The greater portion of the city of London was on stilts in the
shallows, such as had been constructed by the acting muggle government
at one point, though the houses atop them had not. Those were rather
ramshackle, being left to the devices of the inhabitants, and were
composed primarily of debris from the wreckage of the old city, assorted
driftwood, and the cast-off building materials scavenged from the
worksites of new houses. These were more difficult to come by lately.
There was little enough of the quality material to go around these days,
and those who commanded money and power guarded their building
materials more jealously than in previous decades.
The stilts had
been the creation of the previous acting government, yet this government
had cared more for building new things than maintaining them, and the
new regime could not be said to be interested in the well-being of
anyone who didn’t have Connections.
Likewise the greenhouses also
went to rust, on occasion, especially in those areas that were
designated as staple crops for the poor.
Yet neither they nor the stilts ever fell, for reasons no muggle understood.
berated herself for ever believing she ought to waste a winter holiday
break at Hogwarts. There was much in this city that needed her. If she
had to wade into chill water to make sure that the citizens could stay
safe and dry, so be it. She had enough time in these two weeks to see to
the most urgent columns.
She had not expected to see a figure in
the shadows, down here in the filthy water. Who in their right mind
would be waiting for anyone under the platforms? Perhaps a clandestine
meeting? Perhaps something she should not be involved in. They could not
harm her, not as long as she had her wand. Could they even see her? But
she could see them, well enough.
The shadowy figure extended their hand and shouted, “Stupefy!”
Sparrow’s shield was up before she had even drawn her wand.
said the voice of an adult man, “it is Sparrow Jones after all.
Greetings, Sparrow.” He bowed. “You’re already on watch with the
Improper Use of Magic office. I assume you’re here to give them more
evidence against you?”
“I am here to fix the columns, such as
nobody else seems to bother doing,” said Sparrow. “And if the Improper
Use of magic office isn’t going to come straight out and arrest me, or
even warn me, I should think they’re being much too coy about enforcing
the law. I should think they are waiting to bring the hammer down later,
just to be cruel. What’s it to you, anyway? Who are you?”
figure’s face was revealed. A man in his mid thirties, it seemed, with
reddish hair, worn slightly long and quite messy. He had sharp features,
and his eyes were not very kind.
“I’m sorry,” said Sparrow, “I still don’t know who you are.”
“Albus,” said the man. “Albus Severus.”
“Potter. Albus Severus Potter. Come on, you know me. Everybody knows me.”
“Well I mean. Harry Potter had a family. I just ever paid attention to who was who. Was I supposed to?”
looked extremely put out. “I thought my time at school would have been
remembered. I was the one who won the famous duel against Blaise Brown.”
have a long way to go if you want to match your father’s renown,” said
Sparrow. “And I have the distinct impression that when it comes to
renown, I just blew you out of the water by accident. I’m terribly
Now the man’s face was beginning to match the color of his
hair. “Never mind!” He said. “I’m with the Improper Use of Magic office
and I’m issuing a warning. You are not to go around using magic outside
of school. No more sneaking around down here fixing things.”
“But – Mr. Potter. If I don’t help these people, they’ll be in the drink, soon enough.”
not your concern,” said Albus. “It should never have been your concern
in the first place. There’s a time and place for magic and this is not
“They need me!” said Sparrow. “They need someone, for God’s sake! The most they get from the muggle government is a hearty ho-hum!”
not going to warn you again,” said Albus. “If you’re caught doing magic
outside of school you’re going to face actual discipline for once. You
could be expelled.”
“And why,” said Sparrow, “Have I not been
arrested already, if the office has evidence against me? Why have I not
been issued a warning?”
“They were planning to,” said Albus. “The
office has your number, girl. But given your recent exhortations, they
think you’re a blithering idiot, and not quite as much of a threat. They
sent me here to give you one last chance, and to assess your mental
state. You sound sane enough to me.”
“I don’t think it’s at all
stupid to wonder why Wizards have magic and Muggles don’t,” said
Sparrow. “Nor is it dangerous to research the question.”
sure,” said Albus. “And it wasn’t dangerous to make steam engines,
either, until the entire world ecosystem went tits up. Well, I’ve got
all I needed to know. Go home and live without magic for a couple
The man vanished.
may have been doing them a disservice,” said Mother, as the family sat
around the table. There was Father, a man with more lines on his face
than his age would suggest; there was Mother, a woman with more grey
hair than her age would suggest; there was Robin, a girl of ten who had
no qualms about floating the chickpea bowl over to her plate; there was
Finch, a boy of six who was not yet skilled enough to effectively resist
Robin’s commandeering of the bowl. It wobbled dangerously. Father
glared at both of them, and Robin set the bowl down with her own two
“I don’t see how that’s possible,” said Sparrow. “Those
columns are made of wood. They rot all the time. If I didn’t fix them – ”
“Someone would end up in the drink,” said Father, “and they would all remember they had to maintain their platforms.”
“With what resources?”
“Driftwood. Before you ask, yes, that is what they’ve always used.”
“And do they build the nails out of driftwood as well?”
Yes. Easier to replace than nails. What I’m saying is, if they knew
there was a mysterious miracle upholding their work, they might begin to
rely on it, and if you wanted to be honest about what you were doing
they would almost certainly come to rely on you, and you could never
live anywhere but London because you always had to shore up the timbers.
Do you want that?”
Sparrow huffed. “Maybe if they could all do magic then they wouldn’t need me.”
“I don’t know,” said Mother. “Considering what I’ve had to put up with in this house, I’d just as soon nobody had any magic.”
All three children gasped in offended shock.
Mother winked. “But then the world would have even less color than it does now, I suppose.”
“Why don’t they have magic?” said Robin. “Mum, why can’t you do magic?”
“I wasn’t born with the gift,” said Mother.
“That’s not fair.”
“Yeah,” said Finch. “That’s not fair. Everyone should have magic. It’s fun.”
Mother and Father gave each other a look. Sparrow knew that look. It said quick, do something.
“I have the feeling,” said Mother, “that children are keenly aware of what is and isn’t fair, sometimes moreso than adults.”
“Yeah!” said Sparrow.
said Mother, “sometimes when children say something should be fair,
what they mean is that things should be unfair in their favor.” She gave
Sparrow a searching look.
“I don’t see how I’m trying to be unfair in my favor,” said Sparrow. “I’m trying to reduce the elitist exclusivity of Wizards.”
“And yet magic does not seem to allow electricity to exist in its midst,” said Mother.
“Our lights work perfectly fine, don’t they?”
“Except when you get near them. I can tell you’re coming when the light flickers.”
“I can turn on a light just fine!” said Robin.
“Maybe you’re not as powerful as me,” said Sparrow with a grin.
“Oh yes I am!”
“Oh no you’re not.”
“Oh knock it off,” said Father.
you gave the whole world magic all at once right now,” said Mother,
“and there was so much magic that all the electricity disappeared, what
would all the children say who were no longer able to watch their
“Um. Hadn’t thought of that.”
all the muggle scientists say when they were no longer able to use
their wondrous optical machines and atom-crackers?”
“They would be angry.”
“And what of all the hospital nurses whose machines for keeping people alive stopped working?”
“They would be very angry.”
“Do I have to give up my plans then?”
“I’m not saying that,” said Mother.
“You’re not?” said Father.
What I’m saying, Sparrow, is if you are going to let the whole world
have magic, I suggest you be gentle and slow, and ideally you let the
people receiving your wondrous gift be involved in the process. Lord
knows there have been too many good things ruined by people who thought
they knew what other people needed, without ever asking them.”
“The Headmistress told me about that. But how often does that actually happen?”
of my ancestors in Senegal,” said Father, “had that sort of thing
happen to her with the Peace Corps. They came in and built her village a
school. The only problem was, they built the school. The villagers did
not. So the whole thing lapsed after a while because nobody really cared
about it. If the village had known they wanted a school, and asked for a
little bit of help FROM the Peace Corps, then it might have gone
“Okay, but that’s only one – ”
“I’ll give you
another example. I had another ancestor in Mozambique that opened a shoe
shop. Only, he did it right before people from the United States
started donating old shoes to Africa. Free shoes versus not-free shoes –
“Sounds like no contest.”
“Indeed not. His shop was
ruined, and that branch of my family tree remained poor for longer than
it should have. I’ll give you another good example. My grandfather
managed to survive the Ethiopian Famine in the 1980s – ”
“Are all your examples from Africa?”
“Yes,” said Father and Mother at the same time.
“Why would – ”
of well-meaning people,” said Father. “Now, my grandfather survived
by...doing things I won’t mention. And supposedly there was this big
concert in the United States that raised all kinds of money to solve the
problem, and got all kinds of resources, and sent it to Ethiopia. And
my grandfather says he never saw it. Why? Because the warlords stole it
all. The folks from the US dumped it all on Ethiopia without bothering
to figure out where exactly it would go, or pick trustworthy
distributors, or protect it in any way. So.” He harrumphed. “Now you
know what happens when you go around deciding what people need, instead
of supporting the efforts that they’re already making. Genies and fairy
Godmothers grant the wishes people ask for, not the ones they think
their recipients need.”
“And what would muggles ask for, dear Father?”
weather. More gentle rain in the summer, less in the winter. More trees
and less heat. More fertile soil. That sort of thing.”
“And what do you think muggle children would ask for?”
“More candy and later bedtimes, I expect.”
“You sound like you have something in mind.”
ask for magic! Every damn one of them! They’re already asking for it!
My old friends used to make up stories with magic all the time. Because
all the books kids read have wizards and witches and fairies and
dragons, and then they have to grow up with the complete lie that those
things don’t exist! I think they are very well primed to accept what I’d
Mother put a hand on Sparrow’s shoulder. “Child.
Remember the first magic you did. You saw the wonder and the terror of
it in the same moment, at much too early an age. Would you visit that
“At least I had the chance to see the wonder,” said
Sparrow. “Unlike all my friends. Their ignorance didn’t save them. And
it doesn’t save anyone else. I hear stuff about how the Ministry has to
have people go around all the time cleaning up messes made by magical
beasts, using memory charms on everyone.”
“And do you think the parents of these children would appreciate knowing that they couldn’t control their children anymore?”
“They’re going to have to learn that at some point, right? At some point you have to let your kid go.”
“I’m learning it right now,” said Father.
is something else to consider as well,” said Mother. “Giving magic to
the whole world, well, it might end the purpose of the Ministry of
Magic, wouldn’t it? Or at least upend it.”
“I certainly wouldn’t
mind seeing it upended,” said Father. He and Mother shared a look
between them, a look that was quite different than their usual genteel
Robin looked from Father to Mother, her face wondering and worried. “Why?” she said.
closed his eyes and sighed. “A story for when you are older, child, and
entering school. Not now. Now, let us simply be thankful that we have
And the rest of the meal passed in tense silence.
house of the Joneses was nice. It was not fancy, but it was nice.
Mother had made plenty of Connections. And she had managed to get her
family an allotment for a nice house on a private lot, in far fewer
years than it normally took. And the family had enough to purchase
Sparrow did not know what to think of Christmas
gifts. They were nice toys, and all, but compared to the thousand
wonders of the Wizarding world they tended to pale in comparison.
Especially the electric toys. It had taken her parents a few years to
realize why those never worked for her. The sort of gift Sparrow usually
appreciated was tubes of paint. Not simply because of their rarity. You
could do magic to wash the dishes, you could do magic to take out the
garbage, you could do magic to keep mice out of the house, mow the lawn,
shine your shoes, tidy a room. And a wand could make a brush move. But
it couldn’t come up with the idea of where to move it. That was the job
of the artist.
Perhaps, in paint, there was a point of connection
between muggles and wizards. A place where they had even footing. Then
again, Wizard art tended to move, so maybe that wasn’t a fair
competition after all. Then again, she enjoyed Muggle paintings more
because the damned things stayed put.
What Sparrow most
appreciated, though, was her siblings. Because their constant use of
underage magic made it impossible for the Ministry to detect when she
was using magic inside the house. That might not work once they were
also in school, but for now she was able to get away with a lot. It’s
good to be the eldest child.
So, on Christmas morning when it was
time for the children to open their presents, and all the family sat
around, each with their box in their lap, Sparrow elected to open hers
with a magical flourish. She waved her hand. Rip!
discovered to her dismay that the gift was a stack of comics from
decades ago, and she had torn the cover of the top one. Father looked
indignant, and her siblings giggled.
“Never mind,” said Father.
“Never mind. The story is more important. It’s not like the whole idea
of selling them in mint condition for lots of money ever made sense, and
even less so now.”
Robin got the tube of paint this time. Red
paint. Finch got a Superball, a muggle toy that had been made circa
1991. Mother gave Father a Look. He shrugged.
Sparrow said her
thanks, and silently wished a little blessing of
priceless-object-avoidance upon the Superball. She had no idea if that
had ever worked but what she was really wishing that that her wand
(which was always on her person, of course) would figure it out for her.
It was a spell of protection, after all. Then she picked up her comics,
gingerly, and took them upstairs to read. She flopped down on the bed
and opened one.
Seemed a bit redundant,
these days. She’d already become a superhero. Reading about them was
kind of like reading about her own life, only these people were adults
who liked to beat people up in the name of Fighting Crime. Seemed like
the kind of thing that was more in line with Jill’s style. And look at
this! They went around blowing things up and cracking the street and
rescuing cats from trees and thumbing their noses at police officers,
and all without a by-your-leave, operating as if there were nothing in
their world that even resembled the Ministry of Magic.
Sort of like Sparrow fixing support columns and greenhouse roofs without asking.
what she did, what she wanted to do, was constructive, supportive, and
defensive. These louts were largely destructive. Sparrow didn’t buy it
for a second when the text said the falling building was abandoned. The
one it crashed into surely wasn’t. Really, the utter nerve of these
Sort of like her deciding the entire structure of Wizarding life had to be swept away.
the structure of Wizarding life was confining, distorting, warping. It
had done terrible things to the Headmistress’ parents, and it was
stifling her at home. Perhaps it needed to go.
How that was to be
achieved, Sparrow did not know. She had to be considerate, to be
thoughtful of others, as Jill had stipulated. She had to take their
opinions into account, and in general give them the things they already
wanted, as her Father had stipulated. Including muggles. But that would
require talking to muggles about the situation, outside of her family,
which would violate the Statute of Secrecy, no two ways about it. To
make it clear to muggles beyond a shadow of a doubt that what they hoped
for was real. And that was what the Statute of Secrecy was supposed to
What an awful confinement, that could not be ended gently
without incurring the wrath of her confiners. Then again, such people
would never let confinement end gently in the first place, would they?
Not if their galleons depended on it.
And yet. There was, it
seemed, one avenue to which the Ministry was totally blind, the way
guards of a perimeter assume that nobody will come through through the
nasty thorn bushes, or the way the French assumed the Germans couldn’t
get through the Ardennes forest. From what Sparrow had heard Jocasta
tell her, the Ministry had no real understanding of how many
unregistered animagi existed, because they assumed nobody was stupid
enough to attempt the process without openly seeking aid from qualified
professionals. So that path was totally unguarded, except by its own
If Sparrow could achieve this goal, such a thing would prove very useful indeed.
Time to take the first step.