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Disclaimer and credits will be found after the end of the chapter.
Drunkard's Walk VIII:
Harry Potter and the Man From Otherearth
by Robert M. Schroeck
2. Seeing The Magic Kingdom On Two Hundred Galleons A Day
There's no such thing as a wizard who minds his own business.
— Berengis the Black, in Dog Wizard by Barbara Hambly
Magic is simply the art of getting results.
— "Michael", quoted by Margot Adler in Drawing Down The Moon
Chaos is King, and Magic is loose in the world!
— Robert A. Heinlein, "Waldo"
12 Grimmauld Place, Friday, August 13, 1995, 7:07 AM
My excursion to Diagon Alley the next morning began with a jet of cold water, courtesy of Charlie. He got a head start on his escape while I dug my way out of the mass of wet, swaddling sheets I was caught in, but I beat him to the ground floor with some judicious gymnastics. In the process I startled the girl with the frizzy hair — Hermia, Helena, some Shakespearean name — who clearly wasn't expecting a soaking wet blond American wearing only pajama shorts to come hurtling down the staircase face-first that early in the morning. I redirected myself around her with a grab-and-pivot that took me over the railing — and just coincidentally right onto the fleeing Charlie's shoulders.
I hit him square and bore him down to the ground, grabbing his wand and tossing it to the girl in the process. (She caught it more or less automatically while staring with large, somewhat stunned-looking eyes.) Then I proceeded to noogie him until Molly stuck her head out of the kitchen and coughed portentously at us. I looked up.
"Good morning, Molly!" I sang out enthusiastically, while continuing to noogie a struggling Charlie.
"M'm?" Charlie garbled into the carpet at the bottom of the stairwell. "W'r?"
Molly drew a deep breath, but then paused as if uncertain. I took advantage of the moment.
"Charlie was a bit impolite this morning," I explained brightly. "I hope you don't mind if I discipline him."
Charlie bellowed something into the carpet that I'm sure would have gotten his mouth washed out with soap if it had had more vowels among its consonants.
Molly opened her mouth, shut it, opened it again, shut it again, then turned around and went back down into the kitchen.
Half an hour later I was washed, dressed and — most importantly from a nutritional standpoint — freshly breakfasted. I was also wondering about the wall full of shrunken heads — some variety of fae, I gathered from the ears and the facial features — that I had noticed hanging over the first landing. Again with the creepy.
Charlie was clearly disgruntled, although less because of our little altercation — it wasn't our first by a long shot, and neither of us held any grudges over them — and more because Bill was still chuckling over it.
Bill's earring, I finally noticed this morning, was some manner of fang — genuine, not a metal bauble. That plus the way he affected an outfit clearly modeled on non-magical tastes (leather jacket, trousers, and T-shirt instead of robes), along with the ponytail, gave him a bit of a rakish air. He was taller and leaner than his brother, lending the two of them a bit of a Mutt-and-Jeff look when they stood next to each other.
It took another fifteen minutes to negotiate a peace between the brothers, and then the three of us took the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron — yes, the place where the Headmaster had interviewed me. Charlie had neglected to tell me that the entrance to Diagon Alley was in its back yard.
It was, as it turned out, behind an enchanted brick wall that acted as the gateway. Charlie indicated a specific brick in the wall that one had to tap with a wand before it would open and admit you to the Alley ("Three up," he said, "and two across").
I resisted the urge to make a Pink Floyd joke that only I would get.
"Give it a try, Doug," Charlie then said with a smirk. Bastard. He knew I didn't have a wand yet. He just wanted to embarrass me in revenge for the noogie-ing. I mustered what little dignity I possessed and poked the brick — once with my fingertip and once with the Toothpick still in its collapsed form. My finger didn't do a thing, to absolutely no one's surprise, but the Toothpick did — the wall obediently opened and, chuckling at the brothers' surprised looks (especially Charlie's), I stepped through.
...And into a leftover set from a film adaptation of a Dickens novel. From where we stood I could see what was effectively the High Street of an entire neighborhood, with several smaller ways branching off of it. This was in the heart of London? I could only imagine they had some kind of illusion hiding it, because at the very least it should have shown up on aerial and satellite photographs. Or maybe it was in a pocket dimension, and only seemed to be in London...
I never did find out one way or another.
As far as the eye could see, there were one- and two-story buildings in a variety of architectural styles ranging from thatch-roofed wattle-and-daub to half-timbered Tudor, with the occasional intrusion of early Victorian (positively gaudy by comparison to their neighbors) here and there. Almost all of them had big, broad front windows — some flat, some bay, all displaying wares — and colorful signs hanging over their doors.
The street itself was cobblestoned, though it was hard to see that at first because of the throng of wizardkind swirling around us. While robes were the predominant fashion statement, there was about the same proportion of wildly different outfits among them as I'd seen at the Ministry.
A gentle breeze was blowing, carrying to me the scent of Diagon. The air was redolent with more odors than I could put name to — some sharp and medicinal, some herbal or flowery, and every once in a while, some that were clearly cooking food, mostly meats. To my surprise the miasma of human sweat and accumulated dirt was nowhere to be found, despite the already-oppressive heat of the day; then it occurred to me that if the Weasleys were at all typical of Wizarding families, wizards as a whole were likely far cleaner than their medieval appearances would suggest.
As Bill and Charlie stepped up to either side of me, I could hear the grinding noise of the brick wall behind us closing back up. "So," Charlie said. "Where first?"
"Money," I replied. "Can't buy anything without cash." I dug in my pocket for the key I'd received in lieu of a first paycheck from the dragon preserve. (Or any paycheck, for that matter.)
"Gringotts," Bill said with a broad smile, and I knew he was thinking of seeing his girlfriend.
Gringotts, it turned out, was the only stone building I saw during my entire time on the Alley. White marble, in fact, with big silver doors that had an entertaining threat engraved on them to warn off thieves. Its staff was made up entirely of non-humans — one of the species I couldn't identify in that tacky statue at the Ministry.
Well, not entirely non-humans, given Bill and his girlfriend worked for them. But the public face of the bank was exclusively made up of short, sallow-skinned humanoids with solid black eyes and long, sharp features. Oh, and bad attitudes.
These, I found out from Charlie as I waited in line, were the goblins he had mentioned the night before. They didn't look like any variety of goblins I was familiar with, but hey, different universe.
Once I got to a teller's window, making a withdrawal was simple enough: present key, ask for the desired quantity, endure a small amount of veiled insult, and get a bag of solid gold hubcaps in return.
I resolved to do all my future banking by mail.
Bill had vanished almost as soon as we were inside — no points for guessing where he'd run off to. It had to be young love in bloom if he couldn't wait to see this girl of his until after lunch when he went back to work. I could only hope she felt as strongly about him. And maybe she did, because as I left the teller's window, I spotted Bill emerging from a door marked "Employees Only" with a very attractive young woman on his arm. He spied Charlie and me and waved to get our attention. As the two of us crossed the bank lobby to join him, I studied the girl — platinum-blonde hair, rich-looking robes (I have no idea what constitutes "fashionable" for normal clothes, so don't ask me about robes), very nice legs (what I could see under the robes' hem), and as I got close enough, yes, definitely supermodel-level beauty there. Bill had clearly lucked out, at least in the looks category.
When we got within a couple meters, Bill said, "Fleur, I'd like you to meet my brother Charlie, and Doug, a friend and co-worker of his. Guys, this is Fleur Delacour."
"I am pleazed to meet you both," she said with a strongish accent, holding out her hand. Ah, she was French. Well then, in that case the robes were probably very fashionable.
"Mon plaisir, Mademoiselle Delacour," I said, bowing over her hand to kiss it. Hey, first chance in 48 hours to not shake a new acquaintance's hand, I was taking it. When I straightened up she was giving me a funny look, as though she were a bit confused by something, but then she smiled brightly.
And then I elbowed Charlie, who was standing there drooling, just like Ron had the day before at the simple mention of Fleur. He started, and for the first time in the weeks I'd known him, Mr. Smooth stumbled over simply saying "hello". Having seen him pick up girls with just a smile and a clever line, this was very out of character for him.
And then Bill, who himself was suddenly a little glassy-eyed, muttered, "Fleur, turn it down. You're affecting the customers."
"Oh," she said, "I am sorry." I looked around, and, yeah, Charlie wasn't the only one drooling. We had become the center of attention for just about every male within four or five meters.
And then we weren't, and Charlie was back to normal. "What the hell," I asked conversationally, "was that?"
Fleur blushed and looked away. "I am one-quarter Vila. It gives me ze effect on men eef I do not control eet."
Hmm, I thought upon hearing that. Aren't Vila some kind of Slavic nymph? Interesting...
Bill looked equally abashed. "I wanted to prank Charlie, but..."
"I overdeed eet," Fleur finished. She studied me curiously. "Eet is very strange zat you were not affected, m'sieu Doug."
I smiled, not unkindly. "I'm a happily married man. It takes a lot more than a pretty face and a magical aura to sway me."
Oddly, that seemed to reassure her.
12 Grimmauld Place, London, England, UK, Friday, August 13, 1995, 9:19 AM
It was the perfect opportunity — Professor Sangnoir was out at Diagon Alley with Bill and Charlie. Mr. Weasley was at work. Mrs. Weasley, not trusting the matter to Kreacher, had left fifteen minutes earlier to do some shopping for the next few days' meals. And they had finished cleaning the room left in their care when she'd departed.
Time to sate her curiosity.
As the other teens collapsed into a well-earned rest, Hermione excused herself and slipped down the rear staircase of the Black home and out into the yard. There, parked under the overhang of the porch roof, was Professor Sangnoir's motorcycle.
The professor was an enigma, and Hermione did not like enigmas. He simply did not add up properly, and that annoyed her. A wizard without a wand, who seemed more Muggle than magical (more so even than poor Harry, who'd had no idea the Wizarding World existed until his eleventh birthday), he was still skilled enough, at least on paper, to get hired as a professor at one of the most prestigious schools of magic in Europe. It struck her as all but impossible. To complicate matters, the professor was clearly far more comfortable with technology than the typical wizard, and unlike Mr. Weasley, he actually knew what he was on about when it came to electronics, computers and other modern devices, if the conversations over and after last night's dinner were any indication.
And now, driven by something she didn't quite understand yet, she had come down to study his motorcycle. Resting up against the edge of the porch as it was, Hermione couldn't circle it completely as she'd've liked, but she did walk in a careful semi-circle around all its open sides, shaking her head.
It wasn't new, that was obvious. Its flames-on-black finish, though beautiful and glossy in the morning sun, had dust on it, a scratch or two, and the occasional chip from stones kicked up off the road. The tyres were worn, with mud caked here and there still on the sidewalls. The saddle had several bare spots where heavy usage had rubbed the smooth finish completely away to reveal raw leather; the padding underneath it had molded itself to the shape of its rider through many, many long miles. The plastic of the cargo carriers was scuffed and stained here and there; one "stain" looked more like a scorch such as would be left by a jet of flame.
At the same time, it couldn't possibly be old. No one would ever call her a fan of motorcycles, but even she knew that nothing on the market looked like this, had ever looked like this — all cowls and fairings and huge, fat tyres on single arms instead of forks, long and low and... sleek was the only word that came to mind. But still muscular, somehow. It seemed to have a jet fighter somewhere in its DNA, and maybe a Japanese bullet train, too.
It was the engine that cinched it. Even without being a fan of motorcycles, Hermione knew what their engines should look like — chromed blocks with cylinders housing pistons; carburators and spark plugs and control cables sticking out of them; spinning gears driving loops of chain; grease and petrol and rubber. Not a miniature jet engine out of which grew a drive shaft that shot straight back to the rear wheel, gleaming black on the outside but a pale beige ceramic on the inside.
If the science magazines Hermione read at the start of each summer were to be trusted, no one knew how to make a ceramic that would stand up to the heat and stress of simple internal combustion, let alone jet engine temperatures and pressures. Not yet, anyway. And no one was making motorcycles with jet engines. At all. Let alone jet engines made out of ceramics that didn't exist.
Like the professor himself, it was an anomaly. It didn't belong.
Thus, the fact that there was no manufacturer's logo anywhere on it came as no surprise. The only mark of any kind that she could find was a delicately enameled badge on the pivoting arm that supported the front wheel. It was no bigger than a Sickle coin, and round like one, too; on a chrome background it depicted what looked like a red and white croquet mallet. Hermione raised an eyebrow at that, wondering what it might denote.
Standing up, she leaned in closer to the motorcycle to study its dashboard. If this were a Wizarding-built bike — if such a thing were possible — she would expect to see controls that were cryptic and more symbolic than practical. But though it was indeed cryptic — the tall, broad panel was seamed and hinged like it might unfold or move around — its instrumentation was very mundane. Banks of unlabeled switches, some under plastic covers; dials and readouts and even a small liquid crystal display screen with a tiny keyboard under it! And in the center of it all, a big red button marked "SCRAM".
She had leaned in to study the panel more closely when the LCD panel lit up and an obviously synthesised voice said, in an American accent, "Step away from the motorcycle." She froze in surprise, and looked at the now-active screen. It read, "Anti-theft system active. Response level: 1." The voice continued, "You have five seconds to comply. Please step away from the motorcycle."
Hermione was still paralysed when a pair of hands clamped around her upper arms and yanked her back suddenly.
"You don't want to do that, Hermione," George Weasley said in her ear. She glanced about to see the twins on either side of her, each with a hand on her arm. As they released their grip, Fred added, "If you don't get away fast enough, it'll shock you. Doesn't do any permanent damage..."
"We think," George interjected.
Fred nodded, then continued, "...but it hurts like the dickens." He shuddered. "Trust us."
"Thanks," Hermione breathed, her eyes wide.
"So, what did you find out?" Fred asked, his tone suddenly merrier. "Anything?"
She shook her head. "It looks completely Muggle, but no one in the Muggle world makes motorcycles like that. No one can — it's impossible!" She looked from one to the other. "What about you? You must have been trying everything you could think of."
George nodded. "And then some. But it all comes out the same — no magic at all."
"Not even the trace magic that we'd expect it to have from simply being in the possession of a wizard," Fred added slyly. "Not even background magic."
Hermione's eyes widened again at the implications. "But that's impossible, too."
Fred and George suddenly grinned. "Yes, it is, isn't it?" Fred said.
"But that means..." she began. "That means..."
"That means," George finished with a smile, "that the Defense professor is even more interesting than we thought."
"Oh," Fred added after a moment, his eyes gleaming with mischief. "Did we tell you it flies, too?"
"It what?" Hermione demanded.
Diagon Alley, London, England, UK, Friday, August 13, 1995, 9:40 AM
Well, the next stop after we said goodbye to Bill's lady friend was the main bookstore on the Alley — "Flourish and Blott's", whose mental misspelling from the previous evening I corrected upon seeing their sign.
While the building looked no bigger than a typical gift shop from the outside, inside it was huge — easily the size of a mundane "big box" mega-bookstore, with seemingly endless stacks. Nice trick. The textbooks were on display in the center of the floor near the front door, which was certainly sensible, and I made a beeline for them as soon as I'd spotted the displays.
Acquiring a set of the standard defense textbooks was easy — they were literally dumped into bins, which were lined up in a row from first to seventh year. I just walked along the row and snagged a book as I passed each one, starting with "The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection" by Quentin Trimble for the first year classes and ending with "Advanced Topics in Animation, Conjuration and Invocation" by Crispin Gillespie-Barnes for the seventh-years. I took these to the counter and informed the clerk I was assembling a large purchase, before heading back for the non-standard texts.
As it turned out, finding Remus's suggestions was a little harder. I had expected this — they weren't on the usual curriculum, after all — so, list in hand, I dove into the stacks to begin my search. I was lucky at first — I found "Offense Against the Dark Arts: A Survey of Proactive Self-Defence" by Gilly Mullins right away, and the rather irreverently titled "Hit Them First, Hit Them Hard, Keep Them Down" by Metien la Unuabato. But after that I started striking out — book after book on Remus's list was either sold out or simply not stocked.
I sighed as I stepped around a remainders table holding a hundred or so copies of "Defensive Magical Theory" by someone with the amusing name of Wilbert Slinkhard, marked down to 10% of cover price. (And deservedly so, I decided after quickly skimming a copy — how someone could stretch "call the cops, surrender or hide" into 350 pages and call it a reasonable approach to the topic was beyond me.)
Half an hour's search had turned up only two more of Remus's recommendations: Benjamin Hoddypeak's "Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts" and "Dark Lords, 1750 to 1981: An Analysis of Goals, Tactics, and Weaknesses" by Hereford Lichtsohn. Taking my few finds back to the counter, I stacked them with the other books.
"Did you find everything you were looking for?" the clerk asked as he began totaling up the bill on a scrap of parchment using a quill pen.
"Actually, no." I glanced down at the list still in my hand. "Would it be possible to order the books I couldn't find?"
Still doing up the sum, the clerk nodded. "Oh, certainly. We take payment in advance, and the books will be here for you, um..." And here he looked up at a ticking clock on the wall next to the shop door. "'S still morning, so they'll be here for you tomorrow afternoon at the latest."
Nodding approvingly, I placed the order and made a mental note to come back the next day. As I paid, Charlie and Bill reappeared at my side. Bill shrank my purchases, now wrapped in brown paper and string, and I slipped them into the sleeve of my robes.
Charlie handed me another shrunken package. "Here, picked this up for you at the stationer's while you were busy here."
The miniature bundle was another all-but-anonymous plain brown wrapper. "What is it?" I asked.
"A ream of blank parchment, a dozen quills, a few bottles of ink, a blotter and a pen-knife," Bill offered. "Three bottles of black, two of red." As I slipped it into my other sleeve, Bill added, "Charlie figured you needed some."
"I do. Did. Thanks." I looked up and down the street to either side. "Where to next?"
Next turned out to be a shop immediately adjacent to Flourish and Blott's, "Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions", wherein I selected and was fitted for an entire wizarding wardrobe suitable for an up-and-coming young academic. And the less I have to say about that process, the better. In any case, like the books I ordered, my robes and accessories would be waiting for me on the morrow.
From there we proceeded more or less at random, although we did have an ultimate goal, the last must-visit shop on the itinerary. Along the way I sampled the wares of three or four pushcart vendors selling everything from animated sweets to marinated grilled meats. I poked my head into an ice cream parlor which looked like it had been transplanted directly from Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland. We browsed several of the smaller shops — an apothecary, a pet shop specializing in owls (and I must say I was tempted, as there were some very handsome birds for sale), a second bookstore (even less well-stocked than the first), and a... well, "junk shop" was the only term that did it justice (wherein Charlie and Bill spent an energetic twenty minutes digging through random kipple in search of gods-know-what, simply for the fun of it). Just to name a few.
Finally, we stood before the door of Ollivander's Wands — "Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.", or so the peeling sign out front claimed. Not that I believed it.
I needed a wand. There was no disputing that. Having a wand would be proof I was a wizard and could actually teach at Hogwarts. It didn't matter that I was more powerful and more versatile than just about any wizard I'd met so far in this world except perhaps Headmaster Dumbledore — in this society, a wand meant you were a real person and not a magical creature — or worse, a muggle. It was a declaration of citizenship and a high school diploma and a teaching certification all rolled up in a magic stick, or so I'd gathered from the people around me.
Well, I've never had a reputation for dithering, so despite my doubts and concerns, I stepped up to the door of Ollivander's, yanked it open, and strode in, followed by Charlie and Bill.
Two hours later, I walked out again with nothing more than I had entered with.
Let me start again. I entered the shop — a narrow, down-at-the-heels establishment that did not look at all like I expected the premiere (indeed, just about the only, as far as I could tell) wand shop in Wizarding Britain to appear. Like so many wizarding buildings, it was dimly lit. (And why is that, when every witch and wizard can cast light spells?) A counter divided the small room roughly in half, and a threadbare curtain hid the entrance to a back room.
Every square inch of the walls, save for the doors and front window, was covered with shelves which held hundreds, maybe thousands, of long, narrow rectangular boxes. If I were a betting man, I'd pony up a dime on the chance that each held a wand.
Ollivander himself — an old-seeming man who was painted entirely in shades of grey and silver — appeared after a moment, drifting out of the back room. He immediately greeted Bill and Charlie by name, rattling off the details of their wands like a baseball fan reciting a beloved player's statistics. Then he turned his flat, silver, fish-like eyes on me and said, "I am afraid I do not know you, sir."
Since he didn't seem inclined to shake hands, I gave thanks and kept mine to myself. "Douglas Sangnoir. I'm an American muggleborn." I gave him a winning smile. "In case it's not obvious, I need a wand."
His expression didn't change. "Which is your wand hand?"
Okay, straight to business. I can cope. "I'm ambidextrous, but I prefer to write with my right hand."
He nodded, his expression still changing not a whit, then made a gesture which apparently was the signal for a measuring tape to animate itself. The tape leapt up off the counter and began determining just about all the dimensions and relations of my various body parts regardless of apparent relevance (inseam? really?) while the grey man disappeared back through the curtain.
He returned a few moments later, his arms filled with a selection of long, narrow rectangular boxes. "That's enough of that," he said to no one in particular, but the tape measure suddenly snapped itself shut and threw itself back on the counter as he gently lay his burden there. Reaching seemingly at random into the pile he'd made, Ollivander drew out a box, which he opened, revealing a wand. "Maple, with a hair from the tail of an Abraxan. Twelve inches, a bit stiff, good for hexes and curses." He held it out to me. "Give it a wave."
I took it from him and immediately felt a strong dislike. Not mine, from the wand. It didn't move, but it felt like it wanted to get away from me. Have you ever held a piece of iron in a strong magnetic field, and felt it tug in your grip? That's what this was like, except it wasn't so much physical as, well, emotional.
As soon as I'd registered the sensation, Ollivander said "no, no, that's not it" and snatched the wand from my hand. It went back in the box and the box under the counter, and then he pulled out another. "Oak and dragon scale. Sixteen inches. Unyielding. Best for charms and transfiguration."
This one liked me even less than the first. It actually tried to get away from me when I reached for it. It took a little time to finally pin it down and get it in my hand, but before I could even feel it out, Ollivander grabbed it away from me. "No, no, no, not right at all." He gave me another fish-eyed look. "You are quite the challenge, Mr. Sangnoir."
I just shrugged and said nothing.
He pulled out a third. "Blue spruce and crystallised manticore venom, thirteen inches, supple. Good for..." I never did find out what it was good for, because I was already reaching for it as he started describing it, and damned if the wand didn't leap right out of his hand before I could touch it. He hadn't dropped it, the thing shot out of his grip like a watermelon seed pinched between a thumb and forefinger, and clattered to the floor.
"Merlin!" Bill swore behind me. Ollivander just gave me a blank but somehow baleful look as he bent down to recover it.
Standing up again, he held it out to me once more and the same thing happened — the wand literally shot out of his hand to get away from me. He made a sudden grab for it with his free hand and caught it before it hit the floor again. Scowling — the first real expression I saw on his face — he returned it to its box, before turning a more placid gaze to me. "The wand chooses the wielder, Mr. Sangnoir, but it would appear that these wands do not wish to have anything to do with you." He made a very faint noise that might have been a sigh. "This may take us a while, but I guarantee we will find a wand that fits you."
Well, it took the rest of the morning before he gave up on finding me a wand already made and in his stock. After the first twenty minutes I shooed Bill and Charlie out into the Alley. "Go do brotherly stuff together," I told them as I pushed them bodily through the shop's door. "You don't need to stand here and watch me." Then I turned back to Ollivander, who seemed determined to find a wand that would just stay in my hand, forget about "matching" me.
The process was exquisitely boring and my overall level of annoyance with it slowly built as failure followed failure. Ollivander didn't notice — or pretended not to — and wouldn't give up until he had convinced himself that no wand in his shop wanted anything to do with me. He began muttering about crafting a wand specifically for me, saying things about "exotic woods" and "rare cores" half under his breath.
I reached out and grabbed his shoulder before he could vanish again into his back room. "Hold on," I said, clamping down on my severely-frayed temper. "This is ridiculous. If no wand will work for me, then no wand will work for me, and I doubt creating one from scratch will make any difference." I grimaced at the thought of showing up at Hogwarts without a wand, but if I had to I would. "Besides," I said as I released my grip on his shoulder, "it's not like I ever needed a wand for my magic before."
This got me a raised eyebrow. "No?"
"Oh, no, never. In fact, the closest thing to a wand I've ever owned is this." I dug God's Toothpick back out from the depths of my sleeve and expanded it with that cracking-wood sound it makes when it changes between pocket-size and its full two-meter length. "And I don't use it for spell-casting anyway."
Ollivander's eyes grew wide. "May I... may I examine that, please?"
I shrugged. "Sure." I handed it to him, still full-size, saying to it, "Now you behave. He's not trying to take you from me, he just wants to look at you." This got me a raised eyebrow from the wand maker, but since he didn't get electrocuted or anything, I didn't care.
"If you'll excuse me for a moment," Ollivander said as he stared at the Toothpick almost reverently, then vanished through the curtain into the back room again.
I wasn't concerned. Even if he tried to steal the Toothpick, it wouldn't work — all I had to do was call for it, and it would come to my hand. By flight, not by teleport, which could get messy if my call were urgent — it tended to prefer straight-line paths in such cases and was perfectly capable of punching through stone, armor, flesh and just about anything else not of Celestial origin in the process. (If my need weren't immediate, though, it could and would come to my hand via a more circuitous — and less destructive — path.)
Either way, if (as unlikely as it seemed) Ollivander was inclined to abscond with the Toothpick, he wouldn't be keeping it long.
He spent about ten minutes behind the curtain. He muttered to himself the whole time, too low for me to make out the words, and every once in a while there was a rattle or clatter, as if he were digging through a drawer or toolbox for something. Finally he made an alarmed-sounding yelp, and all the noises stopped, except for the sound of him moving about back there. "Mr. Ollivander?" I called out, slightly worried at the sound of his cry.
He reappeared, flinging the curtain aside and stepping through with the Toothpick in his grip. He stalked around the counter and thrust it into my hands. "Take this and leave my shop."
Reflexively, I collapsed the Toothpick and shoved it into the sleeve of my robe again. "What?"
"You cannot use a wand. No wand will dare intrude on the bond you have with that... staff," he all but snarled. "Its connection to you is so intimate as to be almost obscene. Where did you find it?"
I blinked. "A god gave it to me," I blurted with complete honesty and without thinking.
He looked to the side contemplatively, without losing any of his pique. "It is unique, then?"
I nodded. "So I was assured." I decided not to tell him that while it was the only one of its particular kind, it had been the scale-model prototype for some much larger Celestial weapons.
"Good," he snapped back. "Then I do not need to warn any of my customers against other devices of that ilk." He turned his back on me and retreated behind the counter. "Good day, sir!"
Seeing as that was going to be that, I shrugged and left the shop.
I found Charlie sitting alone on a bench outside. "Hey," I said.
"Hey," he said back. "So, what'd you end up with?"
"Nothing," I replied, dropping onto the bench next to him. "Because of my connection to the Toothpick, no wand wants to get near me."
"Really? Well, that sucks rocks," Charlie said.
"Yeah. So," I looked up and down the Alley, which was a little less populous than it had been when I'd entered Ollivander's. "Where's Bill?"
Charlie chuckled. "He ran out of morning and had to get back to work."
"Ran out of...? Oh, geeze, is it noon already?"
"A little after." He stood and then yanked me to my feet. "C'mon, let's go to the Cauldron. My treat."
"Um, no," I said, following after him as he began striding off down the alley. "I remember what happened the last time you offered to pick up the tab at a pub."
"Relax," Charlie called back over his shoulder. "There won't be any trolls in the Cauldron. I swear."
After a slightly late lunch we Floo'ed back to 12 Grimmauld — it was getting easier for me to enter the Floo with each use — and decamped in the kitchen with a couple cold bottles of butterbeer. (I discovered I was already developing quite a taste for the stuff, but then I'd always had a weakness for butterscotch, particularly butterscotch pudding.) My purchases had been dumped in my room, with the books unshrunk and everything else left pocket-sized.
Wanting neither to advertise the Toothpick nor badmouth a local, I chose not to discuss my time in Ollivander's shop while we ate at the Leaky Cauldron. But now, back in the privacy of Grim Old Number 12, I dumped my confusion and annoyance and, yes, a bit of fear for my new employment all on Charlie. He said nothing through most of it, limiting himself to vaguely affirmative and "please go on" noises until I started running out of steam.
"You're over-thinking this, Doug," he said, taking a pull on his butterbeer. "You don't need a wand to prove anything to anybody. The stuff I've seen you do wandlessly — you know half the crew at the preserve swear that you must be Merlin reborn? And not just when they're pissed?"
"Half the crew at the preserve are idiots," I grumbled, and Charlie laughed.
"Well, yeah, but that's not the point!" He gestured broadly with his bottle. "The point is, who cares that no wand at Ollivander's will have anything to do with you? Do the lightning thing, or the hurricane thing, or, or, or the other thing, and no one will give you any shite. Merlin's bloody beard, magic without a wand is the mark of a powerful wizard. All you have to do is tell them you're just so powerful you can't use a wand."
I snorted. "Wouldn't be far from the truth, Charlie. Compared to the mages back home, your people are pretty underpowered. Compared to me, too, even though by home's standards I'm practically a cripple." Well, that was exaggerating the case a bit, but still, there were mages and archmages who looked down on me as having the magical equivalent of Tourette Syndrome. (Usually the same ones who got mil-spec migraines around me.)
Charlie laughed and hoisted his butterbeer. "Well, here's to the most powerful cripple in the whole damned Wizarding World!"
I couldn't help it — I laughed, too, and clinked my bottle against his. "Hear, hear!"
"Did we hear you right, Professor?" A Weasley twin seemed almost to materialize out of nowhere. "You can't use an Ollivander wand?"
"Perhaps we can be of assistance," said the other, appearing just as suddenly. He drew from his sleeve a long, slender, sculpted stick — a wand not unlike any of the hundreds that Ollivander had tried to force on me.
I looked at Charlie, who just smiled and quirked an eyebrow at me. I looked back at the twins. Despite knowing their reputation, I was curious. "Okay," I said, reaching for it. "I'll bite." Unlike Ollivander's wares, it did not attempt to avoid me. I was able to wrap my fingers around it and hold it tightly, with no indication it was trying to escape my grasp. I nodded, then looked back up at the two. "Well, either it likes me, or it's a dud."
"Give it a try," Charlie said, with a bit more good cheer in his voice than I liked. Odds were, then, that this was some kind of practical joke.
Oh, what the hell. Might as well be a good sport. "All right, here goes." I held up the wand, pointed it toward the ceiling, and incanted, "Lumos!"
The wand writhed and expanded in my hand, turning into a rubber chicken which I was holding by the legs. As I started chuckling, a marble-sized ball of light barely brighter than a candle flame shot out of the open beak to hover in the air above me.
Well, whaddaya know. I could cast spells the wizarding way. Well, at least one spell.
When I stopped chuckling, I turned back to the twins, saying, "I like it, boys. How much do you want for it?" Then I realized they were wearing identical poleaxed expressions.
"Bloody hell!" one swore in a soft voice.
"It's only supposed to turn into a chicken," the other said. "It's not supposed to be a real functioning wand, too."
"It's the latest model of the gag wands we're making for the joke shop we'll be opening after we get out of Hogwarts," the first explained.
"Well, either way it's damned fine work, you two," I said. "I mean it, I'll buy this off you. Hey, Charlie," I asked as I dug in my sleeve for my money bag. "What's old Ollie usually charge for one of his magic sticks?"
Charlie took a long, slow drink from his bottle. "Mm. Anywhere between six and fifteen galleons, as I recall, depending on the materials."
"Cool." I laid the chicken on the table before me. It promptly turned back into a wand. Smiling, I shook my head and opened up the pouch. "So, boys, what do you say, 30 galleons? Fifteen for the wand, fifteen for the chicken?"
"Deal!" they said in unison, and I dutifully counted out thirty gold doubloons into their eager little hands.
"Now don't spend it all in one place," I joked.
"Oh, no," one said.
"We have two places we want to spend it," the other said.
"Well, good," I said, nodding approvingly. "As long as you're spending wisely."
"Who, us?" Again in unison, with big toothy smiles. They bowed, and one said, "A pleasure doing business with you."
"Likewise." I turned back to Charlie, then thought of one more thing. "Hey, guys, just out of curiosity, what's this wand made of?"
They glanced at each other, grinned, then looked back at me.
"Balsa wood," one said, imitating Ollivander's monotone almost exactly. "Eleven inches, brittle..."
"...with an ear-hair from a house-elf for the core," concluded the other. "Good for transfiguring itself into a chicken."
"Among other things," I noted. "Guys? Thanks."
"You're welcome, Professor," they chorused.
"Hey. Until September first, guys, you can call me Doug."
The British Ministry of Magic, London, UK. Friday, August 13, 1995, 3:19 PM
"Cornelius, we have a problem." Dolores Umbridge's sickly-sweet voice preceded her pink-clad bulk into the office of the Minister of Magic. She really did bear an unfortunate resemblance to a toad, Fudge thought, not for the first time, but she was so terribly efficient, and so unswervingly loyal.
"What is it, Dolores?" he asked as she maneuvered her broad, squat form around a pair of chairs and into position in front of his desk.
Senior Undersecretary to the Minister Dolores Umbridge glanced at the sheet of parchment in her pudgy fingers and frowned. "I've just gotten word that Dumbledore's found another potential Defence professor. A Muggle-born, yet," she added in a disgusted tone.
"Drat!" Cornelius swore. "I suppose it would be too much to hope for that this one changes his mind like the others? We need to get you into Hogwarts to quash Dumbledore and Potter's sedition."
Dolores smiled — a wide, false smile that only exacerbated her toad-like appearance. "I'll have one of my people talk to this..." She consulted the parchment again. "...Douglas Sangnoir and explain to him how it would be in Wizarding Britain's best interests if he were to resign his position."
Cornelius nodded rapidly. "Good, good, I'm sure the man will see reason. I leave it in your hands, then." He returned to the papers on his cluttered desk. Umbridge watched him through slitted eyes for a moment before slowly turning and navigating her massive form back out of the office.
And if he doesn't see reason, Umbridge thought smugly as she closed the office door behind her, they will make him see reason, or ensure he's never heard from again.
12 Grimmauld Place, Friday, August 13, 1995, 4:11 PM
They hadn't intended to spy, not at all, but Ginny had noticed Professor Sangnoir in the back yard as they'd worked on one of the second-floor bedrooms. He was in jeans and a T-shirt again instead of robes, and it looked like he was... dancing? She'd brought this to Hermione's attention, and when the older girl had joined her at the window, she said, "Oh, he's practicing martial arts!"
This had then required that Hermione explain what martial arts were to Ginny, who found the idea fascinating. "Do you think he'll be teaching us some?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Hermione replied absently as she watched Professor Sangnoir's inhumanly graceful movements below. "It's the sort of thing that takes years and years to learn."
"Oh." Ginny was silent for a moment. "What's that on his shirt?"
Hermione peered down at the yellow and red emblem which graced the front of the professor's blue T-shirt. "Oh, that's the Superman symbol!"
Ginny turned to her quizzically. "What's Superman?"
This question led to Hermione explaining to her, not entirely successfully, Superman and the very concept of a superhero. At least the Wizarding World has comic books, Hermione thought, so I don't need to explain those. "Of course, it's all fiction," she concluded. "Kind of like modern versions of the old Greek myths."
"Mm-hmmm," Ginny acknowledged absently. Throughout Hermione's explanation, neither had stopped watching Professor Sangnoir's practice. "Oh, hey, Hermione, he's taking something out of that holster you mentioned yesterday."
"What is it?" Hermione peered intently. "It looks almost like..."
Ginny never found out what it looked almost like because at that moment there was a sound like wood cracking, clearly audible even through the glass on the second storey, and suddenly Professor Sangnoir was holding a quarterstaff of a pale blond wood.
"Whoa," Ginny breathed, as Hermione murmured, "Oh, my."
"What's 'Oh, my'?" Ron appeared behind them, followed by Harry. "Oh wow!"
Down in the back yard below, Professor Sangnoir began to swing the quarterstaff through what was obviously a mock combat. As the professor's movements slowly ramped up until the staff was little more than a blond blur, Harry realised it wasn't unlike the shadowboxing his cousin Dudley sometimes engaged in. He thought he could almost see the imaginary opponents that the professor was fighting — there, there he'd ducked under an attack; there, that was his counterstrike, he'd knocked his enemy off his feet with a sweep of the staff; and there, that...
Harry swallowed hard, then narrowed his eyes. That had to have been a killing blow — a strike to the throat of a fallen foe followed by a smash to the temple. And the professor had not hesitated for a moment to make it.
At the moment he realised that, the professor stepped back and swung his arm out to his side with the staff held vertical. With a crack, the staff disappeared.
"Wicked!" Ron whispered, almost reverently. Harry said nothing, and just kept watching. The professor still held something in his right hand, Harry realised, and he slid it smoothly into the oddly-shaped leather holster on his belt. Then he walked over to his motorcycle, opened one of the cases mounted over its rear wheel, and reached in to withdraw...
"What's that?" Ginny asked.
"I think..." Hermione began, then stopped as the professor stepped back and drew a length of gleaming steel from the black lacquered sheath that had hidden it. "It is! It's a katana!"
"A what?" Ron asked, unable to tear his eyes from the sight below.
"A samurai sword," Harry murmured. "From Japan." He'd once caught a glimpse of a badly-dubbed Japanese movie that Dudley had been watching one Sunday afternoon. An Oriental man in strange black armor had cut down dozens of enemies in seconds using a sword just like the one in the professor's hands.
Like the staff before it, the professor's sword became little more than a shining blur, at times moving so quickly that he seemed to be surrounded by floating sheets of curved steel that flickered in and out of existence around him. Again Harry found that he could almost see the opponents facing the professor, could count each one as they fell to the all-but-invisible blade, could see their blood spraying across the yard to paint bright crimson arcs across the high stone walls that separated it from the neighbors on each side.
And then, with a suddenness as shocking as his speed, he stopped. The professor slid the sword through a cloth that appeared between his thumb and forefinger — Wiping off the blood! Harry realised — before inserting it, bare, into his belt, all with one single graceful motion.
This man is dangerous. The thought came to him unbidden. Harry tore his gaze away from the back yard to look at his friends beside him. Their eyes were wide, and they were breathing heavily, almost panting, as though they had taken part in the activity they had just witnessed. And so was he, he realised belatedly.
"Bloody hell," Ron said after a moment.
"I think..." Harry started hoarsely, then stopped and licked his dry lips. "I think we may have a decent Defence professor this year."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Ginny said offhandedly. "He doesn't seem all that impressive to me."
Harry stared at her disbelievingly until she began to giggle. "Okay," she said, "maybe he is."
"Bloody hell," Ron repeated, and Hermione elbowed him. "Ouch! Dammit, Hermione..."
Hermione rolled her eyes, then turned her attention back to the window. "That was amazing," she said. "I've never seen anyone move like that, even with magic. That's just not humanly possible!"
"Well, obviously it is," Ron pointed out. "We just saw it."
"Maybe he's one of those superheroes you were telling me about," Ginny offered, giggling again.
Hermione hmphed. "Don't be silly." Then she tilted her head. "That's strange."
"What is?" Harry asked, following her gaze back to the yard below and the professor, who was returning the sword, now back in its black sheath, to the box on his motorcycle.
"He's not soaked with sweat," Hermione murmured, then looked back up at them. "His shirt's barely damp, his hair is just a little mussed, and he's certainly not moving like he's just finished a long workout. That's... that's just not possible." She shook her head. "And you know, that's not the only odd thing — have you noticed, ever since he got here, Mrs. Black's portrait hasn't gotten upset once? You'd think that when Charlie and Professor Sangnoir arrived yesterday and we all piled into the front hall it would have set her off, but there wasn't a peep out of her! And he tackled Charlie practically in front of her this morning — nothing!"
"And Kreacher's been hiding ever since he got here," Harry mused, frowning. "At least I haven't seen him hobbling about and muttering in almost two days."
"So... what?" Ron asked. "You think that means there's something strange about Professor Sangnoir?"
"When hasn't there been something strange about a Defence professor?" Ginny asked rhetorically.
"I guess," Harry said slowly, his brow furrowed, "the question is whether it's a good strange or a bad."
12 Grimmauld Place, Saturday, August 14, 1995, 9:21 AM
The next morning I slept in slightly, having stayed up a bit late to read the first through fourth year defense texts. Besides, my days were wide open for almost another week, and I had no particular reason to be anywhere in a hurry.
I eventually wandered down to the kitchen after washing up and dressing (today's T-shirt: "Kinetic Energy: Pass It On!") to find that of the adults who actually lived in the house, only Molly was around, bustling about the kitchen and ready to serve me a very British breakfast. I had barely entered when she sat me down at the table and set a plate in front of me, loaded down with a classic fry-up — toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, grilled tomato slices, mushrooms and potato cakes. A moment later, orange juice and tea joined it.
I blinked. "Whoa. Thank you, Molly."
"Eat up, dear," she said amiably, and I dug in, after snagging a newspaper left at the end of the table to read as I did so. From the odd hue of the paper in the kitchen's low light I thought it might be the "Financial Times", but it turned out to be a wizarding newspaper called the "Daily Prophet". I paged through it as I ate, more for the sake of having something to look at than out of any need to catch up on wizarding current events. Like most everything else wizarding, it looked about a hundred years out of date, between its typography and its graphic design. If it weren't for the story subjects and the animated photos — a nice trick which I needed to learn and bring back home — it wouldn't have looked out of place in the American Old West.
Hm. I'd have to catch a game of this "Quidditch". From the action shots in the sports section, it looked rather interesting.
When I finished eating, I insisted on cleaning up after myself over Molly's objections, thanked her again for cooking for me, and let her know that I would be heading back out to Diagon Alley in case anyone needed me.
Half an hour later I was back on the Alley, dressed once more in the robes I'd borrowed from Charlie (for hopefully the last time). The weather was still sunny and broiling, but the robes had some kind of comfort charm on them, so while my face was hot, my body wasn't. It made the day that much easier to cope with.
Even though it wasn't noon yet, I checked on my order at Flourish and Blott's. I was pleased to discover it was waiting for me behind the counter; having prepaid, all I needed to do was claim it. It took a couple tries with my wand/rubber chicken, but I managed to shrink the bundle down to a manageable size and stash it in my sleeve. (Any insinuation that I enjoyed the bug-eyed look on the clerk's face as I waved that chicken around is absolutely false. I swear it.)
After that, I spent almost an hour browsing those parts of the shop which I had ignored the day before. I had decided during my perusal of the "Daily Prophet" that I needed more cultural context in order to function in this society, and that's what I went looking for — books of history, sociology (or what passed for it here), even popular fiction. Anything that would give me a picture of what a native member of the wizarding world was expected to know and how they were expected to act.
I ended up with another armful ranging from hand-sized volumes of folk tales (I'd need to look into this Beedle and see if there were more of his works about) to large scholarly tomes. I passed over more of my gold and did another chicken dance to shrink the new brown-paper package I got in exchange.
I then poked my head into Madam Malkin's next door, and learned that my new wardrobe would be another couple hours yet before it was ready. That unexpectedly left me at loose ends. Not yet being hungry enough to want lunch (after Molly's breakfast? You must be kidding!), I decided to browse the entire Alley once more, focusing this time on the places we'd overlooked or passed by the day before.
And I'm glad I did, because I discovered this little hole-in-the-wall shop that sold all manner of magical devices. I spent an hour and a couple hundred galleons in there, picking up a bag of toys — some of which were for my defense classes, and some of which were because I'm an immature individual with too much money and too little impulse control, prone to going, "that's cool! I want it!" I made that shopkeeper's day, I'll tell you.
Well, another storm of chicken-waving, and my sleeves got a little heavier. Then it was back out on the street.
A tanner's shop caught my eye next, and I spent a good quarter-hour or so browsing there. In addition to the more mundane hides and leathers, the tanner also stocked more exotic wares — such as dragon skin. This line of products I studied most carefully, and I ended up debating with myself the virtues of buying a local set of armor. I was tempted, but in the end I decided not to. The only thing I did buy was a wand holster that strapped to my arm. At eleven inches, my wand just barely fit along the inside of my forearm; it wouldn't be the most comfortable accessory, but the wand's construction was so fragile that I didn't want to risk just shoving it into my belt or sleeve pocket any longer than I absolutely had to.
I left the shop wearing the holster on my left arm, with my wand (naturally enough) securely inside it. By this point I actually felt like I could eat lunch, so off to the Cauldron I went.
It was on my way to the Cauldron that I realized that I was being followed. It was hard not to — my tail was a pair of burly wizards in black robes who stalked me with all the care and subtle tradecraft of a drunken bull. Their every motion in passing through the crowd behind me amply demonstrated that to them, stealth was a concept that applied only to other people.
In a culture with Disillusionment spells and invisibility cloaks, this is how the two of them decide to follow someone? Feh. Amateurs.
Gods save me from having to deal with freakin' amateurs.
So I ignored them and headed into the Cauldron as I'd intended. To my vast surprise, they had at least enough sense to not follow me in. This allowed me to enjoy the leisurely lunch I'd been looking forward to. (I like pub grub, even vaguely medieval pub grub. What can I say?)
An hour or so later I stepped back through the brick gate, and sure enough, Frick and Frack were still lurking about. They were very obviously loitering several doors up the Alley — not close enough to loom directly over the gateway to the Cauldron, but not far enough away to be credible, either. I pretended not to see them jerk to attention when they finally noticed I was back in the Alley.
Well, you know, if they were that dedicated (for lack of a better word) I should be nice and find out what they wanted. Of course, large burly types in black who clumsily stalk people rarely want to sell them girl scout cookies or solicit donations to the old sailors' home, but hey, you never know. People are complicated, sometimes they surprise you.
I certainly planned on surprising them.
Pretending that they had the finest of invisibility cloaks draped over their imposing frames in exactly the right way as to make them absolutely undetectable, I strode right past the bulky pair, just to make sure they caught the scent. Then I strolled down the street — slowly, so they could keep up without having to shove too many other pedestrians out of the way — until I found a narrow gap between two of the shops. Too narrow to really be called an alley in its own right, it was nothing more than the bare minimum space between two buildings that didn't share a wall. I followed it for several meters, and smiled when I realized that it had a zig-zag in it, where one building widened and the other narrowed accordingly. But not to the same degree, which resulted a small dead-end cul-de-sac about two meters across and three long just past the zig-zag.
Making my way up to the roof level was laughably easy, and once there I perched, gargoyle-like, right on the edge of the narrower building. And waited.
Sure enough, those two masters of stealth followed me right on in, and kept on going until they hit the dead end. Like normals, they didn't think to look up. But unlike normals, they didn't get confused at my disappearance — I heard one of them growl, "'E must 'ave disapparated."
Taking that as my cue, I dropped down off the roof into the mouth of the cul-de-sac, and asked, "Can I help you gentlemen?" With their bulk and their hoods up, they had a distinctly bearlike appearance up close.
They spun in place, managing to fumble out their wands as they did. "'Ere, now, you Douglas Sang-noyer?" the bigger of the two (which wasn't by much) ground out.
I perked up as if surprised by a realization. "Why, yes! Yes, I do believe that I am!"
"Well, me friend and me're here t' let y' know that yer goin' t' quit bein' a perfesser at Hogwarts if y'know what's good fer ye," Papa Bear continued. Wow. More than ten words in a row. I was impressed.
I didn't let it show. I just put on an elaborately confused expression. "And if I don't?"
He raised his wand. "Me friend and me, we're goin' t'make sure y'know what's good fer ye."
Baby Bear nodded his hooded head and raised his wand, too.
"Oh, dear," I said, making big, sad puppy-dog eyes at them. "And I was so hoping it was going to be girl scout cookies, too."
About a minute or so later, I exited the narrow little gap between the two buildings, wiping my hands on my robes. Gonna have to wash these before I give them back to Charlie, I thought despite the very recent "scourgify" I'd applied to them. Oh, well.
Whistling, I walked back down the Alley toward the Cauldron until I came upon Madam Malkin's again. I stepped inside, discovered that my wardrobe was ready for me, and determined that my day's excursion to Diagon Alley was finally at an end.
12 Grimmauld Place, Sunday, August 15, 1995, 8:41 AM
I managed to make it to breakfast in the dining room with the entire household on Sunday morning. With nearly a dozen people present, it was served (obviously enough) family-style, which is quite an impressive sight when the family in question is entirely magically active. Platters and serving bowls would hover over the table, directed by wand to whoever wanted their contents next. Pitchers of beverages would spontaneously fill themselves and then fill glasses, which would march across the table as needed. Dirty dishes would vanish, only to be replaced by clean ones (or perhaps the same ones, near-instantly washed and dried).
It was like eating at a restaurant run by Mary Poppins, Phoebe Figalilly, and Nanny McPhee. Without perky songs written by the Sherman Brothers.
Arthur was at one end of the table, the morning's copy of the "Daily Prophet" in one hand, a tea cup in the other. "Merlin's beard!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Would you listen to this? Two known Dark wizards were found just off Diagon Alley yesterday afternoon, bloody, unconscious and beaten nearly to death. They'd been left propped up in a sitting position against the wall of a shop, and..." He looked up, stunned. "Their left hands were held up above their heads by their wands, which had been driven through their palms and into the side of the building."
While an impressive hubbub erupted among the younger set, Molly set upon Arthur, smacking him (lightly). "Arthur, you know better than to read something like that at the table!"
Charlie snatched the paper out of his father's hand before his mother could, and found the article. "Huh. The Ministry is refusing to comment, but before the Aurors got there a huge crowd gathered to get a look at them." He looked up and caught my eye. "Doug, you were in Diagon Alley yesterday afternoon. Did you see anything?"
I shook my head. "Nope, I didn't see any crowd. That must have happened after I left." Charlie gave me a "don't bullshit me" look, but didn't say anything else. And while he was focused on me, Molly yanked the paper out of his hand and vanished it with a wave of her wand.
"No more news at the breakfast table!" she declared.
"But Molly!" Arthur pleaded as the children laughed, and Charlie gave me a look that told me he knew exactly who had nailed a certain two thugs to a wall.
The rest of my week at 12 Grim was rather dull compared to those first few days. I saw Dumbledore once more, and met a few more members of the Order of the Phoenix when the core group assembled for a meeting in the kitchen. (At least I hoped it was the core group; gods help them if that was their total number.) Dumbledore invited me in and introduced me, explaining that I was a new "ally" of the Order who had offered to train anyone who wanted it.
One of the cadre, a walking advertisement for homemade prosthetics named Alastor Moody, spent all of his time in my presence examining me rather thoroughly with an obviously magical replacement eye. He grunted and nodded approvingly when I raised an eyebrow at him, so I suppose I must have passed muster somehow. In return I ran a tactical on him and decided that, regardless of his power level and missing body parts, he would be a tough nut to crack if I ever had to face him in combat.
The rest of the group weren't nearly as impressive as a whole. The adult Weasleys, including Charlie and Bill, were there — nice people, but Arthur and Molly weren't soldiers. The big black guy, who was one of the wizard cops, seemed more than competent enough. The polymorphic klutz, the malodorous rag-and-bone man, the random housewives and the little nervous guy, though — none of them struck me as a particularly promising core around which to form a militia. Sure, they had what amounted to heavy artillery in the form of Dumbledore, but... oy.
Oh, and there was the hook-nosed goth wannabe, the sneer that walked like a man. He looked like a teenager who'd been forced to visit an elderly maiden aunt whose only topic of discussion was her cats. What was up with him?
I suppressed a sigh, made my greetings, memorized names, and left the meeting as quickly as I could politely do so. I was already regretting my offer to help them — I'd still do my best, but they really weren't the kind of force that could profit from my expertise.
Well, aside from that promising little encounter, my remaining days at 12 Grim were simple. I split my time between roving through (and memorizing locations in) both mundane and magical London with Charlie, talking motorcycles (and a few more personal topics) with Sirius, and devouring all the defense texts I'd bought. I camped out in the room they'd given me, playing null-power songs and instrumentals on my helmet's external speakers, and tried to get through at least a couple books a day. As I did so, I kept an ordinary spiral-bound notebook to hand and jotted down significant points, useful spell incantations, and most importantly ideas for my syllabus. Well, syllabi, really, since I had to do up seven, one for each class year.
I have to say I liked the standard texts — they were well-written, took the time to establish the foundations for each major point they covered, and had sufficient exercises and self-quizzes to support both the learn-by-doing and the learn-by-reading types among the students. They built on each other, too, with each year providing necessary groundwork for the year after that, at least until seventh.
Such a damned shame that no student currently in the school had ever been properly taught from them. According to Remus, skill levels were all over the place, with some upperclassmen barely able to defend themselves, while some younger students were routinely doing graduate-level work. Most of the students who got passing or better grades did so mostly on the basis of self-study according to him.
I confirmed this claim by the simple expedient of quizzing the Hogwarts students I had handy. These, I determined, constituted a reasonable sampling of the student body: one over-achieving genius, one slacker, one borderline underachiever, one normal student, and the twins, who defied easy classification as readily as they defied authority.
And boy howdy, did they all have their own horror stories about their previous years.
I had suspected from the first that I was going to need to come up with an aggressive curriculum. After hearing their tales, I saw that I had been right, and spent my last day or so plotting out, in broad strokes, how I planned to approach each year — and what books I would need. The incoming first years hadn't been damaged yet, so I could use the standard text with them. But second through seventh years? Sterner measures were required. I was going to be hated. But they would learn.
By the time word came that the Board of Governors had rubberstamped my hire and I should prepare for the move to Hogwarts, I had a list of books to give to Minerva McGonagall.
The British Ministry of Magic, London, UK. Monday, August 16, 1995, 10:31 AM
Eleuthero Avery ghosted his way through the Department of Mysteries like every other Unspeakable who worked there, passing through the offices and corridors unnoticed and unremarked-upon. His destination, as it had frequently been in the near-month since the Dark Lord had ... re-emphasized ... his task, was the newest high-security workroom in the entire complex.
The entrance to the Department was at the very deepest level of the Ministry, far below the Atrium, but even deeper than that were the workrooms in which the Unspeakables studied the great mysteries of magic that gave the department its name. Avery shuddered as he passed the door behind which stood one of those mysteries: the Veil. The curtained arch never failed to unsettle him to a degree that not even the Dark Lord could, and he hated to even come near the room in which it resided.
Almost as bad was the Brain Room, around whose door he made a slight detour, only to curve back just as far in the other direction when he approached the Nothing Room on the other side of the hall. He shook his head as if to clear it. Thank Merlin they're not my responsibility.
Finally, past all the workrooms, Avery came to a stop at the newest door to be added to this hallway — the entrance to the chamber housing what had, in the last month, become known in the Department simply as "The Prophecy". As he stood before the door, he silently cursed the event which had made Potter's prophecy sphere the focus of extreme attention from both the Department and the Dark Lord. The latter now required that Avery sabotage the elaborate and very deadly protections woven around the room and its contents so that Potter could be led right to the sphere.
Avery glumly considered his original plan as he identified himself to the guards and wards that formed the first line of defence for The Prophecy. He had attempted to shortcut around both requirements by actually submitting a request to the Minister to bring Potter in to play back the prophecy recorded in the sphere, a request which had been promptly denied. Merlin knew that Potter would have been of invaluable aid to the investigation into the disaster and its causes. The fact that it would also have served his Lord's needs was a side effect he did not intend for the Ministry to discover. But, no doubt because Potter was persona non grata with the Minister these days, there was no chance that things would work out so easily.
Nodding to the fellow Unspeakables standing guard in the antechamber between the outer and inner doors, Avery repeated the whole process for the second, much more powerful and comprehensive, wards at the inner door. He suppressed a pained wince at the recollection of what his attempt at an innovative solution had earned him.
As it had turned out, the Dark Lord had been less than pleased by his initiative. Lord Voldemort desired that only he know the contents of the prophecy; doing the simple and logical thing was therefore out of the question. After punishing Avery with the Cruciatus, the Dark Lord had made his will very clear: Potter had to be lured into the Department of Mysteries to play back The Prophecy when no one from the Ministry could hear or record it. After that, the sphere would be destroyed and Potter killed, leaving Voldemort the only one in possession of its secrets.
Which meant, Avery mused sullenly, weakening the protections on what was now the most thoroughly-defended and -monitored room in the entire Ministry, in the best-defended department in the entire Ministry, so that a 15-year-old boy with no experience in breaking and entering could waltz in when he finally took it into his head to follow up on the dreams and compulsions the Dark Lord was sending him. And doing so in such a way that no one noticed, keeping it all compromised for as long as it took for Potter to get off his arse, and — most importantly, one traitorous part of his mind insisted — not getting caught at it.
Or else suffer death or worse at the hands of the Dark Lord.
There were times, Avery reflected as he stepped into the single most secure room in the British Isles, when the price of failure might be worth paying.
12 Grimmauld Place, Wednesday, August 18, 1995, 8:26 AM
All told, it took only five days for the Governors to approve me. (And this on the basis of Dumbledore's say-so alone, as I had no history or documentation at all in this world other than a four-week-old Gringotts account.) Dumbledore stopped by 12 Grim on the evening of August 17th to tell me the good news, and to let me know that my quarters were ready for me whenever I cared to make the move.
Well, he stopped by for other reasons, too, but they didn't really concern me. No one in the Order had yet taken me up on my offers.
After dinner, I used the house Floo to make a quick trip to Hogsmeade with my helmet. In most versions of Earth, the earliest functional version of the Global Positioning System is (just barely) up and running in 1995, and this timeline was no different. In Hogsmeade I instructed my helmet's GPS unit to determine and store the town's latitude and longitude.
I then returned to Grim Old Number 12 and downloaded that data into my motorcycle's autopilot. It wasn't practical to ship my bike again, nor possible to take it through the Floo. I wasn't stupid enough to try to Portkey with it, and gods help anyone who might try to apparate it. So I was going to fly to my new job.
It wasn't going to be a hardship. Running the numbers showed me that, being roughly at 57ºN and 5.5ºW, Hogwarts was only about 700 kilometers from London as the crow flies; even keeping the bike safely below Mach 1, I could make that distance in less than an hour. (And if for some reason I had to hurry, I could do it in half an hour or less.) The stealth suite would keep me off of UK, NATO and other radars, and the cockpit field would keep me comfortable on the way. It would practically be a pleasure jaunt.
Not to mention I wanted to see everyone's faces as I took off from the yard.
I spent the rest of the evening swinging my rubber chicken around and practicing shrinking and restoring stuff. Not that I really needed to with my Skuld-made panniers, but it made collecting up everything I had in my room so much easier. Swish! And into my pocket. Oh, yeah.
I did have to re-enlarge my bed a couple of times, though.
The next morning, I did breakfast one last time with Sirius, Remus, and the entire Weasley clan plus teenaged hangers-on. Thanks to the Headmaster's visit the previous night it was no secret that I was departing for Hogwarts that morning, so the meal became something of an impromptu "bon voyage" party.
I even got a going-away present — after the meal was over but before I'd had a chance to return to my room to pack, Fred and George cornered me in the hallway. While Sirius acted as a lookout, they presented me with a plain cardboard box, marked only with three interlocking, handwritten "W"s.
"Samples of our future wares," one explained.
"You seem to be the type who'd enjoy them," the other added.
"Even if you are a professor," the first amended.
"Well, geeze, guys, I don't know what to say." I studied the box. "Unless it's 'how far away should I stand when opening this?'"
The two of them grinned. "We're not stupid," number two said piously. "We're not going to prank a professor."
"At least not this obviously," the other added with a shrug. "When we prank you for real, you'll know it had to have been us..."
"But you won't be able to prove it!" the first ended triumphantly.
I raised an eyebrow at them. "Should I take that as a challenge, boys?"
They traded glances. "If you like," the first replied.
I laughed. I had to admire these two and their chutzpah. "Tell you what, guys. If you get me some time this year — really get me, with something innovative and new, nothing tired like buckets over open doors — I'll give you both extra credit A+'s ... um, O's," I corrected myself, recalling the Hogwarts grading system at the last moment. "One each."
"Deal!" they said together, and stuck out their right hands. I shook both at the same time, one with my right hand and one with my left, then let go, crossed my arms, and shook again. This got me a pair of broad smiles, followed by a furtive disappearance from the hallway.
A couple meters away at his post, Sirius was shaking his head and chuckling. "You're in trouble now, Doug."
I shot him a wry smile. "I'm always in trouble," I said. "It's a defining characteristic of my life."
Half an hour later I'd shrunk all my accumulated possessions and stashed them in one of the panniers, and had changed out of my robes and into my leathers. Helmet in hand, I stood in the back yard with the entire household present and made my goodbyes. You can guess the kind of sentiments I expressed as I made my way through the adults present, so I don't need to iterate through all of them here.
The last one I came to, though, was Charlie. He had somehow failed to mention that he didn't have to leave until Sunday afternoon — "a couple days' vacation," my ass — so he still had the best part of a week to go before he had to get back to work, the bastard. And he gave me a smarmy grin that told me he was going to enjoy every extra day of leisure he had.
"You want I should belt you for that smile?" I asked him, not at all seriously.
"Hey," he said, "you're the one who decided he had to get a better job."
"What can I say? My only goal in life is to accumulate a pile of gold big enough to swim in," I said with a shrug.
Charlie rolled his eyes. "So of course you went into teaching."
"You know," I said after a moment, "for someone I've only known for about a month, you've had a hell of an impact on my life. It's going to be strange not hanging around with you."
He shrugged. "Eh. You'll have Ron and the twins handy if you need a Weasley fix. The three of them combined almost equal one of me."
"Oi!" three different voices declared in outrage from the porch, and the yard erupted in laughter.
"Take care of yourself, Charlie. Don't get careless and eaten by a dragon." I pulled him into a manly hug and pounded his back.
"You, too, Doug," he replied, pounding me back. "Don't get careless and eaten by a firstie."
I nodded vigorously. "Oh, yeah, I hear they're mean. Put a Ridgeback to shame, they do."
We stood there for a moment, wondering what else to say, until I did what I always do in moments like that — I fell back on what the Rabbit would say.
"Weeeeelllll, good-bye!" I announced, wishing I'd had the foresight to set up "California, Here I Come" to play in the background as I did, and settled instead for whistling it. As I did, I turned and mounted my motorcycle, and then pulled on my helmet.
"I still say the twins were taking the mickey out of you," Ron whispered to Hermione as Professor Sangnoir, whistling merrily, fastened the chin strap on his helmet while standing astride his motorcycle. Not being among the adults to whom the professor had been making his farewells, the teens had congregated on the porch to witness his departure. It promised to be interesting at the very least, since the high stone walls that surrounded 12 Grimmauld Place's back yard had no gate nor any other opening in them.
Hermione bit her lip. "They swore up and down that they'd seen the motorcycle lift up off the porch and fly into the yard. And told me to ask Charlie or Sirius if I doubted them."
"Oh, like that'd reassure you," Ron scoffed. "Those two are just as big a pair of jokers as the twins are. Hell, the twins consider Charlie their role model."
"The thing is," Hermione went on as if not hearing him, "if that motorcycle were magical I wouldn't give it a second thought — I mean, Sirius' bike flies. But this is a Muggle motorcycle, no matter how strange. Even if it did have wings or something — which it doesn't — it couldn't generate enough power to lift itself off..."
At that point Professor Sangnoir pressed a button on the cycle's instrument panel and its engine howled to life, so loudly that everyone clapped their hands over their ears to block out the thunderous shriek. Then the professor touched something else on the dashboard, and the sound was suddenly reduced to a whisper. "Oops," he called out. "Sorry about that!"
He touched another control, and to Hermione's amazement, the motorcycle slowly lifted off the ground until it came to a hover almost ten feet in the air. A third touch and the arms on which its wheels were mounted began to swing up and to the sides — the front wheel to the professor's left, and the rear wheel to the right until they stretched out to either side like wings; as they locked into place with a double "clunk" that was audible even on the porch, their hubs began to glow with an actinic blue-white light. "It was good to meet all of you," Professor Sangnoir shouted down at them. "Take care of yourselves! And you lot —" He pointed at the six of them on the porch. "I'll see you in two weeks," he intoned with mock ominousness.
Hermione suddenly realised she'd been holding her breath and let it out in an explosive release. Next to her, Ron alternately swore and hissed "Wicked!" under his breath, while the twins were cheering. She had no idea how Harry and Ginny were reacting; to find out, she'd've had to have taken her eyes off the professor and his motorcycle, and she wouldn't dare do that. Once again in her life she had been shown that the impossible was in fact possible, and once again new vistas of knowledge had been revealed to her; she would not waste any moment that might betray a clue or secret.
As she watched, Professor Sangnoir and his motorcycle rippled and faded away to nothingness in a manner unlike any Disillusionment or invisibility effect she'd ever seen. The only evidence that they were still there was the muted roar of the motorcycle's engine.
Unseen, the professor shouted, "Goodbye, everyone!" A moment later, the sourceless howl of the turbine faded into the sky above.
When the sound had completely disappeared, Hermione whirled to face her companions on the porch. "Upstairs. Now," she snapped. "We have a lot to talk about." Then she marched off, leaving Ron and Harry blinking behind her as the twins and Ginny followed, laughing.
Several hours later, Harry sat at the desk in the room he shared with Ron, twirling a quill through his fingers and staring unseeing at the textbooks open on the table before him. The meeting Hermione had called right after Professor Sangnoir's departure had only confused and worried him, despite her attempt to solve what she called "the puzzle of who he is".
Harry had been surprised at just how much they had learned about the professor without realizing it. Even he'd been able to contribute something — that the professor had listened to Muggle music while reading through all the books he'd bought. And that he'd played it through his motorcycle helmet, of all things.
At least Harry thought it was Muggle music. It certainly didn't sound like Wizarding music, and if it wasn't Wizarding music, it had to be Muggle, right? Even if Harry had never heard anything like that one piece with the drums, the chimes and the string quartet in either world.
Then of course there was all they'd learned by eavesdropping on the Order meeting that week with the twins' latest invention, the Extendable Ears.
It was Fred and George's revelations that confused and concerned him most, though. They had managed to overhear a number of conversations between the professor and their brother Charlie that made it clear that whatever secret the professor possessed, Charlie knew it — and it was a big one.
Harry tried to imagine what that secret could possibly be, given all the things they'd already figured out. The concept of a wizard so powerful that he couldn't use a wand, for one; he kept finding himself wondering how Professor Sangnoir compared to Dumbledore and Voldemort — both of whom still relied on the wands they'd had since they were first-years. It was, he had to admit, mind-boggling.
Worse, it was frightening. If, as all his previous Defence professors had done, Professor Sangnoir attacked him before the end of the year, how could he defend himself or his friends from someone Charlie's co-workers called, however jokingly, "Merlin reborn"? A man who, if Charlie's stories were to be believed, was also capable of knocking out a full-grown dragon with a single punch? When the inevitable finally happened, how could he fight a monster like that?
Harry's stomach sank at the thought, and he felt the all-too-familiar anger surge at the unfairness of it all. Wasn't having both Voldemort and the Ministry out to get him enough? Now he had to cope with some mysterious super-wizard? He wanted so much to talk to Professor Dumbledore about it. But the Headmaster, who had been almost like a grandfather to him for the last four years, was now refusing to even be in the same room with him — let alone counsel him.
He'd almost lost himself to his anger when there was an abrupt snap. Startled, he looked down to find his quill clenched so tightly in his fist that he'd broken the shaft in half. Scowling, he growled and flung the broken pen across the room and into the trash bin.
Professor Sangnoir's magical or physical strength hadn't concerned Hermione so much as the whole picture, which seemed to upset her thoroughly. He hadn't heard her use the word "impossible" so often in one conversation since, well, since they first met. Everything about the professor seemed to be impossible — from his motorcycle to his magic — and Hermione seemed to take it all as a personal insult.
Harry wasn't quite sure what she had been going on about with "Woolfell's First Principle of Universal Magic" and magical background levels, but it seemed to involve both the professor's motorcycle and wherever his home was, and had prompted a furious discussion between Hermione and the twins that had left the other three blinking in confusion.
The meeting had only broken up when no one could remember anything more about the professor that they wanted to contribute. Hermione had accumulated a list of "oddities" more than three feet of parchment long, and when they were done announced her intention to make a bee-line for the Black library to do some research.
No surprise there, Harry thought, calming a bit. Hermione plus puzzle equals research. She'd only taken a break for lunch, and that only because Ginny had dragged her bodily down to the dining room. Harry smiled faintly. The comfortable routine of Hermione worrying at a riddle or problem was in its own way reassuring. If there were anything to be discovered about Professor Sangnoir that way, she would inevitably ferret it out — if not here, then in Hogwarts' library once they went back to school.
He was absolutely certain of it.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Wednesday, August 18, 1995, 9:43 AM
As I had anticipated, I made it to Hogwarts in less than an hour, arriving on the outskirts of Hogsmeade at about quarter to ten. I lowered and locked the wheels, then cut the stealth suite except for the engine noise suppression before coming in for a rolling landing on the dirt lane linking the village and the school. I didn't come to a stop but instead continued up the road to the castle at a good 50kph or so. I startled a wizard or two as I went past, and I arrived at the courtyard and the front doors in just a few minutes.
I parked the bike, and then detached the panniers. After setting the anti-theft systems to a harsh but non-lethal level, I slung the whole pannier rack up onto my shoulder, walked up to those huge doors, and pushed one open.
"Hello?" I called out into the empty entry hall as I stepped inside. I closed the door behind me as gently as I could, but it still made a "THUD!" that echoed up and down the hall for what seemed like a minute afterward. "Hello?" I repeated a little louder.
A few moments later I heard claws on stone, and a cat appeared from the far end of the hall, peering suspiciously around one of the suits of armor. A cat? By itself? I wondered. Oh, wait, didn't Charlie mention...
"Professor McGonagall!" I called out as I approached her. Closer up, the Professor's shapeshifted form wasn't very impressive. She had bulging yellow eyes and fur almost exactly the color of dust bunnies, and was skeletally thin — if it were possible for cats to become zombies, I would have been prepared to believe it was the case here. Somehow I had expected that the professor's Animagus form (as I'd learned it was called — a kind of benign were-like shapeshifting acquired by study and practice) would be, well, nicer-looking. This cat looked thoroughly unpleasant.
"I'm sure you remember me," I went on as the professor stared up unblinkingly. "Charlie Weasley brought me by about a week ago? And Headmaster Dumbledore must have told you that I would be arriving today."
She just continued to stare at me, and showed no sign of planning on doing anything else.
"So," I continued, "if you'd be so kind as to lead me to the Headmaster's office so I can present myself and finish whatever paperwork there might be..."
"Here, now, where'd you get off to?" a rasping voice echoed around us. A moment later a fellow almost as unpleasant-looking as Professor McGonagall's cat form appeared from behind the same suit of armor. He might have been my height, but was stooped slightly, his shoulders hunched and bent. He was bald from the ears up, with a shoulder-length curtain of lank grey hair wrapped around the back of his head, and his lined and seamed face was caught in a perpetual scowl. Both he and his clothes seemed a bit grimy and greasy.
"Ah, there you are," he said on coming upon the Professor, and then he spotted me. "What have we here, a trespasser?" He took a second, up-and-down look at me, taking me in from head to toe. "A Muggle? In Hogwarts?"
I steeled myself and held out a hand. "Douglas Sangnoir. I'm the new Defense professor? I was just asking Professor McGonagall here..."
He burst into a bray of laughter. "Professor McGonagall? This isn't Professor McGonagall, you damned fool! This is Mrs. Norris." He scooped the cat up in his arms and cuddled it, rubbing his face into its fur. "Aren't you, m'dear?" The cat made no noise, and continued to stare, quite balefully, at me.
"Oh," I said, feeling profoundly stupid, and wondering if I should try explaining my mistake or whether I'd just end up looking more stupid by doing so. I decided to cut my losses. I also lowered my hand, as it appeared that Gollum here wasn't about to shake it. At least not while cuddling an armful of zombie cat. "Um. And you are...?"
His perpetual scowl twisted into scowl-plus. "Argus Filch. I be the caretaker around here."
"Ah, then," I said. "Perhaps you could be so kind as to lead me to the Headmaster's office, then?" I was fairly sure I could find it myself despite the moving staircases, having been there once already only a week or so earlier. But it was better workplace politics to let someone bring me there, at least on the first day.
Filch glared at me through one eye, the other buried in Mrs. Norris's fur, for several seconds. Then he lifted his face from the cat's back. "Aye. Follow me, and watch yer step."
Argus Filch may be many things, but a sparking conversationalist (or a conversationalist of any type, for that matter) is not one of them. I tried to make small talk with him on the way to the Headmaster's office, but the only responses he gave were various grunts and one vociferous diatribe about how school discipline had gone downhill since they stopped using the rack, the iron maiden and red hot pincers on students.
I made a resolution then and there to never discuss the Weasley family with him ever again.
Fortunately, we reached the Headmaster's office before I could put my foot in my mouth a third time. He walked up to the stone gargoyle, smacked it on top of its rocky head, and growled, "Let the Headmaster know the new Defense professor's here, y'great lump." Then he turned around and stalked off without another word to me.
"'What an eccentric performance'," I quoted to myself, shaking my head, as the gargoyle stepped aside to reveal the spiral stone escalator behind it. I stepped onto it, and a moment later I was on a landing before the office door.
"Come in, Douglas," Dumbledore's voice echoed through the door just as I lifted a hand to knock. I turned the motion into a grab for the handle, and opened the door instead. Still carrying the pannier rack from my bike on my shoulder, I stepped into the office.
Little had changed in a week — fireplace, paintings, little whirring and puffing gadgets, messy desk, big throne-like chair, all pretty much the same. The only additions were Dumbledore himself, dressed in forest green robes and seated in that chair, and the large scarlet and gold bird perched on the stand near him.
"Good morning, Douglas," Dumbledore said, closing the book in his hands and laying it on the desk to his left.
"Good morning, Headmaster," I said, lowering the rack to the floor so I could stand up more or less straight. "Reporting for duty, as ordered," I added with a grin. I suppressed the urge to give him a Benny Hill-style salute; not until I knew the man better and could judge his reactions.
Then I went ahead and spoiled that resolution almost immediately by nodding at his pet and saying, "Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Red. Beautiful plumage!"
The Headmaster gaped at me for a moment, then burst out in gales of laughter. The bird in question seemed amused as well, emitting an arpeggio of trills that I found pleasant, and even encouraging.
It took a little while, but eventually the Headmaster's laughter trailed off to mere chuckles as he wiped his eyes. "Oh, my. Oh, my, I haven't laughed like that in quite a while." He took off his glasses and wiped them with a cloth he retrieved from his desk. "I must say I wasn't expecting a Monty Python quotation from you, Colonel. I had assumed from your military background and your demeanour during our last meeting that you would be somewhat more... reserved."
As any number of "military reserve" jokes dashed through my mind, I inclined my head slightly. "For my part, I have to say that I'm surprised you're familiar enough — or at all! — with the Pythons to have even gotten the joke."
"Ah," he said, putting his glasses back on his crooked nose. "Unlike many of my fellow wizards, I am not entirely ignorant of the Muggle world."
"Then shall we say we are each more complex than the other expected?" I asked with a smile.
"Indeed, Douglas, indeed." He stood and crossed to the stand. "My bright-feathered friend here is my familiar, Fox. Lovely as his plumage is, he is not, in fact, the fabled Norwegian Red Parrot — distant cousin to the Norwegian Blue, I have been told," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "but that most rare of creatures, a phoenix."
"A phoenix?" I exclaimed. "Whoa. No wonder you cracked up over the Dead Parrot Sketch." I reached out to stroke Fox's feathers, and the phoenix trilled again as it leaned into my touch. "I take it this beauty is why you named the Order as you did?"
The old wizard nodded. "Precisely. Phoenixes are creatures of light, and their cycle of death and resurrection symbolises the eternal triumph of light over darkness." He smiled as he watched Fox eagerly receive my attention.
I raised an eyebrow at him. "Phoenixes, plural? Huh. In my home universe, the Phoenix is a single, unique creature of Celestial origin. They're a corporeal species here?"
"There is more than one phoenix in the world, but 'species' is perhaps the wrong word for them," Dumbledore said thoughtfully. "It might be better to describe them as free-willed elemental spirits of Light — despite their obvious associations with Fire." His gnarled hand joined mine in stroking the now blissed-out bird. "Although I call him my familiar, Fox is in no way bound to me. He stays with me of his own free will, in a kind of... partnership, you might say."
"Nice work if you can get it," I murmured. Then it hit me. Phoenix. Fire. The phoenix wasn't named "Fox", but "Fawkes". As in "Guy Fawkes". Argh. I gave Dumbledore a flat look. "Oh, geeze. A phoenix named 'Fawkes'. I just got that." The Headmaster was chuckling at me, his eyes twinkling again. "You know, if I'd heard that first, I wouldn't have worried about cracking a joke in front of you." I looked at the bird, which I was pretty sure was now smiling as much as you could with a beaked avian face. "Was that his idea or yours?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "Oh, his alone. He has quite the sense of humor, which I have had the benefit of enjoying for many years."
"I'll bet," I said, eyeing the phoenix for a moment. He eyed me back, with obvious amusement. I returned my attention to the Headmaster and said, "Well, back to the matter at hand. I'm here, I have my possessions, a book list for Professor McGonagall, and my syllabi are all prepared. What happens now?"
"Now," the Headmaster said, "we show you to your quarters and get you settled in. Then, I'll introduce you to the rest of the staff over lunch in the Great Hall."
I nodded. "Sounds like an excellent plan. Let's do this."
"Very well." Rather than leading me out the door to escort me personally to my quarters, though, the Headmaster instead looked up slightly — as if studying the molding along the top of his office wall — and in a moderately loud voice said, "Twonky!"
I was just about to ask what spell that was, when a tiny humanoid creature appeared with a pop just like a champagne cork going off. It was maybe 65 or 70 centimeters tall, certainly no taller, with grey-green skin, long floppy ears, and eyes almost the size of tennis balls — literally. The proportions of its limbs made it clear it was a mature adult, and not a child of whatever species it represented. It was barefoot and clad in a toga that looked like it had been made from a pair of dish towels pinned together.
"Headmaster calls for Twonky?" it said in a high, squeaky voice. I couldn't figure out what gender it was, or indeed if it even had a gender.
"Twonky," the Headmaster said gently, "this is Douglas Sangnoir. He is the new professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts."
The little thing bowed respectfully to me. "Twonky is at your service, Professor Douglas."
"Thank you, Twonky," I said, bowing back, for lack of any better idea of what to do.
"I'd like you to take the professor to his quarters in the staff wing and see to it that he has everything he needs to get settled in. Then tell the other house elves that he is here," the Headmaster continued. House elves? Interesting.
It nodded so fast I half-expected to hear rattling. "Yes, sir, Headmaster."
"Douglas, Twonky here is a house-elf," Headmaster Dumbledore then said to me. "They maintain the castle, cook all the food, do all the cleaning and all the laundry. Any task Hogwarts requires to keep running, they perform. Sometimes I think they're more in charge of the school than I am," he added with a smile.
Twonky looked scandalized, but didn't say anything. Instead it just wrung its tiny hands.
"In that case, Headmaster, I'll see you at lunch. Noon, I presume?" I asked as I hoisted my pannier rack back onto my shoulder.
He nodded. "Quite so."
As he returned to his seat behind the desk, I looked down at Twonky. "Well, then, lead on, MacDuff."
The little creature looked up at me and wrinkled its nose as we stepped through the office door together. "Twonky's name is Twonky, not MacDuff."
I'd thought packing by waving a rubber chicken around was efficient. It had nothing on unpacking with the help of a house-elf. A finger-snap and things were unshrunk (if still shrunken) and put away where they were supposed to be.
The panniers confused the poor little thing, though. Twonky seemed to know that unpackables lurked within, but couldn't "pop" them out, which frustrated it no end. Not even when I'd opened them could the house-elf just teleport the stuff inside — I had to reach in and pull out each item individually. It slowed us down a bit, but it gave me a little more control over where things went.
Twonky, sad to say, was as poor a conversationalist as Argus Filch. I tried to pump it for information on the school, the student body, even house elves — and got bupkis. I finally sent the little creature on its way when all that was left was arranging my photos and shelving my books.
The books were easy, as was the stand which held my katana. The photos should have been. The picture of Maggie and myself kissing against the skyline of MegaTokyo that Lisa took, well, that had the place of honor in the center of the massive chest of drawers that, along with an equally immense armoire, held all my clothing (robes and normal stuff alike). Around it I set all the others: the autographed shot of Sana in concert, completely pimped out in her idol-wear; the group picture of me with Buckaroo and the Cavaliers in front of their tour bus; the photo I'd taken of the entire gang from the temple at the dinner table, complete with Skuld giving me a giggly red-eye; the picture Misato had taken of me leading Rei, Asuka and Shinji through a kata in the dojo; and Utena and Anthy's wedding portrait. I couldn't help but smile fondly at each one as I withdrew it from the box I kept them in when I made a world jump.
And then there was the photograph I didn't recognize.
With me in it.
The setting was very obviously a Disney "Magic Kingdom" park, except the signage was all in Japanese. I was in the foreground in civvies — jeans and polo shirt — smiling and clearly having a good time. Hanging onto my arm was a very pretty Eurasian-looking girl only a few centimeters shorter than me, with long brown hair done up in a high ponytail; she was clearly a moment away from bursting into laughter. She looked way too young to be a date, or at least my date — no more than mid-teens, I'd guess, despite her height and figure.
Behind us, but clearly included in the photo deliberately, were six more girls. Three of them — one blonde with hair that hung to her waist, another blonde with twin ponytails that reached her knees, and a classic Japanese beauty with raven tresses down to her butt — were horsing around while a fourth (with short hair so black it shone almost blue in the sunlight) stood off to the side and looked mortified. They all seemed to be about the same age as the ponytailed girl on my arm. Farther back, two older- looking girls stood and watched the horseplay with a kind of amused disapproval — a tall, slender blonde with short hair who stood arm-in-arm with a girl whose shoulder-length locks were the color of seawater.
The frame was cheap black plastic like you'd get in a five-and- dime store. There were seven names written on it in kanji using various sparkly metallic inks, each in a different hand: Ami, Rei, Usagi, Minako, Haruka, Michiru, and at the center top in a circle, Makoto. Along the bottom was written "To Doug-sensei".
Well, I thought, I think I can guess which one is the girl with the ponytail...
But even with their names I had no idea who they were, nor why I was at a Disney park with them. Or why I suddenly felt ... protective.
The obvious conclusion was that someone had messed with my memories.
But who? And why?
Pondering that question and how to answer it took me the rest of the time up until noon. In the privacy of my new quarters, I tried every song I could think of that had something to do with memory or remembering things, like Josh Groban's "Remember" and "Memory" from "Cats", but to no avail. Although I dredged up a lot of other forgotten stuff — I had well over a century's worth of life to pick from there, after all — none of it featured Makoto and her six friends. The best I could get was a vague sense of pride combined with loss, which I now felt every time I looked at the photo.
I had gotten so into the search for the lost memories that if it hadn't been for another house-elf popping in to remind me about lunch, it might well have occupied me all the way until nightfall or after. I thanked the little thing, and after making sure my wand and the Toothpick were both securely in their respective holsters, I took off for the Great Hall.
Fortunately, I had both some time and a good idea where it was relative to the staff wing of the castle (which wasn't so much a wing as a small secondary keep which had been joined to the main keep when the castle bailey had been partially enclosed). I had to navigate some of those moving staircases, though. When a staircase abruptly pivoted on me and pointed in precisely the wrong direction, I remembered my dive down the stairwell of Grim Old Number 12 and decided to make myself a shortcut. Rather than backtrack and find an alternate route, I just launched myself into space.
I heard a dozen cries of alarm from the animated paintings lining the broad well that housed the staircases, but their shrieks and calls turned to gasps when I caught the first balustrade, used it as a pivot to redirect my trajectory, and sent myself hurtling at a stone column, my robes fluttering and snapping around me like a flag in a gale.
I twisted into a precisely-timed tumble that let me hit the column feet-first and absorb the impact into my leg muscles before kicking off again to plunge another forty feet. There I reached with one hand for a bit of railing that hung by itself out over open space. I caught it and swung completely around it to launch myself back up into an arc just high enough to bleed off my excess momentum, and long enough to reach one of the lowest flights of stairs. I hit the landing at the top and pushed back off to somersault over and down its length. After two spins I kicked out and dropped into a precise two-point landing with arms raised and outstretched, my robes dropping down into perfect order about me. I grinned to myself; that finish would have earned me a 10.0 from anyone but the Russian judge.
Around me, the various paintings at the ground level — their canvases crowded with the inhabitants of portraits from the higher floors — burst into applause and an excited tumult. I swept one arm down and into a spinning bow that tried to address everyone on all sides.
"Thank you, thank you," I said, straightening up. "I'm here until June. Try the veal, and don't forget to tip your artist." This got me a mix of chuckles and confused natter. (Apparently some paintings got out more than others.) I bowed once more, then left the stairwell.
Hm, I thought as I followed the sound of distant conversation. That might make for a pretty good workout. I'm gonna have to try that again soon.
I found the doors to the Great Hall and entered as unobtrusively as I could, then froze at the sight.
"Great Hall" was no misnomer. It was an immense room, at least fifty meters by twenty. The walls were easily fifteen meters tall, and were lined with soaring narrow windows made of clear leaded glass panes. The effect was not unlike being in a cathedral, however secular its construction might have been. In other ways, it felt very much like McCosh Hall back at Princeton.
Naturally, the long, arching windows and the banners hanging between them drew my eye upward, where I discovered what I later learned was the Great Hall's signature feature: its ceiling.
The ceiling was astounding — an almost perfect reproduction of the sky above the castle, with only the faintest outlines of the rafters visible through it to betray its illusionary nature. The summer sun shining down through that image was bright enough to illuminate the entire room to full daylight levels; although huge brazier-sconces punctuated the walls between the banks of windows, they were clearly unneeded, at least on bright, clear days like this one.
When I finally tore my eyes away from the sight, I noticed that four long tables lined with benches filled most of the Hall's marble floor. The rest was occupied by a raised platform on which a fifth, much shorter table ran perpendicular to the others. And at that table sat the only people who were in the room besides myself — at least a dozen witches and wizards.
For the first time in quite a while, I felt a shiver of nervousness run through me, and I found myself wishing that I had found one of the other doors that were much closer to the head table. Walking the entire length of the Great Hall to meet these people suddenly seemed like walking the length of Westminster Abbey to meet the Queen. Which I've done, and let me tell you, it doesn't matter how arrogantly overconfident you are, it's still very nervous-making.
As was this.
"Do come along, Douglas, or we'll miss the soup course."
I nearly jumped out of my skin. How the holy hell had Dumbledore just shown up at my elbow like that? I should have heard him approaching, no matter what method he used. I got my suddenly-pounding heart under control and muttered, "Certainly, Headmaster," before trotting after him up the aisle between long tables two and three.
I began to have some doubts as to how well I'd prepared myself for this teaching gig. Well, if I'd thrown myself into the deep end of the pool without checking the water thoroughly, it would hardly be the first time. Time to see how well I could tread water.
At the end of the aisle, the Headmaster paused, facing the high table. Directly opposite him was a large, unoccupied seat, made of dark-stained oak with red velvet upholstery. Positioned as it was in the exact center and looking out over the entire hall, it was obviously his seat. At the moment I came to a halt next to him, he nodded to the witches and wizards who filled most of the seats to either side of his. "Good afternoon, my friends and fellow instructors."
This got him an assortment of greetings in return, which I mostly ignored as I surveyed my new co-workers. I recognized two, right off the bat — Professor McGonagall sat literally at the Headmaster's right hand, and at the far end of the table on the opposite side was the sneering goth I'd met the week before at the Order meeting — Snipe, Snake, something like that.
Snape, Severus Snape. That was it. Potions instructor, if I recalled correctly. There were two empty seats between him and the witch to his right, and I wondered if that was due to her choice or his.
The Headmaster was still speaking. "I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you all to our new professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Colonel Douglas Sangnoir."
Recognizing my cue, I bowed to the table. "It's an honor and a privilege to join you all on the staff of Hogwarts."
Dumbledore beamed as a chorus of greetings washed over me and some of the witches at the table smiled or, in a couple cases, tittered softly. Then he turned to me. "Come, Douglas, allow me to introduce you to your new colleagues."
A moment later and we were up on the dais and in front of the table, at the far end from Severus Snape. Sitting there in a seat that looked like it was meant for a person twice her size was an elderly witch smoking a pipe. From a distance her robes had looked like they were camouflage-patterned, but now, close-up, I could see they were actually a muted paisley in browns and greens. Beneath this she wore a brown under-robe, and a burgundy pointed hat, bent almost double in the middle, sat upon wispy, fly-away grey hair.
She withdrew the pipe from her lips, transferred it to her left hand, then held out her right. "Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank," she said brightly and briskly. "Care of Magical Creatures," she added with a smile. "At least for the moment."
I shook her hand. "For the moment?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Wilhelmina is taking over temporarily for our regular Magical Creatures professor, Rubeus Hagrid, who is out of the country on business," Dumbledore explained.
"Do feel free to visit my little domain," she added, still smiling. "Hagrid and I have selected some truly fascinating creatures for the children to study this year."
"I'll do that," I promised as the Headmaster gently urged me to the next seat. The first thing I noticed about the witch sitting there was her clothing, which would not have looked out of place on a typical British housewife of the 1950s: she had on a sleeveless knit sweater over a print blouse, and I had a feeling that if she were to stand I'd find her wearing a heavy calf- length skirt of corduroy or maybe wool. In addition to making her the odd woman out in a room full of people mostly wearing robes, she also wore them in such a way that they felt like a costume rather than real clothing.
Atop this ensemble was the face of a woman who was sliding, unwillingly, into old age; the gentle lines forming there were at odds with her lank strawberry blonde hair. Upon looking into her bright brown eyes, though, I saw someone still taking joy in her life despite it all.
"Miss Charity Burbage," Dumbledore intoned.
"Muggle Studies," she said with a smile as we shook hands. "I understand you're Muggle-born and from America, Professor Sangnoir? A fascinating combination! Perhaps we can speak later."
"I'd be delighted," I replied with a smile of my own.
I didn't need the Headmaster's prompting to know what the next woman's position at Hogwarts was. Allowing for the robe and pointed hat, she was as perfect an example of someone embracing a stereotype as I'd ever seen, from the grey bun in which she wore her hair to the harlequin-styled glasses to the pinched expression on her narrow, almost starved-looking face. "Irma Pince," Dumbledore announced. "Hogwarts' librarian."
"Charmed," I declared, all but kissing her hand. To my surprise she just blushed and looked away.
The next seat was empty, and as we passed it by, Dumbledore just murmured, "Professor Binns, our History instructor, has not eaten with the rest of the staff for many years."
The woman at the next seat snorted. "Tell him the whole story, Albus. Cuthbert is a ghost, it's not like he needs to eat." Her grey hair was short and spiky and her yellow eyes were absolutely gimlet-like. She had a confident and direct air about her, and didn't wait for the Headmaster to introduce her. "Rolanda Hooch," she announced, seizing my hand and shaking it vigorously. "Flying instructor. You a good man on a broom, Sangnoir?"
Taken a little aback, but not a little amused, I diplomatically said, "I have less practice than I'd like, sadly." Like, none.
She tossed her head with a sly, almost smug, little smile. "Oh, that's fixable. Come down to the Quidditch pitch any time you like and I'll take care of you." She punctuated that with a saucy wink.
I'm sure you will, I found myself thinking, and resolved not to find myself in a room alone with this woman. I liked the tomboy feel I got off of her, but I had a suspicion that I'd be fending her off more than I'd be flying.
Dumbledore chuckled as he led me to the next staff member, a middle-aged woman just starting to go a bit stout, dressed in an antique-looking British nurse's uniform complete with the little folded and starched cap on her head. "Poppy Pomfrey, our matron."
"Delighted, madam," I said as I shook her hand. "Please forgive me when I say that I hope never to have need of your services."
"Oh, I have no doubt you'll drop by the hospital wing sooner or later, Professor," she said with an apologetic smile. "Everyone does."
"In that case," I offered lightly, "I will do my best to make your workload as light as possible."
She laughed. "Thank you, Professor. Would that certain of our students were as obliging, eh, Headmaster?" she added with a knowing look at Dumbledore.
"Hmmm. Quite," he replied, then urged me on to a familiar face in robes whose emerald hue was a subtle contrast to the Headmaster's own forest green. "Minerva McGonagall," he said, "Transfiguration professor and assistant headmistress, as well as head of Gryffindor House. I believe you've met already?"
"Oh, yes," I said, reaching to shake her offered hand.
"Last week," she added. "I am pleased to see that Charlie's faith in you was not misplaced."
"Perhaps you should wait until after my first few lessons before drawing that conclusion," I said with a wink, and she gave me a very controlled, but clearly amused, little smile in return.
"Perhaps, Professor Sangnoir, perhaps not," she offered.
"You'll be working as much with Minerva as with myself when it comes to administrative responsibilities, Douglas," the Headmaster said as he led me past his empty chair and to the one on its left. The person in it, I realized, was sitting on a stack of thick books to reach the table level — he was a tiny fellow, under a meter in height. Although he was elderly in appearance, he was clearly still very spry, scrambling to his feet and standing up in his chair in order to reach across the table and shake my hand.
"Filius Flitwick," he said in a tremulous, high-pitched voice. "We've been hearing the most intriguing rumors about you, Professor."
"You have?" I gave the Headmaster a sidelong glance. "Have you been telling tales out of class, Headmaster?" I joked.
Dumbledore ignored my question with an excessively grave dignity that was belied by the smile on his face. "Filius is our Charms master and head of House Ravenclaw, and has quite the colorful history." He smiled knowingly. "I daresay both of you will have entertaining stories to tell each other."
I glanced at him again, but Dumbledore wasn't giving anything away. I gave a little mental shrug and turned back to Flitwick. "My pleasure, Professor. I admit I am curious about these rumors and what they say about me."
"Please, call me Filius," he piped. "One evening after you get settled in, perhaps."
"Certainly!" I said. "I look forward to it."
Filius dropped back onto his book stack looking absolutely delighted as the Headmaster led me onward to a stern-looking middle-aged witch with bright, sharp eyes and long red hair. "Bathsheda Babbling," Dumbledore said.
"Ancient Runes," she said with a smile as I took her proffered hand. Her voice and her grip were both strong and confident. "Good to see the faculty get some new blood."
I chuckled. "From what I hear, you get an infusion every year."
"Ah," she said, her eyes smiling. "It's the variety, isn't it? Always something new to savor and experience."
"I suppose it's good to look at it that way," I replied, shaking my head.
Next to her was a plump little grey-haired witch who looked like she'd been in the middle of gardening in her grubbies when lunch had been called. Her robes were a bit worn and marked with ground-in dirt at the knees and elbows, and she had a few strands of some kind of vine trapped in the fraying seams of her patched hat. Her hands and face, though, were scrubbed clean, and her smile was brilliant and welcoming as she reached across the table to take my hand. She didn't so much shake it, though, as simply hold it while she introduced herself. "Pomona Sprout, Herbology."
"My pleasure, Professor," I said, bowing over her hand.
She giggled girlishly. "Come now, you can call me Pomona. We're all equals here."
"Pomona is, in addition to our Herbology professor, head of Hufflepuff House," Dumbledore offered as I retrieved my hand.
I looked over at him. "Yes, I'm going to need to learn more about the house system you have here."
"Oh, we'll see to that soon enough, Douglas," he replied as he led me to a tall, thin witch of indeterminate age, who sat ram-rod straight and nodded to me with a slight smile on her sharp-featured face. "Septima Vector," Dumbledore said as I took her hand.
"Arithmancy," she said in precise, cultured tones. "I see to it that those students with the interest and aptitude have a proper grounding in the mathematical foundation of all modern magic."
"That's very much an interest of mine," I said, not untruly. I had an interest in all systems of magic — a consequence of having had to learn about the underlying physics of magic in order to understand my own metagift, which followed no rules but its own. If Arithmancy was ultimately at the root of the system by which these people organized and controlled their magic, I definitely wanted to learn more about it. "I'd love to sit in on some of your classes if you don't mind."
That slight smile of hers grew infinitesimally larger. "I would be most pleased if you did, Professor."
I returned it with a smile of my own. "After I get an idea of my own schedule, I'll talk to you about what would be the most convenient for both of us."
"Very good," she said with a slight nod.
I turned from her to the next place at the table, where sat another tall, thin witch. But where Professor Vector was drawn entirely in classic Celtic lines, her left-hand companion's African heritage was a stark contrast. Her skin was such a deep black that I suspected her of being an immigrant until she introduced herself in a perfectly native Mancunian accent. "Aurora Sinistra," she said, all but staring me down as I mimed a bow over her outstretched hand. As I did, I noticed the fabric of her olive-colored robes was much heavier than that of the other professors'.
"Aurora is our professor of Astronomy," the Headmaster informed me. Ah. That explained the robes. She was probably on the roof or in an unheated observatory most nights and needed it for the warmth. I knew from my experience at Madam Malkin's that there were charms, both permanent and temporary, for that kind of thing. I'd also learned, though, that the more substantial the clothing on which they were cast, the better they performed and the longer they lasted. Hm. I wouldn't be surprised if she had a matching set of gloves and earmuffs, possibly stashed inside that tall pointed hat of hers. The northern Scottish nights had to be bitter, even in August.
"I'm curious," I said, straightening up. "Do your classes include astrological elements as well as astronomical?"
"No," Sinistra replied, drawing it out almost into a snarl. "I leave astrological matters to... Divination." She glanced sidelong at the empty seat next to her.
"Ah, yes," the Headmaster interjected quickly, all but dragging me past it and the empty place next to it to Snape's position at the very end. "Our Divination professor, Sybill Trelawney, seems to be ... indisposed at the moment," he said, glancing momentarily where she obviously should have been sitting.
A round of coughs and faint sounds of obvious disapproval suddenly swept across the table, and I got the distinct impression that the rest of the staff felt that if Professor Trelawney was indisposed, it was self-inflicted in some manner.
A gentle hand on my shoulder insistently guided me to a spot in front of the last seat. "I'm sure you remember our Potions master, Severus Snape," Dumbledore said. I certainly did — and as far as I could tell, Snape had neither changed his black robes nor washed his lank, shoulder-length black hair since the previous week, making recognition pathetically easy even if his large, hooked nose, sallow skin and perpetual sour expression hadn't been enough to identify him all by themselves.
"Indeed I do," I said with a nod toward that worthy. Snape seemed to be in some kind of snit, though, as he did not even acknowledge that we were standing in front of him.
The Headmaster waited for a moment for any kind of response, then shook his head. "Ah. Yes, then. Douglas, if you would please take the seat next to Severus, we shall begin our luncheon."
"Of course," I replied. As he made his way over to his big fancy chair, I took the somewhat less ornate seat he'd indicated. I figured I'd give it another try. "Professor Snape," I said congenially as I settled in. "Good to see you again."
Apparently, he wasn't willing to ignore being directly addressed. He gave me a half-lidded inspection, then sneered, "Likewise," before turning his attention completely away from me.
Well, geeze, love you too, guy. Who pissed in your Wheaties this morning?
The Headmaster, now regally ensconced on his throne, coughed dramatically and the low murmur of conversation between the other professors faded away. "Since all who appear to be joining us for luncheon are here, let us begin." He clapped his hands.
Plates and dishes began appearing on the table before each of us, starting with bowls of a dark, meaty broth that gave off a delightful beefy scent. Watching my new colleagues out of the corners of my eyes in order to get a clue about the table etiquette around here, I leaned forward and took a deeper breath and savored the aroma.
Around me the other professors were starting to dig in, so I picked up my spoon and had at it.
We were about halfway through the sandwich course when a gypsy scarecrow with coke-bottle glasses staggered into the Great Hall through one of the side doors. She paused there, swaying, and held up one scrawny hand as though she were about to bless us all. "I know," she said in a hollow, wobbly tone, "that I am late for our repast, but I have been communing with the great BEYOND!"
Next to me, Snape hissed, "Oh, dear bloody Merlin."
"Good to see you finally join us, Sybill," Flitwick piped up. "How was your morning?" Ah. So this was the Divination teacher. And I'd thought Irma Pince was embracing a stereotype — Sybill Trelawney looked like she'd robbed a New Age store at wandpoint and worn all her ill-gotten gains out the door.
Where some of the other witches at the table were slender, she was outright gawky and stick-thin. Coupled with a fright-wig shock of dishwater-colored hair, it made her look like nothing so much as an animated rag mop in a robe and shawl, complete with two large cartoon eyes in the form of the immense, thick glasses she wore. All she needed was a tie-dyed muumuu, and she'd've been a dead ringer for just about every crystal dweeb I'd ever met who thought enough cheap jewelry, smoky quartz and perfumed candles would give them psionic metagifts.
On the other side of the Headmaster, Professor McGonagall muttered something that either because of its low volume or its extreme Scottishness (or both) was unintelligible. Whatever it was, though, it certainly didn't sound complimentary.
"My morning?" Sybill swayed a bit more, her hands drifting around her like drunken butterflies on silken tethers. "My morning has revealed secrets — great secrets! — to me! Concepts far beyond the comprehension of mere mortals!"
To my right, Professor Sinistra sniffed derisively but didn't say anything. To my left, Professor Snape was busy turning his fork into an origami sculpture. For my part, I suppressed the urge to chuckle at her theatrics, instead murmuring, "Drama queen much?" That earned me a startled glance from Snape, who quickly looked away again while emitting a strangled cough that just might have been a single, stifled laugh.
So there is a human being in there somewhere, I thought.
"Please do take your seat, Sybill," Headmaster Dumbledore invited, although his jovial tones sounded just a little bit strained. "We have not yet finished."
Cut short before she could launch into another speech, Professor Trelawney blinked, then straightened up. "Of course," she said in softer, less overblown tones. She then drifted unevenly up the stairs of the dais and to her seat. There she noticed me for the first time, stopped cold, and stared wide-eyed. As she stood there, trembling violently and emitting a faint scent of sherry, I looked up at her and (against my better judgment) stuck out my hand.
"Doug Sangnoir," I said. "New professor of Defense. Delighted to meet you." Which I wasn't, not really, not after seeing her entrance, but I'd never say that. I have some tact.
Not a lot, but some. Even Hexe says so. However reluctantly.
Slowly, tentatively, Trelawney took my hand, but instead of shaking it, she held it in one of hers. Turning it to face upwards, she started tracing the lines on my palm with her right forefinger. She murmured unintelligibly to herself for several seconds before the other professors began to shift uncomfortably in their seats at her behavior.
"Sybill," Professor McGonagall offered in chilly, if diplomatic, tones that had lost all trace of Scottishness. "Why don't you sit down and let Professor Sangnoir finish his meal?"
Sybill seemed not to have heard her as she continued a long, slow trace of one line across my palm, intensely studying every millimeter of it. Just as Dumbledore coughed warningly, though, her head snapped up and tried to catch my eyes with hers — an unsuccessful task given those glasses. "Oh, my dear, you have the most extraordinary life line," she breathed, releasing me and then patting me on the cheek. "Death knows you of old, and holds you lovingly in her hand..." she murmured before turning abruptly and plopping herself into her seat. The first few courses all appeared at once before her.
"What do we have today for... Ah! Watercress sandwiches!" she said, then dove into one, seemingly forgetting me and everything else.
I looked across her at Sinistra, who simply rolled her eyes and shook her head. I glanced the other direction at Snape, who was engaged in ignoring the entire room as he unfolded his fork.
"Um. Right," I murmured, completely taken aback.
Lunch lasted another three courses and forty-five minutes. After the shock effect of Professor Trelawney's entrance and various pronouncements had faded away, conversation began to rise between the various professors once more.
I, of course, did not take part. Not because I was disinclined to speak with my new colleagues. No, it was because I had been wedged between the oblivious Trelawney, who focused entirely on her meal (and the occasional crystal she drew from the depths of her robes), and the Great Stone Face, who looked like he wished everyone else in the room would suddenly die of massive cerebral hemorrhages.
Oh yeah, I could already tell this early that Severus Snape was destined to replace Charlie Weasley as my new rough-and-tumble palling-around buddy.
And if you believe that, I have a domed undersea habitat in the Gobi to sell you.
When finally we'd all finished eating, the Headmaster clapped his hands and the dishes and utensils vanished from the table. "Well, that was quite delicious," he said, standing. Then he turned to me. "Douglas, if you'd accompany me to my office, we have a few final matters, mostly of paperwork, to settle before your tenure here is completely official." He then turned his grandfatherly gaze to the rest of the table. "If the Heads of the Houses could join us, as well...?" he asked, getting four nods in return (three friendly, one curt — guess which).
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Wednesday, August 18, 1995, 2:00 PM
The paperwork was not, as it turned out, very onerous. Considering the milieu, it was actually rather mundane — a very basic employment contract, a form arranging direct deposit of my pay (to my Gringotts vault, natch), a consent form that permitted Madam Pomfrey to perform emergency medical procedures on my person if needed, stuff like that. It took maybe ten or fifteen minutes to read and sign them all, they were all that simple and direct.
I couldn't decide if that meant the Wizarding World was ahead or behind the mundane world when it came to legalese.
Once all that was done, there was a little ritual to key me into the school's ward schema. I'd been operating under "guest" privileges up until that point, but once I'd been "introduced" to Hogwarts, though, I was able to direct the school defenses to a limited degree, send brief messages to other teachers through the school's magic, add and deduct house points, and even declare an emergency lockdown of the entire castle if needed. (All of which and more I learned from a little book Professor McGonagall gave me later.)
And then there was the other ritual, which was the reason that all four Heads of House were there.
"Since its Founding," the Headmaster intoned ceremoniously, "the school — or rather, the student body — has been divided into four Houses. Each house is more than just a dormitory; it is a family of sorts, and a home, and a heritage. Many Hogwarts graduates continue to identify themselves by their House throughout their adult lives."
I nodded in understanding. "I'm familiar with that kind of system, if not your specific setup — similar arrangements are not all that uncommon among British boarding schools in the non- magical world."
He beamed at me. "Quite so. In fact, some wizards familiar with both worlds hold that Hogwarts' Houses were the inspiration for such systems in the Muggle world." He folded his hands before himself and continued. "At the time the school was established, the four Founders disagreed on what traits made for the best wizards. They created the Houses so that each of them could gather to themselves their 'ideal' students, selected for possessing the attributes which each Founder valued above all others."
"And those were?" I asked as he stood and stepped around his big chair to the bookcase behind it.
"Godric Gryffindor valued bravery and boldness," the Headmaster replied without looking back at me. I glanced at Minerva, who seemed to stand a little taller at that moment. "His brother in arms, Salazar Slytherin, favored pure wizarding heritage along with cunning and ambition," he went on, reaching up to the top shelf. I hazarded a look over at Snape, whose demeanor changed not a hair.
"Rowena Ravenclaw preferred the intelligent and quick of wit," Dumbledore went on as he took down the item he was looking for. Filius seemed to brighten, and (dare I say it?) look a little smug at that. "And finally, Helga Hufflepuff sought out the most loyal and dedicated students," he concluded, turning around and stepping back to his desk as Pomona nodded all but imperceptibly.
"Each September we Sort the incoming first-year students into the four Houses of Hogwarts by which of these qualities seem most prominent in their characters," he declared solemnly.
"Doesn't that end up pigeon-holing a kid for life, given how influential the school is?" I objected. This set off a bit of uncomfortable shifting among three of the four Heads. "I'd hope that the system allows for a kid to grow and change as he gets older."
"The point has been raised before," the Headmaster acknowledged, "but the House system has worked well enough for the past thousand years that there is no great outcry to upset Tradition."
I swear he said that word with such a pronounced Capital Letter that I half-expected to hear the people of Anatevka sing it along with him. "Right," I said after a moment. "So... what does this have to do with me?"
Dumbledore smiled in a broad, avuncular way. "Why, you need to be Sorted, as well. Which we do with this," he continued, holding out the item he had retrieved from the bookcase — a pointed leather hat so old and worn that it looked about ready to fall apart. "Go ahead. Put it on."
A quick dip into mage sight revealed the complicated enchantment that permeated the thing, so complicated in fact that I couldn't figure out just what it did. I gave the Headmaster a dubious look, not taken in by the whole "twinkling eyes I'm-just-an- eccentric-old-man" act. "You're kidding." I gave the hat a dubious look as well, and had the oddest sensation that it was returning the favor.
Dumbledore shook his head. "Not at all, Douglas. Every staff member at Hogwarts must have at least a nominal House affiliation." He shrugged. "At the very least to give us an idea who can act as a representative of each House in ... unusual circumstances."
I caught myself about to scowl in a very Skuld-like manner and aborted the expression. I sighed, though, and held out my hand. "If I must."
Dumbledore just smiled and silently extended the Sorting Hat again. Very carefully, more than half-afraid it would fall apart in my grasp, I took it from him.
"Well, what have we here?" A dry, whispery voice echoed in my mind as soon as I'd plopped the thing onto my head. Ah. Well, that explained at least part of the complexity of the enchantment I'd seen.
"Funny," I thought back at it. "I was about to say the same thing. I'm used to talking to my headgear, but having it hold its own in conversation is a new experience for me."
I sensed, rather than heard, its amusement. "A new teacher, are you? But not a Hogwarts alumnus. Interesting. Well, well, where shall I put you?" It fell silent for a moment and I could feel the depth of its concentration. "Hmmm. Ambitious you aren't, not for power, but you are cunning enough for two, enjoy glory for its own sake despite disparaging it, and there is blood on your hands. Slytherin could make use of you."
It seemed to shift and settle itself differently on my head. "And yet you are a hero, too."
"I wouldn't say so. I'm a soldier, I just do my job."
Its chuckle, like the sound of old, creaking leather, echoed between my ears. "Eyes always ahead, you never know what it is you have done, do you? Trust me, young man, I see the trail of a hero behind you. Gryffindor is as good a choice."
"Whatever you say, Hat."
"But you also have a mind of extraordinary power, if not always of sufficient focus or wisdom. Were you still a student, Ravenclaw would sharpen your wits."
I sighed. "Is there a point to this? Or an end?"
"And loyalty in spades," it went on, ignoring me this time. "To friends, to wife, to commander, to those whom you take under your wing and to those who take you in. You would gladly die in their defense. You could show Hufflepuff a thing or two, I'd wager."
"So I belong everywhere. Maybe you should make up a new house just for me."
Another creaky chuckle. "Maybe I should. That'd stand Dumbledore's beard on end! Well, Colonel Sangnoir, it's a hard decision, a hard one indeed. But I've taken your measure, and read your life, and it is my belief that you belong in...
"Just kidding. Hufflepuff!" it shouted out loud.
I sat there for a moment, gazing up at the underside of the Hat's brim with what I was later told was a profoundly bemused look on my face. "Ooooookay, then," I finally said as I swiped the Hat off my head and flipped it back into the Headmaster's hands with a little bow. "So... Hufflepuff it is."
Pomona broke ranks with the other Heads and took my hands in hers. "Welcome to our House, Douglas," she said, beaming. "I trust you will do well by my badgers should matters fall out such that they are in your hands."
"Badgers?" I asked.
"Ah, yes." She chuckled softly. "The mascot of our house is the badger."
"Ah, I see." Now that I thought about it, hadn't some of the paperwork had a coat of arms on it? Quarterly, different tinctures, an animal in each, one of which could have been a badger. In that case, the other three probably were the mascots of the other houses.
Behind her, Filius and Minerva were smiling, but already turning for the door. Snape regarded me with what I would later categorize as his Standard Expression Number Four (the Contemptuous Sneer), before he too spun on his heel and exited the Headmaster's office.
"Well, I trust it won't ever come down to that," I replied to Pomona, "but if it does, I swear to you that I will do my best, whatever the situation."
"Of course you will, dear," she replied, smiling even wider. "Of course you will." She released my hands. "Why don't you come back with me to the greenhouses and we'll discuss a bit more what it means to be part of Hufflepuff."
"Before you do," the Headmaster — about whom I had completely forgotten — interjected. I turned back to him.
He had returned to his seat behind the desk and looked positively regal — the aging King Arthur on his throne, almost. "We still need to speak of your class schedule and your duties outside of the classroom."
"Oh, pish." Pomona gave a dismissive little wave. "I can cover all that with him, Albus. And what I can't, Minerva can."
He nodded in agreement. "Quite so, Pomona. I'll leave him to your tender mercies, then. However, Douglas, we need to arrange our first meeting about our joint research project."
I took his meaning immediately — the research into how to get me home. "Of course." I grinned. "I appear to be reasonably free for much of the next few days. Whatever's convenient for you, sir."
"Very well, then. Shall we meet, say, tomorrow afternoon at one?" He sat back and clasped his hands on the desk in front of himself.
"Works for me. One tomorrow it is." Which brought to mind one of my offers to the Headmaster. "That reminds me, sir, I also need to start that parallel project, my investigations into that persistent problem of yours?" I would have said outright that I intended to start gathering intelligence on Voldemort, but the Headmaster's evasive phrasing suggested that Pomona wasn't exactly cleared for the information.
"Ah, yes." He pursed his lips. "Go right ahead, my boy. If you need anything that a house-elf cannot bring you upon request, simply ask me. Likewise, if your investigations require you to leave the school grounds, I ask that you inform myself or Minerva."
"Certainly," I said with a little nod. This was very cool. I had some definite — and unusual — ideas about how I wanted to approach my intelligence-gathering, and he'd pretty much just given me carte blanche. "If there's nothing more, Headmaster, then I'll see you at dinner."
I turned back to Pomona, who wore an amused and tolerant smile, and offered her my arm. "Why, thank you!" she declared with a chuckle, and threaded her arm through mine. We turned toward the door.
"Douglas?" the Headmaster called before we had left the room.
I looked back over my shoulder. "Sir?"
He looked almost pained. "We are all colleagues here. You can call me 'Albus', you know."
I shook my head, smiling sheepishly. "Sorry, force of habit. You're nothing like my commanding officer, but you radiate much the same... presence. I'll try to shift gears... Albus."
His eyes twinkled again at that. "I am very glad to hear it, Douglas. Now, off with the two of you." He made a shooing gesture, chuckling.
Pomona and I shared a smile. "Far be it from us to disobey a direct order from the Headmaster," I murmured.
"No, that would never do," she replied.
And chuckling together, we left Dumbledore's office.
Once we were down the stone escalator and in a corridor proper, Pomona turned to me and said, "While we make our way to the greenhouses..."
"Yes?" I said with a raised eyebrow.
She smirked, just a little. "I've heard the most astounding rumor about an encounter between you and a dragon?"
I rolled my eyes. If I ever found out who was spreading that story around...
"Well," I said as the two of us made our way to the central staircase, "It started when I crash-landed in Romania..."
I had to tell the story of how I punched out a dragon another half-dozen times during the course of my first week at Hogwarts. The rumor of my martial prowess seemed to escalate with each person who wanted to know the "whole story". Dear gods in heaven, you would think knocking a dragon unconscious with one blow would be a wild enough story, but no. By the last repetition, I had to convince my listener that I did not stare down an entire herd of berserking dragons and cow them into submission with a single sharp word. No matter how freaking awesome it made me seem.
I swear, though, certain educators whose names I will not mention here seemed to be disappointed that I had only done a small impossible thing instead of an ungodly impossible thing.
You just can't satisfy some people.
All in all, the only ones who did not press me for the story were Snape and Trelawney. For which I was most grateful.
During that first week I handed off my book list to a grateful Minerva and got my teaching schedule (and employee manual) in exchange, learned of my other duties besides teaching (overseeing detentions, patrolling the halls at night, office hours between classes, stuff like that), and was warned at least three times of the "curse" on my position. (I thanked the kind souls who warned me, but told them I had it handled.)
Oh, and I began teaching Albus what I knew about dimensional magics.
This latter required I learn more about how Wizarding magic worked, so I was spending my mornings studying Arithmancy — and pestering Septima with my questions — so that I could translate what I knew into terms Albus would recognize and relate to. This is not to say that he was stupid — far from it. It's just that we spoke completely different languages when it came to magic.
Let me explain. Magic at its deepest, most basic level is a fundamental force of nature which can, when directed, change the way other fundamental aspects of space-time behave, including those which are loosely and fuzzily described as "spiritual". In order to direct this force, you need two things — a genetic trait which allows you to perceive and manipulate that force, and a system which abstracts and organizes the process of using that force.
The trait is the magegift. It's like being born with eyes and hands for magic.
The system is something called a magical tradition. (Or a school of magic, or a style, or any of a dozen similar terms.) It is a combination of knowledge, skills, techniques, and shortcuts which allow a practitioner to manipulate mana and use it to accomplish certain tasks. A system always includes a model of what magic is and how it behaves, which defines what is and isn't possible with the methods available to that system. The model does not need to be "true" as long as it is internally consistent and maps somehow onto the lower-level reality of magic; different traditions can and do have mutually contradictory models, all of which work. It's sort of like how geocentric astronomy is nothing like reality, but still functions just fine for the purpose of navigation on both land and sea.
The catch is, while the model empowers you to do what it says is possible, it also restricts you with what it says is impossible. Of course, the model can be changed, but until the twentieth century this was a slow, trial-and-error process — and even if a revised model worked, sometimes there was a cultural or religious context that would not allow it to be implemented. (For example: ask a Catholic exorcist what he thinks about grafting some Voudoun onto his bell-book-and-candle system to give it a bit more ooomph. Be prepared to run.)
Anyway, along about 1949 a small group of theoretical physicists scattered among several colleges along the East Coast of the United States started wondering why there were dozens — hell, hundreds — of different ways to do magic, and no two of them agreed on more than a couple axioms or principles. Working with some equally-curious mages from the same colleges and several different traditions, they figured out that no single magical system actually described the objective reality of magic — they just provided toolkits to use that reality. With that breakthrough made, they began to work backwards from the various systems to figure out just what that objective reality actually was.
The result was the creation by 1974 of a Unified Theory of Magic. (Which turned out to be the missing chunk of the Grand Unified Theory that made the whole thing work, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.) The UTM by itself wasn't a magical system, but it described how magical systems worked from the ground up, and how they could be designed and implemented. And since no science can be done without mathematics, the UTM had an entire branch of math of its own — along with a notation system that turned out to be very useful not only for quantifying systems, but also for defining magical techniques — "spells" — in a system-neutral manner.
To put it in other terms: Given several dozen programming languages without their compilers, the researchers were able to deduce the existence of and derive the complete instruction set for the CPU's machine language. And in the process developed a tool that could create new programming languages for that CPU.
Now here's where I come in. In 1989, Dwimanor's expanding mastery of his magical tradition led him to notice that I was radiating magic all the freaking time. Since according to everything we knew at that point I was "just" a mutant, suffice it to say that he was more than a little curious about this. We subsequently spent many, many hours in the Mansion's Thaumodynamics laboratory to find out what was really up with my metatalents.
We finally determined that while yes, I tested positive as a mutant, I was also a mage, and that one of my mutations — overshadowed by my more obvious metafunctions and heretofore unnoticed — was to my magegift. And as a result, I was perhaps the only instinctive practitioner of a magical system among all of Earth's higher primates.
Now at that point in my career, I'd managed reasonably well with a set of stopgaps and workarounds which let me live something that at least looked like a normal life while still serving as a junior member of the Warriors. But I wanted something more than workarounds and make-do — I wanted mastery of my metagifts in a way that the other Warriors possessed but which had up to that time eluded me.
A fellow engineer despite his mystic vocation, Dwim pointed me at the body of work that had built up around the UTM and suggested that I approach it as a systems analysis problem — regard my broken magegift as a piece of undocumented software whose operation and functioning needed to be thoroughly understood, but which could not simply be stopped and decompiled. Surely I was up to that kind of challenge?
Well, after I told him not to call me "Shirley", that's precisely what I did. It took me about five months, during which I learned not only the UTM, its mathematics, and its notation, but the basics of practically every style of magic being practiced anywhere on Earth, in the realms of the Fae, and among a couple of alien civilizations that we had contact with. (And I learned enough about some of the bigger traditions to qualify me as an archmage a dozen times over if I could only use that knowledge as any other mage-gifted could.)
When I was done, I understood thoroughly how my metatalent worked, what my limits really were, and how to make an accurate guess at the effect a new song might give me. I gained a better control over the chaos factor of my field, making my day-to-day life a little easier. I wasn't a master of my personal magic, not like Dwim was of his, but I was a whole hell of a lot closer to it than I had been — and now had a hope of actually reaching it.
(And as a second-order consequence of my studies, the resulting improvements in my control over my day-to-day life gave me the confidence to approach Maggie romantically. We'd've never started dating, let alone gotten married, if I hadn't known and believed I could get close to her without accidentally vaporizing her clothes. Or worse, her flesh.)
So that's how I acquired a depth and breadth of knowledge in both theoretical and practical magic that ranked me as one of the top 25 or so experts in those fields around the world — much to the surprise of anyone who mistook my public persona for the full extent of my character.
Back to Hogwarts. I knew a few things about inter-dimensional magics — both theory and practical. Not a lot — I hadn't had a need for it before my exile. But enough. Unfortunately for Albus, I only knew it in terms of either the Unified Theory of Magic or the couple of traditions that made more than occasional use of it.
None of which would work for wand-using Wizarding magic-users. I needed to "decompile" the Wizarding tradition, analyzing its model and building a description of its functionality in UTM notation. Once I did that, I could "translate" what I knew into terms that would make sense to and, more importantly, work for a wand-wizard. But before I could get that far, I actually had to understand the underpinnings of wand-magic — not how to cast the individual spells, but how and why those spells worked. And that's where the Arithmancy came in.
That first week was a major learning experience all around. I was learning the foundations of wand-magic. I was teaching Albus what the UTM and its notation were all about, so he could pass on to me what he knew or could find out about Wizarding dimensional magic. And Septima Vector had noticed the notes I'd taken in UTM notation and gotten curious. I passed it off as my own work, purely an ad hoc system of abbreviations and whatnot, but she insisted on being taught — and bribed me with some intense graduate-level tutoring sessions in Arithmancy that later turned out to be critical to my understanding of the topic.
There was only one thing I hadn't managed to accomplish before the students finally showed up. I'd yet to start my intelligence gathering on ol' Flight-of-Emo. I'd barely had a chance to sketch out a plan of action.
Oh, yeah. One other thing of note — I met most of the ghosts of Hogwarts around the same time. The first was the so-called "Fat Friar", whom I encountered in the Hufflepuff common room while Pomona showed me around that first afternoon, and who heartily welcomed me to his house.
I ran into the other House ghosts at dinner that same evening. And a charming bunch they were.
I'm not being sarcastic — I spent a fair fraction of that first dinner conversing with all four of them, singly and in small groups. Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington was quite the raconteur and despite his dour appearance the "Bloody Baron" was a ready conversationalist — much more so than Professor Snape or Argus Filch were — once you found the right topics to engage him. The Friar was already voluble and didn't need prompting to join in a merry chat.
Even the melancholy Grey Lady (who I was warned spoke rarely if at all) joined me in a brief discussion of magical theory. Okay, I'll admit I did all the real talking, and her responses were limited almost entirely to facial expressions, gestures, and nods and shakes of her head. But by weaving the occasional question through what would otherwise have been a monologue on my part, I managed to tease the odd detail about herself from the all-but- silent spirit. And my views and experiences turned out to be of interest to her — the Ravenclaw ghost was a frequent visitor to both my classroom and my private quarters over the next few months. In private, on topics that piqued her intellect, she proved considerably less laconic.
I never did learn very much about the Grey Lady, let alone what had led to the sorrowful state in which she spent her afterlife. But I like to think that I helped ease its weight on her soul those times we spent in discussion of magic and magical theory.
And then there was the fifth "ghost" I met that first day. It was well after dinner, and not long after the late Northern Scotland sunset. Pomona, still serving in her self-appointed role as tour guide, was accompanying me back to the faculty wing. We were in a long corridor on the third floor, taking what Pomona had promised me was a shortcut between the Main Hall and our quarters, when what could only have been a water balloon smacked me in the back, right between my shoulders. The splash soaked me from the top of my head to my waist, and was accompanied by a gale of high-pitched, hyena-like laughter.
"Peeves!" Pomona snarled, whipping out her wand as she spun to face our rear. I'd beaten her, though, and before she was even moving had already turned around to spot a tiny humanoid figure high in the air half-way down the corridor. It was the source of the laughter, rolling and kicking as though it were lying on flat ground.
"And what, may I ask, are you?" I muttered.
"He's Hogwarts' poltergeist," Pomona muttered.
I raised an eyebrow. "A physical poltergeist with an actual personality?"
"Such as it is." She raised her wand to point at the mannikin. "Peeves, Professor Sangnoir is not..." I put my hand on hers before she could tell it (him?) what I wasn't.
"Here, let me." I released her hand and began approaching the cackling creature on a slow, curving path, studying it as I did. Obviously not the kind of poltergeist I was used to, not with an actual humanoid form. I wondered if it were pseudo-solid or more ghostlike.
"Oooooh, got'im good, Peevsie did," the tiny man cackled and howled once more in laughter. "Oh, but he's trying to sneak up on Peeves, he is," he added, sitting up straight and watching me with a sly look that promised immediate mischief.
"Hello, there, Peeves," I said in exactly the same tones I would use to tell a costumed extremist to put down the bomb. "Do you know who I am?" I asked, more to take up time as I got closer than for any other reason, and shifted into mage sight as I did.
"New Defense professor, he is," Peeves said smugly. "Like all the others, here today and gone tomorrow." He narrowed his eyes at me. "Peeves isn't afraid of professors, oh no."
Under mage sight, Peeves bore a distinct resemblance to Marller's little winged buddy Senbei. Not the same type of creature, but certainly of the same order — a minor Celestial of some sort, very minor. A free imp, maybe? Or some other kind of servitor creature from one of the other pantheons, set loose by design or accident?
I dropped back into normal sight and retrieved the Toothpick from its holster on my belt, willing it to radiate a little of its deadly Celestial power. As soon as it came into sight, Peeves froze and hung motionless in midair. "Do you know what I have in my hand, Peeves?"
Peeves, eyes wide, nodded very slowly. "Peeves sees, Peeves knows," he whispered. I think the little creature had forgotten that he could escape me pretty easily had he had a mind to.
"I'll make you a deal, Peeves," I said, giving him as sharklike a smile as I could manage. "You leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone. You don't want me to decide you're Dark, now, do you? I'd have to do something about a Dark creature in Hogwarts, after all."
"Agreed!" Peeves shrieked, suddenly whirling and thrashing about in agitation. "Peeves leaves the Defense professor alone if the Defense professor leaves Peeves alone!"
"As long as you don't harm anyone, I agree, too," I said, sliding the Toothpick back into its holster.
That qualifier seemed to have insulted the imp. Peeves stood up straight and assumed an almost dignified air. "Peeves does not harm! Peeves annoys, irritates, inconveniences, teases, taunts, and disrupts, but never harms."
I blinked. "Oh. Well, okay, then."
Peeves nodded once at me, then turned and sailed off, passing with a wet squelch through a nearby wall and out of sight.
I waited a moment more to see if he would come back with some final snappy little line, but no, he didn't. I shrugged and turned back to Pomona, who was watching me with a somewhat shocked look on her face.
I held out my arm to her. "Shall we?" I asked. "I need to get out of these wet things."
Absently, she slid her arm through mine while asking, "How... what did you do? Only the Bloody Baron has been able to make Peeves behave before now."
I smiled, more to myself than at her. "Believe me, Pomona. No one in their right minds, not even a poltergeist, wants to make me his enemy."
The British Ministry of Magic, London, UK. Thursday, August 19, 1995, 9:13 AM
"I thought you were going to take care of this Sangnoir, Dolores!" Cornelius Fudge cried. "You said you would convince him not to take the blasted professorship!" These meetings in the Minister's office on the Potter matter and its attendant complications were getting longer and more frequent, and the Minister was starting to regret leaving the task in Dolores Umbridge's hands.
Especially as no information was coming out of the Department of Mysteries about the Potter prophecy. Although he'd never admit it aloud, the coincidence between Potter's announcement of Lord... Lord Thingy's return and the disaster in the Hall of Prophecy was beginning to worry him. If Potter had been less of a political liability, Fudge would have had him brought in to settle the matter weeks ago, just as the Unspeakables had requested. But between his very public pronouncements and Dolores' insistence that the boy had to be silenced, the Minister had to settle for the Department's current indirect methods — which were returning nothing of use.
"Unfortunately, Minister, my representatives proved not to be convincing enough to dissuade him," Dolores Umbridge simpered at him. Inwardly, she scowled. Bad enough that Dumbledore had been able to find a new Defence professor, but worse, unlike most of the recent crop, this one was not just competent but very much so. At least that's what the reports filed by the investigating Aurors with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement suggested. That would make him even harder to oust. And made him far more dangerous to the Ministry.
Fudge shook his head and settled heavily into his seat behind the desk. "I want you to discharge those representatives, then, Dolores. If they can't do a simple job like remind a British wizard of his duty to his nation..."
"Well, that seems to be part of the problem," Dolores objected in as sickly-sweet a voice as she could manage. "It turns out that Sangnoir isn't a British wizard." Her voice and expression both went flat. "He's an American."
Fudge's eyes widened. "An... an American? In Hogwarts? Oh, dear!" He looked ready to faint.
"Now, now, Cornelius," Dolores cajoled. "Not all Americans are outlaws and thugs, regardless of what you've heard. I'm sure Sangnoir is perfectly law-abiding. We just need to find the right law to make him abide." She giggled girlishly, a disturbing sound from someone of her age and bulk. "And speaking of laws, Cornelius..." From somewhere about her massively pink- clad person she withdrew a sheaf of parchment, bound along one edge and trimmed with a wax seal and ribbon. "I think we may have a way to get me into that school to deal with Potter and his lies." She set the parchment bundle down before the Minister and stepped back slightly, giggling again.
Fudge glanced at the title of the document. "'The Emergency Powers Act of 1939'?" he asked. "How can this possibly help us, Dolores?"
She folded her hands, lacing their fingers together, before her thin, toothless smile. "Look at Section 12. Part B, paragraphs 1 through 8."
Frowning, Fudge flipped through the parchment pages until he found the passage, and began to read. Several minutes later, a smile began to grow on his face, and he looked back up at her. "Can we do this?" he asked.
Dolores' thin smile grew broad and smug. "The Emergency Powers Act was never rescinded after the end of the Grindlewald crisis. The Wizengamot suspended it, but you can still invoke parts of it by executive order." If anything, her smile grew broader. "Including Section 12-B."
Cornelius Fudge's eyes grew distant and thoughtful. "And if I appoint you High Inquisitor..."
She nodded gleefully. "You can send me to Hogwarts, where I will... take care of Potter, Dumbledore and Sangnoir — and any other traitors who might be lurking there."
END OF CHAPTER TWO
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This work of fiction is copyright © 2012, by Robert M. Schroeck and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
The Harry Potter universe and the settings and the characters thereof are the property of J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury and Warner Brothers, and are used without permission.
"Douglas Q. Sangnoir," "Looney Toons", "The Loon" and any representations thereof are copyright by and trademarks of Robert M. Schroeck.
For a full explanation of the references and hidden tidbits in this story, see the Drunkard's Walk VIII Concordance at:
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Many thanks to my prereaders on this chapter: Christopher Angel, Kathleen Avins, Nina Avins, Nathan Baxter, Ed Becerra, Andrew Carr, Kevin Cody, Logan Darklighter, Shaye Horwitz, Helen Imre, Eric James, Josh Megerman, Berg Oswell, Peggy Schroeck and Amanda Stair-Duran.
C&C gratefully accepted.