Chapter 1: New Doors
Because let’s be honest here, if Sarah was thrust into the Harry Potter world, she’ll take it over. And I want to see it happen.
Albus Dumbledore had been the Headmaster of Hogwarts for many, many years, and has had the duty of informing non-magical parents about their very magical children for even longer. But never, in all his years, had he ever met someone who took the news as calmly as one Sarah Williams. Except for Miss Granger but Miss Granger was an entirely different monster altogether (he had a feeling that she would be the only Muggleborn to actually expect his appearance).
"I'm a wizard," Tobias Williams repeated for the fourth time since Albus' announcement.
To his right, Mr. And Mrs. Williams were both sitting in a state of shock, unable to fully comprehend the situation despite having more than an hour to do so. That was fine; that was expected. It usually took a couple hours, sometimes even days before Muggles could even begin to believe and understand that their child had magical abilities. What was not normal, however, was Sarah Williams' reaction, or more specifically, the lack thereof.
The young woman was currently looking over the paperwork that he had brought over with a kind of disinterest he had only ever witnessed in Wizarding parents. He took the moment to observe her rather abnormal behavior, watching as her brows furrowed in concentration as she read over the list of necessary supplies.
"Oh, look, Toby," she said. "You can bring a pet."
"Really?" the young boy squealed, leaning over to read the list. His eyes lit up immediately, "An owl! I want an owl! Oh, may I have an owl? Oh please, Sarah! Pretty please?"
She laughed softly and flashed a smile in young Mister Williams' direction. "You'll have to ask dad and Irene once they recover," she told him, glancing up at their parents. Her tone was amused and Albus had to stop himself from expressing his shock. If he didn't know better, he would have suspected that Miss Williams actually already knew of the existence of magic and this was simply a review for her.
"So, about these school supplies," she said, turning towards him. "Where would we get them?"
"Ah," Albus murmured softly, his own confusion momentarily stalled. For a moment, he felt as if the table had been turned; that it was her who was the witch and he the Muggle parent being told of the existence of magic for the first time. "Of course. Everything you may wish to purchase, including all school supplies, can be found in Diagon Alley. My deputy headmistress, Professor Minerva McGonagall will guide you through your first time. We will just need to set up a time to meet before the term starts."
Miss Williams looked over the letter again. "Would this Saturday be good?" she asked. "Dad and Irene both have days off."
"But Sarah," Mister Williams interrupted. "You'll come too, right?"
"Of course, Toby." She sent him a mock scowl. "I did take the entire summer off for you if you recall."
"This Saturday is fine," Albus said with a careful nod. It felt strange making decisions with an elder sister, no matter how good of a guardian she may be while her parents were sitting right there. "Expect Professor McGonagall around noon?"
She smiled. "That's fine."
Albus glanced at her parents, glad to see that they were looking less shocked and slightly more confused. However, it appeared that they had no problem letting their daughter handle everything. Not that Albus could blame them, of course, since Miss Williams was doing a fine job handling everything on her own.
"What about the currency?" Miss Williams asked.
He blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"Currency," she repeated. "Unless your world uses pounds too."
"Ah, you are quite right." He smiled. "We have three different coins: knuts, sickles, and galleons. I am unsure of the exact exchange rate right now but there are about five British pounds in a galleon. Professor McGonagall can go into more detail this weekend. Most helpful if you wish to open up an account at our Gringotts Wizarding Bank for young Mister Williams."
She nodded and opened her mouth to say something, only to pause. Her gaze flickered to a spot on the ground next to his chair as if distracted. He followed her gaze but did not see anything out of the ordinary. "Miss Williams?" Albus asked, clearing his throat.
Flinching slightly, Miss Williams snapped her attention back to the aged wizard and smiled, but her smile was tight, as if she had to force herself to do so. "Is there something else we should know before allowing Toby to attend your school?" she asked, her tone polite.
Mister Williams looked horrified at the possibility of his sister not wanting him to attend Hogwarts. "Sarah!" he protested.
"Hush, Toby," she chided softly, patting his knee in a comforting manner.
Albus watched, unsure what to think as Mister Williams pouted in response. He leaned back against his chair, lips pressed together tightly to keep himself from talking. His parents were still silent, taking their time to review the paperwork Miss Williams had already looked over. Albus wondered at their odd family dynamic.
"What exactly do you mean, Miss Williams?" Albus asked, feeling a tingle in the back of his spine. There was something about this girl... "Do you have a more specific question in mind?"
Miss Williams narrowed her eyes and Albus had a feeling that his gentle, grandfatherly demeanor was not going to work to his advantage. She leaned back, form stiffening and straightening as she did so. Her bright green eyes darkened and the small, gentle smile that was playing across her lips disappeared. Albus suspected before but he had a feeling that Sarah Williams was more than a little protective over her younger brother. Older siblings usually were, he knew, but there was something about her protectiveness that sent the small, fine hair at the back of his neck standing up.
"Headmaster Dumbledore," she replied slowly, her tone clipped and cold. "My family and I are at a disadvantage as we are completely unfamiliar with your world. For all we know, we could be sending Toby into a world on the brink of war. You might as well just have us sign him up for his execution."
Albus flinched visibly; he had expected something, of course, but never for her to hit it spot on. "Well," he began slowly, wondering how he should go about answering the question. "You are right, we..." Here he paused; he had to choose his words carefully. "The Wizarding World is currently going through some internal conflict. However—"
"War?" Mr. Williams sputtered, cutting in for the first time. "You're at war and you expect me to send my son to your school?"
Albus raised a wrinkled hand. "I assure you," he said firmly, holding Mr. Williams' gaze with calm eyes, "the Wizarding World is not at war. Furthermore, Toby will be inside Hogwarts; the castle itself has hundreds of years of protective wards and charms and the staff is more than capable of protecting the students. In fact, Hogwarts is actually considered to be the safest place in the Wizarding World right now; many parents send their children to Hogwarts just to keep them safe."
Mrs. Williams narrowed her eyes. "But not safer than our world, right?"
Albus hid a smile. Despite having been shocked into silence for a little more than an hour since his appearance; Mr. And Mrs. Williams obviously took the safety of their child extremely seriously. "If you are a Wizarding family living in a Muggle—non-magical—world, then yes, I would have recommended that you keep Toby here. It is because you are Muggles that I strongly recommend for Toby to attend Hogwarts. There may have been hints of it before but once Toby turns eleven, his magic will begin presenting itself more and more with or without proper training and guidance." He turned his gaze towards Miss Williams who was staring at her favorite spot on the ground once again.
As if sensing his stare, she looked up, a slight frown tugging at her lips. "So you're telling me that Hogwarts has never been in the center of whatever conflict you guys are in?"
And there it was again. That tingle. It struck Albus suddenly that Miss Williams had not only managed to hit every point he did not want to bring up but also managed to ask her questions in ways that made it as if she was making statements instead. Her tone was daring him to lie. "That's not exactly true," he admitted slowly. "A few years ago a basilisk was released inside our school and managed to petrify... a couple students." And then, very quickly, he added, "However, I can assure you that the basilisk has since been dealt with and the students in question have fully recovered."
"A basilisk?" Mr. Williams asked, alarmed. "What is that?"
"Students are being petrified?" Mrs. Williams exclaimed.
"Oh man," Mister Williams muttered. Albus could practically hear his thoughts; his sister was definitely not going to let him attend Hogwarts now.
"A basilisk is a reptile—in our case, a snake—with a rather... lethal gaze." He watched as both Mr. and Mrs. Williams paled. "Again," he said as firmly and gently as possible. "I must emphasize that none of the students were killed, only petrified. And they have all recovered." He chose not to mention Miss Warren.
Usually, Albus would not be trying so hard to convince parents to let their children attend Hogwarts. However, Tobias Williams was a Muggleborn and with the rise of blood purity beliefs and the decline of new Muggleborn students, Albus feared that it was only a matter of time before the Ministry of Magic would take it upon themselves to ban Muggleborns from Hogwarts "for their safety." And even if that was true, Albus knew how hard it was to retract a law once it has been implemented.
Mr. Williams rolled his eyes. "Only petrified," he repeated mockingly.
"Which is mostly due to luck, right?" Miss Williams asked, looking at Albus with steady eyes. "It just means that none of them looked directly into the basilisk's eyes; like... through a mirror or something."
Albus blinked slowly. "That's... correct..."
Despite the situation, Mrs. Williams gave a somewhat fond roll of her eyes. "Sarah has always had an interest in fairy tales and mythology. I daresay she knows just as much as you do."
For reasons he did not completely understand, Albus did not doubt that.
"Sarah knows magic," Mister Williams confirmed confidently.
Albus smiled warmly, hoping to ease the uncertainty and tension in the air. "I can see that. I've never met a Muggle quite like Miss Williams."
While both parents relaxed noticeably from his joking tone, Albus could tell that Miss Williams was not as convinced as he would have liked. Her gaze flickered from him to the ground and back again. Lips pursed, she said, "The students that were attacked... why did the basilisk choose to target them specifically?"
Alarmed, Albus felt himself stiffen. He never mentioned anything about the basilisk targeting specific students. And even if Miss Williams had somehow managed come up with some sort of conspiracy just based on his comments about the Wizarding World's conflict and the basilisk attacks, her questions—her too-specific questions was no mere coincidence. He extended his magic outwards, feeling for something—anything—that could be out of place.
For a moment, Albus considered lying to her, just to see her reaction but he had a feeling that if he did, it would guarantee not seeing Mister Williams in the upcoming term. "Muggleborns," he admitted wearily. "It was because they were Muggleborns."
Miss Williams leaned further back against her seat as if she was relaxing. But Albus knew better; he thought she rather looked like a serpent, posing itself to strike. "So does this... conflict of yours have anything to do with the prejudice against Muggleborns?" Her almost sarcastic emphasis on the word "conflict" told Albus exactly how underwhelming she believed the word to be, compared to reality.
Not at all, Albus wanted to say in answer to her question but knew that it wasn't true. While Voldemort himself may not truly care about one's blood status, his followers were a completely different story. Voldemort knew fear, and worst, he knew how to feed it and fed it he did, with hate and prejudice.
Seeing that the Albus did not seem like he even wanted to answer his sister's question, Mister Williams immediately assumed the worst. "Oh man, oh man," he muttered. He really wasn't going to be allowed to attend now.
"Which means," Miss Williams continued ruthlessly because even he knew that no answer was an answer on its own. "That Toby would be more endangered in your extremely safe school than the average student."
Again with the sarcasm.
Albus pressed his lips together in a thin line, he was unused to not being able to counter someone's sarcasm; but if he did, it would most likely ensure him not seeing Mister Williams ever again. "Miss Williams," he began carefully, "I understand your concern. While I have no doubt Mister Williams will most certainly experience prejudice at Hogwarts, I also believe that it would be the extent of it. Despite the nature of our conflict, as long as he remains within the walls of Hogwarts, his life would be in no danger." So long as he stays away from Harry Potter, of course; that poor boy had the unfortunate luck of endangering everyone he interacts with. Fortunately for Albus, Harry was currently going into his fifth year and would have little to no interaction with Mister Williams.
"You gave us a lot to think about, Headmaster," Mr. Williams said slowly. "But I would like to discuss this further with my wife and daughter before making any final decisions."
"Understandable," Albus nodded.
"And..." Mr. Williams continued hesitantly. "And if it isn't too much trouble, we would still like to go to... ah, Diagonally, if only to check it out."
Albus beamed, "Of course." Sometimes all it took was for one to see magic and he had no doubt in his mind what they would decide on upon seeing Diagon Alley for the first time.
"Then we will give you our final decision then," Mrs. Williams added.
"Oh man," Sarah groaned tiredly, slowly making her way up the stairs. Thankfully, the rest of the meeting went rather well, her family spent the two hours afterward asking questions, attempting to understand Toby's possible new world. Unless it was about their war and the lack of safety of their school, the Headmaster was more than happy to answer all their questions.
Sarah shook her head, wondering why he wanted to recruit Toby so badly. It certainly couldn't have been his desire for Toby's safety. Slowly, she made her way back into the safety and privacy of her old room before closing and locking the door behind her as quietly as possible. Turning around, she was not surprised to see that her bed was already occupied.
"Thank you, Squeak, Romby, Gip; you guys are the best."
"No problem, Lady!" the three goblins chirped happily at the same time.
She sat down on the edge of her bed and poked the nearest goblin who fell over with a giggle. Giving him a fond scratch underneath his chin, she asked, "You guys can't read minds, can you?"
Romby and Squeak laughed as if she had just made the funniest joke.
"'Course not, Lady," Gip answered when Romby pushed him out of the way so Sarah could scratch underneath his chin. "We just know about them magical humans, that's all. That magic human wanted to lie to Lady."
Romby tsked. "We're not going to let that happen."
"No sirree!" Squeaked confirmed, long ears twitching.
"Thank you again," Sarah said, feeling rather warm and happy. "So you guys are familiar with this... magical world?"
"'Course!" they confirmed.
Sarah frowned, silent for a moment. Then: "Do you guys think it's safe for Toby to attend?"
"Lady?" Gip asked.
She swallowed hard, feeling slightly dizzy with confusion. "I mean, since Toby is a wizard it's obviously better for him to learn how to use his... magic and attend magic school." She sighed, pulling her feet up onto the bed and burying her face into her knees. She felt a slight twinge of... something at the thought of Toby and magic. "But," Sarah continued, "if he's going to be in danger at some boarding school I can't even access... I don't know." Obviously, she normally wouldn't be the one making any final decisions but she had a feeling that after today, both her father and stepmother would be turning to her for advice.
"Little Toby needs to learn human magic," Gip said.
Romby nodded in agreement. "Untrained magic means lots of big booms," he elaborated. "Sometimes even when he doesn't want booms!"
"Lady is worried?" Squeak, the smallest of her three usual goblin companions, asked.
She smiled wearily. "Yeah, I guess I am."
The three goblins fell silent, exchanging uncomfortable glances with one another. Having never needed to offer comfort of any sort before, they were unsure how to proceed. It wasn't like they could kick her and toss her out a window. And it didn't seem like Sarah appreciated the live chickens they brought in the last time she was upset about something.
Sarah looked down at the three goblins thoughtfully, gaze going from one to the other and back again as an idea took hold and grew. "Guys," she began slowly, unsure how they would react to her idea. "Do you guys think you could... follow Toby to Hogwarts and keep an eye on him? Protect him in case anything happens?" Unless Headmaster Dumbledore's "protective wards and charms" kept goblins out too.
"We can do that!" Gip announced.
"Really?" Sarah asked excitedly. "That's great! I was worried if it would be too troublesome."
"Oh no," Romby said, shaking his head. "We're here to help Lady. Kingy says we have to listen to Lady. To protect Lady too. Lady protects Little Toby. So we will protect Little Toby for Lady!"
Sarah paused at the mention of the Goblin King before freezing altogether, needing to take a moment to fully comprehend the sentence. "The—Kingy told you guys to... protect me?" she asked slowly, unsure what to think. "Why?" It's been years, was her Underground adventure not over? Did the Goblin King need something from her? Was he angry that she had beaten him at his own game?
Romby giggled. "Because Kingy wants Lady to—"
Squeak shoved a bony elbow into Romby's stomach. "We're not supposed to say yet!" he reminded, horrified; the idea of getting bogged because they didn't obey one of Kingy's most important rules tickling the edges of his thoughts.
"Say what?" Sarah asked, eyeing the goblins suspiciously as they looked everywhere else but at her. "Guys," she said, dragging the word out, her tone promising punishment for disobedience.
"Sorry, Lady," Romby said quickly. "We gotta go!" And without any further warning, the three of them disappeared on the spot, leaving Sarah to stare stupidly at her empty bed.
She sat there for a full minute, half-hoping that they would come back before huffing in annoyance when it was obvious that they wouldn't be returning anytime soon. She sighed and made her way towards her old vanity, figuring that while she may not get anything out of the goblins, Hoggle would be more than happy to fill her in. Sitting down, Sarah reached out and pressed a hand against the cool glass of the mirror. "Hoggle," she murmured softly, watching the mirror ripple with magic. "I need you."
The rippling effect in her mirror settled and Sarah could make out the clearing image of a very familiar dwarf. "Hoggle!" she greeted excitedly.
"Sarah!" he greeted back with the same enthusiasm. "You back at your old place, eh?" he observed, peering over her shoulder at the room behind her.
"For the summer," she confirmed. "Toby threw a fit about not seeing me after my tour so I'm staying here for a while." She sighed happily, finally feeling completely at ease since the Headmaster's appearance. "You will not believe what happened today."
Hoggle raised his bushy eyebrows. "Sumthin' good?"
"I hope so," Sarah replied with a slight frown. She waved off the dark thought with a mental flick of her hands. "Well, it didn't happen to me specifically but apparently wizards and witches exists!"
"Y'mean human wizards 'n witches?"
She faltered. "Well... yes." Were there other kinds? Like goblin wizards and witches, perhaps? "So, anyway," she continued. "Some old guy came by to tell us that Toby's a wizard and that there's a school he should attend to learn magic. Hogwarts, I think," she paused and then added, "for human magic."
Hoggle gaped. "Your brother's a wizard?"
"Yup," Sarah beamed, feeling oddly proud. "Dad and Irene still aren't completely sure if they want him attending since there's some sort of conflict going on in that world. But the Headmaster is still going to let them check out this magical mall this Saturday so..." she trailed off and gave a mental huff of annoyance. Seeing magic in person... Oh, that was definitely going to sway their opinion—perhaps even hers—she wondered if the Headmaster had agreed on purpose. She took a breath to continue but paused when she noticed the frown tugging at the dwarf's rough features. "Hoggle?" Sarah asked worriedly. "Is something wrong?"
"Nuttin'!" he denied immediately.
Sarah raised her eyebrows.
"Nothing!" Hoggle repeated, this time much calmer. "It's just that... well, we don't really hear good things 'bout them human magic-users here Underground."
She leaned forward. "Really? Why's that?"
"I dunno the details," the dwarf admitted. "But our monarchs don't really get along with them."
"Monarchs?" Sarah asked, surprised; this was the first time she has ever heard of such a thing.
"Y'know," Hoggle began hesitantly, eyes darting side to side in an almost nervous manner. "Like the Elvin King to the north of us. Or the Dragon Emperor to the East. 'N there's also that Blood Mistress to the far north. And of course the Gob—Jareth." Hoggle coughed uncomfortably. "Jareth."
Sarah's eyebrows shot upwards in surprise. She had no idea that the Underground had other monarchs besides the Goblin King. Despite her brief stint in the Underground, her continued contact with her friends, and their vivid stories, there was still so much about the Underground that she had yet to learn. "Why don't they get along?" she asked.
Hoggle shuffled in his spot in an awkward manner, flushing an angry-looking red. Sarah wasn't too worried though, he always got like this whenever the Goblin King was brought up in conversation. "I don't really know the 'tire story," he reminded her. "The—Jareth—Jareth would know more."
She nodded in understanding, waiting for him to continue.
When it was clear that Sarah wasn't going to comment, Hoggle huffed in exasperation. "A real long time ago, most of us actually lived 'boveground. But we've never really gotten along with humans so there has always been conflict. Anyway, it all led up to some sort of war." He paused, frowning in thought. "We were more powerful, 'course, but humans can breed so we were eventually overwhelmed by them numbers. We ended up losing the war and many of our kinds were forced into slavery."
Sarah gasped. "Slavery?!"
"There ain't no slaves now," he grunted and then paused. "At least I don't think so, anyway. There might have been another war 'bout that."
"And then what happened?" Sarah pressed.
Hoggle shrugged. "Nuttin' much. Our Monarchs got real upset with them humans so they pulled most of us Underground but there were a few that wanted to stay. Dunno why though."
Considering the whole slavery issue, Sarah wasn't surprised. And even if there were no longer slaves, that didn't mean there was no prejudice against them. Just take a look at Toby's wizard status! Just because he was born from two non-magical parents... Sarah couldn't imagine how the Underground creatures were being treated. "That's horrible," she breathed, shuddering. "Why didn't—don't—the Underground monarchs do anything?"
The dwarf frowned and scratched the back of his head, thinking. "'Cause they don't hafta stay. We're connected to our monarchs," he reminded her, pointing to his head.
Sarah nodded, it was an Underground secret Hoggle had revealed to her years ago. Underground creatures weren't just residents of the Underground, they were either made or created by their Monarchs—or just the Goblin King, Sarah had believed at the time. The Goblin King wasn't just their King, he was their God and if he willed it, they couldn't disobey his word. The knowledge had made Sarah wonder about her time in the Underground and her continued contact with her friends.
Just how much of it...
"The Underground is always open to its inhabitants," Hoggle continued. "All they have to do is say the word and our Monarchs will whisk them right back."
Say the right words, precious. Say your right words.
"Now'days," Hoggle said. "Humans—even them magical ones—don't really remember our existence, and our Monarchs want to keep it that way. We have magic humans do not and humans have always wanted to get their cruddy hands on it. They're selfish creatures and like taking things that ain't theirs. That and they like to blame problems on others. If you ask me, it's much better to just—" He cut himself off, eyes widening in horror as he realized what he had just said. "Not that you're like that, Sarah! Definitely not!"
"I know what you mean," Sarah said with a laugh. "And don't worry, your secret is safe with me!" She meant what she said; any Underground secrets Hoggle shared with her, Sarah made sure to keep it to herself. She was even careful not to put it in her novels just in case. Sometimes though, she wondered if these secrets were safe with Hoggle; the dwarf was, after all, always sharing them with her.
Sarah cleared her throat, waving the thought away; best not think too badly of her friend...
"Right," Hoggle replied, shuffling uncomfortably again. "But, um... that's just what I know. I'm sure... Jareth would know more."
She raised her eyebrows, almost mockingly. "I certainly hope so," she said to him. Despite what she knew of his personality, he was a king. "Is there something else about the magical human world that you think I should know? Squeak, Romby, and Gip were really helpful but... I think I scared them away for a while."
Hoggle frowned. "I dunno. What I know is only from other goblins and the like and I don't even know how accurate that is." He pursed his lips. "Jareth probably knows more."
Sarah sighed, resting her chin on her palm. "I guess I'll just have to wait until Saturday then."
"Oh yes," Hoggle agreed with an enthusiastic nod. "That's a much better idea."
Jareth balanced the crystal orb on top of his gloved knuckles for a moment before letting it roll down the length of his fingers and spinning it into his palm in a single, fluid motion. He repeated it a couple more times before looking up at Higgens—or whatever the dwarf's name was—who was kneeling in front of him, looking more annoyed than terrified. He blamed this on Sarah. "Well?" he demanded, banishing the crystal and sitting up.
"Well what?" Hoggle huffed.
Even with a stray feather in his hair, Jareth managed to pull off the dangerous-and-murderous look to perfection. It was just too bad Hoggle had long since relabeled this as his whining-and-pouting look. "How is she?" he asked, flicking a goblin off his armrest without a glance.
"Fine," the dwarf answered. "Her brother's a Gorger."
"A Gorger," Hoggle repeated. "He got them human magic now."
Jareth blinked and stared for a moment. "Oh," he finally murmured before leaning back down against his seat. "Is that all?" He tapped his favorite riding crop against his boot, humming thoughtfully. "It's such a pity, he would have been better off a goblin. What else did you talk about?" he asked, turning his attention back towards the dwarf who looked as if he wanted to be anywhere else but here.
"Dwarf?" Jareth said in a cold voice. "I hear the bog smells quite delightful this time of the year."
He shuddered. "Nothing, really!" he quickly replied. "She just wanted to know more 'bout human magic, that's all."
Unfortunately, that was not what the Goblin King wanted to hear. He tapped an impatient finger against the armrest of his throne. "Did she ask about me?"
Hoggle hesitated. If he said yes, no doubt Jareth would find out very quickly that he had lied and he would be bogged. On the other hand, if he was honest... well, Jareth was not above punishing bearers of bad news so he would most likely still get bogged. "Uh, w-well..." he stammered, speaking as softly as possible. "No, not really." Not at all, actually.
Jareth glared, mismatched eyes flashing dangerously. "Did you or did you not mention my name like I had explicitly told you to?" Ever since she had banished him from her life with a single sentence ten years ago with words ripped from a book that he had written for her, he hadn't even been able to summon up her image in his crystals, much less contact her in person. If he had known that she was going to use those exact words and actually mean them, he would have never inserted them into the book.
Oh, the irony.
"I did!" Hoggle squealed; him getting bogged was seeming more and more likely with each passing minute.
Jareth huffed. Then why had Sarah not called him? Or at the very least say his name? It was all he needed. Jareth heaved out another dramatic sigh and waved his hand, dismissing the quivering dwarf. "Slip my name into a conversation somewhere again, maybe she didn't notice." Either that or Sarah was being her usual stubborn self. The possibility of her not caring for him at all, and therefore, having no need to mention his name was too horrifying to even think about.
Hoggle grunted as he made his way out of the throne room; he did not want to spend another minute with the infuriating king. "If I keep slipping your stupid name into our conversations, she's gonna think I'm in love with you or something," he grumbled under his breath.
"Oh, precious thing," Jareth groaned mournfully from behind him. "How long are you going to make me wait?"
"Hi! I'm Toby and I'm so excited!"
Minerva smiled. "Yes, I can see that," she observed amusingly.
"Are you a witch?"
"I am," she confirmed.
He opened his mouth to fire off another question but his mother quickly intervened. "Toby!" she said, pulling him back as she turned to face Minerva. "I am so sorry about this," Mrs. Williams apologized. "He's not usually this mouthy." She looked down and glared at the eleven-year-old before Minerva could assure her that she was already used to such reactions.
"Don't make me sic Sarah on you!"
Mister Williams scowled but relented. "That's not fair," he grumbled.
Minerva raised her eyebrows, feeling more and more amused at the interaction between mother and child. "Sarah's your sister, right?" she asked, remembering Albus' description of the family. A typical, happy Muggle family, quite normal, he had told her before adding, Except for Sarah Williams, their eldest daughter. She is an odd one. Do keep an eye on her, would you? Looking up, she caught sight of a young woman running towards them, her long brown hair trailing behind her, cheeks flushed red with exertion.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" the young woman spluttered out upon reaching them, out of breath. "I was at the library and I—"
"—lost track of time, as usual." Mister Williams finished with a roll of his eyes.
This must be Sarah Williams, Minerva observed.
Miss Williams graced her brother with a mocking glare. "I had a last-minute video conference," she grumbled softly before noticing Minerva's presence behind him. "Oh! I am so sorry," she said, embarrassed, thrusting a hand out. "I'm Sarah."
Minerva smiled with a small nod. "Minerva McGonagall," she responded, reaching out to shake her hand dutifully. "A pleasure to meet you."
"You guys haven't been waiting long, I hope?"
"Of course not," Minerva assure. "Now, if you are all ready?"
The family nodded in confirmation, some more excited than the rest.
"Through here, then," Minerva said, motioning towards the seemly broken-down pub across the street.
Mr. Williams raised his eyebrows. Minerva had explained to them before that they would need to walk through the doorway that hid the Wizarding World from the Muggle one. "That's not... very impressive." No doubt he was expecting some sort of magical transportation portal.
"Of course not," Toby scowled. "It's hidden, dad."
"Indeed it is, Mister Williams," Minerva said approvingly as she led the Muggle family across the street. "Despite its exterior appearance, the pub itself isn't as run down as it seems." She pulled the door open and waved them in with her free hand.
"Oh, wow," Mrs. Williams breathed as she looked around.
Subtle hints of magic could be seen inside the pub and Minerva allowed the Muggle family to take in the new sights with a smile on her face. From the man in the corner pouring sugar into his tea with a flick of his fingers to the woman at the bar cleaning up an accidental spill with a wave of her hands, magic was everywhere inside this small pub. Watching their faces light up at the sight made Minerva feel insanely proud about being a witch; this feeling never got old.
"How interesting," Miss Williams muttered. Minerva watched as she extended an arm out, fingers wiggling in the air as if she was feeling magic in the air. What really caught her attention, however, was the young woman slowly but confidently making her way towards the back of the pub; towards the entrance to Diagon Alley.
"I am surprised, Miss Williams," Minerva said as lightly and nonchalantly as she could. Wordplay and manipulation were more of Albus' thing. "You seem to know exactly where you're going."
Miss Williams turned towards the witch, eyes wide and innocent.
"That's because Sarah knows magic," Mister Williams said. Behind him, his parents exchanged thoughtful glances before turning their attention to their daughter.
Miss Williams simply smiled and gave her brother's hair a fond ruffle. "I only know what I've read from books, Toby."
Clearing her throat, Minerva led them further back into the pub before stepping in front of a brick wall. "Since you have yet to make your decision, I thought I would show you our world first. If you wish to purchase anything, we will have to stop my Gringotts to get your currency exchanged." She paused. "However, there are limitations to what you are allowed to purchase but if you do happen to make up your mind in our favor, I would be more than happy to help you set up all the basics."
"Thank you," Mrs. Williams said. "That means a lot to us."
Minerva nodded and slipped her wand out of its hidden holster and tapped out a familiar pattern. Behind her, Mister Williams was gibbering excitedly as the gateway between the two worlds began to open while his mother attempted to calm him down. She chanced a glance at Miss Williams and saw a familiar look of awe and surprise. Despite her odd manner and Albus' insistence that the young girl was hiding something, it was obvious that she was not familiar with the Wizarding World.
"Welcome to Diagon Alley," Minerva said.
"Oh man," Mister Williams breathed, staring at the wonderful chaos of the Wizarding World. "Sarah, you have got to convince mom and dad to let me attend."
"No problem, kiddo," Miss Williams breathed, obviously distracted. "I'm right behind you."
"Really?" Mister Williams squealed.
"Sarah?" asked Mrs. Williams.
Blinking and pulling herself away from the view, Miss Williams turned back to face her parents. She flashed them a warm smile. "I'm sure Toby will be fine," she assured them. "It's definitely a good idea for him to be with other wizards. Besides," she turned, hands waving in the air, "how can you say no to this?"
"Yes!" Mister Williams exclaimed happily.
Minerva raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips in an attempt to keep any amusement she felt from showing on her face. The Williamses had one of the strangest family dynamics she had ever witnessed.
"We did think it was better for him to attend," Mr. Williams admitted slowly. "I just didn't think you were going to think so as well. At least so quickly." Even Minerva could tell that Miss Williams was extremely protective of her younger brother. And from his words, perhaps she was even more so than his own mother.
"He'll be fine," Miss Williams said firmly, gaze flickering to the ground. "Toby's protected."
Minerva raised her other eyebrow.
"Can we explore?" Mister Williams asked excitedly.
"That's what we're here for, kid," his sister replied, amused.
"Knowing the both of you, we should definitely get some money exchanged first," Mrs. Williams said with a fond shake of her head.
Minerva smiled. "This way, then." She led them away from the Leaky Cauldron's entrance. "May I safely assume that Mister Williams will be attending Hogwarts this coming term then?"
"Yes, that's right," Mr. Williams confirmed, relieving the burden that had been weighing down Minerva's shoulders. Besides Albus' worry about less and less Muggleborns attending Hogwarts, Mister Williams and his family were a nice lot; she would hate to see their memories obliviated. "Since Sarah's okay with it," he continued.
Minvera cleared her throat, eyes flickering ahead towards the young lady in question. She was currently walking hand-in-hand with her younger brother. Both of them were obviously excited with the new sights, pointing things out to each other they found amusing. "You seem to place great importance in Miss Williams' opinion," she said carefully.
The two parents were silent for a moment and Minerva feared that she may have made a wrong comment. Just as she was about to apologize for intruding on their privacy, Mrs. Williams said, "Well, it's just that Sarah has always loved magic. When she was younger, there were times we feared that she may rather live her fantasies rather than reality."
"But as Toby always says," Mr. Williams added. "Sarah knows magic."
Mrs. Williams nodded in agreement. "Anything and everything about magic, really; fairy tales, mythologies, magical fables, Sarah knows them all. She's an author, you know; she specializes in fiction, magical fantasy."
"But surely her fondness of fictional tales does not make you believe that she is an expert in the real thing?" asked Minerva.
"Of course not," Mrs. Williams answered quickly. She frowned and opened her mouth to say something but held back. And when she finally spoke, her voice was soft and her tone hesitant. "After we found out about your world, we've been doing a lot of thinking about... well, we thought, maybe Sarah really knows magic. There's been incidences in the past that... that doesn't really make sense unless it's magic."
Minerva's eyebrows shot upwards at the revelation. Miss Williams was no witch, of this, she was certain but she had to admit that even without Albus telling her of the oddity that was Miss Williams, Minerva would still think there was something strange about the young girl. "Incidences?" she inquired as innocently as she could.
"Little things," Mr. Williams seemed to want to reassure her. Minerva could tell that the two of them already had a long conversation about their daughter after Albus' departure. It was apparent that they seriously thought their daughter was somehow involved with the Wizarding World. She may not be a witch herself but perhaps she was closely acquainted with one. Maybe a wizard beau?
"One time," Mrs. Williams began. "Toby accidentally broke a vase. He didn't completely shatter it or anything like that but there was this long crack down the length of it." She sighed at the memory. "It was my favorite vase, you see; a gift from my late father so I was a bit upset. I may have been a bit harsh with Toby afterward," she admitted. "Whenever Toby's upset, he always calls Sarah who came back to the house as soon as she heard about our disagreement and stayed the night. Anyway, I woke up the next day with the vase sitting in its usual spot looking absolutely perfect as if it was never broken." She tugged a loose strand of her hair, brows furrowing as she replayed the incident in her head. "I asked about it but Sarah just said that she went out and bought a similar-looking on."
"That would make sense," Minerva replied with a nod.
Mrs. Williams was quick to shake her head. "No, that's impossible. That vase was made by my father. He used to make pottery in his off time and it was originally a commissioned work that had to be remade because he had accidentally left an imprint of his thumb on the underside of it. Sarah didn't—still doesn't—know that."
Minerva blinked at the implications. "That is..." she said slowly, "rather odd." But how true it was, she wasn't sure. Human memories were fickle things, after all; there were too many variables. It didn't, however, change the fact that there was more to Miss Williams than the young girl let on.
"There are more stories like that now that we think about it," Mr. Williams said. "And honestly, after that Headmaster Dumbledore left, we wanted to ask Sarah about it but..." he trailed off.
"Since Sarah didn't come to us even after we found out about the existence of magic, we didn't think it was a good idea," Mrs. Williams elaborated. "Sarah's stubborn."
"Extremely stubborn," Mr. Williams agreed.
"I see," Minerva murmured, needing to take a moment to register what she had just been told and wondered how she was going to report it back to Albus. You're absolutely correct, she imagined herself explaining. Sarah Williams is odd. So odd, in fact, even her family seems to think so. Mentally shaking herself from her thoughts, Minerva looked up ahead only to find Mister Williams standing in front of them, his sister nowhere in sight.
"Sarah abandoned me," Mister Williams informed them.
"That girl," Mr. Williams groaned, looking over his shoulder. "She must have spotted a bookstore."
Mister Williams nodded. "She told me to meet her there once we get the money exchanged."
"Of course she did," Mrs. Williams replied, her tone filled with amusement.
Minerva looked back and forth from Williams to Williams, shocked at the easy atmosphere surrounding them. She had already known Sarah Williams to be odd from Albus' briefing so she was not so surprised that the young girl could confidently walk around in the middle of the Wizarding World alone. Most of her shock came from the rest of her family not worrying at all that their daughter had decided to flounce around in an entirely unfamiliar world.
She cleared her throat and decided not to think too much of it. "This is Gringotts," she said, motioning towards the large marble building in front and nodding politely at the two goblins stationed outside of it.
"Ooh, nice," Mister Williams said.
"Since young Mister Williams will be attending Hogwarts, you may open up an account for him," she informed the parents, easily slipping into the role of deputy headmistress. "Since he is underage, as his parents and legal guardians, you will be able to limit the amount of money he can withdraw and his account can later be directly linked to his wand." She glanced at the young wizard. "I can explain more about that later."
"Well," Mrs. Williams said slowly. "It doesn't hurt to open up an account. Especially if there's an emergency of some sort, right?"
Minerva nodded in agreement. "Yes. However, I assure you that Mister Williams will be provided with any necessities during his stay in Hogwarts. First and second-year students rarely have any need to use their own funds." At Mr. Williams' confused look, Minerva elaborated, "Third-year students and above are given the opportunity to go to Hogsmeade—a small village near Hogwarts—where they can spend money."
Mrs. Williams turned towards her husband. "What do you think?" she asked softly.
"We might as well open one now," Mr. Williams said with a shrug. "This is Toby's world from now on; even if he doesn't need it now, he'll need it in the future."
"I'm getting a bank account?" the young wizard asked excitedly.
Minerva had to force herself not to react. Rarely does she ever encounter Muggle families so quick to accept the fact that their child's world was no longer with them. Forget young Miss Williams, the entire family was odd.
"Yes," Mrs. Williams answered, looking down at her son. "But you have to be responsible with it, all right?"
"I will!" Mister Williams answered with a firm nod.
Seeing that they had made their decision, Minerva cleared her throat. "Now then," she said. "Please follow me and I will help you with the process." She led them up the steps to Gringotts, nodding again to the goblins. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Mister Williams staring at goblin guards, taking in their particular appearance. At least he wasn't gawking, Minerva thought warily. Goblins were such sensitive creatures.
"Oh," Mrs. Williams breathed upon entering. "How nice."
Despite the rush outside in Diagon Alley, the inside of Gringotts was actually fairly quiet, but that was usually the case no matter how many people were in there. "Minerva McGonagall," she announced, stepping out in front of a teller's desk. "I would like to help a Muggleborn family open up their first account for their underage son."
The goblin looked up briefly, blinked, and then turned his attention back to his paperwork.
Next to her, Mrs. Williams frowned but Minerva was quick to place a hand on the mother's shoulder, shaking her head. Goblins were prideful and they definitely would not appreciate being rushed. Mrs. Williams did not have had the misfortune of dealing with Gringott goblins before and was not aware of the unspoken rule: goblins would get to you when they want to get to you. On good days, rushing them would get you ignored longer, but on bad days? Kicked out.
It was only after another three minutes had passed did the goblin finally look up from his writing. His beady eyes taking in the family in front of him before his gaze landed on Mister Williams' small figure. "Name?" he asked.
"Toby," the young wizard answered, licking his suddenly dried lips. Despite his excitement about the Wizarding World, it was obvious that the goblin's attitude was not part of the positive experience he was hoping for. "Tobias, I mean."
The goblin didn't appear to care for the quivering boy. "Surname?" he continued, his tone as nonchalant as ever.
"Williams," he squeaked. "Tobias Williams."
At that, the goblin paused and Minerva watched with astonishment as he began paling with such rapidness that even she felt a bit worried. Licking his lips, the goblin placed his quill down slowly with a trembling hand. How particular, Minerva thought. She had never seen a goblin look so nervous before. In fact, she didn't even think it was possible for them to feel such an emotion. Minerva even believed that they could do business with the Dark Lord himself without batting an eyelash. Perhaps they would also make him wait three minutes.
"And does Mister Tobias Williams," the goblin said, his tone oddly... respectful, "have a sister?"
Sister? thought Minerva.
"Sarah?" Mister Williams asked, confused. "Sarah's at the bookstore, right now. But she's not going to be opening an account here; she's not a witch."
"Of course not!" the goblin immediately spat, shocking Minerva into almost taking a step back. He then cleared his throat. "Of course, of course," he murmured, his tone easing back into unusual respectfulness. His beady eyes glanced around. "I beg your pardon, Master Williams, excuse me for a moment." He hopped out of his seat without waiting for a response and made his way to Gringott's head goblin, interrupting him and his client.
Master Williams? Minerva thought, bewildered.
"Is this normal?" Mr. Williams asked, confused.
"No," Minerva muttered, staring after the goblins curiously. "Not at all."
Unfortunately, the goblins were speaking in a language she could not understand. But she could see them clearly and she watched as the two goblins whispered furiously to one another before pausing to look over in their direction. Their eyes, Minerva noticed, were completely trained on young Mister Williams. But it wasn't Mister Williams specifically they were concerned about, she reminded herself. While they might have certainly reacted to the young wizard's name, it was Sarah Williams they asked about. She pursed her lips in thought; there really was something odd about the girl. But what could it be that had goblins, of all things, reacting?
They had to wait a couple more minutes before the two goblins were finally finished with their conversation. And then it was the head goblin making his way towards them, taking the place of their previous teller. "I apologize for the trouble, Master Williams. I am Nornok, the current head of Gringotts. I understand that you wish to open an account."
Master Williams! Minerva thought again, still bewildered.
"Um... y-yes," the young boy stuttered.
"Is there a problem?" Minerva asked, looking around discreetly. All around them, various goblins were not-so-subtly glancing in their direction. It was seriously putting her on edge.
Nornok's beady eyes flickered in her direction for only a brief moment but it was enough for her to realize that his unusual courteous attitude towards Tobias Williams would not be extended to her. "No," he told her shortly and then turned back to Mister Williams, his tone smoother. "No problem at all." He climbed into the seat and smiled. It was an expression Minerva had never seen before. On any goblin. "Now, shall we begin?"
Mister Williams glanced at his parents who nodded. "U-um, okay," he said, uncomfortably before adding, "please."
Nornok nodded and pulled out fresh parchment and scribbled something on it. Once he was finished, the parchment flew up and away from the desk, heading somewhere into the depths of the bank for filing. He cleared his throat and pulled out a ring. "Your vault number is thirteen," he told them, leaning over the desk to hand Mister Williams the ring, which the young boy accepted with a shy nod of thanks. "If you wish to collect anything from your vault, you will need to let us know. In order to access your vault, you need two goblins, one of which must be myself and that ring in order to open it."
Minerva's head spun. Thirteen? What? What? It was her understanding that the higher the vault number, the deeper underground the vault was, and therefore, the tighter the security. Her own vault only required a key so how come a Muggleborn needed two goblins and a ring key she had never even heard of before to access it? And thirteen? What? High numbers were the highly secured vaults but the lower numbers were the vaults that the bank used for themselves. Minerva was sure individual and family vaults didn't start until the low hundreds.
She wanted to ask but Nornok had already moved on. Besides, she doubted the goblin would even answer her question. "Now, Master Williams, will you be linking your wand to your vault with us now or later?"
Mister Williams blinked. "Eh? Oh, um, later. I haven't got my wand yet." He looked up at his mother for a moment before turning back to the goblin. "But we can exchange currency now, right?"
"And we would also like to deposit some money into the... vault," Mrs. Williams added.
"Of course," Nornok agreed, nodding.
Minerva could do nothing but stand there and watch, observing but not really understanding. She felt slightly displaced from the entire situation. What in the world was going on? Unfortunately, she was the only one who completely understood exactly how odd the goblins were acting. While Mister Williams and his family may have found the goblin's behavior strange, they could not have realized the magnitude of the oddness of the situation without actually being familiar with goblins.
Two security goblins?
"Squeak!" Sarah hissed, attempting to keep her voice low. "Put that book back!"
The small goblin giggled, placing it on the ground just in time as an unsuspecting wizard stepped onto what was previously smooth, uninterrupted ground. He immediately slipped on the book, his arms and legs flailing as he landed on his back with a loud omph!
"Oh my god," Sarah whispered in horror, ducking behind a shelf lest he thought she had something to do with it.
Squeak appeared on a bookshelf next to her, giggling madly and holding his stomach.
"Squeak!" she whispered furiously.
"It's okay, Lady," Squeak said, reaching out and petted her cheeks. They both peeked around the shelf, watching the wizard as he got up, dusted himself off, huffed, and stomped away in embarrassment. The book he had slipped on earlier was nowhere to be found. "No broken bones," he assured her as that was one of Sarah's rules.
"That's beside the point," Sarah scolded. Sometimes, hairline fractures were worst. Goblins. You give them a rule and they'll find six loopholes.
He shrugged and turned around and promptly squeaked in happiness when he caught sight of a book with a large feather engraved onto its cover. He gave it a once over before unhinging his jaw and moving to stuff the entire thing into his mouth only for Sarah to pick it up and away from his reach. "Aw," he muttered mournfully.
"No," Sarah said. "No eating books."
Squeak pouted. "Then can I have Lady's other earring?"
"My other—" She dropped the book, both her hand flying up to her ears. "Squeak!" she exclaimed, feeling only her right earring. "Where is it?"
Ears twitching, Squeak giggled. "Tummy!"
Sarah felt her eyebrows twitch in annoyance. "You ate my earring?"
Rubbing his stomach in satisfaction, the small goblin gave a blissful sigh. "Was delicious, he confirmed. "Very shiny."
Feeling all the fight leave her body, Sarah could do nothing but groan. "Do you have idea how expensive they were?" she muttered tiredly.
"Expensive?" Squeak asked, eyes wide and ears twitching with worry.
Staring down at the goblin's small, trembling body, Sarah felt her heart soften. "Never mind," she sighed, reaching down to give him a light pat on his head.
Squeak looked up hopefully, "Lady won't bog Squeak?"
"I won't," she confirmed, straightening up. "Just don't eat my earrings again." She narrowed her eyes. "Or anything else, for that matter. Unless it's food."
"Unless it's food," Squeak repeated. "Got it, Lady."
"Good," Sarah said, looking around to make sure she wasn't being watched. She already had a reputation in her neighborhood, she didn't need the same one among the wizarding folks. "All right, let's get out of here," she told the small goblin, who jumped onto her shoulder with practiced ease. "I got some books I want to buy but I can't do that without magic money."
"We're going to Gringotts?" Squeak asked.
"If that's the bank, yeah," Sarah confirmed. "Unless they completely forgot about me." She made her way out of the bookstore and was pleasantly surprised to see her family and the professor making their way towards her. "Oh! You guys are finished?"
"Yep!" Toby told her cheerfully.
"We're not going to Gringotts?" Squeak asked mournfully.
Sarah ignored the small goblin, unable to answer a question no one else could hear. Besides, she was sure the goblin was only looking forward to shiny wizard coins that he could stuff into his mouth. "You have the money?" she asked her brother instead.
"Let's go buy Toby's things first," Irene said. "Then we'll buy you your books."
"Oh man," Sarah muttered.
Her father patted her on the shoulder, prompting Squeak to squeal and scramble onto her other shoulder in order to avoid his hand. "Don't worry, Sarah, we exchanged enough money for you."
"Yeah. I want to get my wand," Toby said, chattering excitedly. "And I got my own vault now, which I'm going to link to my wand later." He gave her a sly look. "In the future, you can always give me money and I'll buy you your books. Plus delivery fees, of course."
"Of course," Sarah replied dryly, rolling her eyes. This little brat. And after all, she had gone through for him.
"Oh!" Toby exclaimed, suddenly remembering. "They asked about you, Sarah."
The professor looked up at his words, watching Sarah with careful precision but Sarah couldn't imagine what for. "Hm?" she asked. "Who asked about me?"
"The bank tellers," Toby answered. "They—well, I don't know what they are but they're not human."
Sarah turned around, squinting at the two figures stationed outside the large, white building in the distance. She could just barely make out Gringotts Bank engraved on the marble above its doorway. "Huh. That's strange," she simply commented as they continued their way through Diagon Alley.
"So what did they ask?"
Toby shrugged. "Don't remember."
Irene rolled her eyes, "They didn't really ask anything. Just wanted to know if Toby had an older sister."
"Well," Sarah said, in an uncaring manner. "Maybe they thought I was a witch and that I already had an account; they probably wanted us to share accounts." She laughed. "It's too bad the magic gene skipped me."
"I'm surprised you're not a witch," Toby muttered. "Out of the two of us, you should have been the magical one."
"I'm glad I'm not a witch," Sarah immediately responded, her tone held such firmness that Professor McGonagall and her parents looked up in her direction. "I'm happier sitting in the sideline and watching."
"But Sarah," Toby said. "You love fairy tales."
"Yes," she agreed. "But that doesn't mean I actually want to live in one."
"I remember when you wanted to," her father commented softly. Despite worrying about whether or not his daughter would ever get her head out of the clouds all those years ago, he had to admit he missed the old Sarah. When Sarah was young, she had no problem finding magic in everything. Back then, she could make everything so much more exciting than it really was.
"Yes," she agreed again. "But that was a long time ago." She had grown up a lot since. Magic was fun. Magic was exciting. But magic was also dangerous.
Professor McGonagall raised her eyebrows, obviously curious.
"So," Sarah exclaimed brightly, wanting a change of subject. "What were the bank tellers? I didn't know you guys employed... non-humans."
...many of our kinds were forced into slavery, Hoggle had said.
"We don't usually," Professor McGonagall admitted. "They're goblins and we have a rather long history—"
Sarah tripped. "Goblins?!"
"Yeah!" nodded Squeak, still sitting on her shoulder. "Great master Nornok works there now. He's been our chicken bowling champion for 'bout seventeen years. A true legend. Romby wants to take his title but he keeps eating the chicken," he informed her sadly.
Most of my Gringotts vaults research comes from Harry Potter wiki. Vaults one through three held Knuts, Sickles, and Galleons that people could collect ( so I guess it just deducts them from their individual "account" ). So in this universe, I just made most of the double-digit vaults for bank use.
Also, the order of vault security goes like this ( for those who do not remember, like myself ):
- Goblin security ( usually a specific goblin would need to touch the entryway )
- Dragons and sphinxes
Why vault number thirteen?
"You have thirteen hours in which to solve the labyrinth before your baby brother becomes one of us... forever."
Are there more hidden reasons? Who knows? ;)
"And what in the world is wrong with you?" Jareth asked. He tapped his riding crop against his leather boot as he looked down at his dejected subject. Something must seriously be bothering the small goblin since he was not joining his fellow idiots in another round of "kick the chicken."
"Squeak was bad," the goblin replied glumly. He rubbed his stomach and sighed.
Jareth raised a delicate eyebrow. "Indeed? What did you do this time?" And did it require him getting bogged? Ever since the last incident involving Sarah's missing undergarments, freshly-hatched chickens, and a mysterious fire, he wasn't sure if his bog had enough room for another goblin.
Despite his limited intelligence, even Squeak was smart enough to know that upsetting Lady meant upsetting Kingy. And Kingy had a temper. "Um... Um..."
Jareth's other eyebrow rose up and joined the first.
"Squeak ate Lady's earring!" the goblin cried out.
Jareth blinked slowly. "Didn't you already—ah, I'm guessing you have a matching pair in your stomach right now."
The goblin nodded glumly before elaborating, "It was very shiny and I forgot that Lady had said earring was... earring was..." He paused, thinking. Jareth was almost concerned he would burst a blood vessel from trying so hard. "I forgot."
"Is that all?" Jareth asked, leaning back against his throne.
"Yes," Squeak nodded. "But Lady is sad now."
Jareth was sure Sarah was more frustrated than sad but looking down at the depressed goblin, he decided it would be best not to mention it. Oh precious, he thought. The things I do for you. He held his hand out in front of him, gathering his magic in his palm, and watched as it solidified into a crystal. "Here," he said, tossing the crystal at the goblin; as it sailed through the air, it turned into a small bag filled with a handful of precious stones. "Bring this to Lady."
Squeak peered into the bag and gasped. "Ooh, shiny!"
"Don't eat it," Jareth said with narrowed eyes. Squeak had a history of eating everything that shined and glittered. It wouldn't usually be a problem since goblins could digest just about anything, but Jareth was in no mood to soothe the goblin once he realized he had just eaten Sarah's gift.
"I got it, Kingy!" Squeak exclaimed, disappearing on the spot.
Jareth leaned back again and groaned. He certainly hoped so. Producing another crystal, he peered into its foggy depths and sighed. Come on, precious, he thought. Say my name.
Say my name.
Sarah woke up with a gasp that had nothing to do with the voice in her fast-fading dream.
"Wake up, Sarah!" Toby said, emphasizing each word with a bounce. Despite the excitement, Toby was careful enough to avoid her ribs, and instead, directed all his weight onto her lower abdomen.
"Toby," she managed to gasp. "You're getting way too heavy for this!"
He wrinkled his nose in response. "I'm going to Hogwarts today so you can't sleep in. You promised you would come with us to the train station, remember?"
"Yes, yes," Sarah groaned. She took a peek at the clock on her end table and scowled. She had at least another hour before she needed to get up and even then she would have more than enough time to get ready. "Now get off of me, I'm running out of breath."
Toby jumped off immediately, obviously too nervous and excited to keep still in one place for long. "Great! I'll go wake mom and dad!"
"Wait," Sarah called out after him. "Even they're not awake yet?" But it was too late, Toby was already out the door and down the hall. She stared at the empty doorway for a moment before sighing, forcing herself out of the warm comfort of her blankets.
After a moment of silence, Sarah heard a faint, "What the—?" followed by a louder, "Wake up!" and shook her head in amusement.
Quietly, Sarah crossed her room to close her bedroom door and after a moment of mental debate, locked it for good measure; an excited Toby was an unpredictable Toby, after all. "All right," she said to herself, rubbing her eyes with the heel of her palms in an attempt to rub away any lingering sleepiness. "Gip, Romby, Squeak?" she called out, her voice hushed but firm.
The three small goblins immediately appeared on her bed, though Gip looked as if he had just been crying. Sarah blinked at the goblin's expression and tilted her head in question. "Gip? Are you all right?" In her experience, goblins were rarely ever sad and it was strange seeing one so obviously crestfallen.
"Gip is no longer Gip," he answered pitifully. "Kingy changed Gip's name to Yip-yap."
Sarah blinked slowly. "What?" she asked.
"Kingy says I do nothing but yip and yap so now I should just be called Yip-yap." He sniffled.
Sarah stared for another moment before sighing, pinching the bridge of her nose in annoyance. "Well, that's just stupid," she replied, reaching out to pat Gip in a comforting manner. "If it makes you feel any better, I'll change your name back to Gip."
Gip's impossibly large eyes grew even larger. "Lady can do that?" he asked in awe. He blinked and turned towards his fellow goblins. "Can Lady do that?"
They blinked back.
"Of course I can," Sarah assured him.
"Yeah!" Squeak agreed. "Lady's Lady. Plus, Lady can bog us."
Romby clapped in excitement. "Yay! Yip-yap is now Gip again!"
The small goblin beamed.
"Okay," Sarah said slowly, allowing them a couple minutes to celebrate. "Now that we have that over with... Do you guys remember what today is?"
They looked at each other in horror. "Lady's birthday?" guessed Squeak hesitantly, wondering if he should go back to Kingy and ask for another pouch of fine jewels, the first one was still sitting in his pocket. He was familiar with Lady's expression whenever she received gifts from them (who in turn, gets them from Kingy); shocked, awed, and happy. Until suspicion would flash across her face but that part was always blocked from his memories.
"No," Sarah said. "Toby's going to Hogwarts today."
The three goblins oohed at the same time.
"And do you remember what we talked about?"
They nodded excitedly.
But Sarah wasn't actually convinced. "What are the rules?" she asked them.
"Protect Lady's brother from danger," supplied Romby.
"Keep out of sight," added Gip.
"From everyone," reminded Sarah. It was arguably, one of the more important rules; the last thing she needed was the Wizarding World discovering their existence and therefore endangering the entire Underground. "Including Toby."
The three goblins nodded in understanding.
"But we can have fun though, right, Lady?" Squeak asked, turning large eyes towards her.
Sarah eyed the goblin back warily, their definition of fun usually meant someone was going to get hurt, humiliated, bogged, or some sort of combination of the three. She still remembered that one incident when Moby, another goblin, had brought back her bras—or more specifically, what was left of it—while muttering something about chicken eggs and a fireball. "Not too much fun," she finally answered and wondered if it was the right thing to say when three identical grins widened in delight.
"You got it, Lady!" Romby said with a surprisingly formal-looking salute. He was practically purring in delight.
Sarah nodded but she wasn't sure she liked the idea of the three goblins heading off to Hogwarts together and causing some sort of mayhem in their wake. They had the ability to become invisible to anyone they didn't want spotting them, and Sarah did not want to be the person who had accidentally destroyed the Wizarding World simply because she wanted to ensure her brother's safety. Without an authority figure, one goblin was bad enough but three together meant they would be edging each other on to do more and more daring things.
When they were still living in America, there was that one incident with their neighbor, Mr. Morison who had woken up in the middle of a nearby lake, floating on top of a rapidly sinking mattress. In the goblins' defense, however, he had never been very nice to the Williams so she thought it was rather amusing until she went home one day only to find his entire house missing. Mr. Morison himself was hospitalized earlier that day due to both visual and auditory hallucinations.
Sarah knew that her goblins could magically take things away—wished-away children, for instance—but she wasn't aware they could do the same thing to two-story houses. "Yummy," was all they told her when she asked them what had happened before ultimately decided that it was better not to know.
She never brought up the incident again and Mr. Morison has since recovered.
"Okay!" Sarah finally exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Just remember to stay safe too; I don't want you guys getting hurt." They looked at each other for a moment before giggling in amusement; them getting hurt should be the very least of her worries. She pursed her lips and glared suspiciously, wondering what horrors they planned to unleash on the Wizarding world before deciding that she really didn't want to know that either.
Sarah looked down, blinking. "Yes, Squeak?"
The small goblin held a small pouch, blinking large, unusually innocent-looking eyes at her. "Gift for Lady." He beamed, blinking almost shyly. "Sorry for eating all your earrings, Lady."
"Aww, Squeak," Sarah cooed, taking the pouch. "That's so sweet of you."
He flushed an odd-looking green. "Thanks, Lady."
"Just don't eat any more of my jewelry," Sarah told him, pouring out the contents of the pouch into her hand. "You're going to give yourself a stomachache or something..." she trailed off as she caught sight of the glittering precious stones.
Oh my. Despite their shine, they looked mostly raw and uncut so Sarah wasn't too worried that Squeak had stolen the gems from other people. The other two goblins oohed at the sight.
Squeak shook his head. "Nah," he told her. "Kingy says we have very strong stomach... juices... so we can eat anything. And Kingy also says that if I regur—regurg—er... throw up Lady's shiny stones again, they come back extra shiny!"
Shara blinked. Paused. And then looked down at the shiny, raw and uncut stones in her hands, the goblin's words taking a moment to register. But when they finally did, her gaze snapped up in alarm as she stared at Squeak in horror.
"'You might have to look closely,' she says," Sarah grumbled as yet another Englishman bumped into her. She grunted in acknowledgment when he apologized but continued muttering under her breath. "I thought the Wizarding World was supposed to be some sort of secret hush-hush. Who the hell sticks the entrance to their secret world in the middle of London's busiest train station, anyway?" She glanced around, eyes skimming the platform numbers overhead and wrinkled her nose in distaste. "And what kind of platform is Platform Nine and Three-Quarters? Who the hell is inventing these things?"
"Sarah, stop cussing at people and help us look for this stupid platform," her father scolded.
"You would think they would send someone to escort us the first time around," Irene added. "This is the third time someone stepped on my shoe."
"Well," Robert said. "This is platform ten and platform nine was back there but I definitely did not see some Platform Nine and Three-Quarters." He groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Toby, do your magic senses see anything?"
Toby, who was busy making clicking noises at his owl looked up in alarm. "What?" he asked, startled, his father's words taking a few seconds to register. He looked around but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Um, what am I supposed to be looking for?" he felt his stomach drop when his father groaned and turned. "Sarah?" he tried worryingly.
If all else fails, Sarah was the one to go to.
But she was distracted, staring off into the distance with narrowed eyes. Was she just seeing things or were people running through that brick pillar? "Oh, you have got to be kidding me," she grumbled. "Really?"
"Do you see that?" she asked, leaning down so she was even with her brother's eye level. She rested a hand on his shoulder and used her other one to point out something in the distance.
Toby followed the direction of her finger and lit up in awe as he realized exactly where the Wizarding platform was. It was almost as if Diagon Alley wasn't enough to completely convince Toby of magic; he needed to see people running into walls to solidify it. "That is so cool!"
"Oh, thank god!" Irene breathed. "Did you guys find it?"
"Right there, mom!" Toby squealed with barely-contained excitement. He pulled almost desperately at Irene's sleeve, bouncing up and down as if he didn't already have her attention. "Do you see it? Do you see them?"
Robert and Irene turned their gazes, following the direction of Toby's bouncing finger and stared. Then blinked. "What are we looking at?" Robert finally asked, tone flat.
"It's right there, Dad! Can't you see it?"
It took a couple more seconds of her father and Irene staring off into the distance in confusion before Sarah finally realized that there must be some sort of magical shield. Even so, she thought. Wouldn't it be easier if they had chosen somewhere with less human traffic? It really couldn't get any busier than this. She'll probably always be a small-town girl, Sarah decided, fondly remembering lazy Sundays and playing dress-up at the neighborhood park."
"Right there!" Toby tried again.
Robert squinted, concentrating hard but still seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
"Oh!" he exclaimed in shock, suddenly noticing the family Toby had been trying to get him to notice for the past few seconds. Honestly, he wasn't even sure how he had missed them in the first place. If the mass of red hair wasn't eye-catching enough, they were also wearing outlandish outfits: mismatched colors, cloaks, pointy hats and all. "Urgh!" Robert choked, watching one of the redheads run into and through the brick pillar. "We're not going to have to do that, are we? Are we?"
Toby scowled. "Yes, you are!" The thought of his family leaving him to run through that brick wall by himself made his stomach churn.
It can't be that much different than running through mirrors, Sarah thought encouragingly. Not that she had actually visited the Underground since her first time there (she wasn't risking the chance of accidentally running into the Goblin King, thank you very much) but she had seen her friends come and go multiple times without getting hurt.
"It's like Alice in Wonderland," Irene tried, eyeing the wall distastefully as they maneuvered their way through the sea of people.
"No," Robert replied flatly. "It's a concussion, that's what it is." He shuddered. "Do you think it'll work on... us? What happens if it only works on magical people, like Toby?"
"And leave me by myself?" Toby asked, stomach muscles tightening. "I hope not!"
By the time they reached, the family of redheads was long gone, leaving the Williams to fend for themselves. No one spoke up as they were all too busy staring at the brick pillar.
"So," Robert tried innocently. "Who wants to go first?"
Seeing that neither parents nor younger brother were going to risk public humiliation and a possible trip to the emergency room, Sarah bravely stepped forward. "I deserve a giant Christmas present for this," she muttered, steeling herself in case anything goes wrong.
Wait, she thought. Do I actually even need to run into it? Why couldn't she just... walk through it? Hoggle did it all the time. And Lugo too! If Lugo could simply walk through portals, anyone could.
Jaw set, Sarah stalked forward with confidence she didn't feel. What little confidence she did have immediately faltered just as the brick pillar loomed close and she squeezed her eyes shut. Magic don't fail me now, she thought just as the sounds of the busy train station faded, the familiar tingle of magic creeping its way down her spine.
The noise of the train station had only faded for a mere moment before it came back, seemly louder than before. For a second, Sarah thought that perhaps she did not manage to make it through because clearly, she was still at the train station. But of course she was, she realized as she opened her eyes. A magical train station judging by the flying owls and burst of colorful sparks from sticks—Wands, Sarah reminded herself.
"Well, Toto," she muttered, feeling very much like she had just stepped into a Halloween costume shop. "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Just as she remembered her family members on the other side of the pillar, Sarah was unceremoniously pushed forward from behind. She squeaked, arms flailing around wildly as she attempted to catch her balance.
"Sorry!" Toby cried out, reaching out to grab her—and possibly go down with her considering his size—just as Sarah felt herself getting yanked backward.
"Erk," she choked, adjusting the neckline of her shirt. "Thanks, Deebie," Sarah whispered to the tiny goblin that had long since made herself a home in Sarah's hair. Despite her size, the small goblin had strength that could not be rivaled. It took her another moment to regain her balance.
"Is this it?" Irene asked just as she and Robert stepped out into the magical Nine and Three-Quarters platform. "Ooh! This is it!"
They looked around, taking in the rush of a new school year—magical or not, they were all the same—if they thought the train platforms were busy before, it was nothing compared to this one. If parents weren't busy making sure their children had everything by magically unpacking everything and looking through the luggage then they were running after escaped pets. All around them, schoolchildren were chattering, meeting old friends they hadn't seen all summer.
"Well, kid," Sarah said, reaching out to lay a hand on her brother's head. "This is it."
"Yeah," Toby squeaked, his voice unusually soft. Either that or this platform was a lot louder than she thought.
"You have everything, right?" Irene asked, looking around worryingly. "Just text—I mean—send... letters... if you need anything." She eyed Toby's new owl warily. It looked rather put out to be confined in its small cage and glared at her in response. "And don't forget to feed Hel, it looks like it wants to eat me."
Toby nodded absentmindedly, still looking around with wide eyes.
"And I expect a letter a week from you, young man. Just because you're going to school in some magical school somewhere I can't go, doesn't mean I'm not your mother," Irene continued.
Sarah blinked at her brother's softly-spoken words and turned to look at him. At first, she thought that he was still busy taking in the sights but quickly realized that his fingers were shaking. Ah, she thought and knelt down. "Toby?" she said, reaching out to hold him by his arms and spun him around so that he was facing her. "Toby, what's wrong?"
It was the obvious worry in her voice that finally broke through the mental dam he hadn't even realized he had built around himself during the past few weeks. He realized—and actually understood—for the first time since Headmaster Dumbledore's visit that he wasn't just going to be stepping into a different world. He was going to be living in it and his beloved family—his sister. His Sarah!—wasn't going to be with him.
It wasn't just excitement he had been feeling; it was nerves and fear and trepidation. And it was these feelings that started to swell up within him until they were threatening to spill over.
"Do I have to go?" he asked quietly, feeling a familiar stinging behind his eyes. He blinked hard, barely noticing his parents exchanging glances behind Sarah.
"Oh, Toby," Sarah sighed, pulling him into her arms and hugging him tightly.
He inhaled deeply, breathing in the comfort of Sarah's familiar scent despite feeling the embarrassment of needing it even though he was practically twelve already! "I don't want to go!" he finally confessed, unable to stop the tears from leaking out. The excitement he had felt about the Wizarding world had completely faded at this point, leaving a terrifying, nervous feeling in its wake.
"Yes, you do," Sarah said, pushing him away so she was holding him out at arm's length again. "You know you do; you're just nervous right now."
"I wish you could come with me," Toby said.
Sarah smiled and reached over to wipe Toby's tears away. "You're going to be fine, Toby. Remember when we first moved to here to London? You didn't like it one bit."
"That's different," he mumbled. "You came with me."
"Don't think we're abandoning you just because we're not physically there, sweetie," Irene added. "You can always write to us and if some sort of emergency comes up, I'm sure the professors there will let us come see you." She smiled, leaning down so she could brush Toby's hair away from his eyes. "Besides, you're coming back during the holiday break, remember?"
Toby wrinkled his nose. "That's four months away."
Sarah leveled him with an amused glance. "Toby, you'll be learning magic. Those four months will pass in an instant."
He didn't sound convinced and the three adults exchanged worried glances. "Won't you at least give it a try?" Robert asked a tad awkwardly; he was never good in these kinds of situations. He blamed Sarah for that; she used to throw the worst kind of temper tantrums. It was amazing she turned out as well as she did.
"If you don't like it, we can always think of something else," Irene added. "Maybe get private tutoring for your magic. But you need to give this a try first."
Toby looked up then, happy that there were alternatives. "Okay," he finally agreed. "But if I send a letter, you guys have to come and get me! Promise?" He looked over at his sister.
Sarah smiled. "Promise."
And that was when Toby knew everything was going to be all right. Sarah held true to all her promises, even the very little ones that Toby didn't actually expect her to remember and keep. He smiled, glancing over at his shoulder at the rapidly emptying station as the students began boarding the train. "I'll be okay?"
"You're going to be fine," Sarah said, ruffling his hair once more. "You're going to make tons of friends and have a great time. You're an amazing person, you know? You're resilient."
"Of course you are," Sarah assured him, sounding insulted that he thought otherwise. If he could survive thirteen hours with the Goblin King—or however many hours he was actually Underground then since someone liked to play with time—the Wizarding world would be a walk in the park. "Even if I'm not there Toby, you're going to be fine. You're protected." She would never leave him unprotected again. Never. And if she wasn't going to be there with him physically, she could damn well make sure a part of her was.
His entire body seemed to warm up at her words. "Okay," he finally said, feeling loads better. "I'm leaving now, then?"
"Yes," Sarah answered. "Write to me as soon as you can and tell me all about your new school."
"'Kay," he agreed, hugging her again.
His parents leaned down and joined the hug-fest and held on tightly for a couple, warm seconds. Toby could feel his mother shaking, not wanting to cry in front of him. "Be careful," she whispered.
Toby nodded and stepped back, staring at them for a moment before finally turning around to make his way towards the train. He sniffed, wiping away the last of his tears and took another deep breath, trying to ease his nervousness.
"Do you think I might have spoiled him a bit too much?" Sarah asked quietly. She smiled and waved when Toby hesitated, looking over his shoulder at them. Unlike Sarah, who had always been independent, Toby had been mothered by both his mother and his sister so his lack of individualism was unsurprising.
"Definitely," Robert immediately replied. "He's going to end up like a spoiled brat like you were if this keeps up."
Sarah winced at the reminder and then winced again as another kid accidentally bumped into Toby, making him stumble.
"Ooh," Irene breathed. "Poor Toby, he's so nervous."
"Sorry," the older student immediately apologized, his embarrassment making his voice loud enough that even Sarah could hear it from the other side of the station. She watched Toby smile faintly and nod in acknowledgment and it probably would have been the end of that particular situation if Romby hadn't decided this was part of the job Sarah had assigned him.
—stay out of sight.
Sarah watched in horror as Romby swarmed around the student's feet, unseen and unnoticed, nipping at delicate ankles. He went down like a lead ball.
"Damn it," she hissed under her breath. I'm going to have to talk to him about that."
Fifteen minutes later, the train had already left the station and was steadily making its way to Hogwarts but Toby was still walking up and down the aisle trying to find an empty compartment. He supposed he could enter an occupied one and introduce himself but it seemed like everyone already knew each other. Even his fellow first years but he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised; Headmaster Dumbledore had mentioned that the Wizarding World was a small place.
I'm regretting this already, he thought, hoping that he wouldn't be spending the entire train ride trying to find a seat.
He sighed, dragging his luggage along behind him and continued on only to bump into an older student who was just leaving his compartment.
"Oof," Toby cried out, falling backward. He winced at the pain shooting up his body and looked up.
The older student sneered back down at him. "Watch where you're going," he snapped.
"Sorry," Toby mumbled, rubbing his sore elbow. Behind him, Hel was screeching with fury at the startling movement, trying to turn upright within the confinements of her small cage. Toby scrambled to fix her; he had a feeling Hel held grudges. His own fault probably; he was the one who named her, after all.
"Hey, Anderson, the trolley here yet?" someone asked from inside the compartment.
"It's just some first-year," the student—Anderson—replied to his friend. He then squinted down at Toby. "Wait, aren't you that sniveling Muggleborn from the train station?"
Toby pursed his lips, wondering just how many people had witnessed his emotional breakdown. "My name is Toby."
"Toby, huh?" Anderson asked, snickering. "Like 'Teary Toby?'"
Toby stared at him. Then blinked. "That's really unique," he finally said. "You must be very proud of yourself."
The sarcasm was hard to miss.
First-years were usually nervous creatures and it was clear from Anderson's expression that he was well and truly taken back from Toby's oddly confident and sarcastic comeback. It sounded even stranger in his young, unbroken voice. Of course, Toby felt nowhere nearly as confident as he sounded but Sarah had always told him it was better to stand up for yourself than allow someone to push you around.
His response was a mere reflex but judging by the darkening expression on Anderson's face, it was one he was going to pay for.
"Why you little—"
"Bullying first years, Anderson?" a new voice cut in.
Toby immediately felt himself tense up; the voice said it in such a familiar no-nonsense, bossy tone, he thought it was his mother for an instant. He turned around, finding himself face to face with a girl—another student, clearly—with wild, frizzy hair that surrounded her like a sort of halo.
"Wasn't doing anything," Anderson mumbled, inching backward. He was obviously intimidated by the girl. He faltered a step, tripping over nothing but somehow managed to catch himself in time before scrambling back into his compartment.
"Don't think I won't take points off Gryffindor!" The girl hollered just as the compartment door slid shut. She huffed in annoyance, glaring at the closed door with such intensity, Toby was surprised it didn't melt down right then and there. Toby did not want to ever be on the other side of that glare.
Hel chose that moment to hoot, directing the girl's attention from the door to Toby. He immediately tensed but her gaze softened. "Hello, are you all right?"
He flushed. "I'm fine," he mumbled. "Thanks."
She only smiled in response but knelt down to help him pick up his fallen luggage. "I'm Hermione Granger," she introduced, holding out a hand. He grasped it—firmly, he could hear his father's voice reminding him—and shook it. "I'm a fifth-year prefect, so if you ever run into any more trouble, just let me know." She looked down, noting his clothes. "You're a first-year, aren't you?"
Toby nodded back, shyly. "Tobias Williams. You can call me Toby, though." He bit his lower lip, rolling it between his teeth. "Is it that obvious?"
"Well, you haven't been sorted yet." She gave his plain robes a pointed glance.
Ah, Toby thought. That's right, the Hogwart houses. He had completely forgotten about those; something about a lizard, a monkey, a cat, and a bird, if he was remembering correctly. Headmaster Dumbledore had recommended him to read Hogwarts: A History but he had skipped the chapters about the houses. He had been more interested about the classes he would be taking. And the ghosts! There were actual ghosts in Hogwarts, apparently!
"I take it you can't find a compartment?" Hermione asked kindly. Toby had a feeling she knew exactly how nervous he was, perhaps she had gone through the same thing years ago. "Would you like to sit with me? If you don't mind sitting with my friends, that is."
His eyes grew wide. "Really?" he breathed. "You don't mind?"
She grinned. "I don't if you don't."
He shook his head, excited, happy that he wouldn't be spending the entire train ride walking up and down the aisle. Together, they picked up his remaining luggage and she led him further down the train. "You must be nervous."
He only nodded in response.
Hermione smiled, voice softening. "I remember my first year here. I was as nervous as you, maybe even more so. I read Hogwarts: A History at least five times before the first day of classes. Have you read the book?" she asked, looking at him. "I could lend you my copy if you want."
"I have a copy," Toby replied, smiling. "Thank you, though. Headmaster Dumbledore recommended it to me when he visited."
Her eyebrows shot up, surprised. "Professor Dumbledore did?" She hesitated. "Are you... are you a Muggleborn?"
It took a moment for Toby to remember what that meant. "Muggleborn as in both my parents being... non-magical?"
"Then yeah," Toby confirmed. "I guess I am."
Hermione pursed her lips and for a moment Toby thought she disapproved. Hadn't Headmaster Dumbledore said something about a conflict with Muggleborns? "Well," she quickly continued, her voice cheerful. "Just remember that you can go to any prefect or professor if you run into trouble." She stopped in front of a compartment, sliding its door open and smiled at him. "Here we are!"
"Hey, Mione," a loud voice immediately sounded. "Tell Harry that Cedric wasn't—"
"I brought someone with me," she interrupted, strolling in.
Still a bundle of nervous energy, Toby slowly poked his head in, halting all conversation. He swallowed hard. "Hi," he greeted nervously. "I'm Toby." He twisted his hands, wondering if he did the right thing, accepting the frizzy-haired prefect's invitation. They didn't look very happy to see him, and it seemed like he had just interrupted a very important conversation.
One of the two redheads—the one that just spoke—rolled his eyes. "Starting your prefect duties already, Mione?"
Even without looking at her, Toby knew Hermione was scowling. Nevertheless, she took Hel's cage from him and gently placed it onto the large window ledge. "That's Ronald," she introduced. "You can ignore him. And these two are Ginny and Harry."
"Nice to meet you," Toby managed to squeak out.
Dark eyebrows shot upwards in surprise as if his greeting was somehow unusual. "You too," the boy—Harry—greeted back with a smile of his own. "Are you... are you a Muggleborn?"
It was Toby's turn to be surprised. "Is that obvious?" he asked, eyes darting to Hermione.
"No!" Harry immediately responded. "Not at all." Smile widening, he patted the empty seat next to him. "Would you like to sit?"
Toby nodded distractedly, his attention suddenly caught by a beautiful she-owl, sitting in a cage next to Hel's on the window ledge. She was eyeing Hel's much larger form with distaste, making a soft chirping noise before turning around to present her audience with her tail feathers.
"That's Hedwig," Harry introduced and Toby slid into the seat next to him.
"She's beautiful," Toby breathed, staring at the white snow owl in awe. He flashed a hesitant grin at the dark-haired boy and motioned towards his own owl. "This is Hel, it's short for Helreginn."
"Helreginn?" Hermione repeated with a startled squeak, settling down next to him. She gave him a look over as if she was actually seeing him for the first time. "You named your owl Helreginn?"
Toby flushed. It was a lot funnier when Sarah was the one stunned. Now it was just embarrassing. "Well, it was either that or Enyo but I like Norse mythology a lot better," he muttered.
She blinked. "Then why not Eir, Nanna, Frigg, or something?"
Toby's eyes lit up at Hermione's obvious knowledge of Norse mythology. He could feel himself relaxing just the slightest bit for the first time since stepping onto the train. "You know what they're talking about?" he heard Ronald ask Harry, his voice a soft whisper.
"Nope," was the quiet response.
"It really started as a joke," Toby elaborated, grinning sheepishly. "My sister, Sarah, looked like she was going to have a heart attack when she heard the names I picked out. I thought it was kind of funny because mom and dad didn't know where it came from." He shrugged. "I was going to change it later but didn't know that once you give an owl a name, it won't answer to anything else. Besides," Toby continued, looking up. "Helreginn fits, don't you think?"
Hermione looked up at the right side of the owl's face which was slightly disfigured—most likely due to an accident of sorts. Thankfully, most of the owl's facial feathers grew back and it covered the majority of the disfigurement but it was still noticeable. "Yes," she agreed. "It does."
"Anyway," Ronald said, after a moment of silence. "You reckon we'll finally get a good DADA professor this year? No more Death Ea—"
Hermione glared and a well-placed elbow to the gut from Ginny, who was sitting next to him effectively shut him up.
The conversation died down before it even started then, no one knew what sort of subjects they could bring up with an innocent, Muggleborn first year in the compartment. Harry Potter's fame was out of the question, so was Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and certainly Cedric Diggory. And if Toby wasn't distracted by the beautiful countryside scenery going by, he probably would have noticed. He was, fortunately, blissfully unaware and felt himself relax even further.
From the corner of his eyes, he noticed the older student from before—Anderson—walking by the compartment from the compartment window, only to trip just as he passed by. Toby immediately turned to stare in surprise, wincing in sympathy as Anderson disappeared from view.
Ouch, he thought. That was the second time someone had tripped around him today.
For those unfamiliar with Norse mythology: Helreginn is known as the "Ruler of Hel". Not much is actually known about Helreginn but there is a very strong possibility that Helriginn is just another name for Hel who is most commonly known as the goddess of the underworld, the dead, and death itself. It is said that Hel's face is split in two in which one half is that of a beautiful woman, and the other, the face of a rotting corpse. Toby also mentioned Enyo, who is the Greek goddess of war and destruction. According to some texts, Enyo was even worst than Ares (the god of war), since she lives to see nothing but destroying cities and enjoying pain and suffering.
Hermione mentioned Eir, Nanna, and Frigg, all of which are also Norse goddesses. Eir is the goddess of health, healing, and medicine, Nanna, the goddess of peace and happiness, and Frigg, the goddess of motherhood and marriage.
Toby's Helreginn was actually based off of my friend's owl. She does wildlife rehabilitation, so she gets to take care of some really unique animals. Her owl was actually named Toby—believe it or not—and it's a great gray owl which is one of the world's largest owl... even though a lot of its size is due to it's thick layer of feathers.
Can you believe that even with all this magic, their best form of long-distant communication is through letters? Carried by owls (speaking of owls, I think I accidentally adopted a new one. He just showed up one morning and refused to leave me alone since. Sometimes, he even follows me to my dorm)! Anyway, I know you're probably really angry at me for not replying to your letter sooner but Hel got into a fight with the new owl and wouldn't take my letters. But I still stand by my statement. Sarah, I wish you could have come with me; you would really love it here.
Except for Professor Umbridge. You probably won't like her. The class itself isn't too bad (she teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts), just a lot of reading and essays but she kind of reminds me of Mrs. Golding back in Upper Nyack. She has the same sugar-sweet, candy cane voice even though she isn't as pretty. You guys definitely wouldn't get along, though. She'll probably want to pinch your cheeks too. Ha!
Anyway, Houses are just what the student body is split into upon entering Hogwarts. We earn points for being good and win a big yay at the end of the school year or something like that. Hermione keeps telling me to read the chapters about the Houses in Hogwarts: A History but it's so boring; I keep falling asleep every time I try. But I do know that you're sorted by traits, which is kind of cool. Hufflepuff is known for loyalty, patience, and friendliness so you would never be in my house. I think you're more a Ravenclaw—they're the blue and gold one that's known for intelligence and creativity—but mom always says you look better in green. Green and silver is Slytherin though and you don't like snakes—
Sarah looked up from her brother's letter to the smiling face of the barista. "Yes, that's me," she replied, reaching out and wrapping a hand around the warm cup. "Thank you." She glanced out the window, wondering if she should take her coffee to go but shuddered upon seeing the strong wind blowing someone's hat off their head. I don't think I'll ever get used to London weather, she thought. It didn't matter how long she had been living here, she would forever miss the ninety-degree plus summers (and Fahrenheit! She missed telling weather in Fahrenheit!). If it wasn't her desire to remain close to her family, she would have moved back to America a long time ago.
Sliding into an empty seat, Sarah placed her coffee on the tabletop out in front of her and turned her attention back to Toby's letter, frowning. Everyone had always warned her about babying Toby too much but they also teased her about her not knowing what to do with her life once Toby grew out of it. And she knew he would. Mommy's boy, daddy's girl, they were all the same; all children grew up. But this...
"I wish you could have come with me; you would really love it here."
"You probably won't like her."
"I think you're more a Ravenclaw..."
The theme was the same throughout the entire letter. Every paragraph had Toby pointing out things she would like. Every other sentence had some sort of implication of his desire for her to be there. With him. In a magical world that she wanted no part in. She didn't want magic in her life again. She didn't want to live in a world where fairy tales didn't exist for it did more harm than good. She almost lost Toby to magic—to fairy tales—for crying out loud. And yet...
She couldn't let go of it completely. Sarah didn't think she would ever be able to let it go completely. For as long as she could remember, she had always believed in magic; she had practically been born into it! And for a short period when she was fifteen, she had lived it. She had lived in a world where doorknockers talked and magical, smelly bogs were used as punishments. She had lived in a world where dreams were reality and reality was only as limited as one's imagination. And as much as Sarah wanted to leave all that behind her, she knew she never let go of her friends—of Hoggle, and Lugo, and Sir Didymus, and the ever-loyal Ambrosious. And her goblins, of course.
(Oh! Her goblins.)
Her sweet, darling, headache-inducing goblins. As frustrating as they could get, they kept her from feeling lonely in the very logical, very no-nonsense world she never felt she belonged in. They kept her safe and happy and loved and Sarah didn't think—no, Sarah knew—she would never be able to let them go.
And she wanted Toby to love magic as much as she does. Underneath all the joy she felt whenever she visited her younger brother, she felt the slightest bit guilty. Goblins—invisible to his eye—swarmed and laughed and played around him with him not even suspecting and Sarah always felt like she was keeping a part of herself a secret from him.
—but if he attended Hogwarts—
—if he began incorporating magic into his life—
—and learned to love it then Sarah hoped to be able to introduce her goblins to him one day. But what could she do if Toby was keeping himself at arm's length from the Wizarding World? While she was flattered that he thought about her, she knew he couldn't love a world completely if he still wanted her apart of it.
Or he could homesick, Sarah thought to herself, cheerfully. Everyone gets homesick their first year at boarding school. She took a sip of her coffee only to wince and cough from her still too-hot drink.
"Need a napkin?" a voice asked, accented and smooth. It sent a slight tingle down her spine, barely noticeable as she was distracted by trying not to choke.
Sarah looked up, a hand held over her mouth. A handsome blond stood before her, holding out a crisp, clean white napkin. His expression looked kind enough to the untrained eye but Sarah wasn't just anybody. Nevertheless, she reached out and grabbed it with her free hand since coffee had splattered onto the one she covered her mouth with. "Thank you," she mumbled, wiping away at her spill.
Her acceptance of his offered napkin must have come off as some sort of welcoming of his presence for he immediately slid into the seat directly across from her. She tensed up, glaring over her—his—napkin and prayed her too smooth and unsmiling expression was enough of a hint that his presence was not desired.
"My name is Cahan," he introduced.
Sarah had to hold back a scowl and Deebie poked herself from the depths of her hair and giggled. She scrambled over her shoulder and down her arm, hopping onto the table. Sarah glared, hoping to stop her from doing whatever it was that she planned on doing. Thankfully, Deebie was usually more well-behaved than her other goblin companions but when she wanted to act out, oh, she acted out.
"That's great," she finally said, tearing her gaze away from Deebie when it was clear she wasn't up to no good. Instead she turned her attention back to Toby's letter and hoped that the blond would get the message and go away.
Her father was always telling her that she needed to be more patient—that she needed to be kinder. But nothing good ever comes from that, she thought. Look where she was now!
The blond flashed her a smile but didn't move.
Sarah really did scowl then, making Deebie ooh and clap her clawed hands in excitement (as long as it wasn't directed towards them, the goblins absolutely loved her temper). She supposed the man had a rather charming smile; and if Sarah didn't know any better, she would have thought there was some sort of supernatural aura about him. She half-expected glitter. "I'm busy, please leave me alone." Her tone was flat and unamused—as if it wasn't already before but it really didn't get any flatter or less amused than this.
"I'm just trying to be nice," he said, eyebrows furrowing. "I thought you looked rather lonely." He appeared confused as if he had never gotten turned down before. Considering his silky smooth silver-blond hair, bright sky blue eyes, and perfect complexion, it could actually be the case. Unfortunately, Sarah was a cruel and unforgiving woman—or so she had been told—and it mattered very little to her.
She sighed and leaned back, adjusting her stance until everything about it screamed at him to leave her alone. Only an idiot could have missed it. "I don't care for niceness," she sneered it like it was an insult and stuffed Toby's letter back into her over-sized purse. "Since you're not going to leave, I will." Then, without waiting for a response or reaction, she got up from her seat and walked out into the cold, leaving behind a laughing Deebie and a wide-eyed Cahan.
(Deebie could return to her nest after doing whatever she wanted to do to Cahan for all she cared. That included throwing him into a lake. Or an active volcano. She wasn't picky.)
"Well," Cahan said slowly, expression easing back into cool indifference. He tapped his fingers against the abandoned table in a rhythmic pattern. "That was rather unexpected; what a cruel, young woman."
Debbie continued to laugh.
Cahan flattened his lips and looked down at the small creature, glaring. His fingers stilled and he curled them inwards so only his index finger was extended. "Knock it off, would you?" his hissed, giving her a none too gentle poke in the stomach.
"Are you going to name it?"
Toby frowned. "Him. Adrian, it is a him." At least he was fairly certain it was. The last time he picked up the barn owl in an attempt to check, he had been half-pecked to death. He hadn't made an attempt since. He turned towards his friend. "Besides, he's not mine; I can't just name him."
Adrian rolled his eyes. "He might as well be, I don't see him going to anyone else." Ignoring the owl's furious stare, he looked around the Great Hall with a confused frown. "Where do you think he comes from, anyway? Not the owlry, I don't think, or he would have traveled in with the rest." A thought suddenly struck him, making him hesitate and he slowly turned towards the owl, this time, taking careful note of its—his—stare. "You don't think he's wild, do you?"
"He's too used to humans to be wild," Toby answered, reaching out to stroke the barn owl's smooth, feathered head.
He allowed Toby two strokes before pecking his hand away.
"I can't tell if he likes or hates you," Kathie, who was sitting directly across from Toby, said. She inched her breakfast away from the barn owl, as if scared he would peck her hand if it accidentally strayed too close to him.
Toby smiled, amused and opened his mouth to answer only to be interrupted by the hotting of a parliament of owls as the morning post came. He was not particularly fond of this part of their usual morning routine and was still getting used to dodging flying owls, dropped packages, and extended, arm-waving hands. Thankfully, Hel's large form stood out among the large parliament. More than one student watched in awe as the she-owl gracefully glided through the air, circled once, before coming down to land onto the tabletop near Toby, effectively shoving several smaller owls out of her way.
"Be nice," Toby scolded her, reaching over to untie his two letters—one from his parents and another from his sister. He placed the letter from his parents down in favor of his sister's—he could always read theirs later—when he felt a slight tingle on his right ear. Toby paused, feeling neck muscles tensing. He looked up and around, trying to find what was causing his sudden apprehension.
Sitting at the Slytherin table, a pale silver-blond student was glaring at him like he had wronged him in some way. Toby blinked, confused and looked over his shoulder, wondering if he somehow got in between someone else's glaring contest. No such luck.
Adrian, who must have noticed the tenseness in Toby's smaller form, looked up from his own mail and gave him a curious glance. "What's wrong, Toby?"
"Do you know who that is?" Toby asked, his voice a soft whisper even though he knew the angry-looking blond would not be able to hear him. "And why he's glaring at me like that?"
Adrian followed the line of Toby's nervous gaze. "Oh," he said, voice dropping even lower than Toby's was. "That's Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. He's a fifth-year. His family's as rich and powerful as it gets."
Toby wasn't sure if that was supposed to mean something to him. Throughout the past few weeks, he had found out that Harry Potter was supposed to mean something. However, beyond him being a fifth-year he sometimes sees whenever he sought out Hermione's advice, there wasn't anything special about him that Toby could tell. "I don't know him," Toby told Adrian. "Why do you think he's glaring at me?"
Toby blinked and then turned to face the older boy. "Hel," he repeated, wondering if he had misheard. "My owl, Hel?"
Adrian nodded and his voice dropped even lower as he told Toby, "Before Hel, Malfoy's eagle owl was the biggest owl here. Malfoys don't like being second best." He shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a new owl soon."
Toby blinked again.
Of all the stupid—
"Owls?" he squealed, his voice high-pitched with disbelief. "He's comparing owls? Really?"
Adrian shrugged again as if it was some sort of common, expected occurrence. "I told you, Malfoys don't like being second best."
"That's so... so... stupid," Toby hissed, reaching over and gently wrapped his hands around Hel. "It's only by an inch or two, anyways. And look at her! Half her size is feathers!"
Adrian looked amused but Toby couldn't blame him. He probably would also have been amused by the entire situation if he wasn't the one being glared at. "Anyway, watch yourself around Malfoy, all right?"
"Why?" Toby asked. "Because he'll have his owl peck me to death? So childish." How old was the blond, anyway? Fifteen? Sixteen? Did he know he was comparing owls with an eleven-year-old?
It was the disbelieving, exasperated tone in Toby's voice that made Adrian hesitate. "No," he said slowly, dragging out the word as he thought over his next sentence. "It's... it's because you're... Muggleborn. Malfoy isn't a big fan of Muggleborns. Rumors have it that he called Granger a... a..." He shuddered. "Never mind."
Toby perked up at the familiar name. "Granger? Hermione Granger?" He distantly remembered Headmaster Dumbledore talking about a Wizarding conflict with those who were born from non-magical parents. "Called her a what?"
Adrian only shook his head. "No," he said firmly, looking quite ill. "I can't say it." He chanced a glance at Draco for a brief second before turning back towards Toby. "Just be careful around him, Toby," he said as firmly as he could. "I hear he's wicked with hexes."
Toby frowned. "You don't think he'll actually hurt anyone, do you?"
The older student hesitated. "Just be careful," he finally repeated.
It didn't escape Toby that Adrian had not answered his question. He looked over at Draco again only to jerk backward in surprise when the pie in front of the pale boy exploded, covering him and four people in its vicinity with apple bits. Toby immediately dropped his gaze, ripping open Sarah's letter open; the last thing he wanted was to make an enemy out of a fifth-year student.
Just keep reading, just keep reading, he told himself, eyes skimming through the letter's contents, barely even registering the words.
"Did you do that?" hissed Adrian.
"No!" Toby whispered back furiously. "That definitely wasn't me!" He continued reading, praying the burning stare he felt on top of his head wasn't from Draco.
Toby felt himself beginning to relax more and more as he continued to read through Sarah's letter. Just thinking about his sister sitting down and taking her time to write to him in her small, neat handwriting was enough to make him forget all about Draco and his issue with owl sizes. He wished—not for the first time—that he could share this magical world with her. Despite her misgivings, despite her verbal lack of desire to live in a fairy tale, Toby just knew she would have loved it here. "Adrian?" he asked distractedly, moving Sarah's letter out of reach of the approaching barn owl. "Are you going to Hogsmeade this weekend?"
Adrian looked up again. "Yes, I am. Why? Do you need anything?"
Toby beamed. "If I give you money, do you think you can help me buy a couple more books? Any subject, really."
"Your sister again?" a nearby Ellis asked knowingly.
The only other person that read as much was Hermione. With her brown hair—despite its frizziness, and lighter shade—and kind personality, it was no wonder why Toby liked her so much. His somewhat friendship with the Gryffindor Princess was a well-known fact in his Hufflepuff circle. They mostly asked him about Harry Potter though, but Toby wasn't really friends with the older, dark-haired boy.
"Well," Toby began, not noticing his friends' amusement. He talked about his sister any chance he got. They probably already heard what he wanted to say. "Sarah loves magic but she doesn't have magic. She's also a fantasy author so books from your world can really help as inspiration."
"Why do you say our world?" Adrian asked, frowning. "It's your world now too, you know?"
Toby paused, blinking. He never even noticed the unintentional alienation of his words before but now that it had been brought up, it made perfect sense to him. "It doesn't really feel like my world," he answered with a nonchalant shrug.
Adrian exchanged glances with Ellis and Kathie but as the oldest one in the group, they silently motioned for him to bring the subject up. They were all thinking the same thing. "Just don't let people like Malfoy hear you say that," he finally told Toby.
Not noticing the seriousness in Adrian's voice, Toby only wrinkled his nose in distaste. He was busy feeding Hel some of his unwanted toast and when he tried the same thing with the unnamed barn owl (who was surprisingly still hanging around) he only bristled and turned away like he was too good for it. "People like Malfoy?" he repeated, distracted. "Who else is like him?"
"Well," Ellis began, "the lot he hangs out with, for one. And Umbridge, probably. She's from the Ministry so she hides it pretty well but you can tell."
Toby looked up in alarm then. A professor? "Hides what?"
Obvious afraid that they'll be overheard and punished by said professor, Kathie leaned in closer. "Her dislike for Muggleborns," she whispered in a low voice. "And non-humans. She doesn't like Professor Flitwick at all; you can tell by the way she speaks to him. He's half-goblin, you know."
"I hear she uses blood quills in her detention," Adrian added.
Kathie and Ellis immediately gasped. "No!"
"I thought they were illegal!" added Kathie.
Toby blinked. "What are blood quills?" he asked in confusion.
His three friends shuddered at the question. "They're quills that use the writer's blood as ink," Adrian told him. "It cuts words into your skin and draws the blood from there directly onto the paper. You can probably imagine the pain." He sighed and shook his head. "And they're not exactly illegal, just looked down upon. They're actually pretty popular in Durmstrang."
Ellis nodded, nervously picking apart his half-abandoned breakfast. "Just be thankful you're not Harry Potter. I hear she's a complete nightmare to him." He side-glanced over at Toby. "I know you're friends with him—or at least with Hermione Granger—but be careful. You don't want Umbridge thinking you guys are good mates or anything."
Another Hufflepuff—who had obviously been eavesdropping—snorted in amusement. You can't really blame her," he told them in a condescending tone. "He's spouting all that nonsense about You-Know-Who coming back."
Toby most certainly did not know who but from the suddenly tense atmosphere, he decided it would be a lot better not to ask. He nibbled on a forkful of scrambled eggs and wondered if he would ever be able to know all he needed to know about the Wizarding world. Not that he really cared, he realized. While he certainly liked learning magic, he couldn't see himself incorporating it into his life.
Why would he want to charm his room clean if he could clean it together with his family on Saturday nights while using the broom handle as a microphone and tossing each other soapy towels? Why would he want to charm leftover meals warm if he could get his mother to toss a couple of them into a pan and remake it into something else entirely?
Magic was new, magic was fun but what was the point of incorporating it into his life if it took away everything he held dear?
"No, not really," Hermione told him. "And I actually never felt that way about the Muggle world. It was only when Professor Dumbledore came to me did I feel like I finally had a place to belong."
Toby frowned, tightening his grip around the Transfiguration textbook he was holding as they strolled down the corridor. "But you're a... Muggleborn; even after reading Hogwarts: A History, everything must have still felt... I dunno, weird to you? You never felt like... like... you were some sort of... outsider?"
Hermione frowned, her steps slowing down just the slightest. While she may not have gone through the same thing, as a fellow Muggleborn, she probably understood his insecurities. She looked over at him, pursing her lips in thought.
"Is it because I'm American?" Toby asked.
She laughed at that. "No," Hermione assured him. "It's not because you're an American. Look, Toby, just because I immediately felt at home here, doesn't mean it'll happen to you too. Obviously it didn't. Sometimes it'll take a while before you're able to settle in and you've only been here a month. Besides," she said, voice softening. "With recent events, even I don't feel like I belong sometimes; I'm still adjusting."
Toby wasn't all that convinced. "I guess..." he said slowly. The Wizarding world was cool and all but it seemed more like some sort of extended vacation rather than a new aspect of his life. He couldn't actually see himself being part of it but had a feeling that if Sarah was in his place, she wouldn't have this problem. He wondered why, that between the two of them, he was the one with the magical abilities.
—Sarah who used to read him bedtime stories filled with dragons and fairies and magic—
—Sarah who used to dress up in pretty costumes with a smile that would light up the room—
—Sarah who had impossible dreams—
—Sarah who had the ability to pour life into words—
Sarah had nothing at all.
Sarah should have been the one attending Hogwarts, he realized, feeling a sickening twist deep within his stomach. Why wasn't Sarah a witch? She would have been like Hermione, feeling—knowing—that she belonged here. I took this from her, Toby thought, the sudden panic making it hard for him to breath. Sarah wasn't a witch because he was a wizard. If only he—
His head snapped up at the sharp tone, Hermione's voice ripping him away from his thoughts. They had stopped in the middle of the deserted hallway and he gasped, filling his lungs with air again. "Huh?" he asked, trying to even his breathing. "Sorry, I didn't hear that. What did you say?"
She frowned. "Are you all right? What happened?"
He shook his head. "Nothing. I'm okay. I was just... just thinking about something." He inhaled deeply, shoving the thoughts into the depths of his mind. Trying to distract himself, Toby looked around and realized that they were in a familiar—and yet, also highly dreaded—corridor. "Where are you going?" he asked her. "This isn't the way to Gryffindor Tower."
"It's not," Hermione confirmed and they resumed walking again. "I'm heading down to Professor Snape's classroom. I usually help brew some medical potions for Madam Promfrey during this time. Would you like to join me?"
Toby stared at her in horror, any lingering thoughts about Sarah and magic immediately abandoned. "Professor Snape?" he repeated, his voice an unintentional whisper. "Um..." he looked around and cleared his throat awkwardly. "No. No, thank you. I think," he hesitated, cleared his throat, and tried again. "I think I should probably head back to my dorm-room now."
Hermione laughed, knowing exactly what he was thinking. "All right," she agreed. She pointed down a dark hallway that Toby was sure wasn't there before. "If you follow this hallway and go down the first flight of stairs you see, it should take you directly to Hufflepuff Basement."
"Thank you," he said with a relieved sigh. "See you later then."
Toby moved to follow her instructions, swallowing hard as he took in the darkened halls. He suddenly wished that he had chosen a cat—or even a toad—instead of an owl for a pet. He needed something to hold. Preferably fluffy but he wasn't picky at this point.
He turned. "Yeah?"
Hermione smiled. "Just give it some time, okay?"
Toby nodded, gracing his older friend a hesitant smile. "Okay," he agreed.
The trip back to Hufflepuff Basement was half power walk, half full out sprinting. By the time he reached the entrance, he decided that he was never, ever, ever going to be walking around the castle so close to curfew ever again. They might as well make the school into a haunted house; they even had the ghosts for it! And it wasn't until Toby saw the familiar door to his dormitory did he finally breathed a sigh of relief.
He would be sleeping alone tonight—his two roommates liked to attend their weekly Hufflepuff sleepover down in the common room—but that was all right. While he didn't usually like to be alone, he didn't mind the room to himself since he would be surrounded by familiar blankets, pillows, and pictures (all of them from home) and had readings and essays to occupy himself with. He should probably get started on his various essays, Toby thought distractedly as he opened the door to his room, only to immediately freeze in the doorway upon noticing that his room was already occupied.
And not by humans either.
Toby stared and for a brief second, he wondered if he had accidentally entered the wrong room. He watched with wide eyes as three... three... odd creature-looking things shrieked with happy laughter as they bounced around on his bed.
Then blinked again.
They were small creatures—and kind of ugly too!—the largest one was no taller than his knee. He wondered what they were. They looked a little like the goblins Toby had first seen back at the bank. But then again, they also looked a little like the carnivorous plant his entire class was currently cultivating in Herbology.
"Weee!" one of them cried out happily as he sailed through the air. It crashed into the wall and slid down comically like a cartoon until it reached the ground. And then, without warning, it jumped back up onto Toby's bed. "Again, again," it cried excitedly.
"Um," Toby said.
The three creatures immediately froze. Then their forms bristled with shock before they spun around to face him. Whatever carefree, playful expressions they had on their face from their play immediately disappeared leaving a snarling, dangerous-looking demon-like expression in their wake. Fear clenched Toby's heart like a physical hold and he stepped back as if to escape.
"Oh," the smallest of the creatures said, face relaxing back into childlike innocence. "Uh-oh. Lady is not going to be happy."
Toby blinked again. Then squinted. The danger he had felt disappeared just as quickly as it came and it was almost like he had imagined their reaction to his sudden presence. And also, was one of them wearing woman's underwear on its head?
"Nope," another agreed.
"Lady's going to bog us," the third added.
"Yup," the second one agreed again.
Toby shifted his weight onto his other foot, growing more and more uncomfortable in his spot. Were the creatures dangerous? Were they friendly (they were obviously playful)? He really couldn't tell. Maybe he should have just closed the door and pretended he never saw anything. "What are you?" Toby ended up asking instead and then hastily correctly himself, "I mean, who are you?"
They looked at each other and then back up towards him. "We're like house elves," one answered. The other two looked at each other and laughed.
"Yup!" the smallest one agreed. "We can help clean."
"You can?" Toby asked, obviously not convinced.
"Oh yes!" another chirped, bouncing. "We can help make beds!"
It sounded so proud of itself, Toby didn't have the heart to point out that his perfectly made bed was ruined by the three of them who had just used it as a settled on clearing his throat awkwardly.
"Are you coming to bed?" one asked. Then waved its hands excitedly. "Come, come! We'll read you a bedtime story!"
"Uh, no... no, thank you," Toby said slowly, feeling quite out of his depth. "I have a couple essays I have to get started on." He looked around awkwardly. He doubted he could get anything done if the three house elves decided they were going to stick around.
"Sleep!" the house elf commanded. "I want to read Little Toby a bedtime story."
"Bedtime story!" another sang. They were all obviously very excited.
Toby wasn't even going to ask them how they knew his name.
Watching them jump around, squealing with happiness, Toby couldn't help but think that they weren't as ugly as he had first thought. Actually, now that he had looked at them more carefully, they were really quite cute.
"Please?" one begged, turning large, bulging eyes in his direction. "I'll read Lady's story!"
"Okay, okay," Toby finally agreed, unable to find it within himself to turn them down. He broke out into a full smile as they threw their hands—claws?—into the air and cheered. "Let me just get ready for bed first, okay?"
They didn't answer. Instead, they watched him, their large eyes not missing a single thing as he made his way around the room, picking up various necessities. He watched them back from the corner of his eyes, wondering just what he had gotten himself into. They didn't seem dangerous but it was hard to forget their snarling faces, even if it had only lasted a second. Feeling their stare at his back, he decided to change in the bathroom. No matter how cute they looked now, their too-large, bulging eyes were seriously putting him off.
A few minutes later, Toby found himself back in his room ready for bed. They fussed about around him. One of them had taken it upon itself to fluff out his pillow and shake out his blanket as another led him towards his bed and helped Toby settle down into it. For a moment, Toby felt like he was seven again and back home, preparing to sleep while Sarah pulled out her favorite collection of fairy tales. On occasions, he remembered that she would read him some of her original works. That was before she became a published author so it was extra special back then.
One of the house elves—the largest—cleared its throat, summoning a small red book out of thin air. "Okie dokie," it said. "I'll begin. Ready?"
"All ready!" the smallest one answered and settled itself next to Toby's head. It reached over to stroke his hair, its touch surprisingly comforting.
The third had already started snoring, the underwear it was wearing like a hat was pulled down over its eyes like an eye mask.
The large house elf cleared its throat again. "Chapter one. The white owl," it read. "Nobody saw the owl, white in the moonlight, black against the stars, nobody heard him as he glided over on silent wings of velvet. The owl saw and heard everything."
It was a bit odd, Toby thought, being tucked into bed by creatures ugly enough to star in nightmares—and they probably starred in his years ago (Sarah had a way with storytelling, she could bring just about anything to life; she had been banned from telling him bedtime stories until he was around six). But these particular creatures were kind, he decided. Toby had a feeling they were used to children. Bedtime stories and soothing hands, he thought, remembering Sarah.
"He settled in a tree, his claw hooked on a branch, and he stared at the girl in the glade below. The wind moaned, rocking the branch, scudding low clouds across the evening sky," the house elf continued. "It lifted the hair of the girl. The owl was watching her with his round, dark eyes."
The small house elf next to his head giggled. With the soothing storytelling tone of one house elf, the soft snores of another, and the little huffs of muffled laughter from a third, Toby felt himself beginning to relax despite the oddity of the situation. How strange, he thought, that he was feeling almost like he was at home for the first time since he had first left his family behind at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
This kind of feeling—the feeling of home—would never be able to be replicated. The Wizarding World didn't feel like his and despite what Hermione had hoped, he doubted it would.
Definitely not without Sarah, anyway, Toby thought glumly.
He liked fairy tales, he liked stories about dragons and fairies and magic. Maybe not as much as Sarah obviously did but he liked it well enough. But when Sarah—and only Sarah—was the one telling him the stories, Toby found himself loving it. He found himself wanting to live in a world of tea-drinking worms and finger-biting fairies.
And Sarah used to want this too, he remembered.
His parents always teased Sarah about her lazy Sundays and how she hated babysitting him because she wanted to go play dress up in the park and act out plays. Sarah used to dream of living in a world of magic but she gave that up so she could take care of him.
"But Sarah," Toby remembered himself saying. "You love fairy tales."
"Yes," she had agreed. "But that doesn't mean I actually want to live in one."
But she did. Toby knew she did. All those years ago. And Toby couldn't help but think that he might have somehow taken her dreams away from her. Because now he was living her dream and she was left with nothing at all.
"'Give me the child," Lady said," the house elf read, not noticing the dark turn Toby's thoughts had taken. "In a voice that was low, but firm with the courage her quest needed. She halted, her hands held out. "Give me the child," she repeated."
If Sarah couldn't be a witch, she could have been an actress. Like her mother. But Toby had taken that away from her too.
"Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered..."
Instead of joining her high school's drama club, instead of attending the acting classes she had always wanted to take, Sarah had been forced to babysit him. Sarah had given up so much for him and now she was an author simply because it was the closest thing she could get to her original dreams.
"...I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City..."
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Toby realized that perhaps the irrationality of his thought was most likely caused by homesickness. He missed Sarah and her soothing presence, he missed his father's laugh and his mother's cooking. But even so...
"...to take back the child you have stolen..."
That didn't mean it wasn't true. Just because he missed home didn't mean he wasn't the reason why Sarah had abandoned her dreams.
"'For my will is as strong as yours... and my kingdom as great..."
The house elf stroking his hair was nearly vibrating with excitement, pulling Toby out of his depressing thoughts. He turned to look at it, brows furrowed in concern.
"'My will is as strong as yours." Lady spoke with more intensity now. "And my kingdom as great—"
As if unable to contain itself any longer, the house elf exploded from his seat on Toby's pillow with glee, startling his fellow house elf out from his slumber. It shot up into the air and happily bellowed out, "You have no power over me!"
Fun Fact: Upper Nyack (mentioned in Toby's letter at the beginning of this chapter) is a real place in New York and was actually the filming location of the Williams' house in the original Labyrinth movie.
The story Romby was reading are direct quotes from the beginning of the Labyrinth novel, written by A.C.H. Smith.
Chapter 5: Crossroads
Toby hit the seat with an audible plop and felt the sting deep in his bones. "Ouch," he muttered half-heartedly and sighed, cradling his head in his arms as he groaned. His eyelids were already closing but Toby wasn't here to sleep. At least, he wasn't supposed to, anyway. Once a week, on Saturdays, him and a group of Hufflepuffs would head over to the library to study and do homework together. But what he wouldn't give for a comfortable pillow right now.
"What's wrong with you?" Kathie asked worriedly. She ran her fingers through the fine strands of his fringe before coming to rest on his forehead, feeling his temperature.
Toby groaned, head pounding at the reminder. "House elves," he managed.
Kathie looked around but everyone else just shrugged. "What?" she finally asked.
"They insisted on reading bedtime stories to me last night," he elaborated, squeezing his eyes shut against the harsh light. It wasn't doing much to help ease his headache. "Then they just wouldn't stop." First was the lady and the labyrinth. Then something about chicken and some woman's bras. Which turned out not to be fireproof. And almost as if the night just wouldn't end, they continued on with a guy on a mattress, floating on top of some lake.
Ellis frowned. "Huh," he said. "Unless they're cleaning, I didn't think they get out of the kitchen much."
Toby's head immediately snapped up. "Kitchen? They cook?" he almost shouted but managed to lower it into a strangled hiss. One of the house elves wore a woman's underwear on top of its head! Was that even sanitary?
"Yeah," Kathie confirmed. "They make all our meals." She shifted her gaze upwards and thought, tapping a lone finger against her cheek. "We have a couple house elves back home but they never read me bedtime stories. Neither do the house elves here, actually." She paused. "Not that I really want them to, though." She looked at Toby. "It takes some time to understand them. They don't exactly speak properly, do they? I think it's the grammar differences in our languages."
Toby blinked in response, having no idea what she was talking about. They sounded perfected fine to him last night. Except for all the bogging business, he wasn't really sure what that was about and was too busy trying to sleep to ask them to elaborate. "They spoke just fine," he finally answered, and then sleepily pulled out a blank roll of parchment from his bag. Pencil, he thought. I need a pencil. Shoving his hand back into his bag, he felt around for his writing instrument only to pause when he felt the soft feathers of a quill. Or a quill, Toby thought with a sigh.
He dipped his plain quill in Kathie's open-for-sharing ink jar and then carefully wrote out Defense Against the Dark Arts on top of his blank parchment. He paused, blinked, and then added his name. Then the date. Around him, the study group was talking in low whispers, their soft voices lulling him back to sleep. At the same time, those very same whispers were reminding him that he still had a whole lot of work to finish over the weekend. Shaking himself awake, Toby turned his attention back to his paper. He blinked lazily and scribbled a few key points he knew he wanted to include in his essay. Toby didn't usually write a rough draft—or even an outline—but seeing that he was half-asleep, he knew it would be a good idea this time around.
As he continued going back and forth between falling asleep and jerking himself away to write down more important bullet points, Toby found himself zoning into Adrian's angry muttering further down the table where he sat with the older students. It was strange, what he found himself concentrating on in his half-asleep state. The older students' intense dislike of Professor Umbridge and her teaching style was no real secret, although Toby couldn't really understand why. He supposed DADA was one of those classes that should require a more practical aspect but it didn't seem all that different from his old science classes.
Must be the 'Muggle' in me talking, he thought. Before Hogwarts, none of his classes had a practical aspect to it. Except for PE but that made sense. And labs, but those classes were for older students and he hadn't had a chance to experience it before finding out he was a wizard. Professor Umbridge's lecture-style classes reminded him of home but if the older students were more used to a hands-on experience when it came to DADA, Toby could understand why they didn't like her.
(Although, from what he heard, DADA hadn't had a professor stay on for longer than a year. He wasn't sure how anyone got used to any particular style).
He blinked and looked up. "Hmm?"
Kathie tilted her head in concern. "I said, we're going outside for a breather before lunch. Want to join us?"
He shook his head and yawned. "Nah, I want to finish up the rough draft to my DADA essay, at least."
"Should I leave my inkwell with you?" she asked, eyeing the paper. The last few sentences were faded and splotchy as he had forgotten to redip his quill.
He stared down at his paper. Where's a pencil when I need one? He wondered and shook his head, both to answer Kathie's question and to wake himself up. "No," he told her. "It's all right. I need to do some reading before I can really continue my essay anyway."
She nodded and Toby could hear the sounds of his friends packing up their books and other study material as he reached back down into his bag and pulled out his DADA textbook. It was a thin, little thing, unlike all his other textbooks, which were all over five hundred pages long. His DADA book was thin and practical, even if the words were swarming together right now.
Without the low whispers and soft noises from his friends, Toby felt his lids grow heavier and heavier until he sighed and gave in. He rested his head on his textbook (which, unfortunately, did not make a good pillow) and thought, Just a couple minutes. I'll rest my eyes for just a couple minutes.
He fell asleep almost instantly.
He dreamed of his father's aftershave, his mother's perfume, and the smell of Sarah's house—or more specifically, her study (the rest of her house, usually smelled of chickens for some reason. And not cooked ones either). Toby felt like he could almost reach out and grab a hold of his father's—
He was immediately startled awake by the screeching hiss of Madam Pince. He didn't even know such a sound was possible. The angry librarian slammed her hands onto the tabletop and leaned down towards him, effectively wiping away any lingering sleepiness from him. "Um—" he tried.
"How dare you?" she hissed, leaning closer still until Toby could feel her breath on his face. She was leaning in such a way that it made Toby think about all the people that had been tripping around him recently and prayed that Madam Pince did not meet the same fate. "Falling asleep in my library! Drooling on my books!" she ranted.
Toby looked down and saw that he had, indeed, drooled a bit on the DADA textbook. He wondered if it was worth his life to point out that it was his book that he had drooled on. She whipped out her wand and for a single, horrifying moment, Toby thought she was going to hex him. But she only jabbed it in the direction of his book, clearing away his drool stain with a nonverbal cleaning charm. He cleared his throat in a hopeful manner. "Um, actually—" he tried again.
"Out!" Madam Pince screeched. "Get out!"
He didn't need to be told twice.
Shoving everything into his bag—including his textbook, thank you very much—Toby power-walked away from the furious librarian. He could appreciate her obvious love for books—really, he could! His sister was an author, for crying out loud—but he felt she took things a bit too far. Weren't librarians supposed to be helpful? How helpful could she actually be if she was going to scare away everyone that needed help?
Toby really couldn't understand Headmaster Dumbledore's hiring process. Madam Pince hated the students, Professor Snape hated everyone, and everyone hated Professor Umbridge. Oh. And there was Professor Bins. Who was a ghost. Which Toby had thought was rather cool when he first stepped foot into his classroom but quickly found out that the dead professor was a bore.
Behind him, Toby thought he heard a familiar giggle but it was very quickly replaced by Madam Pince's surprised yelp. He turned around just in time to see her trip into a nearby bookshelf and watched in horror as various shelves came down onto her. He thought about going over to help out but thought better of it upon hearing her furious shrieks; she was so angry, she was breaking her own strict "Silence in the library!" rule.
He was not about to stay another second.
Once outside, Toby breathed a sigh of relief and leaned against the cool, stone wall, groaning. If he had been sleepy before, he certainly wasn't now! Nothing like an angry woman getting your adrenaline going.
He jumped and turned, but upon seeing Hermione's familiar brown eyes, felt himself relax. "Hi," he mumbled. Although he hadn't seen her, she was probably in the library and had seen the whole thing. He could feel his ears burn with embarrassment.
"Are you all right?" she asked kindly.
Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palms, he groaned again. "I'm fine," he told her. "I just didn't sleep much last night, that's all."
"Well, it is Saturday," Hermione reminded him. "You can work on whatever you have to work on tomorrow."
He frowned. "I don't think I'll have the time. I have readings for Potions and papers for Transfiguration, Charms, and DADA I have to get started on." Not to mention the letter to his parents he still had to write.
Hermione smiled and there was a sparkle in her eye that made Toby think she was most likely misinterpreting something. He really hoped she wasn't thinking that they were kindred spirits or something. Unlike Hermione, he didn't particularly liked to study. "Come on," she said instead, "let's get you some Awakening Potion."
Although it was the first time he had heard of such a thing, Toby had a pretty good idea what it was meant for. "They have that at the nurse's—I mean, infirmary?"
She shook her head. "Not exactly, but Professor Snape has some."
Toby looked at the vial of translucent blue-green liquid, holding it up to the light for a better view. He could hear a faint buzzing noise that he was sure had everything to do with the Awakening Potion and not because something was actually buzzing. It was his own fault, really; Professor Snape told him five drops but he had just been so tired, he took seven for good measure. And now he couldn't get rid of the annoying buzzing noise.
It occurred to Toby that he could probably venture back to the dungeons and ask for some sort of antidote but the last thing he wanted was to more or less tell the professor that he hadn't taken his directions as gospel. Professor Snape would be furious; he was touchy like that.
Looking back at the vial in his hand, Toby wondered if he could sneak some home to Sarah. Despite taking more than recommended, the potion worked wonders; he felt more awake now than he would have even after a good night's worth of sleep. It would do well for his sister's temper whenever deadlines were near. Tea and coffee just weren't cutting it any longer.
Toby rounded the corner just in time to crash into an unsuspecting warm body and fell down with a startled cry, books and parchment paper spilling out of his schoolbag. The potion vial flew out of his hand and Toby watched in a slow-motion type of horror as it hit the ground. Only to fly back up and bounce a couple times before coming to rest. "Oh," he breathed in relief. "Unbreakable charms," he remembered.
"Sorry!" a voice said, reminding Toby that he hadn't fallen on the floor for no reason. A dark blur flew across his vision as Harry Potter knelt down and began gathering his fallen books and potion vial. "Are you all right?"
Scrambling up to his knees, Toby immediately began helping Harry gather his scattered materials. "Yes! Sorry about that! I was distracted and wasn't watching what side of the corridor I was in." And: Maybe I should have taken ten drops instead, he thought. It was barely even midday and he was already looking forward for it to be over.
Harry smiled at him. "It's fine," he said kindly. "I was distracted too."
Toby nodded again, feeling himself relax which was a bit surprising since he hadn't known he was tense in the first place. While he was familiar with Hermione, Harry himself was a bit of a mystery. Despite never actively seeking it out, it was hard to avoid the rumors and gossip surrounding the older boy. Toby had tried his hardest not to pay attention but it was hard to unhear something. He was Hermione's friend—one of Hermione's best friends—and she didn't seem like the kind of person that would befriend a traitor and liar.
A flash of red caught his eye and Toby looked down to where Harry's hands were helping him stack his scattered parchment papers. His eyes widened. "You're bleeding!" he gasped. It didn't seem like a typical wound either, he could just make out the words, I must not tell— before Harry snatched his hand away and turned it palms up, words out of sight.
"It's nothing! Don't worry about it."
But Toby wasn't having any of it. Dropping what paper he had gathered, Toby reached out and snatched Harry's hand, pulling it over towards him and turned it over.
I must not tell lies.
Thin, red words scratched on top of faded pink scars. The same exact words, some scarred over and he knew that it must have been scratched on the older boy's knuckles over and over and over again. This was not a one time thing. And the fresh scratches were still bleeding, he noticed. Swallowing hard, Toby bit his lower lip worryingly. Blood quills, he realized, feeling his stomach churn. Knowing that there was a magical pen out there that used the writer's blood as ink was one thing. Seeing it was an entirely different matter altogether.
Harry waited as patiently as he could while Toby observed the fresh, still bleeding wounds. He didn't particularly want a first-year seeing something like this but if it helped keep Toby quiet around Umbridge—especially considering the fact that he was a Muggleborn—Harry was more than happy to comply. A slight tingle ran through his hand as Toby ran nervous fingers across his knuckles, careful to avoid the actual scratches.
"This is horrible," Toby choked out. "Why would anyone do something like this?"
Harry stayed silent even though he had a pretty good idea why. Umbridge was a selfish toad, and there really wasn't much else to it. He could think of a good, long list of other people who would have loved to do something similar—and maybe even far worst—to him. Not that he would mention it to the younger boy, though. Not only would Hermione kill him, but Harry remembered how magical he thought Hogwarts was in his first year and didn't want to be the one to shatter that illusion for Toby.
It took Harry a moment to realize that the tingling sensation in his hand had nothing to do with his wounds and his arm jerked unconsciously in response.
"Wait," Toby said, tightening his hold on Harry's hand, thinking he was trying to pull away. He turned towards his bag and used his free hand to rummage through it. "Hermione gave me this amazing salve a while ago when this owl bit me. She said she made it herself and it wonders, let me see if I can find it."
But Harry was barely listening. He was too busy staring at his hand, the tingling sensation was now centering around his wounds and he watched as the scratches began to heal right before his very eyes. His earlier scars had already disappeared.
"Ah! Here it is," Toby exclaimed, turning around. "I think you should try—" He blinked and stared down at Harry's now smooth knuckles. "Oh. Huh, it healed." He looked down at the salve that he had only just managed to find in an almost comedic fashion, wondering if this was why Harry tried to pull his hand away earlier. "I guess you don't need this anymore."
"How did you—How did you do that?" Harry asked, staring at Toby with an awestruck sort of expression.
"What?" Toby gaped, panicked. "Me? No, I don't think that was me!" He quickly shook his head in denial. If he could heal with a simple touch, there would be no need for Hermione's salve. Or that stupid purple cast he had three years ago when he fell off the swings.
Harry opened his mouth to respond but before he could get a single word out, he was interrupted by a cool, glee-filled voice. "Well, well, well, Potter," the voice sneered from behind him. "Look who I just caught conspiring."
Toby looked up and felt his shoulders droop at the sight. Oh great, he thought, remembering the older blond's name. Draco Malfoy. Just what he needed. But a small hope flared up inside him; Draco had called out Harry's name. He had barely even noticed him; maybe the older blond wouldn't recognize him without Hel.
Upon hearing the voice, Harry immediately dropped everything he had picked up. He stood and spun around to face the newcomer in a single, fluid motion. Wow, Toby thought, watching with wide eyes. What reflexes! He had heard rumors that Harry was extremely fit but that wasn't really surprising, he was a member of Gryffindor's... football on broomsticks... team... thing, after all—but this was the first time seeing him in action.
(He was in the infirmary with the flu during Gryffindor's first match).
(And then promptly missed the second one when he got lost in some weird, never-before-seen corner of the castle).
Following Harry's lead, Toby shuffled his books and parchment into a makeshift pile on the ground and stood up. Slowly. Carefully. The last thing he wanted, was Draco's attention directed towards him.
"Malfoy!" Harry growled out, expression darkening.
The blond sneered. "Five points for attitude, Potter."
Harry gaped. "You can't take points from Gryffindor!"
"Not if you're part of Umbridge's new Inquisitorial Squad," Draco replied, smirking. "Which I am a part of," he added unnecessarily. "So, yes, Potter. I can take points off Gryffindor."
Toby blinked. "That's hardly fair," he muttered, mostly to himself. What an awful abuse of position and power.
Unfortunately, the abandoned corridor did nothing to help cover Toby's soft whispers and both older students heard him. Steel gray eyes immediately turned towards him and Toby shrunk backward despite himself. Stand up for yourself! Sarah's voice urged him. It's better than just letting someone push you around. But as much as he wanted to do that—as much as he wanted to listen to his sister and make her proud.—it was kind of hard to do with that sort of glare directed at him. Verbal confrontations were easy but that glare meant that the older blond was looking for a more physical kind of confrontation. He shuffled to the side, instead, hoping to use Harry's larger body to hide behind.
"Another Mudblood, Potter?" Draco asked, his voice oozing with distaste and Harry immediately tensed at his words. "You always seem to—" And then, suddenly, as if he was being shoved from behind, Draco jerked forward, stumbled and then fell to the ground. His chin smacked hard against the stone floor with a sickening crack. Draco gave off a startled yelp and Toby watched in horror as blood sprayed out of his mouth.
Harry jumped in shock and together, both he and Toby watched with wide eyes as Draco groaned in pain. Toby used to be active—a bit hyperactive. But he had tripped down the stairs while playing once and although it wasn't anything serious, his mother's words when she scolded him had scarred him for life.
"Just be glad you didn't bite off your tongue, Tobias!"
Toby didn't think that was actually possible but judging by the amount of blood currently dripping out of Draco's mouth, he sincerely hoped the older boy's tongue remained intact. He took a couple hesitant steps forward and knelt down. "Salve?" he offered carefully, picking up the abandoned container he had meant to use on Harry earlier.
"Keep your dirty remedies to yourself, Mudblood!" Draco spat, a spray of blood following. He knocked Toby's hand away as he struggled to stand up. Toby watched as the salve cracked against the hard floor and sighed. He guessed there was no Unbreakable Charm on that particular container then.
Draco finally managed to push himself onto his feet but was obviously still very dizzy. His knees buckled underneath him and he dangerously swayed in his spot, tipping forward. For a second, Toby was afraid the blond was going to fall on top of him but Harry managed to lurch forward just in time, keeping him steady.
"Potter! Get your hands—"
"Shut up!" Harry interrupted. He turned his head in Toby's direction. "Toby, I'm going to bring this—" He cleared his throat and tried again. "—Malfoy to the hospital wing. Do you think you can clean this up by yourself?"
He watched with wide eyes as the two fifth years stumbled their way further down the corridors. They obviously didn't get along. Both of them were trying to make their way to the hospital wing without actually touching each other. Since Malfoy was probably seeing double or something equally as worrying, his resistance to Harry's reluctant but helping hand was making the process twice as long and twice as hard.
He should have just taken the salve, Toby thought, looking down to pick up his things. He blinked, brows furrowed as he stared at the neat pile of his schoolbooks and parchment papers. Toby could have sworn he had only shoved the stuff into a messy pile minutes ago when Draco first came.
And the blood, he noticed, staring at the floor in awe. Draco's blood, which had been sprayed all across the floor had completely disappeared, as if absorbed by the castle itself. This place is way cool!
Shaking his head, he bent down to stuff everything back into his bag and swung it over his shoulder as he got back up again. I should probably write to mom and dad first, he said to himself as he began making his way back to Hufflepuff Basement. And I should probably get another salve from Hermione.
He paused at the thought, Draco's cold voice suddenly seeping back.
"Keep your dirty remedies to yourself, Mudblood!"
Toby pulled his lower lip into his mouth and rolled it between his teeth. The word didn't actually mean anything to him but it obviously meant something to Harry. He remembered Harry's stiff form and Toby probably wouldn't have thought anything of it except—
"It's... it's because you're... Muggleborn. Malfoy isn't a big fan of Muggleborns."
Did it make a difference whether someone had magical parents or not? Was it because Draco felt that Toby—and other Muggleborns—shouldn't have magic? Can't disagree with you there, he thought. Although, if anyone should have magic, it was Sarah. Her stories could put the entire Wizarding world to shame.
"Another Mudblood, Potter?"
He spun around, and instead of heading back to his dorm, made his way back towards Professor Snape's classroom. Upon reaching the large—and intimidating—double doors to the Potion's classroom, Toby hesitated and swallowed hard. He had only been gone a couple minutes and since he hadn't encountered Hermione anywhere in the halls, it meant she was still in there.
Knocking timidly, but unsure if he would have heard anyone tell him to enter through the thick doors anyway, Toby opened it and poked his head in.
"Mister Williams," Professor Snape drawled. "I could have sworn you just left."
"Sorry, sir," he mumbled, spotting Hermione looking up from a simmering cauldron with no small amount of relief. But first things first... He looked back at Professor Snape and twisted his lips upwards in his best innocent smile. Puppy eyes included. "I was wondering if I could ask Hermione a question?"
Professor Snape scowled but didn't say anything. Seeing that he wasn't being kicked out, Toby smiled gratefully and stepped into the cool dungeon classroom.
"What's wrong, Toby?" Hermione asked, concerned.
Toby's lips eased into a real smile. She reminded him of Sarah with her obvious concern but knew that it was most likely due to her prefect status. Unlike Draco. He didn't know what the Inquisitorial Squad was but he shuddered at the reminder and hoped that he and Harry had made their way to the hospital wing by now. "It's nothing serious," he answered, reassuring her. "I just have a question, that's all."
Hermione raised her eyebrows, waiting patiently.
Then, looking straight into whiskey-brown eyes, he asked, "Hermione, what's a Mudblood?"
Chapter 6: Protector
She woke up in a dead land.
Bare branches of brown-gray trees swayed in the cool wind and Sarah watched as its flickering shadows played across the uneven ground of dirt and dead vegetation. She sat up slowly and looked around, taking in the howl of the wind but nothing else. There were no chirping of crickets, call of crows, or anything that indicated life; it really was a dead land.
Sarah stood up slowly and carefully before looking around again, her green eyes taking in every detail of the dead forest. The view reminded her strangely of winter but without its snow-white beauty and holiday cheer. Discomfort pulsed through her body like physical pain and Sarah pressed a hand to her chest in response, trying to calm her pounding heart. There was something wrong with this place. Something very, very wrong. There was a sense of imbalance that was making her feel off-kilter.
Breathe, she told herself.
Slow and steady.
Taking another deep breath, and another, Sarah straightened up and place her free hand on a nearby tree to further steady herself. She blinked. The tree bark was warm underneath her touch and it took a moment for her to realize that it wasn't the tree bark that was warm but that her own hand was creating warmth if its unnatural glow was anything to go by. Sarah watched with wide eyes as the brown-gray bark began to flush with a healthy color.
"Oh!" she gasped, looking down at her feet. Thin wisps of dead grass washed away before her very eyes, life easing back into the plant, making it curl around her bare feet and tickling her legs. She giggled at the sensation and took a step, watching life burst forth from the dead earth as naked skin touched the cool dirt.
The wind howled again and threw both her hair and virgin-white dress up and around her, whipping against her form. Surprisingly, she did not feel cold despite the lack of appropriate clothing and the dark gray skies overhead. It was a rather depressing sight; monochrome colors, gray skies, and a dead forest but Sarah didn't mind. Instead, she laughed out loud and spun around deeper into the dead, gray forest.
A burst of life.
Her skin tingled as if the very air was made up of magic. She felt something flood into her like a burst of energy, making her feel full and warm and powerful. Invisible, electrifying sparks danced up and down her arms which were held up and away from her body as she twirled around the forest. Sarah felt a giddy sort of happiness thrumming throughout her body and it made her feel fifteen again—she wanted to sing, she wanted to dance, she wanted to dream. Nimble feet followed through an elaborate series of steps from an ancient dance she didn't know she knew.
Life bloomed underneath her very touch and despite knowing this was a dream, Sarah never wanted it to end. This was what she wanted to do. As an author, she had been complimented many times about her ability to breathe life into her words. But what was that compared to actually breathing life into the world around her? The foggy haze of the dream seemed to increase with each passing second so Sarah closed her eyes and moved again.
The dance of life.
It was only when she heard the chirping of a group of songbirds did Sarah finally come to a stop, her body freezing and reality rushing into her like an unwanted surprise. Breathing hard, Sarah took a moment to look around, taking in her handiwork. And despite knowing that it was all her doing, she still could not help but be surprised.
What was once a dead wasteland was now bursting with life. Branches bore full, lush leaves which swayed in the gentle breeze; contrasting against the earlier howling wind. All around her, she could hear the sounds of life: critters, birds, and even small rodents. After a moment, she realized that not only could she hear them, she could feel them. She could feel the prickles of tiny claws as the squirrels chased each other through the branches, the wiggling of worms digging their way deeper into the earth; Sarah could feel life itself and it terrified her.
Toes digging into the soft green grass and hands clutching tight against her chest, Sarah forced herself to take deep, calming breaths.
Slow and steady.
Still breathing deeply and slowly, Sarah looked up again and saw a brief flash of multi-colored shimmer before her vision swarmed. And she could feel herself fading, fading, fading. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was reminded of shattering crystal dreams and the subtle taste of peaches.
Say my name, dear, a voice whispered. Say my name.
Sarah woke up with a gasp; wide terrified eyes darting around until she took in the familiarity of her room. With an angry groan, she threw her arms up above her and stretched. "Why can't you just leave me alone?" she asked. It was mainly a rhetorical question to herself but she wouldn't be surprised if the Goblin King could also hear it. "And I was having such a good dream too!" she whined. But while she could still remember the green of the forest and the blue of the sky, details of her dream was fading fast and Sarah wanted nothing more than to go back to bed and lose herself in the haze of her dream world.
The sudden, loud sound of shattering plates made her eyes snap open again. Sarah sat up on her bed with another groan. "Goblins!" she hollered, hearing panicked gibbering and loud squeals in response. With an annoyed grumble, she kicked at her blankets, trying to untangle them from her legs only to find herself getting tangled up even more which resulted in her rolling off the bed with a startled squeak.
By the time Sarah finally managed to pick herself off the ground and go through her morning rituals, Sarah was half worried about the state of her kitchen. Even so, it was a good thing her companions were goblins; despite them breaking everything, they had the ability to fix it all with a snap of their fingers. At least that was what Sarah was hoping was going on. Who knows? They could also have been stealing lookalikes from other innocent, unsuspecting people.
"Morning," she greeted as she cautiously stepped into her kitchen, sharp eyes taking in their too-wide grins and her missing plates. She sighed. "Whatever you guys broke, I want it fixed by tomorrow morning. I have to entertain my editor for dinner tomorrow." He told her he wanted to bond but that really just meant he was going to be hounding her about the latest chapter for her upcoming novel. Again.
"You got it, Lady!" they replied swiftly.
Sarah pulled out a carton of milk and checked over the expiration date, nose wrinkling slightly. She poured herself a glass and eyed the goblins for a moment, noticing for the first time that there was an unfamiliar face in the group. "Why, hello there," she greeted, shoving the carton back into the refrigerator. "What's your name?"
The small goblin batted its eyelashes and grinned. "Hi! I'm new! I don't have a name yet."
She blinked. "Okay... um... will... will, er, Kingy give you a name soon?"
The goblin shrugged, not the least bit worried. "Kingy says I can choose my name!"
She realized just then that it was the first time she was told how her goblin friends acquired their names in the first place. With names like Boop, Pop, and Dumdum, she had wondered before if the Goblin King was running out of names for his subjects. Instead of voicing that out loud, however, she simply went along with it and nodded as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Of course, what would you like to be called then?"
Eyeing the plate of cookies Sarah had left out overnight, which was suspiciously missing a few pieces, the small goblin squealed, "Cookie!"
She blinked again. "Cookie," she repeated in a faint voice. "You want to be called Cookie?"
It nodded happily.
"Why Cookie?" she asked, half afraid of the answer.
"Okay," she said slowly. "Just don't... Just don't try to eat yourself, all right?" Normally, it wasn't something anyone would be concerned with but judging by the way the small goblin had what appeared to be multiple bite marks on its arms, Sarah thought it was better to safe than sorry.
It actually looked dejected at her words. "Okay, Lady."
Sarah stared for another moment before finally nodding. Right, she thought. I should make myself breakfast now. As she turned around, a movement caught her eye and she looked up only to yelp in alarm.
"Damn it," Sarah swore, eyeing the large she-owl perched just outside her window warily. She still couldn't get over the fact that her brother—her young, innocent Toby—had bought the ugliest, most vicious-looking owl she had ever seen. Even after she had attempted to sway his attention towards some cute kittens. Instead, Toby had taken one look at the large, frightening she-owl and fell in love. Even the professor accompanying them was slightly hesitant.
"Hello, Hel," Sarah greeted as she pushed open the window. She reached out and untied Toby's letter from the owl's foot, carefully minding the she-owl's long, sharp claws. "Would you like to come in?" she asked.
Helreginn made an odd squawking sound and hopped towards her.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Sarah cried out. "Let me open the door for you!"
She was promptly ignored by the she-owl. Thankfully, Helreginn's size was mostly made up of feathers and the she-owl was able to successfully squeezer herself through the small opening. Still quite the feat, if you asked Sarah.
"Aw crap," she grumbled, placing Toby's letter down onto the table and spitting out a stray feather. "You got feathers everywhere," she scolded the uncaring owl. "Again." Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see a goblin reach out, snatching a feather out of the air and stuffing it into her mouth.
"Tasty," the goblin sighed happily, eyeing the large owl.
Helreginn stared back. And if the goblin didn't know better—which they usually don't—she was pretty sure the she-owl just licked her beaks. Squealing, the goblin along with her fellow companions all jumped off Sarah's dining table, making a mad dash towards the safety of the young woman's closet.
"Guys?" Sarah called out, amused.
"Gotta run, Lady," they reported. "Goblins are not food."
Sarah stared at Helreginn for a moment before shaking her head in amusement. "I can't believe you managed to scare them away," she murmured, pulling out a couple clumps of raw pork she had defrosted late last night. Helreginn immediately nipped at the clumps of meat, also managing to catch her fingers when they got in the way. "Ouch!" Sarah cried out, looking up and glaring but Helreginn was busy swallowing the pork to care.
With a sigh, Sarah rinsed her hands and took a seat at her small dining table. She wiggled slightly to make herself comfortable before turning her attention back to Toby's letter.
Sarah, it began.
You really need to stop reading so fast! I think Adrian is actually running out of books to buy for you. I can't remember if I told you but there are actually rules about buying magical books for people without magic so your selection is limited. Like, I'm not allowed to send you any books that can talk, scream, spit fire, or eat people. That sort of thing. I can only buy you books that can be passed off as "fiction" to other non-magical people—Muggles, I keep forgetting; I don't think I'll ever get used to Wizarding words.
Sarah smiled, barely noticing Helreginn poking her too-big head into the much smaller bowl of defrosted pork. Pushing the bowl further away from the she-owl, Sarah closed her eyes and tried to picture the world Toby had painted for her with his words. From her previous and only visit to the Wizarding world, Sarah had already experienced the books Toby was talking about but skimming through the rest of her letter, even her vivid imagination was paling in comparison to the world Toby was currently living in.
Magic, she thought, feeling something that could very possibly be envy twist deep in her gut.
Despite her firm belief that she really had seen enough magic to last her a lifetime, Sarah couldn't help but find herself wishing that she could see the things in Toby's letter in person. Moving portraits, talking books, and disappearing doors. While genuinely happy for Toby, Sarah knew her whole heart wasn't in it. And Toby deserved more than half-hearted well wishes. Magic, she thought again and wondered at infinite possibilities.
"Cookie!" a high-pitched voice squealed out, interrupting Sarah's thoughts. "Lady says no eating yourself!" Then, louder: "Lady! Help!"
Sarah sighed. What the hell am I thinking? She wondered. I can barely handle a handful of goblins, let alone an entire world of magic.
"What's a Mudblood?"
The tense silence following his question had Toby wishing he had chosen to head back to his dormitory rather than let his curiosity get the better of him. Sarah had always told him that his mouth would get him in trouble one day; he just didn't expect it to happen in the presence of the world's most terrifying professor. Toby had never seen Professor Snape's back so rigid before and he thought he had already seen him at his worst when one of his classmates almost killed everyone after misreading instructions. Black eyes blazing, low voice hissing, spittle flying, Toby didn't think worse was possible.
He stiffened, preparing himself for worse anyway.
Thankfully, however, it was Hermione who spoke up. "Where did you hear that word?"
Toby swallowed hard, mentally wrecking his brain for an explanation. "Uh, well, never mind," he finally said only to immediately wince at how pathetic he sounded. Eyes darting around nervously, he tried again. "Anyway, do you have more of that salve you made?"
Hermione paused, lips pursing. "Yes," she answered at last. "Of course. Give me a moment."
And with that, she spun around and made her way towards one of the storage rooms, effectively leaving him alone with Professor Snape. Who was still staring at him through narrowed eyes. Toby swallowed again and rocked back onto his heels, looking everywhere but in his professor's direction. He could feel the fine hair on his arms standing up and could only lick his lips nervously in response. I really should have just left for the dorms!
"What happened to the other one I gave you?" Hermione asked as she walked back out, a small container of salve in her hands.
Toby paused, considering telling her a plant ate it. It would be plausible, he thought, after all, all the plants in the greenhouse during Herbology classes seemed to want to eat him. Even the ones that weren't carnivorous. "I tripped," he answered instead, seeing that Hermione seemed to be friends with all the professors. Including ones as terrifying as Professor Snape. The last thing he needed was her talking to Professor Sprout and finding out his lies. "And it... broke."
Hermione gave him a look. "You trip a lot, don't you?" she asked.
And it was true. Toby was pretty clumsy, but who could blame him? Staircases moved at Hogwarts! Besides, it wasn't as if he had actually ever tripped or anything, he just stumbled a lot. So far, he hadn't ever fallen on his face. Not like Draco had, anyway. Toby winced at the memory and paused. He was joking about it earlier but now thinking more closely, people do seem to always be tripping around him, don't they?
He startled and looked up. "Yeah?"
"Where did you hear that word?" Hermione asked again.
Toby twitched. Professor Snape was extremely tense, knuckles white from gripping his stirring rod so tightly. He licked his lips, wondering if Hermione had noticed and if so, did she realize she was practically signing his death warrant?
Hermione cleared her throat. "Did someone... did someone call you that, Toby?"
"No!" Toby automatically denied; the last thing he needed was Draco hating him for reasons other than just his owl. "I read it in a book somewhere."
Hermione raised her eyebrows and gave him a flat look. "Toby..."
Realizing that Hermione knew he was lying, Toby pulled out his final trick. "I only heart it in passing," he corrected. "And I just got curious. But no one called me it. Really!" He stared up at her with wide eyes, blinking them rapidly. Thankfully, the confused, almost fearful light in them made Hermione believe him. Mostly. He was more than a little thankful that Hermione wasn't Sarah—no matter how much he might have wished so—or she would have seen through his act in an instant.
"Fine," Hermione finally allowed, deflating, but still looking troubled.
"Is it really that bad of a word?" Toby asked before he could stop himself, curiosity once again getting the best of him.
Professor Snape tensed up again. Toby hadn't even realized the professor had even managed to relax in the first place.
"It's a derogatory term for Muggleborns," Hermione told him. "Because of recent... Issues right now, you'll probably hear it more often but don't let it get to you."
Toby nodded, distractedly, his sister's voice echoed through his mind.
"So does this... conflict of yours have anything to do with prejudice against Muggleborns?"
He had been so excited when he first found out that he was a wizard, he hadn't even realized the implications of what it could mean—or Sarah's questions. There was a war against Muggleborns. Against Mudbloods. Toby grimaced; no wonder his sister had been hesitant in allowing him to come to Hogwarts. Especially when people like Draco Malfoy attended the school and still held onto the belief that Muggleborns were lesser people.
Toby supposed they were. After all, it was hard not to be inferior if you were simply told you had magic, then taken around to buy necessities before finally being abandoned in the school as if you should already know everything about the Wizarding world. Shouldn't there be some sort of cultural explanation class for Muggleborns or something? After his father got the transfer, his parents made sure the entire family attended a culture class to learn what not to do in the country. Just because something was okay back in the States didn't mean it would be similarly received in London.
"Absolutely disrespectful!" his father had said as he watched an American couple break what appeared to be every single what-not-to-do rule they had learned. "This is why it should be mandatory to take culture classes whenever you travel somewhere. Or you'll just end up looking like a bumbling ass."
Toby supposed he looked like quite the bumbling idiot in Draco's eyes.
And now there was a war—or a conflict, but Toby knew sugarcoated words when he heard it—because people like Draco didn't like disrespectful, bumbling idiots and people like Toby probably didn't know any better. But Sarah let him attend anyway, Toby suddenly realized with a start. Sarah had let the original meeting with Professor Dumbledore ready to refuse to let Toby attend Hogwarts. Then she walked back down the same day with a changed mind. Toby knew Sarah was extremely protective of him. Why would she let him go into a world on the brink of war? Why would she—
"He'll be fine," Sarah had told their father. "Toby's protected."
"Sarah has always had an interest in fairy tales and mythology. I daresay she knows just as much as you do."
"Sarah knows magic," Toby remembered himself saying.
And it was true. From elves to fairies to sprites, Sarah knew them all. She knew the stories, she wrote the stories, and sometimes, her storytelling was so realistic, Toby wondered if she lived the stories in her dreams at night. As unfamiliar and out-of-place he felt in the Wizarding World, there was a familiarity about it that Toby knew could have only come from Sarah's storytelling. She had already eased him into the world of magic long before anyone even realized he was a wizard.
Distantly, Toby noted that Hermione was still talking. "Toby," she was saying, "if anyone ever calls you that world, you can tell me or a professor, all right?"
But Toby wasn't really listening. He was distracted; he was on the brink of discovering something. Sarah who had always loved magic. Sarah who hadn't been the least bit surprised when a strange man in strange clothing came and announced that he was a wizard. "Oh, it's fine," Toby said, his words hesitant with distraction. "I didn't grow up here so the word doesn't really mean anything to me."
Hermione blinked, surprised. But pleasantly so.
Toby, on the other hand, was still distracted with thoughts of Sarah. He knew that Sarah wasn't a witch, that much was obvious. But she knew magic, that was also obvious. But was it possible that Sarah did more than just know magic? He had noticed the stares and had heard the whispers. From her youthful appearance to her vivid imagination to her sometimes odd commentary, Sarah was usually the subject of talk wherever she went.
"Don't mess with that kid," his old classmates would whisper. "Or you'll messing with his sister and she's not the forgiving type. I hear she can make people disappear."
"She's twenty-five, I swear! My cousin went to school with her, she thinks the woman probably went under the knife."
And even one of the reviews of her novel:
"Sarah Williams' novels are so realistic, one sometimes finds themselves wondering whether or not she is actually a fairy queen in disguise. Her words open up a portal to a world she has obviously lived in before..."
Was there any truth to them?
He startled again, head snapping up and eyes refocusing. "Sorry?" he said. "I was just thinking."
Hermione gave him a strange look.
"He'll be fine," Sarah's words continued to haunt him. "Toby's protected."
Sarah had said that he was protected. She allowed him to attend despite her initial refusal because he was protected. By what? By whom? By Sarah? But how?
"Anyway," he said, turning his attention back to Hermione. "Thank you for the salve. I'll take extra good care of this one, I promise." And before Hermione could respond, before she could bring up the Mudblood subject again, Toby spun around, making his way towards the door, his mind continued to swarm with possibilities.
Hermione watched him leave with a soft sigh. From his unusually quiet and distracted demeanor, she wondered if he really was okay with the word. She remembered the first time she had been called a Mudblood; despite also not growing up in the Wizarding World, the insult had hurt her as deeply as any physical wound. It was hard not to hurt when one finds out that the world they thought they finally belonged to also didn't want them.
But Toby didn't feel like he belonged in the Wizarding world, she remembered.
With a shake of her head, Hermione turned around. "Sorry about that, professor," she said.
Professor Snape gave her a sharp, curt nod, fists clenching and relaxing repetitively for a moment. She noticed that he seemed to be thinking about something, but whatever it was didn't seem as important as teaching her necessary potions for the Order. Hermione watched as he inhaled deeply, dark eyes flashing for a moment before he lifted his head to meet her eyes. "Shall we continue on with the Wolfsbane?" he asked.
Hermione smiled and nodded enthusiastically, thoughts of Toby and memories of Mudblood fading with the possibility of new knowledge.
Chapter 7: Fields of Gold
Hoggle was seriously considering throwing himself into the bog just to put himself out of his misery. Jareth—King Jareth, he reminded himself—was throwing yet another temper tantrum. He remembered a time when he used to be afraid of Jareth. He remembered a time when the mere mention of the Goblin King struck fear into his very heart. He remembered the shivers, the cold sweats, the nightmares.
When had that all changed?
What the hell happened?
Sarah, he thought. Sarah happened.
"It's been months since she has been reintroduced to magic," Jareth ranted, kicking another goblin.
Hoggle watched with bored, half-lidded eyes as the little twits giggled and lined up, waiting for their own turn to be kicked. He wondered if he should remind the angry king that magic had never left Sarah in the first place. After all, besides the numerous goblins following her around, she made sure to contact her other Underground friends at least once a week.
"It is Gorger magic," Jareth admitted, "but magic is magic and her own magic has been getting stronger. I can feel it so why hasn't she said my name?" He spun around. "Hippins!"
Hoggle looked up. "Yes?" he asked, trying to keep the boredom out of his voice. Just because Jareth no longer scared him, didn't mean that he actually wanted to get bogged. After all, the bog was still the bog. All he wanted to do was go out and spray some fairies.
"When was the last time you talked to her?"
Hoggle felt himself pale. "Er..." he mumbled something.
Mismatched eyes narrowed dangerously. "What was that?"
"'Tis morning," Hoggle admitted.
"Exactly!" the Goblin King cried out. "And you slipped my name into the conversation, yes?"
This time, unable to help himself, Hoggle really did roll his eyes. "'Course I did." It wasn't like he could forget; Jareth had taken it upon himself to remind Hoggle his every waking moment. If he had to listen to the Goblin King say, "Remember to slip my name in there!" one more time, he was going to cut his losses, throw himself into the bog, and name himself Prince of the Bog of Eternal Stench.
Jareth growled, the sound vibrating throughout the throne room, his powers amplifying its effects and making the very earth underneath them tremble. Hoggle had been very impressed and terrified the first time he had witnessed Jareth doing it. And the second time. And even the fifth time, actually. But it got kind of boring after time number seven. "Then. Why. Hasn't. She. Called. My. Name?" Jareth continued to rant, emphasizing each word with a kick, sending goblins sailing out the window, one right after the other.
Suddenly, as if someone had flipped a switch, all the anger and frustration left Jareth's body, leaving him looking depressed instead. He threw himself onto his throne and sighed. "Even Little Jareth is kinder to me," he grumbled, summoning his favorite riding crop into his hand with a half-hearted flick.
"Little Jareth?" Hoggle repeated, confused. And then, upon realization: "At least call him by his actual name!"
"Even if he keeps trying to feed me toast," Jareth continued, sniffing at the reminder. He was easily ignoring Hoggle as he did with all his goblins. "How undignifying. I bet he gets that cruelness from his sister." He sighed again, gazing sadly out his window, barely noticing the small goblin trying to climb back through it.
It was Hoggle's turn to sigh but he managed to swallow it back. Here we go again, he thought. After the rage came the pout.
Jareth opened his free hand, summoning his crystals and absentmindedly twirling them around skilled fingers. In the distance, he could see the beginnings of greenery where there had been what was left of fairies' Rainbow Forest before. Like the touch of spring after a long winter, he thought, thin lips twitching upwards. Summer is coming back for the fairies. Maybe now, they would leave the edge of his Labyrinth alone and Hoggle would be around more often to listen to him talk. He perked up at the idea.
"Kingy!" a goblin called, bouncing into his throne room. "King-King Pointy Ears is here!"
Jareth waved a distracted hand, the small speck of greenery in the distance still holding most of his attention. "Bog him," he dismissed.
"What's a Mudblood?"
If there was a word Severus could live without ever hearing again, that would be the one.
Even before the incident, he had never been fond of the word. He had seen what it did to Muggleborns; seeing their expression, watching the hurt dull their eyes, practically feeling their trembles, Severus had always found that he could somewhat relate even though the word did not apply to him.
Severus sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling the beginnings of a migraine. He had always known that Harry Potter's arrival to Hogwarts would bring unwanted chaos into his otherwise scheduled lifestyle. He just didn't think it was going to get worse and worse with each passing year. Considering how bad Potter's fifth year already was despite the fact that it had just begun, Severus couldn't imagine what his sixth and seventh year would bring. But to be fair, he admitted that Potter himself wasn't quite the headache Umbridge was—even if her presence in Hogwarts was mostly Potter's fault.
With another sigh, he pulled himself out of his thoughts and left the safety of his chambers before making his way towards the Great Hall for breakfast. His heavy black cloak billowed faithfully behind him with his every step, and the few early-rising students parted for him. Inwardly smirking at the sight, Severus relished in his reputation. For as long as he could remember, he had always been the feared and hated professor at Hogwarts—it had been necessary when he first started out; Severus had only been a couple years older than his oldest students, after all. His reputation made his students fear him—made them hate him—but at a distance.
Ah, he thought. How he wished Potter would share the same ideal.
With an annoyed grunt now that his thoughts were dominated by Potter again, Severus strolled into the Great Hall and made his way to his usual seat. He caught sight of familiar twinkling blue eyes and wondered where Flitwick was; he needed someone to sit between him and Albus. Severus wasn't sure he had the patience to deal with Albus so early in the morning. Especially not with Williams' question still echoing in his mind.
"What's a Mudblood?"
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will the image of large green eyes and flaming red hair away but it was no use. He relived the incident every night and remembered it like it was yesterday; he could still feel her shock, her hurt, her hate. Like all other Muggleborns, Lily never liked that word, he knew. But Lily was different, Lily was special.
Not as different—not as special—as Tobias Williams, apparently.
His eyes opened in a slow, almost lazy manner and he scanned the Hufflepull table, somehow not surprised to see Williams already up despite the early hour. The first year was currently fighting over a strip of bacon with an angry-looking barn owl. "Stop it!" the first year was saying, judging by the shapes his mouth was forming. "That's too greasy for you! You're going to get an upset stomach!"
"What's a Mudblood?" Severus remembered.
"Oh, that's fine. I didn't grow up here so the word doesn't really mean anything to me."
Tobias Williams was an enigma. Before yesterday, Severus never really noticed Williams. Besides the obnoxiously large and rather rude she-owl Draco often complained about, there wasn't anything particularly interesting about the young first year. Quiet and polite, the boy did his homework, his readings, and was quick to follow instructions so he had never incurred Severus' wrath—and therefore, his attention.
To Severus' knowledge, Hogwarts and the Wizarding World tended to be the first place Muggleborns would finally feel like they belonged to. After years of unexplained bursts of magic and the feeling of "not fitting in," the knowledge of magic and wizards and Hogwarts was almost like coming home. Then, for them to suddenly find out that "home" was full of prejudiced ideals and derogatory words like Mudblood, it was like waking up from a blissful dream.
He remembered Lily.
"Oh, it's fine," Williams' young voice continued to echo in his mind. "I didn't grow up here so the word doesn't really mean anything to me."
It sounded almost like words from a wise man, a good ideal to live by; but Severus knew how unrealistic it was to say something and then to actually mean it. It was easy to say you didn't care but it was harder to really not let the word affect you. He had personally witnessed what the word Mudblood could do to even the more powerful, independent wizards and witches, Lily had been one of them. But Williams—
"I didn't grow up here so the word doesn't really mean anything to me."
It would if you cared, Severus thought, still staring at the first year. He had a feeling that Williams' indifferent to the word had less to do with him growing up in the Muggle world and more to do with the fact that the Wizarding world was not the First Year's home. Which was rather strange because people tend to find feelings of home in familiarity, or the feeling of finally fitting in somewhere.
"Severus!" Albus suddenly greeted, his voice bright and cheerful, pulling him from his thoughts. Severus watched from the corner of his eyes as the Headmaster slipped into Flitwick's usual seat and surpassed a wince. "How does it go with Miss Granger?" Albus asked in a hushed voice.
Severus frowned at him, still slightly distracted by thoughts of Tobias Williams. Miss Granger wasn't exactly a name he wanted to hear first thing in the morning. Like Mister Weasley, it was usually associated with Mister Potter and that was definitely a name he would rather not hear. At all. It was bad enough the wretched boy had already occupied his thoughts earlier. "Perfectly fine, as well as you know," he answered instead, filling his mug with much-needed strong, black coffee. "I instructed her on the Wolfsbane yesterday."
Albus nodded. "Good, good." He leaned in and voice dropping even lower, asked, "And do you believe she will be able to brew it alone if you are ever... indisposed?
Considering that Miss Granger was known as the brightest witch her age since her first year, Severus rather thought the question pointless. But he answered it anyway, if only to get Albus off his back. "I will test her next month," he said, scowling. The evening "advanced tutoring" sessions were seriously taking a toll on his mental health. As if seeing her three times a week for class wasn't enough, Severus now found himself having to put up with even more questions during their evening sessions.
"I do not doubt her capabilities," Albus said, nodding again. "She is, after all, quite bright."
"Indeed," Severus drawled.
He looked up from his breakfast then and immediately noticed Potter and Granger walking into the Great Hall together, their heads ducked down towards one another whispering. No doubt they were conspiring again, he thought and wondered where the third member of their trio was. His eyes narrowed when they both looked up, Granger's lips moving rapidly as she said something to Potter. Despite all his skills, Severus found that he still couldn't read Granger's lips; she spoke too fast for him, apparently.
Following their gaze, he was only slightly surprised when he saw that they were not conspiring like he had first thought. Instead, their attention was completely captured by the young first year he had been thinking about only moments before.
"What's a Mudblood?"
Severus breathed out slowly through his nose, willing his stomach to stop heaving at the mere remembrance of the word. No doubt Granger wanted to confront the first year about yesterday. Williams had lied to protect the identity of his verbal attacker for reasons Severus did not understand, but Granger was no fool. He turned his gaze and watched as Williams attempted to feed the barn owl bits of his toast.
"I should warn you, Headmaster," Severus said slowly, eyes never leaving the blond boy, "that Mister Williams visited Miss Granger in my classroom last night." He kept his voice low, not wanting to catch anyone else's attention. "He brought up a... startling question."
Albus startled, jerking so suddenly in his seat that Severus tore his gaze away from Williams and towards the aged Headmaster instead. "Mister Williams?" Albus repeated. "Tobias Williams? Visited Miss Granger? Why?"
Severus gave him an odd look and Albus knew why. It was no secret between the two of them that Albus did not usually concern himself with other students. Not like this, anyway. And certainly not with anyone other than Harry Potter.
But instead of commenting on Albus' reaction, Severus nodded towards the Gryffindor duo. "Like Mister Williams, Miss Granger is a Muggleborn. He came to question her about a..." He trailed off and swallowed hard, remembering bright green eyes. "...particular word." Usually Severus wouldn't bring up such an incident to the Headmaster but with the Dark Lord's return and Umbridge's increasing power, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Albus turned and watched with rising horror as Harry and Miss Granger began making their way towards the young first year. Mister Williams' eyes darted around, looking strangely guilty before nodding and getting up from his seat to follow them out the Great Hall.
"Despite the nature of our conflict, as long as he remains within the walls of Hogwarts, his life will be in no danger," he had told Miss Williams. But he also remembered thinking that it would remain true as long as the young boy was not acquainted with Harry Potter. And here Albus had thought that he wouldn't need to worry about Mister Williams ever interacting with Harry.
Oh dear, Albus thought. Miss Williams will not be happy.
Hermione rubbed the lingering traces of sleep from her eyes as she made her way down to the Common Room. Shoving a massive lock of fuzzy hair away from her face, she suddenly noticed for the first time that Harry was sitting in one of the couches, running his fingers over his knuckles. "Harry?"
He looked up at the sound of her voice. "Oh, morning, Hermione! Ready to go to breakfast?"
She looked around the Common Room but spotted no telltale red hair. "Where's Ron?"
Hermione nodded slowly before she remembered. Snapping her head down to look at Harry's hand, she hissed, "Harry! Didn't you have detention with Professor Umbridge again? Let me see it!"
"I'm fine," he said, but showed her his hand anyway.
Looking at her friend's pale knuckles, Hermione was happy to see that the scars from his previous detentions were barely visible. She sighed with relief and reached into her robes to pull out a container of salve. "Here, I created this," she told him, pressing it into his hand. "It counteracts the Blood Quill's anti-healing charms." She sighed again, this time, unhappily. "Unfortunately, it still isn't perfect. It can't heal the wounds completely but I'll consult Professor Snape on that."
Harry nodded, lips quirking upwards into a smile as he stuffed the container into the pocket of his robes. "Thanks," he murmured as they walked out of the common room and made their way towards the Great Hall.
Hermione frowned, noticing his distraction. "Harry, what's wrong?"
His smile deepened at her question, feeling a familiar giddiness at Hermione's obvious worry for him. Being physically almost a year older than him, Hermione had always been an older sibling figure Harry never had. And since she was obviously years ahead of him in mental maturity, she was almost also like a parental figure. It felt nice to be worried over for once. Giving himself a mental shake, he brought his thoughts back to Hermione's question. "You know that kid you took under your wing?" he asked her. "The one that you introduced to us on the train? Toby Williams?"
Hermione blinked slowly. "What about him?"
"I bumped into him last night after my detention with Umbridge."
Hermione frowned again. "What did she make you do?" she asked.
"Write lines like usual," Harry confessed in a low whisper.
Hermione blinked rapidly as she glanced down at his hand, confused.
"Is it possible to heal someone wandlessly?" Harry asked. Then, remembering Toby's confused and innocent expression, he tried again, "Or to heal someone without meaning to?" He thought back to his own experience with unintentional magic. Even before he found out he was a wizard, things didn't just happen for no reason. Every magical burst from him was because he wanted it; he wanted his hair to grow back, he wanted to escape his old bullies, and while Harry didn't think Toby wished for him to continue hurting or anything, he doubted the younger boy thought about healing him.
Quickly realizing that Toby's meeting with Harry last night had to do with his lack of wounds from Umbridge's Blood Quills, Hermione said, "Tell me what happened."
So Harry told her everything because if anyone could make sense of what happened yesterday, it was Hermione. He told her how they had bumped into each other, about Toby's horrified expression when he first noticed the wounds Harry had initially tried hiding from him. He told her about how Toby's touch had sent unfamiliar tingles throughout his hand and before he knew it, the words he had etched into his own skin had healed right before his eyes even as Toby was reaching for Hermione's healing slave. And then, in a much quieter voice, Harry told her about Malfoy's appearance.
Hermione pursed her lips. "Did he call Toby a..."
Harry nodded, watching Hermione's expression carefully. When Hermione had first been called a Mudblood their second year, she had been so heartbroken despite not initially realizing the meaning behind the word. And now, with Umbridge's increasing power in Hogwarts, Purebloods like Malfoy were becoming more and more obvious in their prejudice. Not even three months into the school year and Harry had already heard three hisses of "Mudblood" directed towards his fuzzy-haired friend.
But Hermione was silent, thinking about the young, innocent, homesick first year and wondered why he was trying to protect someone like Draco Malfoy. "Healing magic is similar to dark magic," Hermione said smartly, turning her attention back to the initial question at hand. "You have to mean it. Not to mention, it requires a great deal of magic, concentration, and understanding. I doubt a first year could do it wandlessly."
Harry's brows furrowed and he opened his mouth to speak but Hermione continued on before he could utter a word. "But Toby is also a Muggleborn."
"What difference does that make?" Harry asked, still frowning as they rounded a corner into another corridor.
Hermione hummed softly, gathering her thoughts. "Generally," she began slowly. "Muggleborns have a much easier time learning, wandless, nonverbal magic. Wizarding children have parents who understand and are able to stop bursts of unintentional magic. But since Muggleborns didn't grow up with that, it tends to be easier for us to accomplish wandless, nonverbal magic because we're already so used to doing it."
Harry nodded, that made a lot of sense.
"So I guess it's entirely possible for Toby to accidentally heal you," Hermione continued but she wasn't sure. While she knew that statistically, Muggleborns tend to master wandless, nonverbal magic faster and easier, she wasn't sure that was the case with the current situation. Blood Quills were a big deal because they had anti-healing charms on it. For Toby—a first year, Muggleborn or not—to bypass that entirely without even realizing it... that was an entirely different situation altogether.
She breathed out slowly as they entered the Great Hall, giving herself a mental head shake. "Malfoy didn't do anything else to Toby, did he?" she asked softly, leaning towards Harry. "He did come to see me for another healing salve last night."
Harry shook his head. "No, I think that's just because he broke his original one." He paused, thinking back to the incident last night before snickering. "If anything, I thought he was the one that did something to Malfoy."
"What?" Hermione exclaimed, eyes scanning over the Hufflepuff table to find Toby attempting to feed an owl a piece of toast.
Harry laughed quietly and followed her gaze. "Malfoy tripped, fell right on his face," he reminded her. "For a second, I really thought Toby was the one that tripped him. Malfoy had just insulted him, after all, and he isn't particularly clumsy." He shook his head, still staring at Toby. "But then I saw Toby's expression; the kid was horrified."
They both stared at the blond first year for a moment. "Do you think we should talk to Toby?" Hermione asked. "Warn him about Malfoy, I mean; he really isn't the kind of person a first year should make an enemy out of. I mean, I hear Malfoy already doesn't like Hel."
Harry blinked. "Who?"
"Hel," she repeated. "Helreginn. Toby's owl."
He blinked again, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Malfoy was picking a fight with a first-year because he didn't like his— "What?"
Hermione shook her head. "Never mind," she said, reaching down to clasp Harry's hand in her own before pulling him with her towards Toby's direction. "Come on."
They navigated their way through their fellow early risers before stopping in front of Toby and a couple of his first-year friends. Harry had to fight the urge to shuffle behind Hermione when he noticed the looks of awe on their faces. It has been a while since someone looked at him like that; after the entire Cedric and "Voldemort is back!" incident, people tended to glare hatefully or look at him with suspicion.
"Hey Toby," Hermione greeted.
Toby's head snapped up, facial muscles twisting in horror as he recognized them. He pulled away from the owl and leaned back into his seat before fully tilting his head up to look at them. "Hello Hermione," he muttered. "Harry." No doubt he had realized that Harry must have told Hermione about yesterday's incident, which would have completely contradicted the story he had told her.
"Do you think we can talk privately for a moment?" Hermione asked lightly.
He swallowed hard, eyes darting from Hermione to Harry and back again. "Sure," he hesitantly answered. As Toby got up from his seat, his eyes darted back to his friends as if to ask for help but they only stared up at him in a sort of awe that most definitely not helpful. He gave a mental sigh and followed the two older students out of the Great Hall. "I'm not in trouble, am I?" he asked.
Hermione smiled. "No, of course not," she assured him and then glanced at Harry for a quick moment. "But Harry did tell me that you met Malfoy last night. Have you ever met him before that?"
Toby thought back to the first time he ever heard of the fifth-year. And the exploding pie. "No."
The two Gryffindors exchanged glances. Not only had Herimone heard rumors about Malfoy's hatred for Toby's she-owl but she knew that Toby had lied about the Mudblood incident. She didn't know if Toby was actually trying to protect the Slytherin or if he just didn't want to cause an unnecessary conflict but she felt the need to warn him anyway. "Toby," she said in a low, serious tone. "I want you to be able to come to me if someone treats you unkindly." She swallowed hard. "And if anyone ever calls you a... a Mudblood again, I want you to let me know." Because words don't always stay words, she knew.
"Especially if it's Malfoy," Harry said, nodding in agreement.
Hermione immediately jabbed him in the side with a sharp elbow.
"I'm fine!" Toby blurted. "Honest!" He had, of course, heard rumors about Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy's rivalry and he had even seen hints of it himself just last night. However, the last thing he wanted to do was to give them another reason to fight. "Is that all?" he asked, obviously uncomfortable with the topic.
"One more thing," Harry said, speaking up again. He cleared his throat when Toby looked up at him, blinking large, innocent eyes. "Before Hogwarts... before Hogwarts, have you ever experienced any... unintentional bursts of magic?"
Toby blinked in surprise at the sudden change in topic but relaxed all the same, happy that they were no longer talking about Draco Malfoy and Mudbloods and the lies he had told Hermione. "Not really," he answered. "None that I can really remember, anyway." He pursed his lips thoughtfully, thinking back. "After Headmaster Dumbledore explained everything, my parents did say that I might have caused a lot of things to break and fall when I was a baby. But they thought it was due to earthquakes or something even though we never lived anywhere near earthquake zones." He shrugged. "Other times I'll wake up with chicken feathers all over my room. Does that count?"
Hermione laughed. "What about healing?" she asked instead. "Have you ever gotten hurt and it healed really fast? Or maybe someone else? A parent or a close friend?"
Toby shook his head, wondering where this conversation was going. "No, not—" He froze suddenly. "Sarah got hurt once."
"Sarah?" Harry asked.
"My sister," he elaborated. "My sister, Sarah."
"What happened?" Hermione asked.
"She got into a bad car accident a couple years ago," Toby answered, shuddering at the memory. "We got a call from the hospital. She lost a lot of blood and even with the transfusion, they weren't sure she was going to make it. Diffuse axonal injury, I think they called it. But she woke up within a couple days perfectly fine so..." He shrugged.
"Toby..." Hermione breathed, exchanging glances with Harry.
He looked up.
Hermione swallowed. "Um... did you ever think that you were the one that healed her?" she asked. "Even accidentally?"
"No," Toby answered slowly. "Why would I think that?"
"Well, you're a wizard," she explained. "And Muggleborns are known to have a lot of accidental bursts of magic." If Toby had an affinity with healing magic then everything made sense; Hermione could only imagine what he could do whenever he decided to intentionally heal someone. She had done studies on different types of magic a year ago and healing magic—white magic—was considered one of the hardest types of magic to master. For someone to have an affinity for it has actually never been heard of.
But Toby was frowning.
"Sarah knows magic."
"It wasn't me," he said, shaking his head, mind whirling at the implications.
"How do you know?" Harry asked him.
Toby looked up again, his eyes unblinking. "I wasn't there when it happened," he told them. "We had already moved to London but Sarah was in America for her book tour. By the time we got the phone call and flew back to America, Sarah was already out of the hospital."
"Can we please meet at a coffee shop next time?"
Daniel Barret—her ever-annoying editor—squinted at her for a moment, then looked down at her untouched mug of coffee. "Have you always been this picky?" he demanded. Sarah was a dream author, or so he had been told. Her previous editor assured him that she was sweet, polite, dedicated, and always turned her drafts in on time. Obviously he had been lied to. Not that Sarah wasn't sweet or polite or even dedicated—most of the time—but she never—not once!—ever turned her drafts in on time. Ever. If it wasn't late, it meant it had been forgotten altogether.
Sarah pursed her lips. "It's lukewarm," she mumbled, watching Deebie chew on the laces of Daniel's very expensive dress shoes without caring. Normally, she would scold the small goblin but she wasn't particularly feeling very kind today. This early in the morning. After being offered lukewarm dirt-water.
"Are you still not used to London's weather? How long have you been living here?"
She wrinkled her nose in annoyance. "I thought we were here to talk about my novel, not my inability to get used to cold weather." She huffed and took a tentative sip from her mug, only to shudder the moment the liquid touched her tongue. "Or lukewarm coffee," she grumbled. "Either be cold or be hot."
"Yes, that's right," Daniel agreed, addressing her former comment and pulled out a couple files before laying them out in front of Sarah. "Here's the first draft for the contract from your new publisher. I already read through it but I think you should too. If there's anything you want to add, just jot it down and we'll bring it up during our meeting next week. Also, they really want to buy movie rights for Chrysanthemum Kisses."
"Not interested," was her immediate response. Then the words registered and her head snapped up. "We have a meeting next week?"
He narrowed his eyes. "Yes, Sarah. Friday at six. At Del Lune. Remember?"
She shook her head.
Daniel groaned. "You're lucky you're earning me good money," he muttered with a half-hearted sigh. "Anyway, please remember to bring your ID if you want to drink. We really don't need a repeat of last time."
Sarah scowled, her eyes darkening at the memory. "I'm twenty-five," she snapped, bristling in anger. "I shouldn't need to bring my ID anymore!"
Daniel only rolled his eyes in response. "You look like you're sixteen." Then, at her unhappy glare, he reached out and patted her on the head as if she was a child. "It's all right. It's a good thing; everyone wants to look younger these days."
"You know," Sarah grumbled, feeling like she was making the same complaint over and over again. No doubt that this wasn't the first time Daniel has heard it. "There's a distinction between looking young and looking too young." Having her youthful appearance complimented was flattering, needing to pull out her ID every time she did something was not. She took another sip of her coffee and blinked in surprise; was it just her or had her annoyance heated up her coffee?
"Yeah, yeah," Daniel muttered, waving off her comment dismissively as he checked his watch. "Anyway, that's pretty much it for today; gotta bounce. Another meeting with a potential publisher just for you, darling. Take the draft home, give it a look-over, and text me if you have questions."
Sarah nodded in understanding.
"And don't forget your ID for Friday. I'm not bailing you out again."
She looked up and glared but Daniel only flashed her a quick, innocent grin before leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. Deebie jumped off Daniel's unsuspecting shoulder and burrowed her way into Sarah's hair. "See you then," she mumbled as he left the office in a flurry, probably running late again.
With a soft sigh, Sarah stretched, pushing her chest out and arching her arms high above her head. Once she heard the familiar sounds of cracking joints, she relaxed and began packing up her things. She stuffed the draft into her oversized purse and dumped out the rest of her lukewarm water-coffee in a nearby sink before leaving the office. After making sure that the door was locked behind her, Sarah huddled into her jacket, took a deep breath, and stepped out into the outside world towards the direction of her favorite coffee shop.
"So cold," she grumbled but she was not to be deterred. Sarah had woken up that morning craving good coffee and the cup of dirt water she had only served to increase her craving. A particularly vicious wind blew past—and practically through—her and Sarah had to slouch and huddle further into her over-sized scarf to prevent her nose from getting frostbite and falling off or something equally as horrifying.
At least it's not snowing, she thought.
Even though Sarah much preferred a white Christmas, she wasn't about to go wishing for something she was only going to end up regretting afterward. She had learned that particular lesson years ago, thank you very much. Speaking of Christmas, Sarah wondered what sort of present she should get Toby. Ever since she had been making her own money, Sarah had brought it upon herself to spoil her younger brother in ways her parents never did for her. Toby always loved her presents the most but what to get someone who was currently living in a world full of magic? A world full of moving portraits, disappearing doors, and talking mirrors?
Normal presents just weren't going to cut it any longer, she realized mournfully.
Sarah hummed and brightened up at her next thought. "Maybe I should ask the goblins to bring something from the Underworld?" she wondered aloud, her hot breath insulated by her thick scarf and warming half her face up momentarily. She paused. Then: "No, definitely not." The goblins' idea of gifts was... unconventional at best to say the least.
By the time Sarah finally made it to the coffee shop, she still had no idea what to get her brother. Realizing that her nose was now bright red thanks to the cold, cutting wind, she decided that she would mull over the idea over a nice, hot cup of coffee. Coffee always fueled her creativity, there was no reason why it couldn't help her decide what presents to get her brother.
She sighed happily upon opening the door, the sweet aroma of coffee washing over her like a warm, summer breeze. And for a brief moment, she remembered the flashes of color and the sounds of giggles and whispered promises from her dream last night. And possibly the nights before that too. But the moment passed when the barista greeted her with a bright smile.
It took only a brief moment for Sarah to get her coffee and find a nice, isolated seat in a lonely corner of the shop but by that time, she was already in a happier mood than she was in earlier that morning. She hummed happily, ready to spend the rest of her day in the warm, good-smelling coffee shop. She had left her laptop at home but thankfully, Sarah never left anywhere without her handy notebook. There she could jot down ideas for Toby's present and perhaps even get started on her next chapter. She was sure if Daniel wasn't running late to his next meeting, he would have hounded her for the next—
"Hello," a smooth voice interrupted, pulling her from her thoughts. "We meet again."
And there goes my happy day, a voice in the back of Sarah's head grumbled.
She looked up, taking in the young, handsome blond smiling down at her. She squinted. "I'm sorry," she said, tone flat, "have we met before?" She doubted he was a fan, despite her book tours, she kept her identity extremely private and was known as "that eccentric author that wears those face masks."
For a moment, the blond man stared at her blankly, as if in disbelief and Deebie poked her small head out of Sarah's hair and started laughing. Sarah wanted to push the small goblin back into her nesting area—or whatever Deebie thought her hair was—but she also didn't want to give the illusion that she was fixing her hair right after his greeting like she was flirting with him. Sarah settled on an unimpressed scowl instead.
"I'm Cahan, remember?" he said, flashing another bright smile that she swore had the barista across them sighing happily. "We met before in this very same coffee shop." His smile widened until it was all sparkling teeth and glittering eyes.
Sarah blinked slowly, she most definitely did not remember but she was never good with faces and names anyway. "Okay," she agreed instead. "It's nice to meet you again." And with that said, she turned her attention back to her coffee, hoping that he would get the hint.
Cahan blinked. Then he slid his gaze from Sarah to the small goblin who was laughing at him. Again. It stuck out a long, forked tongue and blew raspberries in his direction. Pressing his lips tightly together in anger, Cahan took a moment to calm himself. After the moment, he turned his attention back to Sarah, cleared his throat, and tried again. "So... Sarah, I was thinking—"
When the young woman turned to look at him, he turned up his charm even more until it was practically oozing out of his skin. He could smell it in the air and was sure even the goblin wasn't immune at this point. Not that he wanted a goblin lusting after him or anything. Ew.
"I'm not interested," Sarah interrupted, surprising him more than he cared to admit.
Cahan blinked, wondering what was it about this particular human that made her immune to his magic. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed the coffee shop barista swooning and Sarah must have noticed it too, for she turned and stared at the poor girl for a moment before redirecting her gaze to him. Her brows were furrowed as she stared at him with a suspicious gleam in her eyes. Oops, Cahan thought, swallowing hard and looked away, pretending not to notice. Too much. Mentally shaking himself from his thoughts, he took another deep breath and turned back to Sarah—
—only to find that she had already gotten up from her seat and was walking away from him without so much as a backward glance. Deebie, that ever-annoying toad demon was peering out from a curtain of her hair as she pointed and laughed at him.
He scowled. Careful, Cahan thought. You're going to end up pissing yourself and then who's going to protect you from your Lady's wrath? Certainly not him. With a sigh, Cahan decided that enough was enough and that he should probably head back now. So he looked around the coffee shop, allowing his magic to flow out from within him. Within seconds, the entire coffee shop was filled with the electrifying sparks of his magic and it curled and weaved and seeped into the very flesh of the shop's occupants. They whispered and tugged at memories until his existence had been erased from this world and no one noticed even as he disappeared from the busy coffee shop.
Cahan immediately reappeared in a familiar greeting room. The white marble-like walls pulsed and glowed at his sudden return, soaking up his magic thirstily even though he hadn't been away all that long. Around him, his faithful servants dropped down into graceful curtsies and bows and Cahan needed a moment for himself to soak it all in. He needed beauty and perfection to erase the hell demon's ugly figure from his memory.
"Your majesty," Mahilgo, his head servant greeted. "You have returned."
Cahan smiled because she was beautiful. All silver-white hair, dark skin, and clear silver eyes, she was perfection personified and the hell demon's twisted body, clawed fingers, and forked tongue was becoming but a distant memory. "Yes, yes," he sighed happily. "Any news?"
Eyes darting away from his gaze, Mahilgo pursed her lower lip and frowned. Her pointed ears twitched slightly as she gathered her thoughts, wondering how to best phrase it. "It's Her Majesty," she murmured regretfully.
Cahan froze. "What's wrong with my mate?"
"Appledore Falls is no more," She answered, her voice soft. "I'm afraid Her Majesty did not take it well."
Cahan felt his heart stutter in its beat. And so it begins, he thought, making his way to a nearby window and gazing out into the distance. The beauty of his lands, the green of his forests, the blue of his skies, even the warmth of his air seemed to mock him. His lands were beautiful, his lands were perfect, his lands were alive but like everything else in this damned world, it wouldn't last. He briefly wondered if this was what humans felt like with their measly single-century lives. And sometimes, not even that. The shadows were coming—had been coming—and even with all the power he had, there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
With another long sigh, he turned back towards Mahilgo. "Set up an audience with the King of Dreams for me." Then, tone darkening at the memories, he added, "I have no desire for a repetition of last time." He was never—never, ever, ever—going to show up in front of him without warning ever again. Ever.
"The King of Dreams?" Mahilgo repeated, her usual musical voice currently a high-pitched squeak. "The Nightwalker?" She had never met the Nightwalker in person before but she had heard the stories. Everyone had. She had heard the rumors that His Majesty was actually friends with the Nightwalker but Mahilgo wasn't sure how true that actually was considering the fact that His Majesty needed to request an audience to meet him.
The Nightwalker, she thought again, shuddering. It was said that he was the brother of the Shadowwalker—of Death—himself!
"Even the Shadowwalker is afraid of him," the rumors whispered. Pale, rotting skin, dry, white hair, chipped fangs and cracked claws. They said that he was the reason why their world was dying, that he was the reason why magic itself was disappearing. Rumors had it that the Nightwalker had an army of soul-sucking creatures that obeyed his every command. That shrill, crackling laughter was the last thing one heard before his hell demons struck and darkness descended. That even his own brother served him. After all, why else would the rest of their magical world wither and die while the Nightwalker's land prospered?
Cahan stared. "The very one," he confirmed, then frowned. "Oh, don't give me that look! He's not that frightening." But Mahilgo didn't look convinced. "He's actually quite pathetic. Honestly!"
Toby stared at his tiny practice doll. Which was on fire.
Placing his wand down, Toby let his head drop onto the table with a loud thud. His practice doll was burning away but he couldn't bring himself to care. This was his fourth practice doll and he didn't think it could get any worst. The first one had completely vanished, the second ran away screaming, and the third one drowned. He didn't even know they had mouths. Or lungs.
He squinted at the pile of ash and wondered where he went wrong. Toby knew he understood the wand movement and was pretty sure he was pronouncing the incantation correctly but the Knockback Jinx just wasn't working. He didn't understand before but he now knew why the older students didn't like Umbridge all that much. Toby wasn't sure why Umbridge had so much against them practicing spells in the classroom but it really wasn't helping him.
Brushing away what used to be his fourth practice doll today, Toby turned his attention towards his DADA textbook and flipped back to the section outlining the Knockback Jinx again. Maybe he had missed up the phonetic pronunciation; he had always struggled with that. He blamed it on his American accent.
"Hey," a voice interrupted. "You're Tobias Williams, aren't you?"
"Yes?" Toby sort-of answered, looking up. He frowned. "I'm sorry, I don't think I know you?"
The Gryffindor snorted. "You wouldn't," he told Toby. "I'm not part of Potter's inner circle."
Toby blinked, more than a little confused. "What?"
"The only reason anyone knows who you are is because you've been hanging out with Potter a lot recently," the Gryffindor pointed out.
He most certainly had not been, Toby thought. While it was true that he saw him more often than before and that they greeted one another whenever they passed by each other in the halls, that was pretty much the extent of it. "Okay..." he responded hesitantly, unsure what the other student was trying to say.
"I'm just trying to warn you!" he exclaimed, leaning down closer towards Toby. "If you don't want to die, you need to stay away from Harry Potter!"
Toby gaped, his mind going blank at the implication. "What?" he asked. "Harry's not—Harry wouldn't —Harry won't kill me!"
The Gryffindor snorted. "That's what you think but you're only a first year. Plus you're Muggleborn so you probably haven't heard what happened last year."
Toby had heard the whispers, of course, but he was never one to pay attention to rumors so he couldn't really say what it was about. Something about a digger and someone whose name everyone keeps forgetting. He honestly didn't care. "What happened?" he asked, despite himself.
Diggory, digger, same thing, Toby thought but knew that was probably very rude to say out loud. Instead, he asked, "Who's that?"
The Gryffindor grinned, all too happy to spread gossip, and sat down. With caution Toby didn't think was serious, the Gryffindor looked around to make sure they were not being overheard. "Last year," he began, the excitement in his voice barely being concealed, "Hogwarts hosted the Triwizarding Tournament; both Potter and Cedric Diggory—who was a fellow Hufflepuff of yours—participated in it." He leaned even closer, making Toby feel just the slightest bit uncomfortable. "Honestly, Potter wasn't even supposed to participate; he was too young, you know? But it was all part of his plan."
"His plan?" Toby repeated.
He grinned. "Yeah, that's right. His plan."
Toby wondered if the Gryffindor was being stupid on purpose. Or was this one of those suspense things he really didn't see the point of? "What plan?" he asked instead because his father had warned him about not being as blunt and rude as Sarah. Not that he thought his sister was ever blunt and rude.
"His plan to kill Cedric, of course."
Toby felt his stomach drop. "What?" he demanded loudly, catching the attention of the few other students sharing the general study room.
"And it worked," the older student continued, "Because during the last test, both Potter and Cedric went into the maze for the last task but only Potter came out alive." Toby opened his mouth to interrupt but the Gryffindor beat him to it. "If that's not bad enough, he blamed Cedric's death on You-Know-Who who has been dead for years. Potter killed him himself, you know?" He paused then, taking delight in the way Toby's expression was twisting up in horror. "Obviously that means Potter killed Cedric because he wanted to win. He's probably planning to be the next Dark Lord."
"Dark what?" Toby demanded, feeling as if this was all a very big joke. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!"
"It's your head," the Gryffindor said, shrugging, obviously disappointed that Toby wasn't reacting the way he wanted him to. "But as a Muggleborn, you should really stay away from him. He's only keeping up appearances. All the recent upheaval is probably—"
Toby slammed his book shut and stood up. "You're done talking," he snapped. "Because I'm definitely done listening to you."
But the annoying Gryffindor didn't seem to care, not even when Toby began packing up his things and stuffing them angrily into his bag. "Potter has brainwashed you, hasn't he? He—"
Toby was already walking away at this point and he wasn't the least bit surprised when the Gryffindor yelped in alarm as he slipped in his seat and whacked his head on the table as he fell. He had long since accepted that people tended to find themselves tripping, slipping, and falling after they had wronged or upset him in some way. He suspected it may have something to do with Sarah's "He's protected." but was not sure how that was possible.
Feeling unusually angry, Toby found himself stomping his way down the familiar path towards the dungeons. He could hear the Gryffindor's words repeating themselves over and over again in his mind. Despite what everyone else believed, he didn't actually talk all that much with Harry, at least not without Hermione around. But he knew that the older, dark-haired Gryffindor enough to know that he wouldn't kill anyone. Especially Muggleborns, he thought. His best friend was one for crying out loud.
Of all the stupid things to say, he mentally grumbled, making a sharp turn around a dimly-lit corner. He wasn't even sure why he was so angry. The Gryffindor must have thought that he was some kind of idiot, believing Toby would believe those lies. But then, Toby suddenly realized, if he had been anyone else, he might have. Especially considering the fact that he didn't really care to learn more about the Wizarding World. Definitely time to change that, he thought, stopping and staring at the familiar sight of the large double doors—once frightening and forbidding—for a moment. He was a wizard, and he had enough of knowing the Wizarding World without actually knowing it. So with that decided, he shoved his way into the dark classroom, forgetting to knock in his enthusiasm.
"—make no mistake," Professor Snape was saying, voice lower and tone darker than anything Toby had heard from him before. "He is planning something. Potter must be—" He cut himself up and looked up, scowling when his gaze landed on Toby's smaller form. "Mister Williams," he said. It wasn't a greeting. "You again. My classroom is not a place of sanctuary."
Quite the opposite, most of the time; Toby didn't think he should be complaining. He blushed anyway. "Yes, sir," he said, nodding. "Sorry, sir." Despite his words, he walked in, quietly closing the doors behind him.
"Is something wrong?" Hermione asked worryingly. Since the Mudblood incident a couple weeks ago, Toby had been in the Potions Classroom five other times during her advanced tutoring sessions, each time with a question or problem.
Toby looked up and had a feeling that his question was more of a "What's a Mudblood?" type of question rather than a "Is Herbology and botanical medicine the same thing?" question. He chewed the thought over in his mind and knew he had to understand it. He was going to be living here for the next seven years, after all.
"What happened to Cedric Diggory last year?" he asked.
Both Hermione and Professor Snape looked up and froze, forms stiff and unyielding. Toby gave an inward sigh. It really was a "What's a Mudblood?" kind of question.
"Who told you about him?" Hermione asked. While the topic of Cedric Diggory wasn't taboo like the word Mudblood was, it also wasn't talked about openly. Besides, Hermione knew Toby mostly hung out with his fellow first years; it really wasn't the type of conversation she imagined they would have.
He shrugged. "I heard his name going around a lot," he answered and it wasn't a lie.
But he shook his head. "It's no one important," he told her. Honestly, there really wasn't a point in telling her who had told him. Besides not knowing the older Gryffindor's name, there wasn't anything Hermione, Harry, or any of their friends could do about it anyway. It would only cause more of a rift within the Gryffindor House. Even Toby, who didn't like listening to the rumor mill noticed the red and gold house was practically split in half; with one half siding with Harry and surrounding him like a protective circle against the second half that hated for reasons Toby did not understand. But it probably had something to do with Cedric Diggory and He-Whose-Name-People-Kept-Forgetting.
Hermione sighed again. She exchanged quick glances with Professor Snape before placing her stirring rod down, allowing her current potion to simmer. "Do you know about the Triwizarding Tournament?" she finally asked.
"It's some sort of competition," Toby answered, remembering what the other Gryffindor had told him. "Harry and Cedric Diggory were chosen last year."
Hermione nodded. "That's right," she confirmed. "But before I get into that, you have to know about Harry Potter."
Toby blinked at the emphasis and it took him a moment to figure out the reasoning behind the distinction. He thought about his sister. About Sarah. Sarah was funny and kind but she was also downright whiny and childish on her bad days. Sarah Williams, on the other hand, was a genius wordsmith, practical, talented, and writing perfection personified. Harry, Toby thought, had a good heart. He was also brave and talented and loyal.
He wondered what kind of person Harry Potter was.
"Almost two decades ago," Hermione began. "There was a Dark Wizard who led a powerful group of followers that terrorized the Wizarding World. During that time, it was common to hear about someone being killed, kidnapped, or tortured. There was a war and people were afraid."
Toby stared. Hermione's voice had taken a familiar lecturing kind of tone and Toby briefly thought that she would make a good professor in the future. Catching movement from the corner of his eyes, Toby redirected his gaze towards Professor Snape and noticed that the dark-haired professor was gripping onto his stirring rod so tightly, his knuckles were white. Almost two decades ago, he remembered and then realized that Professor Snape must have lived through it, maybe even had fought in it.
"Anyway," Hermione continued. "The Dark Wizard—he's known as You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—" Toby blinked in response, then squinted suspiciously. "—tried to kill Harry when he was only a baby. But it didn't work, obviously. Instead, the spell rebounded off Harry, which gave him the scar you see on his forehead, and struck You-Know-Who, appearing to kill him."
She paused and swallowed hard because for her, this was where everything began. This part was no longer just stories. She lived it. "But the truth is... the truth is, You-Know-Who is still alive—the only thing that had died that night was his body—and last year, during the Triwizarding Tournament, he managed to get his body back." She sighed. "He needed Harry to complete the spell and managed to whisk him away from Hogwarts with a portkey but Cedric accidentally got caught up in the mess and was pulled along."
Hermione shut her eyes then, trying to will away the memories of Harry's return, of his cries and his screams. "When Harry returned... Cedric... Cedric was already dead. Harry tried telling everyone what happened, about how You-Know-Who was back and how he was the one that killed Cedric but neither the Ministry of Magic nor the majority of the Wizarding population believes him."
She gave him a small, sad smile and Toby remembered, "But as a Muggleborn, you should really stay away from him." He realized just then what Mudblood had to do with all of this. Because the Wizarding World was on the brink of war, he remembered. Headmaster Dumbledore had practically confirmed it himself. A war that had to do with prejudice against wizards and witches born from non-magical parents so even if You-Know-Who wasn't back, his ideals, the reasoning for the war two decades ago, prejudice itself was still obviously alive and prospering.
"Is that why Mudblood is such a bad word?" he asked her. "Because of the war?"
Hermione tilted her head, thinking. Next to her, Professor Snape had stiffened up even further and while she didn't notice, Toby most certainly did. He wondered if Professor Snape was a Muggleborn. He definitely didn't like the word, Toby thought. He had noticed it a couple weeks ago when he had first approached Hermione about the word but didn't realize the extent of it until now.
"Not really," she answered, not noticing Toby's distraction. "Even long before the Wizarding War, there had always been a separation between those born of Wizarding parents and those born of Muggle parents. The word had always been used as an insult and the continuing use of it only serves the reiterate the distinction."
Toby hummed, taking a moment to digest all the new information he was given. He realized then that he probably should have done this ages ago. Because now, everything was starting to make sense, from the whispers, to the insults, and even to the looks he sometimes received from Draco Malfoy and his group of friends. The older blond's dislike of him was not completely due to his owl, Toby realized. But if there was one thing he didn't understand...
"About that You-Know-Who guy..." Toby began, sincerely hoping that his question would not be another "What's a Mudblood?" type of question. "Does anyone even know his name?" Because Toby knew of wars. He had learned them from Sarah when she was doing research for her books. He had learned about the American Civil War, both World Wars, and even minor skirmishes scattered throughout history. They all had some sort of famous general or leader and they all had names attached to faces. He wondered why the Wizarding World wasn't the same.
"Oh, no! We know his name," Hermione assured him, realizing the direction his thoughts had taken. Being a Muggleborn herself—being a rather studious Muggleborn—she had knowledge of both sides of the world. Like Toby, she had thought phrases like You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was downright pathetic but she wanted to fit into the Wizarding World so she had played along until she didn't know anything else. "It's just that... sometimes... sometimes... words have power. Names have power." Her gaze flickered to the professor standing next to her for a brief second before returning back to Toby.
Toby blinked slowly. Words have power, he thought.
He knew this.
He knew this.
Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he imagined invisible hands grasping at faded memories. A flash of mismatch eyes, of glittering, fanged smiles, of forgotten promises and so much more.
"I wish..." the whispers echoed. "I wish..."
The voice sounded very much like Sarah's but it wasn't the soft, soothing tone he was used to. No. Instead, it sounded harsh and teary and desperate.
"You don't have to worry, though," Hermione said, her voice snapping him out of his trance-like state. "Hogwarts is safe. The Ministry of Magic is trying to protect everyone in their own way." She side-eyed Professor Snape, who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. Somehow, the glance told Toby everything and he had no doubt that Hermione had just lied to him. But she turned and smiled reassuringly at him. "Besides—"
She froze, tensing up.
"Hermione?" he asked worryingly.
Ignoring him, Hermione dug into her robe and pulled out a galleon attached to a thin, gold chain around her neck. She turned it over in her hand and paled.
"What's wrong?" Professor Snape demanded, noticing the change at once.
Something must really be wrong, Toby thought, because he didn't think the Professor had been paying either of them any attention. Beyond the occasional tensing of muscles whenever the word Mudblood was mentioned, Snape's attention appeared to be completely captured by his potion.
"It's Harry," Hermione said, head jerking up. "There's something wrong with Harry."
Toby watched with wide eyes as they immediately jumped into action. Professor Snape whipped out his wand with such speed, it seemed like he had it in his hand the entire time. He cast stasis charms over both potion cauldrons while Hermione pulled out her own wand and aimed it at the floor in front of her. She had to mutter the incantation of a spell Toby didn't quite catch under her breath a couple times before a foggy, silver-colored figure burst out.
"Get Professor Dumbledore," Hermione told the silver otter. "There's something wrong with Harry. Seventh floor. Across from the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy."
Mere milliseconds after the otter flew away, Professor Snape was out the door, Hermione hot on his heels. Toby blinked once. Twice. Then followed. He noticed a box labeled Infirmary and grabbed a couple bottles from it on his way out.
"Who's with him?" Professor Snape asked as they hurried through the corridors. "Who sent you the message?"
"Ron," Hermione answered. "Ginny and the twins are probably there too." She glanced down at her galleon and quickened her steps. Toby, who was silently trailing after them, had obviously been forgotten. Not that he really minded at the moment. In fact, he wasn't even sure he should have followed them but he was rather worried about Harry. Especially after learning about Harry Potter.
When they finally reached their destination, Professor Snape immediately pushed the lingering students out of his way and dropped down next to the screaming Harry. "What's wrong with him?" he asked even as he pulled out his wand and began chanting incantation after incantation under his breath.
"It's his scar," Ron Weasley answered, voice oddly hesitant despite the severity of the situation. "He said his scar was hurting."
Besides him, Toby noticed only one other familiar face: Ginny Weasley. But next to her, there were two even older red-haired Gryffindors that must have been the Weasley twins. And a blonde Ravenclaw he was not familiar with. Everyone was looking at Harry worryingly. He wondered if this was Harry's "inner circle."
"I already called for Professor Dumbledore," Hermione said, also kneeling down beside Harry but across from Professor Snape. She winced when Harry cried out in pain again.
Professor Snape swore softly, body twisting and hand shooting out towards Toby to grab a bottle, surprising him. Being one of his students, Toby knew that Professor Snape was rather observant but he didn't think the professor had realized he had grabbed a few potions when they ran out. He watched with wide eyes as Hermione—who appeared to be completely in sync with Professor Snape—tilted Harry's head back as the Potions Professor dumped the contents of the bottle into his mouth, muffling his groans of pain. His free hand went to Harry's throat and massaged it, urging him to swallow.
The potion seemed to work somewhat as Harry's lips twitched and fluttered. For a moment, Toby thought all was well except Harry's eyes suddenly snapped open and he found himself staring straight into green eyes that glowed with an unnatural red light. Almost as if as one, everyone around him gasped in shock and took a step back. Harry's body gave an involuntary spasm as Professor Snape grabbed another bottle. Mouth falling open, Harry took in a deep, shuddering breath and screamed.
Toby flinched, wanting very much to cover his ears. Harry's scream echoed around the deserted corridor, magnifying it, and made everything seem so much worst than it really should be. He felt like he was in some kind of horror movie, the kind he never watched but could still hear through the door whenever his parents had a craving.
"Blimey," someone whispered.
Hermione looked up—facial expression pinched—looking to Professor Snape for instruction when she caught sight of Toby. "Toby!" she cried out, making him jump and drop a few potion bottles. "Toby, come over here!" She held out a hand and Toby rushed to obey her without knowing exactly why. Hermione immediately grabbed his hand and yanked him towards her the moment he was within arm's reach, making the last few potions he was holding onto tumble to the floor. Thankfully, they must have some sort of unbreakable charm on them, he noted in the back of his mind.
Hermione pressed Toby's smaller hands to Harry's cheek and everyone else—including Toby himself—watching in astonishment as Harry immediately quieted at his touch. Harry sighed deeply, obviously much more at ease despite the fact that his half-lidded eyes were still glowing with that unnatural red.
"Toby has some sort of affinity with healing magic," Hermione explained to Professor Snape as he stared at the young blond in alarm, eyes darting from him to Hermione and back again.
Toby blinked in surprise at the comment even as the sound of multiple rushing footsteps echoing across the corridor reached them. Hermione and Harry had told him he may have something like this but he never really knew what that meant. Until now, at least.
"Oh no," Hermione muttered tensely when she turned around to face their oncoming audience.
Harry groaned. He muttered something under his breath but it was lost in the noisy onslaught as Professor Umbridge barreled her way towards them, Headmaster Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall directly behind her.
"What is this?" Professor Umbridge demanded, face flushed. "What's going on? What are you up to?"
It was a rather odd choice of questions considering the current situation but whatever point Toby wanted to bring up got caught in his throat when Professor Umbridge stopped a couple steps away from them. Her chest was heaving and her facial muscles were twisted into such a horrifying expression that Toby wanted to scurry backward towards safety. But he knew that the only thing between Harry and extreme pain was his touch, so he steeled his will and remained in his spot. Already, the unusual red glow in Harry's eyes had receded. The dark-haired boy blinked slowly, eyes staring but not exactly seeing.
"Out of my way!" Professor Umbridge screeched, pushing Ginny away with such force that one of her brothers had to reach out to steady her. "Out of my way! What's wrong with Mister Potter?"
Toby didn't think the DADA Professor really cared what was wrong with Harry but he kept silent.
"That's what we're currently trying to figure out," Professor Snape hissed out, glaring.
"P-please," Harry managed to groan out, his voice a low, pained whisper. "It's Mr. Weasley. Please."
Ron surged forward. "My dad? What about my dad?" he demanded, ignoring both side glares from Professors Snape and Umbridge.
Headmaster Dumbledore held up a hand. "Let us all remain calm and give Mister Potter a moment to breathe." He glanced at Toby curiously but no one had time to explain to the headmaster that he had some sort of affinity with healing magic that he didn't quite understand himself.
Harry blinked again, his eyes slowly focusing on the world around him. He concentrated on the tingle that seemed to be transferring from Toby's skin into his own. He licked his lips and tried again. "It's Mr. Wealsey," he said, staring up at the headmaster. "He's been attacked by Voldemort."
The name must have really meant something because everyone gasped. And if Toby thought that Professor Umbridge was angry before, it was nothing compared to her now. Facial muscles twisting up even further, she looked more demon than human and her skin tone was taking on an astonishing shade of purple. "What is this nonsense?" she demanded, her voice an angry hiss. "What lies are you sprouting now?"
"Dolores, please!" Headmaster Dumbledore said. He sounded perfectly calm and controlled despite the situation. Briefly, Toby wondered if there was anything in the world that got to the aged headmaster. Then he remembered the odd, twitchy, almost fearfulness he had when he first met the headmaster.
...when Sarah was asking him questions about wars and basilisks and all that.
Sarah, he thought. Of course it would be Sarah.
"Harry?" Hermione asked. "What about Mr. Weasley?"
Harry groaned again and Toby pressed his palms harder into Harry's clammy skin. "I had a vision," he gasped out. "Just go and check on him. Please!"
After a moment's pause—while Professor Umbridge was getting angrier and angrier—Professor McGonagall exchanged glances with Headmaster Dumbledore. They stared at one another, communicating silently before Professor McGonagall nodded and turned towards the family of redheads. "Weasleys," she said. "We'll use Professor Dumbledore's office for communication. Come with me."
"Harry'll be fine, Ron," the blonde Ravenclaw said, speaking up for the first time. "You should really go check up on your dad. I would hate for anything to happen to my father." She paused. "Besides, we have professors here with us now."
Although worried for Harry, the Weasleys were obviously more concerned about their father's well-being. So with one last glance at their fallen friend, they followed the Transfiguration Professor away, their footsteps growing softer and softer with each passing second.
Unhappy that she was being ignored, Professor Umbridge took another step towards Harry until she was almost on top of him. "As High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, I demand to be told what's going on. What sort of conspiracy is this?" Then, she turned the full strength of her glare towards Toby, who was the youngest and probably easiest to intimidate. "And you! What are you doing? Get away from him!"
Toby's eyes widened in alarm. "But Harry's hurt!" he protested. "Hermione says—"
The pink-clad professor waved her wand and Toby found himself thrown backward. He crashed into the opposite wall with a sharp cry. There was a sickening crack that filled the air and pain exploded through his head. For a brief moment, his vision went black.
Immediately, several things happened at once:
"Dolores!" Headmaster Dumbledore called out, his tone alarmed.
"Toby!" Hermione shrieked.
Professor Umbridge cried out, stumbling backward as if she had been pushed by invisible hands but no one was standing anywhere near her and no wand was drawn in her direction.
And finally, the red that had disappeared from Harry's eyes came back full force. Harry's back immediately arched underneath Professor Snape's hold as pain shot through his spine. And now, without Toby's healing touch to keep it at bay, it came back tenfold and he screamed. The sound echoed across the corridor again. "Nagini," he hissed, tone dark and voice pitched in a sound that was not his.
The sound made Toby sit up despite the stars dancing across his vision. "Stop it!" he cried, scrambling to his feet and throwing himself on top of Harry. He grabbed ahold of Harry's tightly clenched fist, attempting to soothe him despite the throbbing pain that was coursing through his head. "You're hurting him! Go away!"
Professor Umbridge glared but Toby did not care. He just wanted Harry to stop screaming. "Young man!" she said, raising her wand. The tip of her beaded wand glowed with a threatening red from the beginnings of a nonverbal spell. "Watch your—" She froze suddenly and cried out, "Oh!" Her body shuddered as if hundreds of tiny bugs were crawling up and down her body. "What's this? What—"
And just like that, she disappeared.
For a couple long seconds, no one moved. Everyone simply stared at the spot the professor had occupied only moments before. Even Harry's pained whimpering had completely stopped. Then it was over and Toby immediately burst into tears. "W-w-was that—" he stammered, voice high with distraught. "Did I do that?—I didn't—"
Headmaster Dumbledore moved and leaned down next to him, placing a soothing hand on Toby's back. "Calm down, Mister Williams," he said, even though he was frowning in worry.
But Toby wasn't about to calm down. He gasped and choked, suddenly unable to get enough air into his lungs as his stomach heaved and something dark and heavy wrapped around his chest and squeezed. "I didn't do it!" he cried out, continuing to cry. Electrifying sparks of magic danced across his skin at his emotional state and it felt like nothing was in his control. "I didn't mean to! Why did Professor Umbridge—" He choked again.
"It's all right," Hermione said, going to him and reaching out to gently grab him by his shoulders. Headmaster Dumbledore was glad to trade places with her, comforting young first years in the beginning stages of what appeared to be a panic attack had never been a strength of his. Hermione was careful to make sure Toby's skin-to-skin contact with Harry was not broken. "Everything is all right," she said, voice soft and gentle. "We'll figure it out."
"S-Sarah," Toby said, still crying. He was no longer listening. Not to anyone. "I want Sarah! I want my sister."
And immediately, in the seconds that followed his words, a tremble ran across them as if the entire castle was shaking. A loud crack filled the air and echoed through the corridors as the very air above them ripped open and a figure fell through.
"Son of a bitch!" Sarah Williams cried out just as she hit the ground.
So, I lied. This is the end of the introduction arc. I don't actually have any of the arcs planned out or anything but the "introduction arc" is finally, completely finished. The two different fantasy worlds have been combined and the greater conflict for this particular story has been hinted at ( Did you catch them? ) so we can finally move forward.
This chapter was actually supposed to be split in two, with the first half introducing Toby to Luna and the DA but I realized that Toby being in the DA isn't required for the plot so I removed it altogether. This story has been a slow start—and my spontaneous updates aren't helping—but I hope you continue to stick with me. Thank you so much for all the amazing reviews; I will try to reply to them from now on :D
Well, Albus thought. Well then.
He wondered what he was supposed to be thinking in this sort of situation. In all his years at Hogwarts, he had never seen anyone—no matter how powerful they were—bypass the ancient wards of the castle. And bypass them she did. The Headmaster of Hogwarts wasn't just a title. Albus was connected to the various wards that protected the ancient castle and every now and then, he would feel a tug in his very soul whenever someone tried something. From apparition attempts to forbidden summons to certain dark magic, he felt them all.
But with Miss Williams, there was nothing.
Beyond the physical shuddering of the very castle itself—that everyone else had felt—Miss Williams' sudden appearance had not impacted the ancient wards at all. Albus watched with wide eyes as Miss Williams sat up, her youthful features twisted up in annoyance. "I am going to strangle all of you," she snarled out, green eyes flashing. "Just wait until I get my hands around your little—" she cut herself off, noticing for the first time since her sudden appearance that she had an audience.
Her pale green eyes swept across the corridor, seeing but not really registering. When they finally landed on him, Albus watched as surprise shot across her gaze for a moment. For a brief, brief moment. Then she recognized him and her expression flickered and then hardened. Albus found himself suppressing a shudder because he had promised—promised—her that her brother would be safe at Hogwarts. And he knew she knew that the only reason they were suddenly in the presence of one another was because something had happened to Tobias Williams.
Never mind how she came into Hogwarts.
She twisted her gaze away from him, looking around, looking for—
Mister Williams' voice was soft with disbelief and Albus had to tear his own gaze away from the older sibling to the young first year because it wasn't her, he realized. Sarah Williams may have been the one that was familiar with the Wizarding World before his arrival, Sarah Williams may have been the one with secrets she didn't care to share but Tobias Williams was the one that had summoned her. Tobias Williams was the one behind his sister bypassing all of Hogwarts' ancient wards.
But Miss Williams' voice was calmer and more controlled than Albus thought possible considering her current situation. She was more worried for her brother than surprised at her sudden appearance and it was almost as if she had been through something like this before. There were just so many implications and possibilities and Albus felt as if his entire world was turning over because everything was happening all at once and nothing—nothing—was making sense anymore.
Mister Williams, still frozen, stared at his sister for one heartbeat, then another, before bursting into action. With a half relieved, half confused cry, he scrambled onto his feet and launched himself into Miss Williams' waiting arms. Still sobbing, he buried himself into the warmth of his sister's embrace, mumbling incoherently.
"It's all right, Toby," Miss Williams said, stroking her brother's hair soothingly, despite not knowing what was going on. She appeared very familiar with her current role. "Everything is going to be all right." She tightened her free arm around Mister Williams' smaller, trembling form and looked around, taking in her surroundings. And when her green gaze fell back onto Albus again and hardened until they were nothing but cold steel, he knew he really was in trouble then.
Everyone around them shifted uneasily, trying to make sense of what was happening. "Oh my," Miss Lovegood murmured, her soft, musical voice cutting through the silence like a warm knife. "I've never felt so much Fata magic in one place before."
Miss Williams' eyes flickered in her direction for a moment, as if curious, but she was otherwise ignored. It was Harry's sudden groan of pain, however, that got Mister Williams to pull his face from his sister's tight embrace. He sniffed, wiped the remaining tears from his eyes and face before pulling away from Miss Williams in order to make his way back towards Harry.
She made no move to stop him, allowing him to go but followed closely behind. "Toby," she said, now that her brother had somewhat calmed down. "What happened?"
Kneeling down to clasp one of Harry's hand into his own, Mister Williams looked back up at his sister. "I don't really know, he answered truthfully. "Harry got hurt and Hermione said that I have some sort of affinity with healing magic so if I touch him, he won't be in so much pain." He swallowed hard, throat moving as he did so, the beginnings of his panic returning. "But then Professor U-Umbridge came out of nowhere and I j-just—I—I just wanted her to get away from Harry—he was screaming so loud—but Sarah—" He broke off, voice catching in his throat. "I told her to go away but I didn't mean—I would never—she just disappeared!"
Knowing the fact that Mister Williams did not vanish Dolores on purpose did nothing to ease Albus' nerves. He had never seen or even heard of unintentional bursts of magic quite like his before and was scared to think about what he could actually accomplish once he was trained. And what was even more disheartening was that he could not get a single reading on his sister's thoughts throughout Mister Williams' entire monologue. Albus prided himself in his ability to read people; beyond body language and micro-expressions, without even intending to, he sometimes would get a feeling of other people's inner thoughts, no matter how hard they tried to hide it.
But with Sarah Williams, there was nothing at all. And Albus would have accused her of using Occlumency but... well, obvious reasons.
"It's all right, I'm sure everything will be all right," Miss Williams soothed again, leaning down to cup her brother's face in her palms. She brushed a kiss on his forehead and then tilted her head down until her forehead was resting against his. "Listen to me, Toby," she told him softly, uncaring as to who was watching, who was listening, the only person that mattered to her right now was her brother. "Professor Umbridge is a witch, isn't she? She'll be just fine."
"But I made her go away!" Mister Williams sobbed quietly. "And—and when people are mean to me, they always end up getting hurt even though I don't say anything." His hands were trembling now, making Harry's own hand shake along with his, and although only half-conscious, Albus could see Harry squeezing his hand in an attempt to soothe the young first year. "But I told her to go away—I wanted her to—what happens if she's—" he choked, unwilling to finish his sentence.
Miss Williams paused then, the look in her eyes shifting. And although Albus knew that there was something significant about the shift, that Miss Williams had just come to some sort of realization, he did not understand what it could be. Had something like this happened before? Did she know where her brother had vanished Dolores to? Or perhaps...
"Your professor has been using magic her entire life," Miss Williams told her brother, pulling back and sliding a hand upwards to brush his hair from his eyes. "So she will definitely be fine. That's why you're at Hogwarts, remember? You're here to learn how to control your magic."
"I guess," Mister Williams mumbled, eyes darting around as if remembering their audience for the first time since his sister's arrival. He swallowed again and looked her back in the eye, his gaze searching hers. "Did I... did I summon you here?" he asked, his voice a low whisper.
Miss Williams smiled. "Well," she said. "I did say that I would be there for you whenever you needed me, didn't I? And you wanted me here, no?"
"Yes," Mister Williams answered, still staring, eyes still searching for an answer Albus did not know the question to. "But did I summon you here?"
Albus blinked. His words were connecting broken, half-formed threads of thoughts together. Sarah Williams who seemed to know of the existence of magic long before his arrival. Sarah Williams who was not surprised at her sudden appearance into some unknown place. Was it possible...?
Miss Williams paused and looked at her brother, her gaze questioning. "I don't know," she finally answered. "We'll figure it out." She straightened up then and redirected her green eyes onto Albus. Again. Who felt a sudden itch on his chin. "But right now, I think I should have a word with the Headmaster." Her voice was deliberately steady.
Albus swallowed. Ah, he thought. Oh dear.
"I..." Hermione Granger interrupted, speaking up for the first time since Miss Williams' appearance. Her eyes darted between himself and Miss Williams as she continued, "Luna and I will bring Harry and Toby to the hospital wing for now."
"Of course," Albus agreed distractedly, never once moving his gaze away from Miss Williams'. Her green eyes were hard and unyielding; Albus knew this was not going to be an easy conversation. Miss Williams had already proven herself to be able to see through his lies and misdirection; his warm, grandfatherly persona was useless against her. And seeing that she was already familiar with magic in ways he did not completely understand, he had a feeling that his status as "one of the most powerful wizards alive" would be nothing but a joke to her.
They stared at one another, waiting patiently as Miss Granger and Miss Lovegood quietly worked together to summon a stretcher and lead a now unconscious Harry and young Mister Williams down the corridor and towards the hospital wing. It wasn't until their soft footsteps had faded into the distance did Sarah finally speak up. Her tone was flat and cold, nothing like the soothing, warm, coaxing tone she had used when speaking to her brother moments before. "What exactly happened?" she demanded, her gaze flashing furiously.
If this was any other situation, Severus would have thought it rather hilarious. He had never seen Albus so hesitant before. It was almost as if he was scared of the young girl.
"I thought I was sending Toby to a school," Sarah Williams continued without giving them the chance to answer her previous question. "What kind of school employs professors that deliberately hurt their students? Throwing them into walls? If Toby had been seriously injured..."
As one, Albus and Severus blinked in shock, exchanging glances, then stared at her in alarm.
"Well?" Miss Williams demanded.
Severus was the first to recover. "How did you know that?" he asked, taking a step towards her in an almost threatening manner. Severus was not a very large man but he knew exactly how to manipulate his body and presence to make it seem bigger and more forbidding than it really was.
But Miss Williams—despite her size and innocent, youthful face—was not to be intimidated, however. Instead, she turned her gaze to directly meet Severus'; her pupils were mere pinpricks, having shrunk in size because of her anger. There was a shift in the air as Miss Williams narrowed them into dangerous slits and Severus felt as if he was surrounded by nothing but the green sea of her eyes. Distantly, he wondered if this was what it felt like being at the other end of the Killing Curse.
"One of your professors," she hissed, "slammed my brother into the wall and instead of explaining the situation to me, you're trying to turn this onto me? As if this was somehow my fault?"
"Of course we did not mean it like that," Albus interrupted, stepping up. He cleared his throat uncomfortably when Miss Williams turned her attention back in his direction. He had hoped that she would keep her furious gaze on Severus. "It's just a bit... particular... You see, you did arrive after that particular incident, after all."
Miss Williams stared at him for a moment. Then: "Toby told me," she finally answered.
Severus felt the muscle in his jaw twitch. She was lying. Lying straight to their face. Lying as if they had not been here this entire time!
"And you think this is the best time to be asking me," she said, raising an unimpressed eyebrow. Severus couldn't think of the last time he was made to feel so stupid; he was usually on the other end of this sort of conversation.
"No, no, of course not," Albus soothed. "I apologize. What Professor Umbridge did to Toby is unforgivable and I have no excuses for her." He paused, debating his next words for a moment before ultimately deciding it was worth the try. "Unfortunately, I had arrived late to the scene so I am unsure of the exact situation myself." His expression eased into all seriousness. "However, as much as I regret what had happened to your brother, I am still the Headmaster of Hogwarts. And Professor Umbridge's disappearance and your sudden appearance is more than just particular, Miss Williams. We have wards—barriers—against such a thing, you understand? If these wards are not functioning properly then my entire student body is in danger. So I'm afraid I must put our conversation on hold until I am sure the wards are still up and my school and everyone in it is still protected. Perhaps we can continue this another time?"
Miss Williams stared and raised her other eyebrow. "Arrived late to the scene, did you?" she asked, then scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Fine, we'll talk later then." She looked down the corridor in the direction her brother had gone in minutes before. "In the meantime, I'll be in the hospital wing with Toby." She turned back to him and stared, eyes hard. "That's not going to be a problem, is it?"
And although Albus thought that it was most certainly going to be a problem, he answered, "No, of course not." If she could be inside of Hogwarts and see the castle just fine despite the wards, he doubted the other anti-Muggle wards would have any effect on her. And if they did, then it was one less thing for him to worry about.
Miss Williams nodded and turned to leave. "Arrived late to the scene, my foot," they heard her mumble, her heels clicking against the stone floor.
Even as she was leaving, Sarah could feel their curious, suspicious gaze on her back. She kept her mouth in a thin, disapproving line and it wasn't until she turned the corner, led by Romby, did she finally speak up. "Did you guys take away Toby's professor?" she asked. Then thought, Oh gods, I hope Toby doesn't have to run the Labyrinth for her.
"'Course we did," Gip answered, shaking his head disapprovingly. "Professor is a mean woman."
She faltered. "She's not... she's not with Kingy, is she?"
Squeak shook his head in the negative, trying to scramble onto Sarah's shoulder but got himself bitten by a territorial Deebie every time he made it. "Adults can't be wish-aways," he told Sarah.
"So... where she?" she asked hesitantly, almost afraid of the answer.
"The bog!" The goblins squealed happily.
Sarah froze. "The bog?" she repeated. "You guys bogged her?"
Jareth stared down at the tiny babe in his arms, humming thoughtfully under his breath. His ever-faithful goblins were gathered around him, unusually quiet but practically vibrating with excitement. "I have decided!" Jareth finally announced, voice booming throughout the throne room. His goblins scrambled to attention, waiting in anticipation. "I shall name him... Little Jareth the Fourteenth!"
The room immediately erupted into loud cheers and Jareth grinned at the positive attention even though he could see Hiddles or Hippens or Hickles or whatever the dwarf's name was rolling his eyes from his peripheral. With a shrug, he brushed the dwarf's presence away from his mind.
"Isn't there already a Little Kingy the Fourteenth?" one of his goblins asked another.
Jareth hoped not.
Feeling tiny hands pulling at his trousers for attention, the blond fae blinked and looked down. "Yes?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"But Kingy!" Ripples the goblin said. "Baby's a girl!"
("I should be getting paid for this," Higgens muttered.)
Jareth blinked again and then looked back down at the tiny female babe in his arms. "Well then," he said, his throne room falling silent once again. "In that case, you shall be Not Sarah the Eleventh!"
("Why me?" groaned Hidget)
There was a moment's pause, then the throne room erupted into happy cheers once again. "Yay! Not Lady the Eleventh!" his goblins cheered. Within seconds, an impromptu party was thrown straight into full swing with goblins bouncing across the room, goblins chasing chickens, goblins drinking goblin ale, and of course, goblins getting flung through the air using one of Sarah's brassieres as a slingshot. Instead of getting scared at the sudden onslaught of noise, Not Sarah the Eleventh squealed with delight, waving tiny arms in the air to join the party.
It was complete chaos.
("That's it, I'm going home," Hodwig said.)
"Kingy!" a goblin hollered, hopping into the room. "King-King Pointy Ears is here!"
Jareth looked up and watched as a perfectly-tailored boot shot out through the entrance opening and kicked a nearby goblin through the air. Delighted giggles followed the small goblin as she sailed through the air and straight out the window. Immediately, the rest of the goblins froze, stared, and then dropped everything to swarm around the newcomer.
"How dare you?" Cahan scowled. "I am the Elven King!"
They didn't care. "Me next, me next!" The goblins chanted. "Kick me!"
Adjusting Not Sarah the Eleventh comfortably onto his lap and supporting her with one hand, Jareth brought up his free hand and waved it. "That's enough," he called out.
They quieted and turned towards him. "Aww... Kingy..." they groaned as one.
"Go outside and play with the chickens," Jareth told them. He looked around. "And give Sarah her brasseries back before she notices they're missing. Again."
The goblins blinked. Silent.
"Or I'll bog the lot of you," he snapped and they immediately jumped into action, screaming all the way. Jareth watched in satisfaction as they scrambled to obey his order, running over him, each other, and an annoyed Cahan as they did so. The throne room was emptied within seconds. With practiced ease, he pulled out a crystal from the air and dropped it onto the floor. It shattered into an explosion of sparkling glitter, the escaping magic cleaning everything it touched as it expanded throughout the throne room.
Cahan sniffed, insulted. "Turning human children into goblins," he grumbled, brushing nonexistent dust from his shoulder. "I have no idea what you were thinking."
Popping a spit bubble Not Sarah the Eleventh was blowing, Jareth shrugged and answered absentmindedly, "They're helpful when I need them to be." He paused and looked up. "Actually, if my memories serve me correctly, didn't you attempt the same thing? Turning human children into elves?"
Cahan shuddered at the memory. "Don't remind me, it was a failed experiment. I cannot believe my magic created something so ugly." Trying not to remember the large bat-like ears, the bulging eyes, the wrinkly sandpaper-like skin, he summoned a chair and sat down as he turned his attention back to the older fae. It was then that he noticed the small infant Jareth was holding. "You have a runner," he observed.
"Yes," the King of Dreams confirmed. "A young mother. Nineteen years of age."
"And how is she doing?"
Jareth paused at the question. "Well enough," he finally answered. "She's been at it for eight hours but has stopped nor slowed down."
Cahan raised an eyebrow. "Well enough." usually meant "Not good enough." but if the runner cared and actually tried—or if Jareth was in a good mood—He sat forward at the reminder. "Speaking of which," he drawled. "I recently met with your Champion."
"O-ho?" Jareth asked, unimpressed. "Which one?" His Labyrinth had quite a number of champions. While he certainly had no problem turning human children into goblins, he gave second chances—something Sarah should learn from him. Anyone that regretted their decision and worked to get back their wish-away usually got what they wanted. He was kind-hearted like that.
"The only one that matters, of course," Cahan answered.
Jareth froze then. He looked up, staring Cahan in the eyes, his gaze bright and pupils shrinking and narrowing into slits. "Oh?" he asked. "Whatever for?"
The Elven King paused and flattened his lips. "Why, to charm myself into her bed, of course."
For a moment, Jareth didn't respond. Then he leaned back, carefully shifting the babe in his arms again and smirked. "Really," he asked, tone layered with amusement. "And how exactly did that work out for you?"
Cahan sniffed, annoyed but not surprised by Jareth's reaction. "Horrid," he answered honestly. "She turned me down twice; I even used magic the second time!" He huffed out a breath, feeling awfully sorry for himself. "Not to mention, she did it in front of one of your ugly creatures too! I'm surprised you haven't heard of it."
Jareth shrugged, careful to limit the amusement on his expression; Cahan was sensitive like that. "A couple of my goblins live with her," he told the elf. "They only return if they need something." Which usually meant repairman duty. Ah, Sarah. What have you reduced me to?
"I don't understand what you see in her," Cahan said, shaking his head. Sarah Williams was plain and mouthy, nothing like his mate who was all beauty, brains, and perfection. But Jareth's taste had always been... off. After all, the fae was actually fond of his goblin subjects, and his bog—dear lords! His bog!—and, of course, his Champion.
Jareth smiled fondly. "She is quite a cruel woman, is she not? Did I not tell you that before?" His proud expression didn't falter even as Not Sarah grabbed a hold of the thin locks of his hair and stuffed them into her mouth.
Honestly, Cahan would rather not answer the question, lest Jareth rekindle the need to tell him yet another story of his beloved Champion. That was how he had gotten interested in her in the first place. Filled with stories of her intelligence, her beauty, and her cruelty, Cahan had sought her out only to find himself horribly, horribly disappointed. Sarah Williams lacked the intelligence, lacked the beauty, but at least her cruelty made up for everything. Resisting a sad shake of his head, Cahan took his time to observe his fellow fae, wondering how someone so powerful had fallen so low.
Cahan stared at the sight in front of him for a moment. The babe in Jareth's arms was rather cute, he thought, and was glad that the babe's mother was actually working hard. He would hate for the babe to be turned into yet another ugly, twisted monstrosity. But then again... he paused and thought about Jareth's Labyrinth. Growing, breathing, living. He wondered if turning human children into ugly, twisted monster elves would keep his lands alive but didn't think he could go through that again.
"Do you fear the shadows?" Cahan asked suddenly.
"No," Jareth answered. There was no hesitation in his answer but the question got him looking back up, gaze curious. "Why do you ask?"
Cahan swallowed. "Appledore Falls is no more."
Jareth's eyes widened. "Appledore Falls," he repeated. "Isn't—wasn't—that where Isadora was born?"
Cahan nodded. "One of our more magical places." He turned to look out the window, staring into the still growing, still breathing, still living vastness that was Jareth's Labyrinth. His own lands have been withering for some time now and Appledore Falls had withstood the shadow's touch for so long… but now…
Once it's all gone, once his land withers, and his faes along with it, Cahan himself would also be no more.
Jareth stared at Cahan silently, leaving him to his thoughts. Cahan had always been a mischievous, flirtatious, fun-loving fae. While childish at times, he cared for his subjects—most of them, anyway—and worked hard to ensure the survival of his lands despite the changing times Above. Cahan rarely gets outwardly stressed, preferring to look nonchalant and indifferent but now he looked his age and Jareth's heart went out for him despite himself. "Come," he finally said, standing up. "I want to show you something."
The elf blinked but obeyed, getting up from his own seat and following Jareth towards another window. From there, he could hear the loud screaming and laughter from Jareth's young goblin subjects.
"There," Jareth said, using his free hand to point at something. "Do you see it?"
Cahan followed the direction of his friend's finger. He didn't see anything unusual at first but then a speck of green caught his eye. He blinked, slit pupils dilating as his magic flooded into his eyes; the speck of green expanding and growing in his vision until he could see it for what it was. "Is that Rainbow Forest? I thought it had—" He snapped his head around to stare at Jareth, rounded pupils contracting just as fast. "How?" he demanded.
Jareth smiled. "Sarah, of course."
Cahan stared. "Your Champion?"
The King of Dreams' smile widened. "Yes, my Champion." He stared at the greenery in the distance. Rainbow Forest, which had been a mass of dead trees, dried lands, and gloomy air was coming alive once again. Growing, breathing, living. "Sarah, one mere chit of a girl, has such a strong, unwavering belief in our world—our kind—that she is able to breathe life back to us."
Cahan could feel himself gaping unattractively, mouth open, gaze disbelieving. "You—you—!" he stammered. "Have you been planning this the entire time?" he demanded. "I thought you sought to make her your queen!"
Jareth paused. "Well, there's that too," he admitted like it was an afterthought. "Alas, it has been challenging since I've been banished from her presence but I am trying to find my way around that." His expression flickered then and he looked over at Cahan seriously, "Anyway, the presence of my goblins in her life and even Young Jareth's own human magic helps to cement her belief, not that it has ever dwindled. She's protective of her Underground friends, she's protective of my goblins, and she's even more protective of her brother, her presence in our world is unshakable. As long as she is alive—as long as she continues to dream—our world will remain. Her powers have only continued to grow—even faster, recently—and soon, she will be able to give life faster than the shadows can take away."
"But," Cahan said slowly, despite the hope sparking in his heart. "He will not be happy."
Jareth turned to look out the window again, gaze hardening. "No," he agreed. "He will not be."
You live. You die. That was how life worked. And for the longest time, the only beings that the Shadowwalker could not touch were the faes themselves. Gods in their own right, as long as human belief of the Underground was strong, the Underground monarch and their lands and subjects would continue to bloom. The Shadowwalker hated that. After all, what was life without death? The Shadowwalker—whose kingdom was as vast as the lands his shadows could cover—was unable to touch the Underground. And for the longest time, such was the relationship between the Shadowwalker and the Underground.
Then came the era of technological advancement, and the related weakening belief in their kind. It wasn't until then did the Underground monarchs realized that even they were not immune to the shadows. Human faith was their nourishment and without it, the shadows could touch even them. Immortality was nothing.
"If he finds out about her…"
"He won't," Jareth replied quietly. But firmly.
"But if he does…"
Jareth turned to look at him. "Then you must protect her. Until she lifts the banishment, my protection is limited and my protection she will need. Her powers have been growing at such a rate that I'm afraid she will catch his attention sooner rather than later."
Cahan hummed. "I do not understand," he said. "How can she breathe life into our world to such an extent when even you could not?"
Jareth tilted his head, softly rocking a tired Not Sarah to sleep. "I am the King of Dreams," he reminded quietly. "But no matter how many times or how I manipulate someone's dreams, it does not matter in the end if they wake up not believing in them. Even with my ability to turn back time, disbelief is a contagious killer and it strikes faster than I am able to work."
The King of Dreams' powers were unique, Cahan knew. For the longest time, Jareth was the only one with the ability to counteract the rapidly failing belief of their world and for the longest time, he had diligently fought alone in what everyone knew was a losing battle. But now…
There was a possibility—
There was hope—
"But can a single girl—with no magical powers of her own—keep us out of the shadows?" Cahan questioned. "She up against the Shadowwalker—against Death himself." Because no matter where one goes, there would always be shadows. And if there were shadows, then the Shadowwalker could touch even the safest of all sanctuaries.
"She can," Jareth answered firmly, a smirk-like smile playing on his lips for a brief moment. "She must."
"Besides," he continued, tone bright. "I'm sure she'll call my name soon and lift the banishment. And then I'll make her my queen and no one will be able to touch her then."
Cahan stared, feeling just the slightest bit sorry for him. He had, after all, met Sarah in person before. Twice. "I'm sure," he agreed instead.
"He must learn Occlumency, Severus," Albus said. "You must be the one to teach him." He was trying—and failing—to make sense of the day. Everything was happening all at once and Albus did not know where to begin. Mind whirling, he could feel the formation of half-thoughts and questions before they vanished when new strands of thought took their place. It was a jumbled mess, questions with neither beginnings nor ends. Everything was a priority until nothing mattered any more than the other.
—how strong was Voldemort's connection with—
—did Tobias Williams really—
—just how much about their world did Miss Williams—
—Umbridge. Where was—
"Of course, Headmaster," Severus replied, scowling. "Anything for Potter."
Albus sighed, knowing that Severus was unhappy with the order but unable to do anything about it. His Potions Master was a strong Legilimens but an even stronger Occlumens, beyond even Albus himself. "His connection with Tom places him in even greater danger than before," he said, trying to reason. "Thankfully Tom is still unaware of the connection. And if Harry learns Occlumency, he will never learn of it. How is Harry, anyway?"
"Alive when I left," Severus assured him, which really wasn't saying much. He was in and out of the hospital wing within five minutes. "But Mister Williams was with him; he refuses to leave Potter's side."
"Yes," Albus said slowly, remembering. "Mister Williams… He is… very strange, indeed. His ability to heal, that is. Miss Granger was the one that told him of his affinity with healing magic, was she? While certainly possible in concept, I have never actually witnessed such an affinity before, certainly not at his strength." To keep Voldemort away with only a touch…
Severus closed his eyes. "It is not the boy you need to concern yourself with."
Albus blinked. "Oh?"
"It's his sister," Severus told him. "The girl."
Albus blinked again and stared. Hard. "Miss Williams?" he questioned. He paused, thought about it and then nodded in agreement. "Yes, I see. I have always thought she was rather strange. She was very accepting of everything I presented when meeting with Mister Williams for the first time. I suspect that she knows more about our world than she lets on." Albus shook his head. "But I'm more worried about Mister Williams and his ability to summon his sister. I wonder if it is his connection with his sister that gives him the ability. Or perhaps—" an even more frightening thought, "—he can summon anyone he wants."
Severus snorted and if Albus was anyone else, they probably would have felt insulted. "Mister Williams," The Potions Master drawled, "is an innocent fool. He had not realized his own healing abilities until Granger pointed them out. Him banishing Umbridge was an accident. Him summoning his sister was an accident. I'm beginning to think him being a wizard was an accident."
He held up a hand. "But Miss Williams. A mere Muggle? I think not. I have never come across Occlumency shields quite like hers before."
Albus sputtered. "You—you—!" He coughed and then took a deep breath to compose himself. He really shouldn't have been surprised; Severus had always walked a gray line and it obviously wasn't going to change anytime soon. But first things first: "I just told you, I had thought that she was rather strange when I first met her. Her name is not in The Book and I even went to Salem Institution to check their copy when I learned that she was originally from the States. Miss Williams is most definitely not a witch. And Severus! Legilimency on a Muggle? How could you?"
Severus raised an eyebrow, knowing that Albus wasn't really all that angry. "Albus," he said anyway. "In my line of work, I tend to hex first and ask questions later. Considering the fact that not only did she take suddenly appearing in an unknown location quite calmly, she knew exactly what had happened to her brother." And was not happy about it.
Albus sighed and rubbed his temples. Ah yes, another question and no answers. "And?" he asked.
"Severus, please," Albus said, sighing again. "What did you see?"
There was a pause. "Nothing," Severus finally answered.
Albus looked up.
"It was like not even performing Legilimency," Severus elaborated. "I looked her in the eyes and simply kept looking. Nothing happened. I have never encountered nor heard of such shields before." He paused, thinking. "It would be wise to keep an eye on her. As you know, I have a strong affinity with mind magic. The fact that I can master both Legilmency and Occlumency at my age was previously unheard of. Miss Williams is young—very young—even if she is a witch, she still should not be able to block me the way she did."
"She's not as young as you think," Albus found himself countering, even though it did not really matter.
Severus blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"Miss Williams is twenty-five," Albus said.
Severus stared. Miss—Ms.—Williams looked eighteen at most but wizards and witches tended to age much slower than Muggles; perhaps her youthful appearance was another clue that Ms. Williams was not really a Muggle after all.
Albus frowned, now was not the time to talk about Sarah Williams. Despite the fact that she was really, really giving him a headache, his first priority was Tobias Williams' supposedly impossible banishing and summoning abilities. "With what happened, I doubt Miss Williams will be leaving her brother's side anytime soon. Thankfully, term ends in a week, but Dolores will not approve of Miss Williams' presence. I cannot have this getting back to the Ministry; Tom will hear of it." He hummed, thinking.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "If we can find her," he scoffed. "Mister Williams was not exactly happy with her."
Ah yes, Albus thought. There was that too. But instead, he said, "Tobias Williams is a good child. You saw his reaction, he did not mean any serious harm."
Severus narrowed his eyes, remembering Lily. "Just because you did not mean something does not mean the outcome will suddenly turn in your favor."
Albus sighed, wanting to comfort but knowing it was useless; Severus could not be comforted. It was too many years too late. "Severus," he began, but even Albus did not know where his sentence was going. "I—"
Severus interrupted with a pained hiss, stiffening up and hand shooting out to clench his left arm. He peeled back his sleeve with a frown. "The Dark Lord calls," he said rather unnecessarily. Voldemort never called him during term without warning. Which meant— "He must have heard what happened."
"Be careful," Albus told him, raising his hands to drop the anti-apparition wards in his office.
Severus nodded distractedly as he pulled out his wand and pressed it to the Dark Mark. He wondered, from the moment he had knelt down in front of Potter to him and Albus leaving the corridors, he had been on high alert. He had made sure he knew where everyone was at all times and never once had he sensed another presence. How did the Dark Lord learn of the incident? What did he learn? Tobias Williams' affinity with healing magic? Umbridge's disappearance? Ms. Williams—Suddenly, a more pressing thought came to mind:
Was there a traitor among their midst?
Weasleys, Granger, Williams, Lovegood…
Or perhaps Potter himself? The connection? Does the Dark Lord already know of it?
Then, Severus felt the familiar tugging down towards his stomach and allowed himself to be carried away.
So a couple of you managed to guess that the "King-King Pointy Ears" mentioned back in Chapter 7 was Cahan. And Jareth ordered him bogged which was why he told his servant to set up an audience in the previous chapter.
And that makes me so happy because that means I am giving just enough hints for some people to figure things out but not so much that everyone knows before "the big reveal." I don't know if you guys realize this but I absolutely love subtle hints to future reveals. I love reading stories and thinking, This was hinted at before! I should have known this. So this story has a lot of it.
Again, thank you all for your support and reviews!
Chapter 10: Toxin
One thing I enjoy most about world-building and writing character development is misdirection. That being said, when reading this story, please take care not to take a character's words as fact. Every character has their perspective and bias and this influences what they say and what you, as the reader, is exposed to. For example, way back in chapter 4, Kathie (one of Toby's friends) said that Flitwick was half-goblin which is simply not true in canon (I believe he only has goblin ancestry).
Misdirection in literature is only possible if the writer has a thorough understanding of the world they are writing. Unfortunately, in my case, that isn't completely true. While I am familiar with both the Labyrinth and Harry Potter universe, I am more familiar with their fandoms and the various, amazing headcanons. So if—when—I do make a mistake that contradicts canon, please feel free to point it out to me. Sometimes it's intentional but knowing me, it's most likely not.
I would like to dedicate this chapter to two amazing people who bought me coffee! I hesitate to name you in case you would prefer not to be publicly called out but let me know if that is not the case. You guys have no idea how much it means to me that you enjoy this story so much. Thank you!
Severus knelt down and grasped the end of the Dark Lord's black robe to bring it up to his lips. "My lord," he greeted, his voice calm and smooth despite the pounding of his heart. He allowed his Occlumency shields to wash over his mind like winter over a lake. He was Severus Snape, Death Eater, the Dark Lord's spy.
"Rise, Severus," the Dark Lord said, his voice a cool hiss.
Severus obeyed, feeling the chill of his mind slowly creeping through his entire body. The Dark Lord's will was his bond, he would not disobey. But he was a spy first and he acted as such; followers of the Dark Lord were not fools. He looked around slowly—almost lazily—and took in his surroundings. A dead forest; bare branches, no wind, no life. Besides himself, a single cloaked figure stood behind the Dark Lord, surprising Severus. The Dark Lord did not particularly liked people standing behind him, he trusted no one. Once satisfied, he turned back to his lord, noting the way the Dark Lord watched him, his red gaze firm.
"I have just heard…" the Dark Lord began, "some rather interesting news."
Heard. Not felt. Severus knew what was coming. He almost wished the Dark Lord knew of his connection with Potter instead.
The Dark Lord continued to stare, unblinkingly. "A student at Hogwarts," he said. "A first-year Mudblood with a healing ability like no other." Then, a cruel smile twisted the Dark Lord's thin lips and Severus had to remind himself that he was Severus Snape, a Death Eater. "Furthermore," he continued. "This same first year seems to hold the ability to banish and summon people within the wards of Hogwarts."
Severus froze and wondered if the cloaked figure behind Voldemort was another one of his many spies, one stationed at Hogwarts. But who could it be? Surely not a student. Weasleys, Granger, Williams, Lovegood, he listed again. But it couldn't be; Albus would have known if a student had left. A professor, then? One powerful enough to hide their presence from him?
So many suspects…
But now was not the time. Taking one last deep breath, Severus allowed the chill of his Occlumency shield to completely take over his entire being; his mind, his body, his very existence. He could not afford a single crack. Not now. Not with what the Dark Lord knew.
"Is this true?"
"Yes, my lord," Severus admitted, bowing his head. "But how did you find out? The incident had just happened. Dumbledore and I are still trying to make sense of it."
His lord smiled again but did not answer Severus' question, his thin lips stretched again and his white teeth glinted in the moonlight. The figure behind Voldemort shifted and Severus watched as the Dark Lord glanced sideways in the figure's general direction before turning his gaze back to him. "You are unhappy," he noted, watching the way Severus' wand hand was clenched into a tight fist.
Severus paused, hesitating. "I confess," he answered slowly. "I am disappointed. You have graced me with a duty, my lord. An honor. I should have been the first one to tell you what happened. What use am I to you if my presence in Hogwarts can give you no information? Information that no one else can give you?"
The Dark Lord simply smiled again, pleased. "By remaining close to Dumbledore," he said, his voice soothing and warm, reminding Severus of the time he had actually believed in the Dark Lord. "You are doing more than enough. As for spying… I have eyes and ears in many places; even the shadows work for me." He laughed at that and Severus' eyes flickered back to the cloaked figure behind the Dark Lord as they scoffed. The audacity. Severus could not believe that his lord was allowing it but knew not to question him. "The duty that I have honored you with, continue with it. I have many spies but I have only one person that is close to Dumbledore."
Laying a hand over his heart, Severus dipped his head again. "Yes, my lord."
Seeing that that part of the conversation is over with, the Dark Lord waved his hand over and directed him towards an empty seat. "Come, sit."
Severus obeyed, feeling the crunch of dead leaves underneath his boot as he stepped over. He did not look around again, the Dark Lord knew that he was a spy, and that spies had their habits but too much would imply that Severus did not trust his lord. And he did. Severus was a Death Eater and who else could he trust if not his lord? He took his seat across from him and waited.
"Tell me about the boy," the Dark Lord said. "The Mudblood."
The frozen lake in his mind's eye almost rippled.
Voldemort blinked. "Tobias?" he interrupted.
Severus dipped his head in acknowledgment. "Yes," he confirmed.
Red eyes flickered. "That does not bother you?" he asked but Severus doubted he really cared.
Nevertheless, it amazed Severus that the Dark Lord remembered. Then he realized that there was probably nothing the Dark Lord did not know about his followers and Severus was not sure if that was awe-inspiring or downright frightening. "I have had many shares of students named "Tobias" over the years," he answered. "The name means nothing to me." He also had two Lilys, however; he could not say the same thing about that name.
The Dark Lord hummed. "Continue; tell me about him."
He nodded. "Insignificant, my lord," Severus answered. "I am disappointed to admit that I did not think much of him until today." He tilted his head and brought a finger up to trace his lips, a familiar motion that soothed him. "The boy is not particularly outstanding in any of his subjects. While studious, his magical abilities are subpar and his knowledge average; nothing about this boy would catch anyone's attention. Nothing about him had even hinted at the abilities he had displayed today. It had caught us all off guard, even himself, I believe." Severus paused. "And these abilities… my lord, I have no doubt in my mind that Dumbledore would want to harness his powers, all of them. Perhaps even ones that have yet to show itself."
Voldemort nodded. "Yes," he agreed, red eyes flickering to Severus once again. No doubt Severus was one of his more talented followers, intelligent, analytic and calm in every situation, able to lie and manipulate his way through any problems, and even had Occlumency shields to back him up. There were times when Voldemort found himself… wary of the Potions Master. Intelligence did not make for good followers. "Tell Dumbledore of our meeting," he told Severus. "Tell him that I seek to possess the boy and that I have plans to send a few of my followers for him."
Severus frowned and Voldemort could see that his plans had already been seen through. "Even so, Dumbledore will not lessen his watch on Potter," he warned carefully.
"No," Voldemort agreed. "He probably wouldn't." But it didn't really matter because he had called for Severus too quickly after the incident for it to be a coincidence. And Dumbledore was not dumb; he would not believe that Voldemort was not unaware or uninterested in the boy's abilities. Might as well have Severus bring back useless information and see how the aged Headmaster would handle the situation. To what extent would he protect the boy? How would he go about using the boy's abilities and work them to his advantage? And exactly what sort of abilities does the boy truly possess and how to reveal them? Voldemort closed his eyes and stroked the smooth surface of his armrest with a single finger, thinking.
The Mudblood's affinity with healing magic, while unprecedented, was unimportant. It was the Mudblood's summoning and banishing powers that he really cared about. On top of that, his ability to bypass the wards of Hogwarts. Voldemort felt a slow smile stretching across his lips as he thought about all the new possibilities and all he had to do was to get his hands on the Mudblood. Let Dumbledore protect him, Voldemort wanted to see how much he was really willing to sacrifice in order to protect someone that was not Harry Potter. He'll play the games for now but sooner or later, he'll eventually get his hands on the boy.
He paused then, suddenly remembering something.
Queen Mab, if he was remembering correctly. A Dark Witch that had terrorized the Wizarding World for three centuries. The first and only one to impact it on an international level. Mad Mab "Wardbreaker" Myercough, everyone had called her. Beyond her terrifying rule, Queen Mab was known for her unique abilities to bypass any wards as if they did not exist in the first place. Anti-apparition charms, concealment charms, and even the Fidelius Charm was useless against Queen Mab. Did the Mudblood share her powers? If so, did that mean he shared Queen Mab's other powers? He would need to do more research but it wouldn't be easy. Texts that even so much as mentioned the mad queen had been banned centuries ago as no one had ever found out how Queen Mab was able to bypass wards. The Ministry of Magic was not sure whether it was something that could be learned or if it was inherited; either way, they didn't want to take the chance.
"I wonder," he murmured. "How far Dumbledore will go to reveal and harness the boy's powers?"
Considering what Severus knew about the First Year—or rather, his sister—Severus doubted anyone would be harnessing Williams' powers anytime soon. Sarah Williams was like a Muggleborn's parent; redirecting charms, ancient wards, and everything else protecting the school was not going to keep them from their child in times of danger. Except in this particular case, redirecting charms, ancient wards, and everything else was really not affecting one Sarah Williams. And then, remembering how cautious Dumbledore was around her, Severus doubted there was anything that could keep her from protecting her brother.
"Continue to keep an eye on the boy," the Dark Lord continued. "No doubt he will become an important tool for me later on."
Severus bowed his head. "Yes, my lord."
"You're dismissed," Voldemort said with a distracted wave of his hand. "I trust you know what to tell Dumbledore."
He gave a slow nod in response but a sudden shift in movement caught his attention and his eyes immediately darted to the cloaked figure that was still standing behind the Dark Lord. For someone that hated when people were outside his immediate line of sight, Severus was surprised the Dark Lord still hadn't acknowledged the figure. Knowing that he was delaying and that his lord would only tolerate so much of Severus' natural, if paranoid curiosity, he stood up in a single graceful movement, turning around to walk away.
"Interesting, isn't he?" an unfamiliar voice questioned; it was the last thing Severus heard right before he stepped out of the anti-apparition area the Dark Lord had charmed upon his arrival and disapparated.
It wasn't the Dark Lord's voice.
Severus appeared right before the large, looming gates of Hogwarts and immediately felt the tightness in his chest give away. He could breathe again. While he was sure that Dumbledore had probably lowered the anti-apparition wards to his office, Severus needed time to shed off his Death Eater persona and the chill of his Occlumency shields.
He began a slow trek towards the castle, concentrating on his breathing while trying to put a face to the voice of the cloaked figure. Low and soothing, like honey over toast, the voice itself was not familiar to him but there was just something about it… He knew it was not a Death Eater from the Dark Lord's inner circle; he could identify them from posture alone, cloaked or not and doubted it was a student but made a mental note to pay extra attention in the coming days. It must be an acquaintance, but Severus did not have a lot of them and the thought that an owner of a store he may frequent or perhaps even a lower ranking Order member may be the unknown Death Eater was a rather horrifying thought.
And unknown Death Eater that the Dark Lord trusted enough to allow him to sit in on his meeting with Severus, his spy. A spy that he had placed next to Voldemort. He had only ever allowed Bella such a privilege but Bella was special.
While Severus was no closer to putting a face to the voice by the time he finally reached the castle, he could, at least, feel the beginnings of warmth spreading throughout his body and starting to slowly ease his mind. Occlumency was a double-edged sword and it was getting harder and harder for Severus to drop his shields every time he used it. Usually, thoughts of Lily's smile and bright green eyes were enough to thaw the ice and remind him of what it was like to feel but he was beginning to find out that sometimes, even Lily was no longer enough.
Severus slipped into the castle like a silent shadow, weaving through the darkened corners of the corridors as he made his way closer towards Dumbledore's office. For a moment, he could have sworn he felt a presence in the dimly torch-lit hallways but when he paused and looked around, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Breathing out slowly, he wondered whether it was his paranoia or the lingering chill of his Occlumency shields affecting him more than he initially thought they would before continuing his way onwards.
Dumbledore—Albus—did not look up when Severus walked through his office doors but did give a distracted nod in his general direction as a greeting. Scattered around the room were several books on location charms and summoning and banishing magic. Probably trying to find a way to locate Umbridge, Severus thought but did not really care. That toad of a woman could go missing forever for all he cared.
"How did it go?" Albus finally asked after finishing up the passage he was reading.
"The Dark Lord knows," Severus immediately replied. "Tobias Williams is in danger."
Albus blinked, surprised. He had expected bad news but had thought it would be in the form of Voldemort learning of his connection with Harry. Not of young Tobias Williams; he had underestimated the number of spies Voldemort had at his disposal. He sighed. Miss Williams will definitely not be happy. He had a feeling that Miss Williams' happiness would become a priority of his fairly quickly in the upcoming days. Especially if he wanted to take a closer look and study Mister Williams' impossible banishing and summoning abilities.
"I recommend that he is to be moved to headquarters as soon as term ends," Severus continued, the tone of his voice unusually flat. Lingering traces of his Occlumency shields was still coursing through him and he was currently balancing between his identity of an Order member and that of a Death Eater. "Or at the very least a safe house. And his family to be placed under protection." He didn't care what secrets Sarah Williams had or how well she thinks she could protect her brother, she was nothing in the face of what the Dark Lord or his followers could do, himself included.
Albus was silent for another moment. "That's impossible," he finally said. "No doubt Miss Williams would want her brother to spend Christmas with their family."
"Unless she wants her brother in the hands of the Dark Lord," Severus drawled, unimpressed. "I suggest you tell her to rethink her decision immediately."
But Albus fell silent again and Severus narrowed his eyes suspiciously in response. He could not understand why Albus was hesitating. He had more than enough connections and manpower to keep watch on a Muggle family. Immediately after the Dark Lord's return, Albus had a number of families that were connected to Potter in even the smallest of ways watched. And then some. Now, watching the way Albus rubbed his fingers together thoughtfully, the reason suddenly hit Severus like a bludger to the gut.
He wanted this.
He wanted this.
Albus was willing to put the Williamses in danger in order to delve into Tobias Williams' abilities. Possibly even to just learn of Sarah Williams' secrets. But also, he wanted to see exactly how far the Dark Lord would go to possess the boy. How much would the Dark Lord benefit from Tobias Williams' abilities? Was he a useful enough pawn? And to think the Dark Lord was doing practically the exact same thing. It made something inside Severus shudder as he noticed—not for the first time—how similar the Dark Lord and Albus were to one another. Just who was playing into whose hand, he wondered.
"I will ask a couple members of the Order to look after the Williamses," Albus finally compromised, as if noticing the turn Severus' thoughts had taken. "But for now, he is quite safe in Hogwarts"
Severus could not help but stare. Like how Potter was safe his first year, Severus thought, feeling strangely as if history was repeating itself. And his second. And his third. But the problem with this line of action—or rather, inaction—was that Tobias Williams was not Harry Potter. Potter's life had been intertwined with the Dark Lord's since that Halloween night all those years ago. And while the boy may not have realized it himself, Albus had him conditioned into fighting this war since his first year.
Tobias Williams had no such history. He could only hope that Albus had no plans on conditioning the young First Year. And if he was, how in the world was he going to accomplish it behind his sister's back. Which reminded him—
"I am going to strangle all of you!" she had yelled out. Either she had been pushed just as she was summoned into Hogwarts, or she was used to being summoned to unknown locations and Severus was leaning towards the latter. While Mister Williams' impossible powers should definitely be looked into, Severus had a feeling that everyone was concentrating a little too much on the brother when they should all be more concerned about the sister.
"Things on your end?" he asked instead, nodding at the scattered books and shaking off the feeling that there was something just not right about one Sarah Williams. He would need to look into it further.
Albus sighed in response, shoulders drooping, practically deflating right before Severus' very eyes. It was an odd thing to witness and even more than a little disheartening; despite seeing the aged headmaster every day, the constant displays of power, calmness, and wisdom made people forget just how old Albus really was. For him to actually seem his age…
"Well," Albus began. "I am no closer to locating Dolores since you left and a brief conversation with Mister Williams—" Before an unhappy Sarah Williams practically glared him out of the hospital wing. "—proved to be utterly unhelpful. All he knows that he wanted her away from Harry and that he was not thinking of any particular location when he… banished her." He sighed again and rubbed the bridge of his nose, looking even more tired. "And Arthur… Arthur Weasley really was attacked by Nagini."
Severus exhaled a slow breath. "How is he?"
"Alive," Albus answered. "They got to him just in time but… but he's not recovering well."
Severus frowned. "What has the mediwizards at St. Mungo's tried?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. They say they've never seen venom quite like it before."
Obviously, Severus thought with a mental sneer, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. It wasn't like the Dark Lord kept around a regular snake as a pet. But even if Nagini was a regular snake, he was sure the mediwizards at St. Mungo's wouldn't be able to do much either. He should know, he had taught half those dunderheads.
"I gave a copy of their notes and a sample of Arthur's blood to Miss Granger. She is in the lab right now, working through the notes and hopefully starting the base for an anti-venom."
Severus startled. "Alone?"
Albus looked up then. "Miss Granger is responsible," he said with a hint of amusement in his tone. "Even you cannot deny that."
Eyes narrowing in annoyance, Severus huffed and whirled around to prowl his way out of the office, not bothering for a direct dismissal. Responsible his arse! As if Albus did not know that she had been following Potter around like a loyal dog since her first year. Chasing after a stone she should not even have known existed, getting petrified by a basilisk, helping an escaped Azkaban prisoner… That was merely the beginning of her "responsible" Hogwarts career.
By the time Severus reached the dungeons, he had worked himself into such a fury that he had to pause outside his classroom doors for a moment in order to collect himself. Once he was sure he wasn't going to chew the young woman's head off, he opened the large double doors with a wave of wandless magic and walked in.
Only to blink in confusion as he took in the sight of the empty room. It took another moment before he realized the implications and felt the fury return with a vengeance, welling up inside him and making his hand physically shake in response.
Seeing that Granger was not in his classroom like he had expected could only mean one thing: Albus had unwarded his private lab for her use. His private lab. Severus clenched his jaw; his private lab which was filled with expensive potion appliances. His private lab which led directly into his private storeroom that was filled with even more expensive, rare, and possibly some not-quite legal potion ingredients.
Severus let out a slow breath through the gaps of his clenched teeth and spun around to make his way towards the hidden entrance leading to his private lab. Dismantling his wards in quick, precise moments, Severus narrowed his eyes as the door shimmered into visibility. With another wave of his hand, Severus opened the door, which cracked loudly as it hit the wall.
Granger, seemly already used to his temper, did not so much as jump at his sudden entrance. Her lack of reaction annoyed him even more than he cared to admit and he watched with narrowed eyes as she continued marking through her notes, her wild hair larger than usual and moving with her every motion.
"St. Mungo managed to break down Mr. Weasley's blood but was unable to isolate Nagini's venom," she told him as he stepped further into his lab. "It almost seems like the blood and the venom have been… fused but I think I managed to break them down into separate components. I wrote down the process and what observations I could but you should probably double check my work."
What anger and annoyance he felt about her presence in his private lab was immediately dismissed as he grabbed the notes she had set aside for him. Now was not the time to be annoyed with Albus' ever-present bias when it comes to his three Golden Gryffindors. Besides, if there was anyone Severus had to work with to help him come up with an anti-venom for Nagini's venom, he was glad it was Granger. Granger had a talent of noticing every single detail; a trait he would rather her leave behind when writing papers—she was, after all, the sole reason why he had set a maximum length for his assignments (and do not think he did not notice her handwriting shrinking).
Severus' eyes sped through her notes, taking in three lines at a time, only to pause when he came across an unexpected notation. "What's this about a mongoose?" he asked.
She looked up and it was then that Severus noticed the dark bags underneath her eyes. She must have been working on this since he had left, he realized.
"I was thinking specifically about mongoose blood, sir," she answered, rubbing her eyes tiredly and managed to smudge ink across her cheek with the same movement. "Or even honey badger blood because of their—"
"—known immunity to snake venom," Severus finished.
Granger nodded. "That and also they're mammals, which compared to everything else that may have stronger immunity, are more closely related to us. I also ran some arithmancy calculations but there are too many unknown factors. And I don't even know where to begin with what numbers to put down for the venom. Should I sort by type or break it down further into the proteins and polypeptides in it?" She almost looked panicked at the thought.
Severus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking. Her proposal was reasonable but it was something that would usually take a mediwizard team a week to do, definitely not something a professor and his student could accomplish in a few hours. But it was not as if they had a choice.
"But Nagini also isn't a normal snake so I'm not even sure how helpful the blood can be," continued Granger. "And they're not exactly potion ingredients so I doubt we can get a bunch to test as quickly as we need them."
"No," Severus agreed. While they wouldn't be able to use the mongoose or honey badger blood like Granger had suggested, her idea reminded Severus of something he had in his private storeroom that they could use. Placing the notes back onto the table, he made his way towards the storeroom and asked, "Have you gotten started on the anti-venom base yet?"
"I have five on stasis," she answered, not bothering to look up even as Severus shifted through his rarest potion ingredients to look for the small half-forgotten vial. Granger was ruled by her curiosity but considering the situation, it was unsurprising that she could currently care less.
Plucking the vial from an unmarked bin on the shelf, Severus walked back into the main lab and placed it in front of Granger, startling her out of her concentration. "This is human blood," he told her. "Compare it to a control sample, break it down and isolate anything that stands out." He paused, hesitating for a moment. "My blood is unable to be used as a control."
Granger's whiskey-brown eyes shot upwards and met his gaze at his words. She stared for a moment before nodding, reaching out to take the small vial and turning it over with her hands. Severus could practically feel the curiosity coursing through her but she stayed silent and he did not bother to elaborate; there were things she was better off not knowing. "Yes, sir," she finally murmured in response instead as she pulled out her wand and extracted blood from her own arm to place into a clean vial.
As she worked on breaking down the blood, Severus decided to concentrate his attention on the venom she had managed to isolate and read over the notes she had prepared. He was surprised to see no mistakes in her breakdown and the flawless anti-venom base she had prepared and found himself rather impressed, knowing that it was not something he had taught in class. They worked together silently; the scene almost a sort of reminiscence of their summer at Headquarters even though Severus knew they had dire consequences if they could not get the potion perfectly done this time around.
"How is Potter?" Severus asked after he was finished completing one of the bases according to the type of venom. All he needed now was for Granger's breakdown of the blood but seeing her stiff shoulders, he knew he wouldn't be able to get them anytime soon until she could relax enough to think rather than worry.
She paused in her mad scribbling but did not look up as he moved onto the second base. Severus knew that it was going to take more than just five attempts to be successful… if at all but he didn't think he had any more serpentine cauldrons to use. "He's fine," she answered.
She did not disappoint. "Sir…" she began hesitantly, her voice unusually soft. "Is Harry… is he connected to You-Know-Who?"
It was Severus' turn to pause but he was not surprised that she had figured it out. As much as Severus berated her for regurgitating whatever she read, he knew that she was not incapable of original thought. In fact, the way she was able to connect points and threads of knowledge scared even him sometimes. "Perhaps," he answered vaguely, knowing that Albus would not thank him for telling her. It was time to change the subject. "And Mister Williams?"
"Surprisingly well, sir," she answered and Severus watched as the tension began to slowly ease from her thin shoulders. "But that probably has to do with his sister being here more than anything else. They spent a long time in that private room Professor Dumbledore gave her."
Severus frowned and looked up from her cauldron. "Albus is allowing Miss—Ms.—Williams free reign?"
She nodded distractedly and began writing again. This time, Severus could tell she was making important connections rather than random notations. "Well," she continued, pulling off multi-tasking like a master. Severus was not surprised, considering her choice of friends; she probably had that mastered at a young age. "He did tell us that we weren't allowed to mention her… getting summoned into Hogwarts or that she's a… a Muggle but yes, he did pretty much give her free reign." She paused and looked up, catching his gaze over the desk. "Sir," she began hesitantly as if unsure whether or not she should voice her thoughts out. "I… I don't think she's a Muggle."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"Well," she said, hesitating again. "When I first suspected Toby's affinity with healing magic, I asked him about it. About any incidences of healing before Hogwarts, I mean." She swallowed and licked her lips, Muggle pen spinning between skilled fingers. "And he told me of an incident when Sarah got into an accident a couple years ago. According to him, she had diffuse axonal injury but… but I don't think he really knows what that means."
Severus didn't either but was not about to admit that.
Granger, who was obviously used to explaining everything Muggle to her friends, elaborated without being prompted to. "DAI is a type of traumatic brain injury. I don't know the details of her case but apparently, she was in a coma." Her gaze met his again and Severus was taken back by how mature she looked at the moment. The facial features he had seen for the past five years had suddenly become unfamiliar, as if he was in front of a complete stranger. "Coma in cases of DAI doesn't happen unless it's a severe case. Only about eight-five percent of victims actually wake up but even when they do, they never fully recover. But according to Toby, his sister woke up within three days and was out of the hospital within the week. And he wasn't with her at the time."
So it could not have been him, was what she was telling him. "There are miracle cases," Severus allowed, not believing the possibility even as the words left his mouth.
Granger nodded in agreement and waited. Seemly finished, she gathered her notes and made her way towards him, samples also in hand.
While Ms. Williams was unusual and it was obvious that she was keeping secrets, Severus knew he needed more information before he could make a judgment. Jumping to quick conclusions and straight into actions could result in dire consequences and he was not about to make the same mistakes he did when he was younger. "Otherwise," he drawled, needed to downplay Ms. and Mister Williams' significance lest Granger decided to get herself and her two friends involved somehow. "The only other explanation is that she shares her brother's ability to heal. That she is a witch that had somehow hidden her status, escaping both Hogwart's Book and that of Salem Institute's."
Hermione blinked, tilting her head curiously as she thought over his words while pulling out necessary ingredients. "Well, maybe," she allowed. "But maybe not." She had her parents send her copies of Sarah's novels after talking with Toby. While there were certainly similarities between the world of her novel and that of the Wizarding World, the same could be said about common fairy tales and the Wizarding World. She wondered…
"Besides Mister Williams' healing abilities, is there anything else about him that you find unusual?"
Hermione blinked at the abrupt change in subject and stared at him for a moment, knowing that he was thinking about Toby's banishing and summoning abilities. "No, sir," she answered, brows furrowed in thought. "Not before today, I mean. Outside necessary situations, Toby doesn't actually use magic all that often. Which I don't think it has anything to do with his Muggle habits. If anything, I have a feeling that Toby isn't actually all that fond of the Wizarding World."
Severus nodded, he had suspected as such weeks ago. The two of them fell silent after that, busy concentrating on the anti-venom now that it was getting closer to its critical stage. There would be no more room for small talk, not that Severus actually viewed the past few minutes as such. It was more of him gathering information by any means necessary and Granger was actually the best person to get it from seeing that she was closely acquainted with the boy in question.
Hours later found the sun rising over the horizon in the lab's charmed window. Severus swore angrily as the anti-venom began bubbling dangerously in the cauldron. He immediately pulled Granger towards him, wrapping her smaller form within his protected cloak as he summoned a barrier with his wand in case of an explosion. Which there was. Thankfully, his shield held up and he vanished the remains of their seventh failed attempt of anti-venom away. Pulling his cloak back, Severus grounded his teeth together in frustration as he stepped back. Granger remained in her spot, staring at the empty cauldron, hair in disarray—even more so than earlier and he thought that was already wild enough.
"Sir," she said quietly, turning to face him, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. "Mr. Weasley… he'll… he'll be fine, won't he?"
Severus stared at her. While he had certainly noticed before, he had not actually registered the amount of stress Granger must have been under this entire time. Her friends gone, one currently in the hospital wing recovering from being possessed while the others were visiting their father who was attacked by the Dark Lord's pet snake. Despite having had a full day of classes and prefect duties, Granger was here. With him. Working diligently on an anti-venom even though she would have to attend classes in mere hours lest someone talks. The Dark Lord had proven himself to have eyes and ears everywhere; one could never be too careful.
Granger nodded, continuing, "If this doesn't work, do you think we can ask Toby for help? I mean, if he's able to stop Vol—You-Know-Who from possessing Harry and heal scratches from anti-healing blood quills… Even if he isn't able to completely heal Mr. Weasley, he might at least be able to ease his pain or something."
Severus hesitated but then nodded. "I will bring the possibility up with the Headmaster," he promised but had a feeling that Albus was probably already waiting for a similar opening. "In the meantime, while the last anti-venom may have failed, it was a close thing. I suspect I know what went wrong, we will try again."
"Yes sir," Granger answered, a small smile twitched.
Sarah woke up naturally but her unfamiliar surroundings had her immediately sitting up, heart pounding and her eyes darting around in a panic before she remembered where she was. Her dream was already beginning to fade even as she breathed out a sigh of relief and the thumping of her heart slowed. Waterfalls, Sarah thought distantly, she had been dreaming of waterfalls. With a deep sigh, she sank back down onto the bed, blinking up lazily at the ceiling, taking her time to register how she had ended up in the middle of some magical school she apparently wasn't supposed to even be able to see.
According to the headmaster, her sudden appearance into Hogwarts should have been impossible. And while Sarah knew he—along with everyone else—thought Toby was the one behind her sudden summoning, she had a feeling that it was not the case. But neither was it her goblins' doing, they had told her when she asked but…
That could only mean…
But what no one knew is that the king of goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers…
Sarah groaned, feeling the impending headache she got whenever she found herself wondering why she had goblins in her life. She doubted they followed everyone that ran the Labyrinth around and called them "Lady" but had long since decided to just be grateful for their company and her continued connection to the Underground. Now, however, it seemed like there was something deeper at play and Sarah was not sure she wanted to know what it was.
"Ugh!" she groaned again, suddenly remembering something. "I have a meeting Friday and I am currently stuck in the middle of a nonexistent world. Daniel is going to kill me."
She pursed her lips, wondering what was going to happen now. It was obvious from Toby's excitement—between the bouts of guilt and fear—the previous night that he was probably expecting her to stay with him in his magical world. And while Sarah was curious and admittedly, even a little excited herself, it was the last thing she wanted to do. She had worked hard to make a life for herself beyond childhood dreams and she was going to live it, thank you very much. A sudden tingle that went through her body had Sarah sitting up again with a start. She eyed her surroundings suspiciously, trying to shake off the feeling of someone—or something—being in the room with her when someone knocked on her door.
"Sarah, are you up?"
She breathed out a slow breath of relief, recognizing her brother's voice. "Just woke up," she called out. "Come in."
Sarah watched in amusement as Toby—being unusually cautious—poked his head into her room and glanced around. Then, as if having reassured himself that his sister really was here, he broke out into a wide grin and cheerfully skipped into the room. "Do you want to head down to breakfast with me?"
"Am I allowed to?" Sarah asked but knew she would probably follow him even if she was not. Her stomach had a mind of its own, it seemed. Besides, she was not going to blindly obey old bastards that did not even have the decency to tell her what was going on in a situation that had involved her baby brother!
Toby grinned. "I just asked," he told her. "Headmaster Dumbledore said you could. We just have to keep quiet about how you came here and that you don't have magic." He paused, then corrected himself. "That you're a Muggle."
She smiled warily; she had a feeling that Dumbledore probably only agreed because she had not really given him much of a choice. She knew she could be intimidating when she wanted to be but in his case, the old headmaster was probably too distracted by yesterday's events to put up much of an argument. "Sure," she told Toby, not wanting to upset him. "Am I supposed to come up with a cover story or something?" she teased, half serious.
"Already got it," Toby answered with a grin of his own. He watched with bright eyes as she rolled herself out of bed and began preparing herself for the day. Despite knowing that she was really here—with him! In Hogwarts!—Toby could not help but be afraid of suddenly waking up and finding out everything had only been a dream. Not that he minded some parts of last night to be a dream, though. "You're going to be… Jennifer Williams… A cousin from back home that I never knew was a witch. You're visiting me at Hogwarts because you want to become a teacher, so you're checking out all schools. And me. You want to visit me too."
Sarah paused and squinted at him. "Have you always been such a good liar?"
His grin widened. "I'm not lying. I'm storytelling!"
Sarah laughed and reached out to ruffle his hair as she walked past him towards the connecting bathroom.
Toby waited silently for a moment, listening to her go about her morning routine, brushing her teeth and washing her face as he worked up the courage to ask the question that had been in the back of his mind since her appearance. He could hear her grumble about her lack of skincare products, like, "You think this young-looking face is just genetics?" and waited for the best time to speak up.
"Sarah?" he finally called out.
"Yeah?" she called back, her voice slightly muffled by the wall between them.
He waited until she was finished and watched cautiously as she walked out of the bathroom, face slightly damp from washing. "Everyone thinks I was the one that summoned you," he said hesitantly. It was not a question because Toby knew better but it also was not an accusation because he trusted his sister.
Sarah was silent for a moment but Toby noticed the slight tension strumming through her. I know," she murmured quietly, turning around to look at him. Toby had always been a lot smart and more observant than people gave him credit for. Not to mention, he could read her a lot better than anyone else could so she was not surprised by his suspicions. "I'm sorry."
He eyed her curiously. "They," he continued. "They also think I'm the one who made Professor Umbridge disappear."
Sarah nodded. "I'm sorry about that too."
Toby stared. Paused. And then smiled. "You'll tell me one day, won't you?" he asked.
"I will," she promised, nodding again.
Not pressing the issue because he knows his sister better than anyone, Toby jumped off her bed, ready to head to breakfast. "Okay," he agreed. "Are you ready?"
"Yup!" Sarah chirped. "Lead on!"
Toby took the long way to the Great Hall, wanting to show Sarah everything he had written to her about in his letters. He watched as Sarah took in everything excitedly; her bright eyes and large smiles reminding him of the time the two of them had explored Diagon Alley. He wondered for a brief moment whether or not Sarah wished that she lived here, in this magical world. Whether or not she wanted to take his place and be the one that was magical, the one that was attending Hogwarts.
But she could see Hogwarts, he remembered. Even though she was not supposed to.
Then Toby found himself wondering whether or not Sarah had already been given the choice to live magic and decided not to.
"Come on," he said, pulling her hand when they reached the Great Hall. It was brightly lit and lively, already filled with students and teachers alike. "I'll introduce you to my friends."
Sarah met Dumbledore's eyes over the sea of students and they stared at one another for a moment before Sarah finally broke eye contact. Despite what he had told Toby, if he actually did disapprove of her sitting down with his friends then she did not care to know. If necessary, she could match him glare for glare but would rather avoid conflict altogether if she could. So instead of participating in a useless staring contest, Sarah skimmed the rest of the head table, noticing a couple more pairs of eyes on her but ultimately decided to ignore them too.
When they reached Toby's usual seat, his surrounding seatmates immediately took notice of Sarah's presence but waited politely for Toby to introduce her. "Morning, guys!" he greeted happily, the bubble of excitement that he had woken up with continuing to grow because this really, really was not a dream. Sarah was here. Sarah! Here! With him! In Hogwarts! "This is S—Jennifer. She's my cousin. I just found out she's a witch so she's visiting from America."
His friends gave a slight gasp of surprise but otherwise, they took the news in stride. "It's nice to meet you!" Kathie replied cheerfully, any friend of Toby's was a friend of hers. "I'm Kathie!"
"I'm Ellis," the boy sitting next to her offered.
Sarah smiled warmly, the names were familiar as Toby had mentioned them in his letters. "It's a pleasure to meet the two of you," she replied sincerely.
Toby paused. "Where's Adrian?" he asked, looking around for the missing Third Year.
"I'm here, I'm here!" Adrian huffed breathlessly as he ran up to them, sliding into his seat in a rather impressive manner. "Sorry! I lost track of time in the library. Please tell me you saved me some bacon!" He started to shove food onto his plate before freezing when he noticed Sarah for the first time. "Oh, um… hello. Uh… did I miss something?"
"Toby's cousin is visiting," Kathie supplied as she scooted over to make more room for the Third Year.
"It's nice to meet you," Sarah greeted. "I'm Jennifer."
Adrian blinked. "I didn't know you had any wizarding relatives," he said to Toby and then immediately flushed, turning to Sarah. "Sorry. I mean, it's really nice to meet you too. Toby talks a lot about you so—wait, did she say you were his cousin?"
Kathie rolled her eyes and shoved bacon onto Adrian's plate. "Adrian," she scolded. "Just eat. You really shouldn't be interacting with people before eating breakfast."
He flushed again but didn't refute the comment. It was a well-known fact among them that Adrian's brain was directly linked to his stomach. But who could blame him in this situation? Even with his sudden, half-distracted arrival, he had noticed how close Toby was to the older woman. And when he was told that she was Toby's relative—for someone who has only ever talked about his sister—he had immediately filled in "sister" where Kathie had said "cousin." "Sorry," he mumbled again. "My mind is still a bit distracted by my DADA assignment."
Sarah smiled but didn't say anything.
"Are you still on the dark creatures unit?" Ellis asked curiously.
Adrian winced. "Yeah, I have a paper on house elves due tomorrow."
Kathie frowned. "House elves aren't dark creatures!"
Toby nodded silently in agreement. He met three of them himself and as obnoxious as they were, they were also playful and considerate… in their own way, at least. Next to him, Sarah mouthed the unfamiliar word, curiosity written across her entire feature.
Kathie must have noticed her confusion for she smiled at her. "Oops, I forget you're a Muggleborn like Toby. Are there no house elves in Salem Institute?"
Schooling her features, Sarah smiled at the young girl. Salem Institute must be the American version of Hogwarts, she thought. "No," she answered. "Well… if there were, I've never came across them."
Kathie nodded, seemly finding nothing wrong with her words. Either there really were not any house elves in America's magical world or Kathie herself did not know any better. No matter, it was a relief for Sarah who was pulling fake facts about her fake magical life out of her ass. "House elves are serving creatures," she told Sarah.
"Serving creatures?" Sarah repeated slowly, feeling her stomach twist.
Kathie nodded. "They tend to serve older wizarding families."
Ellis eyed her in amusement before turning to Sarah. "And what she means by older wizarding families are the Purebloods," he elaborated. They were used to introducing the Wizarding world and its culture to Toby so him explaining a point was practically second nature to him. "Only the oldest, richest, and influential wizarding families have house elves." He nodded in Kathie's direction. "Kathie's family has several."
Kathie squirmed uncomfortably in her seat, her flushed face thankfully unnoticeable due to her dark skin. "My family's really not that… they're not at that level," she muttered. "They were gifts a couple generations ago from some distant cousin."
"Gifts?" Sarah echoed, her voice a small, disbelieving hush. And suddenly, she remembered exactly why she would never want to live in Toby's wizarding world despite the fact that she could with or without magic. Her conversations with Hoggle all those months ago began replaying itself until nothing but "We ended up losing the war and many of our kinds were forced into slavery." started to replay itself over and over again in her mind.
When Toby, feeling her change of mood, turned to look at her curiously, Sarah swallowed hard and forced herself to smooth out her expression. She nibbled on a slice of sausage and wondered what she had gotten herself into. Perhaps it would be a good idea to contact Hoggle again and learn more about the Underground's relationship with the Wizarding world. The last thing she wanted to do was to make an irreversible mistake and endanger her Underground friends.
"Anyway," Kathie continued, not noticing Sarah's less than favorable feelings on the current subject. "If you want first-hand information on house elves, I recommend you ask the ones serving Hogwarts."
Adrian scowled. "I did," he grumbled darkly. "That's why I'm rewriting this stupid paper. House elves consider themselves part of the family they serve and my original point was centered around their relationship with us. But Umbridge doesn't agree."
"Of course she doesn't," Ellis said and then brightened. "Oh! You probably didn't hear if you've been stuck in the library overnight but apparently all DADA classes have been canceled for the day. Not sure what's going to happen tomorrow, though."
Sarah glanced at Toby who was looking more than a little pale. She smiled. "It's all right," she murmured, petting his shoulder comfortingly. "Trust me."
Toby nodded. He did.
"Are you okay?" Kathie asked worriedly, noticing their exchange. "Did something happen?"
Toby shook his head. "No, not really. Don't worry about it." He had to remind himself that while it may seem that way, Professor Umbridge's disappearance had nothing to do with him. Sarah would handle it. He just hoped that the pink-clad professor wouldn't find herself thrown into a lake or anything—as something similar had happened before—even if she probably deserved it.
Adrian, Kathie, and Ellis exchanged worried glances but did not say anything. The conversation then took a turn to more mundane subjects that neither of the Williams siblings paid attention to, each distracted by their own thoughts. It was Adrian who first noticed the lack of a familiar presence on their breakfast table. "Hey," he said to Toby. "Where's your owl today?"
Toby blinked and looked around, suddenly realizing for the first time that the barn owl that had been visiting him every day for the past few weeks failed to show up. "I don't know," he said, looking at his friends worriedly. "Has no one seen him?"
Kathie and Ellis both shook their heads.
"Are you talking about Hel?" Sarah asked curiously.
"No," Toby said, shaking his head. "There's another owl—a wild barn owl—that's been visiting me. It's strange that he's not here today."
Sarah's eyebrows shot upwards. "A barn owl?" she repeated, not sure what to make of the information. Of all the different species of owls in the world, of course Toby would befriend a barn owl. With the way her luck was going, she would probably be served a peach pie for dessert.
"I'm going to head off to Charms early," Toby announced as they neared the end of breakfast hour. "I want to show Jenn around some more. See you guys later."
His friends nodded and waved. And Sarah, who was still distracted by thoughts of possible parallels between her presence in the Wizarding world and her time Underground, could only manage a half-hearted smile as she followed her brother out the Great Hall. "I haven't seen Toby this happy in a while," she heard Ellis whisper though just before she got out of earshot. She smiled thinly to herself and wondered how she was supposed to ease her brother into self-dependency.
"Don't worry about it," Irene had assured her once when she brought the subject up. "He'll grow up, they all do. I mean, you did, didn't you? Besides, Toby's off all alone in his wizard world."
She gave a mental sigh at the reminder. Not so alone anymore, she thought but also knew she would not be staying no matter how much Toby may want her to.
They walked slowly, taking their time as Toby lead the way, pointing out various sights to her. "You'll be okay, won't you?" he asked worriedly when they finally reached the doors to his Charms classroom.
Sarah laughed, catching the attention of the short man standing on top of the teacher's desk. She had noticed his stare earlier when she first entered the Great Hall and hadn't really thought anything of it. Now, however, his stare was making Sarah slightly uncomfortable and she wondered if visitors to Hogwarts were a rare thing. "I'll be fine," she said, turning her attention back to her brother. "I have a great sense of direction as well as you know."
He wasn't convinced. "I did tell you that the staircases move, right?"
"Yes," she confirmed. "But don't worry, I probably won't be doing much exploring. I'm just going to head over to the hospital wing to visit your friend. Harry, right? I know you're still worried."
Toby nodded. "Okay," he finally agreed. "But be careful."
"Worrying is my job," Sarah said fondly, reaching out to ruffle his hair before pulling in for a hug. "I'll be fine," she repeated, and with that said, she ushered him into his classroom, watching him take his seat before turning around to leave. A set of confused, but bright and curious eyes followed her as she went.
"All right, Deebie," she muttered, her voice low when she got far enough away. "It's all up to you now."
The small goblin crawled out of her hair and hopped down in front of her. She somehow managed to lose her balance in midair and Sarah winced as she fell flat onto her face, bouncing a couple times before coming to a rest. Deebie broke out into a happy giggle on the floor and jumped back up. "Okay, Lady," she chirped as if nothing had happened. "This way."
Sarah shook her head and wondered if all her goblin friends were made up of diamond bones and elastic skin. She followed Deebie through the twists and turns of Hogwart's corridors, going up stairs and back down again. This happened multiple times and she wondered after ten minutes if the small goblin had gotten lost but just as she was about to say something, they finally came across a familiar set of double doors. Sarah blinked and then opened it silently, ready to walk in before the sight of two familiar professors from the previous night stopped her in her track.
"Drink this, Potter!" the rather intimidating, dark-haired professor snapped. Even though Harry looked a lot better than the last time Sarah had seen him, there was nothing kind nor gentle about the professor's voice.
Well, she thought. He's obviously not in the health profession.
Harry glared, looking rather murderous for a patient but drank the oddly colored mud-green liquid anyway.
Sarah stepped back, closing the door silently as an idea took form in her head. She looked around, confirming that she was alone in the deserted hallway. And Headmaster Dumbledore was right there, in the hospital wing. It was the perfect moment.
"Squeak? Gip?" she whispered quietly. The two goblins immediately appeared before her. Romby had followed Toby into the Charms classroom as a faithful, invisible protector and she didn't want to pull him away.
"Lady called?" Squeak asked.
Sarah nodded. "That's right. I want you guys to bring that professor back now. I think she's been punished enough." While her memories of the Labyrinth were not as vivid as she would have liked, the smell of the bog was something she doubted she would ever forget
The two goblins blinked and turned to look at each other, probably wondering why Sarah would ever want something that has been in the bog back. It was called The Bog of Eternal Stench for a reason. And without Kingy's magic… They shrugged. "You got it, Lady!"
And then, without further warning, the air above them shuddered and opened, droppinga plump, wet, and dirty pink-colored witch onto the ground.
"Yuck!" they cried as Sarah swallowed back a gag. The goblins, having been bogged enough times as punishment was in no mood to stick around any longer. "All yours, Lady!" They disappeared.
Sarah wrinkled her nose and wiped away the tears forming at the corner of her eyes. Gods, she didn't think it was possible but the scent was even worst than she remembered. Wrinkling her nose, Sarah took a deep breath to ready herself only to choke. She could practically taste the bog. "Eww," she groaned before trying again. She took another breath, held it for a moment and then screamed.
Chapter 11: Shadowland
"It doesn't matter how many cleaning charms I use on her," Pomfrey ranted, obviously at her wit's end. "The stench is not going away. In fact, I swear it's just getting worst! It's even leaking out of my containment charms! Dolores needs to be isolated, Albus; she is stinking up my entire hospital wing."
Sarah nodded in agreement, trying her best not to breathe. Harry, she noticed, who had almost completely recovered from the previous night's ordeal was now looking rather green. "Maybe you should try things out the normal way and give her a bath?" she wondered out loud. Despite its name, Sarah was positive there was a way to get rid of the bog's stench. After all, her goblin companions returned to her smelling perfectly fine despite whining about how they got bogged again by their king.
They stared at her.
Sarah blinked in response. "Non-magical. I mean the non-magical way." She nodded in satisfaction and wondered if wizards took showers. Or baths. Or even just body wipe-downs, she was not particularly picky. They didn't do everything with magic, did they?
"We shall place her in quarantine, then," Dumbledore said with an almost tired sigh. He pulled out and waved his wand, levitating Umbridge from her hospital bed and floating her through what appeared to be a solid wall and into a usually sealed section of the hospital wing. He looked around and frowned, casting a couple cleaning and air-freshening charms but they did not seem to do much. He only hoped the smell would dissipate with time. "Did you see anything out of the ordinary when she appeared?" he finally asked, turning back to Sarah.
She blinked wide, innocent, green eyes at him. "No, I don't think so. She sort of took me by surprise." Probably like how her sudden appearance had taken them all by surprise, she thought guiltily.
"If that's all," Sarah continued. "I would really like to return to my room now." After all, her job was done and she really did not want to remain another second in the hospital wing smelling fresh bog.
"Actually," Dumbledore said. "I've been meaning to talk to you, Miss Williams. Now would be the best time, I think, since your brother will be in class for a while yet."
She paused at that. "Really?" she asked, surprised, having believed that the headmaster would be avoiding her for as long as possible. She guessed curiosity overrode everything else. "All right, then."
After making sure Harry was not going to die from a lack of fresh air or something equally as pathetic, Dumbledore led them out of the hospital wing and towards his office. Sarah followed closely, not wanting to get left behind since Deebie had disappeared the same time her other goblins had, chased away by the smell of the bog. The last thing Sarah needed was to get lost without her usual guide inside an enchanted castle that had moving staircases. She wondered briefly at the dark-haired professor trailing behind them. Was he Dumbledore's right-hand man or something? What was the term? Vice headmaster? Wait, then what about the lady professor from before that had taken them around Diagon Alley? Was she not his vice headmaster?
They stopped in front of a stone gargoyle and Sarah watched with large eyes as Dumbledore said what must have been a password before it leaped aside, allowing them entrance. Strangely, it reminded of the red and blue door guards back in the Labyrinth; simply annoying little buggers they were until she had stepped through one of the doors and fell straight into the oubliette. It was only then did she realize how dangerous they could be. Mentally shaking herself from her memories, Sarah blinked and followed the headmaster cautiously but was unable to stop herself from pausing to stare at the gargoyle.
It stared back.
"Is that thing alive?" she could not help but ask as she scuttled away from it, past the entrance it was guarding.
Perhaps it was her question, or even her cautious curiosity, like a first-year Muggleborn seeing Hogwarts for the first time, but something in Dumbledore relaxed and he smiled down at her in an almost amused manner. "No," he answered. "It's enchanted, like many other parts of this castle." He waved to a portrait as he said this, who glared in response, the painted woman turned her long, pointy nose up into the air and proceeded to ignore the headmaster.
While it was a hilarious sight to witness, Sarah mentally shook her head. No, she thought. It's not the same.
"Well then," the aged headmaster said cheerfully as he made himself comfortable behind his large desk. The dark-haired professor took what appeared to be his usual position and stood behind Dumbledore, hidden slightly in the shadows and stared down at Sarah with dark eyes.
For a moment, Sarah was reminded of the time she got in trouble with Toby's elementary school principal because she had ordered her goblins to throw a local high schooler—the two schools were neighbors (Upper Nyack was a small town)—into a nearby lake after finding out that he had bullied her brother. She had no idea he was said principle's son, otherwise she would have had them both thrown into the lake. They obviously were not able to prove that it was her but Sarah was not used to getting into trouble with authority figures; despite her outward calm, she had been downright nervous during the interrogation.
It was a good thing she had grown up since then.
"Yesterday," Dumbledore began, his tone low and smooth, reflecting the seriousness of his next words. "Arthur Weasley, father of one of your brother's friends was bitten by a snake. While Severus here was able to come up with a working anti-venom, it can only do so much. The venom has been stalled but the damage has already been done." He paused and interlocked his fingers together out in front of him. "I am hoping that you will allow Mister Williams to go to the Weasley's house and see if his affinity with healing magic can work on him."
Sarah blinked slowly, as if letting the severity of Albus' words register for a moment. Despite her smooth expression, Severus could sense her annoyance. "This is your idea of a talk?" she asked, her own voice low. "You're asking me to allow Toby to god knows where so he can use some kind of healing magic he doesn't completely have control over? Healing magic that you apparently don't even completely understand yet? Without," she bit out, her voice rising in volume with her increasing annoyance and anger, "even having the basic decency to explain yesterday's situation to me first?!"
Albus smiled. "I understand your hesitance, Miss—"
"The hell you do!" she snapped, glaring at him.
Albus shifted and faltered at her explosive anger.
Sarah felt Deebie's sudden appearance somewhere in her hair, immediately feeling small prickly claws running through her scalp in an attempt to calm her. She exhaled deeply. Of course Sarah knew exactly what had happened yesterday, her goblins had made sure of it. But Dumbledore was taking extreme care to avoid the subject. He did not want her to know what happened. But why? Was it because he was afraid that she would pull Toby out of Hogwarts? Was he in need of his healing abilities? Sarah breathed out again, sudden realization weighing down like a ball of lead in her stomach. Was not the Wizarding World on the brink of a civil war or something?
Manipulative old bastard, Sarah thought angrily. She wanted to stand up and start yelling but instead, she took another deep, calming breath to compose herself.
"You know," she began with a bright smile. "I'm an author. I write novels and I actually have this character just like you." Manipulative. Scheming. Telling people only what he thinks they should know in order to further his own interests. What were Dumbledore's interests, she wondered. She knew that with magic and potions, the school already had its means of healing wounded students. So, why in the world did a headmaster of a school need Toby's advanced healing abilities?
"Oh?" Albus asked, hesitantly, faltering at her sudden change in subject.
Sarah's unamused glare was steady. "Yeah, and I killed him off in my sixth installment."
Severus felt his lips twitch despite himself.
Sarah crossed her arms and leaned back into her chair. Her gaze hardened at the seriousness at her next words. "Toby is going nowhere except maybe home until you tell me exactly what happened. I want to know what's going on and why you need him."
Albus stared at her for a moment, then his own gaze hardened as he abandoned his usual grandfatherly persona. He was now Albus Dumbledore, currently one of the most powerful wizards alive, the defeater of Grindelwald. Sarah shifted uncomfortably in her seat and Severus wondered if perhaps, she finally realized that she had bitten off more than she could chew. But then he watched as she swallowed back her fear, adjusting herself and hardening her gaze to stare back at Albus, refusing to back down.
She would have been sorted into Gryffindor, Severus thought with no small amount of disgust.
"Miss Williams," Albus said in a tone that told Severus his eyes were not twinkling. "You are not part of this world."
Sarah smiled. All lips and no eyes. "And neither will Toby be if you keep this up."
They stared at her. She was serious.
There was a pause. Then a sigh. "All right," Albus finally said, shoulders dropping as if in defeat. "I suppose I have no other choice."
Severus highly doubted that, he had a feeling that Albus was already aware that he would not be able to intimidate Ms. Williams into doing what he wanted. The best he could do was to make it so that she thought she was in control of the situation.
The aged headmaster leaned back into his chair with a sullen expression, the wrinkles on his face looking more pronounced than usual. "As you know, there is conflict in the Wizarding World; tensions are high. Your brother's world is on the brink of war and while I am doing the best I can to ensure that my students do not get involved, our world is a small one. Even if one is not directly involved, chances are, their parents, their friends, someone they know most likely is.
Sarah frowned. "Then are you involved in this… war?"
"No more so than anyone else," Albus answered carefully. "The Dark Lord has terrorized the Wizarding World for more than two decades; for a world as small as ours, his presence is more terrifying than you realize." He closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. "Fourteen years ago, he attacked the Potter family, killing both mother and father, leaving Harry Potter as the sole survivor." He paused for a moment, allowing Sarah to take everything in before continuing. "And because of this, Harry is a figure, an icon, an inspiration. Followers of the Dark Lord are working to get rid of Harry because of what he represents. It is very likely that he was… attacked yesterday."
"Attacked?" Sarah asked, surprised. Her goblins hadn't mentioned that, but then again, even they did not know everything. Her goblins only know what they were able to observe, after all. "How was he attacked? I thought Hogwarts was supposed to be safe?" Basilisks and escaped criminals aside, she had deemed Hogwarts safe enough for her brother to attend. Just as long as her goblins accompanied him, of course. And now she was learning that the wizard spearheading all the conflict was targeting someone inside the school. Someone Toby's friends with?
"You must understand," Albus said, attempting to soothe her. "I have no desire to involve students—especially one as young as your brother—however, his healing abilities are an asset; that I cannot deny. I would rather involve a young student than allow people to die, especially if it could have been prevented."
Sarah raised her eyebrows, wondering if he realized that he had practically just admitted that he was more involved in this war than he had initially led her to believe. "And this… this Arthur Weasley is involved in the war?"
"Yesterday, he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time," Albus said, shaking his head sadly.
Sarah almost rolled her eyes. Not outright answering her question was an answer on its own. Honestly, he should just choose one course of action and stick to it; either lie to her face like she was an idiot or dance around with wordplay and half-truths. He was only going to confuse himself with the combination of both. She gave a mental sigh, thinking. Dumbledore, despite his attempts at manipulating her, seemed to have good intentions. And while she did not give a damn about his intentions if the safety of Toby was called into question, she could understand where he was coming from. She did not want anyone to die either. And Toby, who was much more kindhearted than she ever was, would be completely heartbroken if he knew someone had died when he could have prevented it. Especially if it was the father of one of his friends.
Not that she remembered being told of a friend named Weasley, she thought suspiciously, narrowing her eyes. And Toby told her everything.
"Fine, she finally allowed. "I will give you my permission, but only if I can go with Toby." She didn't care how many rules Dumbledore had to break in order to ensure that she could stay with her brother. Sarah was not about to let Toby heal someone who was most likely involved in this war by himself.
"That's perfectly fine," Albus agreed, smiling. "I had expected such a condition."
They fell silent after that, Sarah wondering if Dumbledore was going to further explain his plan for her brother but it was the dark-haired professor that spoke up next. "Ms. Williams, how did you manage to recover from diffuse axonal injury?"
Albus blinked, confused but choosing to remain silent, believing that the Potions Master had a reason behind his question.
Sarah met Severus' dark gaze warily. "Toby, probably," she said, although her tone lacked any conviction.
Severus raised an eyebrow, gracing her with his usual "You dunderhead." stare that had Sarah squirming in her seat, feeling like she was being scolded by her mother. "I doubt it," he countered. "You were in the States during the time, were you not? And your brother in Muggle London?"
Albus' eyebrows shot upwards at this. He may not always agree with Severus' methods of gathering information but even he could not deny that one way or another, Severus always got what he wanted to know. And Sarah… Sarah was a mystery he wanted to solve as soon as possible so he could concentrate on more important things. Like Tobias Williams' powers.
Toby, you little shit! Sarah thought, tensing. Her lips thinned as she realized she probably would not be able to lie her way through this one. From their expressions, Sarah was pretty sure they suspected that she was the one that had healed herself. And while that simply was not true, Sarah would rather they think that than to know what really had happened.
"House elves are serving creatures," Kathie had said. And her tone had been so matter-of-fact, Sarah found herself still cringing at the memory. She did not need Toby's letters to know that Kathie was a good person. But that very same good person was talking about the enslavement of an entire species of creatures—possibly Underground creatures—like it was a given fact. She might as well have said something along the lines of, "Oh, the sky is blue."
"Then it wasn't Toby," Sarah said with a shrug. "But truthfully, I don't really know what happened; I don't remember much of the accident. Or my recovery." Plausible, as far as excuses went, but everyone knew she was not telling the truth. But what were they going to do? Sarah wondered as she looked the man dead in the eyes, daring him to contradict her. It was not like they were telling her their full truths either.
Severus paused, bringing a finger up to his lips and tracing it. For a moment, Sarah felt herself faltering, fearing that he really was going to call her out on it. But he did not. "Are you a witch, Ms. Williams?" he asked instead.
Albus blinked. Well, he thought distantly. That's Severus. Straight to the point.
Eyebrows shooting upwards in surprise, it took another moment for Sarah to collect herself. "No. Definitely not," she replied with a roll of her eyes.
"But you know magic," Severus countered. "Even long before Albus had introduced Mister Williams to the Wizarding World."
Sarah stared at him. She had suspected before but now she was fairly positive that this was a man she probably would not be able to lie to, even more so than the aged, experienced headmaster. However, this was the first time she felt that there was probably more to this man than just him being a professor. Like how there was more to Albus Dumbledore than his headmaster duties. But observant or not, she was not about to betray her goblins just because these people were curious. Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape may be good manipulators, they may be masters of wordplay and misdirection, but so was she.
She clenched her jaw and broke eye contact, glaring unseeingly at the desk in front of her before sighing. "Well," she began, tensed shoulders easing. "I'm a novelist. I write fantasy novels for a living and despite the genre, I actually do put a lot of research for my books. I mean, mythology, fairytales, legends, they all come from somewhere, don't they?" She paused, eyelashes fluttering rapidly as if to emphasize her innocence. "Some of my research may have been… more hands-on than others. And I may have encountered a few… things."
Albus' eyes widened at the confession.
Sarah looked at Severus. "But I am not a witch. And I most certainly do not have—"
But what no one knew is that the king of goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers.
She hoped. After all, everything that had happened, from her healing to her appearance into Hogwarts, they were done by her goblins, weren't they?
But her goblins… her goblins were here. With her. They followed her around and called her Lady. Why?
Feeling rather nauseous because she knew she was on the brink of uncovering something even though she would rather not think any further on the subject; Sarah wanted nothing more than to leave the suddenly too-bright office. "Can I leave now?" she asked, glancing up at a clock that seemed to show everything but the time. "Toby has a long break before his third class and I promised to meet him before then."
Albus smiled, less reluctant now that he had figured out the mystery behind Sarah Williams. "Of course, Miss Williams. I'm glad we've reached a level of understanding. I do apologize for keeping you.
Sarah stared at him for a moment, not too impressed with his quick change of attitude once what he got what he wanted. He was like a kid throwing a temper tantrum; she would know, she was that kid.
And while Albus remained oblivious to her thoughts, Severus could tell she did not particularly cared that they had reached a new "level of understanding." As she finally nodded and moved up from her seat, he noticed her hair rippling in the oddest way as if something was scurrying through it down towards her fashion scarf. He blinked and it was gone.
Sarah paused just as she reached the double doors and hesitated. "Right," she said, turning back around to face them. "Since I'm not really hiding my knowledge about magic anymore, I feel like I should tell you something."
"I'm actually pretty attuned to magic," she admitted, even though she knew she was highly undermining her abilities. "And while I may not know much about the school, I can feel that there's something wrong with it. There's something evil in this school." She paused, frowned, and then corrected herself. "Well, no, evil probably isn't the right word. Malicious, maybe? Volatile?" she continued, trying again before shaking her head and giving up. "There's something in this school that is upsetting the natural balance of this castle's environment. I can feel it lurk in the shadows."
For reasons he could not explain, Severus felt his stomach seize up at her words but next to him, Albus only smiled reassuringly. "Miss Williams," he said, soothingly. "I can assure you that both you and your brother are quite safe in Hogwarts. Nothing can get in without my knowledge."
Except for her apparently, Albus remembered but did not say out loud.
Sarah raised a single eyebrow, managing to look even more unimpressed than before. She thought about her goblins—and could even hear Deebie's giggle of amusement—but knew that Dumbledore was thinking of her own appearance. Perhaps he felt that in the wards but she knew for a fact that he didn't feel anything when it came to her goblins. "You really shouldn't underestimate yourself," Sarah advised. "It'll be your downfall." After all, she had played this game before.
"So, the Labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it? Well, let's see how you deal with this little slice."
Without waiting for a response, Sarah merely shook her head and left, closing the door quietly behind her. Severus stared at the closed doors, mind whirling as minuscule threads of thoughts began to piece together. Everything was slowly coming together now and Severus was not sure he liked the direction it was heading towards.
"…even the shadows work for me," the Dark Lord had said.
The Dark Lord had never been the one to talk using flowery language and poetic prose so his words had stood out to Severus when he had first heard them. Initially, he had not known what to think of them but now…
"I can feel it lurk in the shadows."
Certainly, it could have been a coincidence but Severus did not believe in coincidences and Sarah Williams was hiding much more than what she had revealed to them. Albus may have believed her but he was more concerned about Tobias Williams' powers than he was about anything else. It was quite obvious that the aged headmaster had gladly grabbed onto whatever pathetic explanation Ms. William had thrown at them. Severus, on the other hand, knew a fool when he saw one and Sarah Williams was no such fool.
She said she was a novelist; she spun words for a living. "I can feel it in the air," or "I can feel its presence." There were so many other ways she could have phrased that but she felt compelled to say "shadows" for a reason. It was the one word that fit her feelings the best.
"...even the shadows work for me."
Severus inhaled slowly. He knew dark magic and he knew it well; shadow magic was the darkest of all. But it was also forgotten magic—lost magic. Was it possible? Certainly he knew that the Dark Lord was much more intelligent than people usually gave him credit for but could he have actually mastered the long-forgotten magic of death?
"Severus?" Albus questioned because he knew that look. Severus was onto something and whatever it was, he really, really did not like it.
The Potions Master simply shook his head. "It's nothing," he said, his voice a distracted whisper. At least he hoped it was nothing. He really wanted it to be nothing. "I… I need to do some research first."
"Hogwarts!" Jareth cried.
Hoggle poked his head into the room. "What?!" he snapped, trying to shake a baby goblin from chewing his shoe off.
"No, not you," Jareth said, dismissing him with a wave of his hand before turning back to Cahan to rant. "What the hell is Sarah doing at Hogwarts? That magic school. That human magic school!" Was her magic beginning to show itself Aboveground? After all, the development of her magic was accelerating, like an avalanche down a mountain, faster and faster, swallowing everything in its path. Forget Rainbow Forest, Appledore Falls was back up and running. The last time he checked, Sarah had already moved onto the Southern Crystal Falls. He gasped in horror at his next thoughts. "They don't think she's a Gorger, do they?"
Cahan only stared at him, slightly distracted as he wondered if Jareth had trained the pitiful—and rather ugly—dwarf to answer to everything but his own name. He blinked. "I'm not exactly sure," he answered slowly, giving Jareth a funny look. "Could you not have gone in to see for yourself?"
Jareth immediately snarled at him in response, eyes flashing. "Since Sarah is there right now, I most certainly could not!" He had found this out the hard way when he went to visit Young Jareth earlier. It had started out as a small, almost unnoticeable wave of dizziness but got worst and worst the closer he flew to Hogwarts. It was a good thing Jareth knew what it meant and immediately turned back or he would have found himself stripped of all his magic.
Ah, Cahan thought, feeling rather sorry for himself for bringing the subject up. He had forgotten about the whole banishment thing.
Fortunately for him, before Jareth could go on another rant about being banished from his beloved Champion, Cahan felt a presence in his mind light up. He sat up, narrowing his eyes in concentration as Jareth, who must have noticed the change in him, watched indifferently from the side. His magic flared up within him, filtering through the thousands of mental strands of connection that tied his subjects to him. His lower subjects would not have the courage to communicate to him through such a connection, so he knew who it was even before his magic identified them.
Mahilgo, Cahan thought.
The presence in his mind warmed at the acknowledgment and Cahan mentally reached out to her and pulled, summoning her to him. Her appearance into the throne room was smooth, like silk over steel, but Cahan could spot her fear and nervousness. His lips quirked upwards in amusement as he took in the slight shaking of her tightly clasped hands. This would be her first time face to face with the King of Dreams and despite the fact that she was one of his more powerful elves, Jaerth's reputation had her quivering in her spot.
"Your Majesty," she greeted him, although her eyes were trained on Jareth. Cahan barely held back a snicker as she visibly swallowed. "K-King of Dreams."
Jareth looked at her for a moment, blinked, and then, deeming her presence unimportant, proceeded to ignore her. Pouting slightly now that he wouldn't get his chance to rant, he swung a leg over the armrest of his throne, wiggled in, and made himself comfortable.
"Mahilgo," Cahan greeted distractedly, wrinkling his nose in distaste as he eyed the King of Dreams. This was the fae residents of the Underground was afraid of. "I was not expecting you. Is something wrong?" He stiffened, a sudden thought striking him, chilling him to the bones. "Is it my mate?"
"Her Majesty is fine," Mahilgo immediately soothed. She cleared her throat, took another deep, calming breath and fell back into her usual dignified demeanor. "It's an Above Elf, Your Majesty, she is requesting an immediate audience with you."
Above Elves, Cahan thought with a sneer, falling back into his chair, drooping with disappointment. He could almost understand Jareth's desire to pout at the moment. Immediate audience, he mentally mimicked in disgust. He didn't impart many orders for his "Above Elves" but what few he did give them, they obeyed to the point of annoyance. He had once ordered one to fetch a present for his mate, only to later find her completely buried in the sheer amount of knickknacks the imp had brought back. "I'll deal with her later," Cahan dismissed.
"Your Majesty!" Mahilgo protested, eyes carefully sliding towards Jareth again. She would not have interrupted Cahan's audience with the King of Dreams if she did not think it was important. "She comes bearing news of… of the Lady Champion." A while ago, Cahan had ordered all his elves—including those Above—to keep an eye and ear out for the Lady Champion of the King of Dreams' Labyrinth and her brother; to report any important news and to protect them. Mahilgo was the one to filter through these news, acting as a middleman between her King and his Above Elves; she did not think he cared to know how many cups of coffee the Lady Champion had that day, or what color her undergarments were but this time…
Mahilgo's words had not only Cahan but also Jareth sitting up in shock.
"Sarah?" Jareth demanded. And then: "Sarah? Of course! Tra-la-la," he ordered which had both Cahan and Mahilgo squinting at him.
Cahan pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance. He could not believe he had forgotten just where he had stuffed some of his Above Elves all those years ago. They had managed to integrate themselves into the very root of the Gorgers's culture; Cahan was sure it was the reason why Jareth had enlisted in his help after realizing The Champion's brother had Gorger magic. Faes, despite all their power, were bond by geis; ruled by a strict set of laws and limitations.
And the most damning of them all, of course, was that they could not enter human dwellings without an invitation. Usually, Jareth did not have this problem as the simple action of dreaming was an invitation on its own—not an explicit one but faes were very good at finding loopholes if nothing else. Unfortunately, the sheer number of Gorgers that drank dream-blocking potions and erected wards and barriers that prevented dream-walking—even if it was only a secondary side effect—honestly! But Cahan…
The Gorgers welcomed his elves with open arms; they invite them into their homes, tempting them with promises of family and love, of companionship and sympathy. They had no idea that accepting them meant accepting their King. And while it never really mattered before, Jareth and Cahan had previously joked about the stupidity of the Gorgers.
Abusing Underground creatures, using them for their own needs to further their greed. And for what? Unknowing giving faes the ultimate power over their sad, little human world?
"Summon her," he ordered, translating for Jareth.
Mahilgo bowed, lowering her head in respect as she stepped back. The air in front of her shimmered as she did so and the two Monarchs watched as Mahilgo pulled the Above Elf to her like Cahan had done with her minutes before.
She was a small, trembling thing, staring up at Cahan in awe with her large, bulging eyes. She was looking at him like he was the stars and moon and Cahan quite liked that feeling even though it was rather ruined by how hideous she looked. "Your Majesty!" she squealed and then promptly burst into overly dramatic tears that had Jareth staring at her in utter confusion. Even news about Sarah was sliding into secondary priority at the sight of the quivering mess in front of him.
"Is she…" he trailed off.
"Fine!" Cahan grumbled even as the Above Elf began pulling at her large ears, twisting them in her excitement.
"I is meeting His Majesty!" the Above Elf cried, sobbing in happiness. She then pulled at the dirty tea towel she was wearing, leaning her large head down and blew her nose into it. The force of her blow sent her large bat-like ears flopping. "Dippy not worthy," she moaned. "Not worthy."
Jareth blinked and then snorted in amusement. While he certainly complained about his goblins quite a lot, there was no contest between them and Cahan's Above Elves. By nature, faes were mischievous beings; they delighted in the discomfort, spoiling milk, stealing voices, tangling hair. It was their honor to inconvenience others so he really was not sure how Cahan's magic had managed to produce such pathetic, butt-kissing, starry-eyed creatures. The Elven King had modeled them after Jareth's goblins so they were both created faes; Cahan had no excuse.
"Stop it." Cahan snapped. "That's enough, imp."
Jareth rolled his eyes; Cahan did not like to call them "elves."
Inhaling sharply, the elf did exactly as Cahan had ordered and stopped. Jareth suspected the poor thing even stopped breathing just to obey her king.
"Just tell me the news," Cahan continued, his tone tight with annoyance. "You're a Hogwarts elf and the Lady Champion is in Hogwarts."
"Clearly," Jareth grumbled, remembering his nauseating flight. "I thought we already established that."
"Hush," Cahan said, giving Jareth an absentminded smack with the back of his hand only to have the King of Dreams smack him back with his riding crop. He glared before turning his attention back to the imp in front of him. "What is the Lady Champion doing in Hogwarts?"
Ears flapping, the elf shrunk back into herself before answering. "Elves obey His Majesty," she said, her voice dropping into a low whisper. "Elves keep eyes on Lady's brother. But Lady's brother already has protection!"
"Squeak told me," Jareth confirmed. He sighed happily; Sarah ordering his goblins about. Just like a true queen.
Cahan poked him, snapping him from his thoughts as the small elf continued. "But we not interfere with wizard fights," the elf assured her king. They had been ordered to protect the Lady Champion's brother, yes, but they were also told not to interfere unless it was life-threatening. Revealing an unnatural concern towards the young boy would only cause unneeded questions to arise. And although Cahan doubted the Gorgers would be able to figure anything out it was better to keep a low profile, lest it catches someone else's attention.
After all, unlike the Gorgers, the Shadowwalker knew of the existence of the Underground.
"But then Lady's brother got hurt and called for Lady." She waved her hands dramatically into the air. "And Lady appears."
Jareth and Cahan exchanged alarmed glances. "Toby was the one that summoned Sarah?" Jareth asked. "Not my goblins?"
Dippy shook her head. "Oh no! Lady summons herself. Lady and Lady's brother share powerful, ancient link. Dippy and all Hogwarts Elves feels it. When Lady's brother calls, link knows! And Lady comes."
"What ancient, powerful link?" Jareth demanded. "I did not sense anything when I was with him." Actually, that was not completely true. There were times when Jareth thought he could sense just the slightest sliver of fae magic radiating from the boy but he had thought that it was just residue magic from his time Underground. Underground magic tended to cling and it did not help that Jareth had fed him during his hours here as a babe.
Not that he had wanted to, of course, but Little Jareth was a spoiled babe. He cried all the time; only singing and dancing had shut him up. But then he got hungry and then even singing and dancing wasn't enough. Jareth almost wanted to wish the child away himself and he would have too, if his Sarah was not the runner at the time.
But now… ancient, powerful link…
If his magic was like Sarah's…
Sarah did not have Gorger magic.
But neither did she have fae magic.
The Above Elf twisted her hands around and around as she tried to think of a way to describe her feelings. "When Lady's brother be using magic, sire," she told Jareth, "we elves can feel Lady's magic respond."
"And the Lady Champion?" Cahan asked. "Does her brother's magic respond to her when she uses magic?"
"Dippy not know," the elf shrugged, looking like she was about to burst into tears again. And not good tears this time, either. It was traumatizing to Above Elves if they could not answer their king's question. "Lady not using magic. Lady not ever using magic in Hogwarts."
Cahan and Jareth looked at each other and exchanged glances, both coming to the same conclusion. "Resonance," Cahan finally said and Jareth nodded in agreement. "Like soulmates."
"If that is the case," Jareth said, "then it is fairly new, else my goblins would have felt it years ago."
Cahan stared at the goblin king for another moment before sighing, pressing his fingers to his temple in frustration. "You say your Champion has fae blood running through her."
"Highly diluted," Jareth confirmed. "But yes. On her father's side and they share the same father."
Despite the fact that of the two of them, Cahan had the most recent interaction with Sarah, it was Jareth who was the most familiar with her magic. "Would you say it was diluted fae blood running through her system or changeling blood?"
Jareth paused at that. Now, changelings. That was something he had almost forgotten about. They were not particularly common in their world despite its many stories in human fairy tales. Changelings were faes that wanted to live a human life; they wanted human relationships, human warmth, and human love. These faes would shed themselves of their fae identity and build themselves human skin. However, despite this, they could never truly be human either and any descendants they had would always have that not-quite-fae-but-not-quite-human blood running through them.
"Both. Neither." Jareth shook his head. "I do not know. There is something different about it."
Cahan sighed. "You awakened your Champion's fae blood during her time in your Labyrinth but you never awakened her brother's. But he does have Gorger magic, which… has nothing to do with you."
"No," Jareth confirmed. "He got it from his mother's side." He had done his research; the boy's maternal great-great-great-grandmother was a Gorger.
"It is possible that his Gorger magic awakened his fae magic." Cahan speculated. After all, Gorger magic had originally come from the faes themselves until time had evolved it into an entirely separate entity. Still, the relationship between them was there. "It would explain why your goblins did not feel the connection in their magic. His Gorger magic would not resonate with your Champion's fae magic."
"But resonance?" Jareth questioned. "Soulmates? When was the last time we've heard of the existence of such a pair?"
Cahan was silent. "The Whisper Man," he finally answered, his voice quiet.
"And the Shadowwalker," Jareth finished.
As one, all the occupants in the room shuddered at the mention. Then Cahan shook his head. "We're getting side-tracked, I think."
"Not if it has to do with Sarah," Jareth disagreed. "I have been taking her abilities for granted. I just let her dream but I have never questioned why she can reverse the Shadowwalker's touch. There must be a reason and we must know it." He paused. Strictly speaking, the dwindling of human belief in the past couple of centuries had stagnated the Underground, which meant that there was no growth. And in worst-case scenarios, the faes would simply cease to exist. It was not the same thing as dying. The Shadowwalker had really only started to target them the past few decades. Lack of belief made them weak and easy pickings for the Shadowwalker but then Sarah came. Sarah's belief helped sustain them but her ability that revived them.
"We do not actually know much about him, do we?" Jareth asked, continuing. Everyone was afraid of him but it has been millenniums since anyone has actually seen him. No one has really ever tried to fight back. Resist? Yes. But fighting back requires one to know their enemies and everyone was too afraid to look into the Shadowwalker. And just how were they going to protect Sarah if they did not understand anything? Neither her powers, nor their enemies?
Cahan glared. "You want me to wake the Elder," he accused.
Jareth smiled. "He does like you better."
"Because you keep breaking off his branches!" he shot back, then bit back the rest of his words, stopping himself from ranting about this. Again. Cahan sighed, rubbing his throbbing forehead. He turned his attention back to the half-forgotten imp. "Was there anything else?" he asked.
"The shadows," Dippy told her king, since they were already on the subject. Her voice dropped into a low whisper as if she was afraid of being overheard. "The shadows be in the Wizarding World. And now, shadows has come to Hogwarts. Hogwarts no longer safe. Not to professors, not to students, not to elves! Wizards and witches not know but we House Elves can feel it. We has fae magic and we can feel the shadows watching." She crawled closer to them, her voice dropping even lower. "But then Lady comes and then no more shadows!"
The two monarchs were silent at the new revelation. "I'll try and visit the Elder tomorrow," Cahan finally said. Sarah's powers, whatever it was, was in direct opposition to the Shadowwalker's. It was best to gather all the information they could, seeing that the Shadowwalker would probably notice Sarah's existence sooner rather than later. The Shadowwalker knew that there were faes still living among the Gorgers; he would not have revealed his shadows, knowing that the faes could sense their presence if he cared to actually stay hidden from them. Before it was just the little things, unusual deaths, a flash of his presence, odd trinkets of his popping up within the Gorger's community—although that one almost caused a hundred-year conflict—and now…
He was watching Hogwarts?
Jareth narrowed his eyes. "I think he has chosen his next victims."
Cahan looked over to him, lips pressed tightly together. Before Jareth's Champion, the Gorgers were the Underground's main source of nourishment, especially in this modern era. Even if they had forgotten their exact existence, their knowledge of basic fae magic was enough to help sustain them. But the Gorgers has been dwindling down in numbers in the recent centuries; to destroy them would have destroyed the Underground…
But now… Sarah's belief—Sarah's lone belief—was enough to keep them going. At the rate that Sarah's resurrection of the Underground was going at, wiping out all the Gorgers would not hinder their comeback. It was, Jareth realized with a trickle of fear, even more important now than ever before that the Shadowwalker absolutely does not learn of Sarah's existence. He groaned, he wouldn't be able to do much to protect Sarah but Cahan…
Cahan had elves in the school and throughout the Gorger community. They could keep an eye on Sarah and even call on Cahan himself if the Shadowwalker chose to attack. Not that he could, Jareth mused. Directly, at least. Like faes, the Shadowwalker was similarly limited by a strict set of laws and could not just go around killing whoever he wanted to. But that also meant a Gorger had invited him into their world, possibly on purpose but most likely by accident.
Where there is life, there must also be death.
Severus paused, single eyebrow raising in disbelief as he turned the cover of the thick book over to make sure he didn't pick out some melodramatic novel by mistake.
Shadowland, the title read. And in much smaller calligraphy, The Book on the Shadowrealm, Shadow Magic, and Death Itself. Written by Fin Bheara.
Well, no such luck then. He sighed, rubbing the left side of his temple in order to prepare himself for the oncoming melodramatic prose. Honestly. He was here for facts and theories. Not literature. With a sharp huff, he made himself comfortable, flipped the thick book back open and began reading.
Where there is life, there must also be death.
Our world is governed by a sort of balance our feeble human minds cannot fully fathom. Humans have a tendency of categorizing everything: where there is light, there must also be darkness, where there is good, there must also be evil, where there is love, there must also be hate, and where there is life, there must also be death.
However, true balance is significantly more complicated and the categorization of such forces only works to simply our understanding of our own world. True balance is where light is darkness, where good is evil, where love is hate, and where life is death.
It wasn't an awful start, Severus allowed. But it also wasn't exactly what he was looking for, which was rather disappointing seeing that Shadowland was one of the few texts of shadow magic still in existence. But what could he expect from an author he had never heard of before? With another sigh, he flipped the page to the next chapter which… had Severus wondering yet again if he had picked up a badly written novel by mistake.
I. Death as an Entity
My name is Fin Bheara and I have been seeing Death for as long as I can remember.
I was a sickly child and would have died if not for the magical advantages of my father's world and the scientific, technological advantages of my mother's. But Death is not a fan of such advantages, you see; in her eyes—
Severus blinked Her? From his experiences, death and destruction were almost always associated with males while life and creation with females. But then again, the author was claiming that he had seen Death. Severus supposed that was reason enough to switch everything up.
—in her eyes, life is a cycle: you live, you die, the world moves on. To try and deny any aspect of this cycle is to deny balance and to deny balance is to mess with the very framework that holds our world together. And Death is one of the keepers of such a balance.
My parents' attempt at keeping me alive only served to disrupt this delicate balance, which, in turn, caught the attention of Death herself. I still remember that as a young boy, after it gets dark, when the shadows would begin to creep along the walls of my room, I could sometimes catch sight of her. Cloaked in the darkest of black with an ashy-white complexion, the only color about her was the bright green of her sunken eyes.
And later on, when I am at my sickest, these eyes would come to me and whisper sweet words into my ears, lulling me to sleep, to rest, and to never wake up. I learn fairly quickly to associate the color green—the color of fertility, of summer leaves and fresh-cut grass, the color of life—with her. With Death.
Dear readers, do not let your human view of this world make assumptions about the greater powers that walk our earth with us. Have you ever wondered about the different colors behind the magic we are so proud of? Why healing spells are usually blue in color and protective spells white? Why harming spells are red and general spells have no color at all? Tell me, dear readers, what is the one and only spell that is associated with the color green?