Somewhere in western New York State, September 8, 1996 Never in her life had Hannah Abbott been so grateful that American schools often didn’t start until after Labor Day. Her entrance into the secluded Appalachian valley had been observed by every member of the staff and faculty of New York State Wizarding School; if the students had been there too to gape at her, she didn’t think she could have stood it. The last thing she wanted at that moment was people looking at her. They’d been looking at her from the moment the British Ministry employee had entered the Hogwarts greenhouse, called out her name, and asked her if she would come outside with him.
But there was noone staring at her now, because there was noone in the room except her. She was in the main section of the principal’s office. There was an inner office beyond in which the principal, Mr. Bobwhite, was talking with her father. There was something about a principal’s office (and a Headmaster’s office too, she supposed, though she’d never been in the Hogwarts’ Headmaster’s office) that made a student feel like a little kid, even a 16-year-old student like Hannah, but more unusually, it made her feel safe rather than scared, even after the door opened and Mr. Bobwhite and her father came back in.
Mr. Bobwhite wasn’t the kind of man who could intimidate people anyway. He had grey hair, but he didn’t look to Hannah to really be very old, and his face was surprisingly soft, though more nervous. If he had been Professor Dumbledore, who was in charge of Hogwarts, or his deputy Professor McGonagall, Hannah knew he would have given her a piercing stare, which would cut straight through her face like a Legilimens, but Mr. Bobwhite didn’t seem to look at her face as much as he looked at her hair, or higher. “So...Miss Abbott?” He asked.
“That’s her,” Hannah’s father answered for her.
“Yes. Well...you know new students are supposed to have registered much earlier than the day before Labor Day.”
“We talked this over, and you agreed to let her in despite that. You've seen the record of our legal residence, and I can produce extra Muggle-based records if you want: northwest corner of New York City, within the overlap zone, so she is eligible for enrollment here.”
“I did agree...welcome to New York State, Miss Abbott. If you’ll just sit right there, I’ll send in Mrs. Hesselwin.”
Hannah tried to remember who Mrs. Hesselwin was, but she hadn’t really been paying attention when her name had come up. Really, she hadn’t been paying attention at all.
Mrs. Hesselwin was a witch who was younger than Mr. Bobwhite, but much taller. Hannah wondered what they looked like standing next to each other. Funny, probably.
She tapped Mr. Bobwhite’s chair before sitting down in it, and Hannah saw it change size for her. Then she put in front of her a partly unrolled bundle of parchment. Hannah recognized the broken Hogwarts seal on the top edge. “We have received your transcript from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll be pleased to hear you passed all subjects at the O.W.L. level necessary to more or less qualify for sixth year here at New York State, though those which you failed we will need to assess your skill at, at least in Transfigurations and Potions. However, I don’t see much trouble.”
She was trying, Hannah supposed, not to think about the fact that this meant New York State had lower standards than Hogwarts. Which was the biggest reason she was here, and she’d admit that freely to herself. The murder of her mother had sparked the transfer of schools, but Hannah thought that a month, two at most, and she might have changed schools anyway.
“Since you enrolled so late, it has fallen to me to see to your schedule.” For a moment the word “schedule” jarred Hannah; she had a strange feeling of being back in Muggle elementary school. At Hogwarts they’d always called it a “timetable.” “Our five requirements for juniors at New York State are the same as the requirements for the first five years at Hogwarts, except we don’t require the History portion: Transfigurations, Charms, Potions, Herbology, and Defense Against the Dark Arts.” Actually, Hogwarts required Astronomy too, but Hannah didn’t point that out. “We teach Charms, Herbology, and Defense Against the Dark Arts at about the same pace as Hogwarts, and as you passed the O.W.L.s for all three, we can put all three onto your schedule easily. I will more tentatively put you down for Transfigurations and Potions 6. As I said, I think you’ll test in without too much trouble.” Her eyes fell back on the transcript, and Hannah had the feeling they were on the T she’d gotten for Transfiguration. “I’m afraid there’s little use with you continuing your study of Ancient Runes here; a passing mark on the O.W.L. leaves it likely you’ve already learned all we could teach you. However, you may continue on with Muggle Studies and Divination, which would fill up your day schedule. Though as you failed the Astronomy O.W.L., I’m afraid you’ll probably have to take that class with the lower years-again we’ll need an assessment test.”
But then, Hannah thought it wasn’t impossible she might have passed that O.W.L., if everyone hadn’t been distracted during the testing session. But she still remained silent, as Mrs. Hesselwin rambled on, “You’ll have to drop Herbology for a history course next year; I’ll have to consult someone on that. Ah, Mr. Bobwhite.”
Mr. Bobwhite had returned, and he looked upset. “Mr. Abbott, Miss Abbott,” he said, “if you could wait outside for a moment. Mrs. Hesselwin and I must talk in private.”
Very alarmed, Hannah headed outside into the corridor, her father following. “Do you think they’ll turn around and refuse us?” she asked him.
“I don’t know, Hannah. I hope not.”
For ten long minutes, the two of them stood outside, Hannah staring at the decor. While Hogwarts had been made of grey stone, New York State was made almost entirely of red bricks, but even so, they didn’t seem much like the other bricks she had seen in her life. Other bricks lacked the magical charge that seeped into the walls here. The same thing had happened at Hogwarts, and maybe happened at all magic schools.
Finally the door opened, and Mrs. Hesselwin emerged, looking a bit shaken. “Miss Abbott, if you will follow me?”
Without waiting for an answer, she took Hannah’s hand and began leading her down the corridor towards the staircase. Hannah waved goodbye to her father, who waved back.
It was when they reached the stairs that Hannah first felt the sense of foreignness creep in. They were made of red brick, like the walls, and felt solid beneath her feet in a way the Hogwarts stairs never entirely had, not to mention wedged between the walls. These stairs, she thought, would go the same place no matter what day of the week it was. She felt almost relieved when Mrs. Hesselwin said to her, “Jump the next-to-last step; that’s a trick step.”
She led Hannah into the first classroom, which Hannah thought looked cheerier than most of the Hogwarts classrooms. The walls were lined with a soft tan stone, which was kept in better condition than Hogwarts’ craggy stone walls, with a strip of rock that went around the room just under the ceiling, and generated enough light to bathe the room in a soft glow. The desks were much like those at Hogwarts, except at a glance, at least, the legs didn’t look at all rickety.
“Sit down. I’ll be back in a moment.” Hannah took a seat near the door and stared at the blackboard. She couldn’t recall ever seeing a blackboard so clean, either at Hogwarts or at her Muggle elementary school. It gave her the creeps again.
Mrs. Hesselwin returned with a large crate, out of which she first took a pair of clay figurines. Hannah recognized them as the figures of the human and the house-elf typically used for a first attempt at Switching Spells. This, she was convinced, everyone at Hogwarts had mastered by the time they took their O.W.L.s, including her. Mrs. Hesselwin had barely finished saying, “Perform a Switch for me,” when the two heads were settled neatly on the opposite figurines. Well, not quite; the house-elf was just a touch too much to the right, but it was still pretty good.
Without comment Mrs. Hesselwin examined the figurines, then said, “Switch them back.” Switching back was easier to do; this time Hannah’s performance was flawless.
The next item surprised Hannah. It was a Muggle radio, though it had no electric cord, and she thought was rigged to work on magic. Ignoring her open confusion, Mrs. Hesselwin placed it in front of her and said, “Change it.”
“Into what?” Hannah asked.
“Into a book! What else?” Mrs. Hesselwin snapped, and Hannah grew angry. How in the world was she supposed to know what Mrs. Hesselwin wanted her to do?
She forced herself to calm down, then gave it her best go. What she ended up making was in fact a book, though the pages were a little thick, and the cover was even thicker, and the whole thing still had a metallic sheen.
Mrs. Hesselwin clucked with disapproval even before she picked up the book for closer examination. Hannah openly flinched when the pages clanged against each other. It only got worse as she flipped through them, creating a symphony of clings and clangs all of which slapped hard against Hannah’s ears. Their echoes remained in the air even after Mrs. Hesselwin put the book back down and tapped it once with her wand, turning it back into a radio.
Hannah felt better when the radio was replaced by an empty potion bottle. She was surprised when instead of the normal hawk, Mrs. Hesselwin ordered her to change it into a gila monster. Even so, her gila monster looked like it had everything in place. After her examination of it, Mrs. Hesselwin appeared to agree.
“Change it back.” That was harder for Hannah. She always hated doing this to animals, because she was really killing them. Even if they’d only just come into existence she hated it. On the first wave of her wand nothing happened. On the second the monster exploded. Though at least as the bits of it clattered on the desk, they did so as bits of green-coloured stone instead of as animal guts.
“Hmmmm,” Mrs. Hesselwin considered. “Stay there.” She took out her own wand and waved them over the shattered gila monster-stone, cause them to come back together in the form of the potion bottle.
“I think that should be sufficient for Transfigurations testing. I’ll need some time to prepare a Potions assessment, and of course the Astronomy assessment will need to be done late tonight. I’ll take you back to the principal’s office so we can see about setting you up in a dorm room.”
As Mrs. Hesselwin led her and her father into a clean, bright room with white walls and white bedsheets, she said, “Your roommate hasn’t arrived yet, I see. She should be here within a few hours at the most. Claim whichever side you like.”
They threw the suitcases onto the bed while Hannah found herself looking under the bed to see if they would fit there. She thought two of them might, but not three. The third would have to go into the closet. Her closet. There were two of them; both tiny, but still. It would be such a relief after the impossibly stuffed collective closet of the Hufflepuff dorm.
The bed itself was much smaller than her bed at Hogwarts had been, though, and much less pretty. No curtains, nothing of that sort. There wasn’t any wood in it either-all metal and wire. When she sat on it, Hannah could feel it sag. Then her father sat down on the bed too, and raised his eyebrows at how far his body sank.
“Do you replace the mattresses that often?” he asked, turning around, but Mrs. Hesselwin had left them to unpack without so much as a goodbye. “Be sure to ask someone that, Hannah.”
“I’ll ask my roommate when she arrives.” Hannah was already opening up her suitcases while looking at the dresser. Pale wood, again much less pretty than her dresser at Hogwarts, but about the same size, which was a little small for a year’s worth of clothes. There was a uniform here at New York State, but it typically wasn’t required for the first week or so, which was a good thing, because Hannah wouldn’t have it until then. She would be wearing her Hogwarts robes in the meantime.
She was long used to getting her clothes away by herself, so her father stood by the window and stared out of it as she worked. “Your mother was right,” he commented absently. “The valley really is very beautiful. More so than the Hogwarts grounds.”
She joined him there when her things were put away. She was stunned to discover he was right; the view was breathtaking. She hadn’t realized how high up they were; the ground fell far, far below them, visible only as a deep green image beneath the translucent mist that clung continually to the back of the valley. Above it rose the mountains, also green at this time of year, looming far over their window. If Hannah craned her neck, she could just see the peaks. They were a kind of odd fuzzy grey but they looked like they were touching the top of the sky. And this was just the back of the valley; Hannah hadn’t looked very closely at the rest of it but she now thought that might be even more beautiful.
There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” said Hannah’s father. Hannah stayed at the window, not looking behind her, not wanting to stop looking yet.
Until she heard a familiar voice say, “Mr. Abbott? I’m here to see Hannah.”
She whirled around with a cry of “Alfred!” and ran across the room. Alfred Fadton scooped her up as they hugged; when they’d met in fifth grade they’d been the same height but since then he’d grown much taller than her. “How’d you know I was here?”
“There was an article in the paper about your mother which said you were planning to transfer here. It was a shock to hear about her, I never imagined...I’m so sorry.”
“I never really thought it could happen either,” said Hannah. “I think he went after her because I went to Hogwarts, of course, but still...we all have to be more on our guard now.”
“Why don’t you come in and sit down for a moment?” Hannah’s father suggested. “I’m sure you have a lot to do with unpacking, but surely you can take five minutes.”
“I can take a little time,” said Alfred, and they went back into the room. The two of them sat down on the bed, which sagged again, but Alfred took no notice. “I just got here. I found your room by that old tracking spell.”
“What old tracking spell?” asked Hannah’s father.
“Didn’t mother tell you?” asked Hannah, confused. “When I went with Ernie and Justin to see the Quidditch Cup, Ernie’s brother David put a spell on all our wands so when we said each other’s names our wands would point to each other, in case any of us got lost.” They’d come in handy, too, after the camp had been attacked by Death Eaters and she’d been separated from the others fleeing into the woods. “After I told Alfred about it, he suggested we have out wands similarly enchanted, so mother put a spell on them.”
“No, she never told me. Strange. But how did that article get into the paper? I didn’t talk to anyone about it? Did you, Hannah?”
Alfred shrugged. “I can get the paper if you want.”
“No,” said her father. “In fact, throw it out. Such shamelessness should not be kept.”
“I wouldn’t call it shameless,” said Alfred. “They didn’t get all melodramatic or sob-storyish or anything like that. They really just stated that facts.”
“How’d they know Hannah was going to be here? How’d they even know she was at Hogwarts in the first place? They must have done some snooping around for that.”
That had to be true, Hannah thought. She decided to change the subject. “Let me show you the view from the window.” She took him to the other side of the room, her father following a little behind them.
Alfred took in a the view a little placidly. “Did I ever tell you after the view I had my first year here? First-years are kept near the ground, but I was lucky enough to have a room by the window. For most of the day you couldn’t see anything remarkable, just a lot of grass, but very early in the morning, the mist gets so thick it starts playing around, like it has a mind of its own-I think it might, around here. One of my roommates who was an early riser used to wake us up early when he thought it looked more incredible than usual, and I’m afraid we were usually mad at him at the time...” He laughed. “But I’m glad he did it now. One morning you try going downstairs early. You won’t get that kind of view from up here.”
“I think you did mention something about it? You kept going on about the ‘beautiful mist.’ It was that which drove it home to you that you weren’t in the Muggle world anymore, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Alfred softly, “it was.” There was silence then, and he was lost in the memories, she supposed, of when he had first learned he was a wizard and been immersed in their world for the first time.
“We should meet for dinner,” he said after a pause. “Do you know where the dining hall is?”
“Ummm,” Hannah wracked her brain, then shook her head.
“Okay,” Alfred took out his wand and drew a gold dot in the air. “So right now we’re here, up in the junior girls’ dorm. Did you come up using the stairs here?” He outlined them with his wand. When Hannah nodded, he continued to draw a line out. “A little past those stairs and you turn right, here, down this hallway, then the dining hall’s the third door to your left.”
“I see. So we’ll meet you there at...six o’clock?”
“Sounds good.” They went back to the door, and hugged quickly before he headed down the corridor. They waved just before he reached the stairs.
“It’s okay. Do you want help with your trunk?”
“No, my dad’s got it, thank you.” She walked in with her parents following, her father floating the trunk behind her.
Hannah stood up and offered her hand. “Hannah Abbott. This is my father.”
Her new roommate shook it. “Francesca Martinez. These are my parents.” They were a tall family; Francesca was almost a head taller than Hannah, and her father was much taller. They were all clothed in wizard’s clothes, but around Francesca’s neck Hannah noticed a Muggle religious cross.
“So who were you roomed with before?” Hannah asked her.
She saw the sadness in her new roommate’s face, and knew she had been right when she’d guessed about what had happened to the poor girl.
“Her name was Adeline Mayfair. She was like me, a Christian, though she was Muggle-born. She...” She shook her head and started to cry.
“It’s okay,” Hannah whispered softly, placing her hands on Francesca’s shoulders.
Francesca breathed in, then said, voice thick with grief, “Mrs. Hesselwin told me when I came in here that she’d been found murdered up by Lake Erie, along with her entire family. And you know what was found above them?"
"The Dark Mark," said Hannah.
Francesca looked shocked she'd guessed. "Yes, exactly that! And noone knows why, why they’d come all the way over here just to kill them, or if they did anything else here-”
“Wait a minute,” said Hannah’s father. “When did this happen?”
“Oh...” Francesca shook her head. “I don’t know. Yesterday or the day before, I think.”
“Do you think they were the same Death Eaters who murdered mother?” Hannah asked him.
“What?” Francesca looked stunned. “Your mother was killed by Death Eaters?”
“Yes, a little less than a week ago. Though I’ve been attending school in Britain these last five years, so that might have been why they went after her.”
“You’ve been in Britain?” Mrs. Martinez interrupted. “How is it over there? Is it as bad as they say?”
“I,” Hannah hesitated. “I haven’t been there this summer, and while I was just there now it was only for a week. Then I heard my mother had been found dead and came back here. My friends there have been writing to me though. They talk about people disappearing every day, people being found dead...”
“God have mercy on them all,” said Mrs. Martinez softly.
“God?” scoffed Hannah’s father. “Forget God. They need to help themselves.”
“Excuse me?” demanded Mr. Martinez, and Hannah, remembering what Professor Burbage had said about Christians being overprotective of their faith, hastily said, “Father, please.”
He only shook his head at both of them. “It’s unpleasant to hear, I know, but you have to face up to what’s going on in the world. My wife and your friends have been murdered.”
“You think we don’t recognize that?” Mr. Martinez demanded, very angry, and Hannah didn’t blame him. “You think, because we believe in God, we somehow haven’t paid attention?”
“No, no,” Hannah protested. “It’s just that...” But she didn’t know what to say next.
“Oh, what were you doing in England anyway?” Francesca snapped at her. “Are you those kind of rich snobs?”
Hannah’s father’s only response was to inform her that Hogwarts was in Scotland, not England, which obviously didn’t help at all, so Hannah said, “No, actually, we’re under an obligation of magical honour.”
“Magical honour,” repeated her father, and they looked at each other, each needing an easy way to explain what they were talking about. He seemed to then decide to tell the whole story. “Back in the early 17th century a certain ancestor of ours, one Sir Edward Thuland, did a great wrong to another man. We don’t know who, how, or even exactly when. All we know is that the man then said to him, ‘For honour, all of your firstborn must live in these isles, but never call them home,’ and the laws of the time allowed him to magically bind Sir Edward to comply with this demand. By firstborn, he meant Sir Edward’s firstborn child, then that child’s firstborn, and so on and so forth, up to myself and Hannah. It’s been typical for members of our family to fulfill the obligation by doing their schooling at Hogwarts; Hannah’s been there the past five years, so she’s done that.”
“Surely such a thing isn’t still enforced,” Mrs. Martinez protested. “The law still isn’t in effect, is it?”
“No,” said Hannah’s father, “the obligations are no longer made. But the binding can’t be broken. My mother actually defied the obligation; after she divorced my father she fell in love with a man in England and moved there permanently to be with him. Both of them and their son suffered terrible fates.”
“So you mean your family is trapped?” Francesca asked, horrified. “Forever? Wizarding law actually allowed that at one time?”
“Actually,” said Hannah, “I had a conversation about this once with another girl. Her name was Shannon, and she came from a really old family on her mother’s side which once had a similar obligation in their line, and she told me that according to law there had to be something a descendent could always do to lift the obligation. Someone in her family did it early in the 20th century and now they’re free. She suggested that if we could find out what Sir Edward did, we might be able to try to lift it. But we have no idea...”
“So not a very good situation,” her father concluded.
“If I had been your ancestors,” commented Francesca, “I would have kept my records better!”
While they had been talking, the Martinez family had also been taking clothes out of Francesca’s trunk and sorting them into piles on her bed. Her school robes were laid out carefully, her cloaks next to them, her casual robes were bundled on the other side of the cloaks. While she had no Muggle outerwear, which was a little surprising, there was a quickly growing pile of Muggle panties, as well as plenty of socks and stockings. Her shoes were already lined up at the foot of the bed.
Out of another suitcase her mother now took a bedside clock and when Hannah saw the time on it she exclaimed, “Nearly five! Where did the time go?”
“Do you need to be anywhere tonight?” asked Francesca.
“Well I told my friend Alfred that I would meet him for dinner at six. Would you like to come eat with us?”
“Sure, if I can get everything put away quickly enough.”
“Do you want me to help?” Hannah asked, standing up.
“Um...” Francesca looked from Hannah to her father, though Hannah couldn’t think why she looked so nervous. “Maybe you could get my clothes for me? The robes and cloaks all go in my closet, and all the piles go in their own drawer-I’ll get the hangers out. Underwear top drawer, nightwear second drawer,” she pulled out a nightgown as she spoke, “then socks and tights.”
“You’ve got this well-planned, don’t you?” Hannah noted as she scooped up two robes.
“And you don’t?” Francesca asked, surprised. “How do you live?”
“You can’t do that at Hogwarts,” Hannah explained, hanging the robes up. “The dressers don’t appreciate it. On the morning you oversleep you’ll hastily reach for your clothes and discover the drawers have all changed places and the top drawer is now the bottom drawer.”
“And noone does anything about that?” asked Mrs. Martinez.
For a moment the question confused Hannah, and that was far from hidden her response. “It...never occurred to me that they should, actually. You get used to it, and then you don’t really mind anymore. Besides, if you tried to change all the things at Hogwarts that behaved like that, even if it was possible to do so, which I don’t think it is, it would take you...oh, I don’t know, ten years at least. Not to mention they don’t even keep record of all the castle’s idiosyncrasies. I don’t think anyone knows about all of them, except maybe the house-elves. Maybe not even them.”
“It’s really not that bad,” her father added. “During my time there, I even grew to enjoy it.”
“And did you enjoy it?” Francesca asked Hannah. “If you did, I’m afraid you’ll miss it here.”
“‘Enjoy’ isn’t a good word for it,” said Hannah. “But I think I will miss it, one way or the other.”