Part Two: Second Year
Chapter Thirteen: The Workshop
The Muggle world felt wrong.
Hogwarts was filled with nooks and crannies, hidden alcoves and spiral staircases, but everything was neatly rectangular at Number Four, Privet Drive. The anemic electric lights were a pale imitation of a flickering, crackling fire, and the front garden was little more than a patch of grass, not a single blade out of place, its perimeter brimming with meticulously arranged flowerbeds. Just like everything else in the Muggle world, there was nothing wild there, nothing truly alive.
Claustrophobia was setting in, and Victoria found herself longing for wide, open spaces—forests and valleys and sprawling castles perched atop tall cliffs. Little Whinging's park offered some respite, but even that felt cramped, the busy road never out of sight. She was therefore jumping at every chance to leave the house, accompanying Petunia on trips to the bank, post office or the shops.
When they weren't out and about, she was put to work in the garden, weeding, watering and planting new flowers. It was awfully dull compared to herbology—the Muggle plants didn't even fight back when you pruned them—but under Victoria's magical touch the garden had blossomed to become the envy of the neighbourhood. As word spread, Petunia's friends began visiting for afternoon tea with increasing regularity.
"Never seen roses that colour before," they would say, "bright purple! A new breed, is it?" Or: "Tulips in July! Well I never!" No doubt Petunia suspected that Victoria was doing something unnatural, but she seemed content to feign ignorance so long as the garden continued to draw admiring comments from the members of the Little Whinging Garden Association.
For her part, Victoria hadn't intended to use herbology—it had just slipped out, an instinct that was difficult to control. She wasn't even sure if she could tell the difference, now, between magical and non-magical handling of plants. Was stamping on the soil to summon worms magic, or was that something Muggles did too?
It was curious, however, that her herbology had not attracted the attention of the Ministry of Magic, in spite of the warning she had received with her end-of-year report. Victoria had a growing suspicion that certain magic was too subtle for the Ministry to detect, a suspicion which was confirmed when, in a moment of recklessness fueled by boredom, she animated one of her origami birds. After several days without punishment, she decided it was safe to use a little bit of magic.
She didn't dare cast anything with her wand—a proper spell would surely gain the Ministry's ire—but as July wore on, Victoria took great joy in experimenting with new ways to draw out her powers. She found an old skipping rope and discovered that, with just the right rhythm, she could linger at the top of her jump for longer than was natural. She figured out that slamming her bedroom door as hard as she could (something which annoyed Petunia no end) would fix the door handle in place, effectively locking it. And, quite by accident, she learnt that swearing at a burnt slice of toast would cause all the burnt bits to fall off.
Though unimpressive compared to what she could do with a wand, these little magics helped Victoria to overcome her feeling of isolation, connecting her in a small way to the magical world she missed. She was so busy, in fact, that she entirely forgot about her approaching birthday at the end of July.
Her birthdays were never so much celebrated by the Dursleys as they were begrudgingly recognised. It was always the same: whereas Dudley would receive a small mountain of colourfully wrapped presents, Victoria would come to breakfast to find a single white envelope resting on top of her plate.
"... hundred metres tomorrow," Vernon was saying as she entered the kitchen, a copy of The Telegraph obscuring him from view, "looks like we might have a shot with Christie."
"Lovely, dear," Petunia said distractedly.
Victoria took her place at the table while her aunt bustled about, frying some bacon and fiddling with their new, very expensive coffee-maker. The Dursleys took great pride in it, being the only family on the street to own such a machine. They fancied that it made them more American.
"Of course, this Christie fellow isn't really British," Vernon continued, "Jamaican, I think, but we'll take what we can get, eh? What do you say, Dudders? Worth a watch?"
Victoria reached forward for the Coco Pops. "Dudley's still in bed."
Vernon let the top of his broadsheet flop forwards, giving him a view of Victoria. "Oh, it's you."
"Here we go!" Petunia announced, passing Vernon a steaming mug of coffee.
"Ta, Pet." He took a sip and pulled a face at the bitter taste. "Delicious," he lied, smacking his lips together, before looking down at the envelope in front of Victoria. "Well, what're you waiting for? You only turn thirteen once, you know!"
She reached for the envelope, muttering under her breath.
"What's that, girl?" Vernon said, "speak up!"
"I'm twelve, not thirteen."
"More's the pity," Vernon said, looking sideways at Petunia, "yet another year before you can move out. Now, get on with it! I have to go to work soon."
Already knowing what she would find, Victoria fixed a smile on her face and braced herself for the usual disappointment. Inside the envelope was a card, and inside the card was a folded sheet of paper containing a poorly-typed list of expenses. Vernon wrote it each year, thoroughly detailing the costs of her room and board, before generously writing off her "debt" as a birthday gift.
If only he knew that Victoria had a huge pile of gold sitting beneath London… but then, even if he did know, she would sooner kiss Pansy Parkinson's feet than pay Vernon a single galleon of wizarding gold.
"Well?" Petunia said, "what do you say to your uncle?"
"Thank you," Victoria said, not willing to risk a thirty minute lecture on the importance of gratitude. "Even the goblins would be impressed."
Vernon's eyes narrowed, no doubt suspecting sarcasm, but he was clearly unwilling to engage in an argument which might involve the word "goblin". Petunia finally took a seat at the table with half a pink grapefruit.
"Young lady, what have we said about M-words?" she said, "let's not spoil your birthday with that nonsense. Now, after breakfast, I thought we might go clothes shopping. How'd you like that? You're getting a bit big for some of your old dresses."
"That sounds nice," Victoria said. While she would never spend her own money on Muggle clothes—not when she could buy robes instead—she wouldn't say no to a couple of extra dresses.
Vernon left for work, and soon enough Petunia drove Victoria down to Great Whinging high street, where a number of charity shops were to be found. As they looked for a parking space, once again Victoria was struck by the strangeness of the Muggle world, all concrete and plastic and glass. It was as if the Muggles were determined to kill off all connection to nature.
She had been thinking about this a lot over the summer. Muggle technology depended on the laws of nature, and yet Muggles seemed so disconnected from everything green and living. Meanwhile, wizards lived in close contact with the natural world, even though their powers continuously defied it. At first Victoria thought that it was simply because wizards didn't need things like electricity and roads, but her time in the garden had made her rethink that idea. Magic was supernatural, yes, but it was also closely connected to nature. It was an interesting contradiction.
Eventually they found a parking space and made their way to the shops. As Victoria browsed the racks, even the clothes seemed odd, lacking the elegant flowing lines and grandeur of wizarding robes. She just couldn't understand the appeal of jeans, all scruffy-looking and rough on the skin. This, at least, was a viewpoint which Petunia shared, and her aunt made noises of approval when Victoria picked out a couple of flowery dresses. They couldn't quite pass for dress robes—their short sleeves saw to that—but she might be able to use them as inner robes.
After paying for the dresses they went to the supermarket, where Petunia let Victoria push the trolley as a birthday treat. It was a decision she came to regret: Victoria took the opportunity to race around the shop floor, Petunia hissing at her to behave as she narrowly avoided collisions with other customers and shop displays.
Their winding, hazardous route at last brought them to the cake section.
"Hurry up and pick one," Petunia said, looking rather frazzled, and Victoria quickly selected a sponge cake, placing it in the trolley. Petunia frowned. "Why don't we have a chocolate one? Everyone likes chocolate."
Chocolate cake was Dudley's favourite.
Victoria sighed. "Yes, Aunt Petunia."
It was past noon by the time they returned home. Victoria helped put the food away and set the table for lunch, at which point Dudley finally surfaced. He too had spent the last year away from home, boarding at a posh all-boys school called Smeltings, and he had returned a very different boy. He slept late, avoided his family like the plague, and every other word out of his mouth was a swear word. Victoria could tell it bothered Petunia, but Vernon waved off her concerns: "boys will be boys".
"How about some salad, Popkin?" Petunia asked, loading up Dudley's plate with sandwiches, crisps, pork pie and a slice of pizza. Dudley simply grunted and took the plate, tucking in without another word. He didn't touch the salad.
They ate in silence. Victoria had pizza, some coleslaw and a packet of crisps. It was quite a satisfactory birthday lunch, and she was eagerly looking forward to the chocolate cake, even though it wasn't her favourite. But then, just as they were clearing away their plates, a heavy thump came from the top of the house. Petunia shrieked, dropping a glass which smashed loudly on the floor, and a moment later footsteps could be heard coming from directly above them. A man's voice followed, drifting in through the open kitchen window:
"I say!" he said, and the voice sounded familiar to Victoria, though she couldn't place it, "where's their skydoor?"
"Maybe Muggles don't have skydoors," responded the voice of Susan Bones, Victoria's best friend. "They don't have brooms, do they?"
An "eep!" of happiness escaped Victoria's lips and she jumped up from table. "Excuse me!" she cried, hurrying out the kitchen door and into the back garden.
"Now, Susan, don't be prejudiced," Mr Bones was saying, his voice coming from high above, "the Muggles know how to fly, there was a programme about it on the wireless."
He was standing on the roof, balancing awkwardly on the sloped tiles. Mr Bones was tall and lanky, with coppery-red hair like his daughter, and was wearing beige, linen robes suited to the summer heat. Floating next to him was an extremely long broom with three saddles down its length. Susan was sitting in the middle saddle, waving down at Victoria with a grin on her face, her long hair tied up in a bun.
"Ho there!" Mr Bones called, spotting Victoria in the garden below. "Where's your skydoor?"
Victoria had never heard of skydoors, but she could easily figure out what they were. "We don't have one! Can't you come down?"
"Told you!" Susan said, sticking her tongue out at her dad.
"Yes, yes," he said in a long-suffering tone. "Be down in a tick!"
He mounted the saddle at the front of the broom and pushed off gently, not so much flying as floating down into the garden. The moment they were on the ground, Susan jumped off the broom and engulfed Victoria in a hug.
Meanwhile, Mr Bones was pulling his wand out and pointing it at the roof. "Obliviate Muggletum!" There was no visible effect, but he nodded in satisfaction. "That should do it, I think."
"Do you want to come in?" Victoria said, gesturing at the kitchen door, "we were about to have cake."
She led them into the house, where Petunia was clearing up the smashed glass with a dazed look on her face. Dudley was still eating, apparently oblivious to everything around him.
"Mind the glass!" Petunia said as they entered, "I don't know how I did it…"
"Allow me," Mr Bones said, and with a flick of his wand the shards of glass floated up and came together like the pieces of a puzzle. He plucked the repaired glass out of the air and handed it to Petunia, who had now lost her dazed look and was instead scowling at Mr Bones' wand.
"None of that here, thank you," she snapped, quickly placing the glass on the counter like it might give her a disease. She took in the visitors, noting their robes with a slight curl of her lip. "You're here to take her away, are you?"
"With your permission," Mr Bones said, "I've cleared it with the Ministry of Magic, of course, and we've had a charm-mason lay down extra security. Nothing like what you've got here, but I understand it's been several years since the last—"
"That sounds fine," Petunia interrupted, her voice strained, no doubt distressed from the sudden invasion of magic into her home. "Will you be leaving straight away?"
Mr Bones seemed to pick up on Petunia's state of mind. He looked to Victoria, a question in his eyes, and she nodded. "Perhaps that would be best."
Susan pulled on her father's sleeve. "But Dad," she whispered, "what about the cake…?"
"Oh!" Petunia said, "why, I completely forgot…"
"Victoria will need to pack her things," Mr Bones said. "Why don't we see to the cake while Susan helps her?"
The girls left the adults in the kitchen and made their way upstairs. Susan was looking around with curiosity, her eyes lingering on the unmoving photographs hanging on the walls.
"Well, here we go," Victoria said, opening her bedroom door, "welcome to chez Victoria." The room was as neat as ever, though not as bare as it used to be. The desk was piled high with books and parchment, and the pale pink walls had several dog-eared posters stuck to them, each one depicting wand movements. Like all magical posters, the drawings moved.
"So that's where Flitwick's old posters went," Susan said. She tapped her finger on the radiator beneath the window. "What's this?"
"You use it to heat the house in the winter," Victoria explained. "It's not on at the moment."
"And that?" Susan said, pointing at the lightbulb. "Is that an eclectic light?"
Victoria giggled. "Yes it is," she said, not correcting her friend. "Here, watch." She flicked the switch and the bulb lit up with a pale yellow light, barely visible in the daylight.
If Susan was underwhelmed, she didn't show it. "How clever! It's just like bottled lightning!"
"The cooker downstairs is eclectic too," Victoria said, "maybe I can show you that on the way out."
It didn't take long to pack, as most of her things were already in her trunk—she couldn't wear robes in the Muggle world, after all. Together they managed to carry the heavy trunk and Dumbledore's carry-case down the stairs and back into the kitchen.
"Ah, here they are," Mr Bones said. He was holding three slices of cake wrapped in paper towels, which he gave to Susan after levitating the trunk. "All ready?"
They went back outside where the broom was waiting for them. There was a wooden box at the rear of the shaft which Mr Bones now swung open, levitating the trunk and Dumbledore's carry-case inside. Victoria stared—the trunk alone had been several times larger than the box, yet seemed to fit inside it easily. The slices of cake were next into the apparently bottomless space, and then Mr Bones was clambering into the front saddle. "Hop on, girls!"
It was at that point, as Susan mounted the middle saddle with practised ease, that Victoria realised that she was about to fly for the first time. She hesitated.
"Uh, so, I've never actually—"
"Nothing to it, my dear!" Mr Bones said, "never fear, we've got all the latest charms. You'll be plenty warm."
The temperature hadn't even occurred to her. She was rather more concerned with falling off.
"But don't you need training to fly?"
"Not to be a passenger," Susan said. She patted the saddle behind her. "Come on, you'll love it, I swear."
Victoria mounted the broom awkwardly, making sure to firmly secure the skirt of her dress underneath her. Her legs dangled either side of the saddle in a distinctly unladylike manner and she was suddenly quite glad she was at the back. At least the saddle was comfortable.
"Now, we'll need to be invisible until we reach the clouds," Mr Bones explained. "You girls up for a bit of peddling?" He pushed a button and a set of pedals dropped down beneath each saddle, at just the right height for Victoria to slip her feet beneath the straps.
"Maybe I could just ride in the box," she muttered, but no-one heard her. Mr Bones lowered a pair of goggles over his eyes.
"Here we go!"
They rose slowly into the air, the broom tilting so that its front was pointing skyward. "Oh no," Victoria moaned, having to lean forward just to feel like she wasn't hanging off the end. She clutched the shaft of the broom in front of her. "You lied! I don't like this at all!"
Susan laughed, and then they were shooting upwards like they'd been launched from a catapult. "Pedal, girls, pedal!" Mr Bones was shouting, barely audible above the whistling of the wind, and Victoria pedaled for her life, her loose hair blowing in every direction. The broom and its occupants began to shimmer into invisibility.
Victoria's eyes widened as the broom disappeared. She screamed and she swore, chanting "crap-crap-crap," to the sound of Susan whooping; her thighs were gripping the saddle so hard that they began to wobble from the strain. Though she could still feel wood beneath the death-grip of her fingers, it looked like there was nothing between her and the rapidly diminishing ground. She couldn't even see her own arms.
Then there was dampness, like someone had sprayed a fine mist of water in her face, and a moment later the broom leveled off before slowing to a stop. They had broken through a cloud and were floating above it in glorious sunshine.
"That's enough peddling for now!" Mr Bones called. The broom returned to visibility and Victoria's shoulders slumped in relief. She began to cry and laugh at the same time: though it had lasted mere seconds, she felt completely drained, her dress sticking to her skin in a clammy sweat.
Mr Bones twisted in his saddle to get a look at her. "All right back there?"
Victoria sniffed. "No."
"She's fine," Susan said at the same time. She glanced over her shoulder, a grin on her face. "Your hair's a mess, by the way."
"Thanks," Victoria replied grumpily. She shook her head and her hair came alive, winding itself into a tight plait.
Mr Bones raised an eyebrow. "Don't worry, it's rather more leisurely from here onwards." He pushed the broom forward, a pleasant breeze blowing in their faces as they accelerated. The broom was just skimming the top of the white, fluffy clouds, so close that their feet could almost touch them. Through the gaps in the clouds she could glimpse the world far below, the buildings and roads so small that they could have been a toy model, and though the sight made her feel quite dizzy, she couldn't help but keep looking.
As they made their way north over London, Victoria noticed something interesting: though there were in fact very few clouds, their route never took them into clear skies where Muggles might spot them. It was as if the clouds formed a constantly shifting network of roads in the sky, acting to conceal them from view.
She began to relax. The sun and wind had dried her out quickly, and now the broom was level she could sit back in the saddle without having to clutch it with her thighs. At first she didn't think they were going that fast—certainly the breeze wasn't too strong—but when she risked another glance down, she noticed that the clouds where zooming past beneath them, faster than any car. They quickly left London behind, the urban sprawl giving way to farmland dotted with small towns. Victoria took a deep breath of the cool, clean air. At last she was out of the crowded Muggle world with its smog and litter. This was where she belonged.
Every so often they would pass other flyers in the sky, from lone riders to families on long tandem brooms like their own. Each time they crossed paths with another flyer, Mr Bones would slow down to greet them, often calling out to them by name:
"Byron, old chap! Perfect day for a spot of flying!"
"Leaky on Saturday, Abbott?"
One time they were even overtaken by a greenish blur on a racing broom.
"That's a Cleansweep Six, girls!" Mr Bones shouted as their own broom wobbled in its wake. "Probably one of the Holyhead Harpies!"
Not long after their encounter with the racer, they came across a wooden signpost sticking out of a cloud, directing flyers towards Diagon Alley, Godric's Hollow, Mould-on-the-Wold, Appleby and even Hogsmeade. It was here that they began to veer to the east, heading into the Fens. The land below became flatter, a lush green riddled with rivers.
"Not long now!" Mr Bones said, "but a spot of cake wouldn't go amiss!"
Victoria groaned; she was the only one who could reach the travel box. Carefully, with her heart in her mouth, she turned around in the saddle, each and every wobble convincing her that she'd fall off and plummet to her death. She lifted the lid with shaking hands and thrust her arm inside, feeling around for the cake. Luckily it hadn't shifted much during the flight and so was still near the top.
She passed two slices forward and watched with disbelief as Susan and her dad tucked in, barely seeming to notice that they were perched precariously thousands of feet into the air. Needless to say, Victoria didn't join them. Her hands would remain firmly attached to the broom, thank-you-very-much.
They began to follow the path of a wide river, winding this way and that, and in the distance a tall cathedral could be seen at the centre of a small market town.
"This is us!" Mr Bones said as they passed another signpost, this one reading ELY: 13 MILES. "Time to pedal again!"
If ascending had been bad, descending was even worse. The nose of the broom pointed downwards, and for one awful moment Victoria actually thought she was going to tumble forward into the air, but her feet were still tucked into the straps on the pedals, giving her just enough purchase to squeeze her legs together and lean backwards.
"Oh no, oh no," she kept repeating, her hands flailing for something to grip, eventually settling for the edges of the saddle.
"Victoria!" Susan shouted, "you're not pedaling!"
"I hate you!" Victoria cried, but she pedaled nonetheless, and they passed into the damp cloud. They were invisible by the time they emerged from the other side, and they shot down towards a tall, irregularly shaped building on the east bank of the river. A water wheel jutted out from its side, turning steadily in the rapid current, and ivy grew all over the stone walls. The house—for surely this was where Susan lived—was surrounded by vegetable plots, and beyond them were fields in which a handful of cows grazed. There wasn't a road or electricity pylon in sight.
A flat platform occupied around half of the roof, almost like a Muggle helicopter pad. They circled it as would a carrion bird, each circuit bringing them closer, spiraling downward until they were coming into land. When they did, Victoria jumped off the broom eagerly, her weak legs rejoicing at the feel of solid stone beneath her feet.
"Perfect landing!" Mr Bones said with satisfaction, taking off his goggles and running a hand through his hair.
Susan dismounted casually. She looked windswept, with rosy cheeks and hair coming loose from her bun, but she didn't wobble in the slightest as she got off the broom. "Well done, Dad. Much better than last time."
Mr Bones coughed. "Yes, well, we won't mention that one to your mother when she visits."
Victoria listened to their conversation with alarm. What had happened the last time?
"Oh, don't worry," Susan said, coming over to her and giving her a hug, "I can see what you're thinking already. You're fine, aren't you?"
Victoria leaned into the hug. She was still feeling a bit unsteady. "I'm sorry," she muttered, remembering what she had said on the broom. "I don't hate you." She let go of Susan and turned to Mr Bones, who was extracting her trunk from the travel box. "Thank you for coming to get me."
"Say nothing of it! It's your birthday, after all." He led them over to a sturdy oak door at the edge of the platform, rummaging through his pockets for the key. "Er, Susan, do you perhaps have…?"
Susan sighed and fished an iron key from a hidden pocket at her hip. The door unlocked with a clunk, and she swung it open to reveal a spacious entrance hall with wooden floors and a high, slanted ceiling. The room had the warmth of a greenhouse, a fire burning merily in the hearth and sunlight streaming in through the many skylights. Exotic house plants were placed artfully between the couches and coffee tables, and at the far end of the room the rail of a spiral staircase led down into the house.
Victoria hadn't known what she was expecting—an attic, perhaps, or a small landing—but it wasn't this. It was as if the house had been built upside down, with the front door at the top.
Mr Bones smiled at her expression.
"Welcome to the Workshop."
While Mr Bones was putting the broom away, Susan gave her the grand tour. The house was spread over five floors, large enough that in the Muggle world it would have been considered generously proportioned. The top floor was taken up entirely by the entrance hall, and below that were the reception rooms and a large, well-equipped kitchen. There was a certain rustic, cluttered elegance to it all, with walls of exposed stone, wooden floors littered with rugs, and ornaments from all over the world. A Nigerian face mask hung next to the kitchen window, a large Moroccan vase sat next to a fireplace in the drawing room, and in the sitting room, each armchair had a side table next to it shaped like an Indian elephant.
Victoria was surprised: though the house was beautifully decorated, there was something a bit too clean about it, with little sign that it was lived in at all. She hadn't figured Mr Bones for a neat freak.
"We don't really use these rooms much," Susan explained, "not since Mum left. Now it's just me and Dad, it feels a bit empty up here."
Susan had never mentioned her mother before. It was a topic which Victoria had tried to avoid, assuming that either divorce or death were involved, but now it seemed like Susan was giving her permission to ask.
"When did she leave?"
"When I was eight," Susan replied. She didn't seem upset by the question, but she wasn't looking Victoria in the eye either, busying herself with re-arranging the cushions on an already-tidy settee. "She ran off with Francois. They live in the south of France now, near Narbonne."
"But she comes to visit you? Your dad said…"
"Maybe once a week," Susan said, "it's a new thing we're trying. She's actually coming over tonight, I hope you don't mind…"
"Of course not!" Victoria said. "It's your house, you can invite who you want."
Susan's eyes lit up. "But it's your house too, now! Come on, let me show you."
The next two floors down were full of bedrooms, most of them empty, each of them en suite and bigger than the sitting room at Privet Drive. Susan's room was on the lower of the two floors, the wooden door carved with stars and unicorns and bearing a brass plaque with her name on it. There was another bedroom immediately opposite. Its door was carved like Susan's, this time with cats and snakes, and it too held a plaque:
A lump formed in Victoria's throat. "This is for me?"
"Take a look inside," Susan urged, practically bobbing on her feet.
Like the other bedrooms, Victoria's room was massive, with a king-sized bed and large, bay windows that jutted out from the side of the house. The walls were painted light pink (her favourite colour, as Susan well knew) and several fairy-lamps hung from the ceiling, their shutters currently closed. There was a wardrobe, a well-stocked bookcase and a desk, over which hung a banner reading "HAPPY BIRTHDAY". Her trunk had already made its way there, and Dumbledore was stretched out in a ray of sun by the window.
"It's amazing," Victoria said. She stepped further into the room. Like the rest of the house, everything had been made with care and built to last: the feet of the bed were sculpted in the shape of a lion's paws, the desk chair had a Cushioning Charm engraved into it, and the wardrobe was charmed to be bigger on the inside.
There was a framed photograph on the bedside table. Victoria picked it up and gasped: it was a wizarding photograph of her parents, standing on a rocky beach and waving enthusiastically at the camera. Her mother was red-haired and beautiful, with green eyes like her own; her father was tall, dark-haired and handsome.
"Professor Dumbledore brought that when he came to enchant the room," Susan said, peering over Victoria's shoulder. "I think it's connected to the spells, somehow."
Victoria didn't know what to say. Not even the discovery that she was a witch had left her so speechless. "Thank you," she said softly. "You didn't have to do this."
"Well, we wanted to," Susan said. "Besides, you're gonna be here for a whole month, so it's not like you're just visiting. Now you have a magical home as well as a Muggle one!"
The tour concluded on the ground floor, which was far more homey than the rest of the house. It was clear that this was where the Bones really lived. A second kitchen looked out upon the vegetable patches, much smaller than the one upstairs but well used, with muddy boots next to the back door, half-melted candles on the kitchen table, and jars holding tea leaves and coffee beans by the stove. The kitchen was connected to a cosy den heaped with cushions, blankets and board games, and that in turn led to a small library, the shelves overflowing with generations of accumulated books.
Mr Bones was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. "FUDGE BACKS WEASLEY" declared the headline, and the cover photo depicted a short man in a bowler hat shaking hands with Ron's father. The Minister kept looking distractedly at something out-of-frame, before seeming to remember that he was supposed to be smiling at the camera.
"Episode of Quizarding World tonight," Mr Bones said as they entered. He was looking over the wireless listings. "Might be fun for Victoria."
Victoria nodded. "Sounds interesting." Presumably it was some kind of quiz show.
They had some juice and biscuits—shortbread from a Muggle bakery in nearby Eley, which Mr Bones made them promise to keep secret from Arthur Weasley—before going outside to explore. Susan led her past carrots and cauliflower, rhubarb and raspberries, Victoria's Muggle trainers getting increasingly muddy as they made their way towards the river. The house was shaped like an 'L', with the ground floor extending out towards the river, and it was this extension which held the water wheel.
"What's in there?" Victoria asked, curious as to why a wizard would need such a thing.
"Dad's workshop," Susan explained, "I'm not allowed in but we can look through a window."
They peered in through perfectly clean glass. The inside held an eclectic mix of equipment, with a carpenter's bench and tools, an anvil next to a small furnace, an array of wands hanging on the wall, and even a sewing machine. The room was open where it met the water wheel, which fed into a trough of continuously running water.
Victoria wondered how one person could need all of it. "What does your dad actually do?"
"He repairs broken artefacts," Susan said, "you know, brooms that only turn left, coolboxes that don't stay cold, that sort of stuff."
"And the water?"
Susan shrugged. "I'm not really sure. I think it's got something to do with removing spells from things."
The afternoon was spent outside. They wandered down the river, several times having to hop across mossy rocks to the other side when the east bank became too steep. They climbed trees, played pooh sticks, and looked for frogs, shrieking and running away every time they actually found one. Eventually they doubled back to the house, where Susan rooted out a skipping rope so that Victoria could show her how to hover in the air. Unfortunately Susan wasn't quite able to get the hang of it—she learnt the rhythm easily enough, but she couldn't understand Victoria's instructions to do a "happy jump".
"But I'm smiling as hard as I can!"
"Oh, I'm explaining this all wrong," Victoria moaned, "it's like… a jump with strawberry jam in it."
"Thanks," Susan replied flatly, "that makes loads more sense."
They abandoned the attempt before frustration set in, instead taking turns with the rope, singing skipping rhymes and seeing how long they could keep going. While they were skipping, a visitor arrived at the top of the house by broom.
"Customer!" Mr Bones called out of the kitchen window, "and look at the state of you!" They were splattered with mud, with grass stains on their dresses and messy hair. "Upstairs to clean up, before your mother arrives for tea!"
The girls retreated back to their bedrooms, where they washed and changed while Mr Bones was meeting the new customer. Victoria took her time about it: the day had already been eventful, and it all caught up with her as she lowered herself into the hot water of the bath. She explored the toiletries that had been left for her, scrubbing her face with half a sugar-lemon and washing her hair thoroughly with Sleekeazy's Hair Potion, which smelled strongly of coconut and left her long, dark hair gleaming in the fairylight.
She decided to dress up for the evening, wanting to look nice for her birthday and make a good impression on Susan's mother. She selected the same velvet green dress robe she had worn to Dumbledore's party, slipped Mrs Malfoy's silver charm bracelet onto her wrist, and put up her hair up into a waterfall braid. After vacillating on the matter, she even used the tiniest amount of the makeup Pansy had given her for Christmas, applying some lip gloss and, after several failed attempts, eyeshadow.
It was fortunate that she'd gone to the effort, because when Susan bounced into her room (knocking was apparently not known to Hufflepuffs) she was similarly attired, wearing an embroidered white dress robe and daisies in her hair.
The doorbell rang.
"That's her!" called Mr Bones, and the girls hurried upstairs to the entrance hall, arriving just in time to see Susan's mother step through the fireplace. Mrs Evelyn d'Ivoire was the image of the classic English rose, with cascading chestnut brown hair, fair skin and an hourglass figure. Like most witches in their forties, she could have been mistaken for a woman in her late twenties.
"Bruce!" she cried, seizing Mr Bones by the shoulders and kissing one cheek, then the other, then returning to the first. "So good to see you!"
Mr Bones' cheeks tinged pink. "And you, Evelyn."
Green flames burst into life once more in the fireplace; a second figure emerged, a girl several years younger than Victoria and Susan.
"Oh no!" Susan hissed. "She brought Madeleine!" At Victoria's look of confusion, she added: "My step-sister!"
Madeleine brushed soot off her yellow dress robes and curtsied. "Bonjour, Monsieur Bones."
"Ah, Madeleine," Mr Bones said, clearly surprised by her presence, "um, bonjour to you too."
"You don't mind, do you, Bruce? She needs to practice her English, and I thought the girls ought to get to know each other!" Evelyn said, "now, where's my Susie?" She didn't wait for an answer, descending upon Susan, fussing over her hair and exclaiming how grown-up she looked. After Susan was suitably embarrassed, it was Victoria's turn. "And who is this?"
"Victoria, ma'am," she said, introducing herself with a curtsey.
Evelyn's eyes widened. "Not Victoria Potter?"
"La Survivante?" Madeleine said, gazing at Victoria with undisguised curiosity, like an animal in the zoo. "Mes amis ne me croiront pas!"
"English, Madeleine," Evelyn said, before turning back to Victoria. "Well, aren't you just the prettiest thing. You'll have the boys eating out of your hand in a few years, mark my words. Or the girls, if that's your thing!"
"Mum!" Susan gasped as Victoria blushed heavily, "you can't say things like that!"
Mr Bones coughed. "Shall we?"
They made their way to the ground floor kitchen, where the table had been laid for dinner.
"Really, Bruce, you have a perfectly good dining room," Evelyn complained as they were climbing down the spiral staircase, "why not use it?"
Victoria preferred the kitchen. The candles were lit and the door had been left open, a gentle summer's breeze drifting in with the distant sounds of cattle lowing. When they took their seats, a strange creature holding a tray of food popped into existence, making Victoria jump in surprise. It was just a little shorter than a goblin, with large, bat-like ears, bulging eyes and long fingers. Completely bald, someone had tied pink ribbons at the tips of its ears, and it wore a crisp white pillowcase. She—Victoria was assuming it was a she, given the ribbons—was surely a house-elf.
"Thank you, Topsy," Mr Bones said as the house-elf served each of them a fillet of cod with a mint and pea crust, a green bean salad on the side. "This looks wonderful."
Topsy quivered with excitement. "Master is too kind!" she squeaked, and Victoria wondered if Professor Flitwick had house-elf blood in him. "Topsy is happy to be having visitors again!"
She popped back to wherever she had come from and they began to eat, making all the usual polite sounds of approval that people make when they eat together. Only Madeleine was less than enthusiastic, pushing the fish around on her plate without putting any in her mouth. The adults made small talk about politics and the summer's vegetable crop, but soon their attention turned to the children.
"Did you know the Muggles don't have skydoors?" Mr Bones said, "found out when we went to pick Victoria up earlier. For a moment I thought I'd have to jump down the chimney!"
Victoria giggled. "It's a good thing you didn't! The Dursleys have an eclectic fire, you wouldn't have been able to get through."
"How strange," Evelyn said, "and stranger still that you live with Muggles in the first place! I know I've been out of the country, but how did that happen?"
"Family is family, even if they are Muggles," Mr Bones said, and everyone nodded in acceptance.
Evelyn reached for a bottle of white wine and began to pour herself a generous glass. "But still, it must have been quite the experience. Do you find that you enjoy the Muggle world? I understand that for some it holds a certain gauche attraction."
"It's… different," Victoria said, thinking back on her summer, about all the things that had once seemed normal to her but now felt strange. "It's actually a lot like going back in time. In the magical world, everything just kinda… works. Like, you take a shower and the water's always at just the right temperature. But in the Muggle world, you have to fiddle with all these buttons and taps just to get the water right, and even then it might suddenly change."
"Fascinating," Evelyn said, "of course, we should be happy they have hot water at all! It wasn't so long ago that they invented this eccentricity business. They are quite the industrious people, aren't they?"
Mr Bones nodded. "They've come so far in such a short time. And yet in some respects, I can't help but feel they've gone backwards… you see it when you're flying, cities that go on for miles, dirty rivers and poisoned land… I wager there are a fair few Muggles who've never tasted fresh air in their lives."
Madeleine still hadn't taken a bite of her fish. Evelyn told her to stop being fussy, and an argument broke out in rapid French, a distinct whine to Madeleine's voice which transcended language.
Susan met Victoria's eye. "Ooh la la!" she whispered, mimicking Madeleine's accent, and the two of them giggled, throwing imitations back and forth.
"Girls," Mr Bones said chidingly, and the two of them looked up to find that their conversation had become public. Madeleine was glaring at them. "I think you owe Madeleine an apology."
"Sorry," they muttered.
Evelyn snorted. "You're too easy on them, Bruce. Do you think Amelia would stand for that sort of thing?"
"Amelia doesn't have children," Bruce said. He turned to Victoria. "My sister, I don't know if Susan has mentioned her. She's the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
Victoria's lips twitched. "Is she really?" she said, her voice innocent, ignoring Susan's scowl, "I don't think Susan ever said."
Mr Bones didn't seem to twig that she was joking. "I'm surprised she never mentioned it, we're all very proud of Amelia. But I suppose law enforcement isn't rad for you young people."
Susan rolled her eyes. "No one says rad anymore, Dad."
"Come on, even I know that," Evelyn said with a laugh.
Topsy returned to clear away their plates. Her ears drooped when she came across Madeleine's barely touched fish. "Is it not being good? Topsy can make something different for young Mistress!"
"That's quite all right," Evelyn said kindly, "Madeleine just wasn't very hungry today. She won't be having anything for pudding."
Evelyn held firm. "No dessert unless you finish your mains."
Topsy brought them tarte au citron for pudding, her ears perking up as they all complimented her cooking. Victoria thought she was beginning to get a sense of Topsy's role in the household, somewhere between a servant and a beloved pet. Madeleine watched them eat with envy, and then they retired to the den where Mr Bones tuned the wireless to Radio Minus Four.
"It's just starting!" he called, and they hurried to settle down, burying themselves in the couches with cushions and blankets.
"Welcome to Quizarding World, the weekly quiz where anyone can be a winner! So get your quill at the ready, because tonight might just be your night!"
Mr Bones rummaged through a chest and pulled out some parchment. "Team name?"
"Same as always," Susan said. "Bone-Headed!"
"As usual, our first category is on current affairs. Question one! Which internationally renowned member of the Dark Force Defence League recently accepted the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Master at Hogwarts School?"
"Easy," Mr Bones said, and he scribbled a name on their parchment.
"Who is it?" Victoria asked.
"Only Gilderoy Lockhart!" Susan exclaimed.
But Susan waved her off. "I'll explain later."
"Looks like you all got that one," the announcer said, "no surprises there. Question two…"
The quiz made its way through the categories of history, geography, music, and spells. Victoria was mostly useless, though she did get a question right in the section on spells, while Susan single-handedly carried them through the music round. But it was Mr Bones who was the true hero, quietly contributing the vast majority of their answers.
Perhaps uncharitably, Victoria had been wondering how exactly Mr Bones had ever snagged a woman like Evelyn. She was absolutely stunning, possessing the kind of beauty that would land you the front cover of a magazine. Not only that, but it was clear that she was a forceful woman, with far too strong a character for the affable, bookish Bruce. But as Victoria watched him unassumingly answer almost every question, she began to understand... the real question was how Evelyn ever lost interest.
"And now we come to an audience favourite, the quick-fire round. Quills down for this one folks, and voices at the ready, because the first team to shout the answer gets the points! But be careful… if you give the wrong answer, points will be deducted from your score!"
Victoria grinned. "This is so much better than Muggle shows."
"Question fifty-one! What is the incantation to the Self-Immolation Jinx?"
Mr Bones laughed.
"Just kidding folks! But hopefully someone in Team Belcher remembers the Flame Freezing Charm. A bonus point to that team for commitment to the quiz! Here comes the real question fifty-one: what is the first of the three Essential Potions?"
"Draught of Sparta!" Mr Bones called, barking it out almost immediately. Victoria looked to Susan, who shrugged. They hadn't studied the Essential Potions yet.
"Congratulations to Team Bone-Headed!" the announcer said, and a cheer went up in the den, "question fifty-two…"
They didn't win any of the other quick-fire questions, but one was enough to make them flush with victory, proud to have their team name read out on the wireless. Nine short questions later and the quiz was at an end. The host delivered the results:
"Well folks, I'm afraid they've done it again." Mr Bones groaned. "Team Pigpimple once more storms to victory with a clear lead of seven points. Meanwhile, second place goes to Team Quibbler…"
Mr Bones sighed. "One day we'll get it." He turned the volume down and switched the channel over to the sound of Celestina Warbeck performing live in New York.
The rest of the evening was spent quietly. Mr Bones did the crossword while Evelyn painted the girls' nails. The music washed over Victoria, and she found her eyelids drooping as the relaxing feeling of brush on nail lulled her further into sleepiness. When it was time for Evelyn to leave, Victoria and Susan were herded upstairs, the climb up the spiral staircase waking them up just enough to change into their pyjamas.
The sheets on Victoria's bed were soft and smelt of lavender. The mattress was large enough that she could reach out like a starfish and not touch the edges. As she drifted off to sleep, her last thought was that it had been the best birthday ever.