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The Friar's Calling

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Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5 v 16

"Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem caeliet terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium."

Brother Thomas murmured the words in time with the priest, his heart swelling with awe at the majesty of God and His works.

"Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum
ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula."

He closed his eyes, to better sense the presence of Jesus, who had called St Francis to rebuild His Church and whom Brother Thomas had vowed to follow faithfully for the rest of his life.

"Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine..."

His soul soared with the words, glorying in the light of Christ.

"...Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
per quem omnia facta sunt..."

His recitation faltered: the priest had fallen silent.

Across the church, somebody screamed.

 


Our knowledge of our history in those times is fragmented, as much reliance was placed on records held by Muggle libraries, which were purged after the enaction of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692. However, we may be reasonably certain that the man who came to be known simply as 'The Fat Friar' was first brought to the attention of the Wizards' Council in the year 1231.

Hogwarts: A History

 

The twilight was scented with herbs and new leaves and the other, less pleasant, smells ubiquitous to all but the most wind-freshened towns. Brother Thomas breathed in the air and the blessed tranquility: only here among his beloved plants was he free from gaping stares or muttered suspicions. He bent down and picked a primrose leaf, crushing it between his fingers. Carefully prepared, it would ease pain and guard against skin blemishes – but he knew it would take all his faith to guard against the blemish on his soul.

He had done penance for the disruption in the church; he had been glad to do so. But he had gained little balm from his confessor, for he did not understand what had happened. All he could remember was the Creed and his joy in communion with his God. Had he been wrong, then, to lose himself thus? Was it prideful, to dare to approach the Lord so completely? Or had the unearthly light his fellows had seen around him been a miracle, a gift from God? And in that case, how could he possibly avoid the sin of pride?

Something rustled in front of him. He stared into the darkness. A man appeared, as though he had always been there and the darkness had merely slipped away like the folds of a cloak. Or a man it would have been, with a thatch of dark hair and a fine red tunic, had he not been illuminated by a faint glow that seemed to come from within.

Thomas fell to his knees, hardly daring to breathe.

"An angel," he gasped. "But I am not worthy..."

To his left, somebody laughed. "Angel? Not likely!"

A second figure, as fair as the first was dark, appeared from behind a tree. The lamp he uncovered cast its light on his companion, who was now wearing a most unangelic expression of amusement.

"Honestly, Will!" said the fair one. "Did I not tell you that was a poor idea?"

'Will' grinned. "But a fine reaction, you must admit."

His friend rolled his eyes. "Next time we're knocking on the door, cloak or no cloak."

Thomas blushed in the darkness, and scrambled to his feet. He had been foolish; he must have imagined the glow on the dark one's skin. He was still unsettled by his experience in the church, that was all. And these two had no doubt heard the rumours and decided to make sport of him.

He edged towards a tree. There was a fine branch lying at its base that would serve him well if the two intruders had a more sinister intent.

The fair-haired man bowed to him. "Please forgive our manners, your grace, and allow us to present ourselves. My friend here is Sir William Peverell..."

"And this is Sir Leonius de Malfoi," the other finished with a bow of his own. "We are at your service."

"D-don't call me 'your grace'," said Thomas, his mind trying and failing to find a plausible explanation for how and why two of the strangest knights he had ever met had appeared in his herb garden. "I'm just a friar."

"A what?" Sir Leonius looked no less confused than Thomas.

"Never mind, Léo." Sir William turned back to Thomas. "But you're not just a- a 'fryer?' You're a wizard!"

"How dare you! I am a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ! I do not practice sorceries; I never have, and I never will!"

The two knights looked at each other; evidently, this was not quite the reaction they had anticipated.

Sir William held up his hands. "Forgive me; I meant no offence. And I would never accuse you of doing dark magic-"

"All magic is evil!" Thomas clutched at the small cross that hung from his neck.

Sir Leonius went very still. "What did you say?"

"Léo." Sir William put a hand on his friend's arm. Sir Leonius shook it off.

"So am I evil because I can do this?" He made a strange movement with his hand, and a ball of white light, the size of a duck's egg, appeared above his palm. "Are you damned because you have the power to do it too? Because from what we've heard, you seem to have demonstrated that ability to half of Oxford last week!"

Thomas stepped back, eyes wide with terror.

"Léo!"

This time Sir Leonius listened. The light popped out of existence. Thomas backed away, still holding his cross.

"Wait! Sir! Er... Brother Thomas."

"Go away."

"You don't need to be afraid of it," said Sir William. "That's why we came – to tell you that you can learn to control it."

"I want nothing to do with 'it' or you," said Thomas, his voice firm with resolve. "Leave me in peace!"

Sir Leonius gaped at him. "You really want to walk away? How can you not want that power? Think of all the good you could do!"

Thomas wrenched the cross from his neck. "Do not tempt me, Satan!" He pointed at Sir Leonius. "By the power of Christ, begone!"

Sir Leonius stumbled backwards, landing hard in a bed of sage. Thomas stared for a moment. Then he fled down the path.

Sir William grinned down at his fallen friend.

"Well. That was fairly conclusive, would you not agree?"

 


Now the preacher stands as a father to those he teaches, for he casts the seeds of the Word out of which they may be given life in Christ. And he is at the same time their mother, for he devotes the affection of his love to the minds of those he teaches...

Robert Grosseteste, 1168-1253

 

The city of Oxford has ever presented a graceful face to the world, but this evening its beauty was lost on Brother Thomas. A summons to see the Master of Students was not to be taken lightly, particularly when one had – however inadvertently – set the whole town in an uproar.

His tentative knock having been answered with a command to enter, Thomas was surprised to see that Master Robert already had a visitor. But as he made to withdraw, he was beckoned in with a warm smile.

"Welcome, Brother Thomas." Master Robert turned to his other visitor, who was toasting his toes by the fire. "John, may I present Brother Thomas, one of my most promising students." He waved Thomas to a vacant chair. "Thomas, this is my old friend, Master John Selwyn. He believes he can help you with your current predicament."

Thomas sat, peering curiously at Master John. He was sure he had not seen him before; with his red hair and beard both dramatically streaked with grey, his was not a face to be forgotten. He must be a visiting scholar, then: a foreign one, by the unfamiliar cut of his scholar's robe. Possibly he was an acquaintance from Master Robert's studies in Paris.

"I must start with an apology, Brother Thomas," said John. "I am told you had an encounter with two of my colleagues a few days ago. They far exceeded their instructions, and I am most sorry for the intrusion."

Thomas stared. The only people he had seen since that day in the church – saving his brother friars, his teacher and the steady stream of gawkers he had glimpsed through the gate – were the soi-disant knights in his herb garden.

Master Robert smiled encouragement at him. "Could you tell John what happened in the garden?"

Thomas looked at his feet. He tried to avoid thinking about that night, but his trust in his teacher lent him the courage to remember.

"I was just checking the plants," he said. "And they... suddenly they were there. I don't know how; the gate had been locked for hours. They must have got over the wall somehow." He clasped his hands tightly together.

"And then?" prompted Master Robert.

"They accused me of sorcery," Thomas admitted. "I told them they were wrong, and one of them-" His voice trailed away. "But I told them to leave, and one of them fell over, and I came back inside and barred the door."

Master John leaned forward in his chair. "One of them fell, you say? He gave me to believe he had been pushed."

"I never touched him!"

"He told me that also."

Thomas gazed into the fire, as if it could burn away the memory and his anguish with it.

"You have nothing to fear, Thomas," said Master Robert. "Master John has heard many tales far stranger than the one you told me. Would you allow me to continue?"

Thomas nodded, still staring into the flames. Master Robert took up his tale. "Brother Thomas told me that your young man offered him magical powers, at which he panicked and commanded the tempter to leave, invoking the name of Christ. But-" His voice shook slightly. "But he said that then he felt a strange power move within him, reaching out to strike. And then the young man was lying on the ground."

Thomas closed his eyes. Could he ever do enough penance for that act? In seeking to repel Satan, he had instead allowed the Dark One to strike through him.

He felt a hand on his arm. He looked up to see Master John, concern etched into every line of his face. "Do not worry, Brother Thomas," John said. "Sir Leonius suffered no harm. And you need not fear for your soul. Gifts such as yours, when newly awoken, often manifest in unexpected ways. When you have learned to control them you will no longer risk hurting yourself or others."

Thomas flinched away. "I don't want to control them! I want rid of them!"

Master John sighed. "They are a gift from God, Brother Thomas. Would you reject that?"

Thomas did not reply. He had little to do with magic, and had strenuously ignored rumours that his father employed a wise woman to invoke favourable winds for his merchant ships. Witches and their works were rightly feared; they were known to cause milk to sour and crops to fail, or to strike good men with the curse of impotence. And this man dared to say that supernatural powers were of God! It screamed blasphemy, yet Master Robert claimed Master John as an old friend. Had his Superior been wrong then, to appoint Master Robert to teach theology to the friars?

Master John slapped the arms of his chair. "You tell him, Robert!"

Master Robert leaned forward to poke the fire. "I trust that you are sincere in your belief, John, and you surely know more of this than I do. And yet... seeking knowledge is one thing. But sometimes you trespass on the Creator's role, and that is more than I would dare."

"You could say the same of the master mason, or the farmer who selects which animals to breed," Master John retorted. "And, like them, I will have to answer for my choices in the end." He looked at Thomas and Master Robert in turn. "You know that I would not lead Brother Thomas into evil. And he will be less likely to take himself down that path if he can understand and control his magic."

This stirred Thomas to speech. "I have done no magic!"

Master John snorted. "Half of Oxford says you have."

"All I did was say the Creed!"

"It seems that you focussed on light, and in doing so filled the church with it," said Master John. "What say you, Robert?"

Master Robert smiled. "You know of my interest in light," he said. "You may well imagine that I've pondered this at length. Was God displaying magic, when He brought forth light, and from it called the world into being? Light, I could accept as a sign from God. But the other thing... that, I suspect, is more in your area of expertise than mine. Perhaps the two are unrelated..."

"But with one coming so soon upon the other, I doubt it," said Master John. "It would be better all around for Brother Thomas to come to me, and you know it."

"I would be sorry to lose him," said Master Robert. "He is a diligent student and the desire to serve burns bright in his heart."

Master John turned to Thomas, who had resumed his study of the leaping flames. "You will be able to serve all the more, Brother Thomas, once you have learned not to fear what is within you. And perhaps you could do us a service, too: Master Robert tells me you have some skill as an apothecary?"

"My aunt taught me a little," Thomas replied warily. His father had never approved of his interest in his mother's family's trade, and he suspected it was partly to remove him from his aunt's influence that he had been sent to Oxford. For Thomas to take vows as a friar had definitely not been part of the plan, and he knew that this latest incident could only worsen his father's opinion of the worth of an Oxford education.

Master John, thankfully, did not share those views. "Well, then." He smiled. "We could use someone with the ability to brew simples and to tend the plants used to make them."

Thomas looked at Master Robert.

"Master John is Master of a School of Magic," Master Robert explained. "He proposes to offer you a place there."

"And you think I should go? I joined the Order to follow God and serve His people, not to learn sorcery."

"I, too, am wary of the magical arts," said Master Robert, "but Master John, I do trust. And there are many ways to serve God. Although in the end it is not up to me, nor to you either, as well you know."

Thomas nodded; he would go where his Superior told him to go. But how could he discuss this with Brother Agnellus?

"I suggest you lay the issue before the Lord in prayer," said Master Robert. "If you wish, we will talk on it further. I can speak to Brother Agnellus for you, if you would like."

Thomas rubbed his forehead, feeling suddenly weary. "Is it far, this school?" he asked.

"Yes," said Master John. "It is far to the north, just over two weeks' ride if the conditions are favourable. If you decide to make the journey, I would, of course, arrange for an escort. The school can be difficult for first-time visitors to find."

"In that case, I suggest you find someone other than his recent visitors," said Master Robert. "Brother Thomas likes to keep his feet on the ground."

Master John smiled. "Have no fear, Robert. I know just the man for the task."

 


The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
   he leads me beside quiet waters,
   he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
   for his name's sake.

            Psalm 23 v 1-3

 

Brother Thomas had his doubts about the escort. At first, he had been relieved to see that his companion for the next couple of weeks matched his own short build; he had always felt slightly intimidated by the towering men-at-arms his father had employed. But now, as they jingled along yet another lonely track through yet another dark wood, he was inclined to wonder whether he would not, after all, have preferred someone with more than a mustard-seed's chance of intimidating any potential attackers.

"Have no fear, good Friar," cried the little knight, as Thomas peered into the shadows for the thousandth time. "What Master John's Charm cannot deter will not survive the skills of Sir Cadogan!"

"Master John's Charm? What mean you by that?" asked Thomas, declining to comment on Sir Cadogan's much vaunted and scantily evidenced skills.

"Master John is a great magician, and it is a great honour to be sworn to his service!" exclaimed Sir Cadogan.

Thomas waited.

"He cast an enchantment on these harnesses; unless we wish it otherwise, we will pass unseen and unheard."

Thomas barely stopped himself from dropping his reins. Instead, he felt the leather carefully, but could find nothing untoward about it. That unsettled him even more. To be able to hide under such an enchantment must surely endanger a man's soul! Thomas felt for the cross around his neck and resolved again to resist temptation.

Or had he already succumbed to it, having abandoned his calling to serve the poor in favour of this immersion in unholy arts? Master Robert had insisted that not all paths were laid by agents of good or ill, so that turning from one that was good did not necessarily mean that the other was evil. Also, he had assured Thomas that Master John was a good man who would ensure that the strange powers that had awoken within him did not lead him or others into harm. Thomas had prayed a silent vigil before the sacred presence in the friary church, and come to think that the recent events might be a sign that he was not, after all, destined to walk the path he had formerly embraced with all his heart. And so he had made his decision.

But still, he doubted.

First, Sir Cadogan had taken him south, to a small square just north of London's bridge. Here there was a market which, Sir Cadogan had explained, was frequented by traders in magical items. Despite himself, Thomas had been fascinated by the brightly coloured stalls, particularly that of the apothecary with its diverse range of herbs and roots both familiar and unfamiliar. But before he could enquire into the uses of some of the stranger substances, Sir Cadogan had drawn him into a shadowy doorway.

He had entered with some trepidation, as this was where he was to procure a wand. He had protested this necessity to Master John by letter, which Master Robert had contrived to send for him. A reply had come, impossibly quickly, in which the Master had explained that a wand was merely an instrument for focusing a person's magical ability and that, far from leading Thomas to do harm, it would be an essential tool for teaching him to avoid it.

Yet to Thomas, a wand sat ill with a monk's coarse robe and stout staff: a reluctance that the pale-eyed proprietor of the shop was quick to observe. Indeed, the wands themselves seemed to echo Thomas's aversion, as one after the other failed to evoke the signs for which Master Ollivander was attentively watching; several seemed almost to jump out of his hand of their own accord. At last, a short oak wand, which Master Ollivander claimed had a core of unicorn hair, responded with a small spark. So surprised was Thomas that he barely stopped himself from dropping it. Master Ollivander was quick to wrap it, press the parcel into his hands and bundle him out of the door, explaining that the Master of Hogwarts had arranged to pay for it as an advance on his apothecary's stipend.

Then, they travelled slowly north, spending the nights in simple inns or under the trees, wrapped in blankets that seemed to repel rain and dew by a means about which Thomas did not enquire. It was not the style of travel he had expected to adopt as a friar; he had not expected to mount a horse again after turning his back on his family's wealth, and every hoofprint seemed to bear him further away from the life of holy poverty he had envisaged for himself. But Sir Cadogan insisted that there was no time for Thomas to beg or work for food and shelter, and his knowledge of which inns served the finest ale went some way towards helping Thomas to adapt.

The ale in the city of York, when they reached it, proved to be warmer than the welcome. They chose to stay at an inn, as Thomas feared awkward questions had they imposed upon the newly established friary. But while the gold carried by Sir Cadogan procured them supper and a bed and the barest courtesy that went with them, it did not spare them sidelong glances or suspicious stares. The hostility abated somewhat after it was established that they were come from Oxford and bound for a destination far to the north, but they were glad to quit the city by the Bootham Bar the next morning.

That night, they prepared to camp under the stars. But scarcely had they sat down beside their small cooking-fire, when they heard a large animal crashing towards them.

"Will the Charm hide us from that?" Thomas whispered.

"I have no idea, my fine young friar!" exclaimed the knight. "But I have no intention of putting it to the test!"

And with that, he heaved his sword from its scabbard and boldly faced the direction of the noise.

Thomas cast an eye over the nearby trees. He judged one or two to be climbable, but he reluctantly reached for his staff.

"Stand fast, you scurvy cur!" roared Sir Cadogan.

Amazingly, this appeared to have some effect. Certainly, the ominous sound of snapping branches had ceased.

Thomas moved to stand beside Sir Cadogan. A dishevelled man peered back at them, running a sooty hand over his sweaty brow.

"Fire!" shouted the stranger, pointing wildly behind him. "Fire at the Netherthorpe!"

"Fire, you say?" Sir Cadogan lowered his sword. "Where, my good man?"

"That way!" shrieked the man. "Down the hill and across the ford."

Sir Cadogan sheathed his sword, turning to Thomas. "What are you waiting for?" he cried. "There may be innocents in need of aid!"

The wild-looking man made to rush away into the woods. Thomas barred his escape with his staff. "And where are you going?"

The man stared at him for a moment. Then, "To get help, man. To get help!"

"But who are...?" But the man had dodged around the friar and his staff, and was gone.

Sir Cadogan was already thrashing through the woods in the direction the man had indicated. Thomas sighed, then smothered the fire, hurriedly packed their pots and led the two horses after him.

There was a fire; the stranger had been telling the truth about that. The night was filled with the frenzied bellowing of beasts running amok. Thomas arrived just as the barn roof collapsed in a swarm of sparks, leaving the walls a dark silhouette against the inferno within. Thomas carefully tethered the horses a safe distance away and ran forward to help.

A large man, soot and sweat running mingled down his face, blocked his path. "There's nowt to be done there," he said in an accent that Thomas could decipher only with difficulty. "May as well let it burn itself out."

"But is anyone hurt? Is the Lord of this estate not here?"

"Him? Not likely." The man spat on the ground. "He's one of them Romans. Never even set foot in the place."

"Are you in charge, then? I have some salves with me that work well against burns."

The man eyed him from toe to tonsure. "Come on then."

Thomas spent the next hour tending to those who had battled the fire; fortunately, none had sustained more than minor burns. Sir Cadogan, disappointed to find that there was, after all, no one in need of rescue, had unstrapped his sword and was scurrying around the fields after some oxen that the oxherds claimed had bolted. Eventually he returned, empty-handed but wearing a glow of satisfaction nonetheless.

They spent the night in the ploughman's hut, and continued on their way the next morning. But barely had they reached the woods when a slight figure clad in leather armour stepped out in front of them.

"Cadogan," he drawled. "What brings you here?"

Sir Cadogan flushed, but drew himself up to his full, albeit hardly imposing, height. "I am escorting Brother Thomas here to Hogwarts, as I am sure you well know, Sir William." He turned to Thomas. "Brother Thomas, may I present-"

"We've met," said Thomas and Sir William at once, for indeed it was the very same Sir William as had invaded his herb garden two months previous. Evidently, those with magical gifts were immune from Master John's charm of concealment.

Sir William grinned. "So, Brother Thomas, you decided to come after all? Congratulations."

"We shall see," said Thomas, who remained to be convinced that it was a matter for congratulation.

"And what brings you here?" asked Sir Cadogan.

Sir William leaned against a tree. "Special assignment for the Wizards' Council," he said languidly. "A special secret assignment."

Sir Cadogan rolled his eyes. "Well, I have an assignment of my own, so if you have no desire to speak to us, we shall be on our way."

"Oh, I never said I did not wish to speak to you," said Sir William. "You were at that farm whose barn was burned last night. Do you know who holds it?"

"Some Roman who has never so much as visited the place," said Thomas.

"I thought as much." He turned to Sir Cadogan. "Did you happen to notice any signs that the fire was magical in origin?"

"No," said Sir Cadogan. "We were too busy helping to save livestock and tend burns to stand around noticing things."

Sir William pursed his lips. "Have you, by chance, happened on any other burning farms in the area?"

"No. Why should-"

"You will be aware, though, that this is not the first such attack on properties that send revenue to Rome?"

Thomas blinked. "Are you saying that what we saw last night is part of a plot... a protest against Romans being appointed to English benefices?"

"More to do with the fact that the Pope is using them to siphon off England's wealth without providing the care of souls that they are supposed to support," said Sir William. "But you seem to know a lot about it."

"My teacher at Oxford oft spoke against it," explained Thomas. "And one could hardly live in Oxford and not be aware of the resentment at the King's preference for foreign advisors. And, too, my father was a merchant; it paid to follow such disputes as could threaten trade."

"And what do you think of it?"

"Hold on, Sir William," said Sir Cadogan. "If you dare to accuse Brother Thomas of involvement in this plot, you will have to answer to me!"

"I think I shall manage to sleep undisturbed." Sir William looked at them both in turn. "The Wizards' Council suspects magical involvement in this latest unrest. So it sent me to investigate, and I found... you."

"This is ridiculous!" Sir Cadogan protested. "You know I cannot-"

"Oh, nobody suspects you, Sir Cadogan."

"Are you seriously suggesting that I..." Thomas gaped. "You dare to question my honour?"

"And he doesn't even know any wizards," put in Sir Cadogan. "Saving you and Master John, of course."

"Peace, my brothers." Sir William raised his hands and took a step backwards. Thomas suddenly realised that he was gripping his staff so that it pointed at Sir William. Blushing slightly, he relaxed.

"I meant no offence, Brother Thomas," said Sir William. "The Wizards' Council expects me to be thorough." He offered his hand; after a moment, Thomas, and then Sir Cadogan, shook it.

"You said that your father is a merchant?" asked Sir William. "I am surprised he did not provide for you more comfortably for such a long journey."

"I renounced all that when I joined the Friars Minor," Thomas explained. "I chose to serve God, not Mammon, and so I own nothing."

Sir William stared, and then laughed. "So you follow a quest of your own, then? I can see why you and Sir Cadogan get on so well."

"Speaking of quests," said Sir Cadogan, "we have several miles to make today."

Sir William bade them farewell, then stepped off the track and disappeared into the trees, still chuckling.

"Why does he not use the path?" asked Thomas.

"Oh, he probably has a broomstick hidden there," said Sir Cadogan with barely suppressed bitterness. "His sort fly everywhere, even for journeys from one village to the next."

"Fly? On a broomstick? You mean... those stories are true?"

"Of course! How else would magical folk get around? You should hear them, expounding on the slow pace of horseback travel! As to which, while I admit that sitting on a broom can reduce a journey by a few days, those few days are sorely needed before the traveller can sit on anything else." He patted his horse. "Give me Flossie here any day."

Thomas nodded, but his thoughts were far to the north. Would they expect him to ride a broomstick, when he finally arrived? How else would magical folk get around? But if God had meant for man or wizard to fly, would He not have given them wings?

Sir Cadogan's hearty slap on his back jerked him back to the present. "Come on, Brother Thomas," said the little knight. "You heard Sir William; we each have a quest to follow. And today mine is to ride hard enough to reach the Hag and Hounds by sunset. We must drink to our adventure!"

"Adventure is hardly something I wish to celebrate," muttered Thomas. But he smiled nonetheless.

 


If Badger take thee to her burrow
Thy feete be firmly on the earth.
Thou fear not work to plough thy furrow
And loyal friendship proves its worth.

            Songs of the Sorting Hat, Vol III

 

The walls of the castle glowed like a beacon in the afternoon light. Despite his misgivings about their destination, Thomas felt only overwhelming relief at the sight. The last few days had been the hardest of the whole journey, as he and Sir Cadogan had pushed their way through trackless bog, eking out their dwindling stores of dried meat while being eaten themselves by the near-invisible but omnipresent midges. Sir Cadogan's descriptions of meals he had enjoyed at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry made Thomas's mouth water, and this alone would have drawn him eagerly through the gates.

Master John was at the door, his hands extended in welcome. Three boys in black scholars' robes scampered up; two led the horses away and the third tugged Sir Cadogan towards a stone-walled passage, bombarding him with excited questions.

"Sir Cadogan is one of the few knights who has any time for the students," said Master John. "Now that they know he has arrived, they will give him no peace." He smiled. "'tis good for both sides: a perfect marriage of eager audience and indefatigable storyteller."

He led the way down a corridor that lay opposite the one taken by Sir Cadogan. "Sir Cadogan stays in the Guest Wing when he visits," Master John explained. "Usually we need to find the right House for new residents before we can allocate rooms, but as you are to look after our herbs, I've given you the Apothecary Master's rooms. They are somewhat small, but previous occupants have found their proximity to the gardens useful."

'Small' was not the first description that came to mind when Thomas saw his new abode. There was certainly space enough for a large writing-table, a long workbench, and shelves from floor to ceiling. Master John caught his look. "Aye, it looks spacious enough now. But you will not be saying that when the place is full of seedlings and dried herbs and inquisitive students."

The bedchamber behind was barely large enough for the bed, on which Thomas would gladly have spent the rest the rest of the evening, had not common courtesy and a rumbling stomach compelled him to accompany Master John to dinner.

At first glance, there was nothing untoward about the sight that greeted Thomas as he entered the Great Hall. The few dozen students seated around four long tables, the chatter bouncing off the stone walls, the pungent scent of mutton and herbs: all this was familiar from the friary. What he had not expected to find was, seated next to his place at the raised staff table, a woman.

He took his place uncertainly. He was no stranger to women: before joining the friars he had played his part in the games of courtship, and he had used his skills with herbs to treat man and woman alike. But the fraternities of friary and university had no place for women, and he had no idea of how he was expected to respond to finding one here. Especially one in the prime of life, with piercing blue eyes, a fine matching gown, and tendrils of glossy black hair threatening to escape from the bronze mesh that confined them.

Thomas swallowed.

Master John came to his rescue. "This is Mistress Wenlock, our Master of Arithmancy," he explained. "Bridget, this is Brother Thomas."

Her status as a scholar, particularly a scholar of a subject unknown to Thomas, did nothing to put him at ease.

She sniffed haughtily. "Not another dyed-in-the-wool Muggle, I hope, who has never even met a witch?"

"I meant no offence, Madam," said Thomas stiffly.

"You meant no offence. But you are yourself offended to find yourself seated next to a woman?"

"Not at all!" Thomas protested. "I just... I am not accustomed to mixing with ladies so freely."

"Oh, I know all about that," she said. "Have I not seen my former fellows, even those less able than I, gain stature in Bologna and Paris and Oxford, while I have to hide my true identity even to correspond with the Muggle scholars?"

"If I have offended, then-"

She sighed. "No more than any of them. One gets so weary of it. Please forgive my discourtesy."

"And mine, if I..." He trailed off at her glare. Had his years in sackcloth really rendered him so incapable of conversing with a lady?

"Look," she said, holding his gaze. "You have had a hard journey and you are tired and I believe that you did not mean to be rude. So I shall say this to you, but I shall say it once only. If you do not learn – and learn quickly – to work with witches as well as wizards, your time here will not be easy. Just look around you." Her sweeping gesture took in the hall.

Thomas looked again at the students. With a shock, he realised that almost half were girls, and of the older students their proportion was even greater.

"Hogwarts has always admitted girls," she told him. "How could it not, when untrained witches pose as great a danger as do untrained wizards? And, while we are refused entry to Muggle institutions, this is one of the few centres of scholarship open to women who have no desire to join a nunnery."

"But is it not... I mean, does it not...?"

"Does it not what?"

Thomas felt himself going red. "Well, unmarried men and women, living in such proximity... Does it not lead to temptation?"

She shrugged. "The temptations of men are their own business. And those witches concerned about such things know well how to protect their virtue."

She poured ale into Thomas's tankard. "But here, I am being poor company to one who is weary. Will you not tell me about your journey?" And she proceeded to question him about every aspect of the terrain over which he had passed, and the weather he had experienced there. By the end of the meal his head was spinning, and it was not from the weak but delicious ale. At the far end of the table, Sir Cadogan had found merrier company, judging by the blasts of laughter issuing from that direction.

After the meal, Thomas wanted nothing more than to retire to his little cell to pray and to sleep, but Master John laid a hand on his arm as they rose from table. "I can see you are exhausted," he said apologetically, "but I must beg your indulgence for one final formality."

He led the way to his tower office, where Thomas sank gratefully into a wide chair. Master John poured honey wine for each of them.

"No doubt Sir Cadogan has regaled you with tales of the Houses of Hogwarts," he began. "It is customary for us to Sort students the night they arrive, usually in front of the assembled body of the school. But as you have arrived alone, I thought it would be easier for you to be Sorted in private."

Thomas nodded his appreciation. Sluggish with fatigue, it was only now occurring to him that the process might involve some form of magic, but he was almost too tired to care.

Master John stood to fetch a large box from a high shelf. "This will likely seem strange to you," he said, "but there is no reason to worry. All we need to do is find where your personal gifts will be best nurtured. But if you disagree with the judgement, it is up to you in the end." He reached into the box and pulled out an old-fashioned wide-brimmed hat. Thomas looked at it blankly.

"This belonged to Godric Gryffindor, one of the four Founders of the school," Master Thomas told him. "All you need to do is put it on; do not worry if it slips over your eyes. Godric was reputed to have a rather large head."

Gingerly, Thomas took the hat. It was just a normal hat, albeit somewhat faded.

"And this will tell you where I belong?"

"I certainly will, young man!"

Thomas dropped the hat; it rolled to the floor. It was not just faded, it was torn; and he could have sworn that the voice had issued from the tear! He had thought such objects existed only in legend, but as he stared, the material to either side of the tear moved of its own accord.

"Well, really!" said the voice. "'tis a poor way to treat a valuable artefact such as myself!"

Master John picked up the hat. "I am sorry," he said to Thomas. "Godric Gryffindor always did have a strange sense of humour."

"I was not joking!" said the hat.

They must have put something in his food, Thomas decided. Or else he was so exhausted, he was seeing things that were not there.

He made no protest when Master John gently placed the hat on his head.

"Interesting," said the voice he could not possibly be hearing. "There is much fear in you, yes indeed. But still, you made the journey, and that shows you have the courage to face your own fears as well as the hazards of the road. You are a good scholar, yet I sense that is not where your true passion lies. You have great dreams, Thomas, though your ambition is not to serve yourself but to minister to others in the service of your God. Yes, Helga would have been proud to welcome you to Hufflepuff House."

Master John removed the hat. "Well, Brother Thomas? Do you agree?"

Thomas blinked. It was as if the object had read his soul – or perhaps his pride. Why did it make no mention of the temptations to which he so often submitted? Of his liking for good food and good ale, of the afternoons when he neglected his studies to feel the warmth of the sun in his garden?

"I cannot disagree, Master," he said. "But I fear the judgement was too kind."

Master John laughed. "And if there was ever a doubt that you belong in Hufflepuff, it is hereby dispelled. Come, Brother Thomas, I have kept you from your bed for too long. Let me show you the way back to your rooms, and I will send someone to fetch you when it is time for breakfast. We can speak further thereafter."

As they reached to the ground floor, Thomas paused. "Could I prevail upon you to show me the way to the chapel?" he asked. "In Oxford I was used to going to pray before breakfast, and I would greatly like to resume the habit." And, he did not add aloud, he would need all of God's strength to face the strangeness of this new world.

Master John tugged at his beard. "A chapel... Let me see. I think you may find one on the seventh floor. I could show you after breakfast, if that would suffice?"

"You 'think'? Is it so rarely used?"

"It is there for those who need it," replied John. "You must understand that among our students we number Jews and followers of older gods. We Christians can seek to lead them to Christ by example, but we do not impose our worship upon others. It is important that we teach the safe and moral use of magic; we cannot take the risk of pushing them away from us completely."

"But... their souls!"

"Have been the cause of much argument within the Wizards' Council over the years, I assure you. It is far too large a topic to debate in the corridor when you are hardly able to stand upright; there will be time enough to discuss it in the weeks ahead."

Thomas said nothing as Master John showed him to his door. How many of those happy students he had watched at dinner were strangers to Christ? He would do what he could to rectify that: was this, perchance, the real reason he had been sent here?

 


Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

           Matthew 5 v 8

 

"Lux."

Thomas focussed on the wand, but nothing happened. Nor had anything happened on his previous twenty attempts.

He tried to hide his relief. Perhaps they had been wrong about him. Perhaps they would send him back to Oxford, where he belonged.

Master John frowned. "Remember, Brother Thomas, the wand just channels what is there already. You need to feel the light inside you, not just say the word."

"But how?"

"You showed you know the answer to that in Oxford. You know you can do this!"

"That was by the power of the Lord, not the power of magic!"

"Then trust in the power of God. The two are not inseparable."

For Thomas, that was perilously close to blasphemy. "It just feels wrong to command what was previously freely given," he said miserably.

"Then do not command. Try asking for the the light to come forth."

Thomas's shoulders sagged. "Ask that the Lord permit magic?"

"Why not? That is the source of your difficulty, is it not?"

Why not? Because He would not so permit, thought Thomas. And yet, the Lord was present here, as He was present in all places at all times. And a vigil night of prayer had prompted him to come here, not stay on his former path.

He closed his eyes, clasped the cross he wore, and prayed. Lord, forgive me if I am trespassing. You know I seek only to do Your will. If this truly be what you wish of me, then let it be so.

He opened his eyes, cradling the Light of Christ in his heart.

"Lux." He spoke the word quietly.

A faint light glowed at the tip of his wand. As Thomas gazed in wonder, the light brightened to fill the room.

Master John smiled.

Thomas did not notice: he was rapt in the glory of the light.

 


Little is known about the years immediately following Brother Thomas's arrival at Hogwarts, and his ghost has consistently declined to elaborate, saying merely that 'There is more wisdom in service than sophistry' or 'It is better to till the soil of the present than to bury oneself in the past'. Occasionally, while watching a feast in which he, as a ghost, can no longer partake, he has also been known to give the sage advice 'Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die'.

Hogwarts: A History

 

Master John's words twelve years earlier had not been misspoken, Thomas thought as he searched for space on his shelf for a bottle of freshly prepared Oil of Yarrow. His workroom had long felt too small, though somehow there was always room for one extra jar.

He turned to clean the residue from his small cauldron, and heard his door creak open.

"Mistress Wildsmith!" He greeted his visitor with a smile, despite himself. He had been right to fear the presence of women: to his shame he had found the struggle against lustful thoughts a constant distraction, although, with prayer and advice from his bemused former Master in Oxford, he had kept to his vows and striven to regard the women of Hogwarts with brotherly affection. But Mistress Ignatia Wildsmith's merry laugh had lifted his heart from the moment she had arrived in his classroom six years previously, and as she had matured, so had his regard for her.

Today, however, her normally-sunny disposition seemed clouded. "What troubles you?" he asked.

She entered the room, closing the door behind her. "I have a request to make of you, Master Thomas."

He smiled. "Surely that cannot be a cause for such concern?"

"It is, if you might not grant it."

"Well, I can hardly grant it if you refuse to tell me what it is, can I?"

She drew in a breath. "Would you accept me as your apprentice?"

Thomas blinked. "That would be completely inappropriate! How can you even ask?"

Her face fell. "I was not aware that you found such fault in me."

Oh, she was right: how could he find fault with one such as her? And knowing that, how could he possibly work with her in the close proximity of master and apprentice?

"You know I do not," he said. "But... I thought your preferred field was Alchemy?"

She plucked at the hem of her sleeve. "I do wish to continue my studies of Alchemy," she admitted. "But the bare elements sometimes seem so lifeless! You work with life renewing itself, over and over; those mysteries are so much deeper."

"And I would be glad of your help," Thomas admitted in turn. "But it still seems to me that you would be better served if Mistress Goldwright directed your studies."

"She has not the time. She has two apprentices already, and soon she will also have a Muggle student who is coming from Oxford to learn from her."

"A Muggle?" Thomas's eyebrows shot up. "Master Black will not be pleased about that." Thomas did his best to avoid the Master of Dark Arts, whose contempt for those of non-magical backgrounds was notorious.

Mistress Wildsmith smiled, as he had hoped she would. "Indeed he will not," she agreed. "So you see, Mistress Goldwright lacks the time to properly supervise my studies. And if I have to leave..."

"No, that would never do," said Thomas. It was not a selfish sentiment, he insisted to himself. The world outside the walls of Hogwarts held few opportunities for women with enquiring minds.

"So, you agree then?"

Thomas ran his hand through his hair, heedless of the tiny white yarrow petals he was depositing there. "What could I teach you?" he asked. "I have still so much to learn myself!"

"And that is why you are a good teacher," she insisted, her eyes shining. "Mistress Goldwright and Mistress Wenlock are so sure of their knowledge, they refuse ever to discuss anything!"

He sensed he was losing the argument, with himself as well as with her.

"I will need to speak with Master John," he told her. And as she gave a cry of delight and skipped out of the room, he knew he would, as well, need to listen carefully to his Master in heaven.

 


He said to a friar preacher, "Three things are necessary for temporal well-being: food, sleep and jest." Again, he enjoined upon a certain friar who was melancholic to drink a cupful of the best wine for his penance; and when he had drained it, albeit with much aversion, he told him, "Dear brother, if you had that penance a few times you would end up with a better conscience."

Thomas of Eccleston, writing about Master Robert Grosseteste, c. 1250

 

The feast that celebrated Thomas's twenty-fifth year at the school was a merry one, helped in no small part by Sir Cadogan, who had contrived to be present, along with several of his fellow knights. Thomas looked out over the Hall, as he had during his first meal there, and found it difficult to countenance that he had once found the place strange. This was a true community of learning: one with all the usual petty frustrations and rivalries of an enclosed group of people, it was true, but also one where minds could roam free, unhindered by concerns of rank or sex or even religion. The world of Oxford seemed unbearably stifled in comparison.

There had been times when he had wondered whether he had been wrong to be so long out of that world, and he had resolved to go back as soon as another arrived who could preach the Word and shepherd the souls of the students. But none had come, and so he had stayed. There was little left for him out there, in any case: his former Superior, Brother Agnellus, was long dead, and his revered Master Robert had recently followed into the next life. The aunt who had bequeathed him her love of the soil lay beneath it now, and the remainder of his birth family had preferred to forget him since he had donned his friar's robe. No, his true family was here: Master John was nearing ninety and moved more carefully now, but still guided the school with a firm but fair hand; Mistress Wenlock's hair had greyed but was, if anything, more wild than ever; and Mistress Wildsmith had grown to glowing maturity as Thomas had filled out with the bulk of middle age.

She was a Master in her own right, now, her researches having prompted Master John to award her responsibility for brewing the simples and potions for which Thomas provided the plants. They still worked closely together, and she attended every one of his occasional classes on theology and natural philosophy, though of late he had oft seen her in deep discussion with Mistress Wenlock.

She drew admiring glances from more than one of the knights, as she led the way from the hall to the Staff Common Room, to which Sir Cadogan had earlier supervised the delivery of a barrel of Thomas's favourite Hogsmeade mead.

"Now, there be a maid who would brighten my days," said a voice beside him, slightly slurred with the effect of several pints of ale.

Thomas looked up, and recognised Sir William. "She is a good friend and a very skilled Potioneer," he retorted. "As you would know if ever you bothered to avail yourself of her salve. Anyone would think you took pride in displaying your scars to the world!"

"Ah, but many ladies find them impressive," said Sir William, a roguish twinkle in his eyes. "Shows them a man is able to fight for their honour."

Thomas laughed. "Well, you will find scars of little help here. I can assure you that Mistresses Wenlock and Wildsmith would merely call you an idiot and insist that they could very well fight for themselves."

"But clever ladies like those would know that Muggle knights do not respect one of my age who shows no marks of battle."

"That, I grant you."

They had reached the common room, where Sir Cadogan, with a theatrical flourish, offered them each a goblet of mead. "So tell me," Thomas asked, "what is the latest from the world beyond these walls?"

"Oh, much the same." Sir William grimaced. "The King still seeks to dilute the provisions of the Great Charter, the barons still seek to prevent him from doing so. Rumours of conspiracy still pop up like mushrooms after a rainy night. And everyone complains about taxes."

"And the Wizards' Council still cannot reach a decision on which side to support," added Sir Cadogan.

Thomas nodded. "Master John mentioned something of that. He is urging neutrality, he said."

"Which will never happen," said Sir William. "Not while Sir Henri claims to have influence over the King, and Lady McMillan spits fury over His Highness's foreign advisors."

"And what of your father's view?" asked Sir Cadogan.

"He fears the autocratic tendencies of the King," Sir William replied. "He is among those who fear that the persecutions suffered by the Jews may be visited next on wizards. But nor does he entirely trust the barons: their allegiances are too volatile. And setting wizard against wizard would weaken us all."

"So he plans to stay perched on the wall?" Sir Cadogan was incredulous. "When we are sworn to-"

"Shhh!" Sir William nodded towards the mead barrel, from where Sir Leonius, who was son to the aforementioned Sir Henri, approached.

"What a serious conversation you look to be having!" exclaimed the newcomer.

"Merely catching up on the news from outside," said Thomas, forcing a merry smile. Sir Leonius had aged better than his friend since that fateful day in the herb garden; unlike Sir William, he appeared not to balk at using salves to maintain his appearance.

"And what of the news from inside?" Sir Leonius asked. "Has anyone bedded Mistress Wildsmith yet?"

Sir Cadogan spluttered. "How dare you speak of the lady in such a fashion!"

"Perhaps you should ask her, if the issue concerns you so greatly," said Thomas.

Sir Leonius merely grinned. "Perhaps I will."

He sauntered away, making straight for Mistress Wildsmith, whom he had soon engaged in lively conversation.

"How does he do it?" asked Sir William, dolefully.

"'tis the French in him," suggested Sir Cadogan.

"And the lack of scars probably helps," added Thomas.

If each of them wondered what had so engaged Mistress Wildsmith's interest, they did not have long to wait. She resembled nothing more than her sixteen-year-old self as she sought out the corner where the three of them had found chairs.

"Sir Leonius tells me he can get the tuber I need!"

"'tis a true fairy story," muttered Sir William. "The hero with the magic root ever wins the fair maiden."

"What tuber?" asked Thomas, mildly affronted that she considered his stock deficient.

"Now, Mistress Wildsmith," said Sir Leonius, coming up behind her, "that is between the two of us, is it not?"

But Mistress Wildsmith was unrepentant in her excitement. "Well, you know Mistress Wenlock has been helping with my research? According to her calculations, we need a tuber with very particular properties if we are to shift the elements just so, and-"

"And Sir Leonius has this mystery tuber?" Thomas interrupted before she could attempt to engage them in the intricacies of advanced Arithmancy, which always made his head ache.

"There is an old peasant woman on my father's estate in France who brews a potion with the properties that Mistress Wildsmith requires," said Sir Leonius.

Sir Cadogan winked at Sir William. "Told you it was the connection with France."

Sir William ignored him, and addressed Sir Leonius. "And you plan to give Mistress Wildsmith this herb?"

Sir Leonius smiled. "I trust we can come to some arrangement. The potential rewards are huge."

"Rewards?" asked Sir William testily. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Travelling powder!" said Sir Leonius, who had perhaps imbibed rather more mead than discretion required. "How long was your journey here, Brother Thomas? Two or three weeks? Even by broom it takes several days. Imagine if instead you could cover that distance in hours!"

"Perhaps even minutes," said Mistress Wildsmith.

"What on earth are you talking about?" Sir William said again.

Thomas sat up straight. "You truly think it can be done?" he asked quietly.

"It would put the inns out of business," said Sir Cadogan, looking alarmed.

"No!" Sir Leonius exclaimed, jabbing a finger at Sir Cadogan to emphasise his point. "We will make the inns' business! Of course, those who do not offer a portal will suffer, but every town and village will need one, and the innkeepers will pay handsomely to host it."

"Just think, Brother Thomas," said Mistress Wildsmith, "even living here, we could visit our families!"

"I am more than happy to remain at Hogwarts, thank-you," he replied.

"Oh, ye of little faith," she teased.

"Do not contract with him, Mistress Wildsmith," said Sir William suddenly. "There are other ways to obtain the root you need. I would gladly-"

"Jealous, Will?" Sir Leonius grinned.

"Indeed not! I just, I feel she should not make herself beholden to you." Sir William gazed tipsily at Mistress Wildsmith.

"Silly!" She ruffled his hair, blind to Sir Leonius pursing his lips behind her. "Do you really believe I am incapable of contracting a fair arrangement? You have been too long among Muggles. Next you will tell me my mind is unfit for scholarship!"

"Come, Mistress Wildsmith," said Sir Leonius, holding out his arm to her. "Let us leave the naysayers to their mead."

"Something has touched their brains," said Sir Cadogan, as they watched the pair of them walk away.

"And if not," said Sir William gloomily, "both of them will be rolling in gold."

 


It was her failure to prevent the split of the Wizards' Council over the Baron's War of 1264-1265 that led to Lyra Black's removal from her position as its Chief. She was succeeded by Barberus Bragge, a wizard whose most celebrated achievement would be the introduction of the Golden Snidget into the game of Quidditch, the prevailing opinion of the Electors appearing to be that politics was far too serious to leave to those who took it seriously.

Bathilda Bagshot, in A History of Magic

 

Over the following years, Sir Leonius was seen more frequently at Hogwarts than he had been hitherto; Thomas grew accustomed to seeing him fly down to the village. Often, he would return on foot, with Mistress Wildsmith on his arm – much to the despondency of Sir William, who had started to visit the castle on the slightest pretext.

"'tis not him, you know," Thomas told him one day, after the knight had stomped in muttering about her radiant countenance. "She always has that look when steeped in her work."

"That is not all she is steeped in," Sir William retorted. "What do you know of women, anyhow?"

Thomas kept his counsel. Mayhap he knew little about women in general, but Mistress Wildsmith he knew better than either of her two suitors.

In truth, he was not eager to see either of them succeed. Now that he stood in danger of losing it, he had come to an ever greater awareness of how much he valued his own friendship with her; he had grounded her fire, and in turn that fire had lit up his soul. But he could see that she longed for a passion equal to her own, and he would not wish to deny it to her, whether in the end she be ignited by the bravado of Sir William or the ever-questing ambition of Sir Leonius.

Sir Cadogan they saw but rarely. His occasional visits delighted a new generation of students, but his face grew increasingly dark when asked about his travels beyond the school.

It came about, one day in the spring of 1263, that Thomas looked up from his work in the garden to catch sight of Sir Cadogan's familiar round figure leading his familiar round horse towards the castle. That evening, Sir Cadogan, Thomas and Mistress Wildsmith took a quiet supper in Mistress Wildsmith's outer room, this being one of the increasingly rare weeks when neither Sir Leonius nor Sir William were present.

"There is going to be a war," Sir Cadogan told them, when their conversation turned to politics. "The King still refuses to accept the oversight of the barons' council, but the barons insist on the rights granted them by the Provisions of Oxford. The Earl of Leicester has vowed to fight, and I am going to join him."

"No!" cried Mistress Wildsmith.

"What sort of knight would I be if I did not?" asked Sir Cadogan "If the King is allowed to rule unchecked, what sort of tyranny might we endure?" He had never looked more sombre.

"You are advocating treason," murmured Thomas.

"Pray do not think I take it lightly!" said Sir Cadogan. "I have agonised over this for weeks! But I am sworn to the Wizards' Council, not the King, and if the Council cannot provide leadership, all I can do is follow my conscience."

Thomas could not reply. He had known his own struggles with his conscience; he was in no position to judge those of another.

They waved farewell to Sir Cadogan the next morning.

"You know he has only survived thus far because the other knights watch over him," said Mistress Wildsmith quietly.

"The support of good friends is a shield not to be dismissed," Thomas replied. "As is the protection of the Lord. I will pray daily for Sir Cadogan's safety."

She smiled. "And I will write to Sir William."

 


Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

            Psalm 23 v 4

 

War did not come that spring; the King capitulated to the barons after the city of London joined their revolt, and peace sat uneasy over the country. But the following year the conflict broke out anew.

Thomas saw little of the knights during this time. True to his word, Sir Cadogan remained with the Earl of Leicester's forces. Sir Leonius still made the occasional visit, but Sir William seemed to have abandoned his quest for Mistress Wildsmith's affections.

Thomas was enjoying a fine May morning when a large shadow passed over him. He looked up from his weeding in time to see a broomstick land heavily just outside the castle entrance. Its rider rolled onto the grass and lay still. Thomas dropped his fork and ran.

The castle doors opened; Mistress Wildsmith raced down the steps.

"William!" she cried, kneeling beside the man on the ground. For it was he, though Thomas would scarcely have recognised their friend behind the hollow cheeks and matted hair.

Sir William clutched at her arm. "Beg pardon," he wheezed, wincing as he tried to sit up.

"How are you hurt?" Thomas asked, casting his thoughts through his stock of herbs and salves.

"No... Just tired... damnable broomstick, begging pardon, Mistress-"

Others were issuing from the castle now. Thomas knelt beside Mistress Wildsmith and put an arm around Sir William's shoulders. "Can you stand?"

"No time," croaked the knight. "Sir Cadogan... hurt... fever." He pulled a pouch from his tunic. "From Léo." He handed it to Mistress Wildsmith; she almost snatched it from him. Sir William closed his eyes and leaned back on Thomas's shoulder.

Mistress Wildsmith glanced inside the pouch. "Where?" she asked.

"Lewes. The Dreaming Dragon"

"A tavern?"

"Where else?" He cracked a ghost of a smile, which dissolved into a coughing fit.

She laid a hand on his shoulder. "We thank you, Sir. 'tis a great deed you have done. But now you must rest."

She leapt to her feet. "Brother Thomas, fetch your bag and meet me in my room." She pointed to a lanky student who stood next to Thomas. "Master Prewett, see that Sir William is taken to the infirmary."

Thomas and Master Prewett exchanged a bewildered glance.

"Do as I say!" she snapped. "And do not tarry!"

She picked up her skirts and ran into the castle. Thomas, his confusion outweighed by the urgency of her manner, followed.

When he arrived at her room, a fire blazed in her hearth. She knelt before it, muttering under her breath. She glanced up as he entered.

"Please, pass me the pestle and mortar. And a knife."

He did as she asked, falling easily into the working pattern they had established in her apprentice days.

From Sir Leonius's pouch, she took a twisted white root and a stone sliver. She shaved half of the root into the mortar, then tapped the stone with her wand. It crumbled to powder; she ground it together with the root. Then she sprinkled it over the hearth and mantle, pointed her wand into the fire and sang out a spell: "Sub-i-un-go."

The whole fireplace glowed bright white for an instant. She sat back on her heels as the orange flames and soot-covered stone reappeared.

"It will have to be you who goes," she said.

"Goes? Where?"

"To Lewes, of course! Sir Cadogan has need of us."

He stared at her. "Lewes is near the south coast of England! Do you know how long it will take to get there?"

She smiled, and held out a small jar. "Not long, if you use this."

He took the jar from her. Inside a silver powder sparkled as if alive.

"Is this..." He looked up, slowly. "You really did it?"

She nodded. "I should have told you before, I know. But we wanted to make some more tests... It works, though. Sir Léo and I have both used it to travel between here and the inn at Hogsmeade."

He gazed at it in wonder; then his mind caught up. "And you want me to use it, to travel across two countries! But that is sorcery!"

"Of course it is sorcery! That is what we do at this school, is it not?"

Yes, of course it was. But he had restricted himself to magic that merely nudged the natural order of things: hastening the healing of a wound; nudging a seedling to grow in the direction he required. He had striven not to trespass on God's prerogative, and this scheme of Mistress Wildsmith surely did that.

She stood and put a hand on his arm. "Please, Brother Thomas. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Do you really think He would condemn you for helping yours?"

There was no time to wrestle with his conscience. In going, he was acting purely to help a friend in need. If he was to be judged for that, he would have to answer for it.

"Tell me how it works," he said.

"Do you remember teaching us how light is the source of all, that when expanded infinitely it generates fire and air and water and earth?"

Thomas nodded. Many times had he pored over Master Robert's writings on light since that long-ago day in the church.

"So I thought, if all comes from light, then all can be reduced to light. And in the sphere where all is light, there can be no solid barriers. So if we link two fires, one where matter creates light and the other where light regains form, we can travel between them, regardless of their physical separation."

Thomas found this almost impossible to follow. Which was, he knew, why she belonged in Ravenclaw House while he did not.

"But what of the powder?"

"The stone Sir Léo sent me is from the fireplace in Lewes; by mixing it with the root, I have used it to link this fireplace to that one. The powder protects you while you travel through the sphere of light, and directs you to your destination."

"Yes, but-" He frowned, frustrated. "You know I cannot grasp the theory in these few minutes! And nor do I need to. You say you have travelled this path and come out unscathed, and I trust you. So how do I use it?"

"My apologies. You sprinkle powder onto the fire. When the flames turn green, you can go. Just focus on your destination, and step into the flames."

He stared at the fire. He was not afraid, but... but no, he was afraid. He was about to walk into a world of fire, and it would have taken a man far braver than he not to wonder if he would find the way out again.

She smiled at him. "I found with Sir Leonius that if I augmented the linking spell while he was travelling, I could make his journey smoother. 'The support of friends is a shield,' you said. Let me be your shield, so that together we can be Sir Cadogan's."

If he delayed any longer, he would delay forever.

He made sure his bag of salves was secure, stepped up to the fireplace, and took a handful of powder from the jar. He returned the jar to Mistress Wildsmith, breathed slowly in and out, and scattered the powder over the flames.

For a long minute, nothing happened. And then he saw a green tinge at the base of the fire, which rapidly spread so that the whole hearth was filled with bright emerald flames.

"The path is open," said Mistress Wildsmith, holding tight to her wand. "Go well."

He nodded. Oh Lord, he prayed, if this is Your will, let me come safely to Sir Cadogan's side.

He smiled nervously at Mistress Wildsmith. She smiled back. "The Dreaming Dragon," she said. "At Lewes."

"The Dreaming Dragon," he repeated. The Dreaming Dragon at Lewes. The Dreaming Dragon at Lewes.

And he stepped into the flames.

 


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Kyrie, eleison.
Christe, eleison.
Kyrie, eleison.

 

Thomas often reflected, in later years, on that terrible journey. How, if there should be no solid barriers, had he received so many bruises? Why, if he had ascended somehow to the sphere of light, had he felt himself spinning through smoky darkness?

The theoretical implications he would leave to Mistress Wildsmith. The important thing was that it had worked: that when at last he had lain still and found he could still breathe, and opened his eyes and found he could still see, his gaze had fallen on a completely different room from the one into whose fireplace he had stepped. A room where a short man tossed fitfully in a bed, and a fair man jumped up to greet him with a mixture of astonishment and awe.

He did not travel by that method again. He nursed Sir Cadogan until he was strong enough to make the journey, then travelled back with him to Hogwarts, making sure to visit as many of his favourite inns as could reasonably be said to lie on their route. Sir Leonius accompanied them for part of the way, and if he was wont to request a private audience with each innkeeper, and if the innkeepers would stare curiously at Thomas afterwards, then Thomas did not care to pay it much heed.

Meanwhile, Mistress Wildsmith was nurse to Sir William, whose strength recovered more quickly from his headlong flight north than did his inclination to remount his broomstick. By the time the others returned, the two had already set a wedding date. They chose to settle in Hogsmeade; by the time of their nuptials, Mistress Wildsmith had started to reap the rewards of Sir Leonius's bargaining abilities, which afforded her the means to build a comfortable house with a small estate and a large fireplace. This she soon linked both to the Hogwarts potions room and Sir Leonius's manor in England, where Sir William stabled a horse for his occasional journeys south for the Wizards' Council.

Sir Leonius, in turn, would 'take the flue' to visit his friends in the north, though his visits became less frequent with the passing years. His family's estates were not so blessed with distance from the centres of power, which obliged him to spend more time in court to be sure of safely navigating the turbulent political waters. For his part, he probably did not regard this as a misfortune; certainly he was usually successful in turning a situation to his advantage. If he was disappointed he had not been so victorious in his pursuit of Mistress Wildsmith, he did not show it. He soon found a wife among the court gentry, with whom he fathered a fine son.

As for Sir Cadogan, he had sustained injuries at Lewes that, along with his increasing age, enabled his friends to persuade him that he could honourably retire from the active life of a knight. And so he avoided the bloodbath at Evesham the following year, and lived to enthral many more students with tales of chivalry, and to enjoy many more pints of ale with his friends.

Brother Thomas continued his work in the gardens and halls of Hogwarts, shepherd to all students but most especially to the Hufflepuffs, whose virtues were so often overlooked by others. He who had never sought to carve out a place in history had, through his teaching of Master Robert's theories, seeded a revolution that would transform the lives of magical folk down the ages. Which only went to show (as he would tell anyone who regarded him with undue awe) that one could never predict the path God would call one to follow, and that the best thing anyone could teach was the will to listen to Him and the moral strength to act on what was heard.

All lives draw to a close, and all tales with them. Sir Cadogan's heart failed where his courage had not, and he dropped dead while attempting a solo re-enactment of the Battle of Lewes for the History students. All of Hogwarts and most of Hogsmeade (including all who frequented the inn) turned out to mourn his passing, and Mistress Wildsmith (now styled Dame Ignatia by virtue of her marriage) commissioned his portrait for Hogwarts so that his spirit and stories would remain.

Dame Ignatia continued to refine her travelling powder; her legacy needs no elucidation. She and Sir William were blessed with several children and many grandchildren, despite the years he had spent astride a broom, and the wealth brought by her inventiveness enabled her to see each of them settled comfortably.

And for Brother Thomas, there came a time when bending to tend his beloved plants became too painful, and at last he had reason just to sit enjoying the warmth of the sun, directing his students in the proper care of plants and by this teaching them the proper care of people. When walking became difficult, he gave thanks for his ground floor room near the garden that Master John had assigned him all those years before. There were days, however, when he was confined to his bed, and then he found it impossible to avoid thoughts of what was to come. He discovered, if he had not known it all along, that his fear of performing magic had been suppressed, not overcome, and memories of every occasion on which he had used his unnatural powers reared up to haunt him with the fear of judgement.

So perhaps he was not surprised to find himself standing beside his bed, miraculously free of the pains of old age, gazing down on his motionless body. Some may speak of death as an adventure to be embraced, but Brother Thomas had never sought adventure. And, too, there had still not come to Hogwarts one who could continue his gentle care for the souls of the students.

Generations of students have passed through the halls of Hogwarts since that time, and many have been touched by his presence. And we may hope that he himself has little regret for the course of his death: though it has been many centuries since he has tasted the pleasures of food or drink, he is often to be found in a sunny corner of his beloved gardens, enjoying his eternal peace in the light.