was that?”
Professor Binns never
lied. He had no interest in lying, nor, as far as anyone knew, any interest in
anything. “It must have been someone in his class who looks like me,” said
She realized how silly
that sounded when she said it, but too late to take it back. Then again, there
was such a thing as polyjuice potion. Was that it? Jocasta hadn’t yanked one of
Sparrow’s hairs, had she? That would have been remarkably difficult to do.
Sparrow wore her hair extremely short just in case someone tried that. So how
would Jocasta have managed to look like her?
“I’ve never asked
Professor Binns about it, Hagrid. I mean, I talked to Cormac McKinnon, but –
ah. I shouldn’t have said that. I should not have said that.”
“If yer interested in
steppin’ over the line I set, Miss Jones, I think it’s high time ye had a
lesson only a Care of Magical Creatures perfesser can teach ye.”
“I’m not going,” said
Sparrow, and a glowing dome settled around her. “You cannot harm me. No one
Hagrid brought out his
umbrella and made a circular motion in Sparrow’s direction. A section of floor
beneath her chair separated from the rest of the library, and Sparrow found
herself picked up and borne out of the room despite her best efforts.
The Forbidden Forest. The
land of endless shrubs. Just the sort of place where Hagrid had seen
Lethifolds. Thank goodness this detention was in the rainy season instead fo in
warm weather. But oh, what if? What if?
Sparrow had halted at the
edge, and refused to tell Hagrid why, before finally gripping her wand tight in
hand, squaring her shoulders, and pressing forward. If she was going to learn
whatever Hagrid wanted to teach her then she couldn’t be stopped by ancient
She could be slowed down
by them. Now and then she did have to stop for the sake of her nerves, and for
all that this was a Detention, Hagrid never asked her to carry onward until she
An hour into the journey
to wherever they were going, Sparrow finally thought to ask the question that
had been on her mind. “I thought
this detention was going to be something like cleaning the Thestral stables for
a month,” she said. “Not hiking into the Forbidden Forest. How long does this
thing go on anyway? And why am I carrying this gear when you could carry it?
You could carry all the supplies without a sweat. In fact, why do we have
rucksacks at all when we could just magic everything we need? These things are
“Hardly a punishment if
it’s a walk in the park,” said Hagrid. “I can stop for ye as often as ye like
but I’m still cross. So yer learnin’ a lesson. And we can’t magic everyin’ we
need, because we don’t have a mokeskin bag, yer not skilled enough to handle
all the spells ye’d need, and anyway ye don’t want t’ rely on magic alone in a
dangerous place. So, muggle gear it is. Complain all ye like but I’m not
changin’ me mind about that.”
“And where exactly are we
“To the grave of an old
“Out in the middle of the
“Don’t know if it’s the
middle,” said Hagrid. “Never really found the other side, no matter how long I
walked. And I’ve walked a long, long time. But it’s deep in. Or maybe I should
say, it’s far in. Can’t call it deep if all the big trees are gone, can ye?”
Sparrow looked around.
There were a lot of low bushes with long greyish tapering leaves, and the
occasional tree about twice her height, a rare few twice the height of Hagrid.
But there was, indeed, no depth to this place, just endlessness. Not eternity,
exactly – that would have required more open space. This was more enclosed, in
its own way.
Had it been the usual
rainy day, as opposed to a frost day, it would have been endless misery. With
frost on the leaves and upon the blades of grass, it was more like endless
“Where did the big trees
“Long story,” said
Hagrid. “Not all me own fault, but somewhat. It’s not me that made the world
hot and dry and cold and stormy all at the same time. I just…let some things
happen that weakened this place, ye could say.
“T’ begin with, there’re
these birds called Rheas. Native to South America. They run over the dry
plains, ye see. Tall flightless birds, like ostriches. Right? Well, some twat
decided ‘e wanted ‘em around his nice parkland down in Devon.”
“So, Rheas belong in
South America. That’s their domain. Have ye not heard of Invasive Species?”
Sparrow shook her head.
“Right. Well, us humans,
we think we know where to put animals, and sometimes, it turns out we don’t.
Sometimes we introduce animals to places they shouldn’t go. No natural
predators, right? And nobody wants to hunt ‘em. So they overrun the whole
landscape and eat everything and ruin everything. Like what old Professor
Kettleburn told me about Starlings in the Americas -- some idiot introduced them
and suddenly the regular birds started to get crowded out. Things like that.
“What does that have to
do with these things?”
“I’m gettin’ t’that. I’m
gettin’ t’that. See, the Rheas were kind o’like the starlings. They got loose,
and this fool muggle couldn’t catch’em, and nobody could. They wouldn’t eat the
poison set out for ‘em, they dodged the guns. And they multiplied. And they
nibbled the landscape half to death. Ate all o’ the heath and all o’ the
harvest mice. Muggles didn’t know what t’ do.”
“So why didn’t a Wizard
help the muggles deal with them?”
“Muggle problem. Not our
“But – ”
“We’re Wizards, Sparrow.
We also have domains. Like the starlings. Anyway, getting back to the story.
The Rheas, well, they’re wild animals, they don’t know how t’ obey the Statute
of Magical Secrecy. So some o’ them got themselves into the Old Forest and,
er…interbred with a bunch of cockatrices. And produced these things, that hide
like shrubs, run like the wind, and never get fooled by the same trick twice. Arr,
see, then it became a Wizarding matter. So I got meself authorization from the
Ministry of Magic, I did, and got down to Cornwall and scooped up all the new
birds, and all the old birds too.”
“But you said those
weren’t your domain.”
Hagrid chuckled. “I know
how t’bend the rules, Miss Jones. Might even have a reputation for it. I’m
lucky the prime minister is a doddering old fool who signs things without looking
at them, otherwise I might never have been given the job.”
“I’m not sure where
you’re going with all this,” said Sparrow, as she swept a branch out of her
“The story isn’t done
yet, Miss Jones. I brought the birds here and called them Rhiannons. And I
didn’t know what I was doing with them, because they went and they ate up all
the pine cones, and they kicked out all the underbrush, and suddenly there were
fewer pine trees around here, and when the world got dry…there were even fewer.
So that’s why I think it’s partly me own fault that the Forbidden Forest looks
the way it does now. There’s domains for you. If ye break them without knowing
what yer doing, like I did, you change yer world in ways ye don’t expect.”
Sparrow looked around.
There was a Rhiannon following them. Big eyes, bigger than the girl’s fist,
deep eyes. There was a mystery there too. Sparrow had the feeling that this
bird knew a lot more than it was willing to let on.
For one thing, it nodded
its head in the direction that Sparrow had been going, as if to tell her, “turn
Sparrow turned. There was
a wide clearing amidst the bushes. And there in the clearing grew the most
grass she had ever seen in one place.
“What is this?” said
“This is it,” said
Hagrid. “Aragog’s grave.”
“I don’t see it.”
“Yes ye do.”
“Well where is it then?”
Hagrid nodded to the
“But where in the
clearing? I told you I don’t – ”
“It’s the entire
“ – oh. Um. Was Aragog a
“Jus’ a spider,” said
Hagrid. “A mighty one. Ruled the forest, ‘e did, along with all his children.
Almost killed Harry Potter, but I was friends with Aragog, and they was friends
with me. So the old spider paused long enough for a bit of muggle magic to save
‘em. Long story. If ye ever meet Ron Weasley remind him about tha’ fer me.”
“So where did Aragog’s
children go? We haven’t seen any of them.”
“Can’t say fer certain.”
Hagrid placed his own rucksack down, and sat upon a large rock. “Maybe they ran
off to the muggle world and all got killed. Maybe they ran so far into these
woods that we’ll never see them again. Either way, the Rhiannons kind of
crowded them out, and once the pines were gone there weren’t much left fer ‘em
so I can’t hardly blame ‘em fer leavin’. Makes detentions in this place a bit
safer in th’rainy season, if a bit more boring. Anyway!” He slapped his knee.
“Lesson number one. Magical creatures can get this big, and bigger. What do you
think would happen if ye introduced them to the muggle world?”
“Muggles would start
talking about wild monsters again like they used to?”
“Send out some kind of
knight to slay them. Or just someone with a shotgun, I guess.”
“Exactly,” said Hagrid.
“Without the Statute of Secrecy, Aragog would never have survived in peace. In
our little hidden world, he had the chance t’ live in peace and sire many
children.” Hagrid stood, and hoisted his rucksack onto his shoulders. “Come on.
The next grave is a fair distance away.”
“Far enough that yer
goin’ t’ need that tent yer carryin’.”
“Son of a – ”
It took the rest of the
day and half of the next day before there was another clearing. It would have
taken less time, but as they continued Sparrow had to stop more and more often.
Hagrid began to look a little exasperated, but didn’t give Sparrow an unkind
word. He just let her tremble, as long as she needed, until she could go on
again. They reached the clearing after many delays.
It was a slightly smaller space than
that of Aragog, and more encroached by trees. In fact, Sparrow had not seen
quite so many trees in one place before, outside of the paradise gardens.
There was a simple
grawp the short, last of
the giants. 1933-2030.
“That’s a funny name,”
“It’s a giant name,” said
Hagrid. “Giants understood it. I never did.”
“How did you know him?”
Hagrid told Sparrow the
whole tale, from meeting him in the Ural Mountains all the way to putting him
up in the Forbidden Forest.
Sparrow went over to the
stone and touched the place that said 2030. “And he died close to the time I
was born. What happened? Did he meet his match?”
“Ye might say that.”
Hagrid dropped his rucksack and took out an apple, which he popped into his
mouth and chewed like a shorter person would eat a cherry. “So did muggles, in
a way, although it was their own fault. Ye can’t expect a giant to be able to
handle the heat. Grawp couldn’t. There was a summer when he didn’t manage to
get t’ the highlands in time, and a heatwave came on and killed him. I have
enough trouble handling the summer meself.”
“And you managed to drag
him all the way out here?”
“Ar, well. We’d buried
him at the edge of the forest, didn’t we? But the forest has its own way of
doing things, let’s leave it at that. But it’s the second part that’s
important. ‘Last of the giants.’ I’m sure Grawp was the last. Never saw another
after him. I went back to the place where I’d seen ‘em last, back in
Scandinavia. But they were gone, and all I found there were bones. So. When
Grawp was gone so was the giants, and that’s that, I suppose. Now, why do ye
think there were so few?
“I really have no idea.
They’re in all the children’s stories.”
“Righ’, and what does old
Jack do to ‘em in the stories?”
Sparrow thought. Jack,
who slew a giant. Always one giant or another. Sometimes he tricked them into a
hole, sometimes he tricked them into hanging themselves. “Never suffered a
giant to live,” said Sparrow.
“Righ’. And Neither did
King Arthur, or Thor, or anyone. Understandable, I suppose. Giants were never
very friendly. They were dangerous! Ate everyone’s livestock, smashed houses,
all manner of mischief. So muggles and wizards alike couldn’t let ‘em live.
That’s yer second lesson. The Statute of Secrecy is for protecting muggles from
dangerous beasts. There’s some that even the biggest Muggle bomb and the best
muggle guns couldn’t handle. Ye know about dementors, well enough. Ye know
about Lethifolds as well. Not many people do. Didn’t expect ye t’ ask about
them things. Why did ye?”
“Come on, now. Ye can
“I most certainly
“Am I not trustworthy?”
“I said cannot. Not that
I won’t tell you, but that I can’t. I can’t bring up the subject here, I can’t
talk about it – here of all places I can’t even tell you, you who know how to
cast a Patronus – ”
“Oh, so the brave and
talented Miss Jones is scared – ”
“I have every fucking
right to be!” Sparrow shrugged her rucksack off her shoulders and let it fall
with a clatter. “I have every right to be scared of something you’re scared of!
And it’s not just about that, because if it was only that I could just climb up
on your shoulders and feel safe there! You saw very clearly what happened to me
when we spoke of the matter before, and how much effort it took to get me to
calm down! Why the hell did you decide to bring me into the midst of this place
when you knew what it would do to me?” Sparrow’s voice broke as she felt tears
come to her eyes. “Why did you put me through – through all – this – ” And then
there were no more words, only tears.
Hagrid placed his own
rucksack upon the ground, sat down before Sparrow and fished a handkerchief out
of one of his pockets. A Hagrid-sized handkerchief, enough to make a tunic for
a man of normal height. He handed it to Sparrow, who buried her face in it,
still weeping. It was just the sort of thing she needed right now. Her tears
would have soaked a normal handkerchief fairly quickly.
Hagrid picked her up,
placed her on his knee, and put a huge arm around her, as she cried herself
When she was finished, he
said, “I’m sorry. Fer takin’ ye this far without askin’ how ye were doin’. I
could’ve asked…and I was wonderin’, anyway. I thought ye might have some
trouble when ye halted at the edge there. But ye decided t’ square yer
shoulders and follow me. So I figgered ye were alright with the whole journey,
and ye were stopping out of exhaustion. Wouldn’t be a spurprise. Yer a little
slip of a girl carryin’ an entire rucksack. But yer havin’ a bad time. Worse
than most who come here. Why’d ye decide to keep goin’ after all?”
“You didn’t give me a
“Well…I didn’t tell ye
there was a choice. I’ve been meaning to offer to end this whole journey for a
while now, ever since ye had to stop that first time. I guess I should’ve made
th’ offer earlier, eh? I was too focused on makin’ sure you got to see what I
was tryin’ t’ tell ye, and didn’t realize how bad ye were takin’ it. We can go
back and ye can polish everything in the trophy room, if this is too much fer
ye. Or…we can go on, and I can show ye the last thing.”
“Are you making me go
“After what I just saw
out of yer eyes? I couldn’t possibly make ye go on. I shouldn’t have even
offered. We ought t’ head back to th’ castle and finish up with somethin’
“It’s fine,” said
Sparrow. “I can go on as long as…as long as you’re with me. Alright?”
“Fair enough,” said
Hagrid. “And I won’t mention th’ L-word again.”
“Yer still carryin’ yer
own rucksack, though.”
Past the grave of Grawp,
there was no more path to be found. From this point on it was a complete
wilderness, full of those bushes with the long tapering leaves. They scraped
Sparrow as she walked by, and she had to keep her shield spell up just to brush
them out of the way. Sometimes Hagrid carried her on his shoulders, though she
didn’t want to make him a pack horse for the entire trip. Most of the time she
For days. Through the
cold rain. The frost had long since gone. Sparrow’s one solace in the whole
journey was that, in this cold and misery, crawling insects were dormant. Blooming
season should have been the joy of the year for her, as it was for so many, but
for her it was bittersweet, for it meant that the ants would be back beside the
path again. Had she been out in the forest in March she would not have gone a
step beyond the giant’s grave.
Yet here in the wet
season she was stepping farther than she had ever dreamed of going. Sparrow
lost count of the hills they climbed, the mountains they skirted, and the
rivers they forded -- well, Hagrid towed a floating Sparrow behind him. In
these hills the trees began to thin out, but the bushes never did. In fact they
seemed to get thicker.
“It occurs to me,” said
Sparrow, as they descended a slope towards a lake, “that you could fit quite a
lot of Wizards in here. In fact, you could probably fit all of Wizarding
Britain in here.”
“True enough,” said Hagrid. “There aren’t many wizards around anyway. What do
you have, thirty to a year? You could fit every wizard in Britain into
Hogwarts, although some o’ them might be competing for elbow space. And then
inventing spells to steal people’s elbows.”
“So why don’t we?”
“Stuff every wizard into
one place?” said Hagrid. “Make every wizard live in Hogsmeade? Turn it into a
Wizard City? Ha! Sounds like something a Pureblood Supremacist would come up
with. No, Miss Jones, Wizards themselves wouldn’t take kindly to that. Our
magic is secret, but plenty o’ folks still got friends in the muggle world.
Imagine tellin’ them they had to live far away from muggles, away from their
parents, their relatives, their favorite parks and forests.”
“I hadn’t thought of
that. What if we stuffed all of Britain into this forbidden forest? I feel like
we’ve walked as far as Kent is wide.”
“I sincerely hope yer
jokin’ about that.”
“Maybe. I mean, supposing
the pureblood supremacists did want to completely withdraw from the muggle
world, they could re-create their own wizard society entirely within this
place, couldn’t they?”
“Maybe,” said Hagrid, as
he lowered Sparrow down a tall ledge. “But then, yer thinkin’ o’ this whole
thing like the fellers in Berlin in the 1880s thought about Africa. Who are you
to shift th’ whole world around like it’s yer chess board, hm? It aren’t hardly
fair to change people’s lives for them without asking, now is it?”
“Perhaps not,” said Sparrow.
“Sometimes it’s for their own good though.”
Hagrid had been preparing
to climb down the ledge after her, but then he paused. “And ye know what’s good
for ‘em better than they do, eh?”
“Sometimes. I mean,
people do some really stupid things.”
“Like run around asking
too many questions about the Statute of Secrecy?”
“Well – ”
“You just want to be able
t’ do yer magic in public, I’ll be bound. That’s why ye were askin’ about
“There’s more to it than
that!” said Sparrow. “The first time I read my magical creatures textbook, I
wanted everyone to see dragons. I thought every kid in the world should get the
chance to see a unicorn. And then I come to Hogwarts and people tell me no, it
all has to be secret. Shush shush. Everybody’s missing out on this! Everyone is
missing out on doing wonders, because we’re all shut up here. I want the whole
world to have magic, Hagrid. Is that too much to ask?”
Hagrid raised an eyebrow.
“Been thinkin’ about this
all yer school years, have ye?”
“Sort of. I only came up
with the idea of giving everyone magic after you told me about dangerous
creatures attacking muggles.”
Hagrid sighed. “The
things I set off because I can’t keep me big mouth shut. Again. Yer beginnin’
t’ sound like ol’ Grindlewald. But yer not interested in lordin’ it over
muggles, are ye? Yer not selfish like he was. But still dangerous. Who would
have thought that a little Hufflepuff girl would be wanting t’ do things more
dangerous than Voldemort ever thought of? Ar, but he was selfish too.”
“What do you mean,
dangerous? I want to give everyone the same power I have.”
“Exactly the point,” said
Hagrid. “Ar, but McGonnogal knows more about wizard politics than I do. I’m
bring ye along t’show ye what I can demonstrate, not speak fer her. So.” He finished
climbing the ledge. “Ye want t’ give every bloke and blighter and biddy in the
world some magic, is that it? Let ‘em in on the wizarding world. Ha! I’m about
t’ show yer some things even most wizards can’t handle.”
“If you’re taking me to
meet my worst fear after all – ”
“I’m not a complete
idiot,” said Hagrid.
“Then what are we seeing?
They had halted at the
top of a low mountain.
Hagrid had decided this
was a good place to end the journey, for, as he said, the plain beyond was
something he’d barely escaped alive. He waved his wand in the air and the image
of the plain grew in their sight as if through a giant telescope. “Here,” he
said, “We ought ter be safe watching from this distance.”
In the magical telescope
Sparrow could see the Rhiannons. They ran almost too fast to notice – at one
moment they were on one edge of the view, and in the next moment they were on
the other. And it was a wide view indeed. Sparrow stepped to the side of the
magical telescope and tried to take in the view of the plain as a whole. From
one horizon to another, over a flat expanse, there were clumps of the very
sorts of bushes that she and Hagrid had passed between to get here. There was
She’d been told that,
once upon a time, there had been more plant variety in the world. But that was
mostly gone now. It was all about the same, only changing color from green-gray
in the wet season to green-brown in the dry season.
From this distance, she could see the
Rhiannons moving faster than she’d ever seen a car go.
So what, exactly, was
able to overtake their speed by an order of magnitude? What was the creature
moving so fast that she could only see its aftermath when a Rhiannon’s neck
exploded in blood?
“Things down there,” said
Hagrid. “Never quite figured out what they were or where they came from. I was
too busy tryin’ t’escape, ye see. Got a bit too close last time.”
“You can’t apparate out
“We’re on the Hogwarts
grounds, Miss Jones. Besides which, I never got taught how, now did I? Got
expelled in me third year fer somethin’ I never did. Long story, ye might have
heard it already. It was back when Aragog was a wee little spider…”
Sparrow was not listening
to Hagrid, for she had finally seen one of the swift creatures come to a halt.
It was feasting upon the Rhiannon that had died messily. A creature like a cat,
yet extremely narrow and pointed, as if meant to slice right through the air.
She thought of a shark in cat form.
This one was dull gray, like everything in this landscape. But what to
call it? A Shark Cat? A Cat Shark? A Cark?
The most dangerous cats
she had never heard of were called Nundu. They could spread poison breath over
a whole area and nothing could take them down. Perhaps these were related.
“You haven’t named them
yet,” said Sparrow. “So I get to do it first.”
“Now hang on a minute, I
saw them first – ”
“They shall be known as
Hagrid scratched his
head. “Name sounds familiar, but alrigh’. Fair enough. Narks it is. Let’s keep
watching a bit and head back then.”
Sparrow shrugged. “I feel
like I’ve seen everything there is to – wait.” Sparrow stepped away from the
magical telescope and surveyed the landscape.
The Rhiannon had started
from there…and reached there within the space of a second. The Nark had started
from somewhere and reached there within half a second. Even the shorter
distance was slightly longer than the distance from the corpse to the
“We may not actually be
safe here,” said Sparrow.
“Nonsense,” said Hagrid.
“They can’t see us from up here.”
“Then how do they spot a
Rhiannon from a longer distance? They have the eyes of hawks, Hagrid. I’ve seen
enough. We should be going. Right now.”
Sparrow glanced at the
magical telescope. In it, the Nark had lost the Rhiannon to a larger and more
powerfully built beast. This one had no need to move as fast as the Nark,
because it could just bully other creatures out of their kills. Having no
chance to get its food back, the Nark had lost interest.
And it was staring
straight at the two wizards.
Sparrow had the space of
half a second to get her shield up before the cat slammed into it. The shock of
the impact forced the girl a step back. She had never been forced back before,
not even an inch. No spell of Jill’s had ever hit with as much force as the
Nark did, and before Sparrow could even react the Nark had run back and then
straight at the barrier again. Every impact forced the girl backward. And why
was it not going at her from the side?
She turned her shield
into a dome over herself and Hagrid, just before the Nark slammed into it from
“Oh boy,” said Sparrow,
“I sure wish we could apparate out of here.” She winced as the Nark slammed
into the barrier again. “I sure wish someone had learned how to do that.”
“Excuse me fer gettin’
framed by Voldemort ninety years ago!” said Hagrid.
“Well maybe you can stun
this thing,” said Sparrow. “Cause I sure can’t.”
“What do you mean you
can’t? Oh right, I’m talkin’ t’ Sparrow Jones. Ha! Well, What if I just try to
catch it with me bare hands?”
“Somehow I don’t think
you’d survive that. Oh, great. Now what’s it doing?”
The Nark had ceased to
ram its head into the barrier, and was now attempting to bite through it.
Sparrow thought this to be comical.
Until the barrier began
“You didn’t answer my
question,” said Sparrow. “Why can’t you stun this thing?”
“It eats magic,” said
Hagrid. “Tell you what. I’ll just get close here…” He moved to the space where
the Nark was eating the barrier and waited. The Nark looked at him and snarled,
then moved to a different spot and took a bite. Hagrid wound up spinning in
place as the Nark continued to move, stopping only here and there to keep
The barrier flickered,
and finally disappeared.
In that instant, Hagrid
whirled around, and he caught the beast, holding his hands over its muzzle.
The Nark was surprisingly
strong, for all that its build seemed more gracile than powerful. Perhaps it
took a great deal of strength to reach near-supersonic speeds. As it was,
Hagrid had a hard time keeping the Nark’s jaws shut, and it scratched at his
arms and torso as they struggled upon the ground. Sparrow began to understand
why Hagrid wore that giant moleskin coat, because it tended to make sharp claws
“Stun it!” said Hagrid.
“What if I hit you?”
“I can take a few hits!”
said Hagrid. “Don’t worry about me, just stun this thing and keep at it!”
“But it eats magic – oh.
Stun magic. Offensive
magic. The very sort of magic she had sworn to avoid. Every bit of her life
past eight years old had bent towards learning how to defend her friends
without having to hurt anyone. She didn’t want to hate anyone or hurt them, not
even the fierce wild beasts, not even – perhaps not even the most deadly of
“What are ye waitin’
for?” said Hagrid.
He was beginning to lose
ground. Sparrow tried to think of a good defensive spell, something that would
tie the Nark up. She pointed her wand at the Nark and shouted, “Petrificus
The Nark froze for the
space of half a second, just long enough for Hagrid to get a better grip on its
muzzle. But then the Nark began to thrash again.
“Stun it!” said Hagrid.
“Don’t waste time playing nice!”
Hagrid was already back
to where he had been. He wasn’t going to last much longer. And Sparrow was out
of ideas. But she had no idea if the stunning spell would even work, and there
might not be enough time to try anything else if it didn’t. How was she
supposed to make it work?
Jocasta had told her she
needed to feel hatred if she was to cast an offensive spell. How could she hate
a wild creature? It was innocent. Fierce, deadly, but technically innocent. And
yet, by that criteria a Lethifold was as well. Sparrow had no desire to
entertain that possibility.
Hagrid looked like his
grip was about to slip.
Jill had told Sparrow
about the value of offensive spells. How sometimes a friend was in danger and
there was nothing you could do but to strike their assilant down. And Hagrid
was a friend. And Sparrow had sworn to never let a friend come to harm, never
again. There was nothing for it, then, but to break her vow of peace.
Sparrow pointed her wand
at the nark and, with all the fear and rage and hatred she could muster,
A jet of red light shot
out from the wand and struck the creature between the shoulder blades. The Nark
shuddered, and then seemed to grow slightly larger. Again Sparrow shouted
“stupefy!” and the nark grew a bit larger still, and slightly reddish.
Again and again she threw
a stunning spell at the beast, while Hagrid held on for dear life. Bit by bit
the Nark grew larger and redder. Hagrid began to look like he was reaching the
last of his strength. The Nark was now half again as large as it had been, now
twice as large, now three times as large. Hagrid was holding into the beast now
instead of being able to hold it down. If it got a bit larger it would be able
to carry him away. A swipe of its paw was now powerful enough to go right
through the moleskin coat and draw blood.
“What are ye waitin’
for?” said Hagrid. “Finish it off!”
Another stunning spell
wouldn’t be good enough. What else was there? Stupefy was the only one she was
familiar with because it was the one she kept trying to do. But Jill had a
dozen different attacks in her repertoire. What was her favorite? Oh yes.
Sparrow. “Expulso! Expulso!”
Three mighty blasts in
quick succession, all absorbed by the creature’s skin. Had the Nark not been
full of magic already it could have survived all three. Yet, having devoured an
entire magical barrier cast by the strongest barrier witch of the age, and at
least fifty stunning spells, there was no more room within the Nark for
anything else. Red light shone through its cracking skin, and then it exploded,
showering Hagrid and Sparrow with blood and bone.
For a moment afterwards,
neither Wizard moved nor spoke.
Hagrid got to his feet
and wiped his face off with another handkerchief. Yet when he offered a third
handkerchief to Sparrow, she did not move to take it, nor did she even look at
it. She remained standing there, wand held outward, her gaze never leaving the
spot where the Nark had been.
Hagrid sat back down upon
the stone. He spoke not a word as Sparrow remained standing.
Until at last the girl
said, “I cast an offensive spell.” She let her arm drop. “Let that be the last
The journey back to the
castle was quiet, especially at first. Sparrow’s only communication with Hagrid
had been to nod when he offered to carry her upon his shoulders. Otherwise she
spoke not a word, not for a good long while. There was, after all, nothing left
to say. The lesson was learned. The job was done. Good enough, right? More than
good enough. It was done too well.
Well, there was something
to say when magic had to be done. Here was a stream to ford. Narrow, deep and
swift, something that Hagrid could cross but Sparrow could not. The girl
produced her wand, pointed it at herself and spoke for the first time in hours.
“I thought ye had that
spell mastered,” said Hagrid.
“I did,” said Sparrow. “I
think my wand won’t produce magic.”
“I shan’t say I’m
surprised,” said Hagrid. “Ye’ve had a rough day and ye’ve been through a lot
this week. I’m surprised ye decided t’ talk t’ me again.”
“I’m fine,” said Sparrow.
“Well, better. I’m blaming my wand for this one. I cast offensive magic. I
killed the Nark. I think my wand is mad at me.”
“Fer savin’ our lives?”
“For violating some of my
core principles, which the wand took on as its own core principles.”
Hagrid looked confused.
“Ye mean te tell me,” said Hagrid, “that even if it’s fer a good cause, even if
it’s t’ save the life of a friend, yer wand will punish ye fer doing somethin’
out of character?”
“Seems like it.”
Hagrid scowled. “Pardon
me French, Miss Jones, but yer wand is an uptight bitch.”
“I am not at liberty to
agree with you,” said Sparrow. “But my wand and I appear to be having a row.
So, would you be a dear and carry me across the river?”
Hagrid grumbled as he
lifted Sparrow onto his shoulders. He grumbled as he waded into the water.
As the river got up to
Hagrid’s waist, he said, “No more hexes, then, eh? No more jinxes, no more
curses. Ha! But wizards have to get creative sometimes, don’t they, ‘cos
sometimes a spell just doesn’t work on yer target, and sometimes ye just can’t
cast the spell ye want. Well, here’s an idea. The wand won’t let you cast
curses. But what if ye cast regular spells offensively? Like turning up Lumos
way high in order to blind people. Or making yer shield move forward at high
“Can I do that?”
“Yer a Wizard, Miss
Jones. What can’t ye do?”
They walked on, and, day
by day, drew nearer to the forest’s edge, until at last the castle came in
“This is it, then?” said
Sparrow. “Is my detention over? Am I free to go?”
“Almost,” said Hagrid.
“Almost. I need ye t’promise y’won’t go asking any of the teachers about the
Statute of Secrecy.”
“Hagrid, I – ”
“You have my word. Now
can I go?”
“I’ll walk ye t’ the
edge. Ye’ll see why when we get there.”
At the edge of the
forest, where the bushes brushed up against Hagrid’s hut, they stopped. “Right,
now,” said Hagrid. “Turn around.”
The bushes had gone. In
their place were those birds that looked so much like bushes, the birds with
the intelligent eyes, the Rhiannons.
“When I said they kicked
out all the underbrush,” said Hagrid, “What I meant was they replaced it all.
These are funny birds, Miss Jones, more adaptable than ye’d think, and once the
Nark came around they figured out how to disguise themselves as bushes so
perfectly that they became plants. That’s where the forest went. That’s some
unintended consequences for ye. Keep that in mind.”
Sparrow left for the
castle, wondering how on earth she’d survived long enough to reach the Nark
plain in the first place.
There were things Wizards
could do, and things they couldn’t do. What Sparrow could do was notice that
nobody at school was talking to her. Except for the one student who, sitting
across from her at the dining table, said “we’re not speaking to you.” So that
made things straightforward, if not necessarily clear.
Fortunately, Cormac was
still willing to converse with her. And so they found themselves in front of
the portrait of the Fat Lady, where Sparrow had been trying to get the woman to
relay a new message to Miranda McClivert. But the woman was having none of it.
“I can’t believe this,”
said Sparrow. “Even the portraits don’t like me.”
“The rumors have grown
pretty wild,” said Cormac. “People are saying you want to break out of Azkaban
and free all the prisoners. They’re saying you want to unleash magic on the
entire world. They’re saying that you butter your bread on the wrong side.”
“Oh,” said Sparrow.
“Everyone does that. And how am I going to break out of Azkaban if I’m not in
there in the first place? Although I’d probably get tossed in there if I kept
on my current course. No, Cormac, I’m not interested in such a thing. Although
I have heard that Jocasta Carrow is dabbling in dark magic.”
surprising. I mean, she is a Slytherin.”
“No, that’s not – dammit.”
“I’m trying to spread a
nasty rumor about her.”
“And you’re accusing a
Slytherin of dabbling in dark magic. Are you going to accuse a Gryfindor of
being too bold?”
“Clearly I am not good at
this. I’ll have to think of some other revenge.”
“Revenge! From you? Of
“I am that angry. Yes.”
“What on earth did
Jocasta do to you?”
“She – look, if you think
you crossed a line, Jocasta dashed over it at a full sprint. I am utterly
furious. And I’ve been putting up with her pranks long enough. I will have my
satisfaction against her.”
“Are we talking about the
line whose details you can’t describe to me until it’s the right time, which
hasn’t even come around yet?”
“And you expected Jocasta
to know where it was?”
“Well…I mean, she’s a fly
on the wall.”
“You’re assuming she
“What’s your name?”
“What on earth does that
“Answer the question,
“And your reputation at
this school is?”
“A nice girl and very
“Bingo. And that same
girl suddenly wants revenge. Something has gone wrong indeed. What happened to
you in the Forbidden Forest?”
“Something that made me
decide I wasn’t going to get pushed around anymore.”
“And you want to – what?
Permanently harm a young girl by slandering her? What on earth has gotten into
you? Oh, for Heaven’s sake – look. Don’t go too far, alright? If you want to
respond to Jocasta’s actions, keep your answer proportional. Keep it just and
keep it honest. Otherwise…I’d wonder where my good old friend went. I’d wonder
if she died in the forest after all.”
Cormac departed without
And Sparrow realized
that, as far as she could remember, this was the first time Cormac had ever
described her as a good friend. She had called him a friend now and then, but –
this was different. How many times now had he tried his best to warn her away
from dark paths? Twice? Just like Hagrid.
Good God. What a precious
thing she could lose, if she let fury have its way with her. And she had been
preparing to give someone else twelve helpings of vitriol. Not anymore.
She departed for the
There was one student in
Herbology who stood out above the rest, having managed to get her Dittany, a
notoriously fickle plant, to grow thrice the height of anyone else’s, while
keeping it safe from fungus and stem worms as none others had done. This was
also the student who seemed to excel in Care of Magical Creatures. This was the
tall and mighty Miranda McClivert.
Sparrow felt that it
stood to reason the bold potions experimenter would also have the foresight to
secure her own potions ingredients, of the floral and faunal variety. Goodness
knew there weren’t enough wild specimens left for the aspiring potioneer. The
greenhouses at Hogwarts, accordingly, took up about 1/3 of the grounds and
supplied mandrake, dittany, Shrivelfig and Moly, among other ingredients, to
the wizarding world. Professor Longbottom, being the Master of the Greenhouses,
was in a position to significantly influence the potioneering of the Wizarding
World. He did, in fact, take advantage of this position to severely reduce the
amount of magical poisons that wizards produced, keeping the necessary plants
purely as scientific specimens, in a separate greenhouse locked with enchantments
that no student had ever managed to break.
Professor Longbottom was
the foremost Herbologist of his age, and Miranda McClivert stood to replace him
in that role, or at the very least become his most trusted assistant. In time,
if she proved herself, perhaps. Longbottom did not play favorites, and the only
time that his expression grew dark was when someone suggested that he was doing
so. So, the most that Miranda had as an advantage over her fellow students was
that Professor Longbottom had set her up with her own experimental greenhouse,
recognizing that a promising talent should not be stifled. In exchange she was
graded on a more difficult rubric than the rest of the class.
The greenhouse was mighty
useful for Miranda, and it was also useful for people who wanted to have
private conversations. Miranda’s spells of warding had to be strong to prevent
people from sneaking in during the lessons. She was, in her own way, learning
about defensive charms nearly as fast as Sparrow.
So when Sparrow saw
Miranda beckon her INTO the private greenhouse, she was taken aback, and
wondered for half a second if it wasn’t Jocasta in disguise, playing games
Miranda looked annoyed
and beckoned again. Sparrow followed her in.
Jocasta had been right
about the girl’s physique. Perhaps years of hauling heavy pots had done it. The
girl could have the pick of anyone in the school, if she wanted. Yet Sparrow
had never heard of her picking anyone.
She shook her head. Too
distracting. She looked around at the plants in the pots. They were nothing she
had seen before in the regular greenhouses. “Bird Berries? Thunderbird Feather?
Bulbous Canarygrass? This looks like something that would be in one of
Longbottom’s special rooms.”
“They’re from North
America,” said Miranda. “We’ve neglected the potion-making capabilities of that
continent for rather too long, I fear, and possibly until it was too late. It
was at my strenuous insistence that Professor Longbottom brought back a few
specimens. I had to convince him that I wouldn’t let them escape my
“Ah,” said Sparrow. “So,
whatever these things do, you’ve got a monopoly on them the way Longbottom has
a monopoly on the regular stuff.”
“I…hadn’t thought of
that. I’m just experimenting. Like with that fox potion. It was foolish of me
to do that in class, I realize now, but I was impatient and bored.”
“It was my fault you were
revealed,” said Sparrow. “I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s me who ought to be
apologizing,” said Miranda.
“Who do you think helped
Jocasta frame you?”
Sparrow smiled, in the
way a chimpanzee smiles as a warning. “I had a pretty damn good idea, Miss
McClivert. There’s no spell to transfigure someone into another human being,
and Jocasta isn’t a Metamorphmagus, and she never had the opportunity to get
one bit of my hair, nor is she so accomplished at potions that she would have
any chance of making Polyjuice. Unless, of course, she was aided by a highly
competent potioneer who had no qualms about crafting something difficult and
dangerous, and had to be a student because getting a teacher involved would
have given the game away. Have I got it right?”
“So what was – hang on.”
Sparrow shook her head, trying to clear the edge out of her voice. “What was
the big idea?”
“I didn’t mean to frame
you,” said Miranda. “I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing. Jocasta
flattered me, that’s the thing. She told me I was a wonderful potioneer, and
that my fox potion was just the sort of thing she’d been looking for. I thought
it was a failure because it only lasted ten minutes, but she said that was just
the amount of time anyone really needed for a proper impersonation. She said
that I had managed to do what others had not, and come up with an easy,
inexpensive Polyjuice. She asked me to do it again. She said I could do it
again. So, I did.”
“And gave it to her.”
“Why do you think I’m
apologizing now? I figured she wanted to play a prank but I didn’t realize she
would go as far as she did.”
“You were led astray by
“So it would seem. Call
it the chief sin of my house.”
Sparrow looked at the
plants around the greenhouse, and sighed. “It wasn’t you who nearly got me
killed,” said Sparrow. “Only you who helped set me on that path. By accident.
Well.” She shrugged. “Perhaps you ought to research healing potions, for the
next time that you want to put someone in danger.”
“I’m sorry, okay? I was
tricked. If you want to be angry at someone pick Jocasta for this whole
“I don’t have to accept
“What more do you want,
“I don’t know. For you to
be more careful, I guess? Professor Longbottom doesn’t give out his dangerous
secrets to anyone, does he?”
“Then don’t give them to
anyone unless you trust them. Alright? Not even me. There’s already enough
mortal danger at this castle in the normal course of events. We have a dueling
club, for Heaven’s sake. I’m surprised the Hospital wing isn’t eternally busy.”
“Fine. You don’t have to
accept it either, but I wanted to give you my apology for not speaking to you
sooner. The Fat Lady did relay your message but I was too embarrassed and angry
to contact you. If I had, if we had spoken earlier, maybe you would have been
able to avoid being impersonated.”
“Perhaps,” said Sparrow.
“Jocasta’s a tricky one, you know.” She sighed again. “I would appreciate
talking to you about potions sometime. You know how good I am at those. In the
meantime I should be getting back to the lecture about shrivelfigs.”
“Anytime you want to
ask,” said Miranda, “I’ll be here if nowhere else.”
Legend had it that the
dueling club had been started by Harry Potter himself, when he knocked Dolores
Umbridge tail-over-teakettle into a clump of gorse bushes. Legend had it that
the resulting duel had been mighty, but that Umbridge had been at last chased
from the castle, shrieking insults all the way and vowing revenge. Legend had
it that the students had gathered around Potter and become known as
“Dumbledore’s Army”, which was the part Sparrow couldn’t figure out, because it
should have been Potter’s Army.
Nevertheless, the school
had a dueling club, where it had not possessed one before Potter came along. It
was the kind of place where students could take a whack at each other without
getting in trouble, so it tended to attract the more violent types, such as Jillian
Patil, Percival Bulstrode, and, of all people, Jocasta Carrow.
They used to hold their
exhibition matches in the great hall, having to reserve the space ahead of
time, but as a particular disused courtyard had suddenly become nice and warm
out of season, the club had decamped there. It was the sort of place where
students felt a little safer watching because they could duck behind a sturdy
pillar if need be.
And here was Jocasta,
facing off against Jill. There was rage upon Jill’s face, such as she had never
seen. Sparrow had no idea why. She had not spoken to Jill since she arrived
back at the castle.
Jocasta and Jill raised
their wands, bowed to each other, and began.
Sparrow had never been to
the dueling club, yet she knew the girl well enough to understand why students
were clearing out of the way and ducking behind sturdy pieces of stonework. You
didn’t want to get hit by any of that girl’s hexes. Even Madame Pomfrey had
trouble healing the results, sometimes.
And Jocasta Carrow was
facing off against her…and yawning.
Surely a mere
transfiguration witch wouldn’t stand a chance?
The duel began with a
fireball towards Jocasta’s face. Yet the girl sidestepped it just in time.
Likewise a cone of wind she sidestepped like it was nothing. Sparrow began to
understand. The girl had finesse where Jill had power. Where Sparrow’s shield
was absolute, Jocasta’s was placed deftly, never wasting energy on absorbing
all of a spell’s effect but deflecting in a way that, if Jill was foolish
enough to try a stunner, would bounce the spell back at her.
And that was, in fact, just what
happened, though on most occasions Jill had the sense to dodge. But something
was different this time. Her wand was moving erratically, always pulling left,
and not only left. Towards Sparrow.
Jill looked distracted,
and even moreso when she seemed to notice Sparrow within the collonade. As a
result, she went down with one of her own Stupefy spells.
“Tsk tsk,” said Jocasta.
She strode down the dueling platform, knelt at the slumbering form of Jill, and
cast a reviving charm upon her. The girl opened her eyes.
“You need some more
finesse,” said Jocasta. “Perhaps you will learn eventually, and our duels will
be even more impressive.” She raised her head to the crowd, who felt safe
enough to raise their heads. “Come on, then,” she said. “Bulstrode’s ill today
and I already beat Greengrass. Does anyone want to give it a go or is the show
Sparrow stepped out from
behind a pillar, and said, “I’m up.”
She came down to where
Jocasta and Jill stood. Jill, still recovering from being stunned, was
supporting herself on Jocasta’s shoulder. Jocasta passed her off to Sparrow.
“Are you here to duel?”
“I figured I ought to try
it,” said Sparrow. “I’ve got some advice from Hagrid to test.”
“Are you sure you want to
try it?” Jill brushed some dust from her robes. “You’re in for a challenge that
you might not be able to handle. Carrow’s a tough one, you know that? I haven’t
beat her in nearly a year.”
“I’m sure. And – I’m
sorry I distracted you.”
“It’s not like I’m into
you right now anyway.”
“Sure you aren’t.”
Jocasta looked confused.
“Is the barrier witch trying to duel? Surely that is not your domain, my dear.
Our match would be terribly boring, would it not? In fact, I remember you saying
yourself last year that it would be pointless. You said, as I recall, that
hurling hexes at a stone wall is like playing ‘tennis’ alone. But now you wish
to duel. Have you, at long last, learned to cast curses of your own? Have my
efforts at last paid off?”
Sparrow stepped up to her
end of the dueling platform and raised her wand. “Jocasta Carrow,” she said in
a clear voice. “I have been informed by your accomplice that you arranged to
frame me, and in so doing sent me into a detention where not only I but Hagrid
were both nearly killed.”
Jocasta’s face paled.
“That aspect, at least,
could not have been your fault. You had no way of knowing where Hagrid would
take me, nor indeed could he have known just how powerful the beasts of the
“What did he – ”
“That I am here is owing
to Hagrid’s bravery and encouragement of my own abilities, as well as Jill’s
encouragement and large repertoire, as well as your own advice regarding the
casting of curses, for which I thank you. For the peril I faced, I lay the
blame at the feet of everyone, especially everyone who is so concerned about
the Statute of Secrecy that it would, by sheer social pressure, convince Hagrid
to set me a detention that was more drastic than anything I’ve heard of.”
“Where the hell did you
“The far reaches of the
forbidden forest,” said Sparrow.
The crowd gasped.
Sparrow heard whispers.
“Out to the edge!” “Where demonic monsters roam!” “Maybe she can tell us what’s
out there!” “She survived the forbidden forest!”
“Oh come off it,” said
Sparrow to the crowd. “It wasn’t dangerous until the edge. Besides which, if
anyone could survive that kind of place, it would be me, wouldn’t it? Anyway.”
She turned to Jocasta. “Miss Carrow, you were the catalyst of this
circumstance. You played the greatest prank upon me that you have ever played,
perhaps will ever play. Well done.”
Jocasta gave a
“As such, I cannot say
that I hate you.”
Jocasta straightened, and
said, “Can you at least cast a hex and get this duel going? I haven’t got all
“No,” said Sparrow, “my
wand will not cast a hex again.”
exasperated. “Was my work all for nothing then? Why are you even here?”
“To express my great
frustration with your behavior,” said Sparrow, “and – ”
As one the crowd roared,
“Get on with it!”
“ – And to demonstrate
that there is far more to an offence than hexes and curses.” She bowed to
Jocasta, ducking a jet of red light, and shouted, “Luminalos maxima!”
A blinding white light
erupted from Sparrow’s wand. Sparrow had the forewarning to shut her eyes, but
the crowd, and especially Jocasta, did not. Thus blinded, she had no chance to
brace herself for Sparrow’s next spell. “Scutum Percutiens!”
This particular spell
was, as ever a shield – but tilted to an angle of thirty degrees and rocketing
forward as swift as an arrow.
Pureblood wizards, being
shut up in their wizarding world, hear of automobiles and do not often
understand them. As such, when they hear of someone being run over by a car,
they think that the car ran them over, much as many muggles think. But this is
not precisely the case. Cars typically run people under. The car’s general
wedge shape, if it is going fast enough, combined with the sudden rise in angle
of the windshield, serves to toss the unlucky pedestrian high in the air,
whereupon they land hard and die, if the impact of the windshield had not
already killed them, or die upon the impact of the next car coming along.
was slightly different. The shield, despite being tilted at the basic angle of
an automobile’s slope, had not the sudden rising angle that a windshield
presents, but rather a smooth upward curve at the end. Jocasta was effectively
tumbled straight into the air, high enough to present a possible injury when
And this was what Sparrow
counted on. For she had noticed that, for all Jocasta had the ability to
seemingly vanish by turning into a fly, she had not bothered to do it once
during the battle with Jill, despite her opportunities. A fly could be
practically invisible when it was moving, and it would have presented her with
an immense advantage in terms of battlefield placement and dodging. Yet she had
not bothered. Why? Was she intending to show how much better she was than Jill?
Did the fly’s fragile form present too much vulnerability? Or did she simply
not want to reveal her ability to an assembled crowd?
Here and now, Jocasta
could choose between being injured in the fall, or revealing herself to the
crowd, or flying out of the duel and effectively surrendering in disgrace.
Which would she choose?
She chose injury. She
came down hard on her right wrist, and cried aloud in pain.
And that was it. The duel
No one said a word as
Jocasta was led off to the hospital wing. They just looked at Sparrow in
confusion and fear.
The second festivity of
the year was the Yule Ball.
In years past, a ball at
this time of year had chiefly been a feature of the Triwizard Tournament. And
indeed, when the tournament was on, every once in a while, the ball was quite
spectacular, with not a few different bands invited to perform, and all manner
of decorations. The normal December dance was more subdued, with illusory snow
falling throughout the hall, and silver candles, and sky-blue draperies, and a
nice, sedate chamber orchestra playing somber winter music.
It would have been better
if any of the children understood what snow was, but Flutwick was hidebound in
his own way, and anyway having rain fall throughout the hall would have put
quite the damper on things. So, instead of being an accurate representation of
the season it was a reminder of what had been lost.
This time around, Jill
came along with Cormac and Sparrow to the dance, but danced with Cormac and
with Violet, and gave a polite curtsy to Sparrow, but said nothing. Sparrow
felt disappointed to see Jill waltz away, for the girl was wearing a pretty
royal blue gown that shimmered in the candlelights. Sparrow’s sleeveless purple
gown could not compare.
Sparrow waited on the
sidelines for one of her friends to be available, and, seeing that Cormac was
catching her eye, she took the opportunity. This time around they seemed to
have a better understanding of who was leading who, and so their waltz was less
awkward than it had been.
Still, when Miranda came
around in a suit that shimmered blue and silver, Sparrow made no objections to
her cutting in, nor did Cormac, who seemed pleased that he had more chance to
dance with Violet.
And so Miranda McClivert
led Sparrow in a slow waltz once more.
“How many people have you
danced with so far?” said Sparrow.
“Enough,” said Miranda.
“Would you like to hear what they’re saying about you?”
“Don’t tell me you went
around asking about me again!”
Miranda laughed. “Oh, no.
I didn’t have to ask. The whispers are flying, girl. You might want to go and
hear them yourself.”
“Go around?” said
Sparrow. “Like you? But I cannot intimidate people into dancing with me the way
“Oh no?” said Miranda.
“You who managed to toss the unbeatable Jocasta Carrow into the air cannot
intimidate people? You who made it to the edge of the Forbidden Forest and back
cannot venture to look your fellow students in the eyes? You doubt yourself too
much, girl. But, I know what you are referring to. I trade on my height too
much. And yet you were very well able to confront me about my transgression, in
the very place where I feel most powerful. Do not be so intimidated by your
peers. You are the bold Sparrow Jones, are you not?”
“I do not know,” said
Sparrow. “Perhaps I will follow your advice, in time. Perhaps I shall do so
now. Very well! I must leave you, friend Miranda, and discover the truth for
“Friend.” She spun away
from Miranda, and, one by one, danced with as many students as she could,
inquiring each as to their name, and asking what they thought of her. It was
hard to get a consensus, as many of the students did not, in fact, know or care
about the girl, and though gratified for the offer of a dance (for many had
themselves been standing alone) they were confused as to why Sparrow would ask
who they were, for they did not consider that a total stranger would care about
them at all.
Still, there were those
students who did know of the girl, and many of them, mostly among the
first-years, were grateful that there was someone older than them who was
looking out for them in the halls, for they had not begun to master defensive
spells, nor had they begun to fully understand the culture among the students.
And there were also those students, most of them among the sixth and seventh-years,
who felt it was somewhat presumptious for a fourth-year to believe that the
older students could not defend themselves.
And all of the students
who knew of her, even the older ones, were just a little intimidated, for
reasons they could not articulate.
Sparrow had just begun a
dance with a second-year student named Melodius Figgle when a familiar pale
girl, wearing her customary black gown, appeared beside her, and said, “May I
Sparrow apologized to
Melodius, and, before Jocasta could say anything further, Sparrow held one of
her hands and had the other on her waist. And so they waltzed through the
crowd, eyes upon each other.
“You have been asking
after your reputation directly,” said Jocasta. “Rather forthright. Arrogant,
even. Most people prefer to hear it through a second party.”
“I wonder,” said Sparrow,
“if that is why they did not wish to answer fully.”
“If it were only that!”
said Jocasta. “If only. No, I think they have good reason to be fearful of you.
I think they wonder who you are now. For their great protector, the sweet angel
who is so reluctant to hurt people that her wand can’t even cast hexes, has
wielded her own shield as a weapon. The girl who only wishes to shield people
from blows has the heart of a warrior after all. You are now dangerous.” She
wiggled her eyebrows.
“If my wand approved of
it,” said Sparrow, “perhaps it does not violate my own principles.”
“You broke my wrist!
That’s totally offensive.”
“But it’s not a hex,”
“Your wand’s principles
are to not cast curses? Well, you sure found the giant loophole. Ow.”
“Indeed,” said Sparrow,
“and, related to that, I wished to apologize to you. I mean, not about that
specifically. Perhaps I should not have injured you, but I did intend to knock
you arse over teakettle. I’m not sorry about that.”
Jocasta looked confused.
“What are you sorry for, then? What sort of sword are you laying at my feet?
Were you intending to defend your beloved?”
“Kind of. I mean, Jill
and I aren’t on right now. I’m not sure if or when we will be.”
“You aren’t – oh! Well,
ho ho ho! That’s just perfect for – ”
“I wanted to apologize
for what I intended.”
“You just told me you
were sorry. ”
“I mean the other thing.
The whole idea of tossing you into the air was to force you to transfigure yourself
in front of everyone. So that everyone would realize you were an animagus, and
then the rumors would spread that you’re unregistered. I wanted to injure your
reputation at the school as you had mine.”
“And you’re apologizing
for it now? Surely turnabout is fair play.”
“So I thought,” said
Sparrow, “but now that I think about it, the Ministry doesn’t like unregistered
animagi, do they? They were remarkably uptight about me using a little magic to
grow a tree, I think they’d grind your bones to dust if they knew what you
were. And then fine you twenty thousand gold. And then toss you into Azkaban. I
might have ruined your wizarding career.”
Jocasta chuckled, then
giggled, then laughed.
“You!” said Jocasta. “My
God, you are such a Hufflepuff! You have this secret evil plan that could put
away your sworn enemy forever, and then you regret it, that’s fair enough, we
all do that. But then you go straight to them and apologize for it? If I tell
this story to the people in Slytherin house their heads would explode.”
“From what I’ve read,”
said Sparrow, “Helga Hufflepuff valued honesty and loyalty.”
“And Salazar Slytherin
valued cunning and ambition. A properly devious person would only apologize if
it furthered their ambitions.”
“And you think I’m not doing
that right now?”
“What, by being
“By being honest. I need
you in my good graces, Jocasta, for the months when we can see the full moon. I
fear that I have got off on the wrong foot with Miranda, and so I must work to
repair that relationship as well. We’re going to need her.”
“We – oh. Oh. Yes. Ahem.
Perhaps you shouldn’t have told me even that much.”
“You handle the details,”
said Sparrow. “I am too honest to be trusted with them.”
“And tell me,” said
Jocasta, “how can you be certain that I wouldn’t decide to just give the whole
“Because you’re a
Slytherin,” said Sparrow. “You value ambition, correct?”
“Considering my current
lack of talents in the area of transfiguration, this task, this journey, is a
great ambition of mine. Not the greatest, but close. I am eager to see it
through. I believe that Miranda will be eager to aid me on this quest as well,
considering the ingredients that the potion requires. If you were to attempt to
foil this ambition, you would injure your own principles, and gain nothing.
Unless, perhaps, you were the type of person who thought they could only
magnify themselves by seeing the people around them fail, or unless you thought
my ambition was getting in the way of yours. I have considered both
“Ooh,” said Jocasta.
“You’re less naïve than I thought. How do you trust me, then? After I’ve
already gotten you in trouble.”
“We share ambitions. If
you take me down, you go down with me. Not as a matter of each of us
blackmailing the other, but as a matter of your own heart.”
“Oh, my dear Sparrow. You
believe in integrity too much. I have heard many tales of people betraying
their closest friends and dearest wishes for the sake of gaining temporal
“And I’m saying you’re not
one of those people.”
“You trust me?”
“I trust you with this,
“Let sworn enemies work
together, then. I would ask to shake hands on it, but we are already holding
Sparrow drew her dancing
partner close, and looked her square in the eye. “My dear Miss Carrow. You are
in no way my sworn enemy.”
Jocasta pouted. “But I
worked so hard!”
“You tried. But I
understood you were trying to help me. And you were the one who put your secret
in my hands to begin with, weeks ago, as if you trusted me. I don’t think you
ever wanted to be a real enemy. Just annoying. I am sorry that I treated you
like a real one at the dueling club, and deliberately risked a violation of
your trust. I was…you could see I was furious.”
“I sent you into the
Forbidden Forest,” said Jocasta. “I don’t blame you.”
“As if that was all!”
said Sparrow. “Then I would have been content to let you look like a fool
pounding my shield and getting nowhere. No, I was taking revenge for the fact
that you put me in a position to open an old wound you didn’t know about. I was
answering my own terror by taking it out on you.”
worse than the Forbidden Forest?”
“Quite a bit worse. What
you have done to me this year, what happened to me out there in the wild, none
of that compares to what I have already experienced before I came to this
“What did you – ”
“Someday I will place all
my trust in you, and you will hear the full story. But only that is if you help
me become an Animagus. Not before then.”
“My my,” said Jocasta.
“Sealing the bargain by appealing to my curiosity. Very well, my dear, it shall
be done. As for me being unregistered – that’s actually an open question. Even
I don’t know how to describe it.”
“How the hell do you not
“It’s a strange tale of attempted
deceit,” said Jocasta. “You shall hear the full tale only after I am certain
that you will set out on your goal.”
“Does that mean I
apologized for nothing?”
“Hardly!” Jocasta drew
away from Sparrow, and spun around. “You have salvaged your conscience and
strengthened the relationship between us. That’s something. On the other hand,
the way you’re going about it…does remind me a bit of my father. All this
high-and mighty business just because you don’t fully trust me.”
“I’d like you to. It
would make a nice contrast to home life. There’s your reason that I won’t
betray you. Not because you hold curiosity over my head, not because I value
ambition, but because I’m already sick of plotting and conniving.”
“The merry prankster,
sick of conniving? Who would have thought.”
“There’s a difference
between pranks and what my father does. You don’t know what it’s like to have
people try to tear you down deliberately because they think it will hone your
skills. Wait. Goddamit. That’s what I did, didn’t I? I’m turning into my father
after all. Look – ” She drew close to Sparrow again, pulling her into an
embrace. “Please. Don’t go down the road my father has done, and don’t let me.
You value protection. Protect me and yourself from that dark road. Be a soft
place to land, always. You have been bold, and intimidating in your own way.
Keep in mind that those who seek your protection may also be seeking warmth. Do
not forget that. Promise me you won’t forget that.”
“You have my word.”
“Good.” She let go of
Sparrow. “Good. I think, perhaps, that if we are to work together I should play
no more pranks upon you. Except for one.”
“What would that be?”
Sparrow suddenly felt a
curious chill upon the small of her back. She turned. There was an oval of
purple fabric on the floor. “Why you – ”
“That old thing was so
frumpy,” said Jocasta. “I figured I could improve it. Ta-ta, dearie.” She
disappeared into the crowd.
There was but a day left
before the Christmas break, when students would be going home. Sparrow debated
whether she should go, and be with her family, or stay with the castle’s few
It would be more
convenient for her to study the history of magic, if she could do it without
anyone walking in on her in the library. And perhaps she could ask the ghosts
without being overheard, for once. Yet by the same token, her parents expected
her home, and she had not actually made any arrangements with the school to
remain over the holidays.
She was torn, and there
was less than a day to decide, and she had things to do on this particular day
that might land her in trouble with the headmistress anyway. For she had taken
Jill’s advice to heart, about thinking of others, and she had taken Hagrid’s
advice to heart, about the sheer dangers of the Wizarding world. She had to
research, extensively, before acting in any direction.
Hagrid had also said that
she could not ask the teachers. But he said nothing about the ghosts, nor,
indeed, the headmistress.
So, Sparrow found herself
standing outside the statue that barred the way to the Headmistress’ office.
What was the password this time? “Potter,” said Sparrow. Nope. “Granger.” Nope.
“Weasley.” Nuh-uh. “Fiddlesticks.”
She looked around, hoping
to find a teacher who had business with the Headmistress. There was only a cat,
with markings around its eyes in the shape of spectacles. “Oh hello
Headmistress,” said Sparrow, and turned to the statue. “Where was I?
Longbottom. Hagrid. Moody. Son of a – ”
The cat meyowed, and the
statue stepped aside.
“You call that security?”
said Sparrow. “Anyone who brings a cat could get in.”
“I am the security,” said
McGonogall, as she swept by. “And from what I hear of your capabilities,
someday you may be the security for the school.”
She had not beckoned
Sparrow to follow, but the girl did so anyway.
McGonogall turned. “What
exactly is it that you want?”
“Your own experiences
regarding the Statute of Secrecy.”
“Hasn’t Hagrid forbidden
that subject for you?”
“It didn’t stop me.”
“Didn’t you have a
detention regarding that very subject?”
“Yeah and if anyone had
bothered to explain to me why we need the statute I wouldn’t have had to go all
the way to the edge of the forbidden forest and nearly get killed. I would
appreciate understanding the nature of the statute instead of having to absorb
it. And you’re old –”
“ -- so you have more experience than I
do. And I figured that the office of the Headmistress would be a safer place to
talk about it than echoing halls. What do you say?”
“Step into my office.”
The office of the
headmistress occupied the entire floorspace of the upper part of the tower.
Which tower, Sparrow never knew. They tended to shuffle around. Today the view
out the tall window was of the mountains.
The office consisted of
many, many bookcases, and not for browsing, it seemed, for they were all behind
glass. And there were portraits, many portraits. Pictures of the headmasters of
the school. Sparrow wondered if they went all the way back to the beginning.
“If it isn’t Sparrow
Jones,” said the portrait of Albus Dumbledore. “The girl who keeps sneaking out
at night, or so the other paintings tell me.”
“Is that so,” said the
Headmistress, taking a book off her shelf. “I recall having to punish some
students severely for such behavior. And you’re doing it repeatedly. Shall we
test to see if house points can go negative?”
“We could,” said Sparrow.
“But it sounds as though Filch hasn’t been telling you and the portraits
haven’t told you. It sounds as though you have a discipline problem at this
school, and not with me.”
“Ooh,” said the portrait
of a young witch with dark hair neatly tied back in a bun. “The attack
reflection! She’s got your number, Minerva.”
The Headmistress looked
like she was ready to tell someone off, though who, at this point, was
difficult to choose. She composed herself, and said, “I shall have to have some
choice words with Filch. Now. As for your question, Miss Jones.” She motioned
Sparrow to take a seat at a couch near the fireplace. “A few photographs might
aid your comprehension.”
Sparrow sat, and
McGonogall sat in a chair before her. She opened the book, a weighty tome full
of photographs. Some of them, pictures from what appeared to be the 1940s,
waved and smiled. There were earlier photographs that were entirely static.
“My mother and father,”
said McGonogall, pointing to one where a carousel was going around and around.
Sparrow wasn’t sure which people on it were the mother and father, but politely
“Mother was a witch,”
continued McGonogall, “and Father was not. She married him without telling him.
She had me without telling him. But then, once I started summoning toys to my
hand, I suppose she had to let the secret out. And what happened after that…it
took years for them to reconcile. Father resented Mother for keeping such a
secret so large for so long. Mother resented Father for taking so long to marry
her, thus preventing her from telling him about magic.”
“I never knew my
grandparents, on either side.” She pointed to some of the moving images, which
looked like they were from the 1890s. “Mother’s side had disowned her.” She
pointed to the static images, from about the same time period. “I was not
permitted to know Father’s side. These pictures are the only memory I have of
them.” She sighed. “I grew up without much connection to my heritage. A small
sacrifice, I suppose, for the sake of upholding the Statute of Secrecy. Father
was the only person in his family permitted to know of Mother’s abilities. He
was never permitted to know of her world. That’s the law, for the sake of
protecting us from muggles. Let the witch hunts never arise again.”
“She couldn’t tell him
“Legal precedent is that
only spouses are permitted to know.”
“This sounds like it
wouldn’t make marriages easy.”
“Decidedly not. Nor does
the Ministry of Magic employ any marriage counselors for mixed marriages. That
would be giving away too much, you see. Nor would a muggle marriage counselor
be able to make any headway. Orford Umbridge once told me that he had tried to
seek the aid of one, only for the effort to be completely useless because he
couldn’t reveal the precise cause of the conflict. He could let his wife Ellen
say that it was a conflict over magic, Oh, that was fine -- as long as the
spouse said nothing to back her up. There’s the rather nasty loophole -- you
can say what you want but your spouse can’t save you from being proscribed a
stay in a mental asylum, and that is why the Umbridge marriage fell apart.”
“Did you ever regret this
kind of secrecy?”
“After meeting Nicholas
“Oh yeah, the
nearly-headless guy. I should have asked him earlier, but he seems to favor the
Gryffindors, for some reason, so I’ve never really met him. Are you saying he
got his head cut off by muggles? How could that even happen?”
“I was without my wand
when they caught me,” said the nearly headless Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, as
he floated up through the couch, causing Sparrow to jump out of the way. “Which
is precisely why I tell students to always have their wands.”
McGonogall. “Startling students like that. How did you even know we were
talking about – ” She glanced up at the portrait of Dumbledore. He was missing.
McGonogall glared at the
“Sorry. Mr. Porpington,
please tell me. Why did muggles decide to cut your head off in the first
“It was at the court of
Henry VII,” said Nick.
“The court! Of the King!”
said Sparrow. “I thought Wizards were hated and feared!”
“Witches,” said Nick.
“Not Wizards. Witches were associated with worship of the Devil. Wizards, ah
well. You could get yourself a nice appointment as the king’s Court Astrologer.
Many Wizarding fortunes were founded upon such a plum position. Alas, if
something went wrong…”
“What happened to make
witches get hunted?” said Sparrow.
“Muggle propaganda,” said
McGonogall. “Scurillous screeds. Perhaps wizards did not do enough in those
years to counteract such lies, in the years when we had the chance to operate
more openly.” She raised an eyebrow at Nick.
“I was busy being an
astrologer,” said Nick. “I was not appointed for my political opinions, my dear
young witch. I imagine the King would have cut my head off for venturing such
impudence. Anyway. I met lady Grieve. Ah, lady Grieve, such a beautiful young thing,
but her teeth were not straight. I elected to fix them. Alas, alas. My spell
misfired and I gave her tusks. I was unable to fix the mistake before I was
dragged before the king, tried quickly, and beheaded ineptly. I wonder if
anyone ever fixed her teeth.”
“Oh yes,” said
McGonogall. “Oh yes. She was a pretty young thing, except her teeth. How old
were you when you were killed, Sir?”
“Seventy years. Please,
my dear Headmistress, I had no prurient designs upon the lady. I only wished
to…fix something that I could.”
“Did you ask her?”
“Erm. No, as a matter of
fact, I did not.”
“There you go. And now
you can see, Sparrow, why associating with muggles has always been dangerous.
No wonder my mother kept her secret for so long. She could not be sure that her
husband would attack her, until she knew him well.”
“Now hold on a minute,”
said a voice from the wall. The portrait of the young witch looked indigant.
“It wasn’t always as dangerous as all that. Why, when I was Headmistress
everyone in the entire isle was doing magic.”
Sparrow looked at the
nameplate on the woman’s frame. Maud McKinnon, AD 999-1035, Headmistress
“Everyone?” said Sparrow.
Her face brightened.
“Magic was a thing
everyone tried,” said Maud. Only, there were few who actually had the talent,
and the rest were reciting things that would never work for them. We trained
the talented ones. It wasn’t until the whole row with Slytherin leaving the
castle that we began to make a significant distinction between muggles and
wizards. Muggles themselves didn’t stop trying to do magic in my lifetime. I’m
not sure if they ever did, until…well I wouldn’t know. Nick here makes it sound
like it was still common for them to try in his day.”
“It was!” said Nick. “As
I traipsed through muggle society I had the opportunity to read many of their
texts for summoning demons and preparing spells of invisibility. I laughed at
it all, for it was a lot of overcomplicated nonsense. One wonders when they
left off that rubbish and turned towards…whatever it is they do now.”
“Discover their own
secrets of the world,” said Sparrow, “and build bombs that can obliterate an
entire countryside in an instant.”
There was a gasp, as of a
hundred voices. Sparrow looked up. All the portraits she could see were staring
at her now in rapt wonder and fear.
“That’s impossible,” said
“That’s insane,” said
“That was the state of
their world,” said Dumbledore, “although from what last I heard, they’d tacitly
agreed never to use them.”
“And always live on the
knife’s edge,” said McGonogall. “I read muggle newspapers, you know. They were
always on about Mutually Assured Destruction.”
“They have their own
magic,” said Sparrow, “and it is hard, and cruel. I know you’re all worried
about me revealing Wizards to the world. After what Cormac told me about their
weapons, I can tell you for certain that I have no interest in trying to
somehow let the Wizarding world live openly alongside such proven danger. And
yet, I burn. I want so badly to be able to share the wonders of our world.
Imagine if the muggles knew ghosts existed! So many religious questions would
finally be answered! Imagine if children knew there were unicorns! They would
grow up more fascinated with the wide world, because they would never have to
tell themselves the lie that there is no magic. And yet, they can never know.”
“They can’t do magic,”
said McGonogall. “They would never be able to do more than look, and be
jealous, and angry, and scared.”
“And that is resolutely
unfair,” said Sparrow. “Imagine if the whole world had magic. Imagine if
everyone could fly on carpets and brooms and mortars instead of running around
in smoke-belching metal beasts. They never would have had to invent their
bombs. They never would have had to invent their furnaces that poisoned the air
until it was left a dessicated ruin. And nobody, in all of Wizarding, ever
figured out how to bring magic to the muggles. Did you even bother?”
She looked up to the
paintings. There were people in them, now, besides the headmasters. There was
the Fat Lady, there was Sir Cadogan. Perhaps all the portraits in the castle
were gathered around her now. Ghosts of all kinds hovered where they would not
block the view.
“We never bothered,” said
Sir Cadogan, “Because it’s impossible.”
“Tell me that for certain!”
shouted Sparrow. “Tell me that any of you, at any point in the entire history
of magic, tried to figure out how to give muggles the gift! Tell me that you
tried and failed!”
The portraits mumbled
between themselves, but nobody answered.
“And what do you think
would have happened if that had been achieved?” said McGonogall.
“There would have been no
pureblood bullshit,” said Sparrow. “Perhaps Salazar Slytherin would never have
left. Perhaps there would have been no witch hunts. And Tom Riddle would have
grown up to be Tom Riddle, not Lord Voldemort.”
There was a gasp, as of a
thousand voices, and the crowd murmured.
“And I shall tell you
what else,” said McGonogall. “For, as Harry Potter once told me, he had
impressed a Goblin by bothering to dig a grave with a shovel instead of using a
wand. As for me, I wash my dishes by hand, when I have a mind, in memory of my
father. There is something to be said for doing things the hard way, every once
in a while, and I am less than impressed with wizards who wave a wand to do
everything. Imagine if all of humanity had only to wave a wand to do anything.
We would be indolent, fragile. And, perhaps, hidebound as Wizards are now. What
I know of Muggles indicates that they have uncovered secrets of the universe
that Wizards do not know. If everyone was magic, would those secrets have been
uncovered at all? Would the basic principles of motion in space be understood?
Would we know how large the universe is? Most wizards don’t. I have lost count
of the number of times that a pureblood wizard from one of the old families has
told me that there are only four elements. There are ways, my dear Miss Jones,
in which we’re a pack of idiots. Would you wish that upon the entire world?”
“I would,” said Sparrow,
“if it meant that the world as you knew it could have survived. But it didn’t,
did it? There’s little left of the wild green, now.”
“You are trying to be
kind,” said McGonogall. “Yet in your kindness you may do things that threaten
the world. I am sorry that Hagrid forbade you this topic before I could help
you understand it, such that you have been burning for so long. Please.
Remember what I told you at the beginning of the school year. You cannot change
someone’s life for them. Only they can change their own life. I cannot make you
cease this course of action. Only you can. But I can tell you that trying to do
what you wish, without consulting anyone, will lead you to Sir
Mimsy-Porpington’s end, and that is if you’re lucky. If not, many would suffer
the same fate, even many people you love.”
“I already lost some of
the people I loved,” said Sparrow. “Because they could not protect themselves.
If they had possessed my abilities, they might have been saved.”
“Is that what this comes
down to?” said McGonogall. “Grief propelling you into madness? Many dark
wizards have taken the same path.”
“Does this school have
counselors of any kind?”
“I usually handle that
“Once long ago,” said
Nick, “the students told each other that every dark wizard had arisen from the
house of Slytherin. I cannot say from my long experience if that has been true.
Yet, it is true that nearly every British wizard of the past thousand years has
come through our halls, not one of them receiving anything like professional mental
care. One wonders if the students who turned to darkness would have taken such
paths, if they had been consoled in time.”
“I’m not a dark wizard!”
said Sparrow. “I can’t even cast those kind of spells. My wand doesn’t even
want to. Also considering my skin color I slightly resent the association of
darkness with evil but that’s beside the point. I’m trying to save people from
evil, as I was unable to do years ago.”
“So it seems,” said
McGonogall. “You would not spread darkness over the land, yet you would shine
like the sun. Yet if you shine like the sun, your light may well burn the world
to ash, as the real sun has nearly done to the world of muggles.”
“I should certainly hope
so,” said McGonagall. “I should certaintly hope that I have touched your heart
well enough to warn you away from a path of destruction. I wonder if I have.
Sometimes I do speak to children who plan to do terrible things in the name of
good, like you, and I am able to reassure them that the world is not so
terrible as to merit their wrath. Young Rodolphus Carrow would have burned his
family’s house down if we had not had the chance to converse. Other times, they
refuse to listen, and I can’t understand why, because I am being perfectly
reasonable. That was the fate of young Antonio Bolu, who said he would try to
apparate across the sea, despite all my warnings, and he was never seen again.
Perhaps some ambitions are too great to discourage, and they consume their
bearers. I fear that this will be your fate. It would be a tragedy to see
someone of your skill and your compassion come to the same end as a Wizard like
Sparrow frowned. “Does
the Wizarding World have professional counselors?”
“Professional in what
“I mean like, have they
gone through training to practice proper therapy. Have they got a license to
provide counsel. Is there a board of people at Saint Mungo’s or wherever that
certifies people to do mental health care on a professional basis.”
“I have not heard of such
Sparrow sighed. “Problem
number one, I suppose. Problem two is what my Father always tells me – just
like what you said. You can’t change someone’s life for them, and you can’t
give mental health care to someone who refuses it. They have to choose to
change. I think the more stubborn children you’ve spoken to decided not to
listen to you, and sealed their own fate. You hoped that being reasonable would
change them, but in the end the choice came down to them.”
“As it does to you,” said
Nick. “What have you chosen?”
“I am willing to be less
hasty and more circumspect, at the very least.”
Nick did not look pleased
with this answer. “I had hoped you would be willing to give up this mad quest
“Is it mad?” said
McGonagall. “Madly done, if not guided properly, but mad in itself? I cannot
say. I have given you what warning I can, child, and that is all I can do.
Goodness! I go to far as it is. I, the Headmistress of this school, endorsing
criminal behavior? Such a thing is not done!” She winked. “Now let us say that we
shall have no more talk of your mad ambitions. I am officially forbidding the
topic of violating the International Statute of Secrecy.” She winked again.
“You are forbidden to discuss the subject with students or professors.” Wink.
“Something in your eye?”
“It’s dreadful, I can’t
seem to get it out. Oh, and feel free to speak to me any time you wish, about
what troubles you. I would hear more about what happened to your friends.”
The headmistress put her
hand on Sparrow’s. “Tell me if you wish, when you wish. Not before then.”
“Perhaps when the moon is
full,” said Sparrow.
“And I will admit,” said
the Headmistress, gazing up at the portraits, “our world does have its manifest
cruelties. You ought to talk to Argus Filch about his life as a squib.”
“Miss Jones,” said Filch,
floating in the moonlight. “I told you there would be consequences if you tried
“I’m not here to sneak
past you,” said Sparrow. “I’m here for you.”
Filch’s expression froze.
He blinked. “Me?”
“I wanted to ask you
about what your life was like as a squib.”
For the first time in a
long time, Filch’s face softened. It was entirely possible that nobody had ever
asked him this question before. “Well, erm…I mean…” He squinted. “Did you lose
a bet or something? Are you planning to ask me a personal question and blab
about it to the whole school? I bet that’s what this is.”
“I just want to know,”
“Oh yeah? Why?”
“Well, I figure if I know
why people are born as squibs, then I can have an idea of how to make muggles
“Oh I see,” said Filch.
“You’re not here for me. You’re here for your mad plan. Well forget it. I’m not
telling you anything.”
“I have never,” said
Filch, “Ever, in my entire life, yielded to a student who said ‘please.’ So run
The train ride to London
was largely uneventful, in the sense that there was no possibility of it having
anything that could be called an event, because nobody in the entire student
body wanted to sit in a compartment with her. Some of them started to, but then
they realized who they were about to sit near, muttered implausible excuses,
and fled. The train ride was thus spent by staring out the window at the
passage of dull grey countryside.
It was not until near the
end of the journey that Violet Brown deigned to enter her compartment.
“I’m sorry for not
getting to you sooner,” said Violet. “I was taking a survey. 61 percent of the
student body thinks you’re barking mad, thirty percent believes you’re an
idiot, five percent believe you’ve been possessed by Peeves, two point nine
seven percent think you’re a muggle spy, and one percent want the Ministry of
Magic to arrest you immediately. Zero point zero three percent are of the
opinion that you are on to something interesting and wish to see where this is
‘Good heavens,” said
Sparrow. “There is a storm between my light and the gentle earth.”
“Never mind. I’m
interested in that last bit. Who is it?”
“Me,” said Violet. “And
Cormac. Jill’s on the fence.”
“Oh,” said Sparrow. “I
would have expected you, with your exhausting knowledge, to tell me that I had
“Please. This is a topic
that I’ve never even heard of. How could I resist looking into it? And Cormac’s
interest is piqued because he wants to get into the nature of magic itself.
Something to do with Wandlore, I’ll be bound. And Jill is torn because she
thinks she isn’t supposed to totally disavow you. Something to do with her
wand. Oh, and she loves you.”
“I knew that much. But
she didn’t want to be with me in the train car? Nor Cormac?”
“There is such a thing as
keeping up appearances for the sake of staying safe,” said Violet. “I’m only
getting away with talking to you right now because everyone thinks I’m here to
make fun of you. So, I am giving you a directive. Don’t contact any of us over
the holidays. It might look suspicious. Wait until we’re back at the castle
when we have plenty of secret passages to use.”
The train stopped.
“Got to go,” said Violet.
“Remember. Until the holidays are over, you never heard of me.”
Sparrow pouted. “But I
“Officially, you don’t.
Ta ta.” She left the compartment, joining the mass of students shuffling
through the corridors.
As Sparrow brought her
bags down and waited for the line of students to end, she wondered about
Violet’s admonition. What did she mean about looking suspicious? Did the
ministry consider her a threat already?
Sparrow departed the
train and, stepping out of the barrier between Platform 19 ¾ and Queen’s Cross,
greeted her parents with a look of pity in her eyes. They would never have the
chance to see her school, nor her world, not as long as the Ministry stood
there like a menacing door guard. She embraced them, and wondered if she had
bit off more than she could chew.
The greater portion of
the city of London was on stilts in the shallows, such as had been constructed
by the acting muggle government at one point, though the houses atop them had
not. Those were rather ramshackle, being left to the devices of the inhabitants,
and were composed primarily of debris created when the city had flooded,
assorted driftwood, and the cast-off building materials scavenged from the
worksites of new houses. These were more difficult to come by lately. There was
little enough of the quality material to go around these days, and those who
commanded money and power guarded their building materials more jealously than
in previous decades.
The stilts had been the
creation of the previous acting government, yet this government had cared more
for building new things than maintaining them, and the new regime could not be
said to be interested in the well-being of anyone who didn’t have Connections.
Likewise the greenhouses
also went to rust, on occasion, especially in those areas that were designated
as staple crops for the poor.
Yet neither they nor the
stilts ever fell, for reasons no muggle understood.
Sparrow berated herself
for ever believing she ought to waste a winter holiday break at Hogwarts. There
was much in this city that needed her. If she had to wade into chill water to
make sure that the citizens could stay safe and dry, so be it. She had enough
time in these two weeks to see to the most urgent columns.
She had not expected to
see a figure in the shadows, down here in the filthy water. Who in their right
mind would be waiting for anyone under the platforms? Perhaps a clandestine
meeting? Perhaps something she should not be involved in. They could not harm
her, not as long as she had her wand. Could they even see her? But she could see
them, well enough.
The shadowy figure extended
their hand and shouted, “Stupefy!”
Sparrow’s shield was up
before she had even drawn her wand.
“So,” said the voice of
an adult man, “it is Sparrow Jones after all. Greetings, Sparrow.” He bowed.
“You’re already on watch with the Improper Use of Magic office. I assume you’re
here to give them more evidence against you?”
“I am here to fix the
columns, such as nobody else seems to bother doing,” said Sparrow. “And if the
Improper Use of magic office isn’t going to come straight out and arrest me, or
even warn me, I should think they’re being much too coy about enforcing the
law. I should think they are waiting to bring the hammer down later, just to be
cruel. What’s it to you, anyway? Who are you?”
The figure’s face was
revealed. A man in his mid thirties, it seemed, with reddish hair, worn
slightly long and quite messy. He had sharp features, and his eyes were not
“I’m sorry,” said
Sparrow, “I still don’t know who you are.”
“Albus,” said the man.
“Potter. Albus Severus
Potter. Come on, you know me. Everybody knows me.”
“Well I mean. Harry
Potter had a family. I just ever paid attention to who was who. Was I supposed
Albus looked extremely
put out. “I thought my time at school would have been remembered. I was the one
who won the famous duel against Blaise Brown.”
“You have a long way to
go if you want to match your father’s renown,” said Sparrow. “And I have the
distinct impression that when it comes to renown, I just blew you out of the
water by accident. I’m terribly sorry.”
Now the man’s face was
beginning to match the color of his hair. “Never mind!” He said. “I’m with the
Improper Use of Magic office and I’m issuing a warning. You are not to go
around using magic outside of school. No more sneaking around down here fixing
“But – Mr. Potter. If I
don’t help these people, they’ll be in the drink, soon enough.”
“That’s not your
concern,” said Albus. “It should never have been your concern in the first place.
There’s a time and place for magic and this is not it.”
“They need me!” said
Sparrow. “They need SOMEONE, for God’s sake! The most they get from the muggle
government is a hearty ho-hum!”
“I’m not going to warn
you again,” said Albus. “If you’re caught doing magic outside of school you’re
going to face actual discipline for once. You could be expelled.”
“And why,” said Sparrow,
“Have I not been arrested already, if the office has evidence against me? Why
have I not been issued a warning?”
“They were planning to,”
said Albus. “The office has your number, girl. But given your recent
exhortations, they think you’re a blithering idiot, and not quite as much of a
threat. They sent me here to give you one last chance, and to assess your
mental state. You sound sane enough.”
“I don’t think it’s at
all stupid to wonder why Wizards have magic and Muggles don’t,” said Sparrow.
“Nor is it dangerous to research the question.”
“Oh sure,” said Albus.
“And it wasn’t dangerous to make steam engines, either, until the entire world
ecosystem went tits up. Well, I’ve got all I needed to know. Go home and live
without magic for a couple weeks.”
The man vanished.
“You may have been doing
them a disservice,” said Mother, as the family sat around the table. There was
Father, a man with more lines on his face than his age would suggest; there was
Mother, a woman with more grey hair than her age would suggest; there was
Robin, a girl of ten who had no qualms about floating the chickpea bowl over to
her plate; there was Finch, a boy of six who was not yet skilled enough to
effectively resist Robin’s commandeering of the bowl. It wobbled dangerously.
Father glared at both of them, and Robin set the bowl down with her own two
“I don’t see how that’s
possible,” said Sparrow. “Those columns are made of wood. They rot all the
time. If I didn’t fix them – ”
“Someone would end up in
the drink,” said Father, “and they would all remember they had to maintain
“With what resources?”
“Driftwood. Before you
ask, yes, that is what they’ve always used. The City Government didn’t build
those platforms for them.”
“And do they build the
nails out of driftwood as well?”
“Pegs. Yes. Easier to
replace than nails. What I’m saying is, if they knew there was a mysterious
miracle upholding their work, they might begin to rely on it, and if you wanted
to be honest about what you were doing they would almost certainly come to rely
on you, and you could never live anywhere but London because you always had to
shore up the timbers. Do you want that?”
Sparrow huffed. “Maybe if
they could all do magic then they wouldn’t need me.”
“I don’t know,” said
Mother. “Considering what I’ve had to put up with in this house, I’d just as
soon nobody had any magic.”
All three children gasped
in offended shock.
Mother winked. “But then
the world would have even less color than it does now, I suppose.”
“Why don’t they have
magic?” said Robin. “Mum, why can’t you do magic?”
“I wasn’t born with the
gift,” said Mother.
“That’s not fair.”
“Yeah,” said Finch. “That’s
not fair. Everyone should have magic. It’s fun.”
Mother and Father gave
each other a look. Sparrow knew that look. It said “quick, do something.”
“I have the feeling,”
said Mother, “that children are keenly aware of what is and isn’t fair,
sometimes moreso than adults.”
“Yeah!” said Sparrow.
“However,” said Mother,
“sometimes when children say something should be fair, what they mean is that
things should be unfair in their favor.” She gave sparrow a Look.
“I don’t see how I’m
trying to be unfair in my favor,” said Sparrow. “I’m trying to reduce the
elitist exclusivity of Wizards.”
“And yet magic does not
seem to allow electricity to exist in its midst,” said Mother.
“Our lights work
perfectly fine, don’t they?”
“Except when you get near
them. I can tell you’re coming when the light flickers.”
“I can turn on a light
just fine!” said Robin.
“Maybe you’re not as
powerful as me,” said Sparrow with a grin.
“Oh yes I am!”
“Oh no you’re not.”
“Oh knock it off,” said
“If you gave the whole world magic all
at once right now,” said Mother, “and there was so much magic that all the
electricity disappeared, what would all the children say who were no longer
able to watch their television shows?”
“Um. Hadn’t thought of
“What would all the
muggle scientists say when they were no longer able to use their wondrous
optical machines and atom-crackers?”
“They would be mad.”
“And what of all the
hospital nurses whose machines for keeping people alive stopped working?”
“They would be very mad.”
“Do I have to give up my
“I’m not saying that.”
“You’re not?” said
“No. What I’m saying,
Sparrow, is if you are going to let the whole world have magic, I suggest you
be very gentle and very slow. Lord knows there have been too many good things ruined
by people who thought they knew what other people needed, without ever asking
“The Headmistress told me
about that. But how often does that actually happen?”
“One of my ancestors in
Senegal,” said Father, “had that sort of thing happen to her with the Peace
Corps. They came in and built her village a school. The only problem was, they
built the school. Not the village. So the whole thing lapsed after a while
because nobody really cared about it. If the village had known they wanted a
school, and gotten a little bit of help FROM the Peace Corps, then it might
have gone better.
“I’ll give you another
example. I had another ancestor in Mozambique that opened a shoe shop. Only, he
did it right before people from the United States started donating old shoes to
Africa. Free shoes versus not-free shoes? No contest. His shop was ruined, and
that branch of my family tree remained poor for longer than it should have.
“I’ll give you another
good example. My grandfather managed to survive the Ethiopian Famine in the
1980s by doing things I won’t mention. And supposedly there was this big
concert in the United States that raised all kinds of money to solve the
problem, and got all kinds of resources, and sent it to Ethiopia. And my grandfather
says he never saw it. Why? Because the warlords stole it all. The folks from
the US dumped it all on Ethiopia without bothering to figure out where exactly
it would go, or pick trustworthy distributors, or protect it in any way. So.”
He harrumphed. “Now you know what happens when you go around deciding what
people need, instead of supporting the efforts that they’re already making.
Genies and fairy Godmothers grant the wishes people ask for, not the ones they
think their recipients need. ”
“And what would muggles
ask for, dear Father?”
More gentle rain in the summer, less in the winter. More trees and less heat.
More fertile soil. That sort of thing.”
“And what do you think
muggle children would ask for?”
“More candy and later
bedtimes, I expect.”
“You sound like you have
something in mind.”
“They’d ask for magic!
Every damn one of them! The books they read have wizards and witches and
fairies and dragons, and then they have to grow up with the complete lie that
those things don’t exist! I think they are very well primed to accept what I’d
Mother put a hand on
Sparrow’s shoulder. “Child. Remember the first magic you did. You saw the
wonder and the terror of it in the same moment, at much too early an age. Would
you visit that upon others?”
“At least I had the
chance to see the wonder,” said Sparrow. “Unlike all my friends. Their
ignorance didn’t save them. And it doesn’t save anyone else. I hear stuff about
how the Ministry has to have people go around all the time cleaning up messes
made by magical beasts, using memory charms on everyone.”
“And do you think the
parents of these children would appreciate knowing that they couldn’t control
their children anymore?”
“They’re going to have to
learn that at some point, right? At some point you have to let your kid go.”
“I’m learning it right
now,” said Father.
“There is something else
to consider as well,” said Mother. “Giving magic to the whole world, well, it
might end the purpose of the Ministry of Magic, wouldn’t it? Or at least upend
“I certainly wouldn’t
mind seeing it upended,” said Father. He and Mother shared a look between them,
a look that was quite different than their usual genteel detachment.
Robin looked from Father
to Mother, her face wondering and worried. “Why?” she said.
Father closed his eyes
and sighed. “A story for when you are older, child, and entering school. Not
now. Now, let us simply be thankful that we have each other.”
And the rest of the meal
passed in tense silence.
The house of the Joneses
was nice. It was not fancy, but it was nice. Mother had made plenty of
Connections. Hem hem. And she had managed to get her family an allotment for a
nice house on a private lot, in far fewer years than it normally took. And the
family had enough to purchase Christmas gifts.
Sparrow did not know what
to think of Christmas gifts. They were nice toys, and all, but compared to the
thousand wonders of the Wizarding world they tended to pale in comparison.
Especially the electric toys. It had taken her parents a few years to realize
why those never worked for her. The sort of gift Sparrow usually appreciated
was tubes of paint. Not simply because of their rarity. You could do magic to
wash the dishes, you could do magic to take out the garbage, you could do magic
to keep mice out of the house, mow the lawn, shine your shoes, tidy a room. But
with art, you had to supply the creativity yourself.
Perhaps there was a point
of connection there between muggles and wizards. A place where they had even footing.
Then again, Wizard art tended to move, so maybe that wasn’t a fair competition
after all. Then again, she enjoyed Muggle paintings more because the damned
things stayed put.
What Sparrow most
appreciated, though, was her siblings. Because their constant use of underage
magic made it impossible for the Ministry to detect when she was using magic inside
the house. That might not work once they were also in school, but for now she
was able to get away with a lot. It’s good to be the eldest child.
So, on Christmas morning
when it was time for the children to open their presents, and all the family
sat around, each with their box in their lap, Sparrow elected to open hers with
a magical flourish. She waved her hand. Rip!
She discovered to her
dismay that the gift was a stack of comics from decades ago, and she had ripped
the cover of the top one. Father looked indignant, and her siblings giggled.
“Never mind,” said
Father. “Never mind. The story is more important. It’s not like the whole idea
of selling them in mint condition for lots of money ever made sense, and even
less so now.”
Robin got the tube of paint this time.
Red paint. Finch got a Superball, a muggle toy that had been made circa 1991.
Mother gave Father a Look. He shrugged.
Sparrow said her thanks,
and silently wished a little blessing of priceless-object-avoidance upon the
Superball. She had no idea if that had ever worked but what she was really
wishing that that her wand (which was always on her person, of course) would
figure it out for her. It was a spell of protection, after all. Then she picked
up her comics, gingerly, and took them upstairs to read. She flopped down on
the bed and opened one.
Seemed a bit redundant,
these days. She’d already become a superhero. Reading about them was kind of
like reading about her own life, only these people were adults who liked to
beat people up in the name of Fighting Crime. Seemed like the kind of thing
that was more in line with Jill’s style. And look at this! They went around blowing
things up and cracking the street and rescuing cats from trees and thumbing
their noses at police officers and all without a by-your-leave, operating as if
there were nothing in their world that even resembled the Ministry of Magic.
Sort of like Sparrow
fixing support columns and greenhouse roofs without asking.
But what she did, what
she wanted to do, was constructive, supportive, and defensive. These louts were
largely destructive. Sparrow didn’t buy it for a second when the text said the
falling building was abandoned. The one it crashed into surely wasn’t. Really,
the utter nerve of these people.
Sort of like her deciding
the entire structure of Wizarding life had to be swept away.
But the structure of
Wizarding life was confining, distorting, warping. It had done terrible things
to the Headmistress’ parents, and it was stifling her at home. Perhaps it
needed to go.
How that was to be
achieved, Sparrow did not know. She had to be considerate, to be thoughtful of
others, as Jill had stipulated. She had to take their opinions into account,
and in general give them the things they already wanted, as her Father had
stipulated. Including muggles. But that would require talking to muggles about
the situation, outside of her family, which would violate the Statute of
Secrecy, no two ways about it. To make it clear to muggles beyond a shadow of a
doubt that what they hoped for was real, that was what the Statute of Secrecy
was supposed to prevent.
What an awful confinement, that could
not be ended gently without incurring the wrath of her confiners. Then again,
such people would never let confinement end gently in the first place, would
they? Not if their galleons depended on it.
And yet. There was, it
seemed, one avenue to which the Ministry was totally blind, the way guards of a
perimeter assume that nobody will come through through the nasty thorn bushes,
or the way the French assumed the Germans couldn’t get through the Ardennes
forest. From what Sparrow had heard Jocasta tell her, the Ministry had no real understanding
of how many unregistered animagi existed, because they assumed nobody was
stupid enough to attempt the process without openly seeking aid from qualified
professionals. So that path was totally unguarded, except by its own mortal
If Sparrow could achieve
this goal, such a thing would prove very useful indeed.
Time to take the first