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The Legend of Sparrow Jones, Book 1, part 1B
<---Part 1A---Part 2--->

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

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

… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also removed to the Ministry.

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

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

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

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

It was, of all people, Jocasta Carrow.

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

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

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

“Aren’t I already cute?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you – ”

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

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

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

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

“How can you be so flippant about this!”

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

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

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

“Don’t get all romantic on me, girl.”

“You’re the one who kissed me!”

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

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

“I…”

“Jocasta. It doesn’t have to be a hard answer. You’ve been joking around about being interested in me all year. I’ve been interested in you since that night at the Dragon tower, when you went out of your way to tell me Violet was there. If you feel the same way you shouldn’t be beating around the bush. It doesn’t do a body good.”

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

“Think of it this way,” said Sparrow. “I’m the nice pretty sweet little Hufflepuff made of cream and sugar, right? And here you come, Breaking The Rules. Being annoying. Being spicy. Challenging me to become a better wizard, in your own way. I think you’d make a better Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher than Professor Budge, to be honest. He’s a little too easygoing.”

“I’m flattered.”

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

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

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

Jocasta put her face in her hands.

“What is it?”

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

“I’ve…never really done that before.”

“You just did!”

“Doesn’t count. I didn’t want it.”

“What about with Jill then?”

“We barely had time before we stopped.”

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“I didn’t say that, did I?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You said no romance!”

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

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

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

“No! No! Bad girl!”

“Ooh, getting kinky. I like it.”

“None of that either!”

“Yes mistress.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Undoubtedly.”

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

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

“But do you like my offer?”

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

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

“We shall strive to avoid it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door swung open without Miranda moving an inch.

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

“Decontamination field,” said Miranda. “I’ve got plants here from a different continent and I decided I didn’t want their spores getting out. North America lost an entire tree species that way. Now what exactly does the madgirl want, hm?”

“Your help.”

“Nuh uh,” said Miranda. “I don’t want to get in trouble. You were too bold, girl. You told your whole big idea to the whole school. I can’t believe we haven’t got any howlers yet.”

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

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

“See I have this werewolf problem…”

“He’s not a problem,” said Miranda.

“Oh yeah? Who’s not?”

“The librarian.”

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

“Hello?” said Miranda. “Grey hair, dresses all in gray, incredibly shy, shuts himself behind unbreakable magical locks in the library every night? I wouldn’t call that a secret. What, do you want me to make him a wolfwotsit potion? Calm him down during the full moon?” She turned to her pot and continued to shovel dragon dung in. “Professor Longbottom already does that for him. What could I do?”

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

Miranda froze. She glanced at Sparrow with a frown of worried confusion. “Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

“Well, I mean, it would also be an excuse to study fundemantal components of magic. But never mind that bit, you never heard me mention it. What say you to this challenge?”

Don’t expect results soon.”

“Marvelous,” said Sparrow.

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

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

She managed to find him in a particular disused classroom that he had turned into a surreptitious repository for his books of advanced wandlore. It was typically on the fourth floor. Today it was conveniently on the first floor close to the Great Hall, which meant that Sparrow could sashay straight to it from lunch. And so she sashayed straight into the room, whereupon Cormac, seeing the face of his friend who he wasn’t supposed to be talking to openly, rushed to close the door. At the same moment Sparrow realized her mistake, and waved her wand to close the door.

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

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

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

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

Introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chorus of offended cries. “You can’t mean it!” “Surely everyone deserves to have magic!” “Please don’t take magic away from us, mistress!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nay, he is not even worthy of that!" Sparrow pointed her finger dramatically. "Let the base churl depart in peace, knowing of his shame!”

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

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

Some of them were asking about second base.

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

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

“Well, I –”

“I can teach you if you like.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t say it.”

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

Jill pursed her lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cormac gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not stupid,” said Violet.

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

I’m insane. I’m not stupid.

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

Jill was still looking frustrated.

“What is it?” said Sparrow.

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

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

… 

The Hufflepuff Girl’s Dormitory was divided into five rooms.

This particular morning, however, there was a sixth, at the end of the dormitory corridor. Jill had informed Sparrow that it would be there, and that she would be in it. Sparrow had taken some time to believe her friend, but then she remembered a night about two years ago where Catarina Quiddler had needed a place to sleep away from a rather abusive ex, something that could last longer than a shield spell, and until such time as the matter was sorted out there had been a sixth dorm room that would open for none but her.

And here it was again. Sparrow knocked on the door, and it opened silently, despite the fact that Jill was sitting on the single large four-poster bed. The morning light shone through the window, and though the glass was clear it was difficult to tell just what lay outside.

“How did you find this place?” said Sparrow.

“I needed it,” said Jill. “So it appeared.”

“Needed – what, as much as Catarina did?”

“Not so much. Just to be in a place where I didn’t have to speak to you. A selfish desire in comparison, but the castle is generous, and I could hardly refuse when it appeared.”

Sparrow stepped into the room and closed the door. “Fair enough.” She went to the patch of sunlight upon the thick carpet, and lay down in it. “Let us speak business, then. Animagus business. What is your answer?”

“I would surely love to become an animagus,” said Jill, “but elsewise I am torn.”

“Torn about what?”

“About lots of things. Spreading magic to the whole world. I suppose it would give me a chance to use the really big spells without worrying about muggles seeing, but…it’s not like I know much about them either. And, you know, they kind of wrecked the entire world. So I can’t say they deserve wonder now, can I? Maybe they ought to stew in misery.”

“That never produces good people,” said Sparrow. “Misery returned for misery makes people mean and cruel.”

“Maybe I just want revenge.”

“Against their kids? And their grandkids? And their great grandkids?”

“Well…”

You have to let the past go and focus on building the future,” said Sparrow. “That’s why this whole crazy plan got started, really. I just wanted to go around making plants grow and stuff, and McGonogall told me that it would give the Wizarding world away.”

“Couldn’t you just…do that? Run off to some place long abandoned, and start calling a rainforest back to life? Hey look everyone, a tree! It’s a miracle!”

“I had that idea,” said Sparrow. “But I bet the Ministry would catch wind of me anyway. And, you know, I can’t go literally everywhere in the world. It’s easier to just give people the tools to do it themselves. Then again, would they even think of it?”

“Hard to say until you talk to them, right? But that’s the other thing.” Jill flopped down on the bed, positioning herself so she could still lean over the end and glare at Sparrow. “This dating business.”

“Yeah,” said Sparrow. “I wanted to talk about that. ‘Cause I figured I’d need your permission if I was going to go more steady with Jocasta.”

“My permission -- what on earth do you mean? You’re dating her right now. Not me. Why are you asking me?”

“A couple reasons,” said Sparrow. “First of all, I’m not dating her, we’re just having some fun. Secondly, I was concerned about breaking your trust. Better to communicate ahead of time than beg for forgiveness. I haven’t stopped thinking about you, you know, ever since that night in the library. I’m sorry that our wands are in the way right now.”

“That’s – ”

“Thirdly, I think there’s something going on with you in relation to Jocasta. ‘Cause you got real flustered when you saw her out on the walkway. And many times beforehand this year. Now, why on earth would you be flustered, when you already had me? I bet I know why. I think you want to date her.”

“Well, I…look. Do you really want to know why I ran away from you for weeks?”

Sparrow rolled over onto her front and propped her head on her hands. “Do tell.”

Jill sighed. “I’ve been dueling Jocasta for years. You know that, right? Almost as long as I’ve known you. And…it’s been fun. But we didn’t talk much. And I thought she didn’t like me, because she didn’t even say ‘hello.’ So this year, when she started hanging around you, it meant she was also hanging around me, and I had the opportunity to say things I wanted to…but. Then. I spoke to her. And she spoke to me. She noticed me.”

“Oooooooooooo,” said Sparrow, in the rising tone that children use to indicate the discovery of an embarrassing secret. “Someone had a crush.”

“Yeah. So, that one morning when she talked about my following you into Hufflepuff – ”

“It was true, though.”

“It was true for purely chaste reasons! And yet, yes, at the very moment she said it I was thinking about asking you to date me. But at the same time I wanted to date her!” Jill scooted back a bit, and buried her head in her arms.

“I can imagine that would be flustering.”

“Yes,” said Jill with a muffled voice. “Thank you for now considering how I was feeling, instead of proclaiming innocent ignorance.”

“I’m just following the instructions of a good friend.”

“Well you can see my dilemma. I wasn’t sure who to choose. I’m still not. I only have two hands.”

“Exactly,” said Sparrow. “You have two hands.”

“Sparrow!”

“Sorry. I think Jocasta’s rubbing off on me.”

Yeah well it sounds like she’s rubbing on you right now.”

“Jill!”

Jill let out a muffled giggle. “Two can play at that game.”

“Or three?” said Sparrow. “Ah, but what a topic to broach to my old friend.” Sparrow sat up on her knees. “A delicate topic, perhaps, and one I have only thought of recently. First of all –” She placed a hand on Jill’s shoulder. “I have it on highest authority that Jocasta cares about you.”

Jill raised her head. “She does?”

Sparrow nodded. “She told me so. And even before then, at the Halloween ball, she made it clear that she was interested in your affections, but cared too much about your happiness to barge into what she thought we had.”

“That’s…sweet of her. She’s never sweet. This must be serious.”

“And that’s just the thing.” Sparrow stood, and strode to the window. The view outside was indistinct, so mostly what she was doing was to look properly dramatic. “I am taking this very seriously. I brought the subject up with Jocasta and I promised to ask your permission first because I take our relationship seriously. And so I am deeply troubled as you are. I am torn. If we were to date again...I wouldn’t wish to lose Jocasta. There are ways we fit together, different than how you and I fit together but…but I get all dramatic here with you and I get all flippant with her. Like, I’m trying to broach the subject of a three-person relationship here in a properly dramatic fashion but with her I just brought it up in a moment. So it’s like, if you and I were to start dating again and by the standards of monogamy, I had to lose her…I’d be losing a relationship I’m beginning to enjoy greatly. But if I date HER and I lose YOU then I’d be losing a relationship I have enjoyed for a while…then again I’m being self-centered here. If you think of it from your perspective, it’s also true for you, right? Pick one and lose the other.”

There’s such a thing as remaining friends.”

“Well yeah but – ”

“But you’re not satisfied with that.”

“No.” Sparrow sat down in the sunlight. “Call me greedy if you like. But I do know that you love me and I love you, and I know that you’ve been catching feelings for Jocasta this whole school year and...so have I. Cormac's right, my relationship with that girl could never remain casual. So whoever gets left out is going to be pining for the other two, and no matter who gets left in then they’re going to be pining for the one left out, so the idea of remaining friends wouldn’t last long anyway, would it?”

“Could be.” Jill shrugged, as best one could while lying supine. “Could be the odd one out finds someone else. It happens. Then again, maybe I’d call that a disappointment. And, you know, what if the odd one out still duels one of us weekly, so they’re still pining, so they get jealous, so they get mad and attack us with fatal curses…oh dearie me, what a predicament.”

“And that gets in the way of our actual business,” said Sparrow. “So I guess I’m proposing a sensible solution that I think all three of us would be going for no matter what we do, instead of letting supposed rules cause needless pain. If any of us chooses to ignore our own desires then there will be pining, and I will be vexed.”

“Oh,” said Jill, “don’t you want to experience a little Romance?”

“No!” said Sparrow. “I said that we had to stick together last night, didn’t I? For the sake of our goals. If Romance threatens that then to hell with all of it. And even if we had no goals to consider, I would still avoid it, if it were to hurt either you or Jocasta. I will not be the cause of pining!”

“Surely my pining is my responsibility,” said Jill. “Not the fault of the one I pine for.”

“Perhaps not. Yet, what I am proposing would avoid the issue altogether would it not? We would not find ourselves beset by the necessity of choice.”

“Yes we would,” said Jill.

“Says who?”

“Says the entire school. What does everyone in the school say about love?”

“That it – uh – ”

“Saved…come on, your memory isn’t that bad.”

“The world. Love saved the world. Right?”

“Riiiiiiight. Everyone around here knows the legend of Harry Potter. There’s people who think he defeated Voldemort through Great Might but most of us know that love literally saved his life twice. So, think about it. They see me getting kissy with Jocasta, then they see you getting kissy with Jocasta, and they think two of us are a terrible awful no-good cheater, and in a righteous defense of Love they turn one of us into a toad. Remember what happened to Geoffrey Cranshaw when he cheated on his girlfriend?”

“Someone turned him into a toad.”

“Exactly!”

“And I just falsely accused Percival Bulstrode of cheating on his girlfriend.” Sparrow grimaced.

“You…oh right, you did. Maybe you want to tell people it was a lie before he gets turned into a toad as well? See, this is what you get for not paying attention to your fellow students.”

“Don’t remind me. Strike that. Keep reminding me. Getting to the matter at hand, you say our fellow students are righteous in the defense of Love. Would they interfere if three of us were openly a trio?”

“Perhaps. It’s not a common thing. Except in the story scrolls we pass between each other. We might find people interfering for the sake of upholding unrealistic idealism. These are the same students who willingly toss in a galleon to pay for the Cupids to come around. We’re all very Romantic.”

“Oh goodness, don’t remind me.”

“I think I will have to keep reminding you about that as well.”

“Ugh!”

It’s for your own good, girl.”

“UGH!”

Jill giggled. “Now you know what you sound like sometimes. Ah, but you’ve got a heart of gold. Always trying to do the right thing. I may need you for that someday. As I need Jocasta for – for um – oh dear. I’m not even sure what for. Perhaps for everything.” She buried her head in her arms once more.

“Uh oh,” said Sparrow. “Sounds like you’re in love.”

“Shut up.”

“You already told me it’s true.”

“I know. It’s true. I have fallen for her.”

“Well then! How could I claim to love you if I demanded that you stay away from her? That would be rude. Stingy. I have no wish to be stingy with my love and in return I will not force you to be stingy with yours. That would not be love. Love and control do not mix. Nor would I wish to present a barrier to someone who clearly has great affections for you, as you for them. That would be mentally dangerous, and, considering that I am talking to Miss Himalaya here, it could be physically dangerous as well.”

“It could also be physically dangerous for you if you keep making that joke,” said Jill. “Do you want me to javelin you out the window?”

“I would love to see what is actually out that window,” said Sparrow. “Not that I have the courage to open it. But you see what I’m getting at here? I want you to be able to have your fun with Jocasta just like I’m having fun. And I’m thinking we ought to all have fun together because that seems to present the least complications. But maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I ought to back off and let you two have fun alone. I can do that. Just as along as we’re still friends. What would you prefer?”

“I don’t know.”

“I can tell you that Jocasta’s promised to teach me all kinds of things that would please you.”

“Sparrow!”

“What? I’m just saying, she’d be a benefit to both of us.”

“Well, it’s a moot point right now because I’m still not dating you. Take a wild guess as to why.”

“The wands?”

Jill sat up on the bed and took her wand out. “The flipping wands! Look at this!” The wand tugged at her hand, forcing Jill to point it directly at Sparrow’s pocket. Sparrow rolled out of the way, feeling it prudent to avoid being blasted by Jill’s magic, even if she was unlikely to be hurt. Jill’s hand followed Sparrow as the girl danced around the room.

Stop pointing your wand at me!” said Sparrow. “That is terrible wand ettiquite!”

“It’s not me!” said Jill. “It’s the wand, it’s been tugging at my pocket every time I get near you!”

“Well I know you’re always happy to see me, but this is ridiculous!”

“Shut up! We never should have done that Priori Incantatem thing! If you take your wand out of your pocket – wait, don’t – ”

It was too late. Sparrow had produced her wand, and it had proceeded to tug at her hand, towards Jill. The girl hung on with all the desperate might she could, a grip fueled by sheer panic at the thought of losing her wand, and yet it was not enough. The wand escaped her hand. She fell backward with the sudden release. Jill, for her part, had also been struggling to hang onto her wand, and had been nearly dragged off the bed before letting go.

The two wands met with a resounding clack, and stuck together like a pair of cheap chopsticks from a Chinese restaurant. They floated there in the midst of the room, between the two girls.

“This bullshit,” said Jill. “This is what I mean.”

“Yeah,” said Sparrow. “Imagine trying to kiss you and poking you with my wand every time. Ouch.”

“It’s not just that!” Jill grabbed her wand and tried to pry it away. No such luck. “It’s like our stupid wands are in love, or something. I hate that. It feels like they’re trying to play matchmaker, you know? And it’s supposed to be my decision. Mine! I don’t hold with any Destined Love nonsense!”

“Neither do I.” Sparrow attempted to pry her wand away, or to move both of the wands in any direction, but neither would budge. “Did you run away from me after the courtyard incident because of that?”

“You bet I did. That’s the same reason I ran from you after the first incident with Jocasta. Because I thought Jocasta was trying to play matchmaker. I wasn’t having that. I will never have that. I am a little concerned, right now, that you’re trying to play matchmaker as well.”

“I’m just saying that I won’t stand in the way! It’s up to you, girl. I care about your happiness.”

“You mean it?”

“Yes! A thousand times, yes! You’re my best friend, Jill. You have been since first year. If I was going to ruin that, I would have destroyed a part of myself as well. I couldn’t ask you to be by my side in the coming trials if I didn’t care about your well-being. So, if you don’t want to date Jocasta that’s fine by me. I just…thought I should let you know what I was doing.”

“Are you angry with me for running away from you?”

“I don’t know. I would have enjoyed having the pleasure of your company before I went and met McGonogall. I’ve been holding this Statute of Secrecy business inside too long, and McGonogall’s office was the first time I let it all out, and I kind of went kaboom there. It would have been nice to talk to a peer I could trust, first.”

“Does Cormac not count?”

“My talking to him was part of how I landed in detention. So, he counts but nuh-uh.”

“Alright.” Jill put her hand on Sparrow’s shoulder. “You’ve been on this whole time about how you’re doing something for me. But I would like to do y – I would like to do for you, as well. Do you want me to be there for you more often?”

I have always wanted you to be here for me.”

“Then…let’s avoid exciting our wands.”

“Well, it’s not like I have one, anyway.”

“You don’t – Sparrow!” She giggled. “I mean, the only way we’re going to be able to be together right now is to remain chaste. Are you okay with that?”

Sparrow nodded.

“Then,” said Jill, “Let us not think of ourselves as lovers, right now, but as sword and shield. Someday you will know how to wield the sword and I the shield. Do you want to try to learn again?”

“Perhaps I do,” said Sparrow. “But my wand would not approve, I fear.”

“Which wand?”

“Jill!”

Jill giggled. “Sorry. Bad start.”

“Well, let me know when you do want to try dueling again.”

Jill giggled.

“Not that kind of dueling!” Sparrow let out an angry huff. “Is there anything you want me to tell Jocasta?”

“Tell her…tell her that I am very cross with her for the rumors she has spread, and how she spoke to me on that September morning. Tell her that if we are to date, she shall not do such a thing again, to anyone. Tell her that I appreciate that she finally noticed me.”

Sparrow extended her hand, and they shook on the deal. Their wands, at long last, uncoupled.

The next day after charms, Jocasta dragged Sparrow into passage hidden behind a bookcase near the entrance to the dungeons, and, after Sparrow cast a silencing charm on the stonework, they kissed for about two minutes straight.

“Well done,” said Jocasta. “You’re already getting better at this.”

“Is it that hard? Wait, wait, don’t answer that.”

You walked right into that one,” said Jocasta. “Hey, did you talk to Jill yet?”

Sparrow relayed Jill’s message.

Jocasta Carrow, for as long as Sparrow had known her, wore either a smirk, or something that was about to become one. She had never, in Sparrow’s sight, looked expecially cross, nor in any way grieving, nor disturbed. And yet, as Sparrow described what Jill had been through, Jocasta’s mask slipped, and she looked genuinely concerned. And from concern her face became sullen, and she sank to the floor, and sat against the wall. “I…” she coughed. “Wow. Okay. I guess I messed up a lot more than I realized.”

“More than I realized as well,” said Sparrow. She sat down next to Jocasta. “I didn’t know, you didn’t know. Maybe we both messed up. But now we know. Are you going to do that kind of thing to her again? Or anyone?”

“Maybe.”

Sparrow gave Jocasta a Look.

“Ok. Maybe not.”

“She’s interested in you, you know. She’s got a crush on you.”

“She does?”

“Yep. Told me as much.”

Jocasta’s cheeks turned pink. “That’s, um…just as I wanted to hear, I suppose. I mean I would hate to be interested in her if she’s not interested in me, but you know how those things go, sometimes it doesn’t work out, but – ”

“Why are you nevrous?” said Sparrow. “You were the one making all sorts of unsubtle hints about being interested in her since September. I should think you would be overjoyed at this news.”

“Well now it’s more than a joke! Now it’s a real thing! Haven’t you ever practiced a piece of music for ages and ages and still shivered all over when it came time to perform on stage?”

“I don’t play music.”

“But you do understand my analogy, yes? Stage Fright.”

“I think so. Look. I understand that you’re a little nervous to get this ball rolling but it’s already rolling. I had to convince Jill that I wouldn’t stand between you two. Well, not as a barrier. We each have two hands, after all.”

Jocasta raised an eyebrow. “It sounds as though you are learning more from me than I expected.”

“And so will Jill, I expect. If you treat her right. I won’t have it any other way. But I don’t expect that I will have to remind you. And talking of learning, let us speak of business. For the clock is ticking here. At some point we’re going to have a full moon.”

“Yes,” said Jocasta, “they tend to come around once per month.”

“Maybe so. But I only have so many months, before the end of the school year. I only have a few chances to get this right. What do I need?”

“Grow your hair out, first of all. We’re going to need some of that.”

“It’s actually longer than it looks, you know. Just curled in on itself. Watch.” She pinched a bit of her hair and pulled, such that it extended outward about an inch.

“I stand corrected. Now, the first real step is to keep a single mandrake leaf under your tongue for an entire month.”

Sparrow blinked, and shook her head. “An entire month? That’s thirty days!”

“One full moon to the next. Twenty eight days.”

“How – ”

“And if there’s clouds in front of the moon that night, too bad. You have to start alllllllllll over.” She traced a line down her cheek as if to imitate a tear. “I told you this was hard when you signed up, girl. I’ve got ways to make this easier but it’s still a mighty challenge. First, we’re going to need to put you on a liquid diet -- "

"Oh good Lordy."

" -- Which means either faking an illness, unlikely in this place, OR bribing the kitchen staff. As for weather, we’re going to need to figure out how to manipulate that. Not sure how yet.”

“We are Wizards,” said Sparrow. “We’ll figure it out. Um. Talking of signing up…”

“Yes?”

“What if someone else wanted to join on this venture?”

Jocasta took a deep breath. “Please, tell me you didn’t tell anyone about what we’re doing.”

“Just my friends. You know, the ones I trust absolutely? Anyway, Violet figured it out before I could say anything.”

Jocasta had her palm up to her face. “The more people we get involved in this, the more likely it is that our cover will be blown. You shouldn’t have told them what we were up to.”

“You wanted to let Jill in on this!”

“And she was the last one, besides maybe Miranda! The more people we have involved here the closer we are to being discovered. How many friends you do you have?”

“You, Jill, Cormac, Violet, and maybe Miranda. And Blaise. I’d like to think Filch is a friend but he’s more of a challenge.”

“That’s already too many! How is a ghost going to become an animagus?”

“I didn’t say him! And he doesn’t know about this whole thing anyway, I’ve just been trying to sneak past him. Anyway, I have an idea. What if we blow our cover before it’s blown?”

“Excuse me?”

“Tell McGonagall. Get some help from a professional.”

“Tell the Headmistress of the Hogwarts? Are you insane?”

“She told me I could tell her about my troubles. You know her office was where I revealed my grand plan to the entire school, and she didn’t say no. Or yes. But she hasn’t expelled me or anything. So, I think she’s safe.”

“She’s safe about your plan. She doesn’t know about this one! This is super goddamn illegal! No, we’re not telling her. And that’s that.”

“Fine. What if we got the rest of the school involved, then? Turn everyone into an unregistered animagus. Become a needle in a stack of needles.”

Jocasta’s jaw hung open.

“What?”

“You…are beginning to scare me, Sparrow. I know you’re really nice and really generous, but that’s a bridge too far. Right now. And listen to yourself. How many giant ambitions do you have going at once? Cure Lycanthropy, become an Animagus, bring magic to the entire world, and teach an entire school how to become Animagi? For God’s sake, girl! One thing at a time! And, I should note, this process is incredibly dangerous and uncertain, so multiplying the number of applicants will result in a tragic accident at some point. I’m not going to have that on my hands. We will do you first, refine our technique, do your friends if we have time, and only if we can figure out how to make the process safe and certain will we even consider going public. Understand?”

Sparrow nodded.

“Good. We should pay a visit to Miranda. But first, let’s work on your technique a bit more.”

… 

Mandrake leaves will be ready in about a week,” said Miranda, as the Greenhouse door swung shut. She examined the stem of a Witch Hazel flower.

“A week!” said Sparrow. “That’s seven days! I want it now.”

“Oh listen to you,” said Jocasta. “Rush rush rush. You can’t rush this, girl.”

“How do you have mandrakes on hand anyway?” said Sparrow. “Wait a second.” She glared at Jocasta. “How long have you two been setting this whole scheme up?”

“Don’t look at me!” said Jocasta. “Miranda here has been at this since the beginning of the school year! I just happened to seek her aid due to the advice of a friendly witch.” She nudged Sparrow. “Sometimes you do know what you’re doing.”

“I’ve been working on the ten-minute-polyjuice potion since the beginning of the school year,” said Miranda. “At first the potion had an indefinite duration, so a reversal would require an antidote. Then I added the mandrake leaves to create a time-limiting effect. Then I realized that nicking them from the school’s official mandrake repository was going to be noticed eventually. I can’t abuse Professor Longbottom’s trust any more than I’ve done. So, I asked him for a couple seeds, and now I’ve got a few mandrakes growing in here. Simple enough. You, er, don’t want to be here when they’re mature.”

“An entire week!” said Sparrow. “I shall go mad.”

“You’re already mad,” said Miranda. “Run along now, both of you, or I shall let the Snapping Dragon snap at you.”

The next week was interminable. Sparrow had to cope with the sheer anticipation, as well as the fact that the specific truth of what Sparrow wanted was being lost amidst wild rumors. Some were saying that she wanted all wizards to marry a muggle. Well, that one was probably from the Slytherins. Some were saying that she wanted to overthrow the Wizarding government and fling curses over all the earth. Some were saying that she wanted to slaughter all the muggles so that there would only be Wizards left.

The rumors were getting out of hand. Yet Sparrow had no way of countering them, not as long as she believed that none would listen to her. And, for the sake of avoiding having to deal with the house of Slytherin, she had driven away even her staunchest supporter in that house, so she had none to confide in, save the one Slytherin she knew well already. The most she could do was get Miranda to spread rumors to the effect that Sparrow had been lying about Percival’s cheating, but, as Miranda said, it took some effort to get anyone to believe that Sparrow Jones could lie.

Sparrow was diligent when it came to attending practice sessions with Jocasta. She studied hard and paid attention, and learned much, and had quite a bit of fun. And Jocasta has having quite a bit of fun with her.

As a result, they quite forgot to attend to necessary tasks for a few days. It did not take much effort to get the kitchen staff to put Sparrow on a liquid diet, as a rudimentary reference to Sparrow’s madness was enough to get them on board. Some people will drop anything to help solve someone else’s problem.

The truly difficult task, and one that Sparrow had not managed to figure out yet, was how to manipulate the weather to ensure a full moon. She wasn’t sure if she should even do so. If there was some spirit on high looking down upon the proceedings and seeing that all the boxes were checked, and that she had done everything properly, why then, they would think that weather manipulation was some kind of cheating, and perhaps turn Sparrow into a newt forever. It was possible that, if Sparrow were to cry “Ventus” to the heavens and blast a hole in the clouds, it would lead her to ruin.

On the other hand, what gods were there, if any? Magic did not come from beseeching any sort of great spirit, nor, indeed, had Sparrow ever, in her entire life, heard a Wizard make reference to one. Magic came from wands, everyone knew that. You made a wand with wandwood and a magical core and there it was. No ritual necessary. Magic did not come from on high; it came from something on earth, apparently. But what it was, Sparrow could not say.

Did it think? Did it watch? Did it disapprove? Wands thought, in their own way, and felt. But they did not produce magic, only channeled it. There was such a thing as wandless magic. It was some force living outside the wand, perhaps outside the body as well, for there were more magical creatures in the world than Wizards. Yet who had thought to ask where it came from? Sparrow thought back to her previous attempts with the library, and her confusion as to what subject area this question would be found in. She had given up upon hearing that the books of advanced theoretical magic were at the library. Perhaps she had given up too easily. The act of asking a question could just as easily be recorded in the ancient history. Or in the modern history.

So, after wasting a week, Sparrow spent about five days cross-checking historical references to magical theory. And she hit a wall again. Not only had a formal effort of Magical Theory arisen recently, thus limiting the amount of time to ask the fundamental questions, it had always been done through the offices of the Department of Mysteries. There were, in fact, plenty of wizards who had been asking such questions. And they were all called Unspeakables, and forbidden to divulge their secrets to outsiders. It was the same wall she had run into as before, only, it extended into the History section as well. The Ministry, it seemed, wanted to limit the power of Wizards. It wanted them to do magic well, but only the magic that it divulged. The fundamental nature of their world, that was off-limits.

Phooey.

Sparrow sat at a table, put her head in her hands, and thought. What if there was no God but God, after all? And did he even care about anything anyone was doing? Dark Wizards tended to get away with their dark magic until the Aurors came, so it wasn’t as though there were demonic spirits, waiting to punish a wizard for hubris. There were creatures called demons, to be sure, and yet…they were all corporeal. Solid things.

There were spirits. Yet they, too, seemed to arise from earth, and be bound to it. Dementors, for all that they made people shudder, seemed to have no connection or reference to Hell. Ghosts made no reference to heaven. Caipora, well, they ran around jungles and bothered people, as poltergeists ran around castles and bothered people.

There was no cosmic scale, as far as she could tell. There was nobody trying to balance any scales. There was no force that would, by itself, attempt to right any wrongs. There was, it seemed, only the earth, and all the beings on it, magical and not.

Nobody was watching her.

So she could cheat after all. Using a spell such as Ventus, especially one powerful enough to sweep the clouds away, might have some magical effects that would interfere with the workings of the mandrake leaf, but. Perhaps there was someone who could sweep the clouds away for her.

She just had to get past Filch.

...

The light of the ghost of Argus Filch shone weakly in the upper corridor. Yet it was the only light on this night at all, for the rain came down, came down, came down.

“Come back to try again?” said Filch. “Came back to tell me I’m in your way?”

“I could just as easily barge through you,” said Sparrow. “And lose as many house points as you care to take. I really don’t care about them anymore, I never did. I could have walked right through you at any time, do you know that? But I didn’t.”

“I could have raised the alarm when I saw you out of bed.”

But you didn’t. Why was that?”

“Maybe I was having fun,” said Filch.

You were challenging me,” said Sparrow. “The first time I ever managed to brew a shrinking potion was when I was thinking of getting past you. I’d never done an invisibility charm either. I’m glad you didn’t raise the alarm. It let me learn a bit more. And I think, in some small way, you respected my efforts.”

Filch grunted.

“I wanted to respect your authority,” said Sparrow. “Or perhaps I bowed to it. I didn’t even think of barging through you. Maybe if I had, you’d feel even worse than you did now. Maybe you’d feel powerless. That would have been very rude, for me to do.”

“Ghosts are cold,” said Filch. “Nobody wants to pass through them.”

“Well I’d like to get around you someday,” said Sparrow. “I do have important business for when the full moon comes back. I would like to be able to see Blaise again.”

“Blaise. Well. Hm. Ready for their story, then?”

“Ready for a lot of stories. For mine. For Blaise’s. For Jocasta’s. For Cormac’s. I feel like a moonlit night at the Dragon tower is the perfect place. And…I’m inviting you, if you will come. Because I want to hear your story as well. Wizards don’t pay attention to House Elves, and they don’t pay attention to Goblins, and they didn’t pay attention to Giants, and they don’t pay attention to Squibs. I figured you might appreciate having a willing ear, for once.”

“Goblins,” said Filch. “Giants. House Elves. And Squibs, eh? Comparing me to them. Hmph. Well, I might turn up. I might not.” He sneered. “I could be really nasty, and prevent you from going at all. I could shout to the castle and say that the madgirl had finally snapped and was attacking portraits, or something. Heh. But if I did that, I’d lose Blaise as a friend.”

“Does that mean I can go?”

Filch gave her a penetrating stare. “You’re a Wizard, Jones. You can do what you want. You can always do what you want. And I can’t. Go to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”

Tomorrow came.

Miranda had plucked a single Mandrake leaf, and held it cupped in the palm of her hands as she strode through the upper corridor with Sparrow. Cormac had elected to wear his formal robes for the occasion, and had felt silly when Jill had told him he looked overdressed, until Violet elected to wear her formal robes as well. Jocasta had bags under her eyes, for she had not slept all the previous night, instead lying awake in fear and anticipation.

The children made their way down the upper corridor, glancing glumly out the windows, for this night was also rainy. They had been informed by Sparrow that there was a way to clear the air and let the moon shine down, yet she would not tell them what it was, until Jocasta had reminded her of her promise to communicate. And so the children were marching towards the dragon tower, knowing of Sparrow’s plan but not believing very much that it would work. Dragons were not, in any way, obedient creatures. There was a reason they were considered Class XXXXX, “extremely dangerous and untameable”. It was only Sparrow’s skill with a shield that led any of them to believe they would survive the encounter.

There was a ghostly light in the hall. Argus Filch was floating there.

The children waited, wondering what he would do.

“You’re still invited,” said Sparrow. “Will you come?”

“Will I come,” said Argus Filch. “Will I come. To an event. Hm. No student, no teacher, no ghost ever asked me that question. I’ve never had to answer it.”

“So what’s your answer?”

It was for Filch to float through a wall, and out into the rain.

The children continued, having no idea if that was a good or a bad sign.

And so they came to the Dragon Tower, a black shape looming in the gloom.

“This was supposed to be a peaceful occasion,” said Violet. “Are you sure we can’t do this on another night?”

“The muggle astronomy reports say the full moon is tonight,” said Cormac. “Tomorrow night the moon won’t be full enough. It has to be now. But, that’s assuming the plan works.”

“Shouldn’t be too much trouble,” said Sparrow. “As long as Blaise knows what they’re doing. As long as they’re here. ”

The door to the tower creaked open. From within spilled an orange light, and within the doorframe was silhouetted the long cape and pointy hat of the one whom Sparrow had been trying to reach for so long.

“I’ve been waiting to see you again,” said Blaise. “Too long. Filch told me that you thought I wouldn’t show up if it was raining. Is that what he told you?”

“He implied it!”

“A merry prank,” said Jocasta. “But I’m not feeling merry, because the wind is cold and the rain is cold and can we get inside please?”

Blaise stepped aside, and the children entered the tower. As they passed, Sparrow hung behind, until only her and Blaise were left. Then she whispered her plan in Blaise’s ear, and hoped that they would acquiesce, for this was, in fact, the first chance she’d had to speak to them in while.

Blaise, for their part, sounded amused. “To use dragons,” they whispered, “in a manner not magical but scientific. Clever girl. Well, I can ask them to try. It ought to work. Come on.”

Sparrow and Blaise entered the tower.

Its ceiling was lost to view. Its walls were bare stone. If there had been any cloth upon those walls, it had since been burned off, for the stone had enough scorch marks to look like the back wall of a fireplace. And there were dragons, on the high stone balconies, dragons enough to make Sparrow’s head spin as she tried to count them all. It was tricky because they kept flying from one perch to the next. Sparrow had the feeling they were restless after the months of rain.

The very walls above them were covered with dragons of all shapes and sizes. Black Hebrideans, Sparrow could identify those, and Welsh Greens, sure enough, but what were the ones that were smaller than the Hebrideans, and silver, and rotund? What were the ones that were long and narrow and breathed purple flame? What were the ones with blue scales and golden wings?

Was that a single massive eye in the darkness above?

“Blaise,” said Jocasta. “Have you been experimentally breeding dragons? How naughty.”

Blaise put up their hands. “Not my fault. I had nothing to do with it. Dragons came here to stay and here they breed. Anyway. Come sit by the fire.”

There was a large bonfire in the center of the room. Sparrow peered around it, and discovered to her shock that a large white dragon, with a head the size of a sheep, had been resting here on the floor the entire time. She watched it snore and snort, as if dreaming, and with each snort it breathed a bit of flame. Thus the bonfire was kept lit. Blaise went over to the dragon, tickled it under the chin, and whispered into its ear. It opened one eye, and seemed to grin. Then it went back to sleep again.

Around the fire were arranged logs, as if people were meant to sit here and talk and sing campfire songs.

Miranda sat upon one of the logs. “Nice touch,” she said. “Were you expecting guests at some point?”

“Not really,” said Blaise. “You know how shut up I am. I just felt like it needed seating, you know? Something to turn a bare and utilitarian fire into a friendly bonfire. Sometimes you make things or buy things as a matter of speculation, in the hope that you will find a friend to share them with…And yet my only friends have been Violet, who I see little of these days, and Argus, who doesn’t need a chair anyway. What a treat to have you all here.”

The rest of the children sat around the fire, Sparrow alone electing to sit close to the dragon. “Oh goodness,” said Jocasta, scooting over to Sparrow and clinging to her arm, “My brave knight, my one true love, save me from the dragon!”

“Fear not,” said Sparrow. “Fair Maiden, thou art safe with me. Take comfort in mine mighty arms.” She draped a scrawny arm around Jocasta.

“Ahem,” said Blaise. “There are many stories to tell tonight.”

“I’m getting cold feet,” said Sparrow.

“So stick them in the fire and talk,” said Jocasta.

“Please,” said Blaise. “We’re here to listen, not to beat out confessions. If Sparrow doesn’t want to go first, then maybe someone else is willing. If no one is, we can still enjoy the fire, and wait for the moon to show its face. Should I go first?”

“I will,” said Jocasta. “It’s kind of my fault we’re here anyway. Well. You might say it’s my father’s fault.” She lifted Sparrow’s arm off her shoulder, and stood, gaze fixed upon the fire, the light of the flame dancing in her dark eyes. Her expression was grim, as if all the humor she carried was draining out of her.

“My father. Not my Dad, but my father. Rodolphus Carrow, neé Rosier, who married Hestia Carrow. I’m the grandchild of Amycus Carrow. Yes indeed, that man. The man who ruled this school when Voldemort ruled the ministry, the man who used the Cruciartus curse upon students. My father always said the students must have earned it, somehow, but he wouldn’t say how.”

“Nee Rosier?” said Cormac.

“He married into the Carrow family and they weren’t going to let him forget it. They invoked an ancient Wizarding custom where spouses dueled each other and the winner got to keep their surname. He lost, so Carrow he became. As for his own ancestry, well. There was the Rosier family, of course. But he had been born of a mother who claimed to be descended both from Lisette de Lapin and Morrigan, two different legendary animagi. Well, maybe his mother was off her rocker, but it hardly matters, because Father took up the supposed legacy, and became an animagus himself. A wolf. He was very proud of that. He decided that I, a girl of ten years old –”

There was a collective gasp.

“ – yes, before I even made it to Hogwarts – would follow in his footsteps.

“I didn’t want to. But. I lived in the Carrow manor along with my father, and there were things in the basement, the sorts of things parents threaten their children with, only these were real. There were things on the walls that would whisper my name if I disobeyed my father. There were portraits of ancient family members who would inform on me if I stepped out of line. I felt like I had no choice but to give in.

“On his part, my father did everything in his power to make the process of becoming an animagus easy for me. He stuck the mandrake leaf under my tongue with a simple little sticking charm, and he brewed the potion himself. The trickiest part was finding dew that had lain in darkness untouched for seven days, but he managed it. And he made sure that the moon shone full and clear in one month and the next by blasting the clouds with wind. And when it came to the recitation, he would wake me every morning, without fail, and make me recite the animo anima. He tried, he really did.

“I blame him for the fact that I turn into a fly, not simply because of the sticking charm. That might have something to do with it. But, if being an animagus reflects one’s personality, well…I had been raised to be a fearful little worm in the first place, by that house, by the Carrows, who were fond of the whip, and by my father, whose implied threats were enough to terrify me.

“I don’t know if I should regret becoming an animagus. In some ways the whole thing was entirely out of my hands, so why live with guilt that I don’t deserve? And yet, the business may yet cause me trouble, because my father –” Jocasta turned her head to meet Sparrow’s gaze. “I told you that my registration was uncertain. My father did not wish to register me. He said it would spoil the whole thing, to be a publicly known animagus. But, perhaps to sabotage him, or perhaps because she was immensely proud of my accomplishment, Grandmother Impedimenta went and registered me anyway.” Jocasta turned back to the fire. “Father was furious. He went to the ministry and tried to erase my name from the register. Literally, he tried to erase my name from the page. And he succeeded…somewhat…but the page itself was, in fact, rather tenacious, and would not give up easily. So Father quietly had the registrar promoted to a distant office, got a friend of his to be the registrar, and had the man erase my name whenever it showed up on the page again.

“If you go to the register and you’re lucky, which is to say I’m unlucky, my name will be there because old Mundungus hasn’t got around to erasing it again. But most days of the week I’m unregistered. I guess, if the Ministry ever does come sniffing around, I can get Mundungus to stop erasing the name, and avoid being tossed into Azkaban. Maybe that’s a good thing. In some ways I’d rather be registered, because when I’m a fly I’m stealthy enough that being unregistered feels redundant. On the other hand, I have the element of surprise right now.” Jocasta shrugged.

“I think, when it comes down to it, that my behavior at this school has always been a matter of just how much I could get away with. Any time I might face consequences, I could run. Any place I wanted to go, I could go. I never faced…any real discipline. Until this year, I suppose. Until I realized that I’d hurt someone I cared about. I’m sorry for that.” Jocasta let go of Sparrow and walked around the fire to Jill. She laid a kiss upon Jill’s head. “And that’s my life.” She turned towards the gathered circle. “Does anyone want a big fancy manor full of dark artifacts? Bidding starts at a sickle and goes up by knuts.”

“Your father is nuts,” said Cormac.

“Yes, Cormac, that was the point of my story.”

“Couldn’t resist the pun,” said Cormac. “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to make that pun? We call our smallest coin a “nut” and yet I haven’t been able to find any opportunity to make a good pun with it. It’s been so frustrating.”

“Same,” said Sparrow. “Imagine growing up with pounds and pennies and learning that Wizard coins are called ‘nuts’. It was the greatest day of my life. I shall use that memory to cast a Patronus someday. Talking of which, Cormac. You look like you want to go.”

“Surprised?”

“I didn’t think you had any sensitive stories to share.”

“I wouldn’t call it sensitive,” said Cormac. “Just painful. Yeah okay I guess that’s sensitive. Anyway! Speaking of surprise, are any of you surprised that my surname is ‘McKinnon?’ Does that name, perchance, ring any bells? Hmmmmm?”

“The first Wizarding War,” said Violet. “All the McKinnons were killed.”

“Exactly.”

“So where’d you come from?”

“Let me put it this way. The first Wizarding War, for all that it was a terrifying ordeal, was limited in scope. Voldemort said he wanted to rule the world, and yet his actions never crossed the pond. He never made any moves in the Americas. No idea why. Well, that was fortunate for my branch of the McKinnon family, who lived in Chicago.

“The McKinnons of Chicago are ruled – I shouldn’t say ruled, that’s un-American, but I’m saying it anyway – by my great-grandmother Grainne, who always said to me that the McKinnons belong in the Isles of old, that they belong to the isles, that the isles belong to them. Well, that all seems a trifle arrogant, and to tell you the truth I never much felt of a personal connection to Ireland, nor to England. North America was my home and is my home.”

Sparrow looked puzzled. “But you’re here, in Scotland. Is Hogwarts not your home?”

“On a physical basis yes. On an emotional level? I am torn. If I could pick up Hogwarts and place it outside of Chicago then I would be entirely satisfied. I do not wish to be away from the Americas. I did not wish to come here. I feel…not merely stifled, but segregated artificially.”

“Now hang on a moment,” said Sparrow. “Last month you told me that this segregation was a good thing.”

“I implied it”, said Cormac. “Sorry about that. I was trying to warn you about how dangerous it was to act against Muggles too openly and I couldn’t tell you the whole truth about my own behavior so I wound up sounding like I enjoyed the whole business of Wizarding secrecy. I don’t, as it happens. I just understand why it exists.

“The truth is, I was exiled from my homeland by my own grandmother. Not for breaking the Statute of Secrecy, exactly, but for being too eager to show muggles my abilities up close. See, the reason I know muggle songs is because I have engaged with them on a regular basis --

“You what!” said Jocasta.

“Oh come off it,” said Cormac. “Plenty of Wizards do the same thing here. It’s just that here the Wizard life is kept separate and hidden but in the western hemisphere…not quite so much. There’s a lot of open space in those lands. In any land, really, but – in England you have your little towns crowded together, little cities crowded together, and it’s a complicated explanation of why but the short version is that when the local Lord owns all the land you don’t get to buy individual plots. Meanwhile the countries of the Americas – okay, the settler-colony countries of the Americas – grew up with a culture of individual land ownership where everyone had a lot of their own space. The joke about Daniel Boone is that he would move away whenever his neighbors started to live closer than five miles from his place. Or maybe that wasn’t Daniel Boone. The point is, what I hear everyone talking about this Statute of Secrecy business…for most of my life so far it hasn’t been part of my experience, not as closely as it is now.

“See, you get yourself a culture where people are real spread out, and you wind up with Wizards who personally own vast tracts of land where they can do whatever the hell they want. So you don’t have to be real careful about keeping magic secret. If y’all want to run off over them hills yonder – ”

“I can’t tell what he’s saying,” said Jocasta.

“I think that’s an American accent,” said Miranda.

“ – then y’all can have a blast. If any folks hear the noise, well, some of them will know what’s up and some of them will think it’s a science experiment. No muss, no fuss, just make sure you clean up the mess, and if any ‘muggle’ sees you, just tell them it’s all a magic trick. That ain’t no lie.” Cormac winked. “Just not the whole truth. And it’s always worked. Even in the years when the Americas were full of many more people than they are now, you could go to the places where folks lived most densely, and still find countless houses with backyards – ”

“Back what now?” said Jocasta.

“Backmeters,” said Miranda. “Americans use yards.”

“Darn right we do!” said Cormac. “For cookouts and football and lawn darts and whatnot. You could find countless houses with backyards big enough to hide smaller magical activity. You could sit out on the back porch and wave your wand to light a brazier, and there wouldn’t be a muggle close enough to be certain of what you were doing, even if they were looking in your direction. At least that’s what my grandmother told me. Do what you want in your own backyard if it's quiet and small.

“And in the back country, maybe you could do a few magic tricks for your non-magical friends and call it a magic trick without explaining the details, because a magician never reveals the secret of a trick, right? Technically the law says you’re not supposed to do magic in front of ‘muggles’ but the Continental Congress doesn’t really enforce that law. I think they’ve got one guy in a small office who’s in charge of enforcement. For the entire continent. I’ve never had anyone from the Congress breathing down my neck about that. Never even met one of them.

“Chicago isn’t exactly a crowded city either. We’re huddled at the shore of Lake Michigan but out beyond the Chicago River the buildings are mostly abandoned, slowly reclaimed year by year. If I wanted to cross the river I could find plenty of places to play at magic. Easy enough to get into an abandoned building when the boards over the doors are rotten, and if anyone passing by sees weird flashes of light, they decide that it’s precisely why they don’t cross the river willingly. I sometimes wonder if all the older kids with their wands are the reason Chicago residents don’t reclaim their old territory quite as fast.

“Then again the shadows sometimes have critters in them that would make your skin crawl, and it’s Granny leading the Chicago Wizards to chase them away so that folks can settle across the river.”

“Wizards helping muggles?” said Jocasta. “Why on earth would they do that?”

“Because it’s Chicagoans helping Chicagoans,” said Cormac. “My Granny’s a Chicagoan born and bred as she says, even if she talks a lot of guff about being Pure Irish. And so am I. Our neighbors are neighbors, magic or no magic. I’ve always felt like the business of magic was a family business the same way a farm might be, even if it was supposed to be kept quiet. Never felt like it was some kind of…ethnicity. Here in Britain Wizards act like it’s some kind of tribe and they talk about Wizarding Britain and Muggle Britain like they’re two different worlds.”

Filch floated through the wall, startling everyone into falling off their seat.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” said Sparrow, as she picked herself up. “But welcome to the circle of blood traitors. What took you so long?”

“Had to convince the castle ghosts to stay away tonight. I said I’d inform on you for them. Didn’t say if I’d tell ‘em the truth. Heh. Don’t thank me, just doing my job. Anyway, Cormac, you’re right about Wizards and Muggles being two different worlds here. And where does that leave a Squib, eh?”

“Torn apart?” said Cormac.

“Used to be literally.”

Cormac looked puzzled, then horrified.

Filch grinned. “You don’t know what Wizards do to Squibs?”

“I…should expect that they treat them like part of the family. Because that’s what they are. What on earth did – ”

“Later,” said Filch. “Later. Get on with your own story first.”

Cormac shook himself, and said, “Right. My world wasn’t strictly segregated. I didn’t even learn the word ‘muggle’ until Granny yelled at me for doing magic too close to people. So. I grew up around kids who had magic and kids who didn’t, and I was told that the ones without magic would be real jealous so I shouldn’t show off in front of them. For while that explanation worked. I didn’t want to be mean.

“But then I got to thinking…so many of my neighbors without magic were struggling. Trying to find good sources of water, trying to grow food where they could or get it from farms farther out, getting sick from contaminated food or water or some such thing that Muggle Magic could have taken care of in the old days. They don’t have as much access to that stuff now because most of it goes to the rich folks on Goose Island in the river. And Granny used to tell me that kids used to have safe concrete pools where they could learn to swim, and now they have to learn to swim in the lake or the river, so now and then a kid drowns just for trying. Or a creaky building falls on someone and the doctor can set the bone but there’s none of these fancy painkillers for us, just cheap old Novacaine stolen from shipments going to Goose Island, so when it comes to dental work we’re all set but otherwise we’re out of luck. And if someone is diabetic they’re not long for this world, and if a child is born with a body too crooked they don't live. Is it like that in London?”

“We’ve got proper medicine in London,” said Sparrow. “The city government is a tangled mess but they try to distribute medicine properly at least. What kind of terrible government do you have?”

“In Chicago? We’ve got the rich folks on Goose Island promising to protect us from northern raiders but Granny says a raid hasn’t come from the north in two decades. We’ve got City Hall that gets paid off by the rich folks. Otherwise we just kind of get by and people settle their larger disputes with fistfights. Getting to my point – I got to thinking that if we had all this magic we ought to help our neighbors more than we do. Purify their water and shore up old walls and set their bones and put out fires and maybe even do that openly.

“But Granny wouldn’t have it. Granny knows that there are blame mean people out there, preying on small towns, swooping in to grab the food and slaughter the folks, out beyond Chicagoland. They did used to come down from the north. She told me there are plenty of places where people were fighting their small wars over territory, like they used to before the States united themselves and settled everything down. She told me she knew that if Wizards got to being honest about their business then everyone would want to use them as soldiers in their silly little wars, and you’d have Wizard against Wizard.
“That shut me up for a while but I kept asking her, and then on my eleventh birthday I got myself a wand and I went and did magic in front of my neighbors and told them that magic was real, not a trick. And Granny dragged me home by the ear and told me I was not to spill Wizard Secrets in front of muggles again.

“The next time I did, Granny decided it was high time I visit the Enchanted Isles and learn proper Wizarding secrecy at the world’s best school of magic. She told me that it would be best for me, if I was so eager, to learn at a formal magic school instead of by random tutoring the way most learned. Like my father had done before me. So she put me in a boat on the pier, we sailed to Green Bay and picked up a port key from there, and…there I was, standing on a train platform in front of the train, didn’t know what the hell a train was, didn’t know where Granny had gone. I got on the train because everyone else was getting on it and…here I am now.

“I tried to go home for the holidays the first year because Granny said she’d be there for me in Green Bay. So I took the port key back. But Granny wasn’t there for me.

So I stole a broom and travelled where I wanted. Saw a group of people shooting at a farmhouse and I saw the farmer’s wife get shot – ”

Violet gasped. “You told me your first Christmas home was boring.”

“I’m being honest tonight. Anyway I tried to swoop down to help her but I think one of the raiders shot me. I woke up in some random field far away with Granny standing over me and she said, Cormy, you didn’t even wait ten minutes for me to reach the port did you. And I said no. And she said Cormy, I’ve been on your tail for the last three hours but you stole a faster broom than I did. And I said thanks. And she said Cormy, you done messed up this time, I had to blow apart one of them raiders to save you and now everyone will know magic tricks aren’t just tricks, so maybe you ought to stay across the sea until you’re older. And I said Granny, you can kiss my ass.

So I’m exiled here. I don’t go home for the holidays because I can’t. Sometimes I like being in this castle because I can do all the magic I want but…I could do that before without having stupid rules about bedtimes and mealtimes and class schedules. Bleh. I don’t really like sticking around here over the holidays but…I can’t go home, can’t stay here. I said my home is in North America but right now, I’m not sure where home is.”

“My house,” said Violet. “You’ve been there for two Christmases running.”

“Fair enough. I like your folks. They’re nice people. Just a little…well not more strident about this Statute of Secrecy business than anyone else, but I sure feel stifled. I’m used to running wild. So. Sparrow.” Cormac stood with a fierce gleam in his eyes. “I’m as restless as you are. Once upon a time I was free, and I’ve been caged by the culture I was tossed into, caged by fear and secrecy and lies, and if I tell you to follow the laws it’s because I’ve seen what muggles can do after all. So now I don’t know about breaking the silence. If y’all want to get into this Animagus business -- ”

“What exactly does that word mean?” said Jocasta.

“You all,” said Miranda.

“ – Then I’ll follow soon as it looks safe. And sometimes I think the rest of y’all are nuts – ”

“Wait,” said Jocasta, “is that word singular or plural?”

“It’s complicated,” said Miranda. “You wouldn’t get it.”

“What, am I thick as Tewksbery Mustard?”

“ – but y’all’re my kind of nuts. So maybe home is where my friends are, and I do for you like I wanted to do for Chicago. Maybe that means warning y’all away from trying what I wanted to try. But I like the idea of running around asking people instead of just giving them something they don’t want. And if they say no it’s a load off my mind! So I’m in on this whole thing for now.”

Cormac sat. For a few seconds no one spoke.

“My turn?” said Violet.

“Please,” said Jocasta.

“Alright. Well.” Violet stood, and glanced at Cormac. “I think Cormac did a lot of my work for me here. I have also felt stifled, in my own way. Not in the way of a free person suddenly bound, but in the way of a child who grows up feeling caged from the beginning. My story is…not as sensitive as Cormac’s. I am connected to my childhood home and to my world. Nor am I a McKinnon, nor a Carrow. Just a boring old Brown.

“If I had been entirely content with this I would have nothing to say. But, as I said, I felt caged from the beginning. To begin with I am disconnected from the side of my family that knows nothing of Wizards. Jill, you are of mixed heritage yourself, correct? Perhaps you know this feeling.”

“To a certain extent,” said Jill. “I see my father’s side of the family frequently but not on a consistent basis, and when I am there I have to remember how to wash dishes without magic. Can’t break the law, right?”

“Bingo. Or else the Ministry comes down on you. This was impressed to me from an early age. I go to the house of my father’s father and I don’t know what to do because I’m so used to doing things with magic.”

“You’re a little spoiled,” said Cormac.

“Fair enough. But the silence is the worst part. I don’t know what to say because I can’t describe what my school is like, what I want to do with my life, where I want to go…I sit in silence and let everyone think I’m trying to be rude. And it’s hard on my father because he can’t explain anything either. And he can’t explain a single one of my mother’s family relations to his own side of the family so the two sides never ever meet.

“I know that if I do magic in front of the toddlers they would love it. But no. Too bad. And when I go home, I can’t do magic, because I’m underage. Pfeh. If I was in North America maybe I would feel as though the world was stretched too thin, but at home I feel like I’m squashed short. Because I’m underage for doing magic anywhere but Hogwarts. If I do it in the privacy of my own home the Ministry is like POOF ‘naughty naughty naughty!’ POOF. What a bunch of nosy parkers they are.

“So, in the years when Cormac was getting restless about doing good things for muggles, I was getting angry that magic was rare. Blaise, I’m still sorry about setting the curtains on fire.”

“You’ve apologized enough times,” said Blaise. “I could tell that you had a lot on your mind. But why did you take a year to tell me what it was?”

Violet shrugged. “I wasn’t certain that I was right about the matter being unfair. Maybe it was good that few people had magic if a Wizard was going to burn stuff by accident. But what I’ve seen of muggles in London, what I’ve seen of the world…I’m leaning towards the idea that I was right after all. I had always hoped that muggles could know the delights of what I could do. I was dismayed to think that they never would.”

“Is that why you wandered out alone at night when Father told you not to?”

“I wanted to see the stars, that’s all. I was wondering whether we could have reached them by now, if we all had magic at our disposal.

“And, truth be told, I was getting into some dangerous business that I didn’t want to drag you into. Because I started thinking about the nature of magic itself. Wondering how to find the truth of it, how to change it. My father told me it was something for the Department of Mysteries, and that I should not speak of such things loudly. I have kept my mouth shut since then. But in my silence I have been studious. And now, Sparrow, you have an idea of who gets the library books before you do. Not that I managed to save any from being removed to the Ministry, more’s the pity.”

“Really,” said Sparrow. “Did you check out the second volume of the Granger And Snape book of potion craft?”

Violet shook her head. “I’ve been waiting to see that one returned for ages.”

“Oh dear,” said Miranda. “Whenever it does return, both of you shall have to race for it.”

“Or we can share it,” said Violet, “like sensible people. Talking of sense, I did much as Cormac did, and learned forbearance over the years, as I began to understand the differences between the Wizarding world and the world of muggles. I have been informed that muggle magic seems to break down in the presence of Wizardry. This is not quite accurate, or else Wizards would never be able to turn on an electric light. But it is true that you can’t get a muggle radio to work at Hogwarts. Maybe it’s the sheer concentration of magic here that messes things up.”

“Makes sense to me,” said Cormac. “If Muggle Magic works through subatomic particles and Wizard magic ignores the laws of physics, a concentration of Wizard magic will mess with the proper function of subatomic particles. Maybe by shoving them out of the way, or something.”

“Subawhat?” said Jocasta.

“You need to pay attention in Muggle Studies,” said Cormac.

“No I don’t.”

“Truth of the matter aside,” said Violet, “the fact is that I have been trying to find the truth of the matter without assuming that I ought to do anything with it yet. And here comes good old Sparrow Jones saying hey hey hey, let’s turn all the muggles into wizards, what could possibly go wrong! So I’m just as tempted as Cormac to follow you into that mess and just as wary. Does anyone remember Oprah?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“She used to be a television show host and there was this one time she gave everyone in the audience a free Automobile. Everyone was overjoyed until they realized that she forgot to pay the taxes for them, so everyone wound up paying thousands of dollars after all. Whoopsy-daisy, right? That’s what you get for making things a big surprise without considering things carefully ahead of time.”

“I have received similar warnings from my parents,” said Sparrow. “About barging into a situation and trying to fix things your way without asking.”

“Then your parents are wise. For my part, the conclusion about space travel that I came to is based on what I see at this school. Candles, quills, carriages – ”

“British Wizards are highly hidebound,” said Cormac.

“But only British?”

“Well – ”

“Because I have certainly never heard of your wild American Wizards sending a rocket to the moon.”

“Well not yet,” said Cormac, “But we’ve never considered it.”

“Precisely.” Violet pointed to the ceiling. “All manner of flying creatures at our disposal and no Wizard has tried it? All manner of magic and no Wizard has considered it? Wizards the world over are hidebound. I think the magic does everything for us, so we don’t try any wild adventure because we’re content with what we have.”

“Come now,” said Jocasta. “The Department of Mysteries investigates things all the time.”

“And tells us how much of it?”

“Uh…no idea.”

Violet sighed. “Just proving my point, I suppose. We’re happy and lazy. Meanwhile muggles have no magic, so they have many challenges and they have to solve them as they can, and out of their restless striving they do great things like reach the moon. So, Sparrow, if you were to turn all the muggles into Wizards tomorrow, you would erase a world of challenges and triumph for the sake of a world at lease, and we would all lose something important.”

“You sound like the Headmistress,” said Sparrow. “Have you been talking to her?”

“Not once in my entire life,” said Violet. “Too nervous, I suppose. And my grades are perfect, so I don’t have to explain anything to her. And I’m making dangerous inquiries, so I probably shouldn’t be talking to her. But then here you are, also making dangerous inquiries, and she didn’t expel you yet…so maybe I could talk to her after all? The point is! I don’t want to switch the world from muggle to Wizard magic because I don’t want to lose their way of doing things. I’d like to be able to work with them. And maybe we can reach the stars together.”

“Big plans,” said Cormac. “I like that.”

“Bigger than you can handle,” said Miranda.

“One part at a time,” said Violet. “The first part is getting into the fundamentals of magic, and I’m getting there. Second part is doing diplomacy. I’m in this whole business because Sparrow’s come up with a way to do that quietly. Before she started this crazy Animagus scheme I couldn’t think of a way to talk to muggles without bringing the Ministry down on my head. So thanks for that, Sparrow, and Jocasta, I think this was your idea so thank you as well.”

“Are you sure?” said Jocasta. “You were the one who introduced Sparrow to your sibling in the first place. I think that got the ball rolling for a few different things.”

“Blame aside,” said Violet, “you now have the story of my life.” She sat back at her place on the log. “Who wants to go next? Jill, do you have a story?”

“I wouldn’t call it a story,” said Jill. “More like an explanation for my fury. I’ve been hurt, a lot. And…if were were going to work with muggles like Violet says, I’d prefer we talk to everyone besides the people in charge, because elders always fail me. So, to begin with, understand one thing.”

She stood, and stared at the flames. “I burn.”

The flames grew higher.

“There was a girl. In a muggle school. Yes, I went to a muggle school. Grandmother Padma insisted. She wanted me to have a basic elementary education. Reading, Riting, Rithmetic. Fair enough.”

“I’m supposed to call this a surprise?” said Cormac. “It sounds like you’re telling me you tie your shoelaces.”

“It’s unusual for Wizarding Britain,” said Jill. “Most Wizard children are tutored at home before going to Hogwarts. But, I was sent to School. And in my school, in my fourth year, there was a girl.”

“Was she pretty?” said Jocasta.

Pretty as you. So, I wanted to get to know her better. But. For whatever reason, she hated me. Or…maybe she didn’t. Maybe she just didn’t care. Either way, she…did the sort of things to me that children do before they’ve learned how to play nice. Only, by my age she should have learned. So, you know, pulling hair, tripping me, stealing my belongings. It had to have been deliberate, in the way a toddler’s cruelty isn’t.

“I put up with it for a year, trying not to lash out at her. But it was getting worse. She was clever. She would frame me for certain things like breaking windows. My reputation at the school was suffering. And when I would try to enlist the aid of a teacher, she would say that the situation was my fault.

“And they believed her. Because in front of them, in front of almost everyone, she was a sweet little angel who never did anything wrong. They turned their backs and her claws came out. Every time. I think she had a lot of fun tormenting me. I think that was the point.

“I was fully prepared to put up with this. But. My reputation at school was suffering. The teachers were turning on me, reporting bad behavior to my parents. It was quite a bit of work to convince Mum and Dad that I was not, in fact, a wild child. And the students were turning on me as well. They didn’t trust me. They started to kick me, call me names.

“But.

“There was one child, one brave little boy, who stood by me through all of it. A child named Benjamin Grey. I loved him for his bravery, and I think he loved me.

“And the girl who had tormented me for so long saw this. And one day she began to go after him as well.

“And that was the last day she did so, for in the very moment when she began to accuse Benjy of stepping on a frog, I knocked that girl clear across the courtyard. It was the first magic I’d ever done, and I was…terrified. But I was thrilled. And I turned to the other students…and all of them, even Benjy, shied away from me.

“The girl herself hit a tree branch. She suffered some fractured ribs, a concussion, a lost tooth, a sprained ankle, and she probably has mental scars to this day.

“I was pulled out of school. Well. I was expelled. But Grandmother elected to tutor me in my remaining years before entering Hogwarts. And she kept me cooped up at the Warren. I was quite a bit put out, over being confined, but then, for her it made sense to avoid letting a little firecracker out into the world. I had already suffered quite the stern lecture from the Ministry until Grandmother assured them she had things under control. Still, I’ve resented my grandmother since then, and my parents, to a certain extent, for putting me in that school.

“Am I under control now? I don’t know. If I had to pick a happiest memory to use for a Patronus spell, knocking that little bitch across the courtyard would be right up there.” She looked up, and met Sparrow’s eyes, and Jocasta’s in turn. “Thank God I have happier memories now.” She looked down at the fire again.

“When it comes down to changing the world, there are many people who have not paid for their crimes, even the crimes of decades ago. I worry that, in the name of serving justice to these people, I would be willing to blast muggle institutions to pieces, as old Grindlewald once tried. I don’t care what my parents say. I don’t care what the Ministry says. No teacher was ever on my side, when I was suffering my long night of the soul. They can go jump in a lake. But.” Jill met Sparrow’s gaze. “If I did. I’m sure there are people that I would disappoint. How many times have I said to think of what other people are thinking? Well, now I have to follow my own advice. A sword wielded with love can do good things, if swung in the right place, at the right time. A sword swung in revenge, though…”

“Violent revenge is like a big rock that drops into the sea,” said Sparrow. “The splash will sweep away people on far distant shores that you didn’t think about.”

“No doubt. There will come a time, soon, when my particular expertise is needed. I can hope that such a day will never come, but on the path we are taking, it may be that all the dark powers of the world will stand against us. So. If you need me, then, I will be there, as Benjamin was for me. If you say I must go, if you think I am too dangerous for your goals, I will break my wand, and go. If an innocent person comes to harm because of me, I will break my wand, and go. I do not wish to be the sort of person who, in their utter moral righteousness, decides that a whole world has to be violently forced to change. Tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people have been killed that way. There’s plenty of people who did awful things to uncountable people because they thought it was for the greater good.

“What I will be, though, is precise. I will be unflinching, and ruthless. I will be the sword. Sparrow, do not feel that you need to cast curses of any kind. Leave that to me. I’m the bad cop, not you. Are we in agreement?”

“If you would be the bad cop,” said Sparrow, “always remember me. Remember that we are not only doing this out of love, we are doing this for love, and we are doing this with love. If we are to do anything it must be with all gentleness and peace possible. If people are to survive our ambitions we must always remember that. Are we in agreement?” Sparrow looked around the circle. Everyone nodded, even Jill.

The firey girl sat back down, and the flames subsided, lower than they had been. Jill had used up quite a bit of the fuel.

“Ok,” said Sparrow, “who have we left out. Miranda?” She turned to the girl who was still holding a mandrake leaf in her hand. “Got any sad stories to confess?”

“Not anything I’m willing to explain in detail,” said Miranda. “And I shouldn’t have stayed here in the room while you all started talking about the Statute of Secrecy. I’ve been compromised. Blaise, why don’t you tell your story?”

“Sheesh,” said Blaise. “I never thought much about the statute. My world is the world of dragons, not of muggles and Wizards. I can’t say whether or not it’s a good thing that the dragons are kept hidden. I’d rather they be able to migrate with the seasons, you know? And me with them. Maybe I’d just…do that, and hang the consequences. But the Ministry would have wizards obliviating muggles, wherever we went, and that’s. Well. At best it’s unsettling.

“There are a fair few cruelties in the world of Wizards, enough that I stick to the dragons up here. As for what happened to me, one wonders if I could blame Wizards for it, or people in general.

“I am the middle child in my family, where Violet is the youngest and Scarlett is long since gone to the Ministry. I came to this school about ten years ago, having felt middling my whole life. Indeed I even felt middling between being boy and girl, and never picked one or the other. None had forced me to choose, not Father, not Mother, not Scarlett, not Violet. The matter had never really arisen between us. I’d like to think that’s all by-the-by but it did mean that I was unprepared for a world where people do care about such things, and in the ways people tried to steer me towards this group of friends or that group of friends, I was very confused. I got scared and I thought that I was supposed to have chosen my sex years ago, and I had somehow missed the boat. Thank goodness for me that the Sorting Hat was able to sort me out! It told me that the choice of house was more important than details of sex. So, then and there, I refused to choose my sex, and I was sorted into Gryffindor.”

“Wait,” said Jocasta. “Scarlett, Violet, Blaise. That last one doesn’t fit. What happened to your family’s naming scheme?”

“Oh, I changed it a while ago. I figured it was more appropriate to my state of being than what I had before.”

“So what was it then?”

“Irrelevant,” said Violet, glaring at Jocasta.

“Please,” said Blaise. “You need not defend me as stridently as you once did. I’ve got dragons for that now.”

Jocasta’s face paled, difficult as it was to make her face look any paler.

Blaise chuckled. “I jest. But it is true that I could have stood some sort of defense when I was at the school, and I was sorry to be away from my family, for there were too many who thought they knew what was best for me and changed my shape to their liking, without asking. Magic makes that easy, eh? It’s very good for the people who know what they wish, and also very good for the people who wish to switch from one form to another now and then, though only a Metapmorphmagus can do it in an instant. For those who refuse to pick one or the other, as I did…this was not something many people understood.

“So, Sparrow, Violet, what both of you saw of my treatment at the school from my fifth year onward was genteel in comparison to what came before. People had gotten bored with me by then. Before that point…I remember a few times someone held me down and cast spells upon me. It was not an enjoyable experience. Not at all! It was the kind of experience that made me curse the idea of magic altogether. My grades suffered terribly in the first year of schooling. Would have been worse if the Headmistress hadn’t sorted out the culprits properly. But she didn’t do it before I learned a wrong lesson about the value of magic.”

“What value?” said Filch.

“Exactly,” said Blaise. “Not a good lesson but a lasting one. Took me a few years to let it go. In the meantime – ”

“In the meantime I was disappointed to see you getting into magic again,” said Filch. “Why’d you hang around me so often if you were just going to be a good little Wizard after all?”

“You know why. Why will you not admit it?”

“Because I don’t believe you. Nobody’s a safe place. I’m not. I was the grouchy old caretaker. Did all those insults mean nothing to you?”

“They did,” said Blaise. “But no matter how many times I sat in your office and read old books, you never cast spells at me. So I felt safe around you.”

“I couldn’t cast spells. You were taking advantage of my weakness.”

“Or confiding in a fellow spirit, someone between two worlds like me. Come on, Argus. You were a friend to me before you died. What caused you to forget that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Filch shrugged. “Maybe it was the part where the staircase shifted and made me trip over the railing, so that hitting the floor knocked that memory out of my head, along with everything else. Ooh, I bet if I had been a Wizard I would have been safe – ”

“Not likely,” said Jocasta. “There’s not many spells a wizard could use to save themselves from that fate.”

“I mean someone would have bothered to catch me.”

“Alright, that’s a fair point.”

“No it isn’t,” said Blaise. “This happened at the small hours of the morning.”

“And I was cleaning at the small hours of the morning because nobody bothers to clean up their own messes around here when I can do it.”

“That’s a fair point.”

“Wait,” said Violet. “I tripped off the stairs once. They’re supposed to have spells to catch people. How did they miss you?”

“Judging by my family manor,” said Jocasta, “they don’t work on Muggles.”

An awkward silence hung in the air.

“Anyway,” said Filch, “this is your story, Blaise. Get on with it.”

“Ahem. Right. Well. I started hanging around Argus here like I said. He didn’t exactly understand, at first, and kept shooing me out of his office. Thought I was trying to steal things. But then I kept acting out specifically to get detentions with Filch. Pushing people down flights of stairs and attacking the portraits and writing stuff on the walls. And so I’d get detentions with him, and he’d have me polish all the trophies, or clean Slobberworm mucus down in the dungeons, or something nasty. And I had the chance to speak with him.

“And I asked him, what’s it like being a Squib, and he said it was like going to a birthday party and everyone gets the guest prizes except you, and then everyone makes fun of you for it, and isn’t it nice that old Dumbledore gave him this job so he could get his revenge on the children of the people who were nasty to him.

“Argus here has never been a nice man. It’s hard to be nice when you’ve been kicked around like that. But he didn’t kick me around, or insult me like the other students, or do much of anything to me, and I thought, well, that’s better than naught. And eventually, he did let me hang around his office. Taught me how to do things the non-magical way. And he told me, sometimes, of what people used to do to him. Things like – well. He enjoys describing them and I don’t.

“So for a few years we were kindred spirits, of a kind, and then…I guess we weren’t. Once I started paying attention to my studies. But Argus, you must remember that I never once did magic when I was in your office. Even in later years.”

“Yeah, yeah. Right. Fair enough.”

“And you don’t have to be a Wizard to appreciate dragons, do you? Maybe if you’d lived you could have rode with me, that first time.”

“I’m not crazy,” said Filch. “You are. To approach dragons like that so easily.”

“Well someone had to,” said Blaise. “Someone had to be an ambassador. Or else everyone here would feel like we’d been invaded. And I don’t hardly mind it if the dragons want me to be more a part of their world than the Wizarding world. Not after the way Wizards have treated me.”

“What are you,” said Miranda, “some kind of hostage for good behavior?”

“Let’s say I’m a liason. But, now that you know how my tale ends, I have little more to say. Filch, I think you have your own story to tell.”

“If a gaggle of Wizards wants to hear it.”

“You said you were saving it for later,” said Cormac.

“How much later?” said Filch. “I didn’t say that, did I? But if you look so eager, I’ll tell you.

“I told you about being torn apart. Bit of a joke, there. Nobody’s done that to a Squib in ages and ages, as far as I know. But Dumbledore told me that when he was a lad, Wizards would imprison their squib children. Or kill them.”

Cormac gasped.

“Don’t be surprised, boy. We’re talking purebloods here. Devoted to Wizardry. Couldn’t handle having a non-magical member of the family. It is what it is.”

“Well it shouldn’t be,” said Cormac. “And it isn’t where I come from!”

“That’s there and this is here. For what it’s worth…by the time I was a lad it had been nearly a hundred years since that sort of thing was common. Some Squib git had wrote a book about his life and the Wizards had read it and cried, and said they would treat Squibs nicer.

“Mother tended to thrash me with a belt when I couldn’t do magic on her command. Father hexed me with itching and tripped me up with invisible rope. Lovely childhood. No Hogwarts, of course. My siblings went, I didn’t. I could pass through the platform at 9 ¾, but the closest I would have ever come to attending would have been the sorting hat telling me no. I could pass into Diagon Alley, but what reason would I have to even go there?

“19th May 1968 was the only time before or since that I have been in Diagon Alley. There was a march. A march of Squibs. Must have been all of them in the Wizarding world, at least all the ones who bothered to join that world. I was young, and there was some fire in me. When someone told me that a bunch of Squibs, of all things, were marching, well I had to see what was going on.

“And what a sight it was. Signs like “we have rights” and “Squibs are people too.” I hadn’t thought that was true. Mother had always told me I was a pathetic little disappointment. Imagine having someone reach out their hand to me and tell me that I was something after all.

“Imagine being torn away from taking that hand. Aye, the pureblood supremacists were hot in those years, full of more fire than me, and what dragons they were, to breathe their fire on everyone. The riot was all up and down Diagon Alley. The damages were in the hundreds of thousands of galleons and there were at least three deaths. All Squibs. They couldn’t defend themselves, I suppose.

“I’m told that Borgin & Burke’s was untouched. Everywhere else, creatures had been released from cages, books were scattered, windows were shattered, magical fires raged. And who was prosecuted for it? Nobody. The Aurors never caught anyone involved. Maybe they didn’t want to. And everyone bamed the squibs for stirring up trouble. I lost a few friends because they blamed me.

“Imagine going through all that, then having Wise Old Dumbledore The Great offer you a job. At Hogwarts. To poor little Argus from before the riot, it would have been the dream come true. To poor little Filch from after the riot, it felt like a condescending consolation prize. I took it. I had nothing else to look forward to. Had quite a bit of fun, in the first years, doing as I pleased to the nasty little Wizard children. Didn’t care much about who got the worst of it, they were all the same.

“And I passed that way for many years. I didn’t care about the Wizarding War. It was Wizards kicking each other around. Not my problem. Maybe having fewer of their children around would mean I had to clean less. And that Potter boy, the first one, he caused me no end of trouble with his friends. My greatest triumph was when I got that damned Marauder’s Map from them.

“Didn’t care a whit for the second Potter boy either. Ooh, la-dee-da, he accidentally killed the dark Lord. Pfeh. He didn’t do a thing for it, did he? Just sat there and Voldemort slipped up and killed himself. Maybe the old goat tripped on the carpet and pointed his wand at himself while he cast the curse. Avada-ka-whoops.

“Didn’t care much about the second Wizarding War, either. Same thing as the first. A war between Wizards. Not my problem. Except when they went after the damned school, my school. My home. That meant something to me. And they smashed quite a bit of the stonework. Caused me no end of cleanup.

“And then things quieted down again, until, I guess, the Muggle world quietly crumbled while I wasn’t paying attention. Heh. Maybe it’s good to be a squib after all. I had a place to retreat to and they didn’t. And I lived in the usual way at Hogwarts, and the next generation of Potter’s children and Weasley children caused the same trouble as ever, and I figured that would be my life from then on.

“And then this little git starts hanging around my office, asking me all kinds of questions I didn’t want to answer. Wormed their way into my good graces, they did. It’s like Blaise says. I liked to see that this little Wizard kid DIDN’T want to take advantage of what magic could offer. A Hogwarts student refusing magic, that was new. A Hogwarts student smashing things up specifically to see me, that was strange. What would a little Wizard child want with a 90-year-old Squib? To feel safe? Someone felt safe around me? I’d spent an entire career building up a reputation and where was this little twerp ignoring it. Well, fine. We got along. Blaise learned how to sweep a floor without magic and I had someone to talk to for once.

“I didn’t choose to stick around on earth because of them. I’m still around because I only learned on my dying day that there was something called the Society for the Protection of Squibs. I was furious. Where had they been all my life? Had I missed them because I was hanging around Hogwarts? Why had Dumbledore never told me about them? Everything I thought I knew about Hogwarts was turned upside down.

“So here I am, because I’m still angry. Still nice to talk to Blaise, though, when they’re available.”

“Hang on,” said Sparrow. “I never did get to hear why Blaise only shows up on the full moon.”

“I only open the door to the Dragon Tower on the full moon,” said Blaise. “I’m not some moon creature, Sparrow.”

“Then why – ”

“Aesthetic. And I’m still kind of mad at the school. So, they only get to see dragons occasionally. So there. Now, I think we’ve heard every story to be told, haven’t we? Oh wait.” They rose, and passed through the fire. Filch snorted in derision, but Blaise paid no heed as they took Sparrow’s hand and said, “Your story. The one you promised. It is your turn to tell, young one, if you would. Will you?”

Sparrow shuddered. “I suppose this is a better place than any. Among friends, protected by dragons. Very well then, you shall hear of why I have been, so far, nothing but the Shield Maiden, the Barrier Witch, the poor kind girl who could never harm anyone.”

Sparrow rose, and let the glow of the flames dance over her face for a few seconds, before she spoke. “There are terrible things in this world. Terrible wizarding things. Things that most of us know nothing of, and well that it should be so. Leave dark magic to the dark wizards. Yet, sometimes those dark things will not leave alone, and, as is their wont, come after us. They find us, and destroy us, because we are innocent, because we have things they want, because nobody will miss us, because nobody will defend us. Because they can get away with it.” She extended her hand towards the fire, and flipped it over a few times, letting the children see the difference in color between her palm and the back of her hand. “I have often wondered if I was targeted, somehow, on that basis. It would not be so surprising. I have heard of worse injustices, from across the pond and across the sea, visited upon people like me. Yet never have I met them myself, not yet.” She glanced at Miranda. “I can only speak for myself, of course.”

Miranda coughed. “Let’s say you’re lucky.”

“What have you encountered?”

“In the Wizard world?” said Miranda. She shrugged. “The usual stuff about purebloods, I suppose. Like, I spoke to Aldous Yaxley once, and he thought I was part of the kitchen staff, but then he said I shouldn’t be, because I was obviously a pureblood. Took some questioning for him to make it clear that he thought I was obviously a pureblood because of how my ancestors had obviously stuck to their fellow Wizards in South Sudan.”

Jocasta whistled. “Never heard that one before. Your ancestors are from the Nile region, then?”

“No! They’re from West Africa! I couldn’t keep listening to that guy. I went into the kitchen and grabbed a well-done steak and gave it to him on a platter. I figured he deserved the worst the kitchen had to offer. Mister high-class couldn’t even tell.”

“And what about in Muggle society?” said Cormac.

“I’m alive because I know magic,” said Miranda. “That’s all I can tell you. Getting back to the actual speaker here? Sparrow, you said you never got shit for being black.”

“Did I ever get any?” said Sparrow. “Did I not? Hard to remember. So I guess the answer’s no. As for the moment I’m describing…I can’t square racism with what actually happened to me. The vast majority of racism is done either for gain, or in desperate desire to hold on to previous ill-gotten gains. This was mass murder for the sake of neither money nor land. And mass murder of children who were mostly white, in the first place, and one that left ME untouched, so if an evil wizard was somehow racist on the basis of skin color, as opposed to purity of magical blood, somehow they got everyone except the one they wanted to. Some things are so improbable as to be functionally impossible.

“Here is what did happen, as I am certain: I went to bed with eight children at a slumber party. Eight friends, three of whom I had known for years. The window was open to take advantage of a cool breeze. When I awoke, I was the only child left, and there was a black blanket crawling out the window. And there was a shimmering, translucent yellow dome over me. The first magic I ever cast. Having no control over it, I couldn’t figure out how to dismiss it in time to pursue the strange blanket. What had happened? Where had the children gone?

“They had left their shoes, they had left their clothing, they had left all their belongings. If they had run it would have not been for long before they were found. And the children were never found.

“The only thing that was found was a single finger bone.

There was a collective gasp among her audience.

The white dragon opened both of its eyes. Its contented smile had vanished, to be replaced by a look of great concern. It met Blaise’s gaze, who nodded. The dragon began to growl softly.

Sparrow gave it a worried glance. “Am I about to be roasted by a dragon here?”

“It is alright,” said Blaise. “Abrax is growling for you, not against you. They have a very good idea of what happened to your friends.”

“But what happened?” said Violet. “Who took them and left a bone?”

“I think I know,” said Cormac, with a voice as grim as a fourteen-year-old boy could muster.

“Then tell,” said Violet.

“No.” Cormac met Sparrow’s gaze. “I have stepped over that boundary once, and will not do so again. If Sparrow wishes to come to the conclusion, it is up to her. She’s talking about something that can scare dragons.”

Violet turned to Sparrow. “What happened to your friends?”

“Getting there,” said Sparrow. “They died, I’m sure of that. Whatever had happened to them, they were dead and gone. But what had happened? What would the police say? What would the investigation turn up? The neighborhood was all shaken by the disappearance. We all awaited an official explanation.

“But there was no investigation. There were no police. The neighborhood was suddenly mourning the loss of eight children to a gas leak, and calling me lucky. I tried to tell them that it was no gas leak. They refused to listen. I and my parents were left in confusion and fear, and the confusion was never fully resolved.

“Until the incident with my growing a tree. Imagine my fury when I learned of the existence of memory charms, and the practice of obliviating swathes of muggles whenever anything magical happened in their area. The Ministry must have obliviated my neighborhood to prevent any muggle investigation. I’ll never forgive them for that. To force muggles to be deluded about the deaths of their very children is…a crime beyond measurement. I will never forgive the Ministry for that, nor anyone for using memory charms on anyone. Keep that in mind. Ha ha. Ha.

“As for the deaths of my friends…for the longest time, I had no idea how to investigate the matter. But what I could do, at least, was swear that no one would ever come to harm again on my watch. And so the only spell I’ve really bothered to practice is the shield spell, here at Hogwarts. I felt that it was all I needed. My fault, I suppose, for becoming overspecialized.

“Cormac’s remark about L – about – damn it.” Sparrow had begun to shiver again. “I’m not sure I can continue here. I’m – I’m – I’m sorry I just – ”

Jill rose to stand beside Sparrow, and hugged her close. In turn Jocasta put her arms around the both of them. After a few seconds, Sparrow’s breathing slowed.

The three girls separated and sat back down, but sat close together. Violet and Cormac exchanged glances, then moved around the fire to sit beside them. In turn Miranda rose from her seat, and sat down on the stone, perpendicular to the log. Blaise rose from their seat, and sat down upon the stone at the log’s other end, facing Miranda.

Abrax uncoiled, and slithered over to the now-concentrated gathering, and lay behind the log, encircling them all with their tail.

Filch stayed here he was, until he sighed a ghostly sigh and came to stand by the fire, a foot outside of the circle of the dragon’s tail.

“Do you wish to continue?” said Cormac.

Sparrow took a deep breath. “I think I can.”

“What is it then?” said Jocasta. “What is this word you couldn’t name?”

“The word is Lethifolds!” said Sparrow. “Lethifolds! Lethifolds! There. I said it.”

“Oh!” said Jocasta. “Those horrible things?”

“Horrible is a paltry word to describe them,” said Blaise. “Monstrous. Evil. Pure evil. Evil distilled. The most dangerous and deadly creature in the world, if you are sleeping vulnerable.”

Abrax began to growl again.

“Oh come on,” said Violet. “Cone snails are more deadly by far.”

“Yet they don’t hunt humans,” said Blaise. “And you can smash a cone snail with a hammer. These things are living nightmares. Do you know, I don’t think even old Voldemort himself tried to use them. If even he thought they were dangerous to him…”

“Voldemort never bothered to look outside of Europe,” said Sparrow. “Hidebound old fool like so many Wizards. His chief problem, I suppose. Probably the reason he got the Second Wizarding War going. Couldn’t let go of the pureblood business. But – I cannot call these creatures pure evil.”

Blaise looked shocked. “What on earth do you mean?”

“I mean they’re wild animals. Right? Technically innocent. I can hate them, sure, but call them pure evil? That’s a human concept.”

“Mostly,” said Violet. “The higher orders of apes had rudimentary concepts of justice. But if Lethifolds are nothing more than living blankets, they wouldn’t have enough brain to know what right and wrong were.”

The dragon was growling again. Louder this time.

“But we don’t know that,” said Cormac. “These are magical creatures. Maybe they have some sort of brain nobody can see. Or maybe they’re not wild animals at all. Maybe they’re…something else. Nobody knows. Nobody can catch them. There’s only two accounts we have from survivors and the only thing they could have done was cast a Patronus and run. We can’t know if they think, if they scheme…they’re so rare as to be nearly legendary. How do you judge something nearly nobody has ever seen?”

The dragon was growling louder still.

“Abrax,” said Blaise. “Please.”

“Does the dragon know something?” said Miranda. “Spill.”

“Plenty,” said Blaise. “And this discussion is nearly as distressing to them as it is to Sparrow, so let us please leave off speculating.”

“I would note one more thing,” said Jocasta. She turned to meet the dragon’s gaze. “If I may.”

Sparrow turned her head to see Abrax, their teeth slightly bared, eyes wide, holding Jocasta’s gaze. The dragon subsided with an annoyed snort, and nodded their assent.

“Thank you.” Jocasta turned back to address Cormac. “There are only two written accounts from survivors. We don’t know how many true accounts there might be. Also there are only two written survival accounts, in English. Perhaps the rest are all written in a language from the tropics, and we’ve never bothered to check. But around here, we have one true account, from Hagrid. He told me in passing that he’d seen a Lethifold twice in the – Oh my God.” Jocasta’s eyes grew wide. She met Sparrow’s gaze with as much concern as Abrax had, if not more. “I sent you into their domain.”

“It’s alright,” said Sparrow. “I mean it’s alright now.”

“Is it? After all you’ve been through, sending you into a place where you might have met your worst fear – and even if you never did you had to be thinking about it night and day – I can’t blame you for what happened at the dueling club. It was supposed to be a prank so you could hate me and cast curses at last and I didn’t think about – Sparrow, I am so sorry.” She took Sparrow’s hands in hers. “I must have caused you greater terror than anyone besides a loathsome fiend could deserve. I can’t expect you to forgive me. Just know that I will never do such a thing again.”

“I will admit,” said Sparrow, “That I harbored some resentment for you, for that. Mostly it was satisfied by my revenge. But you were only one part in a chain of errors. It was Hagrid’s idea to take me into the wild, and my decision to follow.” She laid a hand on Jocasta’s shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself more than I blame him or me. He didn’t know about my terror, nor did you. Neither of you could have known. It was not a story I could ever have told anyone, until here, until now.” Sparrow draped one arm over Jocasta’s shoulder and put an arm around Jill’s waist. “With all of you around me. So it was difficult to tell anyone just where my boundaries were, until they were crossed – Cormac ran into that and I got snappy.” She nodded to Cormac. “Sorry about that, old bean.”

“Young bean. But I’m the one who saw the line in front of my eyes and crossed it. I have some fault here.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps. And yet it was fortunate that you explained Lethi – Lethifolds – to me. Reluctant as I am to admit it. That was the key to a door I thought had been shut. It was a bridge to that old mystery. I looked up Lethifolds and, what do you know, a black blanket creature that devours people in the night. Normally they only live in the tropics. But, you know, most of the world is tropics now.

“And now you can see why I’m on about this Statute of Secrecy business, and why I am so protective. It all comes back to that one night. Because the muggles smudged up the world enough that Lethifolds could sneak around even here in Britain. Because the Statute of Secrecy did nothing to protect my friends. Because the Ministry did nothing to comfort me in my grief, nor offer any sympathy to my family. Let the Ministry disappear for all I care.”

Jill waved a hand at the fire, and it burned higher.

“Nice touch,” said Sparrow. “And an illustration of what led to the situation we’re in now. The world burned. Because of muggles, because we couldn’t help them, we couldn’t save them, we couldn’t protect them, because the Ministry didn’t want us to, because they thought the Muggles still hated us. As I was unable to help my friends, Wizards were unable to help anyone else. And even now the Ministry won’t let us act openly to undo the damage. We’re not allowed to make a difference.

“I suppose if you could distill my ambitions into one idea, it is the hope that we can make a difference. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future, if we dare.” She rose from her seat, and stepped over Abrax’s tail to stand close before the fire.

“And do you dare?” said Violet.

“Do we dare. But that is up to each of you. I will not ask any of you to follow, if you feel it is beyond you, or if you feel that it is unjust. I would only ask that if you feel it is unjust, you would stand up for what you think is right, and oppose me with all of your will and all of your might. I would not have anyone cower before me nor accept an injustice for the sake of friendship. If you are in, say so, and if you are not, say so.” She turned to face her friends.

“I’m with you to the end of all things,” said Jill.

“I can hardly resist,” said Jocasta.

“There are wondrous opportunities here,” said Violet.

“I would relish the chance to live in a wider world once more,” said Cormac.

“I will render what aid I can,” said Blaise. “Though my tasks keep me here and busy. It takes enough time to negotiate with dragons on a normal day, and it will take quite a bit to convince them to do more than stand out of the way. Argus? What about you?”

“Heh.” Filch had his arms crossed. “Dangerous. Heroic. I’ll not stand in the way. That’s all.”

“We’re missing one,” said Blaise. “Miranda?”

Miranda was not meeting anyone’s gaze, but staring at the fire. “I don’t know. I can’t say this is all unjust, but I can’t say whether or not I’m in. I told you all I felt compromised. I still do. Will you give me time to decide?

“All the time you need,” said Sparrow. “Just…whatever you decide, please be willing to tell me.”

“I can do that.”

“Alright then.” Sparrow stood as tall and straight as a slip of a fourteen-year-old girl could stand, facing the flames once more. “The fire is getting low, and dire deeds arise. Blaise?” She turned to meet the eager gaze of the dragon keeper. “It is time.”

Blaise stood, and, moving behind the log, whispered into Abrax’s ear. They opened their eyes, grinned, and looked up. The dragons overhead began to slither out of the windows, one by one.

“Who can be blamed for this situation?” said Sparrow, as she met the worried gazes of her friends. “Me? The Ministry? Jocasta? Violet? I offer up Jill, if only because she commanded me to be considerate of other people, thus preventing me from merely attempting to interfere with the existence of memory charms. No, if we wish all people to survive our ambitions, we must be delicate, as I said. So. I have, per Jocasta’s suggestion, chosen the hard road. To do good is more difficult than evil. It is ever thus. Come, then, and let us embark.”

She left the fire, then, and opened the door, where the cold rain down came down. She looked back at her friends. “If you are all with me in spirit, come with me in body.”

“I could do that all the time,” said Jocasta.

Read the room,” said Jill.

“She walked right into it!”

“And we’re walking right into the rain,” said Violet. “How’s this supposed to work? Where’s the full moon?”

“I haven’t given the signal yet,” said Blaise. “You must go outside first. Go on.”

With a fair bit of grumbling, the children followed Sparrow out into the cold rain.

And Blaise whistled sharply.

As one, the sky burst into flame, as a hundred dragons breathed fire into the clouds, heating them into invisible water vapor instantly. For, as Violet had once told Sparrow, the clouds were not puffs of cotton high in the sky, but collections of water vapor that had come to a place that was cool enough, and had condensed there. If the place was suddenly hot, why then, the water vapor would no longer be condensed, and the moon would shine down, if only for a little while.

So it was, that the lowering clouds vanished and were replaced by the sight of a hundred dragons soaring in the night sky, wheeling around the moon, roaring a fierce joy to the heavens. The last of the rain fell and no more came. The moon’s silver light was reflected in the water that lay upon the walkway. The children stood and watched the dragons as they soared.

Sparrow took the mandrake leaf from Miranda, and stepped to the edge of the walkway, turning towards her friends for dramatic effect. “This will be a long journey,” she said, “full of many twists and turns. It may take years. Decades, even. But, we can only reach the end if we dare the beginning. Like so.” She held the mandrake leaf aloft to the moon.

“Wait!” said Jocasta. She ran up to Sparrow. “It will be an entire month that I am missing the taste of your sweet lips, my dear. Let me have one kiss before I am forbidden.”

“How could I forget,” said Sparrow. “Very well.”

Jocasta kissed her full on the mouth, lingering there for some time. “There,” she said, “I shall be looking forward to that again.” She took the leaf from out of Sparrow's hand and tapped it with her wand. "And as I do this, hopefully that will ensure we will not repeat this business." She handed the leaf back to Sparrow.

Jill came up beside Jocasta, and took her hand. They exchanged a glance that said more than words. Then Jill turned to Sparrow, and, still without speaking, tapped Sparrow on the cheek once. Sparrow nodded. Jill kissed her there, then, for as long as Jocasta had done.

“Does anyone else want a piece of me,” said Sparrow.

Cormac and Violet came up and flanked the girl, and each gave her a peck on the cheek.

Miranda hung back with Blaise and Argus, as if still uncertain.

Sparrow held the leaf up to the light again. “Here’s to the first step,” she said. Then she placed the leaf in her mouth, under her tongue.

And nearly gagged. The taste was bitter, foul. No wonder it was a challenge to keep it there for a month without cheating. Perhaps her tastebuds would become numb at some point, but until then she had something in her mouth that she didn’t want to, and she had to fight the urge to spit it out immediately.

But. She was Sparrow Jones, and no little thing like a bitter leaf was going to conquer her, by thunder. She held the leaf in place, even as the sticking charm took effect and prickled and stung her tongue.

Miranda finally moved forward. She peered at Sparrow, whose expression was, at the moment, easy to read. “Good heavens,” said she, “you did it. You are doing it. I had thought this was a silly game that would end now, but I see you are determined.”

She sighed, and looked up at the moon, at the dragons wheeling in the sky. For a few seconds she appeared to be lost in the sight. Then she turned her gaze to Jocasta, who seemed to be vibrating with anticipation; to Jill, whose determined expression was matched only by Sparrow’s; to Cormac, whose expression of fascinated curiosity was matched only by Violet’s.

“I had hoped to stay out of this business,” said Miranda. “But you know what? Fuck it. I’m in.”