Early Spring 1991
The air had gone misty and cold and Sarah was both soaked and shivering. But her discomfort had ceased to matter more than an hour ago.
She watched the blades slice into the water, watched well-muscled bodies lean over their oars, arms straining. Sarah could see rhythm in their movements, though she could never have mimicked the quick, efficient beat they all moved to. Not with an activity that strenuous.
"Come on, come on," she cupped her shaking hands around her mouth and shrieked, "pull smooth, Gardiner! I know you're better than that!"
Out on the water, Brent Gardiner gave no indication of having heard her.
Sarah got a glimpse of a mop of blond hair, a cloak with a feather collar, and a scarf in Merton colors. Just seeing him again made her heart beat a little faster, burned away the chill in her cheeks, leaving them hot.
She turned to look, but the figure was gone.
If he'd really been there, it just figured he'd support a shell opposing hers, she grumbled.
Lady Margaret Hall's rowers placed second, which the rest of the school seemed to view as lost. Sarah hadn't really expected them to beat out Merton, who had been fantastic this year. And if one looked at the times, they been really surprisingly close.
Sarah almost blamed the apparition of Jareth. But why would he interfere in a three-shell intra-uni stake race?
Everyone in the Hall seemed morose regardless. Gardiner and his girlfriend, Leah Cannon, settled into the kitchen of the flat they all shared with far more six packs of godawful beer than seemed strictly necessary.
It was pretty obvious they planned to drown the kitchen and their sorrows in empty beer cans and "almost won it" stories.
So she packed a weekend's worth of clothes into a bag and made her way to the train station. She tucked her Lady Margaret scarf around her neck and zipped up her jacket over it before she left. As she walked to the station — keeping up a brisk pace, her heels click click clicking on the pavement — she looped her ex-boyfriend's Kellogg scarf over her head, tucking her hair inside.
They had a direct service between Oxford and London every thirty minutes. She pulled a few handfuls of bills from an autoteller and stuffed them into her wallet, leaving only enough for the ticket out.
It was near dark when Sarah finally arrived in London. She took a moment to stretch and really wake up before giving up her seat. At least London was further south — and thus slightly warmer — than Oxford had been.
She stepped off the train and and smiled at the sense of energy that seemed to seep up from the station's floor. Oxford was lively, sure, but London itself seemed alive somehow.
Sarah stepped away from the terminal to look at the tube map and the printed schedule. Coming to London at all had been a spur-of-the-moment decision. She was reluctant to over-plan now.
So she picked the soonest train — which went to Charing Cross — and reasoned that she'd figure out a hotel or bed and breakfast when she'd explored a bit.
Charing Cross was basically heaven for a woman studying English Literature. So many bookshops, so little time. And some of them kept such odd hours. Even the ones that were closed provided some excellent window shopping.
She couldn't help but laugh at herself.
And then she stumbled onto a budiling that definitely wasn't a book shop. Sarah tilted her head.
The Leaky Cauldron.
Weird name for a pub, and even odder that it still frosted its windows. Hadn't most pubs stopped that?
She swung the door open and blinked at the strangest assortment of fashions she'd ever seen. Most of them wore long robes in varying colors. A few of them had pointy witch hats. And no few of them were staring back at her. Was this some sort of theme pub?
"Close the door if you're coming in," said the bartender in a bored tone.
She stepped fully into the pub and let the door fall closed behind her. Then, with a shrug, she made her way to the bar.
"Diagon Alley entrance is out back, if you're looking for it."
The bartender gave her a sage nod. "Ah, American. It'd be similar to your Goblin Market over in... Salem, I think?"
Sarah fought not to recoil. But all the same, she could feel her hands began to shake. "G-g-Goblin Market?!"
The bartender gave her a bland look. "Don't blame me for what you American Witches call it."
"It's Witchesabbath now anyway," a customer offered from a few feet away, also at the bar. "'pparently the goblins in America got shirty about an all-human mall calling itself after them."
"What aren't they shirty about?"
Sarah tried to imagine Jareth's goblins being 'shirty' about much of anything. And couldn't. They'd been a mischievous and occasionally mindlessly cruel but otherwise comical lot.
The bartender gave her a suspicious look. "You are here to shop, aren't you?"
"Jones, you want to show her?"
The customer heaved himself from his bar stool and into a slump. He made his way past other stools and tables. Sarah followed him to a small wooden door, and then out into a dingy courtyard.
He counted bricks away from the dustbin, then tapped a stubby little wooden stick against a brick three times.
Sarah watched as the bricks fell away to reveal a brightly-lit street.
The robed gentleman flourished his arms at the street. Still in shock, Sarah stepped through the arch and onto the new street.
"Diagon Alley," she breathed.
The wall rose up behind her. Sarah turned, but could see no way back out. She fought down instinctive panic and reminded herself that sometimes the way back was forward. And was she really going to pass up the opportunity to explore a brand new world, one that seemed to exist right alongside her everyday, ho-hum college student existence? She took a few deep breaths, then stepped away from the wall to explore the street.
"What do you mean you don't take pounds?!"
The street vendor stared at her, then gave her a lingering up-and-down look. Usually when men did that, she bristled. But this one wasn't checking her out; he was trying to place her clothing. He seemed particularly confused by her jeans — and not the fact that they were acid washed. Just that she was wearing them.
Sarah had a feeling that this conversation was about to go nowhere good. So she asked, "Is there someplace I can, I don't know, exchange my money?"
"Gringotts," the street vendor said, pointing at a white buiding in the distance.
Sarah left the cart with the delicious looking meat pies behind and headed up the street. The closer she got to Gringotts, the stranger the building looked. It wasn't quite ramshackle, exactly — but it was definitely built by goblins. Or idiots. The columns that held up its facade seemed to lean, giving the building a mismatched look. Lopsided, really. She half wondered if it was going to fall over soon.
She stopped to read the inscription on the doors, noting two goblins who looked slightly more human to her than what she assumed were their brethren in the Undergound.
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
She almost laughed aloud. Their King stole children, and warned people not to steal from his bank?
And then she noticed the way the gobln guards were eyeing her. When she finally returned their glances, they both immediately snapped their gazes elsewhere.
But one murmured, "Lady Williams," as she passed them into the bank.
Sarah almost turned right around to look for a way out. But she took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders. Now inside, she saw several lines of people with pointy hats and long robes. Fortunately, there was a family of people dressed like her at the end of one line. She moved to stand behind them. They even had a normally-dressed young girl with them; in fact, the only thing odd about them at all was the way the adults were looking at everything around them as if dazed and the girl's almost unnaturally unruly hair.
Sarah smiled. "You don't have to worry. They're not going to swarm and eat you or anything."
The woman jumped and then turned to her. "What was that, miss?"
"I was just... trying to be reassuring. Sorry."
One of the goblin workers turned to eye her. It wasn't quite a nasty, 'get out of here,' look. But there was definitely an element of 'I know what you did and nobody's happy with you about it.'
"Oh. No, it's quite alright. Thank you for trying." The woman paused, then tilted her head and said, "An American? In Wizarding London?"
Sarah bit back the urge to say 'Well, I could be a werewolf and in Paris.' If Goblins lived above ground and some form of British government acknowledged the sovereignty of a currency other than GBP (something she'd always thought would happen on a pleasant day in hell), werewolves could very well be real. Dragons and unicorns too, for that matter.
"We're kind of like bad pennies. Just turn up everywhere," Sarah said instead. She held out a hand. "I'm Sarah Williams."
The other woman smiled and shook her hand. "Jean Granger, my husband Eugene, and our daughter, Hermione." Eugene Granger waved. Hermione turned to grace her with a smile, though she looked a little awkward.
"A pleasure to meet you. So, what brings you here?"
Eugene seemed to swell. Probably with pride. "Our daughter's been accepted into Hogwarts! The finest school for young wizards and witches in all of Britain and most of Europe!"
"Oh. Well done, then. Did they have fiendish entrance exams?" Sarah turned to give Hermione a conspiratorial wink. "Did you have to turn someone into a toad?"
"No," said the girl, quite seriously. "I just received a letter one morning saying I'm a witch, and that the Deputy Headmistress wanted to come and talk to my parents about my magical education. And now we're here to buy my school things."
Jean made a startled noise and said, "Oh, Eugene, the line is moving. Perhaps we should stop —"
"—yes, lollygagging, I know, dear. It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Williams."
"Nice meeting you," she said, bemused.
As she moved up to follow them, she heard the goblin that had been eyeing her mutter, "Maybe we would have swarmed them and eated them, Lady Williams. Bet you never thinked of that."
Some things never changed. She resisted the urge to sigh.
When she finally made it to the counter, the goblin there made a show of writing neatly in a ledger with an actual quill pen. His movements were both elaborate and precise, creating a tight, scratchy script that didn't seem to blot as badly as she would have trying to write that way. She'd tried calligraphy in high school and been terrible at it.
Then he looked up from his ledger. She knew the moment he recognized her; his eyes widened slightly and then narrowed. The 'we know who you are, we know what you did, and we're not thrilled' look appeared on his face.
But all he said was, "State your business."
So Sarah slid her photocopied pass port and Bod card over the desk. He looked at them, and then said, "Sarah Galadriel Williams?"
A nod. "If you will please follow Griphook to meet Ragnok?"
"Sure. Uh, who's Griphook?"
A goblin stepped forward from behind the counter and gave a slight bow. "I am, Lady Williams." He wore the same unwelcoming expression as all the rest.
"Right then. Lead the way."
The way turned out to be stepping into a cart that hurtled down a series of tunnels at high speed. The trip felt like an exhilarating cross between exploring a mineshaft, playing bumper cars, and a rollercoaster.
They stopped in front of an office with closed double doors. Two torches burned outside it. After a moment, the doors swung open and another goblin emerged from the office.
Sarah clambered out of the cart. Her legs wobbled as she took her first few steps, but she managed to collect herself quickly enough.
"Are you Ragnok?"
The goblin nodded, but said nothing until they had crossed the threshold of his office and he had closed the doors. Sarah blinked at what she saw; the office was decorated primarily in red and gold. Two human-sized chairs with thick red upholstery and gilt leaf decorations sat before a huge mahogany desk.
"Please sit, Lady Williams."
Sarah sat in one of the chairs. The entire office — and especially sitting in a big chair across a huge desk from a short but intimidating non-human high roller — had such an aura that she crossed her legs at the ankle and primly folded her hands in her lap.
"Please allow me to be frank, Lady Williams. You are at present... a source of conflict for the Goblin Kingdom. Until certain matters are resolved, we cannot welcome you personally." Before Sarah could ask what the hell matters he was talking about, Ragnok raised a finger. "However, due to your nature as a Champion of the Labyrinth, there are certain services we are obligated to provide."
"Certain services?" She leaned forward a little. "Is that like 'certain powers?'"
Ragnok's tone turned sharp. "Considering the circumstances, I find that jape to be in very poor taste."
The comment caught her completely by surprise. It wasn't just being told off by a goblin. It wasn't just that she was talking to a goblin banker with an office worth more than her every meagre possession in England (which seemed completely impossible for reasons obvious to anyone who had ever visited the Labyrinth). It wasn't just that he was alluding to circumstances she had no idea of. It was all of it.
And then Ragnok said, as if testing the idea, "You are unaware."
"Yes," she said. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. What certain matters need resolving? And what circumstances are you talking about?"
"I am not at liberty to allude to the matter any more specifically than I have. Suffice to say, this should be a subject of discussion for you and the Goblin King."
Fear me, love me, and I will be your slave, Jareth offered from across the years, his words tickling at the edges of her thoughts. She'd turned him down.
It had been the right decision. But she'd always wondered. He was exciting, and interesting, and a mystery she wanted to solve.
"Wait, you're telling that I'm persona non grata in your bank because I didn't marry your king when I was fifteen?"
"Lady Williams," Ragnok said, looking pained. "I can neither confirm nor deny that statement."
Which was, they obviously both knew, a 'yes.' Ragnok looked both uncomfortable with having her in his office, and massively irritated with the situation. He pulled at his collar.
Sarah decided to show a little mercy. "Right. Well, I'll discuss those 'certain matters' with Jareth as soon as I can, I promise. Talk to me about the certain services you have to provide?"
Ragnok's brows drew down at her using the Goblin King's given name. But then he seemed to write her off as human and rude and also the mean nasty woman who broke his poor king's tender heart. And he explained: "As Champion of the Labyrinth, you have access to a communal vault. You may enter it at any time by exercising your... certain powers…or simply speaking to a Gringotts teller during business hours."
"Fair enough," she said.
"Your vault has no key. Instead its door will be primed to a word or phrase of your choosing. You may establish a representative with a word or phrase of their own." Ragnok paused, then gave her a frank look. "Considering your status in the Goblin Kingdom, it would be best to do so as soon as possible. Now, for instance."
"There's really no one I could name right now," Sarah said, spreading her hands. "I'm sorry. I can see this is awkward."
"Awkward. Yes." His expression said, quite clearly, that 'awkward' wasn't the half of it. "Would you like to set your entrance key now?"
"Uhm. Yes, I would?"
He picked up a strange golden contraption — it could have been some sort of whimsical clockwork dream-bauble. Or it could have been a wiffle ball made out of golden wire — and passed it across the desk. "Simply lift that and speak into it."
Sarah picked up the golden wiffle ball and said, "Tobias Gregory Williams."
The air inside the wiffle ball turned orange and then green.
"I believe that will be all, Lady Williams. Griphook will take you to the Champions' vault." As she stood to leave, he added, "It is customary for a Champion to leave at least a small offering on each visit. Please have a pleasant stay in Wizarding London."
"Have a nice day," she replied, an automatic courtesy, and left through the double doors.
Griphook was standing by the cart still.
Her vault, it turned out, was pretty much a treasure trove worthy of Smaug. Huge golden coins lay along the floor in stacks and heaps and piles, with normal-sized silver coins and even tiny brassy ones lying around as well. There was a heap of gems. There was a conical headdress that looked like something she'd seen on photos of Egyptian walls, only made out of some white metal that glittered like a diamond.
To a just-this-side-of-broke college student, the amount of wealth on display was obscene.
Sarah lifted a hubcap-sized coin and turned to Griphook. "What's the exchange rate on these?"
"Approximately five British pounds."
There was no way. She could have sold the gold for a couple hundred dollars at least, back home.
"Right. Okay. Talk money to me, Griphook. What do all these coins mean?"
Griphook grabbed an armload full of coins and proceeded to attempt to explain the system to her. It made her head hurt — did British wizards have something against round numbers? — but something in the way Griphook talked about it made her suspect that the goblins had influenced the system.
Well, they had to keep themselves amused somehow, and it wasn't like you could build trebuchets in the middle of a shopping district.
Sarah scooped a few armfuls of coins into a sack Griphook provided, then tied the sack to one of her belt loops. Before they left, Sarah left all but what she needed for a return ticket to London on the vault's floor.
Sarah ended up shopping until well after dark. She bought as many books on 'wizarding' history as she could conceivably carry and read. And then, just for the hell of it, she bought a book of basic spells. Just to see what human magic could do.
She spent so long in the bookstore that she wound up not being in time to find some robes to wear and make herself blend in a little better.
In the end it didn't matter: when she made it back to the Leaky Cauldron and traded a few Galleons for a room key, she saw a red-headed man in clothes that looked surprisingly normal sitting at the bar. She crossed to the redhead, pointed at a seat next to him, and smiled.
"Mind if I...?"
The man gave her a startled look before shaking his head. "No, not at all. I'm Bill Weasley. And you?"
"Sarah Williams." She paused, then said, "And yes, an American in Wizarding Britain. I'm studying at Oxford, thought I'd take a trip up to London and get away from other students for a while."
"Oh, really? At Nimue, right? I've heard they can be a feisty lot."
There was some kind of school for witches at Oxford? Of course there was. They had their own money. They had their own version of London.
She was going to have to track down this Nimue college.
"Lady Margaret Hall, actually."
"I've never heard of that one."
She didn't say she'd never heard of Nimue. Instead, she said, "It's not huge. So what are you drinking?"
"This? Oh, it's Curmudgeon's Flaming Special. Not great, but it's nice enough when it's been on fire."
Sarah tilted her head, smiled, and said, "Show me."
Bill swallowed and turned to the bartender. "Tom, we'll have two Welsh Greens."
Tom nodded and plunked down two shotglasses on the table. He filled them almost to the top with a golden-orange spirit, flecked with bright red and what looked like tiny cinnamon shavings. He poured absinthe on top, watched it glisten green atop the red for a moment.
Then, with a melodramatic flourish, he dropped two sugar cubes into the shotglasses, rapped the wood of the bar, and said, "Incendio."
The sugar cubes caught fire as they sank, igniting the absinthe.
Bill pulled out a stick and pointed it both glasses, muttering something under his breath. Then he grabbed the shotglass and tipped its contents into his mouth, swallowing in one long gesture.
Sarah mimicked him. She tasted the green of the absinthe, and something a little smoky — the fire itself? — but she also tasted whiskey and cinnamon and caramellized sugar.
She slammed the shotglass back down on the bar and wanted another.
Bill turned to look at her. His eyes were sparkling with something that might have been mischief and might have been flirtation.
"Let's do another round of those. On me this time."
After their third round, Bill explained that he acquired treasure for Gringotts, and worked closely with some of the upper-level staff.
Sarah almost went to her room. But her stomach was warm and the shots were delicious. So she stayed and smiled and didn't say anything about the Labyrinth.
By round five, she felt boneless and warm, and found herself saying, "It's funny. I never even knew this little world existed until I stepped into this pub earlier."
The barkeep turned to them, looking alarmed. Even Bill looked rather drunkenly startled and the guilty.
Sarah waved her hands in the air. "No, no, no. This world I didn't know about. But did you know there's a place Underground? Not like right under us, just down somewhere else. 's where goblins come from. Met 'em when I was fifteen. I like this place a lot better. No smelly bogs or forests full of people who depa — decapit — take their heads and arms and things off. Do miss the goblins, though."
The barkeep nodded along and began to reach under the bar.
But Bill jabbed a finger at her. "How did you know about the Underground?"
"Told you. Went there when I was fifteen. I like Diagon Alley — no, no, I like Wizarding Britain a whole ton better. I wish I didn't actually have to leave it behind."
And then she realized what she'd said. Her stomach lurched as if she'd fallen off the bar stool. Then it did some sort of victory flop and climbed straight up her throat.
Sarah clapped her hands over her mouth.
And then the door opened, and in walked a man in dark colors and a feathered cloak. He had a shock of blond hair, unruly as she remembered it. Her heart beat a little faster and for a moment she could actually feel her face as her cheeks went hot again.
Sarah was torn between alpologizing and greeting him enthusisastically. She never got to decide; Jareth walked straight for her. He straddled the bar stool next to her, then rested his elbows against the bar and turned to look at her in one long, graceful movement. Her hormones thanked him. The rest of her felt floaty enough to hope he'd be merciful.
"Jareth," she said.
"Mr. Rex," said Bill.
"Will. If you don't mind, it seems Sarah and I have a few things to discuss."
Bill nodded, murmured something like 'nice meeting you' to her, and fled the bar for a booth. Unfortunately, he took the bottle of Curmudgeon's with him.
Jareth smiled. It was one of his deeply unsettling knife-edge smiles, more predatory than happy.
"Ragnar tells me there is something you wish to discuss, and in the same day, you make a wish?" His voice turned to a purr. "Are you eager to see me, then?"
She was not sober enough for this complication. Conversation. Holy shit, what kind of alcohol content was in that whiskey?
Jareth watched her for a moment, then turned to the bartender. "I'd think she's had enough."
"No." Sarah pointed a finger at him. "Oh no, no. You have no power over me. You don't get to... get to... be all not here and Underground for five years and then come in and cut me off!"
"Why, precious Sarah, have you missed me?"
She mustered every scrap of dignity it was possible to have while bonelessly drunk, looked him straight in the eye and said, "I... I'm going to my room. If you want to talk, we can talk when I'm sober."
She stood to go. She even made it four or five steps before tripping over somebody's chair and nearly ending up sprawling. She managed to right herself, grab her shopping bags, and make it to the stairs.
As she reached out for the rickety railing, she felt a warm hand at her elbow. The touch sent a warm, pleasant jolt along her arm.
Sarah half turned to find Jareth standing behind her, not that she'd expected anyone else. He raised an eyebrow, looking at once amused and irritated by her stubbornness.
"We can hardly talk later, precious thing, if you break your neck on the stairs," he said, voice quiet and tone for once not menacing or arrogant.
Sarah accepted his help up the stairs. But once she made it to her door, she unlocked it, pushed her shopping bags in, and closed it again.
"When I'm sober," she said again.
"I will return to Diagon Alley at noon tomorrow," he said. "We have much to discuss, precious thing."
He dipped his head, almost like he was about to kiss her. She felt her eyes open wide. Her feet froze to the spot as she tried to determine whether to duck inside the door, to duck to the side, to reach up with the meat of her hand and send fragments of a broken nose up into his brain —
Or whether to let him.
But he only reached down to tug her Kellogg scarf away from her hair hair with a flourish. He gave her a crooked smile she couldn't but return and tucked it into his cloak.
Something cracked. It could have been thunder; it could have been human bone.
And then he was gone.
Sarah woke to sunlight. Her head pounded, her stomach throbbed, and her throat felt raw. She fumbled her way out of her blankets and made her way to the dresser.
"God, my hair's a wreck," she said, pulling vainly at the mass of tangles. She'd let it grow out. It hit about mid-back by now; totally impractical, but she loved the way it looked and made her feel.
It really sucked that she'd been too drunk to really think about braiding or brushing it last night. This was going to take some serious conditioner and work to do anything about.
A brisk female voice replied, "Yes, dear, but you can fix that in a trice."
Sarah flung herself backward, away from the source of the voice. She went down on the edge of her bed; the impact seemed to jar every bone in her body. Even her teeth lodged quick throbs of red in protest.
"Who was that?"
"Me, dear. The mirror."
"You can talk?!"
"I think we established that already. Now, get your hair brush and come over here. We've work to do on that rat's nest."
Sarah dug through her bag and grabbed her hair brush.
"Tap it on the dresser twice and brush your hair," the mirror said.
She did it as it asked, wincing at the noise. Within moments, she wished she hadn't tried to do anything about her hair. Strangely, the brush slid easily through the tangles — if she hadn't been especially hung over, it probably would have been pleasant.
Sarah washed her face and managed not to throw up from either pain or the roiling in her gut.
Then she changed clothes, made the effort of actually unpacking, and headed downstairs.
A clock informed her that it was only nine. Nine was an ungodly hour to wake up on a Sunday, but she had an appointment at twelve.
"Breakfast," she begged Tom. "Something greasy. Easy on the throat."
Tom ended up giving her eggs and sausage with toast sopped in butter. She drank lukewarm tea with honey and smiled. That was better already. Maybe she'd even do some reading before she went shopping.
Sarah pulled the LMH scarf from around her head as she stepped into Madam Malkin's. An elegant blonde with a boy who couldn't have been more than eleven — if that — looked up from a selection of fabrics. The blonde's eyes skimmed over her, gaze taking in the well-worn scarf, the jeans, the scuffed heels.
And then she said, in a tone that was at once silvery and irritated Sarah as much as nails on a chalkboard, "Madam, I believe this one needs your help more than I."
A woman in gorgeous velvet robes, with frizzy dark hair and huge glasses, looked up. There was a pause, and then the woman shook her head. "Oh dear. Really, darling, I understand you need to blend a bit in Muggle London, but that is not the way to do it."
"Muggle Oxford, actually," she said. "I'm a student at Lady Margaret Hall."
"That's nice, dear," Madam Malkin said. Her smile was stretched tight.
Oh boy. Sarah spread her hands. "Well, Madam, looks like I'm going to need help blending in anywhere."
The other woman nodded, then grabbed several swatches of fabrics. "Come with me, please."
The fabrics Malkin had chosen were all shades of green, blue, or white. Sarah rubbed her fingers along a white fabric with deep green borders.
"Yes, that does seem to suit you," Malkin agreed. "I'd suggest white with colored borders."
There was a cleaning charm in the basic book of spells. Sarah knew better than to ask about staining or fabric care.
Instead she said, "Right. If not white, stick to jewel tones?"
"Clever girl. Now let's decide on the cut, hm?"
After a few experiments, Sarah settled on a cut that looked less monkish and more simply archaic. High waisted, with a closer fitting skirt. The sleeves, however, proved a problem.
"I like the longer, tapered sleeves," Sarah said. "But in spring and summer? It won't be so bad here, but if I go home for vaction..."
"Oh, there are always cooling charms and lighter fabrics," Malkin said with a smile. "And even the tapered sleeves don't need to touch your fingertips. I find in summer I simply drop them just above the elbow. Creates a nice bell shape, see?"
She swished her wand around, and the fabric took shape.
"I'm sold," Sarah said.
Malkin smiled. "Good lass."
By the time noon rolled around, Sarah had managed to figure out how to blend. It wasn't just a matter of clothing, she'd realized. Wizards and witches seemed to move in a different rhythm; it might have been the clothes, it might have been the certainty of magic and what it could fix. It might have just been wizarding culture.
But she'd moved through the crowd until she'd found the street rhythm, and after an hour or so she'd settled into it enough that nobody gave her a second glance. Or at least, not the kind of second glances she wanted to avoid.
Sarah was sitting outside Florian Fortescue's with a cup of coffee and a book when Jareth appeared. Yet again, she heard the cracking noise, and then Jareth's gloved hand was pulling one of the chairs away from the table.
A breeze rose up from the ground in a circle around them, ruffling his hair and her robes.
"None will notice us, so you may speak freely," Jareth said. He paused, then added, in an amused tone, "You always did have a propensity for costumes."
Sarah looked up at him, closed her book, and stowed it away in her bag. "You're not going to embarass me with that. But I appreciate the privacy. Where would you like to start?"
"Embarass you? Hardly, precious thing. The style suits you." His expression turned sour, the corners of his mouth drawing down. "First, your wish. Are you aware of what you have done?"
"In coming here, you have stepped into a world that will relinquish you even less easily than mine. Had you not said those particular words, you would have been unable to leave this world behind."
"But now I get a choice?" Sarah tilted her head and watched him close. "And are you really expecting me to walk away from all this?"
Jareth's mouth twisted again. This time it formed a rueful smile. His gaze went distant. "No, but the bargain was struck. You will have a choice."
And with that, he held out a hand. She watched mist gather there, sparkling and swirling, and then it was one of his dream-baubles.
"When you return to your cramped little flat in Oxford, a letter will come for you. If you wish to remain in this world, answer it. If you wish to escape, then break the crystal."
She reached out to take it from his hand. It was warm in her palm. She tucked it away in her bag and looked up at him. "Thank you."
Jareth gave her a satisfied-cat smile. "You thanks are unnecessary, but appreciated. As for the other matter..."
Oh, this conversation was going to be complicated. But she'd promised, and if he was what she thought he was, then he could make her life miserable for breaking a promise she'd made him. However indirectly.
So she rolled her shoulders, took a deep breath, and said, "I was fifteen."
"That's your explanation? I offered you everything, you spurned me, and I am to excuse it because 'you were fifteen?'"
"I didn't know what you were offering. I wasn't old enough to understand, and even if I'd had an inkling, I wouldn't have been old enough to give you what you were asking for."
He folded his hands together in a steeple, then looked away.
Sarah sighed. "And the petulant 'how dare I turn you down' attitude doesn't make me want to revisit that offer."
"You wish to be courted." Jareth's eyes were sharp on her, gaze intent and searching. As if he was trying to see inside her. Or just cut her to ribbons with the power of his mismatched pupils.
Sarah took a few sips of coffee while she thought about how to explain herself.
At length, she set the cup down on her saucer and said, "No. I don't want to be courted. There is no prescribed list of steps you can take, besides 'not being an ass' and 'not kidnapping my brother again.'"
Jareth drew himself up, either to offer some scathing retort or to start a haughty fit.
Before he could say anything, Sarah held up a hand, "But I'm open to re-opening negotations on this whole 'relationship' thing later. I think that's... fair."
"My least favorite word." He looked disgruntled. Well, elegantly disgruntled, and she wasn't sure how he managed that.
"Jareth. If you want something serious, we're going to need to be friends first. If you don't want something serious…" She trailed off. He wasn't stupid. "But please don't get me wrong. I do want to be friends."
"Very well," he said. Then, with a crook of a smile, he stood and extended his arm. "Come. There is one place you have not visited. It will be... enlightening."
Ollivander's Wand Shop. Sarah looked up at the sign and at the wands in the windows before turning to Jareth.
He looked impassive. There was no hint of smugness in his expression, no hint that he had found some way to humilitate her. In fact, he seemed mostly curious, and slightly tense.
"You don't seriously think...?"
"The last mortal to do so well as you in my Labyrinth was Godric Gryffindor," he said, tone quiet. "I have no need of wands, nor are my subjects permitted them. But this world requires a wand of you, and a wand you shall have."
So Sarah pushed open the door and was surprised to find no one else in the shop. She saw only a polished wood counter, a second room hidden by a curtain, and a wall full of slender rectangular boxes. After a moment, a short, balding, bespectacled man appeared out of a back room. His eyes lit first on her and he smiled.
"Welcome to Ollivander's my dear. I am Gerrick Ollivander. Have you come late to your magic?"
"I'm Sarah Williams." Sarah gave a sheepish smile. "And it's something like that, I guess. How'd you know?"
"Because I remember every wand I've ever sold, and every face I've ever sold it to. You have never set foot in this shop."
Ollivander's gaze turned to Jareth. His eyes narrowed for an instant before he turned back to Sarah. He tilted his head, considering her for a moment. A cloth measuring tape unfurled at a gesture from his wand, and began measuring along her arms. It measured from fingertip to elbow of both arms, then the space between her knuckles, then shoulder to jawline.
It was odd, but not unnerving. She tried to stand patiently while Ollivander jotted the measurements down on a scrap of parchment with a feather quill.
"I suspect vine and unicorn for you. Ah, here. Vine and unicorn tail hair, nine inches. Firm, good for transfiguration." He waved his wand at the wall behind him, then at her. A box flew from the wall behind the counter and hovered by her nose.
Sarah took the box.
"Well, go ahead and try it. Just hold it and move it through the air. No attempts at spell-work, no matter what you've seen your relatives do."
She opened the box. The wand inside was certainly pretty. Hesitantly, she ran her finger along the wood, then grasped it by the carved handle at the end.
It felt cold. Almost dead.
"Not vine then. Perhaps... no, not hazel. Nor chestnut nor ash nor yew. Rowan, perhaps?" Another box floated near her. "Ten and a half inches, flexible. Unicorn tail core. Good for charms work."
Sarah replaced the vine wand in its box and grabbed the new box. She was less hesitant this time, giving it an experimental flick.
But nothing happened.
Ollivander's looked her in the eyes for a long moment. The expression on his face told her his contemplation wasn't so much thoughtful as wary.
"Those chosen by the rowan tree," Jareth said, very quietly from the door, "are known for being impossible to suborn. You have a potential for wickedness almost as great as my own, precious thing."
"Don't start that again, Jareth."
"Perhaps you should not have revelled in your will being as strong as mine." She could hear the satisfied, darkly amused curve of his lips in his voice. He placed an odd stress on 'will' that hinted that he had really been talking about the other half of her final declaration.
It was an unsettling thought, but she dismissed it fairly easily. She'd had this argument before, the one other time she'd spoken to the Goblin King after she'd defeated his Labryinth. She'd known then and she knew now: potential was just potential. Lots of things could be other things, and not everything had to be what it had seemed. She didn't have to be perfect to be good.
Sarah ended up going through four or five more wands, their boxes piling up on the counter, before Ollivander finally said, "My dear, you are either a silver lime or sycamore if ever I've met one."
The silver lime wand was beautiful. It felt faintly warm to the touch and she hoped it would be hers.
But it lay lifeless in her grasp.
Ollivander furrowed his brow and then said. "Very well. Try this one: ten and a half inches, supple. Sycamore witth a phoenix feather core."
The wand seemed alive. Its wood was warm as another person's hand, and when she wrapped her fingers around the handle, she felt a delicous thrill run along the bone of her arm and down her spine.
She gave it an experimental swish. A trail of colored light followed its tip.
Ollivander smiled. "Try a spell now, if you please. A patronus, perhaps or — "
"Lumos," Sarah whispered.
The wand's tip lit up. It produced a ball of light, perfectly spherical and silvery in color. For a moment she was reminded of Jareth's dream baubles.
"Finite Incantatem." The light snuffed itself.
"A questing wand for a restless, seeking heart. Try not to use it for mundane tasks; sycamore wands are known to set themselves ablaze when they're bored."
Sarah left Ollivander's four galleons poorer than she'd expected to, but all in all she was thrilled. Jareth seemed amused by her excitement.
"Thank you," she said. "Without you, I probably would have just passed it by, assuming that I..."
He graced her with a crooked smile again. "You have quite the problem with assumptions, precious thing."
Another time, she might have been angry. But the way he was smiling, and happy and light as she felt, it just didn't seem worth getting angry about.
Besides, he'd been right. She was big enough to admit that.
She smiled at him. "I kind of do. But I'm not going to apologize for it; I've muddled my way through this far."
At her smile, his own widened. For once it wasn't predatory, simply pleased. His eyes crinkled at the corners, eyes narrowing like a pleased cat's.
And then she had to step aside before a small red-headed boy barreled into her. She turned instinctively, watching him careen palm-first into the window of a shop. He smushed his face up against the glass.
From behind her, a woman shouted, "Ronald Bilius Weasley you apologize to those people you almost ran into! And stop pressing your face to the glass! It's distasteful!"
Sarah only waved a hand. "Far be it from me to stand between a boy and his..." She looked at the shop's name. "Quidditch supplies."
What was Quidditch? It sounded like it could be the name of some weird Labyrinth landmark. A ditch filled with squids and octopuses, maybe. But apparently it involved broomsticks.
"I do apologize for him," the woman's voice said, from somewhere nearer. Sarah turned to find a short, stout woman with laugh lines beginning around her eyes approaching. "Molly Weasley."
"Sarah Williams. I take it that's Ronald?"
"Yes, my second youngest. And speaking of youngest, where has Ginny gone? Ron, go find your sister. Don't give me that look! Do you want to go find the twins?"
"Sorry, Mum. She's probably at Florian's or the sweet shop..." A pause. "I'll go look. Meet you back here?"
"Directly here," Molly said. "I suppose I'd better go find my other two. Nice to meet you, Miss Williams."
"It was nice to meet you, Mrs. Weasley," Sarah said.
Jareth stepped slightly closer to her and offered her his arm. She gave him a look, but he only shook his head.
She didn't take his arm, but she did step away from the curb. He steered them back toward the inn.
In the Leaky Cauldron, Sarah smiled one more time. He didn't return it, but he didn't seem tense, either.
"I'd better make my way back to Oxford, huh?" She asked it softly. "Besides, I'm sure you have goblins to kick or throw in the Bog or something."
Jareth's mouth curved as he said, "No world likes to wait."
She got the feeling he wasn't just talking about this brand new wizarding world she'd stepped into.
"Right. Then I'd better pack and hand in my key." As she turned to head up the stairs, he grabbed her by the wrist.
"Sarah. If we are to be friends, I will make you a trade."
Well, that was interesting. "Trade of what?"
"Of promises. If you will promise me to be content with adventure, and not seek out further danger, I will... offer a promise in kind." The words seemed to be painful for him to say.
"What kind of promise?"
"I will promise, if you will pay the price," he said, slowly, with an expression of distaste, "to interfere no more in your affairs than a friend might."
Oh, no wonder he was so unhappy. Sarah thought back to saying she would try to be friends. Friends did not force other friends to make painful promises they might not even be able to keep. Especially if there were awful consequences for breaking those promises.
"I'm not going to make you try to promise that. It's way too open ended. Just... try to be a friend, and not a mildly-terrifying stranger who rearranges reality to suit himself. I'll be happy with that."
There was a glint in his eye now. "You will not promise not to seek danger."
Sarah shrugged. "A questing wand for a restless heart."
He laughed. And with a thunderous noise, he vanished.
Sarah arrived home to a surprisingly clean flat. Neither Brent nor Leah was in, but at least they hadn't made a beer can fort this time.
Funny. It was hard to be angry right now; she could remember being livid at the monstrosity that had invaded her kitchen, when she'd come home to find it. Looking back on the fort, she kind of wanted to laugh. At the time, she'd shouted. It had been the only shouting match she'd ever had with her roommates.
Sarah stowed her new books under her bed and the witch robes in the back of her closet. It was time to at least pretend to be a good student.
She grabbed her annotated copy of The Yellow Wallpaper and a set of highlighters. Before she started reading, Sarah flicked her dressing table light on.
The book had been unsettling on the first read. But after reading a biography on Charlotte Gilman, it had become terrifying. And the effect wasn't lessening with exposure.
She was on her third read-through and it still got to her.
And the lecture tomorrow would be discussion of The Yellow Wallpaper.
After as much as she could stand, Sarah shut the light off and rolled over. She'd just have to put little post-its or something in her book before class.
Sarah didn't end up going to her 'Wollstonecraft, Austen, Shelley, & Gilman: Feminism Before 1900' lecture.
She was awakened just before sun up by a big barn owl tapping on her window.