In retrospect, Howl should have suspected that something was seriously amiss.
The only time Megan had used the emergency line that he had set up was when she had gone into labor with Mari and no one had been home. She had had no choice but to call him. He had arrived within minutes, of course, but in the end, his presence had been regrettably pointless and painful. Megan had already phoned the paramedics and had only wanted someone at hand to verbally abuse and physically harm. Howl was pretty sure he would have acquired scars from that particular experience had he not previously ensured that it was virtually impossible for a blemish to appear on his skin.
Nonetheless, when the cracked glass cube that he had linked to the number began glowing in seven different shades of purple, he had dropped what he had been doing (which was trying to convince Sophie to let him breed spiders in one of their spare upstairs rooms) and rushed over to her home, just like any good little brother would have. He appeared on her doorstep within minutes of receiving the call.
“About time you showed up.” His nephew, Neil, greeted him at the front door. He didn’t look in the very least bit worried or frightened. It appeared he had not been summoned to deal with a bad emergency. Howl relaxed a bit at that.
“Hello Neil.” he said, stepping inside and slipping off his coat. He draped it on the coat rack, all the while scanning the room for any signs of disarray. Surprisingly, there weren’t any. Huh, so Meg had lied. She had sworn just last month that she would only ever willingly invite him into her home if it were overrun with dancing white mice. “Where’s your mother?”
“In the kitchen.” Neil informed him with an unholy grin on his face. “Thinking of ways to kill you and hide the body.”
Howl eyed his nephew warily, unsure if the boy was joking or not. He never could keep up with all the slang the younger generation seemed so fond of acquiring. “I see…”
Pushing aside the faint bells of warning that had begun to ring insistently at the corners of his mind, Howl made his way to the kitchen. Neil followed him. That in itself was troubling. Neil never voluntarily spent time in the presence of his “no-good” uncle. Howl always assumed that as the first-born he had soaked up more of Megan’s unfounded prejudices than Mari had.
“Haven’t you got a video game to play?” Howl asked him, when Neil did not part ways when they reached the stairway.
Neil shrugged. “Nope, the parents haven’t bought me anything new for ages.” The smug look on his face grew. “Besides, there’s no way I’m missing this.”
“Ah.” Howl stopped at the front of the kitchen door and glanced at Neil. The boy smirked at him. The bells rung louder. “I should be worried, shouldn’t I?”
“You should have written your will before coming here.”
“Damn.” He muttered under his breath. What was Megan mad about now? He quickly scanned his memory for something be might have inadvertently done to warrant her ire. Nothing came to mind, he had not even stepped foot in Wales since the Witch of the West fiasco.
“She’s not getting any less mad you know.” Neil piped up, helpfully.
Right. No sense in hanging around any longer in that case. Howl turned around, fully intending to leave. Meg was clearly not in trouble, Neil was still happily insulting him, and Mari was most likely taking her nap. Everything was as it should be so there was really no reason for him to stay. But before he could take more than two steps, Neil shoved past him and opened the door.
“He’s here!” he announced, stepping out of the way so that the occupants in the kitchen had a full view of Howl half turned, clearly intending to leave.
With no choice left, Howl took a deep breath, uttered a quick prayer, and stepped into the room, Neil close behind. The first thing he saw was Meg sitting at the dinning table, arms crossed, eyes narrowed, lips pursed. She looked absolutely infuriated, even more so than the time Howl had ‘accidentally’ crashed her reception. For some odd reason, the image of a ticking time bomb came to Howl’s mind.
Bravely, Howl put on a smile (which was more of a strained grimace really) and returned the greeting. “How do, Megan? Er, you rang?”
“What. Is. This.” She ground out, through clenched teeth. She pointed a slightly trembling finger at the table top.
He eyed the object in question warily. It appeared to be a letter of some sort, on top of what was most likely an envelope. Oddly enough, he recognized the texture of the paper to be similar to that of parchment. No one used parchment in this world. Well, he supposed there must be a few eccentrics who did, but Meg tended to give that sort a wide berth.
“Well?” Meg demanded.
“A letter?” He ventured cautiously. He subtly attempted to inch backwards but was forced to a halt by Neil who seemed to have taken it upon himself to guard the exit. Blast that boy.
As predicted, it was the wrong answer. Megan exploded. “I know it’s a letter! What I what to know is, what, what nonsense this letter is sprouting! I’ve told you again and again Howl if you must involve yourself in this, this, drivel, then at least have the decency to keep the rest of us out of it! What were you thinking, sending such a letter to Neil! Of all the nerve, wasting our time!”
She snatched the document off the table and flung it him. Howl caught it awkwardly with his left hand and unfolded it. He scanned the letter quickly and his eyes flew to the envelope, or more accurately to the broken seal. Oh, of course.
“Well,” she demanded, arms crossed, right stop tapping angrily on the floor. “What kind of rubbish is this?”
“It’s not rubbish.” He replied. “It’s Hogwarts.” Ah, Hoggy Woggy Hogwarts. How long had it been since he had last recalled the school? Far too long, not since he’d been a student there himself surely.
“Hogwarts.” Megan repeated, her face twisting as though the word left an unpleasant taste in her mouth. “what sort of horrid name is that? And what do you mean this isn’t rubbish? Of course it is! Witches and wizards, and all this magicry. It’s all nonsense!”
She glared at him as though challenging him to contradict her. He didn’t of course. He wasn’t a Gryffindor.
“And the delivery!” she continued remorselessly. “This arrived by owl, Howell! Owl! At three in the afternoon! Heaven knows how many people saw it on its way in. You’ve just gone too far this time Howl.”
Howl couldn’t help but feel this was rather unfair. He hated birds of all sort as Meg was well aware of. Most birds that he met had a rather annoying habit of emptying their waste on his person, a fact that did nothing to endear them to him. Speaking of which, his eyes flew to ceiling, searching for the feathered fiend.
“Where is the owl?” he asked, when Meg took a break from her rant to breathe.
She glowered at him. “I chased the dirty creature out, of course. Did you really think I’d keep it in here for you until you could come and pick it up?”
“Actually, it’s still out there.” Neil interrupted, waving a hand in the general direction of the window. “It’s been still in the tree all afternoon, quiet as a mouse, staring at anyone who goes outside. Mighty creepy if you ask me.”
Simultaneously, mother and son turned towards Howl, one clearly riled, the other oddly expectant.
He swallowed and made a brave attempt to defend himself. “Meg, do you remember that summer when we were kids? The one when your best friend, er Penny, moved away?”
“Her name was Jenny,” Meg snapped. “And what has that got to do with…” She trialed off as her face paled and her eyes widened. “No.”
“Do you remember the letter I got that day?” he plunged on valiantly. “The one that an owl dropped in front of me right after you finished saying goodbye to Jenny? You must remember, you laughed yourself silly when it dropped the remnant of its lunch on me as well.”
“But that was just a hoax,” Meg insisted uncertainly. Confusion had replaced her anger, a fact for which Howl was glad. Perhaps he‘d manage to get out of this alive after all. “A prank. Father tore it up and threw it out. And then…”
“You went to your room and cried yourself to sleep in memory of Jenny.” Howl continued.
“I did not,” Meg protested huffily. Howl was fairly certain that he’d just heard a snort coming from behind him. Though he could be just hearing things.
“Alright, then you simply fell asleep. It had been getting late after all, the sun would have set in an hour or two--”
“Just get to the point.” His sister glowered at him.
Winching a little, Howl hurriedly got to the point. “After you fell asleep, we got some visitors.”
Meg frowned. “I never…”
“We didn’t tell you.” Howl admitted. “We weren’t really sure how you’d take the news, Father and Mother were having a difficult time accepting it. They saw no sense in turning your world upside down as well.”
“What news?” she asked suspiciously.
Howl took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m a wizard.”
Ever since he had learned he was a wizard, Howl had imagined several scenarios where he revealed to his family the true nature of his occupation, but he had never once visualized the situation he was in now. Telling them straight out had never been an option. All of his fantasies involved him saving them all from some magical demise or another. After all, he’d reasoned Meg couldn’t kill him for being what he was and keeping it a secret for all those years if he had saved the lives of her and her children first.
Mother and son stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.
“Howell,” Meg said finally, her voice lowering menacingly. “Are you drunk?”
“Of course not,” Howl protested. “I’m completely sober, Meg. And I’m a wizard.”
This admission only served to make her madder. From, the corner of his eye, he saw Neil inch away from him. “What do you think you’re doing Howl?” Meg snapped. “The letter was one thing, but now this! This isn’t funny.”
“It’s not supposed to be funny,” Howl said, inching backwards slowly. “It’s supposed to the truth. I’m a wizard. And Neil is one too apparently.”
“You---I---my son is not---”
“He is and so am I.” Searching for something to prove his words true, his gaze fell on a empty cup on the kitchen counter. He focused his gaze on it and willed it to rise.
Neil saw the cup first and his shout alerted Megan who spun around at once.
“Oh my Lord.” Meg stared at the floating cup, an expression of shock and horror on her face. Neil rushed forward and grabbed the cup. He turned to his uncle, silently demanding answers.
“No tricks.” Howl told him smugly. “Just magic.”
Neil glanced at his uncle and then at the cup. His expression was odd, a mixture between fear, excitement, and oh-I’m-going-crazy-aren‘t-I.
“Hogwarts?” Meg questioned quietly, still staring at the place the cup had been.
“Hogwarts is a school for magic.” He explained. “It’s very similar to a boarding school, though instead of Chemistry and Math the students learn Potions and Charms.”
“You were only there a month.” Meg said suddenly. She turned to look at him, brown eyes still wide from witnessing the earlier display of magic. “I remember, you came back home one day, barely a month after you left, looking as though it was the end of the world.”
Howl fidgeted under her stare. “Well…I was expelled after a couple of weeks starting.”
Meg rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised?”
“It wasn’t my fault.” Howl protested indignantly. “If they really didn’t want students going into the forest, they shouldn’t have labeled the place as forbidden. Honestly, they were practically begging us go in there.”
“You were expelled for going somewhere you shouldn’t?” A faint frown appeared on Meg’s lips, Unlike the previous frowns, this one wasn’t aimed at Howl, but rather for him. After so many years, he’d learned to tell the difference.
“Actually, causing a riot in the kitchens among the house elves might played a part it in,” Howl admitted, rather sheepishly. Hey, he’d been young, and extremely curious about the new world he’d just been given access to. He‘d yet to learn to keep his nose out of things that he had little knowledge of. “I also might have offended a few centaurs, destroyed the gamekeeper giant’s house, annoyed the giant squid…”
He trialed off, as memories of Hogwarts filled him mind. It really was a wondrous place, despite it’s lack of electricity, heating, and lighting. He’d managed to fall in love with the place in the few short weeks he’d been there and had been heartbroken when he had to leave. He’d never thought he’d ever return or hear of the place again.
“Congratulations Neil.” Howl said breaking the silence that had settled in the room.. He turned to face his nephew who appeared to be in some sort of shock. “Hogwarts is one of the best schools around. You won’t find any place better.”
Meg stood up so suddenly and with such force that she nearly knocked her chair over. “You want me to send my son to a school overrun by monsters?”
Howl mentally reviewed what he had just told Meg…Oops.
“I’m sure it will be a…” he paused, searching for the best word to describe the situation. “a cathartic experience.”
“I don’t give a damn what kind of experience you think it will be for him.” Meg hissed.
Howl cringed back further. Meg was truly incensed now if she had cursed in front of Neil without a second thought. She had gone on for ages when Howl had slipped and muttered a not-so-polite phrase in front of Neil not too long ago.
“You’re a wizard?” Neil asked slowly, eyeing his uncle. He had been silent since Howl’s big revelation, choosing to stare at the magician instead of joining in the conversation.
Howl turned slightly towards, so that he could see the boy and Meg at the same time. “Yes.”
The boy stared at him for a bit longer. “I just don’t see it.” he said finally. “ No matter how I look at you, you seem like a loser to me, not a wizard.”
“I’ll have you know, I’m quite renowned back home.” Howl said rather hurt. He did so look like a wizard. He was one of the most handsome, and powerful, wizard around! Who in Market Chipping had not heard of the notorious Wizard Howl? “Even the King comes to me for help every now and then. Maybe one day you’ll be half as good as me.”
“One day,“ Neil repeated. A grin slowly made its way onto his face. “I’m a wizard. A wizard. Wicked.”
“I am not letting my son turn out like you!” Meg insisted, slamming her fist on the table as though to emphasize her intention. “I will not let him change his name into something like, like, Howl.”
“Do people really call you Howl?” Neil snickered, ignoring his steaming mother.
“It’s a very nice name.” Howl informed him, straightening up indignantly. “Much better than Howell.”
Neil snorted. “Yeah, sure, whatever. Who doesn’t want to have a nickname like Howl?”
“Neil.” Megan warned.
“Sorry mum,” Neil said immediately. “I won’t interrupt again. You can go back to chewing out Uncle Howling Monkey.”
“Oh just forget it,” Megan collapsed onto the chair nearest her. She looked so completely and utterly defeated that Howl almost felt a tiny bit of sympathy for her. “He’s going to turn out like you no matter what I do isn’t he?”
And just like that, the sympathy was gone.
“You don’t have to sound so put off,” Howl said indignantly just as Neil protested, “No way I’ll ever be as big a loser as him!”
“I don’t think you’ll have a choice, dear.” Megan told her scowling son sadly. She looked as though her entire world had been turned upside down and shaken vigorously before being righted. In way though, Howl supposed it had been. This was precisely why he hadn’t wanted to tell her about the whole magic deal in the first place. He’d known she’d blow it out of proportion and then take it out on poor him.
“This is completely your fault,” Neil accused Howl. “Why couldn’t you be the rich, reclusive uncle who’ll die young and leave me everything?”
“I believe I’d have left everything to Mari, if that were the case.” Howl retorted.
“Have you got anything to say for yourself, Howell?” Meg asked wearily, resting her head in her hands.
Actually, there was something he had been wanting to say ever since he had first recognized the seal.
“Welcome to the family business.” Howl declared proudly, clapping a hand on Neil’s shoulder. The boy scowled in reply.
“There is no family business!” Megan screamed, jumping up in indignation. “Howell!”
“Oh and one more thing,” Howl said to Neil, ignoring his sister. “electricity does not work at Hogwarts, so you’ll have to do without your games while you’re there.”
And on that final note, Howl slipped out the kitchen door which was handily unguarded and headed home. Perhaps he’d come back once things had calmed down a bit and take Neil and Meg to Diagon Alley. Maybe he’d convince Sophie to tag along as well. Yes, that’d be fun. He couldn’t wait to tell her there was another wizard in the family.