Sara Fiddle made her way through King’s Cross Station with tears in her eyes. A few people glanced at the hurried woman as she passed, but she didn’t blame them. Her skirt was too short, her brown overcoat too tight, and her blouse had stains on it. It looked like she had just pulled them out of a bin somewhere, which, in a sense, she had.
Her too-large shoes made great clumping noises as they hit the concrete, but she was determined.
She looked around and spotted a woman in a green coat and bright yellow hat and gloves. Her hat was tall and decorated in netting and feathers, a small taxidermied sparrow perched on top.
“Hello,” said Sara, and she introduced herself.
“Well, come along, dear. Are all of your things in that bag?” The woman had a face like a withered pear, but she was smiling in a way that gave Sara a secure feeling that she wasn’t used to.
“Yes. My… person gave it to me.” Sara faltered. “Zack Smith.”
“Oh, you got Zack! He fitted you out with an expandable bag, too, didn’t he?”
Sara nodded. She didn’t want to tell the woman she didn’t have many possessions of her own to put in the bag, but it made the books she had more comfortable to carry.
“What’s the matter, dear?” The woman asked, concerned.
“It—doesn’t feel real yet.” Sara stumbled over her words.
“I understand,” the woman said comfortingly. “Don’t worry. It’s not a cruel trick, I promise.”
“It can’t be.” Sara admitted as if her belief was no secret. “They wouldn’t have let me out if it had been.”
The woman gave her a worried look before positioning them in front of a great stone pillar. “You can close your eyes if you want, it makes it much easier the first time.”
Sara nodded. She trusted this woman even though trust didn’t come easy to her.
They walked forward and suddenly the sound changed to a din of cheerful voices and the shouts of children. Sara opened her eyes and what she saw amazed her.
“We need to spruce you up a bit,” the woman declared before pulling out a wand. Sara stared at it. Her own was tucked into her bag. She didn’t know how to use it and was a little afraid of it, but the woman waved hers and Sara relaxed as her clothing wiggled around her to take on a more tailored look and the stains were removed from the blouse, which turned out to be cream colored and silky. “Oh, much better. Now, are you all right from here or do you need help finding a cabin?”
“I don’t have an assigned place,” Sara said.
“No one has, dear, you just go in and find a cabin. If you get in early you might get an empty one so you don’t need to walk around asking people if you can sit with them.”
“I’ll go then,” Sara said quickly. “Thank you for everything.”
“My pleasure,” the woman said, and like that, she was back through the passageway and gone.
Sara hurried to the train, trying not to stop and admire it, but it was difficult.
She hurried into an empty cabin and began to breathe easier. She opened her suitcase and drew a book about wand lore out of it. The man at the shop had lent it to her, and she wanted to get it back to him before she forgot about it.
She put her suitcase on the shelf above her and began reading. She had gotten to the second chapter when the door slid open.
“Um… are all of the seats taken?”
He was tall and birdlike with dust colored hair and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.
“No,” Sara answered honestly even though she wanted to say yes.
“Oh, good. I was afraid I’d get in a compartment full of teenagers.” He dragged a large duffle bag behind him and hoisted it above the seats. “What are you reading?”
“Book on wands.” Sara answered.
“I got a yew wand. Twelve inches with a hippogriff feather. What did you get?”
“Redwood and Pacific Mermaid,” Sara replied.
“Mail order. You send them a bit of hair and the wand chooses you, then they send it off when it decides.”
“Why’d you do mail order?” The man asked curiously.
“My name’s Augustus Spillaire—“
“Gus, where are you?” A woman’s voice called out from the hallway. He poked his head out and waved to someone.
“My sister, Miranda.” He explained.
A plump woman appeared in the doorway clutching a handbag and a wheeled cart. “I’m getting too old for this.”
Gus just waved her off and heaved her bag above the seats. “You’re never too old to learn something new. Isn’t that what you tell your students?”
“You’re a teacher?” Sara asked.
“Was a teacher,” she emphasized.
“We both were. At least up until last month,” he added. “I was Chemistry, and she’s Medieval History.”
“I hear the Wizards don’t have much in the way of history that includes Muggles. I’m going to write the first!” She declared as she sat down with a huff of air.
“Do you really have to slap your name all over your field?” he asked her.
“Yes,” the woman said as if she were surprised that he would ask such a question.
“Err… excuse me…”
The three of them looked up to see a skinny young lady all in black with black lipstick, eyeliner, and assorted bits of metal decorating her face.
“Genevieve Wilson, is that you?” The man peered at her.
“Professor Spillaire!” The girls face brightened. “You’re here!”
“Indeed I am!” he said cheerfully. “This is my sister, Miranda, and this is…”
“Sara Fiddle,” Sara said, trying not to make her voice squeak. They seemed like a decent lot, but people could surprise you. Everyone had a pocketful of surprises hidden away somewhere.
“Oh, uh… hi.” Genevieve said shyly.
“Genevieve was one of my best students three semesters ago! How have you been doing?”
“I—Well, my brother got sick…”
The professor’s face fell. “Oh, no.”
“And we didn’t have a lot of money…” She looked as if she wished the floor would swallow her up.
“But you are here now, and that’s what’s important,” Miranda interrupted her.
“Why can you go to school now?” Sara asked.
“They found jobs for my mom and my brother,” Genevieve said brightly. “I could stop working double-shifts!”
“Well, congratulations!” Gus said encouragingly. “Well, get inside, get inside.”
Genevieve did so and flipped off a large metal framed backpack. Instead of throwing it above them she unfolded it to make a large canvas table. Sara was impressed.
“Did you make that?” Gus asked Genevieve.
“Nah, my brother did. Started tinkering with it one day and came up with this.”
“Is he here, too?” Sara asked.
“No. He’s eight. There are seven of us. I’m the oldest and he’s the youngest.”
“And you’re the only wizard?”
“Mum’s been married three times. I’m the only one from her first. He walked out on us without a trace back in the 90’s.” She scrunched up her face. “Next one was Victor. She had three with him before he died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Miranda interjected.
“He was a nice guy,” Genevieve admitted. “Then she married William and they had three more. Mum says she’s done.”
“So you might be the only one?” Sara asked.
“Even if you have two wizarding parents you might not have magical children,” Gus interrupted. “I read about it when we were trying to figure out where our abilities came from.”
“Really?” Sara asked.
She felt Genevieve’s eyes bore into her as if she were stripping back the skin and seeing everything about Sara, even what was in her brain, and she couldn’t stop it.
“Oh!” Genevieve squeaked in surprise. “Oh, you poor thing!” She took both of Sara’s hands in hers. “I will personally make sure that never happens again. I mean it.”
Sara’s eyes filled up with tears. Someone else knew her secret. They had seen her pocket of surprises. They knew what she was and they saw her life firsthand and she didn’t even have to talk about it. They didn’t get angry or disgusted by her. They felt protective of her. She burst into tears, and felt as if a giant load had been lifted from her shoulders.
“What’s going on?” Miranda demanded to know.
“I’m psychic,” Genevieve told her. “I saw in her head. This is the first time she’s been outside in a long time and she’s a little overwhelmed.”
“Where has she been?” Gus asked, bewildered.
“In a sanitarium. She killed an attacker with wild magic and they convicted her of murder.”
“How old was she?” Miranda asked.
“How old is she now?”
“I don’t know. How old are you, Sara?”
She looked up at them, her eyes red-rimmed, but fascinated that they seemed to be on her side. She couldn’t tell anyone the last time anyone had been on her side. Not the policemen, not her parents, not the lawyers, not her doctor.
“They told me I just turned seventy-four.”