“Been a couple years since I went to Hogsmeade,” said Cormac, as he turned back towards his friends. “Never did get to see that tree Mr. Ollivander made for himself.”

Six students strode along the muddy road, down the glen towards Hogsmeade. The sky today was overcast, with some breaks in the clouds where sunlight streamed down, casting spotlights upon the scattered brush. It was beautiful, in its own way, though stark and bleak all the same.

Five of the students kept fairly closely together, gathered around Sparrow. The road to Hogsmeade was safe, as much as anything was these days, yet in the barren landscape they clung to each other because that was all they had to hold on to. Only Cormac kept ahead. Ollivander was his goal, after all, and whatever came from that would be Cormac's journey, no matter how many shared it with him. Sparrow could only hope that he would not walk it alone as he was walking alone now.

As they began to ascend a ridge, a curious mass of green began to show just above its crest.

“Do mine eyes deceive me,” said Jocasta, “or is that a tree up ahead?”

“I’m seeing it too,” said Jill. “Anyone else?”

“Shouldn’t be a surprise,” said Cormac. “Ollivander’s house is pretty big. Wait…” he squinted. “That’s not Ollivander’s tree. It’s closer. I can make out the leaves.”

“And it has leaves,” said Miranda. “Entirely out of season.”

“I’ve been up on a broom many times,” said Jill, “and I’ve seen Ollivander’s house many times. I was up on a broom yesterday, and I saw this ridge. This tree was not there yesterday.”

The children began to creep forward a bit more cautiously, as if whatever made the tree was still around. And yet, Cormac far ahead of them seemed as unbothered as ever.

Until he crested the ridge, and cried aloud. In the next moment he dashed forward, passing over the ridge and out of sight.

“Was that a good cry or a bad cry?” said Jill.

“Good,” said Violet. “Although, dear Cormac might not actually know if he’s running into danger. We might be running into it ourselves.”

The mighty Sparrow can protect us from anything,” said Jocasta.

◊◊ NO DOUBT. ALTHOUGH, I ADMIT I CAN’T PROTECT YOU FROM SOMETHING I CAN’T SEE. AND CORMAC JUST RUSHED INTO SOMETHING I CAN’T SEE. AND HE WILL GET HIMSELF KILLED AND IT WILL BE MY FAULT. LET’S GET AFTER HIM. ◊◊

As they crested the ridge where the road descended into Hogsmeade, the reason for the existence of the tree was not necessarily revealed, but it began to make more sense, in the way that sheep make sense if there are a dozen of them. For there below them, surrounding the fabled Tree of Ollivander, were hundreds, nay, thousands, of trees dwarfed by it – trees of a size the elders might say was usual, but still quite a bit taller than anything Sparrow knew, and all of them in leaf.

The children stopped in their tracks.

“Big,” said Jill.

“Green,” said Jocasta.

“Impossible,” said Violet.

“Well worth studying!” said Miranda, and she shoved them forward.

The children ran down the road, hoping Cormac hadn’t been eaten by some manner of giant venomous tentacula.

 

 

As she stood under the trees, Sparrow felt an old longing awaken within her. She had been in a place like this, once upon a time, when Jill’s family had managed to win a ticket to a Paradise Garden and brought her along. It had been quite the arresting experience, to see so much green in one place. The garden had not been especially large -- none of them were – but as Sparrow had stood beneath the leaves, and gazed down the rows of trees to the shadowed walls in the distance, she had wondered what it would look like if the trees could go on forever.

This place was not quite the same as going on forever, for the road itself stood unimpeded down to the far end of the village, and there was daylight at the end of it. Likewise if Sparrow looked between the trees she could see some daylight at about the same distance. Yet, for the most part the view north, east, and west became a green haze that left the far distance indistinct. On a day like today, with scant sunlight, the effect was pronounced.

Hogsmeade stood in the shadow of trees that, by all rights, should not have been here. Between the mighty trunks sat the ancient stone and brick buildings that she remembered, the half-timbered cottages and shops. Around other trunks lay scattered timber and plaster, as if they had grown right through the houses without stopping or slowing down.

In the shadow of this sudden forest there still strode the residents of the only fully magical town in Britain.

Or what might have been them. What was probably them. Had to be them. Look, there was Mr. Cuthalion, and there was old Caritus. They were all the same people – simply looking more shady than normal. Out of the sunlight, they looked as though they were in far deeper shadows than what the leaves gave them.

When they stepped into the sunlight, they vanished entirely.

And they were turning their heads to gaze upon the children, with eyes too shadowed to see. They were moving towards the children, all of them, all around, getting close. Too close for the children to back away now, except to huddle together.

Before Sparrow could raise her shield, a cry rang out in the distance.

Accio rapscallions!”

Suddenly all of the children were pulled with great force down the pathway, towards a short woman standing in front of a massive trunk. Struggle as she might, there was little Sparrow could do to resist, for, being caught off-guard and frightened, it was difficult to think of any response.

Although, when Sparrow was released from the spell, she saw that Jill and Miranda were both still halfway down the path, eyes glowing, as though they had managed to break free after all.

“Stop resisting!” cried the woman.

“Stuff it!” shouted Miranda.

“I mean get your sorry arses over here!” The woman yanked open a door set in between the massive roots. “Or you won’t have any left! Come on!”

Jill didn’t need telling twice, but Miranda still hesitated, until one of the shadowy people touched her shoulder. Whatever she felt in that moment, she no longer needed telling twice, but bolted into the tree before Jill had even got there.

“Inside!” said the woman, and herded the rest of the children forward.

 

“Sorry about all that,” said the woman, as she sat down heavily in a chair. “Haven’t exactly figured out how to deal with all of this yet.”

The interior of the tree was difficult to comprehend in the dim light of the lantern. The light of the lantern made some things clear – Ivy’s auburn hair, for example, as well as curving walls covered in bark, hung with photographs, a floor laid over with carpeting, and a low table in the center surrounded by chairs. Sparrow could see that this was some kind of front parlor. But where the ceiling was, and what that other pitch-black doorway led to, and why the walls appeared to have twigs growing inward, was a question Sparrow couldn’t answer yet.

Nor could Sparrow understand why the light of the lantern seemed to reach just a bit lower than it should have.

Nor why the table had already been set with tea.

“I have a question,” said Jocasta.

“Please,” said the woman. “Take a seat and I’ll try to answer whatever questions you have.”

All the children sat, none of them willing to fully relax, nor to venture speaking. Violet and Cormac sat rather close together, though not looking quite as nervous as they did in McGonagall’s office. Jocasta sat as close as she usually did to Jill, with much more tension in her posture this time. As for Miranda, she was as tense as Jocasta, but she looked more distracted than anything.

“Go on,” said the woman.

Jocasta cleared her throat. “Yes. My question is very simple: What the hell.”

The woman sighed. “Simple enough to ask, impossible to answer completely. Would you care to be more specific? And would you care for some tea, I didn’t just make it for myself.”

“Yes,” said Cormac, “thank you.” He poured himself a cup. “So let’s begin with the easy questions. To whom do we have the pleasure of speaking?”

“Ivy,” said the woman. “Ivy Ollivander.”

“Ah ha,” said Cormac. “Not the specific person I wished to meet here, but then, I was unaware that Gianveer had a wife. Pardon me if I sound offensive, but – ”

“Old Garrick wouldn’t let me marry Gianveer unless I was an accomplished wandmaker, so I have, in fact, learned quite a bit about the craft. I can answer any wand-related questions you have.”

“Yes. Of course.” Cormac’s face turned red. He said nothing more.

The remainder of the children had not moved to pour any tea.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” said Ivy. “Nothing in this house will bite you. That is why I brought you all in here in the first place. I know Cormac came here for the sake of asking about wands – ”

“How?” said Miranda.

“I have my ways.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

“Please,” said Jocasta. “It’s not hard to guess that the Headmistress would have been giving you a heads-up about Cormac for a while. Nor would it be hard for an owl to find your house, even amidst this mess.”

“Ah, well.” Ivy set her tea down. “This mess wasn’t here when I went to bed. Like I said, I haven’t figured out how to deal with all this yet. I haven’t had time! And I haven’t been able to find Gianveer either. All I’ve got to go on is that he always told me magic could run wild if it wasn’t safely contained in a wand. Well that’s what it does normally, right? The wand is a focus. So maybe the wand he was making blew up! It was supposed to make plants grow faster anyway.”

“So this was all an accident,” said Jill. “No…nefarious fiend behind all this, who would cause all this mess to vanish if he were defeated.”

“Perhaps not”, said Ivy. She picked up her tea once more and sipped it, before continuing, “Real life is more complicated than our storybooks.”

Trees that grew in the space of moments,” said Miranda. “I should like to say I must obtain one of their seeds, but for all we know, that could prove a disaster. Returning to the question Jocasta raised – what exactly happened to everyone in the town?”

Ivy shook her head. “I cannot say exactly. This is not any spell effect I am familiar with.”

“Nor anything I have heard of,” said Violet. “But, if it is true that magic can run wild, then its combinations would likely have unforeseen consequences. Like the destruction of numerous houses, and the probable death of the people therein.”

“Probable,” said Ivy. “I was not able to find any bodies within the ruins.”

“Talking of bodies,” said Cormac. “And getting to my question about wands. All of us here are under the impression that the Summoning Charm does not work on living bodies. How on earth did you manage to drag us towards you? Were we mistaken about that particular charm? Are we speaking to a far more powerful Wizard than any of us had guessed?”

Ivy chuckled. “You come close to flattering me, young Master McKinnon. But I do not deserve such a reputation. I am only an experimenter, like Miranda here.”

“Wait,” said Miranda, “I didn’t even tell you my name yet. None of us did.”

“As I said, I have my ways. Now, in this case, I am building on the efforts of Lysander Lovegood, who, following the concepts of his mother, came to believe that there were more ways to make wands than what old Garrick knew. So, he took a heartstring from the family dog – ”

“He what!” said Cormac.

“After it was dead,” said Ivy. “Please. The Lovegoods are strange, not heartless. They are willing to venture into areas of study that most Wizards dismiss. Sometimes it bears fruit. In this case, he placed a heartstring from the family dog within a stick he had found in the woods. The result was a wand that proved fanatically loyal to its owner, obedient to the rest of the family, and impossible to use for anyone else. It was effective for summoning charms and for the locomotor spell, as well as locating lost objects, but not much else. And if you had any manner of biscuit in your pocket, you were liable to find it missing.”

“Kind of sounds like the family dog was back again,” said Cormac. “But…that’s a non-magical core. And it wasn’t wandwood either.”

“Ah well.” Ivy chuckled. “Perhaps Lorcan was very lucky, and stumbled upon a stick that had fallen off a suitable tree. As for the core…I like to think it was magical in its own way. Perhaps it was simply that the dog had picked up a bit of magic from the household. And yet – love has its own magic, does it not? Saved our world, it did.”

AND MINE.

Ivy looked around in confusion, until everyone pointed to Jocasta.

“Ah. Yes. Well. Think of the love a dog has for a family that loves it. Endless and unconditional. If it is true that love imparts its own magic, then logically the heart of a happy dog should be a magical core of its own – not as strong as a unicorn hair, but enough to have demonstrable effect.”

“So what,” said Jocasta. “Dog heartstrings are also magical cores?”

“Getting there,” said Ivy. “Now, Lorcan and I had about the same thoughts regarding that wand. But then he went and stuck a bit of stone from a wall within some proper wandwood, and got a wand that could cast a shield stronger than anything – maybe even more than the shield of dear Sparrow here.” She nodded to Sparrow. “Don’t get envious now.”

◊◊ IF A WAND ONLY DOES ONE THING, I COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE ENVIOUS. ◊◊

Ivy looked perplexed, until Sparrow pointed to herself.

“Ah ha,” said Ivy. “Well, are you sure you don’t want the wand as backup anyway?”

◊◊ EXCUSE ME? ◊◊

Ivy drew a wand out of her pocket. It was fairly short, and in this light looked grayish. “Lorcan couldn’t find a use for it, even though I told him he’d enjoy not having to worry about getting his eyebrows burned off again. I’m sure you could use this thing to cast a shield the very world could not break.”

◊◊ I…CANNOT FATHOM THE IDEA OF BEING THE MISTRESS OF MORE THAN ONE WAND. ◊◊

“Oh come now,” said Jocasta. “Surely you of all people know how to be promiscuous.

◊◊ THAT IS FAIR. LET US SAY, THEN, THAT MY CURRENT WAND COULD BECOME JEALOUS. ◊◊

“I’ll take it then,” said Jill. “Could be useful when I can’t manage to cast a shield otherwise.”

Just don’t rely on that forever,” said Violet. “The O.W.L. examiners might at look at you very strangely if you take the test using two different wands.”

Jill shrugged.

“Getting to my point,” said Ivy, “the chip from the wall was not from a living being. So how on earth did it manage to have a magical effect? This is what Gianveer and I have been puzzling over. Surely you couldn’t just stuff anything in a wand and call it good? But then we made another wand with a core of beetle wings, and it was able to levitate objects much larger than our usual limits, as well as carve wood to a great degree of delicacy. Anyone want that one?” She drew another wand out of her pocket. It was polished enough to shine in the lantern light.

Cormac raised his hand.

Ivy tossed the wand to him, then continued. “Now, the next one we tried was a bunch of rose petals, and –”

“Let me guess,” said Miranda. “The wand makes plants grow faster.”

“You’re beginning to get the picture,” said Ivy. “For that, I am willing to grant you a wand. It’s got rose petals in.”

“Sure,” said Miranda, “Sure. Why not.

Ivy drew a wand of green wood from her pocket and tossed it to Miranda. “Now where was I? Oh yes – ”

◊◊ GOT ANYTHING FOR VIOLET? ◊◊

“I’m getting to that! Sheesh!” Ivy drew another wand out of her pocket. “Maplewood. This one, we put a cat’s heartstring in – ”

“Not the family cat too!” said Cormac.

“Please,” said Ivy. “It was a cat we found dead in the street. I daresay the wand has had a better life than the cat. It seems to be very good at locating lost objects and it can point the way home. But you don’t use the silly thing, it just acts when it pleases. Sometimes you can’t find it at all!

“I should hope for something more reliable,” said Violet.

“Sounds more like my style,” said Jocasta, waving her hand lazily. “Give.”

“Ah ah ah!” said Ivy. “What’s the magic word.”

Jocasta rolled her eyes. “Please.

“Good girl.” Ivy tossed her the wand. “Violet, I have something you might like better anyway.” She drew a wand out of her pocket that looked shiny enough to be made of metal. “Black Walnut, core of glass. Quite potent with magnification spells and casting light. Too potent, perhaps. Be careful with it, I nearly set this place on fire once.”

Violet nodded. Ivy tossed the wand to her and said, “Now, does anyone see where I’m going with all of this? What is the common factor between these wands?”

“Don’t look now,” said Jocasta, “but I think we stumbled into a classroom despite our best efforts.”

Technically we’re in class all the time now,” said Violet. “As for the wands…each of them appears to mimic the characteristics of their core. Glass that focuses sunlight, old wall-stone that resists intruders, beetles that chew through wood…I’ve got an idea but it still seems impossible. For all I know you’re just having us on.”

“Am I?” said Ivy. “Give your own wand a try then.”

Violet shrugged, and pointed her wand into the darkness overhead. “Lumos Solem!”

A beam of pure white light shot out of the wand and, for a brief moment, drove away the darkness above. Or most of it, at any rate. There was something far overhead that remained pitch-black, something that clung to the wall with more legs than Sparrow had expected. Something whose four eyes could now be seen, glowing white in the darkness.

Miranda’s eyes began to glow blue, as if in return for the sight.

“Ah ha,” said Ivy. “That’s where he’s gone.”

“Nothing in this house will bite us?” said Cormac.

Ivy shook her head.

“I imagine you don’t mind if he bites you,” said Jocasta.

Ivy nodded.

“I was joking,” said Jocasta.

Ivy only replied with a knowing smirk.

Jocasta scowled. “I thought I was joking.”

“Perhaps you were. As for Gianveer, he’ll come down eventually. Back to you, Violet – you see what I am referring to now?”

Violet nodded. “I can at least believe that you have achieved a significant advancement in the construction of wands. But I still hesitate to say how this works.”

“Think of it this way,” said Jill. “Cormac’s told me that wands might really have lives of their own. Maybe the life is in the core. Maybe whatever the core was good at doing, it remembers, and tries to keep doing. As if there’s a little bit of magic in everything, as there is in a dog’s heartstring, and all it needs is a focus.”

Cormac nudged Jill. “Now you’re starting to think like a wandmaker.”

“Yeah well.” Jill snorted. “I know very well that my wand has a mind of its own.”

◊◊ AS DOES MINE. SHE’S VERY STRICT WITH ME. AS I SAID, I DO NOT THINK SHE WOULD ACCEPT THE PRESENCE OF ANY OTHER WAND – SAVE THE ONE SHE SEEKS, PERHAPS TO THE NEGLECT OF ALL ELSE. ◊◊

Ivy raised an eyebrow. “Your wand’s pining for her true love, is that it?”

Sparrow’s face grew hot.

“I would not frame it as such,” said Cormac. “I consider Sparrow and Jill’s wands to be twin sisters, of a sort. Always near each other from the moment they were made to the moment Jill ran away from Sparrow, and then…together again, and reportedly inseparable. One wonders what the Priori Incantatem did to them.” Cormac explained what had happened within the courtyard.

Ivy’s face as this story was told only betrayed a hint of emotion when Sparrow explained the bit about the hands on her shoulders. In that moment she looked intrigued.

“Inseparable,” said Ivy. “Hm. May I see this effect?”

Jill and Sparrow exchanged glances.

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” said Jill. “Cormac’s not kidding about the inseparability. Nor is Sparrow very separable from her own wand.”

“Please?”

“And you wouldn’t be able to move the wands either.”

“Pleeeaase?”

Jill rolled her eyes. “Sparrow, what do you think?”

◊◊ I CAN STAND TO BE AT LEAST A FEW INCHES FROM MY OWN WAND. ◊◊

“Alright.” Jill drew her wand and tossed it over the table at Sparrow. At the same time Sparrow tossed her wand towards Jill. The two met in the air with a sharp clack and stayed there.

Ivy peered at the wands. “Dearie me,” she said. “This is…something I’ve only seen once before, and I had hoped Garrick could understand how dangerous it could be. Tell me, Sparrow – when he gave you this particular wand, what exactly did he look like?”

Sparrow put on a toothy grin as wide as she could, and opened her eyes as wide as she could.

Cormac and Violet had not moved, nor had their own expressions changed, yet their hands had found each other and they were not letting go.

“Please,” said Jocasta, “tell me he didn’t look exactly like that.”

Sparrow nodded.

“I feared as much,” said Ivy. “Jill, was he the same for you?”

Jill nodded.

“Then I have a better understanding of why these wands make me feel so odd.” She shook a wand out of her sleeve and lit its end with a flick. “Violet, may I see your walnut wand, please?”

Violet tossed the walnut wand to Ivy. Ivy held up her lit wand and the walnut wand, shining a soft light on the two hanging in midair. “If I examine these carvings closely,” she said, “I can see they line up with each other, continuing on one side precisely where the other leaves off. And if I examine the wood grain – ” she muttered a word, and a circle of air was suddenly filled with the image of magnified wood. “It appears as if the wood grain matches as closely as the carvings.” She shook the walnut wand and the image of the magnified wood took on a purplish tint. “Precisely the same amount of aging in the finish. Two wands, carved from the same piece of wood, made at the same time. And containing a hair from the same creature.”

“Sounds a lot like how identical twin human embryos form,” said Cormac.

“And twins work best together,” said Miranda. “If I am not mistaken.”

“Inseparable,” said Jill. “And one wand bears the sword and the other bears the shield, so that together they cannot be moved. Unless they can lower their guard.”

“But how to help them avoid getting agitated in the first place?” said Cormac.

Jill shrugged. “Meditation removes their agitation, but I can’t meditate all the time. Can I?”

“I have an idea,” said Jocasta. “Get a dog.”

Jill raised an eyebrow.

“What?”

“You want a dog to chew on my wand, is that it?”

“No, I mean – look. The one thing I do know about muggles is that they seem to value pets for emotional support as much as Wizards do. So if Mrs. Ollivander here happens to have that wand with the dog hair in it – ”

“Heartstring,” said Ivy. “But yes, I do.”

“Well then there you go. That’s something Sparrow’s wand could have as a companion when her other half isn’t around.”

Jill’s eyes lit up. “Do you mean to say, I would not have to worry about my wand making my pocket look incredibly embarrassing?”

Jocasta shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”

Ivy drew out of her pocket, not a wand as anyone would describe it, but a plain, ordinary, well-chewed forearm’s-length of twisting branch.

“That?” said Cormac. “That’s a wand?”

“I should have specified,” said Ivy. “Lorcan found the stick many years ago, and his dog loved it all his life. One might say that part of the dog’s heart was already in the stick. So then, let us see – ” She tapped the two wands that were hanging in the air. In the next moment they clattered to the table. “There. I daresay the stick will give them both a little more reassurance. Will you let it be yours, Sparrow? It needs a new family. Such as yours, here.”

◊◊ HOW DID YOU -- NEVER MIND. ◊◊ Sparrow took the wand and placed it in a pocket of her robes. ◊◊ I DARESAY WE HAVE LEARNED FAR MORE THAN WE EXPECTED HERE. ◊◊

“Indeed we have,” said Cormac. “It appears that a wand does not require wandwood after all. Although I would appreciate knowing where you and Mr. Lovegood find a reliable supply that is inexpensive enough for experimentation.”

“Oh,” said Ivy. “We have our sources.” She nodded to the wall. “As long as we’re polite about asking.”

Sparrow realized with a start that the twigs she had idly noticed before were now crawling slowly up the wall.

“How about that,” said Miranda. “I’ve never had a chance to see a bowtruckle in the wild. So to speak.”

“I have a final question,” said Cormac.

“Go on,” said Ivy.

“How did you make the wand that summoned us to you?”

“Beech wood and core of woven human hair,” said Ivy. “Mine and Gianveer’s.”

“Ah ha,” said Cormac. “A core of human magnetism.”

◊◊ I HAVE ONE FINAL QUESTION AS WELL. WHAT WILL WE DO FOR HOGSMEADE? WHAT CAN WE DO FOR ITS PEOPLE? ◊◊

“Study them,” said Violet. “From a safe distance. Doesn’t seem like there’s much more anyone can do at the moment. Although I’m sure Professor Longbottom will be fascinated to hear about trees that grow overnight.”

“What can we do about them?” said Jill. “For all we know, if we step out the door…hm. I’ve got one idea.” She turned to Ivy. “Mrs. Ollivander, this has been a fascinating discussion, and thank you very much for all you’ve given us. Is there any way you can give us safe passage from this place?”

“I have an idea,” said Ivy. “But you will have to move fast.”

“Not a challenge,” said Jill. “Not for me at least. But that means I must take care of something first. If you will excuse me one moment.” She rose, and stood over Jocasta, gazing into her eyes.

Jocasta’s expression was one of terrified eagerness. She gave a small nod.

Jill kissed her hard on the mouth.

For all that Jocasta had looked terrified, by the time it was over she did not look displeased. More like delerious.

◊◊ WHAT ABOUT ME? ◊◊

††††† OH, I’VE GOT PLENTY OF TIME FOR YOU, MY DEAR. ASSUMING YOU CAN HANDLE IT. †††††

Jocasta giggled. “Save yourself, Sparrow. Flee while you can.”

◊◊ YES, I THINK IT’S TIME WE BE GOING. ALRIGHT, IVY. LET US SEE HOW YOUR IDEA WORKS. ◊◊

Through Hogsmeade sprinted six young Wizards, along a path bathed in sunlight, under a canopy that had been split by some carefully-applied wind magic, a canopy kitting itself back together even as the children ran.

Six children stood outside the forest of Hogsmeade.

Violet was staring at a wide circle of air, which showed an image of many shadowy people beneath the trees, standing there, just on the edge of the shade, as if not daring to move beyond it.

“This is going to be another headache for McGonagall,” said Cormac.

“Bit of an embarrassment for Professor Clearwater as well,” said Jill. “She sure didn’t warn us about this.”

“Well we survived didn’t we?" Cormac nodded his head towards the castle. "Come on, we should be going.”

Sparrow turned away from the sorry scene, finding a cold comfort in the shape of the little dell as it rose toward the castle grounds, the road winding through fields of mud and scattered brush.

Warmer comfort was a light kiss on the head from Jocasta.

And then Jill scooping her up. “My turn,” said Jill. She nuzzled Sparrow’s cheek.

Sparrow idly wondered why Jill did not give her any kisses as she had long ago, but it was a thought mostly lost in the sheer heat that a single nuzzle imparted.

“Oh ho,” said Jocasta. “Now Jill is also dating two people at once. Just don’t leave a burn on her, dear.”

“Talking of burns,” said Miranda. Her voice was perfectly even, but her eyes were still glowing blue. “This is not looking good. Or feeling good.”

Miranda’s left shoulder had not got off lightly from its brief brush with the villager. The cloth of her robe had dissolved where the shadowy fingers touched it, likewise the shirt under it, right down to the skin.

“Let me see,” said Jocasta. She reached up to brush the exposed skin of Miranda’s shoulder. “Oh! Oh my goodness, oh dear. Miranda, would you kneel please.”

“Uh – ”

THERE’S BLOOD ON MY FINGERS AND YOU’RE TOO TALL FOR ME TO EXAMINE OTHERWISE.

Miranda knelt. And as Sparrow observed, there was indeed a fair bit of blood on Jocasta’s fingers, and more after she prodded Miranda’s shoulder beneath the intact cloth. She ran her wand over the remaining cloth and muttered a word, then ripped the cloth open in a line, before Miranda even could protest.

Miranda’s shoulder was of about the same color as the rest of her, slightly more pale for being always hidden from the sun, just enough of a color contrast to see what had happened – what was still happening. The poor girl’s skin was pitch black in a wide patch on her shoulder, and the color was creeping outward, one tiny millimeter at a time. A trickle of blood was seeping down her arm, staining the cloth of her shirt sleeve.

“Oh,” said Miranda, still in that perfectly even tone. “Bit of a sticky wicket, it seems.”

“Vulnera Sanentur,” said Jocasta, as she held her wand against Miranda’s shoulder.

The patch of pitch blackness began to creep inward.

But then it moved outward again.

“Vulerna Sanentur!”

Once again the patch began to shrink. Once again it stopped shrinking.

“VULERNA SANENTUR!”

The patch shrank a bit faster this time. But then it sprang back to where it began.

“God dammit,” said Jocasta. “God dammit, I thought I was getting better at this. Miranda, can you still move your arm?”

“Let’s see,” said Miranda. She tried to shrug, and only managed to make it halfway. Her arm dangled at her side. “Nope.”

Jocasta’s eyes began to glow green. She slapped her hand down upon the wound. VULERNA SANENTUR!

Miranda sucked air through her teeth as the wound began to shrink once more. “Sorry,” she said with a slight edge to her voice, “I think that cure is only slightly better than the disease.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY BETTER IDEAS!

“First of all,” said Cormac, “We have a wand that focuses sunlight, correct? Violet, time for you to shine.”

Violet drew the Walnut Wand. “This is no time for puns, Cormac my friend.”

“Just see if that Lumos Solem thing works on this one.”

Violet frowned. “Focused sunlight. Hm. Might also hurt a bit. Or blind Miranda if my hand slips. I…have a better idea. Assuming the wand can reach that far? Hm. But two of them can. This will be a little complicated. Sparrow, we will need that stick of yours now.”

Sparrow raised an eyebrow.

“Just tell it to go and get a teacher. Someone. Anyone.”

“How’s that supposed to work?” said Jill.

“It’s got the heart of a dog,” said Violet. “If it can fetch things it can also fetch people. Yes? Try it.”

Sparrow took the stick out of her pocket, touched it to her forehead and closed her eyes. ◊◊ GO GET HELP, BOY. GO ON NOW. ◊◊

She opened her eyes and tossed the stick away. ◊◊ FETCH! ◊◊

The stick sped straight upward and out of sight.

“Oh wonderful,” said Jill. “It decided to chase a butterfly-shaped cloud.”

“That still works for step one,” said Violet. “Now, step two is for you two to put your wands together.”

Sparrow and Jill tossed their wands out of their hands. The wands clacked together and hung suspended in the air.

“Alright,” said Violet. “Now, I need both of you to cast ventus straight upward.”

“Are you sure?” said Jill. “The effect could be bigger than you intend.”

“Losing feeling in my arm,” said Miranda. “Hurry it up with whatever you’ve got planned.”

I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!

For Jocasta had kept at the healing spell, never giving up, never tiring. But in each moment after lifting her wand, the damage creeped outward a little more.

So when Sparrow reached out a hand to Jocasta’s own shoulder, she stiffened, but did not cease her efforts.

◊◊ COME ON, JOCASTA. IF WE WANT THIS SPELL TO BE BIG ENOUGH, I THINK WE NEED YOUR HAND ON THE WAND AS WELL. ◊◊

I AM NOT GOING TO STOP TRYING!

◊◊ AT LEAST TAKE MY HAND THEN. ◊◊

That, Jocasta could do.

And together, Sparrow and Jill cast the spell.

The resulting stream of wind did indeed reach all the way to the clouds, and through them, clearing a sizeable patch of sky. Sunlight streamed down upon six children who, until that moment, had been growing more and more terrified.

In the bright sunlight, the wound on Miranda’s shoulder finally began to shrink rapidly.

But the patch of sky was shrinking, as the clouds swirled around it.

Jocasta met Sparrow’s eyes, and nodded. Then she put a finger on the floating wands, above Sparrow’s hand and below Jill’s. And together, all three girls cast the spell.

This time, the resulting roar of wind deafened Sparrow, and opened patch of blue sky nearly a mile wide.

“Thank you,” said Violet. “And now for the final step.” She raised the Walnut Wand and cried, “Focus in Solem!”

The sunlight upon Miranda’s shoulder grew brighter, and her wound began to fade, as did the glow from her eyes.

“Alright,” said Miranda, her voice even once more. “Pain’s gone. That’s, uh…good teamwork. Medical solutions on the fly. McGonagall – cough – McGonagall would be proud.”

Jocasta hugged Miranda from behind. “Don’t you dare die on me now when I thought you were alright.”

“Woah!” said Miranda as she stiffened. “Warn me about that next time. Besides, the cough was a joke.”

“Really.” Jocasta lightly smacked Miranda on the other shoulder. “Don’t play with my heart like that, girl.”

“What if I told you my arm remains immobile? That is no jest.”

“Oh for Heaven’s sake!”

“It’s fine,” said Miranda. “Unless it is not. Violet, if you would be willing to let the sunlight go?”

Violet put the Walnut Wand back in her pocket, and the bright patch on Miranda’s shoulder faded to match the rest of the sunlight. The wound did not return.

“Thank you,” said Miranda. “Now, as I said, I still can’t move my arm. So if the Hospital Wing can’t help me, as I suspect they won’t be able to – ah, but here comes someone now.”

High above and streaking towards the children was a distinctive sight – Cordelia Clearwater on a broom, long sleeves and long hair trailing well behind her in the wind of her swift flight.

She landed in front of the children and immediately moved to examine Miranda’s shoulder, and nodded, evidently satisfied with the results of everyone’s efforts.

Three seconds later the Fetching Stick bonked her on the head.

She whirled and, seeing the old stick on the ground, looked thoroughly vexed.

◊◊ HERE BOY. ◊◊

“Excuse me?” said Professor Clearwater, as the stick jumped up and flew to Sparrow’s hand.

◊◊ I HAVE APPARENTLY BECOME THE OWNER OF A VERY GOOD DOG. UNLESS THE STICK HIT YOU IN THE FACE WHILE YOU WERE ON THE WAY HERE? ◊◊

“I’ve been circling the area for a while. But yes, your stick did smack me in the forehead. Pointed in your direction and then shot off towards the castle. Thank goodness that sunbeam made you all easier to pinpoint.”

In the next moment Professor Budge landed heavily in the mud.

“For heaven’s sake,” said Professor Clearwater, “all around the world and you still don’t know how to ride a broom?”

Flying carpets and Apparition are both so much more simple,” said Professor Budge. “Now does anyone want to tell me why I had a ghost drag me out of my office? Something about Professor Longbottom and a stick, but I lost the damn stick on the way, and Professor Longbottom isn’t here. Now, where’s the village gone? Where did all those trees come from? Sparrow, is this your doing?”

Sparrow shook her head.

“Do you recall what I told you this morning?” said Professor Clearwater.

“Crystal ball, Hogsmeade disappears into a lake of trees. Right. Pity divination never tells you why something happens. Or when.”

“That’s up to the Wizard to decide. But it would help if we knew exactly what did happen. So, children, care to explain what mortal peril you faced this time?”

"I don't know," said Jill. "Care to explain why you didn't tell us this was a known possibility?"

"I don't know," said Professor Clearwater. "Care to tell me why you didn't mention you were going down to Hogsmeade?"

"I assumed McGonagall would tell you," said Cormac. "Maybe she forgot to tell you. Anyway..." He launched into an explanation of the morning's events, the rest of the children contibuting where they could.

When the story was finished, neither teacher looked as perplexed as Sparrow had anticipated. Professor Budge, for his part, looked grim. He had, in fact, encountered similar circumstances in the Canadian Rockies up near the Yukon River. Nasty business, not worth going into detail over. What a pity that good old Gianveer had fallen so far. As for Professor Clearwater, she looked equally grim, but made no comment.

The two professors mounted their brooms and levitated Miranda between them. She gave her friends a wink, then was up and away towards the castle, leaving behind behind five rattled people, one of whom clung to her girlfriends closely all the way home.

Miranda’s wound did not re-appear, yet for all the spells and salves and potions that Madame Abbot tried, the girl’s arm did not regain its function. After a certain point,Madame Pomfrey had to gently remind her that it would be dangerous to continue, lest one magical effect mix with another. So the most that could be done was to put Miranda's arm in a sling and tell her to come in tomorrow morning.

Miranda did not ask why everyone was following her on the way back to the Gryffindor common room. At a certain point she turned around and said, “Alright, so we are now out of their earshot, and I can tell you what I want to try without insulting anyone's expertise. Because I think I can come up with a potion they don't have.”

Jocasta snorted. “That goes without saying.”

“And I am currently physically impaired. So Cormac, Violet, I will need you for the more delicate parts of the process.”

“Not me?” said Jocasta.

“I need a level head and a steady hand,” said Miranda. “What I felt from your hand back there on the road…I think that if you were to be involved you might be nervous enough to hesitate in critical moments.”

MIRANDA, I CAN’T LEAVE YOU LIKE THIS. NOT WITH THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOUR WOUND COULD COME BACK.

“I know,” said Miranda. “You are certainly free to watch. I could hardly banish you from my sight! But I really don't think you can help me with this. And you have your own business to attend to, yes? Tonight is the night for gathering dew. So let your loved ones be enough for you tonight.” She patted Jocasta's head.

“But you’re – fine. Fine.” Jocasta turned and stalked away.

“That was a bit cold,” said Cormac.

“It was indeed. Yet necessary. If she hates me tonight then she will worry less.

Cormac shook his head slowly. “Doesn’t seem likely.”

“Nonetheless, we must set to work. Come on.” Miranda set off at a brisk pace, not even checking to see if the rest were following her.

Jocasta did not come down to the dungeons to see Miranda’s attempt at potioncraft. The most that she could say to Sparrow, from a long distance away, was that she would remain in her quarters alone until it was time to gather the dew.

Professor Slughorn thought this disappointing, as it was not often that one had the opportunity to see a daring attempt at improvised potioncraft, much less an attempt from someone who actually had a chance of making it work. A better chance with him around, of course, for the trickier questions about how much to stir, how much to grind the Snorckack horn, and the precise degree of temperature beneath the cauldron. With him around it would probably not blow up in everyone’s face.

Though the fact that Professor Clearwater was also watching the proceedings with clear intent did not bode well. Nor the part where she muttered to Sparrow that the bridge ought to be avoided tonight.

So Sparrow thought it wise to view the proceedings, just in case they needed a shield. And when Percival stuck his head in the door, and requested a private moment with Sparrow, she was reluctant to leave. She had to trust that all would be well, and that between Slughorn, Clearwater, and Jill, the three potioncrafters would have at least one person able to render rescue if it became necessary.

So, after an exasperating climb to the fifth floor, Sparrow found herself sitting in a curious space – it was the Room of Requirement, she knew the door well, but as for the interior this time, that was something she had never seen before.

Amidst a room that was otherwise dark, four green marble pillars stood in a square. In the center of the square was a square wooden table, with one chair on either side. The ceiling above the table was also square, yet recessed in steps, each step glowing dimly. It was just enough light to read by.

On one side of the table sat Percival Bulstrode. Sparrow picked up her chair and moved it to the side facing his left, then sat down, and gave Percival an innocent, eager look.

Percival shook his head. “Come on. We have to do this properly. If I’m not unsubtly trying to intimidate you then it’s no fun.”

◊◊ THERE ARE FEW PEOPLE OR THINGS THAT CAN INTIMIDATE ME, PERCIVAL. ◊◊

“Ah ha,” said Percival. “What if those things, say, went after your family?”

◊◊ WHAT ARE YOU IMPLYING. ◊◊

“Nothing!” said Percival, putting up his hands in response to Sparrow’s sudden glare. “I’m not implying anything. I’m saying someone will go after your family at some point, because of how loud you’ve been in support of your own ideals.”

◊◊ THAT IS…A POSSIBILITY I SHOULD HAVE CONSIDERED. ◊◊

“But you didn’t,” said Percival. “Because you’re Sparrow Jones, and nothing breaks your bones, so you don’t have to think about threats, just react to them in time. So you don’t think about threats to other people either.”

◊◊ IF THAT WERE TRUE I WOULD BE UTTERLY USELESS FOR ANYONE BESIDES ME. ◊◊

“Well you might find yourself useless anyway, the way you’re headed. You’re headed straight into politics with bold idealism, and every cynical bastard who sees you in action will think you’re far too naïve to think that anyone could kneecap you from behind.”

◊◊ ARE YOU ALSO CYNICAL? ◊◊

“I am willing to consider the depths to which people sink.”

◊◊ AND I AM NOT. ◊◊

“Precisely. Never one to believe anyone could be underhanded. So – I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you haven’t actually told your parents about your infamous outburst in September?”

◊◊ OH, I DID. ◊◊

“So they have some idea that you’re starting your whole mess, and they might be able to understand why there are a lot of curious people in their neighborhood who duck out of sight whenever they come by.”

◊◊ IF THREATS ARE BEING MADE AGAINST MY FAMILY, I OUGHT TO GET DOWN TO LONDON RIGHT NOW. ◊◊

“Not like that!” said Percival. “I just mean there’s a security detail around your family’s house right now. See, I contacted Professor McGonagall and – ”

◊◊ I APPRECIATE YOUR HELP AND YOUR ANTICIPATION OF THINGS I DID NOT CONSIDER, BUT I AM QUITE ANNOYED THAT YOU INITIATED SUCH A THING WITHOUT CONSULTING ME OR WARNING ME. ◊◊

“ – and she had already arranged for such a thing. Because she knows hot to actually protect people, and that means being willing to consider the possibility that someone might play dirty.”

◊◊ OH. ◊◊

“And in the case of the security detail – what if someone decides those people are the first thing to attack if they want to reach you? What if one of the aurors has a slightly sordid history that could be fuel for blackmail? Or known weaknesses that could be played upon? What if the aurors are turned against each other? What then? Well, that’s a horrible thought, but someone has to think it, if they want to ward against it.”

◊◊ YOU ARE CONSIDERABLY LESS BRIGHT-HEARTED THAN WHEN YOU OFFERED TO STAND BY MY SIDE, BACK IN JANUARY. DID MY SLANDER AGAINST YOU HURT YOU EVEN MORE THAN I HAD THOUGHT? ◊◊

“Oh, that’s – ” he waved his hand in a shooing motion. “Long story. It wasn’t what you thought it was. Like I said, talk to Wilhelmina if you want to know the details. She can explain certain muggle concepts better than me. But I have always been a little cynical. Maybe I’m just getting moreso because I fear for you. Look – I think it would help you a lot if you could actually get a sense of how cynicism can be useful and where it works. So what I wanted to suggest here is that you join the Slug Club.”

◊◊ THE SLUG CLUB. THE PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ACT CHUMMY WITH EACH OTHER SO THEY CAN ALL SORT OUT WHAT MINISTRY POSITIONS THEY WILL GIVE EACH OTHER AFTER GRADUATING. ◊◊

“Ah ha!” Percival clapped his hands. “Now you’re getting it! Yes, that’s a big part of it. But the point is to learn politics. Sordid politics. Horse-trading, arm-twisting, cajoling, subtly maneuvering people into a social corner, and so forth. Good way to spy without being a spy, and leverage people to get things done without having to go to open war. Build coalitions and gain allies. You can’t do that just by being flashy and noble.”

◊◊ NO. I CERTAINLY CANNOT. BUT I CAN MAKE FRIENDS BY HELPING PEOPLE IN NEED. WHICH I HAVE BEEN…GETTING INVOLVED IN, OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, AS MY SCHEDULE HAS SUDDENLY OPENED UP. ◊◊

“And you think these people won’t turn on you for petty reasons?”

◊◊ COULD BE, COULD BE. BUT OH, IF THEY DEPEND ON ME…THEY CANNOT LOSE ME. ◊◊

“Back it up a little bit,” said Percival. “Now you sound positively devious.”

◊◊ TRUE. PERHAPS THERE IS MORE EVIL IN MY HEART THAN YOU EXPECTED, PERCIVAL. ◊◊

“I can’t tell if you’re joking.”

◊◊ I HARDLY JOKE WHEN I SPEAK IN THIS MANNER. I AM NOT SURE WHY. BUT I DO THINK THAT IF I WERE TO ENTER THE SLUG CLUB IN MY CURRENT STATUS OF BEING MUTE, SUCH THAT I CAME IN WITHOUT HUMOR, LOOKING TO WORLDLY PEOPLE LIKE SOME ANGEL OF JUDGMENT…I THINK IT WOULD NOT GO WELL. ◊◊

“Or maybe you’re just over-reacting to your newfound ability and playing it for drama. Well, fine. When will you think of joining the club?”

◊◊ NEXT MONTH. I’VE GOT A LOT ON MY MIND RIGHT NOW. ◊◊

“Next month, eh? Lot on your mind right now, eh? And a cat has your tongue. Would this month happen to end right after the full moon?”

◊◊ WHAT DOES THE MOON HAVE TO DO WITH IT? ◊◊

Nothing,” said Percival. “Just an idle thought, that’s all. I don’t want to waste any more of your time, so…just remember what I said, alright? I’m worried that this will all come down to war. And then you really do need to fight dirty.”

◊◊ OR HAVE FRIENDS WHO CAN DO THAT FOR ME. YES. I WILL REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE SAID. ◊◊

Somone tapped Sparrow on the shoulder.

She jumped, and whirled around, wand at the ready. But it was, once again, Jocasta Carrow.

◊◊ WILL YOU STOP FOLLOWING ME INTO ROOMS YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN! ◊◊

Jocasta kissed Sparrow on the cheek. “Nice you see you too.” She turned to Percival. “Sorry about the intrusion, Mister Bulstrode. I won’t play that trick on you twice.”

“I should certainly hope not,” said Percival. “Nor tap a jumpy Wizard on the shoulder. You might come a cropper from it.”

“Fair enough.”

“Why are you even in here?”

Jocasta drew herself up, and said, “I am in here because I know you, Percival Bulstrode, and I know you like to talk politics. I had good reason to believe that was the advice you would give Sparrow. To get involved in that sort of dirty business.”

“And you, of all people, are telling me it’s a bad thing?”

“I’m saying it’s my job. Come now, Sparrow, we have work to be doing.” She led Sparrow by hand out of the room.

As they strode down the hallway, Jocasta always just a step of Sparrow, Sparrow was content to keep silent for a while, for she did not know which set of questions to ask first.

But eventually she picked one.

◊◊ WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOUR JOB? ◊◊

“Sparrow, my dear.” Jocasta put her arm over Sparrow’s shoulders and slowed enough to match her pace. “You told me you wanted to hold true to yourself. Who would I be if I let you follow advice that made you as cynical as me?

◊◊ YOU WOULD PREFER I REMAIN INNOCENT, THEN? ◊◊

“Or at least unsullied. But that usually requires innocence.”

◊◊ I AM CERTAINLY NO LONGER INNOCENT. ◊◊

“Indeed not. And yet – a spirit untarnished by pessimism. You were scarred, but not marred. No matter what I threw at you over the years. Can you imagine I would wish to see such a heart become ordinary?”

◊◊ IT SOUNDS AS THOUGH YOU ADMIRE ME. ◊◊

“Perhaps more than I have made clear.”

◊◊ TALKING OF WHICH – ◊◊

“Nope. Changing the subject.”

◊◊ I DIDN’T EVEN FINISH! ◊◊

“You didn’t have to. Now, as I said, politics is my job. I am perfectly willing to join the Slug Club and let you know what I find out from those people. But I want you to keep out of it. Do you understand?”

◊◊  NO. ◊◊

“What part do you not understand, then?”

◊◊ I MEAN NO AS IN, I THINK I OUGHT TO JOIN THE SLUG CLUB. ◊◊

“Come on, Sparrow.”

◊◊ YOU REMEMBER WHAT JILL SAID ABOUT JOINING HUFFLEPUFF? SHE WANTED TO BE UNDERESTIMATED. ◊◊

“One wonders if that could have possibly worked, considering her stature. I think she has established a solid reputation as someone terrifying.”

◊◊ PERHAPS SO. AS FOR ME – I THINK I HAVE ESTABLISHED A SOLID REPUTATION AS A NOBLE FOOL. IMAGINE WHAT SORT OF POLITICS I COULD DO WITH EVERYONE OVERLOOKING ME. ◊◊

“They do that already.”

◊◊ OH WONDERFUL, THAT’S – WAIT. WAS THAT A SHORT JOKE. ◊◊

“Don’t know what you mean.”

◊◊ WELL, IMAGINE HOW HARD IT HITS PEOPLE WHEN THEY SEE YOU BEING SINCERE. ◊◊

IMAGINE HOW HARD IT HITS ME TO HEAR YOU SAYING SUCH THINGS.

◊◊ OH. ◊◊

BACK AT THE YULE BALL I THOUGHT IT WAS AMUSING. NOT AS MUCH NOW. NOT NOW THAT I KNOW YOU THIS WELL. YOU…PRESENT AN IDEAL I CURSE MYSELF FOR FAILING TO MEET. I FEAR THAT YOU ARE GIVING IT UP.

◊◊ IF YOU WOULD CARE FOR ME, JOCASTA, TAKE CARE TO AVOID PLACING ME ON A PEDESTAL. LEST I SUFFER FOR THE ACT OF MOVING AN INCH. ◊◊

“Sorry.” Jocasta removed her arm from Sparrow’s shoulder.

◊◊ I COULD CERTAINLY TAKE LESSONS IN POLITICS FROM YOU, EVEN IF YOU WOULD NOT HAVE ME JOIN THE SLUG CLUB. ◊◊

“That’s a compromise.”

◊◊ AND, FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH…I DID NOT EXPLAIN MATTERS TO PERCIVAL, BECAUSE I DECIDED IT WAS NOT A MATTER TO BANDY ABOUT WITHOUT ASKING. BUT WHEN YOU SAID MY MOTHER IS A WHORE – MY REPLY WAS NOT A JOKE. ◊◊

Jocasta looked nonplussed. “And you don’t consider it a shame?”

◊◊ I SHOULD CLARIFY. SHE IS A COURTESAN. SHE DOES NOT QUANTIFY THE SEXUAL ACTIVITIES SHE ENGAGES IN, BUT FOR ALL I KNOW THEY ARE INCIDENTAL TO HER WORK. ◊◊

“Why tell me, then?”

◊◊ LET ME PUT IT THIS WAY: ON RARE OCCASIONS SHE BRINGS HOME REAL MEAT, OR SUGAR, OR CHOCOLATE, AND I KNOW NOT TO ASK HOW SHE GOT THEM. THE FAVORS SHE OBTAINS, THE POLITICAL SECRETS SHE HINTS AT, THE WEAKNESSES SHE DESCRIBES…THEY DO NOT PAINT A PRETTY PICTURE OF THE PEOPLE WHO PURCHASE HER SERVICES. I HAVE BEEN SHOWN ENOUGH GLIMPSES OF HOW THEIR WORLD WORKS TO AVOID REMAINING ENTIRELY NAÏVE. ◊◊

“Ah. You know about having Friends In High Places, to a certain extent. I suppose that’s a little reassuring. And you chose idealism, in spite of all you have seen?”

◊◊ IT WAS THAT OR HEARTBREAK. ◊◊

“Fair enough.”