Chapter 1: Tell Me a Tale
Teller, teller, tell me a tale,
Of love and fear and duty,
I want to die in the arms of love,
I want to die for beauty.
For beauty is the only truth,
And death the only lie,
I want to sing a final tale,
And love before I die.
-“Teller, Teller,” Troll Bridge, Jane Yolen
Sarah Williams had grown up during the thirteen hours she had spent in the labyrinth. She was less prone to seeing the world in black and white, and had attempted to cut the phrase, “It’s not fair” out of her vocabulary with varying degrees of success. She tried to be less selfish and spoiled, although her stubbornness and fearsome temper were there to stay. Her parents had noticed and welcomed the sudden change in attitude. They had been curious about her overnight change, but Sarah had simply smiled and shrugged. She knew better than to expect them to believe her, and, truthfully, she was ashamed of how she had wished Toby away.
Sarah, herself, might have eventually come to believe it had been nothing more than a dream, were it not for the bruises, some of which took days to fade, and the foreign dirt that clung to her clothes and shoes. Most telling of all, she was able to contact her friends through her vanity mirror and, as she eventually discovered, through most reflective surfaces. Although, in anything other than a mirror, it was easier to have them come through, rather than try to converse with faint, blurry images.
Sarah rather suspected that the Labyrinth had imparted other gifts to her as well. She was rarely lost and never stayed lost for long, had an affinity for mazes, found what was hidden, and, most startling of all, had the ability to see those responsible for spoiled milk, knotted hair, misplaced items, and a number of other annoyances in life: goblins. Her eyes had been opened to a whole new side of reality.
But despite her newfound maturity, Sarah and her parents would never be close. Robert and Karen couldn’t understand their wayward, dreamer daughter. Sarah was one of those rare mortals who hadn’t completely left her childhood behind when she grew up. She harbored a belief in magic, and her stepmother especially didn’t approve of ‘fairytale nonsense.’
Toby was a different matter. The two siblings had a very strong bond. Sarah truly loved him and no longer resented his presence in her life. And in her presence, Toby was no longer quite so fussy. As he grew, Sarah told him stories. His favorite was the Labyrinth. Sarah lost track of how many times she had told him that story, always careful to leave out the Words. Sometimes she thought he remembered his time in the castle beyond the Goblin City, but he did not seem as changed as Sarah was.
One thing that had not changed was her loner status in high school, and her stepmother despaired of her ever having a boyfriend. If anything, the students seemed to go out of their way to avoid her. Perhaps they subconsciously realized the change in her, and feared the unknown.
Rather than ignore her gifts, Sarah cherished them, and went out of her way to search out the magick in the Aboveground, especially on vacations. So far she had met Wiccans in an occult shop downtown, a medicine woman on a trip to New Mexico, and a teen sorceress in Manhattan, who had accidentally bumped into her and let loose a torrent of French in her excitement before calming down enough to switch to English. She hadn’t told any of them her story, but they had recognized that she had been touched by something otherworldly.
Sarah had attended college for one year in Boston before deciding to study abroad for a year in England. She had spent the first couple days flinching every time an Englishman spoke, the accent so similar to his. Eventually she had relaxed and found that she loved the campus, the course offerings, and had even managed to make a few friends. So, during the winter vacation she had completed the paperwork to transfer and packed up what she would need to live in England.
Although she was a skilled actress, it was no longer her dream. She changed her major to English Literature and took several summer classes her first year in England since she didn’t have the money to fly home. By her junior year she was well ahead in credit requirements, enough that she could relax her senior year. She was, however, rather lacking in spending money. She had flown home for Christmas and been forced to quit her part-time job since the café she had worked at for the past few months had closed down.
“Come on Sarah, relax,” her friend Mel wheedled as the two of them wandered around London on a hot July afternoon. “Have fun, and don’t worry. I’ll pay for lunch.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Sarah protested.
“I want to,” Mel interjected, waving away the brunette’s protests. “We may be poor, penniless college students, but I am the poor, penniless college student with a job. Besides, without your help I never would have passed that mythology unit in English. Now put those good eyes of yours to use and find us someplace to eat.”
“I didn’t do that much,” Sarah commented as her gaze jumped from building to building. “It wasn’t that difficult.”
“Speaks the ‘Faerie Queen,’” Mel replied dryly. “Give me quantum physics any day.”
Sarah mock shuddered. “Blasphemer!”
“Dreamer!” her friend shot back.
“And don’t call me ‘Faerie Queen.’”
“But the nickname suits you so well,” her friend protested.
“Why don’t we eat in that pub down there,” Sarah suggested, changing the subject. “The Leaky Cauldron.”
Melanie shaded her eyes against the bright sun. “Where?”
“Between book store and record store.”
“I think you need to get your eyes checked,” Mel teased as they came to a stop across the street from the Leaky Cauldron. “There’s no pub here.”
“No pub?” Sarah questioned with a frown as she took in the dingy appearance of the Leaky Cauldron. She observed Melanie and noticed how her eyes slid from the book store to the record store.
“Sarah, the two stores are connected by a wall,” her friend pointed out.
“Yes, of course,” she agreed with a slight hesitation. “My mistake.”
“Come on. Let’s go find a fish and chips shop.”
“Again?” Sarah asked in disbelief. “You’ve been eating fish and chips for the past three days. You’re going to die of a heart attack at 21.”
“Hey, at least I’ll go out happy,” Melanie joked.
Sarah returned the next day, alone, to check out the Leaky Cauldron. A few minutes of observation confirmed that no one could see the pub, making her more curious than ever.
She opened the door with some trepidation. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness, and when they did she had to remind herself not to stare. Quickly, before she could draw attention to herself, she slipped inside and made her way to an empty niche near the back. Only then did she drink in the sight of people in robes of various colors and styles eating and drinking, waving around wands of all things. Dishes stacked themselves and cups hovered in midair, and the people acted so unimpressed it must have been an everyday occurrence.
What is this place, Sarah wondered. Nothing so strange or surreal as the Underground, so she wasn’t overwhelmed by the sights. But still, to find people practically ignoring the magic around them, to see them taking it for granted…
Sarah chuckled to herself. Now she was beginning to sound like Hoggle. Although she was a little surprised at the complete lack of glitter she associated with magic.
“Excuse me,” said a man’s voice, and Sarah jumped. A couple had approached while she was distracted. “Might we get by?” he asked politely.
“Sorry,” she mumbled and moved away, watching them out of the corner of her eye. The man took out his wand and began tapping bricks. Sarah turned when she heard the clatter and watched the archway appear.
“Please, God, not another labyrinth,” Sarah muttered as she slipped through behind them, moving quickly before she could rethink her decision.
Her eyes lit up when she noticed the shops around her.
“Cool,” she breathed. “My kind of mall.”
The people around her eyed her Muggle clothes curiously, but Sarah took no notice.
She grinned as she browsed through the apothecary, pet store, robe shops, and gift store. She eyed Ollivander’s, but decided against going in. She had no magic, and no need of a wand. Sarah eventually gathered from signs and certain products that these people were called witches and wizards, and was relieved to at least know that much in a place she knew nothing about.
A broom in a store window caught her eye, and she wandered over. The store sold supplies for something called, ‘Quidditch.’ From what Sarah saw, she deduced that it was a sport played on flying broomsticks.
I’d love to fly, she thought dreamily. Thoughts of flight brought to mind a certain Fae King, which caused her to glance around suspiciously, as she had done off and on for the past seven years. As always, she saw nothing out of the ordinary.
What she did notice was a bookstore, and she quickly made her way over, never having been able to miss browsing through books. She took a moment to look examine the store, before wandering around and looking for the fantasy and fairytales. As she walked she trailed her hand over the shelves, sometimes pausing to examine the titles or watch the moving cover pictures, but the various spellbooks didn’t hold her for long. Since she wasn’t a witch, they were essentially useless.
The fairytale section held Sarah spellbound. She completely lost track of time as she skimmed, read, and paged through the books. She’d found an almost cute story about the Goblin King and his labyrinth in one of the children’s books, and one that was not so cute in an anthology of folklore. She was greatly relieved that neither tale contained the Words.
Sarah suddenly realized that she had been in Flourish and Blott’s for quite a while and checked her watch to find that it was almost 3:30. Deciding that she had spent enough time in…wherever she was, she picked out a collection of fairytales and made her way to the register.
“Three Galleons, two Sickles,” the cashier said mechanically.
Sarah paused. “Do you take pounds?” she asked hesitantly.
“We only take Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts,” the woman drawled in a bored tone.
Sarah’s eyes flashed angrily at the tone. “We are still in England, aren’t we?”
“This is the Wizarding World, hun. We use wizard money here,” she sneered. “Why don’t you go exchange your money at Gringotts Bank.”
Sarah ground her teeth, and then hid a vicious grin when she noticed one of the store’s goblins messing around with the cash register. Apparently witches and wizards couldn’t see the goblins either.
“And where is Gringotts?” she asked with faux politeness.
“I’ll show you,” said a woman who was examining a display next to the counter, and Sarah turned to face her. She was an older woman with black hair streaked white with age pulled back into a bun, dark eyes sharp and intelligent behind rectangular glasses, and emerald green robes. “I was planning on making a trip to the bank anyway.”
“Thank you very much,” said Sarah with a truly grateful smile, and set her book on the counter, ignoring the cashier’s protestations. “Hold this for me,” she ordered of the employee with no little bit of exasperation and then followed the other witch out onto the street, grinning smugly when she heard pounding on stuck cash register keys.
“My name is Minerva McGonagall,” the older woman said once they stepped onto the cobbled road.
“Sarah Williams,” Sarah replied, shaking her hand.
“This must be your first time in Diagon Alley,” Minerva commented.
“It is,” she confirmed.
“Your accent is American. Are you here on vacation?”
“You’re right, I am an American. But I attend one of the small colleges outside of London where I transferred to about two years ago,” Sarah replied.
“I have been many places in my life,” Minerva said, “but I have yet to visit America.”
“Mm. Yes. Perhaps someday….”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what do you do?” Sarah asked.
Minerva smiled faintly at her. “I don’t mind at all. I am a Transfiguration Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
“Sounds interesting,” Sarah commented cheerfully. “What’s Transfiguration?”
The woman regarded her with surprise. “It’s the study of changing one object into another. Are you a Muggle?”
Sarah frowned. “I don’t know. What’s that?”
“A Muggle is someone who doesn’t have magic,” the professor explained.
“Oh. Then yes, I guess I am a…Muggle,” Sarah said, considering. “What a strange word.”
“You seem to be taking everything well. Have you known about the Wizarding World for very long?” Minerva said curiously.
“Not long at all,” the brunette replied easily. “But I’ve seen stranger things.”
Sensing that Sarah would not tell her what stranger things she had seen, and knowing that it was rude to pry anyway, Professor McGonagall changed the subject.
“Well, I hope you have enjoyed what you’ve seen of our world so far,” she stated.
“Oh yes. It’s wonderful. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Sarah gushed, and Minerva smiled at her enthusiasm.
“Here we are,” she said at last. “Welcome to Gringotts.”
“Wow,” Sarah breathed, taking in the large building. She started when she noticed the goblin standing guard at the door, and two more behind the glass doors. They were much bigger than the goblins she was used to seeing creating trouble, though still short compared to humans. And, most startling of all, they seemed to be visible to everyone around her.
“Don’t worry,” Minerva said, having noticed her jump. “Goblins run the bank. Just remember to be polite.”
“Yes,” Sarah murmured with a small grin. “It’s always best to be polite when dealing with goblins.” These must be a different breed than the Labyrinth goblins, if they were trusted to run a bank of all things. It was almost mind-boggling.
As the two women drew closer the guard’s eyes widened, and he stood straight, bowing and opening the first set of doors for them. “Lady,” he murmured, startling both women. Goblins often referred to Sarah as ‘Lady’, but she hadn’t thought this Aboveground breed would know or mimic that.
“Oh, er…thank you,” Sarah stuttered.
Minerva eyed her curiously, almost suspiciously. “They’ve never done that before,” she murmured as they approached the next set of doors.
“Really?” Sarah asked distractedly. A verse engraved on the silver doors had caught her attention and she read it to herself:
“Enter stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.”
She shivered as the two goblins bowed her through the doors as well. The large, double doors, goblins, riddles, it all reminded her strongly of the Labyrinth.
Sarah paused just inside the doors and turned to her companion. “Thank you so much for showing me here, and for answering some of my questions. It was very nice to meet you.”
“It was my pleasure, Sarah,” Minerva said warmly. “If you are ever near Hogwarts, feel free to come see me. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.”
“Me too,” Sarah agreed with a smile. “Bye.”
Minerva watched her walk off, in search of an unoccupied goblin. She noticed the goblins begin to look up, ignoring whoever they happened to be helping or whatever they happened to be doing. A murmur swept from goblin to goblin, and they bowed their heads in respect as Sarah Williams passed.
“Lady,” they said. “It’s the Lady.”
The witches and wizards turned, curious and confused, to stare at the young woman in Muggle clothes. She kept walking, head held high, refusing to flush with embarrassment.
She does look regal, Minerva McGonagall thought to herself, witnessing this proud display. But what sort is she that the goblins of all creatures acknowledge her?
Sarah paused as one of the goblins approached her. “My name is Griphook, Lady Sarah, and I am the manager of this branch of Gringotts Bank. Please come this way.” He led her behind the row of counters to and down a hall of office doors, passing a wizard with fiery red hair who looked after them with surprise. She followed obediently, a little dazed and uncomfortable with such special treatment. These goblins were a far cry, in looks and intelligence, from those who resided in the Goblin City, and it took her several moments to adjust.
“Now, what can we do for you, Lady?” he asked indicating that she seat herself in his large office.
“Please, it’s just Sarah,” she said, brushing non-existent dirt off of her shirt.
“Of course, Lady.”
Sarah sighed mentally, and resigned herself to the title. “I really only came to exchange pounds into wizard money. Although,” she added thoughtfully, “any information you can give me about this world would be extremely helpful. This is the first I’ve seen of it, and I had no idea that this existed. I’m also curious about how you ended Aboveground, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” Griphook said. “As I am sure you deduced, all goblin employees of Gringotts are of the same breed. For various reasons, including a desire for more intelligent interaction, we decided to move from the Goblin City to the Aboveground centuries ago. In general, we found banking profitable and to our liking. His Majesty approved of the move, as long as we send Him a yearly tithe. We no longer have anything to do with the wishing away of babies. It was beneficial for all parties concerned, and we have become content with our lot in life. The wizards, of course, know nothing about the reality of the Underground.”
“Fascinating,” Sarah commented, listening intently.
He continued to tell her about the Wizarding World, describing the society, Hogwarts, and the war, giving a brief history of the last war, as well as defining a few terms common to this world. By the time Sarah left the bank, she felt she had a fairly decent understanding of the Wizarding World.
She stopped by the bookstore on her way out, eager to purchase her chosen book. Thankfully, someone else was manning the counter, and they appeared to have fixed the cash register, so she anticipated a quick finish.
Instead, the wizard couldn’t find her book and called the woman Sarah had dealt with earlier out from the back room. Sarah gritted her teeth, feeling a headache coming on, and ground out, “Can I speak with the manager, please?”
Chapter 2: Perfect Wonder
If you force the trail to emerge and turn with your every command, then most likely it will only become what you imagined. If you just enjoy the anticipation of each new curve and seize it as it comes, the road around the bend might lead to the unimaginable.
The last week of July, almost three weeks after Sarah had wandered into Diagon Alley, she decided to take a train to Scotland. It was about time she visited the country since it was right next door and she’d gone to school in London for two years. Plus, she had been doing some odd jobs in the neighborhood outside of campus, and had earned enough money to stay in Scotland overnight. Melanie would have accompanied her, but one of her co-workers had called in sick, and she had to sub at the last minute, leaving Sarah on her own. She didn’t mind.
Sarah packed a backpack and took an early train out of London. She got off at Edinburgh, where she ate a late lunch and spent the afternoon exploring. Around 4:30 she hopped a train to Dundee, arriving in time for dinner. She walked around the city for a while, until she found a cheap hotel that looked clean. By then Sarah was exhausted and fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
She woke early the next morning, intending on getting back to school before it got to be too late. Perhaps it was exhaustion, or perhaps it was fate, but Sarah stepped onto a bus that she thought would take her to the train station, but instead headed in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the rocking of the bus quickly lulled her to back to sleep.
She woke up less than an hour later when the bus ran over a particularly deep pothole causing her to crack her head against the window. Upon glancing out of the window she sat bolt upright. She saw rolling countryside and dirt roads, neither of which were anywhere near the train station.
Sarah swore under her breath as the bus slowed to a stop and quickly hopped off. She read the schedule carefully as the bus drove off, stirring up a cloud of dust. Buses left every hour on the hour, and she had just missed the return bus.
“Shit,” she hissed, shaking her head irritably. She had a book, but she was saving it for the train ride back, and she had no desire to stand around for an hour and a half. Sarah looked around at her surroundings, and paused. There, in the distance, was a castle rising above a forest. She winced as she remembered the castle beyond the Goblin City, but her curiosity won out, and she decided that the castle was more interesting to look at than anything else around.
Sighing, Sarah shouldered her pack and headed in its direction. “Well, come on feet.”
The outskirts of the woods were closer than she had thought, but she was reluctant to enter. It was not that she was afraid of losing her direction, since her sense of direction had not let her down in six years. Rather, Sarah felt that whatever the forest sheltered was both frightening and dangerous. She felt that if she decided to cut through to the castle, it would mean risking her life, not something she took lightly.
Figuring that there must be a path to the castle somewhere, she followed the trees to the right and soon stumbled upon a small town. Since everything appeared to be closed, she didn’t look around and simply walked down a path that headed in the castle’s direction. In some places the forest encroached upon the path, but Sarah felt safe, and she heard nothing to indicate that she was being watched or followed.
Less than ten minutes later Sarah came upon the castle and marveled at such a wondrous structure. She had passed a large, strange sort of sports field only moments before, and she wondered what sort of place this was. It certainly didn’t look much like the few old English castles she had toured when she first arrived in London.
Sarah was approaching the large main doors of the building, wondering whether to attempt to enter or not, when a voice called out to her.
She looked around and spotted an elderly man’s head and shoulders above a small brick enclosure. He had a long, silvery beard, and wore half moon glasses and a friendly expression.
“I wasn’t aware we were having visitors today,” he beamed.
“Oh, no, I’m not a visitor,” Sarah said hastily.
“Then you must be here about the positions. We’re a bit short, I’m afraid, and about to get shorter,” he said cheerfully before Sarah had a chance to explain.
“I wasn’t aware that you were hiring. Although,” she added wryly, “I definitely need a job.”
“Excellent. I don’t remember the last time we had an American. Are you an American?”
Sarah blinked. “Er, yes.” There was a short pause. “It’s a very impressive castle,” she added, not quite sure how to respond when he didn’t seem forthcoming about the job details.
The man smiled fondly, his gaze focusing on the building, and replied, “Yes, it is. Well-protected and well-hidden for centuries.”
“Well-hidden?” she repeated, looking around at the countryside and dirt roads off in the distance. It was isolated certainly. But a large castle built at the top of a cliff and rising above the surrounding forest was not exactly well-hidden.
“If you say so,” she said doubtfully.
He eyed her speculatively at this, but said nothing in reply. “We have several teaching positions open.”
“So this is a school?” she commented. “Cool.”
Now the man was eyeing her as if she were some strange puzzle that he wished to solve. Sarah wondered what it was she had said, and wished she hadn’t. She did not like being a puzzle to other people.
He noticed that she did not seem to be carrying a wand, unless it was in her pack, which would be extremely foolish in times such as these. “Are you a Muggle?” he asked suddenly.
Sarah was rather taken aback. “Did you just say ‘mugger?’”
The wizard chuckled. “No, although that would be useful information. I asked if you were a Muggle.”
“A Muggle?” Sarah asked distantly. Something about this seemed rather familiar.
The man fingered his wand, the motion hidden by the enclosure. She had not seen much; perhaps he wouldn’t have to Obliviate her. Although the fact that she had seen Hogwarts at all and made her way unimpeded worried him. If the spells on the castle were failing….
“Hogwarts!” Sarah exclaimed suddenly, snapping her fingers. “The goblins told me about this. This is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, isn’t it? Oh, and yes, I’m a Muggle.”
“You are correct. This is Hogwarts, and I am the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, at your service.” He gave her a little bow, and then stepped through the stone wall. Sarah blinked. It was more impressive, she decided, when one stepped through you rather than a wall.
“Sarah Williams,” she replied with a smile.
Albus’ expression brightened. “Ah, so you are the one that Minerva met in Diagon Alley. She took quite a liking to you, you know.”
“Ah, well, I liked her too,” Sarah murmured, embarrassed.
“Come, let’s go to my office, and we can talk about hiring you.”
“Hire me?” Sarah asked as she trailed after him. “But I can’t do magic. And I’m going to school in London.”
“Minor problems,” he said, waving his hand dismissively.
Minor problems, Sarah mouthed to herself bemused. She couldn’t think of anyone who would say such things were minor problems.
As they walked, the Headmaster pointed out various points of interest, and Sarah marveled at the portraits, suits of armor, and the castle in general. As they climbed the stairs she heard a sort of creaking, crunching sound and looked up in time to see one of the staircases swing into place.
“The walls don’t move, do they?” Sarah inquired with some trepidation.
“Not the walls themselves, no, although while you’re still learning how to get around it does seem like it,” Headmaster Dumbledore answered.
“What about the floors?” Sarah was remembering the numerous times the ground had opened up beneath her in the Labyrinth.
“They stay put as well,” he replied with a questioning glance.
“That’s good to know,” Sarah said sincerely.
They had just reached the second floor and were walking down a corridor when Sarah heard a voice call out, “Come back and fight, ye scurvy knaves!”
“Good morning, Sir Cadogan,” Albus greeted a portrait a few feet down.
The knight in the portrait turned, his metal visor clanging shut as he did so, and he tripped over his feet.
“Sarah, this is Sir Cadogan, one of the many portraits that are hung throughout Hogwarts.”
“Good day to you Headmaster, and to you my lady,” he said with a creaky bow.
“Good day, sir knight,” Sarah said, giving the impression of a curtsey, though she wore jeans.
The portrait brightened, and whether it was because of her language or the attention Sarah was paying him, she didn’t know. “Ah, fair lady. There are many dangers throughout these halls. Allow me to escort and protect thee from any threat!” He swung his sword with such energy that he tripped over his scabbard and lopped the feather off the top of his helmet. A portrait of a middle-aged scribe on the wall adjacent snorted.
“I apologize, kind sir, but I am afraid that I am already under the protection of a knight,” Sarah said apologetically, struggling not to laugh.
Sir Cadogan looked a bit crestfallen.
“If your knight is brave, loyal, and true, then I suppose it would not be right of me to replace such a worthy fellow.”
“Yes. It is very nice to meet you, but I’m afraid that I am keeping the Headmaster waiting,” Sarah said, gazing at the wizard out of the corner of her eye. He was looking immensely amused by the conversation.
“Of course, fair maiden. Farewell.”
“Farewell,” she repeated, following Dumbledore. Once she was certain that she was out of earshot of Sir Cadogan, she broke into a fit of giggles, and her companion chuckled along with her.
“You do have a way with Sir Cadogan. I don’t think anyone has had such a conversation with him in ages,” Albus said at last.
“Yes, well, he does remind me of my friend,” Sarah replied with a fond smile. Sir Didymus was away questing with Ambrosius, and last time she’d spoken with Hoggle, he’d said that he was due back any day.
“Your knight friend?” he inquired.
“Mmhm.” Sarah nodded. “They are rather alike, although Didymus is rather handier at fighting.” She grinned. “Both of them have personalities reminiscent of Don Quixote.”
Dumbledore laughed as they halted in front of a stone gargoyle. “Tilting at windmills, is he? Blood Lollies.” The gargoyle jumped aside, and the two ascended the staircase.
Sarah looked around at his office, fascinated by the various silver instruments and knickknacks that cluttered the tabletops, although there were a few bare spots, as if some things had been broken and not yet repaired or replaced. Parchments and books littered his desk, and cupboards of various sizes and shapes were placed around the room. A large assembly of portraits hung against a wall, with a plaque indicating that they were former Headmasters and Headmistresses.
“Hello,” said Sarah, drawn to a reddish-gold bird sitting on his perch and cocking his head at her. “What’s your name?”
“That’s my familiar, Fawkes. He’s a phoenix. Quite extraordinary creatures, phoenixes are.”
“Yes,” Sarah agreed. “May I pet you?” she asked, and Dumbledore watched in bemused approval that she had asked Fawkes’ permission, rather than his own as others had done before her.
The phoenix nodded his head in assent, crooning quietly, and Sarah carefully brushed her fingers against his soft, warm feathers. He nudged her hand with his head, and she smiled. “If I’d seen something as wonderful as you six years ago, I wonder if I would have been able to leave?” she wondered softly, under her breath, but Albus Dumbledore heard her, and wondered at this mysterious Muggle who seemed to fit into the world of magic, though she was not a witch herself.
“Come dear child, make yourself comfortable, and we can discuss your employment,” he said at last, and Sarah smiled at him as she took a seat across from him.
“What can I do since I don’t have magic? I would assume that professors at a magical school would need to have magic themselves,” she said curiously.
There were mutters from the portrait at this, but Sarah did her best to ignore them.
“Quite right, but there are a few aspects of school life that need minimal magic. The library, perhaps?” he suggested.
She brightened. “I do love books,” she said. “And I’ve taken a few first aid and health courses, so I can help the nurse, if you have one.”
“Excellent,” Dumbledore exclaimed. “We’ve never had a Muggle professor before. Perhaps, when you become used to Hogwarts, you might fill in for the Muggle Studies professor, should she take ill. For now, I think, we’ll have you work as an assistant in the library. Should you do well and choose to continue the next year, you will become the librarian. I anticipate many absences by then, and as a qualified witch, our current librarian, Madam Pince, could take over classes when needed. Irma Pince has also been expressing a desire to retire, so you would not be kicking her out of her job,” he reassured her upon seeing her worried expression.
“About transportation,” Sarah began, but was cut off by a cold, sneering voice.
“What’s this about hiring Muggles, Dumbledore? It’s a disgrace!”
“That’s enough, Phineas,” Dumbledore said sternly to one of the former Headmasters.
“In my day we would never sink so low as to hire an ignorant professor handicapped in such a fashion,” he continued in a superior tone, scowling darkly at Sarah, whose fearsome temper had just been ignited.
She stood abruptly and crossed over to the wall, completely forgetting that her prospective employer was in the room.
“You arrogant jerk,” she hissed, eyes flashing silver in rage, though she had never realized that such a thing happened. “You’re an expert on Muggles then? Spent a lot of time among us and know everything about us, do you?”
“There’s no need to do something so…distasteful to realize how ridiculous Muggles are,” Phineas sneered, hiding his unease at seeing her abrupt change in eye color.
“And you call us ignorant?!” Sarah laughed coldly. “So we’re ridiculous because we have never had the chance to live with magic, because some of us never knew magic existed? Magic may be your tool, but science is ours, and you fear it don’t you?”
“Preposterous!” the portrait spat.
“Oh, I don’t think it is,” Sarah replied with mock sweetness. “You don’t understand how it works, probably don’t even know what a Periodic Table is, so you make out wizards and witches to be superior to us. Wizards have never thoroughly experimented with Muggle technology, so it makes you feel better saying that magic is superior. You will note, of course, that you have the advantage of making sure that most Muggles have no knowledge of the Wizarding World. Anytime something cannot be hidden, or a witch or wizard becomes careless, the Muggles are the ones who suffer, the ones who must lose their memory.”
Phineas couldn’t hide his surprise, but Sarah continued speaking before he could say anything.
“Oh yes, the goblins informed me thoroughly of Muggle interaction with the Wizarding World. They felt they should warn me, as they are considered inferior themselves. We are not your pets or playtoys! And I think you don’t realize this.”
Sarah sighed wearily. “But then I suppose it is useless trying to explain this to a stubborn portrait.”
She turned as the other portraits applauded, eyes once more hazel, and jumped in surprise when she noticed Dumbledore watching her with consideration. “Er,” she said, feeling rather awkward.
“Do you know,” he said solemnly, “I don’t remember the last time anyone lectured Phineas, much less argued with him?” He gave her a sudden grin. “Excellent. I believe that if you can handle Phineas, you shall have no problem handling any student or staff member with similar views.”
“Right,” said Sarah, feeling rather wrong-footed as she walked back to her chair and sank into it. Did this mean that he still wanted to hire her? He hadn’t even done a background check or seen her transcript or anything. And really, she’d expected a different reaction after letting her temper get away with her.
“I’m afraid Phineas has been a bit moody lately. I expect he’s upset because the last of his line has died, although you won’t get him to admit it,” Dumbledore continued.
Sarah chanced a glance at the portrait, which was now empty.
“Now, as to transportation, I’m sure we could secure a specialized Portkey, one that can be used indefinitely. Once activated, the object will transport you to your destination. Since you don’t own a wand, I believe we’ll set up a password for activation. That will take a few hours to put together. If you don’t have any pressing business elsewhere, I believe Minerva is in her office if you would like to see her,” Dumbledore concluded.
“I’d like that,” Sarah agreed. The fact that she’d just been hired at a magical school hadn’t sunken in yet.
“Before I let you go, I would like to make sure that you understand the situation we are having in the Wizarding World,” Albus said seriously, peering at her over his half-moon glasses.
“The goblins explained about the Voldemort and the reasons behind the war. They also told me a little about the last war,” Sarah said with a nod. “But now that I’ve not only stumbled into such an amazing world, but also have a job at a preeminent magical school, I can’t bring myself to just walk away. I’m simply too foolishly stubborn to do that.” She grinned wryly.
“Rest assured, we will do our best to keep you well protected,” the Headmaster reassured her. “Also, we should probably keep quiet about where you or your parents live, to be on the safe side.”
“Yes,” Sarah said soberly, thinking of Toby. “That would probably be best.”
“Well,” said Albus, standing. “I believe we can talk more about Hogwarts and the system when I return with your portkey. Is that agreeable?”
She nodded enthusiastically as she stood. “Thank you very much.”
“Not at all. It will be a pleasure having you on the staff.” He smiled at her. “Now, why don’t I guide you to Minerva’s office before I go?”
“I don’t want to inconvenience you,” Sarah said. “If you can point me in the right direction, I’m sure I’ll be able to find it.” Noticing his concerned expression, she added with a grin, “I’ll scream if I get hopelessly lost. Or possibly ask the portraits.”
Albus chuckled. “If you are sure?”
“Her office is on the first floor. If you take a right at my stone gargoyle and stop halfway down the corridor, it is directly below the classroom on the left.”
“Got it,” she said cheerfully, and turned to leave.
“You’re sure you’ll be alright?” he asked as she reached the stairwell.
“Don’t worry. I have a very good sense of direction.” She smiled a small, secretive grin and made her way down to the gargoyle.
In very little time she found herself knocking on Minerva’s office door.
“Come in,” the witch called out, and Sarah opened the door grinning at the expression on her face when she looked up from the stack of parchments she had been marking. “Sarah!” she exclaimed, rising and greeting her warmly. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I was sightseeing yesterday, got on the wrong bus this morning, got off, saw the castle, decided to take a closer look, and now I’m your new assistant librarian.”
Minerva smiled. “That’s wonderful! I don’t think Hogwarts has ever had a Muggle staff member.”
“You don’t seem too surprised, though,” Sarah observed.
“Well, he’s hired a werewolf in the past, and we’ve had a half-giant on staff for a number of years. Albus Dumbledore does a great many surprising and shocking things.”
“Does he usually hire people without background checks or paperwork?” Sarah asked plaintively.
The professor laughed. “I suspect as Deputy Head that I should help you complete the necessary. It was probably part of the reason he sent you to find me. Do you have time?”
“Yeah. The Headmaster went to get a specialized portkey for me and he said it would take a couple of hours.”
“What do you think of our esteemed headmaster?” Minerva asked as she summoned the necessary paperwork.
“He seems rather like a harmless, eccentric, grandfatherly person…. But then,” Sarah continued as the witch was trying to decide how to explain Dumbledore to her, “few things are as they seem.”
She met Minerva’s startled gaze, a soft grin lingering on her lips.
Sarah was, Minerva McGonagall decided, an extraordinary woman.
Albus entered Minerva’s office a little over an hour later, wearing a ragged hat, humming to himself and waving his hand as though conducting an orchestra. Sarah was rather startled by this and looked over to Minerva for an explanation, who rolled her eyes skyward. “What have you done to Fudge?”
“Why, nothing at all, Minerva. But how silly of you to think so.”
“Here you are, Miss Williams,” he said, proffering a charm in the shape of a feather. “We simply need to set the password.”
He looked at her expectantly.
She was silent for a moment, thinking, and then finally said, “Oubliette.”
Albus tapped the charm with his wand. “Done,” he said, satisfied. “Now, has Minerva been telling you about the various aspects of the school?”
The witch in question shot him a glare. “Minerva has been doing the paperwork that you should have done when you talked with her.”
“But you’re so much better at it than I am,” he said pleadingly, and Sarah stifled her laughter at his woebegone expression. In truth, they’d finished a while ago and had simply been talking, Sarah listening to some extraordinary tales about Hogwarts’ students, both past and present.
Minerva sighed. “Carry on,” she said, and sat back in her chair to listen.
“Well,” began Albus, “Hogwarts has four Houses….” He described the Houses, point system, Quidditch Cup, and other traditions.
“So,” he concluded, “if you wish to, we can have you Sorted into a House. I brought the Hat with me just in case.” He indicated the hat he wore, which sported a broad rip that, to Sarah’s surprise, turned out to be a mouth. She was strongly reminded of the Wise Man and his bird hat, and her lips twitched in amusement.
“So, you’re the new staff member,” it commented as the Headmaster placed it on Professor McGonagall’s desk. “I’ve never sorted a Muggle before.”
Sarah was not sure she approved of how the Houses were divided, although the Houses themselves seemed like a good idea.
The wizard noticed her hesitation. “Is there a problem?” he asked gently.
“No, I…I just don’t think I’ll be sorted, if that’s all right,” she said apologetically.
Both professors looked at her in surprise.
“May I ask why?” Dumbledore said at last.
“Well, I’ve never been to Hogwarts before and I don’t have a history with this place or even this world…. It’s probably not my place to – to criticize or….” Sarah thought perhaps she was babbling, but she didn’t want to offend them, either with her answer or by not answering.
“We won’t be insulted, Sarah,” Minerva assured her.
“We are simply curious as to your reasons. But you don’t have to tell us if you don’t wish to,” Albus added.
“Well, perhaps it’s because I’ve been the victim of a few cliques, but sorting students by personality or characteristic…. It just seems like the Houses have the potential to become very like cliques, to be exclusive to the point that they rarely mingle. Students within the Houses will have quite a bit in common, and will then be less likely to look for close friends outside of their own House. Friendly rivalry between Houses can easily become something…something quite a bit less than friendly.
“Also, it seems to me that sorting by major personality type will make that more prominent in an individual, while at the same time stifling or reducing characteristics portrayed by other Houses. Because all people have a mixture of characteristics….So….” Sarah trailed off, flushed with embarrassment. “But I – I don’t really know if that would be true – I mean, you would know better than I would.”
“Ah, this one’s smart,” said the Hat before either professor could respond. “I think I like her.”
“Ah, thank you?” said Sarah uncertainly.
“You do have good points,” said Albus thoughtfully. “We,” he indicated Minerva, “have both had concerns about the Houses, but there are advantages to the system as well.”
“Yes, I know that there are always two sides to a coin,” Sarah acknowledged.
“Very well,” Albus said, and scooped up the Sorting Hat.
“It’s getting rather late,” Minerva observed. “Would you like to spend the night?”
“Oh no!” Sarah exclaimed. “I missed the bus, what time is it? Oh, I won’t get back to campus until late.”
Albus chuckled. “You can use your portkey.”
That brought Sarah up short. “I forgot,” she said sheepishly.
“Here,” said Minerva, offering a silver chain she had Transfigured from one of her spare quills. “You can wear your portkey like a necklace.” She paused for a moment, and then flicked her wand several times at the chain, murmuring under her breath. “There,” she said satisfied. “I’ve placed several protection spells on the chain, and they shouldn’t interfere with the portkey at all.”
“An excellent idea, Minerva,” Albus said. “If you don’t mind?”
“Not at all,” she murmured as Sarah shook her head.
His wand seemed to form several complex shapes as he waved it about the chain, finally handing it back to Sarah when he was done. “You are as protected as we can make you,” he said satisfied. “And that is very well protected indeed.”
“Thank you very much,” Sarah said softly. “When should I return?”
“Anytime. Both of us are here all summer,” Minerva replied. “We can talk more about your schedule and duties then.
“All right. Good bye.” She gripped the charm, murmured, “Oubliette,” and vanished.
“You were right Minerva,” said Albus as she rose to her feet. “She is a very remarkable person. And she’s hiding a rather big secret, I would say, although I have no idea what.”
“But you won’t pry, will you?” she asked sternly.
“Of course not, my dear.”
She stretched, wincing slightly, and Albus was immediately at her side.
“Are you all right? You shouldn’t work yourself so hard when you’re still recovering,” he fretted.
“Albus, quit mothering me,” Minerva growled. “I’m fine. I was about to go have dinner.”
“Then I believe I shall escort you,” he said, gallantly offering her his arm.
She sighed as she took his arm, but a smile escaped, and Albus’ heart lifted at the sight.
Chapter 3: Orientation
I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge -- myth is more potent than history -- dreams are more powerful than facts -- hope always triumphs over experience -- laughter is the cure for grief -- love is stronger than death.
-Robert Fulghum, The Storyteller's Creed
Portkeys, Sarah decided as she lay sprawled beneath a group of trees behind her dorm, would require some getting used to. Although they did save on time. Groaning, she scrambled to her feet, brushing the dirt off her clothes. A few minutes later she was back in her dorm room, relaxing in front of the fan and musing over her day.
She had been hired by a magic school.
She had been hired by a magic school!
Sarah threw back her head and laughed with joy as it finally sunk in. It was like a dream come true.
“Lady happy?” said Scrut, one of the smaller goblins that often appeared in her room. He was just larger than her palm and loved to topple pens and books onto the floor, especially if the books weighed more than he did.
“I’m very happy,” Sarah said with a smile.
“Shiny,” Krark, commented, eyeing her necklace. He crouched on her desk, only about a foot and a half high. His limbs were spindly, his head disproportionately large compared to his body, teeth pointed.
Scrut squealed with excitement and clambered up her arm for a closer look at the charm. Sarah was used to him perching on her shoulder and watched with fond amusement. He grew quiet once he got a good look at the feather, however.
“Magic,” he said. “Mortal magic.”
“Yes. I have a job at a magic school up north,” she explained. “This is for my protection and a way to teleport to the school. So this is off limits,” Sarah finished sternly. She usually let them have their fun, knowing it was in a goblin’s nature to cause mischief. But there were certain times she put her foot down, and this was definitely one of them.
“Yes,” said Krark as Scrut hopped onto the desk next to him. “We no touch mortal magic thing.” And then they disappeared.
Sarah wondered where they’d gone off to now, but she wasn’t too concerned. They always showed up sooner or later. Right now she was more interested in speaking with her Labyrinth friends and telling them the good news. Perhaps Sir Didymus had returned from his questing.
Double-checking that she had locked the door, she stood in front of the large mirror that hung on the wall. “Hoggle, I need you.”
It took only a moment before his wrinkled, wizened face appeared.
“Hello little missy,” he said with as close to a smile as he could get. “Didymus has just returned.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “How did it go?”
“All right as far as I could tell.” He scowled. “That idiotic knight claimed he’d been sworn to secrecy and then waxed poetic on his sacred vows.”
Sarah laughed. “That sounds just like him. I think I’ll call him in a day or two when he’s recovered.”
Hoggle frowned at her suspiciously. “You’re in a good mood.”
“Oh Hoggle, you’ll never guess what happened. I’ve just been hired by a magic school called Hogwarts!”
“Yeh have, have you?” He grunted. “I’ve heard of them mortal schools of magic. You be careful Sarah. You’ll be at a disadvantage.”
“I know,” she said seriously. “But they’re doing all they can to make sure I’ll be all right. I’m not really teaching anyway. I’m working in the library.”
“Well, all right,” Hoggle said, unconvinced. “But me and Didymus and Ludo will be wanting to see this school of yours.”
“I’ll try,” she reassured them. “It’ll be more difficult to keep you hidden, especially from what I’ve heard of the Headmaster, but I’ll figure something out.”
“Remember, if you need us for any reason at all…” Hoggle reminded her, as he did whenever he was concerned about her.
“I’ll call,” Sarah promised.
“You’d better,” he warned sternly. “I know that there are goblins Aboveground too, in banks or something, so you’ve got allies there too.”
“Thank you, Hoggle. It’s nice to know you care,” Sarah said with a grin.
“Yeah, well,” he said gruffly, avoiding her eyes.
Both of them perked up when they heard the scrape of a key in the lock. The door opened seconds later and Sarah glanced at the mirror to see that it was empty once again.
“Hey, Sarah. When did you get back?” asked Mel.
“Just a few minutes ago,” Sarah said with a shrug. “I got a job.”
“Cool. Where are you working?” her roommate asked, tossing her stuff in a corner.
“In a library. It’s quite a ways away, but easy to get to.” Sarah suppressed a smirk as she said that, thinking of transportation by portkey.
“Good going, Faerie Queen,” Melanie said with a grin. “Now you can treat me.”
Sarah sighed and mock glared at her blonde friend.
Jareth the Goblin King sprawled elegantly across his throne, ignoring the usual cacophony and chaos his goblins created. His brow was furrowed as he pondered the latest news. Only moments ago he’d heard from Krark and Scrut that Sarah had accepted a position at Hogwarts.
He had, of course, heard about Sarah’s discovery of the Wizarding World from the Gringott’s goblins, and had watched her carefully for a week or two after that little adventure, but she had shown little inclination to explore further. Jareth had known that it would only be a matter of time before her insatiable curiosity got the best of her and she explored more thoroughly, but he had hoped the threat of war would discourage.
He growled in frustration. Now she would be at the center of the conflict, and there was only so much he could do. Ever since she had banished him from her life with those last six words Jareth had been unable to so much as contact her, much less appear before her. Although he did have a bit of leeway since the night of her return when she had told Hedgewart that she needed all of them. He could at least watch her through his crystals.
Sarah in America, ignorant of the Wizarding World, had been safe. Sarah in the British Isles, ignorant of the Wizarding World, had been at some risk. Sarah, discovering the Wizarding World and interacting with it, was in danger.
The Goblin King growled and slammed his fist against the arm of his throne. The goblins near their king eyed him warily, wondering if he would begin threatening them with the Bog of Eternal Stench.
“What do you do to me, Sarah?” he murmured, and then stood.
Jareth couldn’t appear before Sarah, but he would pay a visit to his Aboveground subjects. The Gringott’s goblins would need to be told that she now worked part-time at Hogwarts. They would, of course, do all they could to take care of her, but orders couldn’t hurt.
And ordering others around would surely make him feel better.
In the evening, a few days after Sarah’s hiring, Phineas returned to his portrait. He attempted to slip into his portrait unnoticed, but Dilys greeted him loudly so that Dumbledore, who had been fiddling with a silver instrument on his cluttered desk, looked up.
“Ah, Phineas. Welcome back,” he greeted.
The figure sneered. “I suppose you hired that girl, did you?”
“Which girl?” Dumbledore asked, feigning ignorance.
“Don’t play with me,” he scowled.
“You mean the Muggle that gave you a proper tongue-lashing?” cackled on of the older and shorter Headmistresses.
Phineas became red with anger. “How dare that – ”
“Phineas!” Dumbledore interrupted sternly as other portraits twittered at the scene. “You did provoke her.”
“Insult her,” a Headmaster a row down from the top threw out.
“You shouldn’t be too surprised with the consequences,” the current Headmaster concluded.
Phineas drew himself up. “She is a Muggle, Dumbledore,” he pointed out coldly.
“And whose fault is that?” he asked quietly.
Phineas was unable to come up with a reply before Albus Dumbledore looked up at the knock on his door. It was late and he had been considering going to bed soon.
His Deputy Headmistress stepped into his office, and he smiled warmly at her, taking in her agitated appearance as she carefully closed the door behind her.
“Can I help you, my dear?” he asked.
“Albus, a delegation from Gringott’s Bank has arrived,” Minerva said without preamble. “They’re waiting outside your door.”
Dumbledore’s eyebrows reached his hairline. “Indeed? What ever for? And why now?”
“They’re being rather secretive,” she replied. “I don’t think they want it to get out that they’ve come here.”
The Headmaster nodded, his mind working furiously. “Send them in, and then come join me.”
She nodded and opened the door. “Please come in,” Professor McGonagall said formally, and then retreated to stand beside Albus as three goblins filed in.
They bowed, and the one in the center, who was apparently the leader, began to speak. “Greetings Headmaster, Professor. My name is Morbund, and these are Gotz and Notexs. The goblins of Gringott’s Bank feel that we can no longer remain neutral, and so have come to accept your offer for an alliance. However, for several reasons, we feel it would be better if such a decision were to be kept secret.”
“Of course,” Dumbledore agreed, even as he pondered what this could mean for them. “May I ask what happened to change your minds?”
The three goblins exchanged glances.
“We have never agreed with the Dark Lord’s actions. We have, in fact, been prepared to lock down the banks and go Underground,” said Gotz. Had these goblins been more predisposed toward a humorous personality, they would have been snickering at the wording.
“But we run a business, and we can’t be too selective,” Notexs added. “We also prefer to let humans fight their own battles.”
“This time, though, our…boss has intervened. He says that we cannot stand by and watch, and we agree. That is why we have come to offer you any assistance we may provide,” said Morbund.
“Apart from withdrawal and deposit information, we have a rather extensive information network,” Notexs explained.
“We also have several rare objects available for borrowing,” Gotz suggested reluctantly. Goblins were not partial to sharing anything.
Albus and Minerva exchanged glances. “We thank you very much for accepting our desperately needed offer,” she said seriously.
“Since you wish to keep this a secret, you can contact us through Bill Weasley, if we have your permission to inform him of this alliance,” Dumbledore proposed.
Morbund nodded. “That will be fine. He is a discreet wizard. If that is all….” The goblins bowed once more. “We will take our leave.”
The two professors nodded. “Have a good night,” Albus called after them.
Minerva slid into an armchair by the fireplace as the door closed. “That was welcome but unexpected.”
“Miss Williams,” Albus said suddenly.
His Deputy frowned in confusion. “What about Sarah?”
“She must be the reason the goblins have decided to stop being neutral for the first time in decades,” he explained as he stood and began to pace the room. “Any other time they were seriously threatened, the goblins simply shut down the banks and disappeared. No one was ever able to find them. But now….”
“Albus that’s…that’s preposterous,” Minerva said. “Why would Sarah have such a profound effect on the goblins? That day I met her seemed to be the first time she’d ever interacted with the Wizarding World.”
He fixed her with his piercing gaze, and she suddenly found it difficult to breathe. She was very grateful that Albus had too many morals to go looking at her thoughts. They certainly weren’t appropriate things to be thinking about a friend and colleague.
“You were there when she entered Gringotts, and you saw how the goblins reacted to her presence.”
“It was very shocking,” Minerva allowed. “Nothing like that has ever happened.”
“When you told me, I was surprised as well, my dear.” He gave her a pointed look.
She sighed. “Fine. It’s not preposterous, it’s very unlikely. Perhaps that’s just how they react to Muggles?”
He was silent. They both knew that goblins did not react to Muggles in any special fashion.
“Why do you think she’s so special then, Albus?” Minerva said reluctantly.
“I’m afraid that I haven’t the slightest idea,” he admitted.
She stood, moved to stand in front of him, and crossed her arms. “You’re going to meddle, aren’t you?” Minerva asked, leaning close to peer into his eyes.
He swallowed hard in reaction to her close proximity and attempted to slow his racing pulse. “I promised, did I not?” he asked in something like his normal, steady voice.
The witch grinned wryly. “But you’ll do some nosing around that you won’t consider meddling.” Without waiting for an answer she bade him good night, and left.
“Good night,” Albus called after her in reply.
It took Sarah a little over a week to get an official copy of her transcript, and by then she was more than impatient to return to Hogwarts and become acquainted with the castle. That afternoon she grabbed her purse and made her way to the grove behind the dormitory where she activated her portkey.
She somehow managed to land flat on her back on a cold, unyielding stone floor. She lay there for a minute, groaning in pain, before she slowly climbed to her feet.
“There has got to be a trick to landing,” Sarah muttered to herself as she dusted off her clothes, and then examined her surroundings.
She had landed in a dark, isolated corner of the library, if the many rows of towering bookshelves were any indication. Her hand trailed over the spines reverently as she walked, tempted to stop and simply lose herself in the various tomes.
Eventually she dragged herself away and found the doorway that led out into the castle proper. Getting directions from one of the paintings, she slowly set off in the direction of Minerva’s office, taking the time to look around and explore a few of the alcoves along the corridor.
Sarah reached Professor McGonagall’s office with no problem and knocked.
“There has got to be a way to land on your feet when using a portkey,” Sarah exclaimed as she let herself in.
Minerva looked up in surprise and amusement. “Just practice, I’m afraid,” she said.
Sarah groaned and rubbed her bruised elbow.
“Oh,” she said, hearing the rustle of paper in her pocket. “I brought my transcript.”
“Wonderful,” said Minerva, standing and moving around her desk. “I’ll take this up to the Headmaster’s office. I believe he wanted to talk to you about something. And then I’ll take you on a tour of the school.” She motioned for Sarah to walk with her, and they set out for Dumbledore’s office. “Severus Snape is the only other professor still here. He’s the Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.” The older witch bit her lip and eyed Sarah uncertainly. “His personality will take some getting used to.” She smirked. “His personality is rather similar to Phineas Nigellus’s, although their views differ.”
Sarah winced. “You heard about that?”
“Albus wouldn’t stop giggling, and I was curious.” Her expression softened at the memory, and Sarah eyed her curiously, but didn’t comment.
The Headmaster greeted the two of them warmly when they arrived in his office.
“Ah, Sarah, just the person I was hoping to see,” he said jovially.
“Hello,” Sarah replied as Minerva slipped into a side room with her papers. She chanced a look at Phineas’s portrait, and saw that he was sleeping. Or at least pretending to.
“Our Potions Master is coming up right now with a Protection Potion. If we submerge the chain of your necklace in the potion, you will be protected from most minor to mid-level hexes and it’ll reduce the damage of the more powerful curses,” he explained.
Just as Minerva returned to the main room, there was a knocking on the door the two women had just entered through.
“Ah, that’s Severus right now. Come in,” Albus called.
A pale, dour man in black robes, with a prominent nose and longish black hair entered, carrying a vial of some murky blue substance.
“Is this her?” he asked, eyeing Sarah.
“That depends on who ‘her’ is,” Sarah said before anyone else could say anything, and crossed her arms. “I’m Sarah Williams, the new assistant librarian.”
“Severus Snape,” he replied with a faint sneer and a dark look. He set the potion down on the Headmaster’s desk. “Simply put the object in the vial and wait until it absorbs all of the liquid. If that is all?” He directed this last at Dumbledore who nodded. Without any further words, he turned and stalked out.
“Nice meeting you too,” Sarah called after him. She turned in time to see Minerva watching her with something like pride, and Albus watching her with something like amusement.
“I do like how you deal with our more…eccentric residents of the school,” Minerva commented.
“Her temper rather reminds me of another member of the staff,” Albus said with a pointed look at the Scottish witch.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about,” his Deputy said loftily. “Come Sarah, I’ll show you the school.”
It took roughly an hour to complete the tour, not including the time they took to stop by the kitchens and get something to eat. Sarah had even been shown a few of the more well-known shortcuts, but she had been warned that there were many more secret passages, and no one knew all of them.
“It’s rather like a labyrinth, isn’t it?” Sarah had commented at one point. She looked forward to becoming familiar with the castle and discovering secret passages and rooms. It was, she decided, much more fun when one didn’t have a time limit, a person to save, or creatures ready to thwart you at every turn.
By the time they reached the library, having saved that until last, Sarah was concerned about the witch. She seemed very pale and held herself rigidly, almost as if she was in pain. Her breathing was somewhat shallow, although not yet enough to be too alarming.
“Are you all right?” Sarah questioned as they stood by the librarian’s desk.
“Fine,” Minerva replied, a little unsteadily. “I’m just – ” She broke off with a gasp and gripped the corner of the desk so tightly that her knuckles were white. She panted, bent over slightly and clutching her chest in pain.
“Minerva!” Sarah exclaimed, beginning to panic. “What’s wrong, what’s happening?”
Professor McGonagall could do no more than shake her head.
“Albus!” shrieked the girl, looking around the library for a portrait to act as messenger. “Albus Dumbledore!”
Flame suddenly blossomed in front of the Transfiguration Professor, and Sarah whirled around with a gasp. Fawkes hovered near Minerva, crooning soothingly. Only moments later Albus burst into the library and saw immediately what was happening.
“Minerva, love, it’ll be all right.” The endearment was noticed only by Sarah who witnessed the scene with wide eyes. “Try to relax. Did you take your medication this morning?” He rubbed her back soothingly.
There was a pause, and then she shook her head.
“And I suppose I am to assume that you neglected to use your walking stick? Minerva, you know you’re not supposed to be overexerting yourself.”
She glared at him, straightening slightly. “I was perfectly fine,” she rasped.
“Minerva,” he said, exasperated. “This is not fine. You did not even remain in St. Mungo’s as long as you should have because you terrified any nurse that attempted to take care of you.”
“She was better suited as a rabbit,” Minerva muttered, relaxing further.
“She did retain that nervous twitch when you finally deigned to Transfigure her back,” Albus commented lightly. “Fawkes?”
The phoenix fluttered closer and alighted on the desk. Minerva began to unbutton the top of her robes, and Albus looked away with a blush.
“Sarah, would you do me the favor of providing Fawkes with a perch so that his tears will reach my chest?” Minerva asked.
“Of course,” she replied, moving closer and holding out her right arm for the bird.
Minerva leaned back with a wince, and Sarah gasped at the burns on her skin. Fawkes tilted his head and leaned closer, crying onto the wounds, and the angry redness began to fade. Minerva sighed with relief.
“I suppose I should explain,” Albus said. “We have always had difficulty finding someone willing to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, much less someone competent. Last year the Ministry of Magic decided that if I could not find a candidate, they would appoint one of their own.”
Sarah was outraged. “You mean the government was directly interfering with a private institution? That’s like – like…Hitler.”
“It gets worse,” said Minerva in a strained voice.
“The Minister and his supporters refused to believe that Voldemort had returned, and so they heavily influenced the newspapers and Dolores Umbridge, the woman they appointed professor, severely punished those who spoke out about the Dark Lord’s return.”
Minerva’s face had darkened with anger as the wizard continued to talk.
“Eventually the Minister attempted to have me arrested. I escaped, but that meant that Dolores very nearly had control of the school. Not that there wasn’t rebellion in almost every House.” Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled at that.
“The professors, unsure of exactly how much power they had, thought it best to let the High Inquisitor deal with the troublemakers.” The faintest shadow of a smirk graced Minerva’s lips.
“I was rather impressed by the stories of the Weasley twins.”
“I must admit that they were very inventive,” Minerva agreed.
Albus sobered abruptly. “At the end of the school year, Dolores and three other Aurors attempted to arrest our Professor of Care of Magical Creatures, Rubeus Hagrid, who is a half-giant. Minerva,” he smiled down at the witch at his side, “rushed out to his defense in all her righteous glory. The cowards fired the Stunning Spell without warning. Four stunners hit her in the chest, and she is still recovering.”
“I still owe that woman for this,” Minerva growled. She straightened and buttoned up her robes, apparently free of pain.
“What are the symptoms?” Sarah asked.
Minerva cocked her head, eyeing her quizzically. “My heart is rather weak at the moment, and my skin is badly burned, as you saw. Too much movement causes my chest to ache, and when I overexert myself, well.” She shrugged. “You saw what happened.”
“Right.” Sarah made a mental note to ask Hoggle if there was any plant in the Underground that would help her witch friend without any bad side effects. He was a gardener, so he should probably know. Or better yet, Camille, who she had met through Didymus in the mirror, was a healer. She was humanoid, she’d probably know best.
“I believe I should probably return to school,” she said.
“The teachers will return around mid-August. We can introduce you then, and Irma Pince can show you what needs to be done around the library.”
“All right. I’ll see you then.” With a murmured, “Oubliette,” Sarah disappeared. But not without seeing how Albus moved closer to Minerva, a look of concern on his face as he took her hand in his.
Sarah giggled to herself. Oh that poor man, she thought to herself. He’s head over heels in love with Minerva, and she doesn’t have any idea.
Chapter 4: Getting Settled
But the twig broke,
And yesterday I saw her
Walking down an unfamiliar street,
Face slanted upward toward a threatening sky,
She was smiling
And she was
Her very free,
Her very individual,
-Naomi Long Madgett, “Offspring”
Sarah returned to Hogwarts in the heat of mid-August to attend the first staff meeting of the school year. She had gotten the message by owl, and hadn’t that been fun trying to keep her roommate from noticing?
Even in her capris and sleeveless tunic she began to sweat as she activated her portkey. This time when she landed in the Hogwarts library, she resisted falling any further than to her knees, wincing as they hit the stone ground. She made her way to the stairs and then paused. Where had Minerva said that staffroom was?
She sighed as she descended the many flights of stairs down to the ground floor. It would have been so much easier if she had asked if someone could have greeted her, but it hadn’t even occurred to her. They had probably forgotten that she didn’t know the castle yet.
At least it was nice and cool. She was feeling quite comfortable after the heat outside.
“Hmm.” Sarah looked from side to side, and then eyed the ceiling above her. Not under the library, so…right. She walked slowly down the hallway, the butterflies in her stomach growing at the thought of meeting so many new people, all older than herself, who would were now her colleagues. So many doors, and she had no doubt that there were hidden ones as well. She let her eyes pass over the portraits. One of them should know.
“Excuse me,” Sarah said loudly. “Does anyone know where the staff room is?”
She jumped when one of the stone gargoyles began to talk.
“Who wants to know?” it asked.
“Sarah Williams, new assistant librarian. I’m here for the staff meeting,” she replied warily.
“Are you, now?” the other began aggressively when the door opened.
“What is going on?” demanded Minerva, before catching sight of Sarah. “You two behave,” she said to the gargoyles sternly, and then motioned for the girl to come in.
“Everyone,” she announced as the door closed, “this is our new assistant librarian, Sarah Williams.”
Sarah resisted the urge to shrink back as the eyes of everyone in the room focused on her. Instead she met them squarely as Minerva began the round of names. “Filius. Hagrid. Irma, whom you will be working with closely. Xiomara. Poppy. Aurora. Severus, whom you’ve already met. Pomona. Clio, our Muggle Studies Professor. And Septima. Albus and Sybill should be here shortly. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable?”
Sarah noted the distaste in the witch’s voice when she’d mentioned Sybill, and wondered about it as she made her way to an empty spot on the couch near a shorter witch with golden eyes and spiked hair. What was her name again?
The witch grinned at her as Sarah took a seat, drawing her knees up towards her chest and resting her chin on her knees in an almost childlike gesture. “Xiomara Hooch, Flying Instructor,” she said, holding out her hand. “I’m not sure what exactly you picked out of Minerva’s steady stream of names.”
“Very little, I’m afraid,” Sarah replied ruefully, as she shook hands. Unable to contain her curiosity, she asked, “Who’s Sybill?”
Xiomara snorted. “Sybill Trelawney is our resident Divinations Professor and self-proclaimed Seer. She rarely comes down from her Tower. Being among us dull mundanes clouds her inner eye.”
“Polite ‘un, aren’t ya?” Xiomara commented.
“Until I’m given good reason to be otherwise,” Sarah said with a small grin.
Just then a skinny woman with bushy hair and eyes made large by her glasses entered. She was dressed in various gauzy shawls and beads, some strange combination of hippie and carnival fortune-teller, and her voice when she spoke was soft and misty, no doubt striving for mysterious tones. No self-respecting Seer would appear in such a way, Sarah thought. Granted, she had little experience with Seers.
Trelawney caught sight of Sarah immediately, and made her way over. “Ah, the new professor. I saw that you would be here today. Please, allow me to read your palm to prepare you for the school year.” Without waiting for an answer she grasped Sarah’s hand as the younger girl readjusted herself so that she sat cross-legged.
“I’m Sarah Williams, the new assistant librarian,” she said with a forced smile.
“Forgive me, forgive me. I am Sybill Trelawney, Seer, and great-granddaughter of the famous Cassandra.”
“Really? Like Troy?” Sarah asked looking around the room desperately as the woman began muttering about love lines and life lines. She was met with sympathetic glances from most other professors.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” Sybill murmured tragically. “I’m afraid that this year will….” She broke off when her gaze met Sarah’s. Her already large eyes grew larger, and she blanched, yet was unable to look away. She could see creatures, small and fearsome, some with sharp teeth or wild, ragged hair, or talons, or claws and bits of armor. Beady eyes and red eyes, mischief and trouble and little regard for rules. What on earth were these horrible creatures?
But then, as if from far away, Sybill heard her voice croak, “Goblins.”
Sarah’s eyes widened in surprise, and she remained silent for a moment. And then she said softly, “Yes.”
The Seer stumbled away, shaken, breaking their inadvertent staring contest, and hurried past the Headmaster who stood in the doorway, cleanly forgetting about the staff meeting.
The next time Sarah saw Sybill Trelawney, she would be smelling strongly of sherry.
“Not completely talentless,” Sarah commented. She could feel the looks of curiosity and suspicion that the others sent her, and shifted uncomfortably before Dumbledore began the staff meeting, thinking it best that Sybill not have to return.
The meeting went by fairly quickly. The main business was formally introducing Sarah to the staff, discussing preparations for the returning students, and announcing that Severus Snape would become the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor with Horace Slughorn coming out of retirement to teach Potions. This was greeted with no little surprise, and Sarah was puzzled herself. One would think that a Potions Master would teach Potions.
The meeting was concluded and Sarah, not sure what to do, mingled with the rest of the staff. Xiomara, having taken a liking to their newest and youngest addition, dragged her over to meet the school nurse, Poppy Pomfrey, and the Astronomy Professor, Aurora Sinistra. It was very clear that the three were old friends, and she discovered that Minerva was the fourth member of the group. All of them had gone to school together and, surprisingly enough, all were from different Houses.
Sarah, who had a clear view of the Headmaster and his Deputy in deep conversation, finally got up the courage to ask, “Are those two a couple?”
The three witches turned to look at who she was watching, and then exchanged frustrated looks.
“No,” they sighed in chorus.
“Minerva has been in love with him for years, but he doesn’t know it, and vice versa. They’re both much too stubborn for their own good,” Sinistra explained. “Every once in a while the staff, and sometimes even some of the students, have tried to give them a nudge, but with no luck.”
“Except for Xiomara, who likes to give them a shove that usually ends up with Minerva furious and hexing her,” Poppy added dryly.
“What? They seemed like good ideas at the time,” Xiomara said defensively.
“Only to you.”
Pomona Sprout had just come over to greet Sarah when Minerva made her way over to the group.
“Hey Min,” Xiomara said, partially in greeting and partially in warning to the group not to continue the conversation they had been having. “-erva,” she added quickly when the woman in question leveled a glare at her.
“What have you been up to?” Minerva asked, eyeing her friends suspiciously.
“We were just meeting our newest colleague,” the hawk-eyed Flying Instructor said easily.
“From what we heard happened during her interview,” Aurora began, only to be cut off by Sarah’s groan.
“Has everyone heard about that?” she exclaimed, blushing in embarrassment.
“You’ll get used to it, dear,” Pomona said sympathetically, patting her arm.
“Few things remain a secret here for long,” Poppy added.
Minerva was the only one of the women to notice how Sarah paled at those words.
“Sarah, why don’t you come with me and I’ll introduce you to Madam Pince,” the Transfiguration Professor suggested.
“All right,” she agreed, following the older witch. “It was nice to meet all of you.”
Minerva led her over to a thin, irritable-looking woman that rather reminded Sarah of a vulture.
“Irma, this is your new assistant, Sarah Williams. She is unable to perform magic, so some special provisions need to be made.”
“Can’t do magic, hm?” the librarian said, peering at Sarah suspiciously. “Well, Miss Williams, follow me, and we’ll see about getting you acquainted with the rules and the wards.”
Not the friendliest witch, Sarah noted as she trailed along behind her. But she would be polite if it killed her. Once she learned the system, there would be little need for interaction, and she would be in charge next year. Which, in and of itself, was a rather daunting prospect.
The two of them made the journey back up to the fourth floor in silence. Madam Pince seemed unwilling to talk, and Sarah was disinclined to try. Instead, her mind turned to the dried herb she had in her pocket.
Camille, the healer, had given it to her for Minerva. It was to be taken as a tea, and would strengthen the witch’s weak heart. Camille had assured her several times that the plant would not interact badly with any medication she might be taking, and Sarah trusted her. She had, after all, been a healer for nearly a century despite her youthful appearance.
Camille couldn’t do anything about the burns, though. She would need to examine them in person, since mortal magic was so rarely used Underground, and never studied. That would lead to many more questions than Sarah wanted to answer, and, judging by what she had witnessed last time she had visited Hogwarts, the witch and wizard doctors should be able to cure Minerva without too many problems.
How to get the tea to Minerva and only Minerva, though? She definitely couldn’t do it in front of Pomona Sprout, the Herbology Professor. The herb was unlike anything found Aboveground, and Professor Sprout would know it.
She would have to visit Minerva’s office when she was done in the library, and hope she was there.
“Alright, then. Put your hand, doesn’t matter which, on the door, palm against the wood.”
Sarah was startled out of her thoughts by the witch’s voice, and it took her a moment to do as commanded.
“Don’t move until I tell you to. This will make sure the library knows that you’re staff, and you’ll have certain privileges to go along with your responsibilities.” Madam Pince glared at her sternly. “I would advise that you don’t abuse them.”
“I won’t,” Sarah promised sincerely. Her palm began to tingle, which Sarah took to mean that whatever was supposed to happen was working. Her attention wandered to a plaque next to the large doors, and she twisted her head a bit to see what it said.
For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no sur-cease to his Agony till he sink in Dissolution. Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.
~Curse Against Book Stealers, Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona
Sarah winced, and hoped to God that it wasn’t a real curse.
“Done,” the librarian said at last, and Sarah stepped back to allow her through before following. “This is the Restricted Section…”
Two hours later, mind spinning from an extensive and detailed tour of the library and part of its check out system, Sarah made her way to Minerva’s office. She noted that this was becoming something of a tradition.
“Come in,” Minerva called when Sarah knocked on the door.
“Are you always in your office?” Sarah wondered, looking around surreptitiously for a tea kettle.
“Not always during the summer, but rather often during the school year,” she replied. “I’m just finishing up the time tables. How was the library tour?”
“My head is spinning from all the information. You know the plaque, beside the library doors, with the book stealer curse thing?” Sarah said, rambling a bit. “That’s not a real curse, is it?”
Minerva raised an eyebrow. “Worried?”
Sarah stuttered for a bit until she realized that Minerva had been joking. “Not funny,” she muttered.
“There are spells on library books, but nothing like what was described on the plaque. We wouldn’t allow anything like that near the children.”
“Oh good,” Sarah said relieved. “I was a little concerned for a minute. Umm…is Madam Pince always so...serious?” she finished lamely, unable to think of an appropriate adjective.
“She is,” Minerva nodded. “She cares very much about her books, so I would advise that you are careful when handling them. She is a wonderful librarian, but she does not interact well with the students, and they often become too intimidated to ask for help. That is part of the reason why I am happy to have the post of assistant librarian filled.” She smiled warmly, a something she did not usually do in front of the students. “I’m sure that you will be someone the children will be comfortable asking questions of, and I know that you will do your best.”
Sarah blushed, and tilted her head forward, using her long hair as a curtain to shield herself for a moment. “Do you have a teakettle, or something I could use to make tea in?” she asked suddenly. “My friend gave me a blend, and I forgot to take it out of my pocket, but I thought you might like some.”
“Why thank you. Allow me,” the Professor said, and waved her wand. A teakettle full of boiling water and two cups appeared on top of a counter next to Sarah, and she turned to pour, her back to Minerva.
“You’re not allergic to any plants, are you?” Sarah asked over her shoulder. “I have no idea what my friend put in here.”
“I am allergy-free,” Minerva promised.
“Good,” she said, relieved, and handed a cup to the witch.
“Hmmm,” Minerva murmured. “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite like this. But it does warm one up, doesn’t it?”
Sarah had neglected to put the leaves into her cup, not quite sure what the effect on her would be, and not willing to experiment. She was drinking hot water, skillfully hiding the fact that she had added no tea leaves to her own cup.
“Are you looking forward to the library work?” Minerva asked.
Sarah nodded. “I’ve done a bit of work at the library back in America, so I know the basics of things. I’m sure the magic instead of technology thing is going to take some learning, though.”
Minerva agreed, “I would imagine. Are you prepared for the students to return?”
The brunette looked rather nervous at the prospect. “I’m not even teaching, but just thinking about having hundreds of kid witches and wizards around…” She shuddered jokingly.
The witch leaned forward, expression serious. “We’ll try to have you blend into the student population a bit. You’re young enough, and you’ll spend most of your time in the library, I imagine. We can keep your family’s whereabouts unknown, but I doubt it will be too long before it is found out that you are a Muggle, and even less time to discover that you are unable to do magic. I do hope you understand the danger of the times.”
“I can’t say that I’m not worried, but from what I understand, Hogwarts is one of the safest places in Wizarding England. Plus, you’ve given me protective spells, and I’m certainly not about to go out and do anything reckless.” Sarah paused. “Here’s a thought. Do I need to get robes?”
“Oh! Yes, we’ve completely forgotten. I suppose we are unused to someone unfamiliar with our culture. If you are trying to blend in a bit with the students, you may wish to stick with black robes. The style can be of your own choosing. I believe there’s a shop in Hogsmeade if you do not want to return to Diagon Alley,” Minerva informed her.
“All right. I think I’ll walk to the village now, then.” She stood to leave.
“Sarah,” the witch called, and Sarah paused. “Be careful. Whatever you do, don’t stray into the Forbidden Forest. It’s a very dangerous place, moreso for those without magic. And use caution around the lake. There are several creatures living in it, aside from the giant squid and the merfolk.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow at the last bit, but nodded. “I’ll be careful.”
It was when she passed the Entrance Hall that she ran into trouble. A water balloon filled with freezing water nailed her, and she let out a yelp. “The hell?” she muttered to herself, tilting her head up to look at the ceiling, just in time to sidestep another water balloon.
“Thank you, but I’ve already taken a shower,” Sarah said dryly, wringing out her long, dark brown hair.
The figure swooped toward her, and she wondered what on earth he was. He appeared to be a small man dressed in outlandish clothes, and didn’t exactly look like a ghost.
“Aw, you’re no fun,” he whined, and let loose another balloon. Sarah was ready for it, and barely managed to make the catch. She was not, after all, the most athletic of people.
“Peeves!” a voice bellowed, and Sarah looked up to see a ghost of a man descending the stairs. “Leave our guest alone before I get the Blood Baron!”
Peeves cackled, and flew away through a wall. Sarah let the balloon drop to the floor.
“I apologize for Peeves,” the ghost said with a courtly bow. “He’s our resident poltergeist, and is always making mischief. Only the Bloody Baron, Slytherin’s ghost, can keep him in line. The Headmaster as well.”
“His sense of humor isn’t very advanced, is it?” Sarah commented. In fact, it reminded her of the mischief goblins go into.
“What on earth would give you that idea?” he asked wryly. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I am Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, Gryffindor ghost.”
“Sarah Williams, new assistant librarian.”
“Ah, we ghosts have heard about a new post being filled. Congratulations. I’m sure you will enjoy Hogwarts.”
“Thank you. It seems like a wonderful and interesting school,” Sarah replied.
The two exchanged a few more pleasantries before Sir Nicholas floated off, and Sarah continued on her way to town. Halfway across the grounds she remembered Hoggle’s request, and abruptly turned to head toward the lake. She chose a somewhat hidden part of the shore, and then leaned over carefully so that she could see her reflection.
“Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Didymus. I need you.”
There was a large splash, and abruptly a dwarf, a fox-like terrier, and a large, hairy monster were standing next to her.
“Did ya hafta summon us in a lake?” Hoggle grumbled as they trudged into the shelter of the edge of the forest. “Now I’s all wet.”
“Hot,” moaned Ludo, his thick fur no doubt uncomfortable on a summer afternoon.
“I couldn’t summon you inside. What with portraits being sentient, ghosts flying around, and God knows what else, we’d never be able to keep you hidden. I thought this way you could at least see the grounds, and maybe when I start work I’ll have you look through the mirrors and windows,” Sarah explained.
“’Tis a plan most ingenious,” Sir Didymus complimented, and the four of them walked along the edge of the forest, exploring the grounds. Sarah was careful to keep them from venturing into the forest. It didn’t take too long, but by the time her three friends had returned to the Underground and she had walked to the village and decided on robes, it had become quite late. She decided against returning to the castle, and simply portkeyed back to her dorm from Hogsmeade.
Jareth sighed. So far things were not going too badly, although it was much too soon to truly tell. The goblins of Gringotts Bank had made their alliance, and the mortal wizards and witches appeared to be making good use of their information. The bank had even lent a few goblin-forged and -magicked items, however reluctantly.
Mostly, however, he had kept an eye on Sarah. The danger was not so great yet, but it would be. Yet she stubbornly refused to give him a way to appear to her. She was so damned careful about what she wished, and she completely refused to utter his name, or even his title.
Assuming, of course, he thought with a certain pain, that she thought of him at all. But she couldn’t have completely forgotten about him. He had felt her friends being summoned earlier, and she spoke with his subjects often.
But never him.
Years ago he had grown angry about this, raged and kicked at the goblins that cavorted in his throne room, and been so close to throwing the three who had assisted her into his deepest darkest oubliette, or even the Bog of Eternal Stench. Now it simply saddened him. But she couldn’t shut him out forever, could she? Even the Labyrinth itself desired to communicate with her. It had been so long, millennia, since there had been a Champion of the Labyrinth.
He would appear to her again one day. Whatever it took.
Minerva McGonagall entered the Headmaster’s office carrying a copy of the completed timetables. “Albus?” she called, and he looked up from the two tomes he had been studying.
“Ah, hello, Minerva,” he said cheerfully. “What can I do for you?”
“I brought the finished timetables. What are you doing?” She craned her neck, trying to see what he was reading. “Is that a book of fairytales?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yes, one of the original copies of Gabrielle Provost’s Book of Faerie. Some of the stories are quite gruesome.”
“And what’s the other book? Another collection of fairytales?”
“Not at all. This one is a dissertation on goblin politics,” he replied, gesturing to the book on the left.
“Why on earth are you reading those two at the same time?” she questioned, completely mystified.
“My dear, there is always a grain of truth in every story, and I thought it could help me discover something about the nature of Miss William’s connection with the goblins.”
“Have you found anything?”
“Nothing so far. The goblins described in the fairytales are quite different from the Gringotts’ goblins. It mentions that cats are one of the few creatures who can see them, and that is why cats will appear to be watching something that no one else can see.” Albus eyed her over top of his spectacles. “I don’t suppose you’ve noticed anything?”
Minerva shook her head. “There are times when my claws will appear and my fur will stand on end for no apparent reason. The other cats cannot or will not explain why this happens. But I’ve never seen any creatures invisible to humans. Perhaps,” she suggested half serious, disbelieving of the type of goblins described, “I can’t see anything because I’m not really a cat.”
Albus surprised her by seeming to seriously consider this. “Perhaps,” he agreed.
Chapter 5: Reservoirs
Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark.... In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.
Minerva looked up and set aside her cup of tea when her portrait informed her that the Headmaster was requesting entrance to her chambers. She stood and opened the door, greeting him with a smile. “Hello Albus. Do come in.”
“Good afternoon Minerva,” he replied cheerfully as he stepped through the doorway and the wall reappeared behind him. “I was wondering if you had a copy of Binns’ book on the goblins’ hierarchy of power in your personal library.”
“Are you still researching that? If you keep this up, I may begin to believe that you are obsessed,” the witch commented lightly as she led the way through one of the doors in her sitting room.
“I could never,” the Headmaster dead-panned, with a quick grin at her when Minerva arched an eyebrow.
“Have you found any of the information you are looking for?” She ran a finger lightly along the spines of the books as she skimmed the titles. Before he could answer she made a light sound of triumph and pulled a nondescript hardbound book from the shelf.
“It actually leaves me with more of a mystery,” he admitted as he took the text from her and flipped through the pages. “I have certain suspicions that, if I remember correctly, Binns also noticed.”
“Such as?” Minerva questioned as Dumbledore tucked the volume into one of the large pockets in his robes and stepped back into her sitting room.
“Well,” he began, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “The more I learned, the more I realized that, according to what we know (or, more accurately, what the goblins have allowed us to know), no goblin has the power to order the entire race.”
Professor McGonagall’s head snapped up in surprise. “Then the alliance isn’t valid?”
“It is,” he reassured her. “Of this I have little doubt. But let me explain. At the top of the hierarchy of power is the council of clan chieftains. What I noticed, however, is that they are lacking in fundamental powers that all other governments require in order to function. For example, there are no allowances for the power to create treaties and alliances, or to declare war. I have come to the conclusion that there is yet a higher power that goblins, as a whole, answer to. One that they keep secret.”
“Albus,” Minerva murmured helplessly, at a loss in the face of such a profound discovery. “How? And what does Sarah have to do with any of this?”
“The how is quite simple, my dear. Wizards generally don’t much care for goblins, and many certainly believe them to be inferior. It is not so surprising that there are secrets we do not even suspect. As to our Miss Williams….” He shook his head helplessly. “I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Sarah sat cross-legged on top of one of the wooden study tables in the Hogwarts library. It was early enough in the morning on the weekend that practically no students had ventured in to do research, and as Madam Pince had begun to hand the reigns over to her over the past few months, the Librarian would not be coming in until late in the afternoon. The books were all shelved (by hand so Sarah could learn the ins and outs of the shelving system) and there was little else to do at the moment.
The young woman sat perfectly still, soaking in the silence. Her breaths were slow and deliberate, as she took advantage of her spare time to meditate in such calm, serene surroundings.
Sarah didn’t even flinch at the loud crash when a chair was knocked over.
“Hey, Tonks,” she greeted without opening her eyes.
“Sorry!” came the expected yelp. “Nothing’s broken.”
She heard giggling and opened her eyes with a grin. Hermione Granger was standing near the door, watching as a bright blue-haired Tonks attempted to untangle herself from the chair.
Sarah and Tonks had met a little over a week into the school year. Tonks had achieved the seemingly impossible when she knocked over every single book on one of the smaller shelves, leaving the shelf itself standing. Luckily Madam Pince had been meeting with the Headmaster at the time. Sarah had come running at the tremendous crash, only to see the witch buried under a mountain of books.
The two had become fast friends. The witch was often seen around the school, as she was one of the Aurors assigned to guard the castle. Tonks was, perhaps, the only person in Hogwarts close to Sarah’s own age, and she could appreciate the young Auror’s vibrant, cheerful personality. Not to mention the fact that her clumsiness could provide remarkably enjoyable entertainment. Provided, of course, that it wasn’t aimed at you.
“What’s up?” Sarah asked, unfolding her legs and leaping lightly off the table. “Nymph – a – dor – a,” she added mischievously.
Tonks scowled as she finally righted herself and the chair. Sarah was forced to sidestep brilliant orange sparks.
“Hey Hermione,” Sarah said cheerfully. “That book on advanced ward creation you wanted was just returned. Did you still want it?”
The Gryffindor witch’s eyes lit up enthusiastically. “Finally!” she exclaimed. “Yes, please.”
“Just a minute,” she said, and walked over to the librarian’s desk, cocking an eyebrow at a small goblin that was gnawing on the bottom of a chair leg. It simply grinned at her, displaying a row of pointed teeth, and kept on.
Sarah reached under the desk and brought out a slim, leather-bound book. She absently snatched the pencil from behind her ear and made the appropriate notes before setting it on a smooth, black surface that was coated in spells for the checking out of library books.
She had discovered the inefficiency of writing with a quill, not to mention the difficulty. It was so much easier to simply keep a few pens and pencils on her person and work area, than to attempt to find a bottle of ink, keep said ink from blotching the parchment, and finally wait for the writing to dry. Sarah only used quills when absolutely necessary. Sure, the use of such plumes made a nice picture, but the difficulties in everyday use was fairly ridiculous, not to mention pointless.
Sarah certainly agreed with one of Hermione’s comments she had once overheard. Most wizards definitely lacked common sense.
She handed the book to the library’s most frequent visitor, who thanked her and disappeared into one of the aisles.
“I wish you had been working in the library when I was a student,” Tonks said thoughtfully. “Then I wouldn’t have had so much trouble finding what I needed to do my homework. I could have bloody well asked.”
Sarah waved away the praise, but considered her words. “Yes, Madam Pince does seem very concerned with her books,” she said delicately.
Tonks snorted, but refrained from commenting.
“So, what is a distinguished Auror such as yourself doing looking for little old me?” Sarah said cheerfully. “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”
“What a convincing argument. Not suspicious at all,” Tonks said with a grin. “In fact, I’ve come to escort you to the Great Hall. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
“I plead the fifth,” Sarah protested, and then paused. “Or was it the fourth? Diplomatic immunity, anyway.”
“You’re the Yank,” the Metamorphmagus teased. “And you don’t know your own political system?”
“I hate politics,” she said with a scowl. “Especially politicians.”
“Be glad you don’t have to work under them,” Tonks said conspiratorially.
The two laughed.
“Is it really that late, though?” Sarah asked, surprised to realize that she was hungry, and the other woman cast a quick tempus spell. “Huh. Time flies when you meditate.” And although she didn’t know it, it was meditation, which Occlumency was based in, that would protect her mind from what few Legilimens Hogwarts contained, causing no end of confusion and frustration to those who attempted to skim her thoughts.
Sarah looked around. The two of them and Hermione Granger were the only ones in the library at the moment. “Hermione,” she called out. “I’m locking up for lunch. Don’t forget to close the door when you leave.”
A faint, “okay,” was the reply, and Tonks grinned as she shifted to resemble Albus Dumbledore. “Shall we?” she asked with a small bow.
“That’s just wrong,” Sarah commented, faintly disturbed. Metamorphmagi power did not extend to clothing, and the witch’s dress sense was certainly not old-fashioned.
Tonks snickered as her features shifted back into the guise she had adopted for the day, and the two of them headed for the Great Hall. The walk was fairly uneventful, and the two chatted animatedly until they reached the second floor.
About a quarter of the way down the hallway Sarah’s foot slipped out from under her, and she wind-milled frantically, quickly regaining her balance. She opened her mouth to warn her friend about the slippery floor, and closed it again when a bright colored blur passed her with a yelp. Sarah watched in consternation as Tonks bowled over a precariously balanced group of second years, bounce off a suit of armor with a painful-sounding clatter, skid around a statue, and go flying when the Auror, presumably, hit the end of the faux ice-skating rink.
Sarah winced, and cautiously moved to aid her fallen friend when a plaintive meow caught her attention. She looked down, and a slender, pure black young cat with golden eyes looked up at her, tail curled into a question mark.
“You’re a sweet thing, aren’t you?” Sarah said softly, and opened her arms to it. “Need a ride?”
He wasted no time in leaping into her arms, and she made her way to Tonks’ side, pushing slightly as if she were skating. She noticed Peeves cackling out of the corner of her eye. The castle would never be the same if the poltergeist and the goblins ever worked together, she mused. It would be a wonder if it was still standing.
“You all right?” she asked, bending down to help her to her feet.
“Fine,” Tonks answered breathlessly. “Just a few bruises.”
“I’m impressed you were able to stay on your feet the whole time,” Sarah commented with an impish grin as the cat clambered up to perch on her shoulder.
“Thanks for the warning, by the way,” Tonks said dryly. “It looks like you collected a friend.”
“Do you know him?” she asked with a sidelong glance at the cat, who was affecting a supremely unconcerned attitude with the world at large.
Tonks shook her head. “I can’t say that I’ve paid much attention to the students’ pets,” she said.
“Ah well,” Sarah said, barely remembering to not shrug her shoulders. “Maybe one of the professors will know. He can probably find his witch or wizard on his own, anyway.”
“You going to fix this?” Tonks asked, gesturing toward the prank.
“The students seem to be having fun with it,” Sarah commented meaningfully, watching as one of the first years twirled expertly, earning a quiet round of applause. “Perhaps you should conjure up warning signs, though.”
Tonks’ eyes lit up in comprehension. “Right, sorry,” she said, and did so.
Once they were away from any potential eavesdroppers, Sarah asked curiously, “Is it really so hard to remember that I can’t do magic?”
“It’s not that,” her friend protested hesitantly. “Or, maybe it is. I don’t know.” She fell silent, organizing her thoughts, and Sarah was content to wait. The cat purred contentedly as Sarah scratched the soft fur behind an ear.
“All of the muggles I’ve seen or heard of, even after exposure to the Wizarding World through family members, have this wide-eyed, out of place, can’t quite believe it’s real look to them,” Tonks said at last. “They’re uncomfortable with our world, and don’t often want to spend much time here, preferring their ordered, mundane lives. Even the muggleborns at first often feel, and by extension look, out of place. It’s like they’ve been thrown into a foreign country where everyone speaks a foreign language. They don’t understand and can’t keep up. You, however, just seem to fit right in, despite the fact that you have no wand, and didn’t even know the Wizarding World existed until a few months ago. You’re surprised by things, but not overwhelmed, and although you learn extremely quickly, you’ve still had to learn about nearly everything. Even if you were obsessed with fantasy, it doesn’t quite fit.”
Sarah ruminated over Tonks’ words as they approached the Great Hall.
“Maybe I learned the language a long time ago,” Sarah said at last, with a mysterious smile, and opened the doors. She grinned to herself as Tonks caught up with her, throwing the questions at her.
It was so much fun to be mysterious. And if she didn’t know better, she would say that the cat was amused as well.
“How’s Remus doing?” she asked, hoping to distract her.
Tonks visibly deflated. “He’s so damned stubborn,” she sighed.
“It sounds frustrating,” Sarah said sympathetically. “But surely he’ll come to his senses soon?”
“Maybe I’m reading too much into this,” Tonks said, absently running a hand through her hair. “I mean he did lose Si – er, his best friend, my cousin, at the end of last school year.”
Sarah frowned. “I can’t even imagine what it must be like to lose someone so close. Still, it’s ridiculous. And how could he not love you?”
Tonks blushed at the praise.
“You send this Remus Lupin to see me, and I’ll straighten him out,” Sarah said with a wicked grin. “I still have to meet him, anyway.”
Tonks eyed her cautiously. “You’re very blasé about meeting a werewolf,” she commented.
Sarah blinked. “Well, I will become rather concerned should you introduce me during a full moon. Although perhaps not very much, as you’ve told me about that one potion.”
Tonks laughed. “If only everyone else could be so accepting of werewolves.”
The professors at the head table noticed Sarah’s newest companion, but none of them could recall what student he belonged to. Since he didn’t seem particularly inclined to abandon her, Sarah decided to give him a name for the time being.
“What would you like to be called?” she asked, absently feeding him a piece of chicken. “Ash? No. Shadow?” He sneezed. “What’s wrong with Shadow? I rather like it.” He sneezed again, and Pomona, Filius, Minerva, and Albus watched in amusement. “Fine,” Sarah sighed, and was silent as she pondered. “Osiris?” His whiskers drew forward in a cat smile, and Sarah nodded. “Osiris it is, then,” she said, and returned to her lunch.
It was several peaceful days later that Sarah heard quiet, vehement arguing in a back corner of the library one Thursday evening as she was shelving Charms books. Frowning, she decided to investigate and quietly made her way to the end of the aisle.
“Ron, you have to stop rising to the bait,” Hermione was hissing. “He wants you to retaliate. It’s only bad luck on his part that he was caught as well.”
“I can’t help it ‘Mione,” Ron whispered. “That ferret is a rat bast – ”
“He has a point,” Harry said quietly.
Sarah felt something brush against her shin, and looked down to see Osiris winding his way around her legs. He always seemed to find her when she came in to work, and he seemed to like spending time with her.
“You’re bad enough as it is,” the girl replied with a disapproving frown.
“Slimy Slytherins,” the red-haired boy muttered. “Evil little gits the lot of them, just waiting to join You-Know-Who.”
“I wouldn’t make generalizations like that.”
The three students jumped and looked up to see Sarah leaning against the bookshelf, watching them.
The Weasley boy’s expression became sullen. “Who are you?” he asked rudely.
Sarah wasn’t surprised he didn’t know her. She had never been formally introduced to the student body, and her youth and black robes made it easy to blend in with the students. Only the regulars, like Hermione, had done more than caught a glimpse of her. She could generally be found in the dark and dusty stacks, while Madame Pince manned the circulation stacks.
Hermione looked scandalized. “Ron!” she berated quietly. “She’s Miss Williams, the assistant librarian.” She turned to Sarah. “These are Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, my best friends.”
Ron’s pale skin became beet red, but his expression remained mulish. Harry Potter, she noticed, seemed to be sizing her up. Remembering stories of professors seeking to cause him bodily harm, Sarah couldn’t fault him for it.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, nodding politely. “So, all Slytherins are evil?”
The two boys avoided her eyes, and found the grain of the table extremely interesting.
“Just out of curiosity, how many Slytherins do you actually know?” Sarah asked.
“Er, a few,” Ron mumbled sheepishly.
“And do you know them well?”
“Sort of,” Harry answered, shifting uncomfortably.
“I see. Well,” she said, pushing herself upright and away from the shelf. “Somehow, I rather doubt that in a school for young children, there is a House dedicated especially to evil. And you expect eleven year olds to learn the proper ways to do blood sacrifices?” she asked in amusement.
The wizards cringed.
“Sarah!” a voice exclaimed quietly, and a small Slytherin first year girl bounded over to the woman. The three students caught a flash of wavy blonde hair and bright blue eyes before she launched herself at the assistant librarian. “I passed, I passed!”
“That’s great, Persephone,” Sarah said with a fond smile.
“It’s thanks to you,” she said, looking up at her adoringly. “If you hadn’t shown me that history book and helped me study it, I would have failed History of Magic. I just can’t seem to stay awake in that class. But that book made everything so interesting. Thank you!”
“It’s no problem at all. I’m happy to help.”
The Slytherin skipped away to rejoin her friends and Sarah turned back to the three she had been talking to. They were watching, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, having never had such positive interaction with a member of the snake House before, nor really considered such a thing happening.
“She’s just lulling me into a false sense of security,” Sarah confided in gentle mocking tones. “Then she’ll stab me in the back for lack of blood purity.” Her expression became serious.
“If you can’t be bothered to get to know more than the worst of the Slytherin House, then it’s your loss. But don’t believe that all of them are the same. Then you’re generalizing just like the enemy does.”
Jareth restlessly juggled three of his crystal balls. He was growing tired of waiting for Sarah to call upon him. He was under no delusions that she would do it willingly or knowingly, but a simple slip of the tongue could open the way for him. There was little time left as the Fae measured, although he estimated that it would be another mortal year before the wizarding war became brutal and seriously threatened the safety he had put into place around Sarah.
It was lucky he had managed to find someone willing to do him the favor of watching over Sarah whenever she left for her job. It gave him some measure of comfort at any rate.
Chapter 6: All the World's a Stage
“But the woods are fully leafed,” said Roel. “Is not springtime already come?”
“‘Tis Faery, love.”
-Dennis L. McKiernan, Once Upon a Spring Morn
Sarah stumbled tiredly into Great Hall and slipped into an empty seat between Minerva and Xiomara. Ordinarily she avoided breakfast at Hogwarts. The first time she had attended, the morning owl post had made her flinch, and she had been twitchy throughout the meal. She had wavered between keeping an eye on the barn owls in the room, and avoiding looking altogether. Her colleagues had noticed her unease, and she had passed it off as the result of an incident with an owl years ago. Which was true, in a way. It was a shame, though, as Sarah did like owls.
Today, though, she was sick of cafeteria food, and any attempt to cook in her present state of exhaustion was bound to end badly.
“Coffee,” she moaned, allowing her head to thump against the table and reaching blindly for her mug. The women on either side of her snickered.
“Too much blood in your caffeine system?” Xiomara asked teasingly.
Sarah mumbled something unintelligible and nursed her cup of coffee. “Don’t you dare glare at me, Severus Snape,” she said, voice carrying to where he sat at the Head Table, “as if that’s not your third…” she glanced at a spot on the table out of the corner of her eye, “fourth cup of coffee.” She smiled her thanks tiredly at the small goblin near the plate of eggs, rather surprised it could count even that high. It was attempting to adjust a pitcher so that someone’s hand would knock it over.
The professors who heard her comment laughed softly. Sarah leaned back in her chair, sipping her drink and waiting for the caffeine to kick in.
“What on earth have you been doing?” Minerva wondered.
“Term paper,” Sarah sighed. “It took longer to finish than I thought it would. I was up all night, and I just emailed it in to the professor before I came here.”
“E…mail?” Dumbledore asked, puzzled.
“It’s a way to send messages, papers, and other things instantly,” Sarah explained.
“Fascinating,” the Headmaster murmured.
“Post’s here,” Xiomara said suddenly. She paused, and squinted out the window. “Minerva, Dumbledore, there’s a black owl. Lagging behind.”
No one questioned her. The Head Table was on a dais, making it easier to see out of the window, and the Flying Instructor had eyes like a hawk.
“We’ve told them time and again to send it privately so that we can break the news without the whole school witnessing,” Minerva hissed angrily.
Sarah had heard of the Ministry’s black owls with their black envelopes, providing notification when a close relative died in the war. Idiots with no sense of compassion to send such notification to a student in front of the school at the breakfast table.
Quite suddenly a plan took form in Sarah’s mind.
“’Mara, get to the entrance as quickly as you can without drawing attention, and be ready to summon the owl. I’ll provide a distraction.”
“What are you – ”
“You’ll see, now hurry,” Sarah interrupted in a low voice, ignoring the curious looks.
The owls were just beginning to arrive when Xiomara got into position next to the doors on the other side of the Great Hall from the Head Table. Quickly, forcefully calming her nerves, she walked along, and then around the end of the table closest to Snape and the Slytherins. “This is for you, Tonks,” she murmured. Suddenly she tripped, falling to the floor as a large assortment of dishes and goblets crashed down around her. Chatter ceased and a surprised silence fell as the students in the Great Hall turned to stare at her, transfixed by the wreckage. Sarah felt her cheeks burn, and she pushed herself into a kneeling position.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, her voice pitched perfectly so that all in the Great Hall could hear her clearly. Frantically, her movements jerky with embarrassment, she attempted to collect the dishes, making a great clattering of noise. As she clambered to her feet, however, she slipped on the scrambled eggs, and the plates in her hands flew into the air, scattering bits of food all over the area. A scattering of students were laughing cruelly, but most watched in horror as Snape bore the brunt of this new bit of clumsiness.
“Sorry!” she yelped, rushing over with a napkin. “It was an accident – I wasn’t – I just,” she stammered, tilting her head forward so that her long dark hair hid her face, as though she were struggling to keep her composure. In a near silent voice, lips barely moving, Sarah murmured, “Does Hooch have the owl?”
A flicker of surprise was all that escaped his contemptuous expression. “Enough,” he said coldly, slapping her hands away. The man sneered at her ineffectual attempts. “There is such a thing as magic,” Snape sneered condescendingly, as a flick of his wand restored his robes to cleanliness.
Sarah took this as her cue and quickly left through the side door most of the staff used, as the students returned to their meal and conversations. “Ah thank you, ah thank you,” she murmured to herself, smiling smugly as she walked towards the main entrance where Xiomara no doubt waited. It had been some time since she had last participated in a performance of any sort.
She wrinkled her nose at the state of her clothes, and flicked some bread out of her hair. Ugh.
Hearing voices, she looked up and was surprised to see Minerva talking quietly with the Flying Instructor, black envelope in hand. The owl was nowhere to be seen.
“Hey, you got here quick,” she said to Minerva.
The two witches jumped and stared at her, wide-eyed.
“I don’t suppose you could do something about the mess?” Sarah questioned uncertainly, motioning to the mess.
“Right,” Xiomara said, shaking her head. “You look disgusting.”
“I feel disgusting,” she replied dryly as Minerva scourgified the food away.
“That was all an act?” the Deputy Headmistress asked incredulously as they moved away from the doors and headed in the direction of the Dumbledore’s office.
“But of course,” she said with a small bow. “I am a former actress.”
“You were good,” Xiomara complimented with a laugh. “I knew you were going to do something, and even I wondered if all of that was an accident.”
Sarah’s stomach growled and she winced. “I never did get any breakfast,” she said forlornly.
“Come, I’ll accompany you to the kitchen. ‘Mara can wait for Albus.”
The two ignored Hooch’s pouting and headed off to get Sarah something to eat.
“Who was the letter addressed to?” the young woman asked softly.
Minerva sighed, closing her eyes briefly as a weariness settled on her shoulders. Another death, and another, and another, and another….
“Katrina Gerrison,” she replied. “Fourth year Ravenclaw.”
A whining noise, and the sound of claws tapping on stone disturbed them, and they both turned to face a corridor to their left. Sarah had a glimpse of a shaggy black and white sheepdog and blinked in confusion. Merlin?
Then she noticed the small saddle attached to the dog’s back.
“Ambrosius?!” she exclaimed in disbelief.
He gave a soft woof and wagged his tail happily as he bounded over to greet her.
“You know this dog?” Minerva asked as Sarah knelt down.
“He belongs to a friend,” she replied, scratching Ambrosius behind his ears. “But I have absolutely no idea how he got here, much less why.” Sarah turned to address the ‘noble steed.’ “Why are you here, Ambrosius? Where’s Sir Didymus?”
Ambrosius whined, his tail between his legs.
“Ah,” Sarah said with a wry grin. “He was ready to go off on another quest of his?”
The whimpering seemed to confirm her assumption.
“All right, I suppose you can hide out up here. But you’ll have to stay outside,” she said.
He barked and trotted off in the direction of the Entrance Hall.
“Smart dog,” Sarah commented as the two women resumed walking. “Much more sensible than his owner.”
“Are you sure you should leave that saddle on him?” Minerva asked. “And what was he doing here without his owner? Do they live near here?”
“He’s accustomed to the saddle, and it’s best we leave it on him. Otherwise Didymus would be a bit…concerned. I really don’t know how he managed to get here, and no, they’re not from around here.” Sarah suppressed her urge to snicker.
One evening a few days later Sarah stood in front of the mirror, alone in the staff room, carefully keeping one eye on the door. Ambrosius had returned home after Sarah had managed to talk Sir Didymus out of yet another nearly suicidal quest.
“It’d be better if the little missy would just bring us through,” Hoggle grumbled. He was always grumbling.
“I know Hoggle, and maybe someday I will. But it’s just too risky. I promise I’m being careful,” Sarah said quietly.
“Aye,” he scowled. “Yeh jus’ can’t keep outa trouble.”
“Apparen – ”
Sarah was cut off when the door opened and a troubled Headmaster stepped in. She turned to face him, a glance out of the corner of her eye confirming that Hoggle had disappeared.
“Ah, Miss Williams,” he said distractedly. “If anyone needs me, would you be so kind as to direct them to the Infirmary?”
“Of course, Headmaster,” she said. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine,” Dumbledore replied calmly. He turned to leave and paused. “If you happen to see Minerva or Pomona, would you be so kind as to tell them that I am looking for them?”
“Sure,” she replied distractedly, and he left in a swirl of colorful robes. Once she was sure she was alone again, she moved over to the couch.
“What’s going on, Gralshek?” she asked a small, spindly goblin.
“Wolf-man hurthurt,” he chattered excitedly. “Brought in. Bleed and burnburn, touched by shiny metal. Smell bad.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said, frowning in concern. Remus Lupin was the only werewolf she knew of. Instinct told her it was him.
The goblin grinned at her, showing off a row of fangs before scampering off to cause mischief.
Sarah turned to the mirror. “Remus Lupin, I need you.” An image appeared in the glass.
She had discovered this by accident a short time ago. It had never occurred to her that she could observe people and places Aboveground in a mirror like she did with the Underground. It hadn’t made sense that the Underground portal could work with anything not of the Underground. Sarah assumed that the abundant magic of the school provided an additional ‘boost,’ so to speak.
Poppy and Severus were hovering near a man in a cot. The former looked worried, the latter had his usual scowl as he forced several potions down the stranger’s throat. Remus, Sarah guessed. His breathing was labored and pained. Two large gashes on his chest oozed blood and pus, and she fought to keep from being ill. She assumed from Gralshek’s earlier words that it had been silver that had caused the injuries.
“My God,” she murmured, horrified. It didn’t look good. Not at all.
Letting the image fade, she immediately contacted Camille.
“Do you know how to treat werewolves?” she asked without preamble.
“I do,” Camille replied after a surprised pause. “You don’t often get werewolves in the Labyrinth, but there are several packs that roam the Underground.”
Sarah described what she had just seen in detail. “No matter what they did, he didn’t appear to be getting any better,” she concluded. “I don’t think they know how to cure the silver poisoning.”
The healer nodded. “Give me time to gather my herbs together, and I’ll help.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said, visibly relieved. “We’ll have to wait until the panic dies down, and you might want to bring some sleep dust with you. Maybe an hour?”
“I’ll be ready,” Camille promised, and she disappeared.
A little over an hour later Sarah found herself outside of the Infirmary. She slipped inside silently, careful to open the door no further than needed. A quick look around showed that the beds were empty, but a curtained off section caught her attention, and she made her way over. Peeking in, she saw Tonks sitting next to Lupin. In the faint light Sarah could see tears on her cheeks.
Sarah drew back and glanced toward Poppy’s office where the nurse was no doubt keeping an eye on monitoring spells. Moving away to a deserted corner of the Infirmary, she managed to catch her reflection in a window, and murmured under her breath, “Camille, I need you.”
She blinked, and the small, lithe Healer stood beside her. A nod of greeting, and Camille placed her hand in front of her mouth, palm flat and facing the ceiling. Light sparkled off of the small pile of dust, and she blew gently. Glittering motes danced in the artificial breeze, some of it making its way through the cracks around the door to Poppy’s office, and the rest settling inside the area housing Tonks and Lupin.
“He’s over here,” Sarah said after a moment, leading Camille over the injured werewolf. She settled herself in an unoccupied chair near Tonks and leaned back to watch the Healer get to work, all the while pondering what to cook for her in payment.
Sarah used a portkey from the Hospital Wing after Camille left, to reduce the chances of getting caught. She returned late the next afternoon, only to find Tonks waiting for her in the library.
“Hey,” she said, and was surprised to be yanked into a fierce hug by the pink-haired Auror. “Um, nice to see you too.”
“Come on,” Tonks ordered, tugging her out of the library. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Sarah didn’t put up a fight, although she did remind her friend that she was supposed to be working.
“This is more important,” Tonks said firmly. “He almost died.” Her voice broke at the memory. “He should have died, but I fell asleep and now it’s like a miracle because he’s healed.”
It was a good thing Sarah knew what was going on, or else Tonks’ explanation would be extremely confusing.
At last she found herself before Remus Lupin. The werewolf still looked weak and tired, but he was no longer sweating and contorted in pain. A quick glance at his bandaged torso, and she noticed that there was no more bleeding through the bandages. Tonks was positively beaming.
Oh yes. Sarah definitely owed Camille.
“So this is Remus Lupin,” she commented absently. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
At there surprised looks Sarah could have hit herself. Tonks hadn’t introduced him yet. She wasn’t supposed to know who he was.
“Er.” She shifted uncomfortably. “You are Remus Lupin, right? I guess I just kind of assumed. I mean.” She grinned mischievously at her Auror friend. “She’s told me so much about you, and she was ecstatic when she was dragging me off to meet you.”
Tonks blushed, which was quite an accomplishment considering her Metamorphmagus talent.
“No, you are correct,” Remus said, studiously avoiding Tonks’ gaze. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what happened?”
“I was attacked on my way home,” he said vaguely, “and they managed to get me with a silver dagger. You know about my…ah, furry little problem?” He looked worried, tense, waiting for the fear and rejection that inevitably came when people discovered his condition.
Sarah burst out laughing. “Yes,” she said, calming down after a moment. “She did mention it. I’m glad you’re okay. That must have hurt like hell, if some of those werewolf stories are true.” She gave him a genuine smile, and, to Remus’ surprise, Moony relaxed in her presence. There was a feeling of respect rarely ever given to humans, and even then not upon meeting them for the first time.
Remus eyed her with renewed curiosity. There was certainly more to Sarah Williams than met the eye. And he was relieved. Here was someone who wouldn’t judge him, wouldn’t fear him and treat him like filth. She was a Muggle, someone who would be all but helpless on a full moon, and she treated him as an equal, whereas most of the Wizarding World looked down upon him for something he had no control over.
Sarah snapped her fingers. “Ah ha. That’s right, I was supposed to beat some sense into him, wasn’t I?” she addressed Tonks.
Tonks’ eyes widened in apprehension. “You were joking!” she said desperately.
“Nope. Now shoo. Don’t worry, I’ll be done soon.” Sarah forcibly ejected Tonks from the Hospital Wing, as Remus watched in amusement. His amusement faded somewhat when she turned to give him a determined look, hands on her hips. He recalled that she had used the phrase ‘beat some sense into him.’
“I have a question for you, Remus,” she said seriously. “Do you love Tonks?”
Whatever he had been expecting, it wasn’t this. He sucked in his breath in surprise.
“No excuses, no avoiding it. Yes or no?” Sarah said, gaze boring into his.
“I…. Yes,” he sighed, almost inaudibly. “But it’s not that simple. I’m a werewolf, and then there’s the war and the age difference.”
“It may not be simple,” Sarah interrupted, “but it’s not so complicated as you seem to believe. She knows that you’re a werewolf, and I have no doubt she understands any implications far better than I do. At most, she simply avoids you during the full moon. Common sense. And yes, you may be in the middle of a war. You shouldn’t waste what time you have.
“As for an age difference.” She snorted in amusement. “That’s hardly anything. Have you seen our Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress?”
Remus chuckled weakly. “They’re determined to do nothing about it, aren’t they?”
“Denial,” Sarah agreed, shaking her head. “Remus, if you can see yourself with Tonks, if you care about her, tell her. See what happens. She’s miserable without you, you know.”
He looked at her doubtfully, but nodded in acquiescence. “I’ll speak with her,” he agreed.
Sarah grinned at her sudden nervousness. “That’s better,” she said. He looked so sweet, almost bashful. “You know, if Tonks didn’t have dibs, I might go after you myself.”
She guffawed at his sudden panic and stuttering. “I’m joking,” she laughed. “I’ll go get her now.”
He stopped her. “There’s more to you than meets the eye, Sarah Williams,” he said, and sensed her unease. “You’ve made me quite curious.”
Remus noticed the way she avoided meeting his eyes. “You know what they say. Curiosity killed the cat.” And then she was gone.
A moment later a worried Tonks entered and made her way back to Remus’ bedside. “What did she do?” she asked apprehensively.
Remus smiled, almost shyly, and said, “Sarah simply knocked some sense into me.”
Sarah leaned against the open doorway, watching the scene with some smugness, although too far away to hear any words.
“I definitely owe Camille,” she murmured to herself. “He looks much better.”
“Indeed,” a voice commented, and Sarah jumped.
“Don’t do that,” she gasped, hand over her racing heart. Her hands were trembling from the sudden surge of adrenalin, and her pulse pounded in her ears.
“I do apologize, Miss Williams,” Dumbledore said from behind her with a quiet chuckle.
She snorted, but merely said, “Call me Sarah. Miss Williams makes me feel like I’m in trouble.”
“Sarah, then. As long as you call me Albus.”
“Okay,” Sarah said absently, looking around for a way to escape. He had heard way more than she wanted him to, and she certainly had no desire for any sort of confrontation. A soft meow drew her attention to the ground. Thank God.
“Osiris!” she exclaimed, and reached down to pick him up. “Come to remind me about work?”
Sarah turned to Albus. “I should go. I’m supposed to be working, and my boss may take it into his head to fire me if I’m not there soon.” She flashed him a quick grin, and he laughed softly as she hurried away. His eyes remained trained on her figure, and she could feel the intensity of his gaze on her back. She restrained the urge to run. That would be rather suspicious.
Oh yes, Albus Dumbledore thought to himself. She is definitely hiding something.
Chapter 7: Portents
A snowy owl above the haunted waters
poet of ancient gods
Cries to tell the neverending story
prophecy of becoming floods
An aura of mystery surrounds her
the lady in brightest white
Soon the incarnate shall be born
The Creater of the night
Deep dark is his Majesty's kingdom
A portent of tomorrow's world…
-“Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean,” Nightwish
Sarah laughed happily, cheering as she spun around in the spring sunlight, her white graduation robes billowing out around her. “We survived!” she shouted above the noise of the crowd at Mel and Erik, Mel’s boyfriend.
“Two hours,” Erik complained with a put-upon expression. “No, two and a half hours of mind-numbingly boring speeches.”
“What’s-her-name wasn’t so bad,” Sarah objected. “Kelly?”
“Meh.” Melanie shrugged. “So anyway. You actually made it through four years at a structured governmental institution of learning, Faerie Queen? I’m impressed.” She smirked as Sarah gave her an affronted look. “First graduation, and then…” Mel paused for dramatic effect. “Years of being overworked and underpaid as yet another mindless worker drone.”
“Somehow, I can’t imagine Sarah as a drone,” Erik commented thoughtfully.
“You two are hilarious,” Sarah commented dryly. “Excuse me while I go find someone who actually cares.”
The other two snickered and called out good byes as Sarah went off in search of her father, Karen, and Toby, who had flown in for her graduation.
“Sarah!” a childish voice exclaimed as a blonde blur tackled her.
She laughed, taking a step back to maintain her balance. “Hey brat,” she said fondly, ruffling Toby’s hair. Her brother pouted and smacked her hand away.
“’m not a brat,” he said grumpily, crossing his arms.
“Of course you are,” Sarah replied, turning with a smile when she heard her father chuckling. “Dad! And Karen! There you are. I was wondering where you guys had gone off to.”
“We’re so proud of you Sarah,” Robert Williams said fondly, crushing her in a hug.
“Yes,” Karen agreed with a smile. “And you seem so much happier here. Although we do miss you at home. When will you come back?”
“You’ll be back soon, right?” Toby interrupted, large blue eyes begging. “You’re done with school.”
“Sorry kiddo,” Sarah said apologetically. “I told you I had a job here, and I’ll be staying for at least another year, barring any emergencies. And don’t you go off creating emergencies either,” she added hastily.
Toby scowled at her. “It’s not fair.”
Sarah flinched minutely, and her little brother immediately looked apologetic, knowing how and why she disliked that phrase. Her father and Karen, oblivious to Sarah’s tension, chuckled.
“Oh, that brings back memories,” Karen commented in amusement.
“That it does,” Robert agreed. “If I had a dollar for every time your sister used to say that.”
They chatted as they made their way to the hotel. While their parents were distracted, Toby tugged on the sleeve of Sarah’s dress. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Don’t worry about it, Toby,” she reassured him. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Dinner that evening was an expensive affair, in celebration of Sarah’s graduation. While at the restaurant, Sarah broached an idea she had been considering for some time, while she had been sporadically moving her possessions into her new rooms at Hogwarts.
“If you two want to spend the day alone tomorrow, I’d be happy to take care of Toby,” she said.
“Are you sure?” Karen asked worriedly. “Are you working?” Sarah had told them only that she had secured a job as a librarian at a boarding school nearby. They knew nothing about magic, and Sarah knew that they wouldn’t want to. Toby, however….
“I’m sure. I haven’t spent time with Toby in forever, and I think you two would enjoy touring London without a small child.”
Toby stuck his tongue out at her.
“Besides, I think Toby would definitely enjoy coming to work with me, and I doubt anyone would mind,” Sarah continued.
“At a school library?” Karen queried with a raised eyebrow.
Toby’s expression was doubtful as well. Why would he enjoy going to a school library?
Sarah winked at him discreetly, and he relaxed. He trusted his older sister, and if she thought there was something interesting to be had, then he believed her. After all, she had introduced him to the goblins and told him all about her adventures in the Labyrinth. If he concentrated, he could even see what Sarah did, the invisible troublemakers, although only out of his right eye. The ability did not seem to come to him naturally.
It took only a little more persuasion before their parents agreed, and Toby was nearly bouncing with curiosity. He managed to get Sarah alone for a few moments, but she refused to ruin the surprise by telling him what was going on.
“Ready?” Sarah asked the next morning.
“Yes!” Toby replied impatiently.
“Remember,” she warned. “Whatever you do, don’t take this necklace off.” Her hand unconsciously drifted to where it had hung on her own neck in protection. But where she was working was not without its dangers, and Toby was young, curious, and, for now, ignorant. Sarah had been a part of the Wizarding World for nearly a year (had it already been so long?), and she knew what to expect.
“And be careful what you say or do about the goblins,” his sister reminded him.
“I know,” Toby said shortly.
“Yes, but where we’re going, it’s very easy to slip up. And what most people would disregard as make-believe, these people will very likely believe,” Sarah said.
“Now, hold on to the feather charm tightly, and don’t let go.”
He gave her a curious look, but nodded his acquiescence.
Sarah made sure she was touching the charm firmly when she murmured the password. “Oubliette.”
The familiar jerk behind her naval yanked her off her feet, only to let go what seemed mere moments later. It took some effort, but she managed to keep both herself and Toby from tumbling to the ground.
“What was that?” Toby asked a little shakily as he looked around at the shelves of books.
“That,” Sarah said with a reassuring smile, “was how I get to work. We’re in Scotland now.”
“Really?” Toby said, awed. “Cool!”
His sister grinned, pleased that he was taking this so well. He was fine with the goblins, and with her friends on those rare occasions he was around when they came to the Aboveground, but one never knew. There was none of the denial or aimless anger she might have expected from her father or Karen. Neither one put much store in fantasy or magic.
“Come with me,” Sarah said, a mischievous glint in her eye. “And don’t look back until I tell you. We’re going outside so you can get a proper look at the castle.”
“Castle?!” Toby exclaimed, eyes wide in surprise and delight. “You work in a castle?”
“Yep. Come on.”
The two hurried out of the room, and ran through the stone halls, laughing giddily. Sarah had planned it so that they arrived early enough that few of the castle’s inhabitants would be awake, to give Toby time to adjust. He stumbled several times, whipping his head around to take in everything as Sarah tugged him along, until he decided that he would have plenty of time to examine things later and concentrated on keeping up with his older sister.
They were both panting by the time they reached the steps outside of the Entrance Hall. “No peeking,” Sarah warned breathlessly. “Don’t look back yet.”
They slowed to a walk, tired and out of breath, as Sarah led him to the Quidditch pitch.
“Now,” she said, coming to a halt under a goal post. “Turn around. And welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
“Wow,” Toby breathed, impressed. Windows gleamed in the sunlight as large stone walls and a scattering of towers, rising up on the hill above a large, clear lake. The Forbidden Forest sprawled out around them, bright green foliage swaying in the breeze. “Can I live here too?”
“Sorry kiddo,” Sarah said apologetically. “You have to stay with dad and Karen. You’re a bit too young to live halfway around the world with only your big sister.”
Before Toby could reply they heard a woman call out in greeting. “Sarah!” Xiomara exclaimed.
The two Williams children looked around in confusion, before Sarah finally thought to look up.
“Hey ‘Mara!” she called, waving at the witch on her broom. Toby followed her gaze and his jaw dropped.
“I wanna do that!” he blurted out in excitement as the Flying Instructor dove, coming to a halt a few feet in front of Sarah.
“And who’s this?” she asked curiously, eyeing the blond eight-year-old.
“This,” Sarah said, putting an arm around the boy and tugging him closer, “is my younger brother, Toby. Toby, this mad woman is Xiomara Hooch, the Flying Instructor here.”
The hawk-eyed woman grinned, not at all perturbed to be called mad. “Pleased to meetcha, Toby. I hear you want to have a try on the broom?”
“Oh, can I, please?” he pleaded, while Sarah glared half-heartedly at Xiomara.
“As long as she doesn’t try any stunt flying,” Sarah replied, addressing Xiomara mainly. “Last time you broke your arm in three places, and Poppy very nearly refused to heal you after doing something so incredibly stupid.”
“Yes, well,” Xiomara said, waving the matter away. “I do so promise to keep things relatively safe with your little brother. Why don’t you head back to your rooms and continue unpacking? I’ll bring Toby along when we’re through here.”
“All right,” Sarah said agreeably. “I’ll stay to watch for a while, though.”
Toby grinned up at her before following Xiomara’s directions on mounting the broom in front of her. Sarah stayed for several minutes, pleased that the witch had decided to stay relatively close to the ground for now. Satisfied that he was in relatively good hands, she left to begin putting her rooms in order.
It seemed quite a while before ‘Mara brought her little brother back to her rooms. He spent some time looking around and getting into her things before she gave up and took him on a brief tour of the castle.
“Can I go exploring by myself, pleeeaaassseee?” Toby begged when they returned to Sarah’s room.
“Absolutely not,” Sarah said shortly, and then paused, a shocked look crossing her face. “Oh my God, I sound like Karen.”
“So I can?” Toby asked hopefully.
“Please? It’ll be like an adventure! And the goblins can keep an eye on me.”
Sarah wavered. “Are you sure you can concentrate on them for very long?”
“Uh huh. I’ve been practicing,” he informed her proudly.
“Well,” Sarah said thoughtfully. “I suppose the goblins can keep an eye on you. If you get tired, though, have them or a professor bring you straight back here.”
“Alright!” Toby cheered, and made to scamper down the hallway with one of the larger goblins, Ragnok, scuttling along beside him.
“Hold on,” she said, and he stopped, looking back at her. “What’s the story if anyone hears you talking to no one?”
“I’m talking to my invisible friend,” Toby responded dutifully.
“Good. Now off with you,” she said, making shooing motions, and watched apprehensively as he disappeared. It was a good thing he was still young enough that having invisible friends was still a plausible explanation. And the goblins would watch out for Toby. They liked him, often got into mischief with him, and, had things been different, Toby might have been the Goblin Prince.
Sarah shivered at the thought.
Sarah relaxed in the branch of a tree on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, reading a book she had taken from the library. It was the end of term, and her parents and Toby had gone home days ago. After some thought, Sarah had given Toby her protective necklace, with instructions to never take it off. She had heard rumors that Voldemort was looking to increase his sphere of influence, and she wasn’t about to take any chances with her little brother’s life. She had made sure to keep the Portkey, though. She probably wouldn’t need it anymore, but neither Albus nor Minerva had asked for it to be returned, and it was a pretty charm.
A replacement had been ordered, one of a more professional quality with enchantments for specific protections, although both Albus and Minerva planned to add their own spells upon its arrival.
So now classes were in session, students reviewing frantically for finals. Sarah, secure in the knowledge that she was done with finals and, as she was not a professor, did not have work to grade, relaxed, perched securely in a large, leafy tree, shaded from the hot sun. But no matter how interesting the book on magical creatures was, Sarah could not prevent her eyelids from growing heavy, the heat making her drowsy.
She didn’t notice that she had fallen asleep until the sound of her name woke her. “Mmmm?” She opened her eyes and stretched, yelping as she nearly fell off her perch, having forgotten where she was. “Oh, hello Minerva,” she said to the witch, who was looking up at her with thinly veiled amusement, before it morphed back into worry.
“Sarah, be careful which tree you choose to climb. This one is known to be guarded by bowtruckles. It’s amazing they didn’t attack,” she said in concern as Sarah dropped to the ground.
“Bowtruckles?” Sarah repeated. She turned to look up at where she could just make out the small, twig-like creatures. “Is that what they’re called?”
Minerva’s eyes widened in surprise, but the memory of why she had searched out her colleague derailed that train of thought. “Oh! Irma was wondering where you were. It’s lunchtime, and you know how busy the library is this time of year.”
“Shit!” Sarah said before she could stop herself. “I fell asleep.”
“Mrow.” The sound caught the women’s attention.
“Hey Osiris,” Sarah said absently as the cat bounded over and twined around her legs.
Minerva eyed the black feline. Strange how she only ever saw him when Sarah was around. No student had claimed him, and she did not remember ever having seen him before her friend had been hired. There was something a bit off about Osiris.
Before Minerva could voice her suspicions, the screech of an owl caught her attention. Turning, she saw a white owl – a barn owl? – hovering over the lake. The flicker of apprehension in Sarah’s eyes did not go unnoticed, and Minerva studied the owl with greater concentration. Why did owls make Sarah nervous?
Not owls, she realized after some thought, watching it move to circle a spot above the Forbidden Forest. Barn owls?
Osiris yowled, distracting the two. His claws were unsheathed, fur standing on end as he hissed.
“What is it?” Sarah wondered, bewildered.
The clock rang out, announcing the hour. Minerva frowned when it continued after the first bong. “Is it broken?” she wondered aloud, automatically checking her own watch, which read one o’clock. It took her a moment to realize that Sarah was counting the chimes under her breath.
The young woman paled dramatically.
“Thirteen,” she whispered. “Oh no. Minerva! Warn the school!”
“What?” the witch asked, bewildered.
“The clock struck thirteen,” Sarah explained quickly. “It’s a warning of danger. It must be Death Eaters.”
Minerva’s expression became grim, and she flicked her wand. Immediately, a silvery figure burst forth and shot toward the castle.
Meanwhile, Sarah moved toward the lake, tossing a stone in hopes of getting the attention of the merfolk who resided in the waters. “Bright Ones!” she called, the names of old that humans had given to the faeries, of which the merfolk could be classified. “Fair Folk! Danger approaches!”
There was no sign of acknowledgement. She hoped they had gotten the message, but she didn’t dare get close enough to see her reflection. If Hoggle happened to see what was happening Sarah would never hear the end of it, even if she agreed to move back to America where it was safer.
“Come,” Minerva ordered, and they ran for the doors of the school.
The ground beneath them exploded throwing the two in different directions. Immediately, Minerva was surrounded, fighting for her life and unable to get to Sarah. Her first thought was to wonder how Death Eaters had gotten onto Hogwarts grounds. Then she worried about Sarah, even as she dodged a Cruciatus Curse. It would be several minutes before anyone would notice what was happening and come to assist.
Sarah groaned, climbing shakily to her feet, using the stone wall of the castle to help support her weight. Her clothes were dirty and torn, and a cut on her cheek was bleeding. If her head hadn’t been throbbing from hitting the ground, Sarah reflected, she would be a lot more terrified. As it was, her throat felt as though it were closing up in panic as several figures in black robes and masks approached.
“And who is this?” one questioned cruelly. “Too old to be a student. Ah, what a blow to Dumbledore when we kill one of his staff.”
“An even greater blow would be two,” another said his wand trained on Sarah. “And what luck that one shall be old McGonagall.”
They laughed cruelly.
Sarah trembled with fear, eyes darting about as she looked for an escape.
“Oh look. She’s so terrified she can’t even speak. We’ll just have to put her out of her misery.”
Sarah straightened, grasping onto her anger with all her might. She would not die shaking with fear. She refused! Unbeknownst to her, her eyes glowed silver as she used her fear to fuel her anger. Despite themselves, the Death Eaters grew uneasy at the abrupt change in demeanor and her unnatural eyes.
“Fuck off,” she said coldly.
Empty words, perhaps, but she wasn’t about to debase herself by begging for her life.
“Kill her!” the leader ordered.
The roar of a wild cat interrupted them, as Osiris leaped in front of Sarah. She blinked, unsure what was happening. She was sure the cat had jumped away in front of her, but for a moment he seemed to be coming toward her. And then she realized that he was growing. In moments Osiris crouched protectively in front of her, a resembling a large puma. His golden eyes glinted in the sunlight, sharp fangs bared, as large claws flexed, attached to heavy paws.
Sarah looked away as he tore apart the group before her, noticing that help had arrived in the form of several professors and the Aurors stationed at Hogwarts. Directly before her, the snarls and screams were horrific as the large wildcat sliced through fragile flesh. Either spells had no effect on Osiris, or he moved too quickly for them to threaten him.
At last she felt a furry head nudge her hand. She looked down to see him cleaning the blood off of his black fur.
“Thank you,” she murmured quietly, stroking his head. “You saved my life.” Sarah hesitated. “What are you called?”
“Osiris was a good name,” he replied in a rumbling growl. “But most often I am known as Taliesin.”
“Thank you, Taliesin. Am I right to assume that you are from the Underground?”
He chuckled, long tail twitching. “Indeed. I had heard about the Champion of the Labyrinth and was curious. I thought a sojourn to the Aboveground might be amusing.”
“I don’t know if even Dumbledore would let you stay among children at that great size,” Sarah commented.
Taliesin yawned, showing off his fangs. “You know your stories, Champion.”
“Yes, I do,” she said with a sigh. “So was it the revealing of your true form, or the thanks you received that makes you unable to stay?”
He grinned a cat grin, and stretched, muscles rippling beneath his sleek black coat. “Perhaps we will meet again.” And he disappeared into the Forbidden Forest.
“Cats,” Sarah muttered, shaking her head. She turned to survey the rest of the battlefield, studiously avoiding the massacre Taliesin had created next to her. It seemed that the fighting was over, with minimal injuries to the defenders of Hogwarts.
She sighed as she picked her way over to where the professors stood. They were going to demand explanations.
At least this time she would be completely honest when she told them she hadn’t had any idea that Osiris was anything other than a regular house cat.
Jareth moaned in pain, eyes closed as he reclined on his bed. Bending so many rules, even briefly, had required a price. As was most common, the price had been pain.
But he couldn’t let Sarah be killed. He’d seen those mortals, watched as they made their plans to take the castle and destroy any in their way. With little means of protection, she would have been an easy target.
And so he had managed to show himself to Sarah in his other form, and used his magic to affect the clock, knowing that she would recognize the warning. And she had. He felt a brief surge of pride when he thought of how Sarah had handled herself in the face of imminent danger.
His warning had been meant to alert Taliesin as well. As soon as he had heard of the great cat’s interest in the mortal girl that had defeated the Goblin King at his own game, he had approached him with the request that he keep an eye on her. Taliesin had agreed with surprisingly little resistance. But then, he had owed Jareth a favor.
“What else must I do to prove my intentions to you, Sarah?” the Fae murmured. “How can I convince you to trust me if I can barely show myself to you in my other form? If you will not even call upon me?”
Chapter 8: To Dream
I ate the mythology & dreamt.
-Yusef Komunyakaa, “Blackberries”
Thankfully, no one had been near enough to hear Taliesin speak, so that was one less thing to attempt to explain. Still, Sarah knew there was no getting out of the questions that would be asked. She remembered with remarkable clarity how pale Tonks had been when she threw herself at Sarah, examining her to make sure she was truly okay. The realization that her friend was a Muggle and almost completely helpless in the face of Death Eaters had hit the young Auror hard.
The relief in Minerva’s eyes had spoken volumes, and she and Poppy had taken charge of the trembling younger woman. It was then that Sarah recalled that old maxim. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. She mused that it was nice to know that she could still stand upright in the face of certain doom. Sarah had never felt particularly brave, but she had yet to back down when challenged.
Mostly, however, she was confused. Jareth – and she had no doubt the owl was Jareth – had warned her of danger. Why? Why care what happened to her? Why go to such trouble to warn her, and then not approach? He had left her alone for so many years, Sarah had assumed that he was ignoring her. The game was done, and the mortal was of no more interest to the Fae King.
She had seen neither hide nor hair of him for seven years, and it had been safer that way. Yet, for the first time Sarah felt tempted to call upon him, to summon him before her. To quench her curiosity.
But distance was nothing to the Goblin King, and Toby would still be at risk. The goblins loved him. They would be overjoyed were he taken to live in the Underground. Toby may be safe from being turned into a goblin, but abduction was still a possibility. There were too many fairy stories of changelings for Sarah to ignore.
No, Sarah decided. It wasn’t worth it to risk Toby for her curiosity. And she didn’t dare question Hoggle, who would be the most likely of anyone to have an answer. He would want to know exactly what had occurred, and then demand that she leave for somewhere safe and far away from the Wizarding World. And although Sarah was afraid, she was not yet willing to leave, to say nothing of the contract she had signed.
“Are you quite all right, Sarah?” the Headmaster asked with some concern.
She blinked, and cringed. “Sorry Albus. I’ve been a bit distracted.”
Which really wasn’t such a good thing to be when Albus Dumbledore was questioning you about the attack.
She began putting her meditation exercises to use, hoping it would calm her down. “I had no idea that Osiris was anything other than an ordinary cat. I assumed that he was one of the student’s pets.”
Sarah looked him in the eye, practically radiating sincerity.
Dumbledore regarded her thoughtfully over his half-moon spectacles. “Regardless of what sort of creature he is, I do not believe that he should be left to roam among the children.”
“I don’t think there will be any danger of that,” Sarah replied carefully. “Last I saw, he was heading for the Forbidden Forest, and I haven’t seen him since.”
The assistant librarian left only a few minutes later, and Minerva stepped out from behind the bookshelf she had been silently perusing out of sight. She regarded the wizard for a moment as he tiredly rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“As far as I could tell, she was truthful,” he informed her as she took a seat across from him.
“You sound unusually hesitant,” Minerva commented, brow furrowing in concern.
Albus frowned. “She had Occlumency shields in place, or something like it. I might have been able to break through, but I didn’t think the situation was so severe as to attempt it.”
“I had no idea Muggles could do Occlumency,” she said, surprised.
He shook his head. “I don’t think it’s ever been considered or attempted before. Perhaps Sarah simply has natural shields. She may not even be aware of it, and I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject, or if I should.”
Albus sounded so troubled and uncertain. Minerva reached across the desk to place her hand on top of his, and after a moment he seemed to return to himself.
“Thank you,” he said quietly as she retracted her hand.
Minerva shook her head and replied, “Thank you for not prying too deeply when you spoke with Sarah.”
“She is an interesting young woman,” Albus said. “One day I believe we will discover what she hides.”
“But not yet,” she murmured.
“Not yet,” he acknowledged.
The summer passed fairly uneventfully. Sarah tidied up the library, which didn’t really need it, and assisted the other professors where she could, helping Irma Pince pack her things. With so few responsibilities now that the students were gone, Sarah explored the castle at her leisure, discovering hidden rooms and passages, and chatting amiably with various paintings, several times visiting the portrait of Sir Cadogan.
She also kept an eye on friends and family through the mirrors. Although none but the residents of the Underground could see or communicate with her, it was nice to simply watch those she cared for.
It was through her mirror-watching that Sarah discovered the existence of a group called the Order of the Phoenix. It had occurred quite by accident. She had been looking for Minerva for some reason she could no longer remember, and discovered her in a meeting with the Headmaster, Tonks, Remus Lupin, and several other witches and wizards. Curious, she had listened to the debate and quickly realized that they were a resistance group dedicated to ending the reign of the Dark Lord.
Some minutes later, Sarah had let the connection dissolve and sat in her room, thinking deeply. She knew that the information she had gleaned was extremely dangerous, not only for her but for the Order members as well. And though she was a curious woman, she knew when to curb that curiosity. As of yet, she had no real skills to offer, and she couldn’t imagine that she would be any sort of help. It was better, safer, to continue as though nothing had changed. And so she had, with no one the wiser. But she kept an ear out, just in case.
And so summer passed, and it was once again the first of September.
It was Sarah’s first Sorting Feast, and she looked around in delight at the tables full of students, the plethora of floating candles, and the gleaming walls of stone, reflecting the moonlight from the enchanted ceiling. The new first years seemed so small, eyes wide and nervous as they took in the magnificence that was Hogwarts.
Sarah listened, amused by the singing Hat, but butterflies quickly grew in her stomach during the Sorting. It was getting closer and closer to the time when she would be introduced to the student body. Although she had been present throughout the previous year, she had not been well-known, having never been announced for her protection.
She fingered her necklace, small, flat discs of silver evenly spaced around a silver chain. Her new necklace of protection, having arrived at the end of the last school year. There was no avoiding an announcement any longer. Not now that she had replaced Madam Pince as the librarian.
So lost in thought was she that only realized that the Headmaster had begun his speech when the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs began cheering wildly for Remus Lupin, newly returned to the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching post.
It’s show time, Sarah thought to herself, taking a deep breath. She caught the reassuring looks sent to her by the colleagues who sat around her, and felt a little bit better for it.
“ – Sarah Williams, last year’s assistant librarian, who, with the retirement of Madam Pince, has agreed to become Hogwarts’ librarian. Miss Williams is a Muggle, and I expect all of you to treat her with the same respect you would treat any other professor.” Dumbledore eyed the school sternly.
The scattering of applause that had begun died out at the word ‘Muggle,’ and the whisperings began as everyone stared at her. But Sarah was an actress, used to large crowds watching her. Showing no weakness, she gave the students an insolent grin, and performed an elaborate bow before once again taking her seat.
“There’s going to be trouble from the usual suspects,” Sarah murmured to Pomona, eyeing a few obviously disdainful individuals at the Slytherin table. Her gaze roamed over the rest of the Great Hall. “And not just from the Snake House.”
“Be careful,” the short witch said, with some concern, and Filius nodded seriously.
“Don’t worry,” she replied in a tone that was more care-free than she felt. “I’m an American. They ain’t got nothing on me.”
Ragnok, noticing how distressed she was, abandoned his attempt at mischief-making and clambered into her lap, invisible to all others in the large room. Sarah smiled her thanks at such unusual comfort from a goblin, and felt reassured. She had many friends who would come to her aid in a heartbeat. She was well-protected.
News of the hiring of a Muggle at Hogwarts caused an uproar, as they had known it would, and the Ministry once again decided to attempt interference. Cornelius Fudge had requested an interview with the new librarian under the pretense of making sure that the girl could function in wizarding society. The Hogwarts professors knew, however, that he was simply looking for an excuse to remove her from her position.
Sarah was more than prepared to beat him at his own game. She had faced down much worse than a weak-willed politician and come out victorious.
“It’s like they think Muggles are stupid or something,” Sarah exclaimed in irritation after the whole situation had been explained to her as well as the mindset of prominent politicians.
“You’d be surprised how often ignorance is confused with stupidity,” Dumbledore remarked.
“Although the two often go hand in hand,” Minerva added.
“Well,” Sarah sighed, “if proving our brilliance means a demonstration of guns versus wands, then I suppose I can live without it. Besides,” she cackled in a dramatic voice, “underestimating us will make it that much easier to take over the world.”
The staff was currently attempting to arrange it so that they could witness the meeting, as the stories of Sarah’s temper were fresh in their minds. Unfortunately, few had free periods at the time of the meeting, and none had managed to come up with a plausible excuse.
Except for one woman.
“Professor McGonagall, what brings you here?” Dumbledore asked as he led the minister into the staff room. It appeared that Sarah was running late, as the only other person in the room was the witch near the sink, who had looked up from pouring herself a cup of tea.
“Good day Headmaster, Minister,” she greeted. “I apologize. It seems I’ve forgotten the meeting that was to take place.” She sipped her tea, all innocence.
Albus shot her a look. He saw right through her, and his lips twitched.
“Not at all, Professor, not at all,” Fudge reassured her in what he clearly thought to be a genial tone as he mopped his brow nervously.
“Since you are already here, Minerva, perhaps it would be beneficial for you to sit in on this meeting. After all, as Deputy Headmistress, you have as much right as I to be here,” Dumbledore suggested, knowing that she would remain, regardless.
“I believe I shall,” she said thoughtfully, eyes twinkling in a manner similar to his, and leaned back against the counter.
Fudge checked his pocket watch. “Miss Williams is late, Dumbledore,” he said disapprovingly. “That hardly shows the type of commitment looked for in staff of Hogwarts, much less the characteristics of a good role model for the students.”
Right, Minerva thought dryly. Because professors with a predilection for torture are the ideal all students should look up to.
Albus, knowing her well enough to guess at her thoughts, glanced warningly at her, and she restrained herself.
“I assure you that this is not typical of our Miss Williams, Cornelius,” the Headmaster said soothingly. “She is likely dealing with a situation in the library and will join us shortly. In the meantime, please, sit and make yourself comfortable.”
“Yes,” Minerva agreed with a caustic smile only Albus caught. “It has been quite some time since you have graced us with your presence, Minister. Back when your undersecretary was our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, I believe.” Unbidden, her hand moved to touch the scars on her chest, and Albus’ eyes darkened momentarily in anger.
Before Fudge could stutter out excuses or indignant retorts, Sarah entered the room, looking slightly winded. “I apologize for being late,” she said, crossing the room to where the three stood. “One of the Monster Book of Monsters books escaped its bindings, and I needed to sort out the chaos, which took some time.”
“Yes,” Dumbledore agreed, eyes twinkling, “those books are rather difficult to capture once free, much less control.”
“Oh, no,” Sarah said, somewhat startled. “It seemed rather cowed, actually, when I was finished scolding it.”
At this both Minerva and Albus looked at her in surprise, both having become well-acquainted with the text, and knowing how violent it could be.
“No, one of the silly little girls was having hysterics on top of a table and refused to come down even after I put away the monster book. Tonks finally had to shoot her.”
“Good Lord,” breathed Fudge in a strangled tone. “Sh-shot…”
“With a calming spell,” Sarah elaborated, watching the short man with a puzzled expression. She made her way around the desk, allowing amusement to show when she was sure only Minerva could see, and the witch smirked.
He flushed and shifted his weight from one foot to the other as Sarah sat down across from him at the desk. She smiled her thanks when Minerva floated a cup of tea over to her. The Minister nodded in gratitude when a cup made its way over to him as well.
Gathering what dignity he had, he made his way around in front of his chair, set his tea down on the desk, and sat down –
Only to land on the ground with a thud, the chair further back than he had first thought.
No one had noticed how Sarah’s eyes had flickered to the legs of chair only moments before as she demurely sipped her hot tea. The nature of goblin magic ensured that no one would realize that the results were caused by an outside source. Apparently, Fudge was one of those people the goblins couldn’t help but torment for the best reactions.
The Minister scrambled into his chair, huffing and puffing, face red with embarrassment. Once he was situated, Sarah decided that it was only polite to begin introductions.
“Sarah Williams. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Watching as one of the goblins crept near the other man’s teacup, she managed to make her smile appear genuine.
“Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic,” he said pompously. “I understand that you are a Muggle?”
Sarah’s smile became rather fixed. “I am.”
“And yet you expect not only to function in Wizarding society, but also to teach students?”
Had the wizard bothered to glance in Minerva’s direction, he would have been cowering in the face of the glare she sent at him. Albus was wondering whether he would have to restrain his deputy, and how she would punish him for it if he attempted it.
“Not exactly,” Sarah replied, leaning back in her chair.
Fudge paused, thrown off. “Come again?”
“Well, I’ve already been functioning in Wizarding society for a year now,” she pointed out, and gathered from his stare that he hadn’t known. “And I was hired as a librarian, not a professor. The only time I’ll be teaching is if the Muggle Studies professor is indisposed. And you can’t object to a Muggle teaching Muggle Studies, can you?”
“I suppose not – I mean – of course…not.” The Minister didn’t seem to really know how to answer that. Sarah hoped the rest of this interview would go as smoothly. She couldn’t exactly deal with an important official as she had Phineas Nigellus’ portrait.
The other wizard seemed to gather his wits back together. “And how do you propose to keep the library organized and the students in line?” he asked condescendingly.
Sarah felt a flash of satisfaction when one of the goblins shoved the hand in which Fudge held his tea, causing it to spill all over his lap. He stifled a yelp, and quickly cleaned away his hot drink with his wand. Sarah answered his question as if there had been no interruption.
“The usual way, I suppose. Most of the spells in the library don’t need any tinkering with. And if the students misbehave I’ll take house points and hand out detentions.” She shrugged. “The usual.”
After several more subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the fact that she was a Muggle and unable to handle herself in the Wizarding World, punctuated by goblin mischief in retaliation for what they felt was an insult to one under their protection, Sarah lost her temper. Her eyes caught the sunlight streaming through the window, and for a moment Fudge thought he saw the girl’s hazel eyes flash silver.
“Perhaps I was mistaken,” she said coldly, “but I thought Hogwarts was a private institution. The Headmaster decides who he hires and who he does not. As such, the government is not allowed to interfere.”
“Well, technically…” Fudge blustered, but was cut off by Minerva.
“In case you have forgotten, the Ministry attempted to meddle in the affairs of Hogwarts a short while ago, Minister Fudge,” she said tightly. “I would so dislike for such a disaster to repeat itself.”
“If that is all, Cornelius,” Albus said mildly as he stood, “I believe it is time for all of us to return to our work.”
Seeing that he was outnumbered, Fudge grudgingly gave in. He stood, took a step, and tumbled to the ground, arms flailing.
Sarah watched, a small smile evident as the goblins, chittering with laughter, quickly untied the knot they had made of the wizard’s shoelaces in order to remove any evidence.
“He was rather clumsy today, wasn’t he,” she commented idly before leaving.
Both Minerva and Albus noticed that her tone seemed rather smug.
The next challenge to Sarah’s authority was instigated by none other than Draco Malfoy.
“You will not take that tone with me, Mr. Malfoy, or I will take points,” Sarah said calmly.
The Slytherin snarled. “Filth. How dare you speak to your betters in such a way.”
“Twenty points from Slytherin, and get out of my library,” she said, a hint of steel in her voice. “Do not return until you no longer sound like a petulant brat mindlessly repeating the dogma of others.”
“Petrificus Totalus!” Malfoy bellowed, too quickly for Sarah to dodge.
Her body straightened and froze of its own accord, and she suddenly realized that there were no others in the library.
Why hadn’t her necklace protected her?
It was such a low-level spell. The protection was designed to work mainly against whatever would kill or injure her. She felt a shiver of foreboding. Her body was helpless, and yet she was conscious. He wanted her aware of what was happening.
And then a helpless fury rose up inside of her, dyeing her eyes an unnatural silver that outshone the Malfoy’s stormy gray. Stubbornly, she attempted to speak.
“Release me,” she said, slowly and clearly.
The boy’s eyes widened. “Impossible. You shouldn’t be able to speak. Petrificus Totalus.”
Sarah noticed the goblins surround Malfoy with murder in their glowing red eyes. Teeth bared, claws outstretched, it was the thing of nightmare and the wizard could not see the danger, the hungering for his blood.
“Stop,” she said, her meaning for the goblins rather than the wizard. They halted reluctantly. “I wish someone would lead a professor to me.” It was not easy to resist the spell, and she was forced to speak at a slow, measured pace to keep from slurring the words. One of the smaller goblins took off.
“No one will be coming for you,” Malfoy said in a weak attempt at his former bravado. “But before I extract punishment, tell me how you are able to speak.”
“Perhaps,” Sarah said with difficulty, “Muggles are more powerful than you thought.”
He scoffed, and railed against Muggles and Mudblood filth.
The moments seemed to stretch, and Sarah could see that he was preparing to extract whatever punishment he had had in mind. She couldn’t hear any footsteps in the hall. Who knew when or how a goblin would manage to lead a professor to her? With every beat of her heart her anger seemed to grow, breath becoming shallow. She would be forced to say the words.
Paying no mind to the boy’s talking, she said softly, silver eyes boring into his, “For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great.”
The goblins remaining seemed to hold their breath as she spoke.
“You have no – ”
The opening of the doors interrupted her, and Minerva, upon seeing what was going on, rushed over, eyes blazing with anger.
“What on earth is going on here?!” she demanded and quickly released Sarah from the spell.
Shortly thereafter Slytherin House was 100 points short, and the professors had gathered to decide the boy’s fate.
“His father won’t allow his expulsion, and there’s little we can do to oppose him,” Poppy said with no little frustration.
“Leave his punishment to me,” Sarah said quietly. A few of the professors shivered at the silver sheen of her eyes. She had by no means lost the fury that had fueled her resistance to his jinx. “He will have detention with me tonight at 8:00. He will be taught his lesson.”
“And may I know what you plan?” Dumbledore asked cautiously.
“Have no fear, Headmaster,” she said with forced calm. “I will not harm him.”
And so it was settled. Hurrying to her chambers, she retrieved sleep dust from Hoggle. At 8:00 that evening she met Malfoy in an unused classroom. His wand had been confiscated.
“Your detention will end at 9:00 in the morning,” she stated.
He glowered at her, but said nothing.
She circled him once, blowing the dust upon him when he could not see her. When once again the two were face to face, Malfoy’s eyes already drooping, she said, “You have thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth, or your magic is forfeit.”
And then the blond was asleep, his dream-self running the Labyrinth. He wouldn’t lose his magic, but it would motivate him to try, to suffer, to learn the lessons the Labyrinth had to teach.
Sarah returned in the morning and spent the hour before he was to wake reading. He was confused, thoughtful, tired, and even a bit afraid. She had no doubt that he had not completed the Labyrinth. She sent him on his way, hoping the lessons would stick, and then returned to her rooms to speak with Hoggle and learn about Malfoy’s trip.
The wizard hadn’t even made it a quarter of the way to the Goblin City before ending up in a trap and returning to the beginning.
In the days following his detention, Malfoy seemed quieter, more introspective. He couldn’t remember what had happened, his dream journey through an ever-shifting maze, but he knew something had shifted, changed. And his eyes joined Dumbledore and McGonagall in watching Sarah Williams thoughtfully.
Chapter 9: All Hallow's Eve
When the wind blows from the East,
expect the new and set the feast.
Sarah’s actions did not come without opposition. While she had no knowledge of the power the Malfoy name held, the rest of the staff did, and the Headmaster and his Deputy were prepared to deal with him when he inevitably arrived to deliver warnings and threats.
It was unfortunate, then, that Sarah happened to be having a conversation with the gargoyle that guarded the Headmaster’s office when Dumbledore and Malfoy senior emerged after a long discussion as to the appropriateness of a common Muggle punishing the Malfoy heir.
Sarah, who had become quite used to conversing with inanimate stone objects, had guessed at the gargoyle’s ability to speak. It had taken very little persuading for it to talk to her. She could only guess at how mind-numbingly boring its job must be when the only interaction it got was to jump aside when given the password. The gargoyle admitted it derived its entertainment from whatever happened in the Headmaster’s office.
In order not to draw attention, as there were few, if any, who knew about the statue’s intelligence, it had allowed Sarah to sit on its back, comfortable and hidden from the casual observer. Sarah nearly fell off when the gargoyle leaped to the side, and she slid gracefully to the ground as the two wizards approached.
“I forgot the password,” she lied to explain away her presence. Perhaps Albus knew about the gargoyle, but the other man certainly wouldn’t, and neither had heard them speaking.
She spent some time simply examining the stranger. Long, platinum blond hair, cold eyes, aristocratic features, and an aura of cruelty, he reminded her vividly of her long-ago foe. But this man lacked the unearthly beauty of the Fae, and the subtle capability of kindness. Sarah recognized this wizard’s darkness had long ago descended into evil, warping his soul.
Lucius Malfoy arched an eyebrow in a condescending gesture. “You have not seen my like before, girl?”
Albus watched with a sinking feeling as Sarah’s brow contracted in irritation. “I have, actually,” she replied blandly.
“Sarah, this is Lucius Malfoy,” Dumbledore said in an attempt to run interference. “Lucius, this is our new librarian, Sarah Williams.”
The aristocrat nodded and Sarah returned the greeting. Neither made any move to shake the other’s hand.
“You must be Draco’s father,” she stated.
“I am,” he acknowledged, “and I have some concerns about my son’s punishment.”
Sarah could guess what his complaint was – his manner practically screamed superiority complex – but she decided willful misunderstanding was the better course. “I understand,” she said soothingly. “Knowingly and willfully attacking a teacher would be grounds for expulsion, or at least months of detention. However, I believe that no further action is necessary; the lesson I was attempting to impart has been learned.”
Draco’s father looked as if he had swallowed a lemon. Sarah made sure that no hint of her amusement slipped through her professional mask.
Eyes burning with rage, gloved fingers clenched tightly around his cane as he stepped closer to her, Lucius reinforced Sarah’s original opinion, and she suppressed any sign of weakness. This was a dangerous man.
“A warning, Muggle,” he hissed, giving the impression of a serpent prepared to strike. “If you are not careful it may mean your head.”
Sarah let out a sharp bark of laughter, but stopped herself quickly, before it became hysterical. “This will not be the first time I’ve been threatened to have my head separated from my shoulders.” Her mind had almost immediately conjured up memories of the wild Fierys.
Albus watched, impressed, as Sarah seemed to gather herself and stand tall in the face of a wizard who meant to see her dead. Regal. Minerva had used the word to describe the young woman before him, and he couldn’t agree more.
“I believe that is enough, Lucius,” he said quietly.
The wizard seemed to come to himself and said stiffly, “Of course, Headmaster. Good day.”
Sarah and Albus remained where they stood until Malfoy had gone.
“Be very careful, Sarah,” the Headmaster cautioned. “Lucius Malfoy is a powerful and dangerous man.”
“Yes,” she agreed faintly, and her knees quite suddenly felt weak. Careful she would most definitely be. This was not a game, and this opponent was not bound by any rules.
It was Sarah’s first Halloween feast at Hogwarts and she was suitably impressed by the myriad decorations and plethora of food. She couldn’t help, however, feeling distracted, restless, and she hadn’t the faintest idea why. The dull roar of the students washed over her, and she glanced at the ceiling of the Great Hall. It was a dark and stormy night, the perfect atmosphere for the holiday. She could hear the wind whistling outside of the castle.
“Makes you think anything can happen, doesn’t it?” commented Xiomara from her place on Sarah’s right.
Sarah hummed noncommittally.
“Personally,” the Flight Instructor continued, “I wouldn’t mind talking with someone who wasn’t either student or staff. Or parent. That would make things more interesting.”
“I wish,” Sarah agreed absently, and then paled in horror, clapping her hands over her traitorous mouth. Hadn’t she learned her lesson once before?
“Sarah?” Xiomara asked worriedly. “Are you all right?”
This caught Minerva’s attention, who was sitting on the librarian’s other side. “What’s wrong?” she asked sharply.
Xiomara shook her head to indicate that she had no idea.
Sarah’s hand shook, as she set down her fork, and all color had drained from her face. “Ohshitohshitohshitohshit,” she murmured under her breath, paying no mind to anyone around her. She prayed futilely that he had not heard.
“Sarah?” Minerva tried to gain the girl’s attention, even as she flicked her wand to ward the area against the students’ eyes. It wouldn’t do for them to see one of the staff having a nervous breakdown.
Albus leaned over to see what was going on. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
Several people shrieked as a flash of lightning followed by a deafening crash of thunder caused many to jump. The lights flickered, dimming as if they were about to gutter out, gaining the Headmaster’s attention. His eyes narrowed. There was nothing that should be affecting the flames.
“Damn it,” Sarah hissed. She could feel him approaching. There was no avoiding it. “Sarah, you stupid, stupid idiot.”
There came a rattling at one of the windows, and most of the Great Hall turned to see a barn owl beating against the glass. Albus, feeling uneasy, stood, and Minerva followed suit. In another moment the windows had burst open in a shower of glitter, but there were no screams, no shouts. The students, staff, ghosts, all were frozen in place. Still as statues, no one breathed, and no flame flickered.
It seemed only the Headmaster and his Deputy remained free of the spell.
The owl dove before the Head Table, only to land gracefully as a man. His mismatched eyes watched them with an unearthly light, his hair blond, almost feathery. His features were unnaturally perfect, his skin pale, and he was dressed in leather pants and a white blouse. He carried himself with predatory grace, and watched all with disdain.
“Who are you?” Albus demanded, gathering power around him like a cloak. “What have you done to my school?”
Minerva stood next to him, ready to defend herself at a moment’s notice. She knew, without a doubt, that there was no registered barn owl Animagus. She knew, also, that this was a dangerous man.
He eyed the witch and wizard idly, arrogantly. “I am the Goblin King, mortal” he said. “And once I have the girl, your school will return to normal. I am not interested in anything else.”
Minerva opened her mouth to ask what girl he spoke of when Sarah stood abruptly. The witch flinched, spinning around to watch her companion in surprise. She had been so still that Minerva had thought she was frozen with the rest.
“Still reordering time, I see,” Sarah bit out caustically. There was no room for confusion or uncertainty, not when dealing with this Fae, and so she fell back on the proud defiance that had marked her previous battles with him.
Both Minerva and Albus stared at her.
The Fae’s features tightened at the memory she invoked. “It does not work quite so well Aboveground,” he said with a glance at the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress. “The mortal world is too orderly and logical.”
“Why are you here, Jareth?” Sarah asked, and their eyes met in a battle of wills. “I doubt very much that any were wished away to the goblins.”
“You summoned me, my dear Sarah,” the Goblin King said with a feral grin. “In essence, you gave me leave to come to your side.”
“I did no such thing!” she exclaimed indignantly.
“Oh no?” He raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow.
Sarah paused. “That is stretching a very vague statement,” she said.
“Ah, but you chose to wish on a night when the veil between the worlds wears thin. And now, you will return to the Underground with me.”
“I will not. You have no power – ”
“Stop!” he ordered, a hint of desperation in his voice, and despite herself, Sarah fell silent.
In the uneasy quiet that followed Minerva dared to ask her question. “Sarah, who is this man?”
Their eyebrows quirked in a movement so similar it was almost comical.
“Not a man,” Sarah replied, hardly daring to take her eyes off of him as she glanced at her two fellow professors. “He is Jareth, the King of the Goblins and Master of the Labyrinth.” Her gaze returned to the Fae, eyes blazing with intensity. “Leave them out of this. It has nothing to do with them.”
“Your wish is, as ever, my command,” Jareth replied with an almost mocking bow. “And it would be beneficent, I believe, for someone to know that you had not simply run off without a word.”
“I will not go anywhere with you, Goblin King. In no way did I imply that I would allow you the power to do so.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed reluctantly. “But the Labyrinth is driving me mad.” His movements were jerky with irritation. “Ever since you completed it, becoming its Champion, it has not left me alone for desire to speak with you.”
Sarah’s eyes softened, her posture becoming less hostile.
“It wishes to teach you control over the magic you possess,” he continued.
Sarah frowned, and Albus and Minerva started in surprise. The young librarian had never shown to be anything other than a Muggle, although an extraordinary one.
“I don’t have magic,” she said uncertainly.
“Oh no?” Jareth said. “Come, come, Sarah. You think that any mortal can never become lost, can find that which is hidden and see those goblins and faery creatures invisible to human eyes? That all mortals eyes glow silver in fury, that they can command mirrors to show individuals and summon inhabitants of the Underground?
“My eyes glow silver?” she repeated, stunned, but he ignored her.
“And no matter how you explain the others away, there is no denying that it was you, and only you, who sent the boy’s dream-self to run the Labyrinth.”
Albus watched her sharply. No one, despite their efforts, had managed to discover what, exactly, Draco Malfoy had done during his detention. It seemed they had an answer now, although one none had expected.
Jareth’s voice became gentle as he reached the crux of the matter. “Your magic will not leave you, Sarah. It is here to stay.”
And Sarah closed her eyes and sighed, tension draining from her body as she was buoyed by relief.
Then she opened her eyes and gazed at Minerva and Albus, who had been watching helplessly from beside her, and then took in the entire Great Hall. She shivered. The stillness was creepy. “Perhaps,” she said hesitantly, “we should speak somewhere more private.”
“Yes,” Jareth nearly hissed in agreement, a triumphant gleam in his eyes.
Sarah quickly backpedaled, her hands held before her defensively. “Oh no,” she said. “You know I didn’t mean – ”
“Too late, my dear Sarah,” he said, passing through the table with ease to grasp her by the arm. “To a more private place we shall go.” And so saying the two disappeared, while around them time resumed.
“Sarah,” Minerva gasped, moving toward where the girl had last stood, but Albus held her back. The spell she had cast earlier was still in place, so as to prevent the students from noticing anything amiss, but the staff was another matter.
“There is nothing we can do now, Minerva,” he murmured soothingly as he led her to her seat. “You know Sarah. She will find a way to return.”
Minerva nodded reluctantly, and laid a hand on his arm in gratitude.
A ways down from the staff table, Harry, Hermione, and Ron exchanged confused glances. They could have sworn something had hovered at the window only moments before, and now it seemed to have disappeared.
“Strange…” Hermione murmured faintly.
Sarah stumbled as her surroundings blurred together, and then solidified into the familiar stone walls of the outer Labyrinth. The sky was dyed the orange of a setting sun, and a soft breeze rustled the bushes and long stalks of grass. She noticed, almost absently, a few fairies flitting here and there among the roses. The majority of her attention, however, was drawn to the living maze. There was a tug, a pull on her soul that she could not ignore. She didn’t want to ignore it, the compassion, fondness, and simple delight almost irresistibly attractive. Jareth had appeared behind her, but she spared no attention for him as she stepped toward the Labyrinth, mesmerized, all thoughts of her friends and colleagues forgotten.
The Fae simply watched as she slowly reached out a hand, laying her palm flat against the stone. And then she seemed to dissolve, disappearing in a moment.
Jareth shivered as he shifted into his barn owl form and winged toward his castle beyond the Goblin City. There was nothing more for him to do now. He could feel Sarah’s presence throughout his kingdom; the Labyrinth had begun its teaching.
Albus couldn’t help but glance at Minerva in concern even as he began the meeting of the Order of the Phoenix. It had been a week since Sarah had been so mysteriously spirited away (he had his suspicions as to why) and there had been no sign of her, causing his Deputy no end of worry on top of her many duties. She looked ragged, exhausted, and she was not the sort to rest easily when there was work to be done.
The story was that the librarian had gone to visit a sick relative. It had been accepted with some surprise, as Sarah had left without a word.
Alastor was in the middle of his report when the Order was interrupted.
Sarah scowled as she tumbled into a heap on a hard wooden floor. She hissed and glowered angrily at the ceiling, not even bothering to take in her surroundings. “You could have been gentler,” she spat, silver flecks in her narrowed hazel eyes. “And of course you leave me to face…the…music.” She trailed off when she noticed that she was not alone in the mysterious room. In fact, she recognized quite a few faces: Minerva, Albus, Snape, Tonks, and Lupin to begin with.
“Ah,” she said awkwardly, and clambered to her feet, dusting off her clothes.
The Order stared, caught completely off guard.
“Hello,” Sarah said brightly. “Could I possibly use your fireplace?”
“Through there,” one of the new recruits said blankly, pointing through the door.
“Thank you,” she said, and quickly left the room before the witches and wizards could gather their scattered wits. A large ornate mirror caught her gaze, and she changed her mind. Floo was not her favorite mode of travel.
Sarah touched the surface of the mirror lightly, and the glass seemed to ripple beneath her fingertips. Confidently, despite this being her first time doing so, she stepped through. By the time the members of the Order pulled themselves together, she had disappeared without a trace.
Albus and Minerva looked at each other. A conversation without words passed between them, and after calming the Order, they returned to business despite the obvious curiosity, or paranoia in Mad-Eye’s case.
Meanwhile, Sarah emerged into her bedroom, and sighed, closing her eyes and flopping onto her bed. I wonder how much time has passed Aboveground Sarah wondered. Time passed differently between the two realms, and this sojourn to the Labyrinth was doubly confusing for her internal clock.
As she hovered on the edge of sleep, she thought back to when she had emerged from the Labyrinth.
Jareth could feel the magic gathering, swirling, and he made his way to the throne room where Sarah’s presence had become strongest. He had hardly entered before the slim brunette slowly coalesced in a reverse process of what had occurred when she had first arrived.
Jareth first noticed the crystal ball hovering before her in the air. It looked remarkably like his own crystals.
Her eyes, glowing silver with power, were slowly returning to normal. The color of her eyes had changed in times of extreme anger in response to the turmoil beneath the surface. Sarah’s powerful emotions brought her magic to the surface, but her ignorance of her magic, her inability to consciously access it, meant that it simply simmered beneath her skin before it subsided. By now it was probably a habit for her eyes to change colors in her anger.
She reached out, her hands cupping the crystal. It had emerged from her chest near the end of the teaching. It was difficult to describe what had occurred in the living maze, and impossible to tell how long she had gone, for mere seconds or months. Sarah had become one with the Labyrinth, a part of it and all of it. The knowledge of how to wield the magic had gifted her simply seemed to appear in her mind. There was no practice, no attempts to master it. She simply knew and was confident in her knowledge, eager to test it. The crystal would assist her power, amplify it and more.
Sarah would never have the power of Jareth, never be able to create more than that one crystal. But that was more than enough for her.
“Jareth?” she murmured, shaking her head slightly as she tried to ground herself and accustom herself to having a body once more.
“I see the Labyrinth has finished its teaching he said neutrally.”
“Yes,” she agreed serenely. “I believe it is time for me to return. Send me back please.”
The Goblin King barely refrained from snarling; the pain her words caused him he kept to himself. “As you wish,” he said, a hint of mockery in his voice, and he sent her back to the mortal realm.
Now, at least, he could speak with her when he wished, appear before her as he willed.
He would never know how difficult it had been for Sarah to make the request.
Sarah was woken from her nap by the crooning of a phoenix.
“Hello Fawkes,” she said sleepily, stroking his feathered head. “I suppose Albus and Minerva are waiting for explanations?”
Fawkes crooned happily, and flamed back to his companion’s office.
Sarah followed more slowly, traversing the hallways in thoughtful silence, searching her mind desperately for an explanation. By the time she had reached and greeted the gargoyle she had come up with only one.
Chapter 10: A Show of Trust
As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd stay away.
-Hughes Mearns, The Psychoed
Sarah stopped before the stone gargoyle and noted sourly that it looked rather more smug than usual.
“Busted,” it said gleefully, obviously anticipating a show. She couldn’t really begrudge it, as its life – such as it was – was dreadfully dull.
“I don’t suppose you can think of an excuse?” she said hopelessly.
It merely leapt aside.
“You’re supposed to wait for the password,” Sarah muttered as she hopped on the rotating stairs. She continued talking to herself under her breath as she absently made her way to the Headmaster’s office.
“…defeated an all-powerful being at his own game who professed his love for me before proceeding to cheat abominably at a game that probably doesn’t even have rules, saved my baby brother, became Champion of the Labyrinth, and now wield the magic of said structure.” She snorted, glowering into thin air. “Like they’ll believe that.”
“We might,” said a familiar voice, and Sarah yelped. Apparently she had arrived at her destination.
“So…” She fidgeted, allowing her gaze to hover on some of the stranger-looking instruments.
Albus and Minerva waited patiently.
“It was all a very strange dream and none of it really happened?” she suggested.
“Nice try,” the Transfiguration Mistress said dryly.
“And still more believable than the truth,” Sarah sighed.
“Why don’t you let us be the judge of that?” said Dumbledore, regarding her over the tips of his fingers, in what Minerva thought of as his mild interrogation pose.
“All right,” she relented, defeated at last, and settled reluctantly into an armchair. “What do you know about the King of the Goblins?”
“I believe you will need to enlighten us,” Albus replied after exchanging a look with his Deputy. “The only sources that even mention a Goblin King are fairy tales and folk lore.”
Neither missed the way Sarah tensed. “And what do those stories say?” she asked, her voice carefully neutral.
“They all have a similar theme,” Minerva contributed. “A girl who wishes away her younger sibling, and must then run an ever-changing labyrinth to confront the Goblin King in his castle.”
Sarah sighed, and gently rested her hand on her chest, her fingertips touching her collarbone, before moving it forward. Professor McGonagall’s eyes widened, and Dumbledore’s expression was inscrutable when a clear crystal ball emerged and hovered above her cupped hand.
“You can do magic?” the witch asked.
A flicker of mirth appeared in Sarah’s hazel eyes before a more serious expression asserted itself. “It was news to me as well.” She was quiet for a moment before speaking again, gaze unfocused as she relived old memories.
“My parents divorced when I was young. By the time my stepmother came into my life, I was used to having my father to myself. And then Toby was born, and I was often expected to baby-sit him. I’m afraid I was rather spoiled and ill-tempered back then. I was fifteen years old when everything came to a head. It was pouring. My parents had gone out for the night, Toby was being so fussy, and I made myself out to be the martyr. My brother refused to stop crying, so I told him a story of a wicked stepmother, a spoiled baby, and a Goblin King who had fallen in love with a beautiful young girl. Imagine my surprise,” Sarah said wryly, allowing the crystal to hover in midair as she enlarged and flattened it into a mirror, “when I wished my brother away and the goblins responded accordingly.”
Pictures formed in the mirror and the two Heads of the school, captivated by the tale, recognized a young, frightened, but still determined Sarah.
“I had thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth, or my baby brother would have become one of them forever. Where everything seems possible, and nothing is what it seems.” A short, squat, grumpy looking man caught her attention on the mirror as it showed a breathtaking view of the enormous structure. “Hoggle.” She smiled fondly. “I was his first friend, I think. He was ordered by Jareth to intercept me and take me back to the beginning of the Labyrinth.”
The crystal showed, briefly, her trouble with outer corridor of the Labyrinth and the little blue worm’s advice before jumping ahead to The Four Guards.
“And I should warn you,” one of them said, “that one of us always tells the truth and one of us always lies. That's a rule, too. He always lies.”
Sarah frowned. “I was so confident I knew what was right,” she said, almost as if she were talking to herself. “Luckily the Hands caught me, although I do wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to go back up instead of down.” She shook her head as the image of her landed in almost stifling darkness. “Knowing the Labyrinth, likely worse than the oubliette.”
“I still say that you should never have gotten as far as the oubliette,” a silky voice cut in, and the three of them jumped, Minerva gasping in surprise.
Sarah’s expression had become wooden as she turned to confront the Fae who leaned elegantly against the wall behind her. “Why are you here?” she demanded.
“Why not?” came the rejoinder, an eyebrow raised in mild curiosity.
“You are not welcome here,” Sarah hissed, eyes narrowing.
“You allowed me back into your life, love, whether such was your intention or not, and I do plan to take advantage. Peace, Sarah” he said, holding up a hand as she opened her mouth to speak. “I merely thought it would be amusing to witness these memories.”
Choking back a curse, she turned to face her audience, both of whom were watching the two of them uncertainly. She hated what his voice did to her. In spite of her determination to not play the fool, Sarah was tempted again and again by him.
“I managed to bribe Hoggle to lead me out of the oubliette back up into the Labyrinth,” she continued, determined to continue as though everything were normal. “However, we were intercepted by His Majesty, who stole three hours from my time.”
“You were a cocky little spitfire,” Jareth commented from behind her, amusement evident.
Sarah clenched her hands into fists and determined to ignore him.
“We barely escaped the cleaners and managed to make it up into the Labyrinth proper.” The images shifted accordingly. “We heard the roaring of a large beast, and Hoggle, coward that he is,” she smiled fondly, “ran away. But I had at least learned that not everything in that place was as it appeared.” A large, furry, horned creature appeared, bound upside down by his feet, being tortured by strange, helmeted goblins. Fifteen-year-old Sarah threw rocks at their helmets with surprisingly good aim. In mere moments they had begun attacking each other and quickly vacated the area.
“That’s Ludo. He looks fearsome, but he’s really very sweet. Shortly after we entered that forest,” she gestured, “he disappeared, and I stumbled upon the Fierys. Because their limbs are detachable, they believe that everyone’s must be. They were trying to take off my head when Hoggle rescued me. Unfortunately, when I kissed him on the cheek in thanks we were thrown into the Bog of Eternal Stench.”
She couldn’t see Jareth’s expression, but Minerva and Albus had a clear view of the jealousy and fury in his glare at the recounting of that particular event. They were simultaneously frightened and amused.
“Bog of Eternal Stench?” Minerva asked, partly because she was curious, and partly to distract herself from the glowering Fae.
Sarah shuddered in revulsion. “It smells worse than anything you can imagine, and if the water touches you, it will never fade or grow less potent. It was there that we found Ludo and met Sir Didymus and his noble steed, Ambrosius.” The scene focused on an enthusiastic fox-dog mounted on a sheep dog.
Blue eyes sparkling with amusement, Albus said, “Tilting at windmills?”
“Tilting at windmills,” Sarah agreed with an exasperated smile. “Ambrosius has more sense than his master.” She shook her head. “Anyway, Ludo and Didymus became brothers, and we discovered that Ludo could call the rocks to his aid. Sir Didymus chose to accompany us, and we set off once more to the Goblin City. I grew hungry, though, and forgot one of the most important rules of the stories.” Her voice took on an almost sing-song quality as she quoted, “Do not eat of the food of the Land of Faerie. Hoggle offered me a peach, and I ate it. Too late I realized it was drugged.”
Sarah shifted her stance so that she could see Jareth. Their eyes met, and the tension in the room increased dramatically.
“I suddenly found myself in a ballroom, surrounded by masked and elegantly dressed gentry, with no memory of how or why I had come to be there,” she said distantly, as the ball appeared in the mirror. “I was looking for someone. Searching and searching, but he always disappeared before I could catch him. And then, quite suddenly, I was dancing. Had I not heard the clock strike 12 o’clock, I might have forgotten Toby entirely.” She tore her gaze away from Jareth’s and observed the scene in the mirror. “As it was, I fought my way through the crowd, and, using a chair, managed to shatter the illusion.”
Quite suddenly, Sarah turned back to face the Goblin King. “You didn’t even try to stop me,” she murmured, puzzled. He had let her go.
His expression didn’t waver, and there was a sort of earnestness about him that she didn’t understand.
Uncertainly, Sarah returned to her narrative. “I found myself in a replica of my bedroom, still dazed and confused. I had trouble remembering what I needed so desperately to do. When I finally did remember, the room collapsed around me, and Ludo and Sir Didymus managed to extract me before I was crushed. By then we were near the Goblin City and I had less than an hour left. We were challenged by the Guardian, and it was Hoggle’s arrival and timely rescue that allowed us to defeat the giant machine. Within moments of entering the city, however, the goblin army attacked, and we were desperately trying to defend ourselves.”
She paused, allowing the scenes to play out. Minerva paled, gasping as time and again the woman she had come to regard as an almost surrogate daughter was brushed by death. She even felt Albus flinch at some of the near misses.
Eventually the group made their way, unhindered, to the castle where Sarah continued on alone.
“Just remember,” Sir Didymus said, “should you need us…”
“I’ll call,” the girl said firmly, smiling thankfully.
“I found Toby in the Escher Room,” Sarah commented.
A room of dizzying perspectives and confusing dimensions appeared. Time and again she raced up and down staircases and through doorways without ever reaching her baby brother as Jareth taunted her. The thirteenth hour was drawing ever near when she paused on stairs many feet above where Toby played happily with a crystal ball.
“You didn’t,” Minerva whispered, gripping Albus’ arm tightly as she caught the desperate look on the girl’s face.
The image of her past self bent her knees and leapt gracefully into open air. Rather than plummeting to the ground, she floated in the air as the room broke apart, landing lightly on an old and broken stone floor.
“Give me the child,” Sarah murmured, echoing the mirror image. “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle, beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great.
“I always forgot the last line,” she said wryly as they watched her memory’s frustration and dawning horror. The Goblin King had seemed to gain confidence and a look of triumph graced his features.
“I offered you your dreams and more,” Jareth said emotionlessly as he relived the memory. “And yet you refused.”
There seemed almost to be an echo as Sarah spoke next.
“You have no power over me.”
She sighed after a moment, and, with a wave of her hand, the mirror once more become a crystal ball and disappeared with a pop.
“I found myself back in my house with Toby safe asleep in his crib. I managed to keep in touch with the Underground, sometimes inviting them to come through the mirror.” She grinned sheepishly. “I used to think it was their magic, not mine.” Her grin faded. “That was not my proudest memory.”
“You were the first to defeat my Labyrinth in millennia and the only one to do so in ten hours, and yet you are ashamed?”
“But,” Sarah interrupted before Jareth could continue, “if I had not been so spoiled as to wish my brother away, I would never have needed to fight my way to the castle in the first place.”
“This is all rather difficult to believe,” Dumbledore said slowly, breaking the silence.
“But true,” Jareth said in a tone that brooked no disagreement.
The elder wizard bowed his head in agreement.
The Goblin King eyed him for a moment longer before disappearing in a burst of glitter.
Taking that as her cue, Sarah said, “I’ll leave you to think about this,” and moved to exit the office.
“One question,” Dumbledore called out, and she paused on the threshold. “What magic did you gain?”
Sarah smiled faintly. “Illusions. Smoke and mirrors, mainly, in addition to Sight.” And then she was gone.
Minerva rose to follow her, concerned, when Albus stopped her, gently gripping her arm.
“Albus, I had no inkling that Sarah had been through so much,” she said, still somewhat bewildered.
“Yes,” he agreed quietly. “It explains a great deal. Yet she has become all the better for it, and she seems extremely content with what she has.”
The witch’s concern was only slightly lessened. “But now His Majesty can appear to her wherever and whenever he so pleases,” she said, voice rising.
“I wouldn’t worry so much, my dear,” Albus replied. She opened her mouth to object, but he continued. “He loves Sarah, that much we may be certain of, and I suspect that she may love him as well. She can take care of herself.” If only things would work out so wonderfully for him, Albus wished regretfully.
Minerva still looked doubtful, and he sought to alleviate her fears.
“Do you remember what the Gringott’s goblins called Sarah?” Albus asked.
At last Minerva’s lips curled upward into a faint smile.
Sarah twitched as she ascended the stairs, the faint scuffle of footsteps behind her reaching her ears. For the past week Jareth had appeared to her quite suddenly, whenever the urge took him, and she was growing ever more frustrated. Her right hand tightly grasped the crystal ball that hung from her necklace. Minerva had done her the favor of transfiguring the feather charm into a clasp that would hold the crystal. Sarah had figured that it would be more convenient to wear it as a necklace than to constantly manifest it when she needed it, as it was a very useful tool for her magic.
Word of Jareth’s release from his geas had spread through the Underground by the time Sarah contacted her friends. Hoggle had not been pleased, and had berated her for being so foolish.
On the positive side of things, Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus had managed to visit her at Hogwarts, late at night after all of the students were in bed. Well, supposed to be.
“Oh, I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Hermione moaned softly, wringing her hands. It was a tight fit under Invisibility Cloak, and she winced when Ron stepped on her foot.
“Relax, ‘Mione,” Harry whispered. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Right, because what we’re doing isn’t dangerous or illegal at all,” the Gryffindor witch replied in a strangled whisper.
“Oh good,” said a voice a few feet behind them.
They froze and carefully turned around.
“Because I would hate to have to punish you for illicit activities after curfew,” Sarah continued, seeming to look directly at them.
The trio had stopped breathing, praying that she thought they had fled.
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “I’m waiting,” she said, although she sounded more amused than anything else.
Guiltily, Harry pulled his Cloak off the three of them. Sarah followed the path of the shimmering material with her eyes, fascinated. She had assumed they’d used some sort of spell.
“If I let you go with a warning, will you return to your dormitory directly?” she asked, carefully not looking in the direction of her Underground friends, who were hiding around the corner.
“I promise,” said Hermione, looking almost faint with relief, and her two companions nodded in agreement.
“Then get going,” Sarah said, flapping her hands at them.
They did so quickly, nearly forgetting the Cloak in their haste. As they left, however, Harry could have sworn he heard a strange voice speaking to the librarian behind them.
“My Lady. Art thou feeling well?” Didymus asked, as he, Hoggle, and Ludo joined her.
“I’m fine, Sir Didymus. That was just closer than I would have liked,” Sarah murmured. “Come. There’s a secret passageway behind this tapestry.”
Neither Minerva nor Albus had ever glimpsed any residents of the Underground, but they had spoken with Sarah at length over the past several days. It was not so uncommon for one of them to come upon speaking to thin air as she greeted and conversed with the mischievous goblins that resided in the castle.
Sarah heard the footsteps again as she reached the top of the stairs, and gritted her teeth. “Enough, Jareth!” she shouted, spinning around violently. “I have had it up to here with you popping in whenever you feel like it!”
Her rant was greeted with silence by a pale, quaking second year Hufflepuff boy. He squeaked in terror.
Sarah felt acutely embarrassed.
“I’m…ah…very sorry,” she apologized.
The boy turned tail and fled.
She winced, sighed, and turned back around only to run into a chuckling Goblin King. For a moment she blinked uncomprehendingly at his chest before leaping back with a ferocious scowl.
“Careful, Sarah,” he said in his velvety voice as he steadied her before she tumbled down the stairs.
“Jareth,” she said in exasperation. “Stop popping in whenever you bloody well feel like it!”
“Do you fear me, Sarah?” he questioned lazily.
Yes. Sarah was terrified of the power he could wield over her, if she let him. If he offered himself with any sincerity, she didn’t think she could say anything but yes.
“You startle me,” she said blandly.
Loud voices and sound of many feet interrupted their conversation as class let out.
“I shall take your request into consideration, love,” Jareth said and, leaning down, kissed her lightly on the mouth.
Sarah froze in shock. By the time she had gathered her wits about her to push him away the Fae had disappeared in a shower of glitter. Staring blankly at the space he had occupied only a moment she touched her lips. They tasted of moonbeams and magic.
A few moments later Tonks walked into the library only to discover that Sarah was a nervous wreck.
“Are you all right?” the Metamorphmagus asked in concern, quickly crossing over to the librarian’s desk.
“Fine,” Sarah said distractedly, lifting a trembling hand to run through her hair.
Tonks arched an eyebrow, her features changing to resemble the no-nonsense Professor McGonagall.
“Sarah,” she began warningly, only to be cut off by her friend.
“He kissed me,” the young woman said plaintively. “Why…. He never….” She shook herself and fell silent, yanking sharply on a lock of hair. .
“Who kissed you?” Tonks asked.
But Sarah stubbornly refused to answer.
“A student?” Tonks guessed, but received a shake of the head. “Staff?” she tried again. Another shake of the head. “Sarah…. This has something to do with where you were, doesn’t it? And why you landed at Headquarters despite not being a member?” the witch said gently. Without waiting for a reply she continued, “Would you like me to get Minerva or Professor Dumbledore?”
Sarah smiled softly in thanks. “No, that’s all right. I’m overreacting. I’ll find them later, maybe.”
Tonks bit her lip, and then sighed. “All right. I’ll be back in the Defense section if you need me.”
Sarah clenched her hands and hissed in frustration. In spite of all the flirting and insinuations, Jareth had never done more than that. What on earth was he playing at?
Jareth paced in his throne room, kicking one of the wretched goblins out of his way. He was a Fae creature, fickle and capricious. They had lovers plenty, mortal and otherwise. But love, that was rare to find.
And it was just his luck that he would fall in love with a stubborn mortal girl who resisted him at every turn.
He closed his eyes sank onto his throne, reliving the brief moment his lips had touched hers. It took all of his self-control to go no further, to leave her behind as he returned to his realm. It may take time and patience, but Jareth was determined that Sarah would love him.
Chapter 11: True Danger
Trying their wings once more in hopeless flight:
Blind moths against the wires of window screens.
Anything. Anything for a fix of light.
-X. J. Kennedy, “Street Moths,” The Lords of Misrule
Sarah hummed sleepily to herself as she traversed the nearly empty corridors of the castle. It was nearly time to open the library, and she had a stack of new books that needed to be added to the catalogue and spelled to the wards.
Hearing voices up ahead, she stopped humming and looked to see who it was. Albus and Minerva were conversing quietly as they walked along the main hallway. Sarah was also at such an angle to see Xiomara hiding around the corner from the two and snickering, a mad glint in her eye. Sarah turned around straight away, grabbing a passing Harry and Hermione as she did so, and decided to take a more circuitous route to the library. It was much too early in the morning to deal with the aftermath of one of Xiomara’s “brilliant” ideas.
Harry watched her suspiciously as they slipped down a side corridor. “Is this some sort of plot to get me out from Dumbledore’s protection and transport me to the Dark Lord, where he will reward you while torturing and eventually killing me?” he asked.
Sarah blinked at him. “Um…no. I just didn’t think you wanted to walk into an altercation between Professor McGonagall and Madam Hooch. She had that insane grin….”
Harry was staring at her blankly, but Hermione was looking extremely thankful.
“Another brilliant idea?” she questioned.
Sarah looked at her in surprise. “Yeah, how did you know about that?”
The bushy-haired witch shrugged. “I hear these things.”
“I don’t,” Harry interjected, looking more and more confused.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “If it doesn’t have to do with Quidditch or the Dark Lord, he’s completely thick.”
“I am not,” he denied, looking affronted.
She gave him a look and said one word. “Ginny.”
Harry blushed. “Fine,” he muttered. “At least tell me what you’re talking about.”
“I’ll tell you later, somewhere private,” she promised. “We might as well bring Ron along too. Goodness knows, if you don’t know, he won’t have the slightest idea.”
“Hey, you’re interested in Defense, aren’t you Harry?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, definitely,” Harry nodded.
“I have a new book in I think you’ll like. I’m just heading over to the library now, if you want to take a look.”
He smiled cautiously. “I’d like that. You know, you’re a lot different from Madam Pince.”
Sarah gave him a sidelong glance. “Thank you.”
“I was wondering,” he began hesitantly, “how did you get the job?”
“Yes, I’ve been curious too,” Hermione admitted. “I mean, did they need to adjust the anti-Muggle spells to allow you to work here? That would have been extremely complicated. Or did they cast spells on you? And what were they?”
Harry let out a long-suffering sigh. Sarah just looked amused.
“Well, I got the job through a long series of accidents,” she replied. “I stumbled onto Diagon Alley where I met Professor McGonagall, went on vacation to Scotland, fell asleep on the wrong bus, stumbled onto Hogwarts, ran into your Headmaster, and here I am.”
Harry whistled, impressed, but Hermione frowned. “But you’re a Muggle, right?”
Sarah nodded. “Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall enchanted an object for my protection as I was at a severe disadvantage.”
“Then how were you even able to see Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, much less approach them?”
“That’s a good point,” Harry murmured.
“Ah, well, I’m very good at finding hidden things, I suppose,” the young woman said carelessly.
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” Hermione protested.
“I suppose it’ll always be a mystery, then. I’m simply glad I was able to discover this world.” Sarah smiled almost wistfully.
“You fit in very well, too,” Hermione said thoughtfully.
“You think so?” the young librarian queried. “Tonks says that too.”
Sarah leaned against the wall of the Three Broomsticks and looked up and down the main street of Hogsmeade. She had had a bad feeling about the Hogsmeade weekend all day, and the professors chaperoning the trip seemed to pick up on that, as they seemed rather tense as well.
She jumped when a familiar black-haired wizard stumbled out of the pub, his two friends right behind him. His face was twisted in a grimace of pain, and he clutched at his scar. Eyes wild behind his glasses, he managed to choke out, “Death Eaters. On their way!”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “I’ll warn everyone. You get them to the castle.” She closed her eyes as they ran off, and clutched the crystal ball that hung around her neck. Using it to amplify her power, she sent an illusion of herself into every store in the tiny town. “Death Eaters are coming!” they all warned, and soon a mass exodus of wizards and witches flooded the streets. Caught up in the crowd, she was knocked around as she tried to escape.
Not long after the announcement, things began exploding. The crowd thinned as spells whizzed through the air. People were screaming, and the robe shop had gone up in flames. Sarah’s heart was racing. She didn’t see any students. Hopefully they had made it back to the school.
She needed a mirror. Anything to escape this madness.
Firelight caught on the window of Honeydukes and she raced for it. Sarah could feel her necklace growing hot, as the protections worked to block the curses flying through the air. Mere feet away from her escape, the window exploded, and she shrieked, bringing up her arms to protect her face from the shower of glass. Something struck the back of her head, and she fell into darkness.
Sarah’s throbbing head woke her up. She shifted, eyes tightly shut, and bit back a moan as pain lanced through her skull. Why was she sitting upright? And her arms….
Cautiously she opened her eyes and blinked, waiting for them to adjust to the darkness. She gasped at what she saw. She was trapped in a small stone room, a wall of bars several feet in front of her. Tilting her head to the side, Sarah did her best to ignore the pain as she confirmed her suspicions. Her arms were chained to the wall in such a way that it reminded her of a crucifixion. Her body ached at the awkward position, and she wondered how long she had been unconscious. There were no windows, and she had the feeling that she was deep underground.
It was so difficult to think through the pain. Deep breaths, Sarah told herself. Stay calm. Think. Deep breaths.
She still wore her necklace. Perhaps her captors hadn’t seen it, but either way they wouldn’t have been able to remove it. As the owner, Sarah was the only one who could remove the source of her protection.
Her crystal was gone, though. Most likely it had returned to her body. But the clasp was a Portkey! Sarah sighed with relief. “Oubliette,” she whispered, and braced herself for the sickening feeling that accompanied the travel.
“Oubliette,” she hissed again, louder this time, with an edge of panic to her voice.
She choked back a sob of fear and sheer frustration. She could do this. She had magic that her captors didn’t know about. Surely she could contact someone?
Sarah closed her eyes and easily pulled her crystal ball from her chest. It hovered in the air before her eyes, and she made a flicking motion with one of her hands. “Hoggle, I need you.”
The crystal remained blank. Something was interfering with her magic, it wasn’t reaching the crystal.
“Sir Didymus? Ludo, I need you.” She waited, closed her eyes and tried to track where her magic was being blocked. Finally, as a last resort, she spoke his name, who could hear the syllables across seas and time and worlds.
Sarah waited with baited breath for something, anything, to happen. But nothing did. She remained alone in her cell.
Her breath came quickly. Too quickly. There wasn’t enough air. She was hyperventilating, tears coursing down her cheeks.
Enough, she thought dimly. Deep breaths. Breathe in…and out…in…and out…. This is just like a puzzle. Once I solve it, I can figure out a way to escape. What could possibly stop the Fae and those in the Underground from responding, as well as interfering with the magic of the Labyrinth?
Spells, wards, human magic. It was in many ways inferior to the Fae’s magic. They didn’t even believe the Fae existed, for goodness sake.
So it was something else. Something unintentional. It nagged at Sarah, something she should remember….
Her eyes stopped on the manacles that held her wrists to the wall, and then darted quickly to the bars of her cell. Fuck.
Iron. Sarah should have realized right away. Iron was poisonous to the Fae. And while it didn’t affect her physically, as a human who had lived with it all her life, the chains blocked her magic. She used her hands to channel her magic, and the manacles were nullifying it. Even if Jareth heard her, he likely wouldn’t know where she was. And while iron didn’t affect the goblins quite so badly, they still went out of their way to avoid it. Not to mention there wasn’t much light-hearted mischief one could get up to in the dungeons of a Dark Lord. She certainly wouldn’t find any goblins in the vicinity.
Perhaps, if Sarah practiced enough, she wouldn’t need to rely on her hands to cast her spells. It was a goal, anyway. Something to keep her from pondering what the Death Eaters would do to her. Something to keep her sane.
Sarah was terrified. She had never thought of herself as a very brave person, and now that she was faced with such a dangerous situation, she had no idea what she was going to do. Could she keep her silence under torture? She had heard stories of the Death Eaters’ victims. Would she give up what few secrets she knew?
She had never been in a situation like this. The Labyrinth had been dangerous, yes, and the traps and inhabitants had threatened and frightened her, but nothing truly bad had happened. The Goblin King could be arrogant and cruel, yes, but he wasn’t an insane murderer.
Sarah frowned. There was no time for reminiscing. She needed help, and she needed it as quickly as possible. Who knew when the Death Eaters would come for her?
It had been three days since Sarah had been abducted, and the Order of the Phoenix had nothing to show for it. Even Severus could get nothing out of the Dark Lord and his associates. They were meeting at Headquarters to discuss their progress (of which there was very little), and tempers were running high.
“I don’t see why we’re expending so much effort on locating one unimportant individual,” Severus sneered from his corner.
“I agree,” Moody growled. “I know she was Hogwarts’ librarian, and you were fond of her, but we can’t waste what little manpower we have on finding someone who has very little importance in terms of the war.”
Albus and Minerva exchanged worried glances.
“There’s a bit more to this than you realize,” the witch began, only to pause as quite suddenly a flash of lightning nearly blinded those in the room, followed by a deafening roll of thunder. The air seemed to grow thick and heavy with power. It weighed down on the group more and more with every passing moment, so that it became difficult to breath. Strange shadows moved along the walls and floor, their owners skittering just out of sight.
At last, in an explosion of glitter, the heaviness dissipated, and the Order, minus Albus and Minerva, found their wands trained on a strange man, whose mismatched eyes flashed with rage.
“Where is she?” His voice, pitched low, resounded with power and fury.
“Who?” Remus questioned, and flinched as the man’s gaze focused on him.
“Sarah Williams,” he said shortly.
“Stand down,” Minerva said sharply.
When they hesitated, Albus spoke up. “There will be no need for your wands at this moment.”
Reluctantly, the Order obeyed.
“You did not answer my question, wizard,” the Goblin King stated tersely.
“We have been searching ever since she disappeared, Your Majesty, but we have been unable to locate her,” he replied with a short bow.
“Majesty?” Snape questioned belligerently. “Who is this man, Dumbledore?”
He shot the younger wizard a warning look.
Jareth kept his attention on the Headmaster and his Deputy, ignoring the others in the room. “My goblins have begun tailing this Dark wizard’s minions,” he said coolly. “If she is not found alive, all banks shall be shut down, and the goblins will disappear. Your economy will not survive such a blow. I have little pity for the Wizarding World. For far too long your arrogant and insufferable kind has treated my goblins and others as inferior species. My subjects and my Labyrinth love the girl. I suggest you pray that she lives.”
His words and tone chilled the Order to the bone, and for a long time after he disappeared they remained silent.
Sarah scowled and bit back tears of frustration. She had tried, every moment she could, to somehow get her magic to manifest, and nothing had worked. She wasn’t sure how long she had been here, but she seemed to be constantly hungry. Soon she might even need to eat the stale bread and thin, cold soup the keepers left her once a day. Or, she guessed it was once a day. It was difficult to tell time without a window.
It was more than pride that kept her from eating. She was frightened of what they could have done to the food. What potions they could have mixed in.
Upon hearing the sound of footsteps, Sarah paused in her efforts. Her muscles seized in panic, and she froze. Two people in black robes and white skull masks unlocked the door and entered.
“The Dark Lord wishes for you to be…broken in before your audience with him,” the one on the right said menacingly.
Sarah couldn’t suppress a shudder, and they laughed at her fear.
“A pathetic Muggle is too insignificant for our Lord to bother with, and so the privilege falls to us.”
Sarah had no time to brace herself. Not that it would have done any good. She screamed and strained against her chains, writhing in pain. She nearly broke her arms, but was overwhelmed by the sheer, mine-numbing torture, worse than a thousand, red-hot knives.
At last the spell lifted and she sagged against the wall, sobbing, throat raw from screaming.
“Sarah,” said a soft voice soothingly, and she was sure she was imagining it. She didn’t dare look up, didn’t dare meet the gazes of her torturers.
“Sarah,” the voice said again, and there was a hand on her chin, lifting her face to meet his.
“Jareth?” she rasped.
He brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m here, love. You’re safe.”
“The Death Eaters.” She swallowed hard and winced.
His eyes hardened, and she caught sight of the two bodies in a corner of the cell. “They’ve been taken care of.” It looked like their necks had been broken.
She yanked lightly at her manacles and winced as pain shot up her arm. “It’s iron, Jareth.”
“That doesn’t matter,” he replied, face grim and determined. He gripped the metal and yanked with superhuman strength, breaking it open.
Sarah hissed as she lowered her arms for the first time in days, and rubbed her wrists where her skin had been rubbed raw.
“Come, Sarah,” the Goblin King said, holding out a hand to her. “Let us return to Hogwarts castle.”
Rather than take his hand, however, she tugged off his glove. His golden skin was bright red where he had touched the iron. He flinched when she lightly ran a hand over the burn, and replaced the glove before leaning down to pick her up. “That will scar,” she murmured inanely.
“That hardly matters,” he murmured.
Sarah wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head against his chest. She still trembled, both from fright and as aftereffects of the Cruciatus. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Sleep,” Jareth said, pushing his magic into the order, and the young woman immediately grew limp. The couple disappeared in a shower of glitter, and reappeared in her rooms. The Fae summoned the healer Camille, unwilling to trust the wizards with Sarah’s health. He settled into the chair next to her bed and refused to leave her side. It was another day before anyone knew of her presence in the school.
“Sarah?” Tonks called out softly, dragging Remus into the library with her. It was a week after the librarian had been rescued, and she had recovered well, although she still appeared pale.
She emerged from the History section. “Hey Tonks, Remus,” she said with a small smile.
“How are you feeling?” the werewolf asked.
“Better,” Sarah said. “Much better. I was lucky.”
“It doesn’t make the experience any less traumatic,” he replied, and she gave him a grateful look.
“So,” Tonks said, “the Goblin King, hm?”
“How much do you know?” asked Sarah.
“Very little,” Remus answered for both of them. “I had no idea that a goblin king existed at all. And I certainly would have thought he would have been a goblin.”
“I’m glad you aren’t returning to America,” Tonks commented, and hugged her lightly.
“I do have a contract,” the librarian replied.
“You can’t tell me that Dumbledore didn’t offer to make an exception,” Tonks said. “And if he didn’t, Minerva would definitely make sure he did.”
Remus and Sarah chuckled.
“He did, but I’m much too stubborn to simply run away,” the brunette replied, smiling softly. “And besides, I have people looking out for me.”
Chapter 12: Choices and Conclusions
I give to you,
A promise made,
From fate to fate
The game is played.
The music slides on
Note by note,
We look for love,
We live on hope.
The bridge across
The waters wide
Cannot hold back
The surging tide.
-“Compact,” Troll Bridge, Jane Yolen
When Sarah looked up at the clicking of boots on the library and laid eyes on Minerva, she swallowed hard with nerves, and her heart beat uncomfortably loud in her chest. The witch appeared, as always, calm and collected, but Sarah knew her well enough to sense that there was something very wrong going on. Her fears solidified when Minerva beckoned her into a private room with barely a word and immediately began murmuring privacy spells at a feverish pace.
“Sarah,” the older woman said at last. “We’ve received rather grave news from our spies. You-Know-Who intends to attack Hogwarts in three days.”
Sarah paled. “What?” she gasped. She had been lucky to have suffered so little when she had been the Dark Lord’s prisoner. And now he would be marching against a place she considered a haven.
“You have a choice,” Minerva continued gently. “You may return to America, and no one will think less of you. In fact, we would prefer it if you were safe far away from here.” In an uncharacteristically impulsive gesture, she grasped the young woman’s hand in her own. “Or, you may go with the young students to the safe room we are preparing, and help to keep order there.”
Sarah stared at her hands. “I need time to think,” she said lowly.
Minerva nodded. “We can give you a day before we need your answer.”
“Thank you,” the librarian whispered as they exited the room and emerged among the bookshelves. Long after the library had closed, she lay awake in her quarters, mind racing. Part of her wanted more than anything to run away, to return to a world in which she had felt safe and secure. The other part of her rallied against this, desiring to do anything and everything to help those she had come to know and love. At last Sarah fell into a fitful sleep, and when she woke in the early hours of the morning, she knew what she would do.
She dressed in a blouse and slacks, running her brush slowly and deliberately through her long, brown hair. She completed her morning ritual as she did any other day, and then stood before her mirror. Sarah marveled at the calm she displayed, the confidence she projected now that she had reached a decision. There was no sign of the intense conflict she had felt only a short while ago.
“Albus Dumbledore, I need you.”
An image of the Headmaster’s office appeared in her mirror, the angle rather strange. Despite that, her eyes were drawn immediately to the powerful wizard. There were others with him, and Sarah took a moment to identify them as Order members before she touched the reflective surface and stepped into the looking-glass.
Cries of shock emerged from the throats of several members before they recognized the person who appeared in the room. An exclamation of “Bloody Hell!” caused her to spin towards the door and wince. Staring at her in varying degrees of suspicion and amazement were Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger.
“Oops,” Sarah murmured under her breath.
“What is she doing here?” Harry demanded, wand trained on the supposed Muggle. “How did she do that?”
“You can’t apparate inside of Hogwarts,” Hermione stated blankly.
“I didn’t,” Sarah replied.
Minerva sighed and rubbed her temples. “Potter, put your wand away,” she ordered.
“Do as she says,” Remus said quietly when Harry hesitated. “One of us will explain things later.”
Sarah did her best to ignore the crowd around her for the moment and focused on the Headmaster. “I’ve come to a decision,” she announced quietly.
Albus suspected that there was more to this. Sarah was not the type of person to interrupt important meetings for something that was more appropriately discussed in their free time. “And what have you chosen?”
“There is a third option,” Sarah said slowly. “I will fight.”
Dumbledore quickly laid a calming hand on his Deputy’s arm, and she bit back her immediate protests, although her thin lips were pressed tightly together and her eyes flashed. He had no chance to silence the protests of the others in his office before a booming noise akin to thunder did the job for him. There was an explosion of glitter that was beginning to become familiar, and a fey, golden man with mismatched eyes appeared before them.
“You shall not!” he roared.
Remus, with the reflexes of a werewolf, forced Harry’s and Ron’s wand arms back down, and Tonks did the same to Hermione a moment later, as many of the other members shrank away from the apparition in fear. “Whatever you do, do not threaten that man,” he hissed, afraid for the lives of the three children so dear to his heart.
A quelling look from the Headmaster himself brought the seriousness of the situation home to the trio, and they put away their wands, pale with nerves and marveling at Sarah’s courage to stand up to the stranger.
Meanwhile, Sarah simply gazed back at the angry monarch placidly. “I am determined, Goblin King. Neither you nor anyone else can forbid this.”
“I will stop you, Sarah,” he bit out, voice hushed with fury.
There was something apologetic in her expression and voice when she said, “You have no power over me, Jareth.”
He flinched and then rallied himself. He had more power over her than she realized. She had, in a sense, invited him back into her life on Halloween. Sarah may have been the Labyrinth’s Champion, but Jareth was its Master. It was possible that he could spirit her away against her will.
But she would resent him for it. If there was one thing Jareth had learned when Sarah had beaten him at his own game, and in the years since, it was that he could not control her. It was that free spirit he so loved, and he refused to be the one to kill it. A difficult lesson for one so possessive and controlling to learn, and hard-learned it was.
“Perhaps,” he agreed reluctantly, “but what about them?” His sweeping gesture, suddenly menacing, indicated the entire room that watched the exchange with bated breath. The Goblin King still had a part to play, after all.
“Even if you ignore that not one of them has wished a child away, they are my best chance at protection,” Sarah said.
Their eyes locked in a battle of wills, but Jareth was once again forced to concede to her wishes, and he looked away.
Sarah sighed, a little sadly, and stepped closer to him. There was a time not so long ago that she would have interpreted his demands as a sort of revenge, a desire to control her. Now she realized that he was motivated by concern for her well-being. “If the Gringott’s goblins will acquiesce, I could use their assistance.”
“I will speak with them. I cannot imagine they will refuse you,” he said with a wry twist of his lips, and then he was gone.
Sarah turned deliberately to Dumbledore. “If you can cover the Great Hall in mirrors, walls, floor, and ceiling, and then trap as many Death Eaters as possible in the room, I may be able to deal with them. Even better, if the mirrors are able to reflect spells, with my illusions the enemy may not even realize that they are attacking their own ranks for some while. At the very least, the Death Eaters will be hard-pressed to find the exit, and goblin weapons can be extremely deadly.”
The Order of the Phoenix, enthused by the idea, spent much of the morning refining it. For the time being, Sarah simply needed to practice her illusions.
“They’re here,” Minerva said tightly. Her face, though pale, was set in an expression of fierce determination, and she gripped her wand firmly. “Be careful, Sarah.”
“And you,” Sarah replied.
“We will,” Albus said as he joined the two women. “Tom is overconfident. He made a great mistake in choosing to attack Hogwarts.”
“How so?” Sarah asked before she could stop herself.
“We control the castle,” he replied, motioning toward himself and his Deputy. “This is our territory, and there are secrets only the Headmasters and Headmistresses are privy to.”
Albus and Minerva shared a glance that promised deadly traps for those who would dare threaten their children.
“I will see you soon,” Sarah said as she melted into the nearest mirror, reluctant to say good-bye. Good-bye was so final.
She lingered long enough to see Minerva murmur something to Albus, and to watch as each studied the other, committing each other to memory, and burning the image in their hearts. No telling if they would come out of this alive.
Blinking away tears, Sarah flitted away to the Great Hall, to hide among the mirrors there and prepare her illusionary army. She wished that Minerva and Albus had confessed their love. She prayed that they would still have a chance to do so.
Sooner than Sarah would have liked, shouting and fighting could be heard at the doors to the school. First, she concentrated on creating tables of children. It was a decent illusion, not perfect, but good enough that a great number of Death Eaters entered the room with sickening enthusiasm. The first volley of spells the intruders cast missed on the rebound, but as more filled the Great Hall, more were hit and screamed in pain. Only when the doors closed did Sarah drop the images of panicking students and the illusion obscuring the mirrors. Instead an army of Light witches and wizards appeared near where the Head Table had stood.
“It’s a trap!” someone shouted, but the mirrors confused them. They lost all sense of direction as they gazed into infinity in every direction. The opposing army seemed to them to be the only anchor in a chaotic world, and they shot spell after spell into the mass. Sarah did her best, putting up illusions of shields and flashes of light, but she could not make every aspect of her army realistic, nor did she know enough about wizardry to do so. She could only pay attention to so many figures at once. Eventually the Death Eaters caught on when a Killing Curse passed through one illusory wizard and shattered a mirror, but many had been taken out by their own spells first.
She vanished her army with a sigh of relief, and took a moment to breath and gather herself for the next stage.
Sarah’s break was cut short when the Death Eaters began flinging around Killing Curses, shattering at least a dozen mirrors before one chanced to shoot at the one she had been residing in for the duration of the fighting. She barely escaped in time. She would definitely need to be more alert from now on.
Bracing herself, Sarah plunged the hall into darkness. She paid no attention to those who lit their wands. It was still dark enough that deep shadows remained.
Red eyes glowed in the dark and wand-light glinted off of scales and fangs and claws. Several black-robed figures jumped in spite of themselves, and clenched their jaws as hands became sweaty in fear. The growling and hissing began, always loudest directly behind a Death Eater. She wanted them jump and panicked, on a hair trigger.
A sudden deafening roar resounded throughout the Great Hall. Spells flew into the darkness and struck allies, but Sarah paid them little attention. She looked toward the origin. That had sounded like…
“Ludo,” she whispered, glimpsing his orange, shaggy head in one of the mirrors.
The Great Hall doors were abruptly slammed open by an avalanche of boulders, crushing those that were closest. Immediately, she abandoned her nightmares to hide the doors.
Above the shouting she caught the voice of Sir Didymus urging on his steed as he whacked at legs and kneecaps. She saw Hoggle leaping on backs and blinding Death Eaters with his spray can as Ludo directed the rocks in an effort to cover his two friends. It seemed like the Death Eaters didn’t quite know what to do, having never been attacked in such an unorthodox manner. If it wasn’t chaos before, it certainly was now.
Sarah couldn’t tear her eyes away. Her heart was in her throat as she watched her friends risk life and limb to help her, to protect her. How had they known what was happening? No, foolish question. Jareth obviously had something to do with this.
She gasped as the Death Eaters quickly destroyed the boulders and one exploded next to Sir Didymus, knocking the sprightly knight off of Ambrosius. He staggered to his feet, and Ludo quickly cleared the area with one of the remaining rocks, allowing Didymus time to remount his faithful sheepdog.
“Hoggle!” Sarah shouted. “Sir Didymus!” A purple beam struck the mirror she resided in, and she flinched back violently before pressing up against the glass. “Get out of there. Quickly!” Noticing the obstinate knight was about to refuse, Sarah screamed, “Ambrosius!” The dog, much more sensible than its master, wasted no time in escaping with the knight on his back protesting all the way.
As soon as her friends were safe in the mirrors and only nine of the Dark Lord’s followers remained standing, Sarah activated the goblin traps. Bright red beams crisscrossed the entire hall, and caught one of the wizards in the chest. A scream, the smell of burnt flesh, and Sarah was forced to look away and concentrate on not being sick.
Gouts of dragonfire burst from the floor and three more wizards caught fire. The laser-like security measures made it very difficult to dodge.
The main defense, however, was only beginning to emerge. A sword-wielding iron giant appeared, a more advanced prototype of the guard Sarah had encountered outside the Goblin City. This one, however, did not contain a goblin operator, and its movements were smoother and deadlier. This was its first true combat situation, and Gringott’s technicians had high expectations.
Indeed, Avada Kedavra hardly slowed it down, and most other spells simply bounced off its metal body. Had they thought to use more physical means, or finesse, they might have survived. The machine was more susceptible to physical attacks than it was to magical.
In short order no one remained standing, and Sarah deactivated the defenses before stumbling out of the mirrors. Never before had she spent so long behind the looking-glass, nore maintained such elaborate illusion for so great a time. Near spent, she collapsed in a corner and, feeling the presences of her friends, and even Jareth, she allowed herself to fall into an exhausted sleep. Surely they would protect her.
Surely…surely the Order was winning even now.
Jareth appeared the moment Sarah stumbled into the open. Ludo, Sir Didymus, and Hoggle following. He checked her pulse, felt her forehead, and pronounced, “She’s fine.”
Ludo sat down against the wall, and Jareth reluctantly settled Sarah in his furry lap before turning to the other two. “Make sure those…mortals will not escape,” he ordered. “I will watch over the girl, but I have no desire to deal with the rest of the school when they finish their battle.” So saying, he transformed into a barn owl, and perched on one of Ludo’s horns.
Hoggle and Didymus enlisted the help of the Underground goblins to indicate those humans who were still alive. Hoggle tied them up as tightly as possible while Didymus collected wands.
“I warned yeh,” he said quietly when they returned to Sarah’s side. “I tole yeh to stay away from the Wizarding World.”
And so, when the tired victors entered the Great Hall, Voldemort at last vanquished at Harry’s hand, they found the young Muggle woman surrounded by her otherworldly creatures and an owl, bodies in black robes and masks littering the floor.
Sarah didn’t know how long she slept, nor did she know what woke her. All she knew was that she ached with a bone-deep weariness. It took more effort than she anticipated to open her eyes, and she beheld a bustling Hospital Wing. It seemed as though any spare hands were being put to work, and Minerva was just entering, levitating two witches Sarah had never met. The older woman had obviously yet to be healed, as she sported a myriad of bruises, burns, and bloody cuts. Her exhaustion was evident, her eyes dead and movements almost mechanical. However, there was a certain desperate intensity about Minerva, all her concentration on keeping her body busy enough that she wouldn’t be able to remember.
“Minerva,” Sarah rasped when the two additional patients were settled, and grimaced at her voice.
The witch looked up blankly, before recognition penetrated the fogginess of her brain. “Sarah,” she murmured, relieved, and made her way to the young woman’s bedside. “I’m glad you’re all right. I hear you worked a miracle in the Great Hall.”
Sarah sipped the proffered glass of water. “I suppose,” she murmured. “But tell me, what happened?”
Minerva’s brief smile faded, and she recounted what she knew.
Harry had managed to defeat Voldemort in the dungeons of the school, with the help of Ron, Hermione, and Albus. His death had severely crippled the remaining Death Eaters, and the battle had pretty much ended then. The four were recovering in the curtained off portion of the Infirmary.
A handful of students had been killed, and several more were in critical condition and had been transferred to St. Mungo’s, along with Filius, who had had all of the bones in his left arm broken as well as a concussion before some sort of Dark Curse had caught him in the chest. A great deal of Order members had been killed, as well as two staff members. Nymphadora and Remus still lived, Minerva reassured her.
“Who?” Sarah whispered.
“Severus and….” Her breath hitched and she struggled to say the second name. “Xi-Xiomara.”
Sarah didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until she choked on a sob. No, no, not ‘Mara. Not that crazy, bright, energetic witch.
“She was on her broom, covering some of our students. You-Know-Who may not have had time to reestablish an alliance with the vampire clans, but his werewolf allies, even in human form, immediately followed the scent of fresh blood. Xiomara was killing quite a few from where they couldn’t reach her until the Death Eaters managed to shoot her out of the air,” Minerva recounted softly.
Sarah turned her head away, cheeks damp with tears. She felt Minerva’s hand on her hair for a moment, before standing to resume what she felt to be her duties.
A week later and most of the injured had recovered, even if the castle hadn’t quite. Poppy had caught Minerva nearly passing out in exhaustion and had forced her into a bed near the Headmaster. She had slept for nearly a full day.
Many of the paintings had been blasted off the walls, statues and suits of armor were found chipped, dented, and in pieces all over the school, and several classrooms were empty of desks, having apparently been animated in a charge against the enemy.
The funerals had been completed, speeches given, and still the media hounded poor Harry Potter.
Sarah sighed as she listlessly completed the inventory of the damage done to the library. Had Irma Pince still worked at Hogwarts, she likely would have had a heart attack.
“Sarah,” a familiar voice said. She turned and there stood the Goblin King in all his glory.
“Jareth,” she greeted.
Neither noticed a portrait of a wizard scholar leave his frame.
“It is past time I spoke with you about what it means to be the Champion of the Labyrinth,” he said seriously.
“I don’t understand,” Sarah said, standing.
“There are certain duties,” Jareth began, only to pause as the library doors opened and the Headmaster and his Deputy entered.
“Sarah?” the witch called before spotting her companion. “Oh.”
“We can return later, if you would prefer,” Dumbledore said. “We were told a strange man had appeared and feared it might have been a Death Eater.”
The Fae indicated that it was Sarah’s decision.
She hesitated. “Will this affect my job here?” She had been considering renewing her contract, but a final decision didn’t need to be made until the end of June.
“It may,” he said, inclining his head.
“Then they should hear this,” Sarah decided.
Jareth paid no more attention to them, focusing on Sarah.
“There is a certain instinct every Champion has, a pull toward conflict, particularly of a magical nature. It can be fought, of course, but only if the Champion truly desires, which is difficult since the instinct is to help resolve the conflict. Sarah, if you remain in the Aboveground, sooner or later you will be drawn in over your head. It was always assumed that the Champion would reside in the Underground, where illusions are much more powerful. As well, Champions are very influential. If nothing else, the fact that you completed the Labyrinth demands respect.
“You have none of that in the mortal world.”
Sarah was silent for a long while as she considered his words. “If I were to live in the Underground,” she said slowly, “would I be placing myself in your power?”
Jareth expelled a breath. “No,” he said quietly.
She thought a while longer, and then came to a decision. Stepping closer to Jareth she leaned up and pressed her lips to his, a chaste kiss that contained a promise. “I have dreamed of returning to the Labyrinth ever since I left. Give me one week to get everything in order, and I will come.”
The Goblin King smiled a true smile, and Sarah’s breath caught at the beauty of it. “Then I shall prepare for your arrival,” he said with a bow, and disappeared.
“Toby will be happy,” Sarah murmured to herself before turning to the two professors.
“It looks like I’m leaving you without a librarian,” she said apologetically.
Albus shook his head, giving her a friendly smile. “You’ve completed your contract and, what’s more, even assisted in the defense of Hogwarts. You have more than fulfilled our expectations, Sarah.”
“Yes,” Minerva agreed fondly. “Do feel free to visit now and again.”
“I will,” Sarah promised, and impulsively hugged the older witch. “Thank you for everything. I need to begin packing, and then find Tonks and Remus to say goodbye, and Hermione as well. Oh, there’s so much to do,” she murmured to herself as she headed for her quarters.
Right before she exited the room, she turned back to the couple just in time to see a goblin yank down on Albus’ beard while another tripped Minerva. Their lips crashed together and there was a moment of stillness before they moved even closer as the kiss grew more heated.
“That one’s for you, Xiomara,” Sarah murmured under her breath with a grin, whistling cheerfully as she walked down the hall. “I just wish you were here to see it.”
She wondered who had won the betting pool.