He bustled about the room, pacing, circling, wringing his hands and rehearsing under his breath. Oh, he'll believe me in the end, he thought to himself, but if I don't do this right there could be questions, too many questions, and hurt feelings. He circled a short table in front of a couch, whereon sat a pile of letters, a little more than half in re-recycled white envelopes, the other in slightly off-beige, more professional and expensive, all opened, all with their contents replaced, in chronological order from top to bottom. He was wearing a comfortable shirt and pants, as he had had the day off and had only just remembered, a few minutes after he made the decision to call, to tell and to share, that he was still in his pyjamas. It had been a stressful day, with only a single decision left to make. It had been made, and now he waited. He waited for the doorbell, to do the one last thing he had to do.
The phone call had been hurried, and he knew that would cost him later. There was no need to have made it: a few days before he had already been assured that everyone would be filled in, and that he didn't have to do anything himself, but he made the call all the same. In the end, the doorbell never rang, but a knock came instead. He opened it and let in the night air, and the rain.
"So, you've pussy-footed about, nervously walked away when you see me in the hallway and have finally whispered in my ear that you'd meet me in the janitor's closet after Mrs. Appleton's algebra class if I'm interested." The man from outside scowled at him. "So are we going to make out first or would you rather talk about your feelings?"
"That's funny, House." Wilson stepped aside and let his friend walk past. "I always assumed your first kiss came just after the words 'It'll be fifty dollars an hour, a hundred if you're planning on anything weird.'"
House pulled off his boots and stood suddenly, giving his friend a suspicious look. After a pause, he said "Interesting. That's Natasha's going rate." Wilson coughed and House walked past him, still dripping onto the floor, into the kitchen and the fridge within. "She's got a good head on her shoulders," he was heard through the door as he collected an apple and a bagged lunch before turning around. "A few months ago she adjusted for inflation and everything." Wilson lowered his eyes and snatched away the lunch and House, a look of feigned hurt on his face for a moment or two, started on his apple.
"I called you here because I'm about to go on a long trip." Wilson walked back out of the kitchen and into the living room, dropping down in the couch next to his pile of letters. "I'm not going to be back for—" Wilson was interrupted by the sound of House dragging, with his cane, a chair from the kitchen to the living room. It scrapped across the hardwood and Wilson tried to speak only once more before giving up entirely and waiting, with a look of annoyance on his face, as House pulled it across the carpet of the living room to stop across the table from his friend. He set his cane hanging from one end of it and plopped himself down, the chair facing the wrong way and he resting his arms on the backrest.
With a slight sigh, Wilson continued. "I'm not going to be back for… a year, in the short term." House's eyebrow shot up in interest and a smile slowly came to his lips.
"Oh do I get to guess? Okay, here goes. Getting away from all those annoying dying patients of yours? Getting away from Cuddy? You fought the law and the law is going to win if you don't disappear to Barbados from here till next August?" Wilson rolled his eyes, but House continued in a childish voice. "But you can't leave, Doctor Wilson, there's so much left to do, so many plot threads left hanging!"
Wilson sighed again and laid back into the couch, his arms crossed across his chest as he examined the near wall and window. "You know, this is exactly why I decided I had to tell you the truth, because if I don't, you'll just poke your nose where it doesn't belong until one day something will pop up and bite you for it."
"Ooh. Now this is interesting." House spun the chair around and sat in properly. "Alright, mommy, let's go with story time."
Wilson leaned in, over the letters, and stared his explanation. "A few months ago one of my patients was talking about how she was investigating her genealogy. She said she always wanted to look into it and the cancer was giving her a reason to track down her family while she still could. One day after a check-up with her I was… bored and decided it wouldn't be such a bad idea. I mean, who knows? It could be interesting. So I charted out what I already knew about my family tree and started investigating over a few weeks."
House's eye instinctively fell to the pile of letters on the table, and Wilson gave a short nod. "One of my ancestors was a Norbert Hellmann, a lawyer from Virginia before the Revolutionary War. He just happened to be the first branch I was able to track down. I found a family of his living in West Virginia in the old family home and started some correspondence with them."
He handed over the top five letters. As it turned out, the letters from the Hellmanns – now the Bayers, specifically a woman named Hazel – were the more expensive looking ones, and the cheaper ones belonged to the young doctor. Yet, House found, to the touch the envelopes and the letters within were actually course and rough. It was clear from the size of the envelopes that Wilson's letters had been returned with the reply.
"There's at least forty dollars in postage on this first letter," he remarked with surprise.
"Yes, she's not exactly familiar with the postal system."
House's eyebrow remained at its intrigued peak as he skimmed the letters, learning little more than his friend continued to narrate.
"We agreed that I should come to meet the family and I went up in May."
"So that's where you were. I should have known you didn't go to the beach to relax." House gestured with the letter as if to punctuate his point. "You don't know how." House continued to skim the letter, squinting slightly. "So what's with your sudden leave of absence? Some hot distant-cousin action coming your way from this 'Hazel'?"
"'Hazel'," Wilson imitated "has two kids and a husband."
"Never stopped me."
Wilson let that go with a momentarily confused blink. "When I had got there, it was just Hazel and the kids, but her husband Richard came home from work in the afternoon and a few of Richard's brothers came with their families to visit for a day. It turns out I'm actually related to both of them, distantly."
"Oh, so someone beat you to the incest fun machine."
Wilson continued unabated. "Hazel and her family were normal enough. I say 'enough' because Richard's brothers and their kids would make you think walking around with a banana strapped to your feet as shoes is normal behaviour. Hazel burned dinner, but one of Richard's sister-in-laws acted like she had never seen a fork. Their little girl, Sally, was overprotective of her room, but I could constantly hear her cousins raising hell, but when they'd hear someone walking through the halls towards them they would suddenly scamper about and I'd find them in an empty room with their hands behind their backs, looking way too innocent. And then they'd get in trouble for it!"
"Oh, why be so suspicious, Wilson? There's nothing suspicious about some young kids in an empty room making a lot of noise and stopping when an adult shows up."
"Must everything be about sex with you?"
"You were the one that brought up incest."
"I was not!"
House, bored with the last of the five letters he had, made a grab for the first of a substantially larger pile only to find Wilson blocking his way with a hand.
"Clearly I was missing something but I put it out of my mind. Then, on the last day I was there, one of the kids runs screaming down the hallway… You're not going to believe me." House looked up from the letters he had been glaring at as if they would suddenly snap open on the floor. "I can tell. You're… not going to believe a word of it."
Shaking his head, Wilson reached into a tin he kept on a side table and tossed something from it to House. House caught it and gave his friend a look. "The kids were running down the hall away from a glass ball?" He tossed it back. "Terrifying." Wilson snorted so that House could not hear it and held the ball up. "Anyways," House went on. "You were right. I don't believe that for a second."
Wilson just gestured towards the ball with his head and House, annoyed but compliant, took another bite from his apple and took a closer look. There was a short pause when, all of a sudden, a small cloud of grey smoke filled the ball as if spewing from its centre.
"Well…" House stopped mid-chew. "That's 'conservation of mass'-defyingly interesting."
"I found this on Sally's floor after she was injured in the thing you won't believe. She had a few cuts on her leg and I insisted on tending to them, so to distract her from the alcohol I snapped up one of her toys."
"Cuts and scrapes on a child? You're right, James, I find myself believing this less and less with every word."
"She was attacked by a suitcase."
Wilson seemed fairly smug about the reaction.
"She… what?" House was more perplexed by the sincerity on Wilson's face than the statement. "Are you sure this story doesn't start with 'I found these gnarly shrooms in their backyard…'?"
"No. Suitcase. Attacking children. It was opening and closing like it had a mouth and… vibrating itself to move. I shut the door on it and made sure the kids were safe. The strangest part was that Richard seemed angrier at his oldest nephew than confused at the suitcase thing. That was when I noticed Sally was cut and I insisted on treating her, even though Hazel felt she could handle it. I wanted to be sure, I mean… a suitcase bite? I guess I wanted to prove to myself it was real."
House sat back in his chair, looking around the room as if for empty bottles of beer. Wilson continued. "All of a sudden there was a man in the hallway. I don't know who he was, I hadn't seen him before and he got there fairly fast to deal with a problem we had just discovered, but that seemed to be what he was there for. He only seemed to open the door before I stopped hearing the suitcase bang itself against it. Then he came back to talk to Richard. I started back on Sally and it was just then that I noticed the ball." He held it up again as a point of reference. "Richard and the man are talking in the hallway for a while, about me it sounded like, so I decided getting back to work was the most conspicuous thing to do. There was too much weird going on and I didn't want any part of it, frankly."
Wilson paused, half for drama, half because, again, he knew House was not going to believe him. "The man walks in and sees me with Sally. He's holding this long stick in his hand and says 'Sorry, doc, but there's rules and stuff, you know?' and he points this stick at me and Sally just… juts out of the way like he had a gun. But the man just stands there, looking at me, and slowly lowers his stick and says, very confused, 'How many toes on a Bowtruckle?'"
House, more than being confused, seemed more and more amused with every word. He was like a frat boy being entertained by the escapades of one of his brothers the Monday afterward. The word "Bowtruckle" seemed particularly amusing to him.
"When I don't say anything, he asks another. 'What are the magical properties of shark teeth?'" House was laughing now. "Oh, you may think this is funny, but it wasn't. He looks at me, totally confused, then to the ball and the red smoke in it—"
"Grey smoke. That ball has grey smoke in it."
"It has grey smoke in it now. In fact, that's his next question. 'You forgetting something important, doc?' And… that doesn't make any sense to you. Point is: he gestures for me to wait one minute and steps out to talk to Richard and Hazel. He threatens me—"
"With a stick?" House laughed.
"He threatens me and asks me to 'Wait one minute'! Oh, and I appreciate the concern."
"I'm sorry!" House managed between chuckles.
"Well, I was pacing about the room when all of a sudden Sally says 'Are you a Squib?'" House laughed so far he all but fell off his chair. Somehow, he managed to get out an explosion gesture with his hands in reference to "squib". Wilson, trying to keep his temper, continued the best he could. "At that, the man opens the door slowly and he, Richard and Hazel are staring at Sally like she just discovered general relativity.
"It gets complicated from here—"
"It's not yet?"
"…so I'm just going to skim it. The point is… oh, mail's here."
House pulled himself together slowly, his smile slowly melting into a scowl as he realised he had no idea what Wilson was referring to. Then, to the right, he heard a rapping on the window. He turned slowly and saw, perched precariously on a narrow ledge, a tiny saw-whet owl with a tube strapped to its leg.
"That's John Henry. He's not really big enough to carry the mail but he manages anyways." Wilson opened the window and the tiny owl flittered in and, chirping, bounced into Wilson's hand. The oncologist reached over and popped a lid off of the tube on the owl's leg, withdrawing a thin photograph, which he handed to House before turning back to the kitchen.
As Wilson pulled a piece of ground meat from his fridge, House looked at the photograph, and saw a small family of four staring back at him. And they waved. He stared at, perplexed yet drawn to the flat piece of paper, which he held and examined from all angles.
"The Bayers…" Wilson started from the kitchen, jabbing finger in the direction of the photo. "And the Hellmanns, for that matter, are something called Wizards." Wilson came back to the living room with two beers, and he handed one to House, who did not look up from the photo that he was now bending and scratching lightly. "Wizards, apparently, have lived among us for centuries, but in their own sub-culture. As a matter of fact, I'm not even supposed to tell you but, like I said, I figured you'd just stick your nose in too deep and get it bitten off. Maybe even literally, come to think of it. Now that you know it'll just come out as far too many 'fairy' jokes in my direction in front of your team.
"The short of it is that my family line it seems to have died out and their decedents, including me, were sort of left out of the loop for their own good. But when the man that came to deal with the suitcase saw this ball working for me, he thought something was up."
Wilson looked up and realised House was still paying most of his attention to the moving photo. The Bayers were still waving in a cycle, like a broken record, but they moved from time to time, mostly to duck House's probing finger. Wilson, with a slightly disinterested tone in hopes of getting his friend's attention, continued. "He investigated me he found out I was actually a 'Squib'."
At the sound of the funny word, House's attention returned, just as planned. "How does this work?" Well, almost.
"Magic. They use their wands and can do… amazing things, which is what I'm here to talk about." He sat back down and wait for House to ignore the photo long enough to sit down as well. When he finally did, which took a while, he got to the point. "You see, a 'squib' is someone that descended from a wizard but has no magical powers. Or at least, that's the general definition. I, on the other hand, have very weak magical powers. I'm no wizard, but I'm not a normal person, either. When I was talking to the man that was orienting me with too much information about the Wizarding world, he said that, with the proper training, I might be able to do some small things."
Wilson sighed. "Now up until this point I had lost all interest in this little world of theirs, in my genealogy, and everything, I just wanted to get back home. But he happened to ask what I did for a living and I told him 'doctor'. Well, he didn't seem all that impressed with that so I specified 'oncologist' and talked to him about cancer. House… they've cured it."
Now House was listening, though the picture stayed tight in his hand as Wilson went on. "In fact, it was so low on their priority list that I wouldn't have gotten a reaction from him at all if I hadn't described some magical affliction his sister once had involving… tentacle roaches, I didn't quite follow. The point is… with this training, I could do it. The little push, the little bit of magic could… I could cure cancer!"
House let the picture fall, purposefully. "Wait, you've discovered an age old conspiracy and are willing to toss it all off in the name of personal glory?" Wilson's face fell at the accusation of selfishness. "I could… kiss you! I'm so proud!"
Wilson groaned. "I don't know how I'd do it. I guess half of me hopes that I'll learn something from the magic that will give me a real cure, and the other half is saying 'C'mon James, we can do this, one way or another, we can…' I could save people with no hope in the world; I could do… a lot of good!"
"Wait, so… assuming this works, you're going to abandon a whole slew of patients who need you for an entire year."
Wilson paused, awkwardly. "S-seven. Seven years. I get the summers off." House actually laughed at this. "If it makes it any funnier for you, the other first year students are going to be eleven years old." It seemed to. "There's a wizard school in—"
"Northern Manitoba," Wilson said, lying through his teeth and hoping House was too bemused to notice.
"Canada? Cuddy agreed to send you to Canada for seven years for medical training?" It was hard to tell whether House was laughing or angry.
"I told her I'm going to be part of an experimental study, and besides, I've been to school in Canada before. Listen, House, you can see the value in this. Cancer is the world's biggest puzzle, I could solve it. Surely you can appreciate that! And who knows what else I could do with that kind of knowledge? Besides, you can't change my mind." He pushed at the stack of letters. "They've already accepted me."
House rummaged through the pile and found the acceptance letter in the bottom of the pile. He read it over twice and looked not to Wilson but to the photograph, which continued to wave at him. He looked up then to his friend with a wicked grin on his face. "So when do we leave?"
Wilson took some time to take that in. "W-we? We aren't going anywhere. I am going in a week to buy my new school things."
"Oh come on, this sheet says you can bring a rat, I have a rat! I'm perfect."
"They're not going to let you in because of Steve MacQueen, you're not a wizard!"
"Neither are you!" House was grinning; he was far too amused, far too intrigued. "You can't wave the world's greatest Rubik's Cube in front of me and then take it away because only you can turn it!" He picked up his cane and moved for the door. "I'll talk to Cuddy in the morning and mail your school," he held up the envelope from the acceptance letter, "right afterward. I may not be able to mix toe of frog with lipstick of Jersey whore like you can but I can still learn theory. See you in class!"
"Sorry, can't hear you! There must be eye of newt in my ear!"
And he was gone. Wilson rolled his eyes and groaned, sitting back down in his chair. He picked up the letter again and read it one more time.
"You knew this would happen, James," he muttered to himself, as, just beyond the door, he could just make out a voice say "Obliviate!". "You knew this would happen."
House's eyes snapped open to face the alarm. Nine thirty. Hm, he thought. Not late enough. And he shut them again.
After a pause, his eyes opened again and stared at the clock. He squinted and the digital lines blurred and meshed. He could not quite make out the numbers and, as perhaps an example of his tired state, was having trouble processing exactly what it was he was looking for. No, no he thought. The numbers were definitely green.
He took to his feet and cane, staggering across the room to the clock and lifted it to his face. Yup, still green. Groaning, he pulled himself over to his armoire and pulled on some pants. He knew it was going to be a long day; the trouble was that had no idea why. It had been a long night too, he thought. Or had it? Come to think about it, House was not exactly sure what he had been up to last night. It was a giant blank, a total gap.
He shrugged. Must have been fun.
"I have to say, Dr. Wilson, that while this was all quite unorthodox in the beginning, but I feel that we here at Hogwarts are ready to take on a student of your… considerable circumstances."
Professor McGonagall smiled at him across the table. Being able to speak to another human being at the level of a relative equal, instead in the teacher-student, teacher-angry-parent level, was remarkably relaxing for her on that stressful opening day, and she risked some content emotion.
"Well, I'd just appreciate any help you'd be willing to give."
"Of course, of course. By the way, how did things go with your friend? Goodbyes can be so hard."
"No, that's all right." Wilson rolled his eyes. "I told him I was going to school in Canada just to throw him off before I remembered you had that Obliviator standing outside the door."
The headmistress gave him a thin smile. "Old habits do die hard, I suppose. But now, on to other things, I suppose we should move on to the schedule now."
Picking through neatly arranged piles of parchment arranged across her desk, Professor McGonagall selected a crisp sheet bearing a carefully aligned chart, which she handed to him. Wilson, inwardly amused that the professor's neat script was so small that only a doctor could work it out, skimmed straight to the bottom. "Now, as you can see, the children will be arriving in a few hours. I'd like you to meet them in the Great Hall, with the rest of the school, just to avoid making repetitive explanations to the students that don't already know. After that, you'll be able to sit at the Hogwarts House table."
Some of the portraits of the room, which Wilson had been ignoring to this point, far too confused by their ability to move and change expressions to keep up with them, began to roll their eyes. Professor McGonagall batted an annoyed hand at them and scoffed, as if they were all brushing past a long repeated argument.
"May I… ask what's the matter?"
"Oh…" McGonagall replied, who had made the action so casually she seemingly surprised he had noticed. "Some of the late Headmasters still do not approve of our new sorting policies."
"Don't mind them, Minerva," said a thin, greasy-haired man whose portrait hung to one side at the back of the room. "Most of them have gone more than their fair time without having to face the prospect of change."
"Most definitely," replied the current Headmistress, lowering her eyes to a blank piece of paper before her, quill in hand, as if she did not want to grant the argument her presence. Wilson could not help but feel left out.
"Which… policy is that? I certainly hope this has nothing to do with me."
McGonagall sighed slightly and lifted her head. "I'm sorry Dr. Wilson. No, no, this has nothing to do with you. It's simply… some of the more… conservative members of the British Wizarding community aren't very pleased with some changes I've made to the school's sorting policies. Here in Hogwarts, you see, there are four Houses that serve to help organize and group the students by personality: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin." And then, a slight tinge of a smile forming on one side of her mouth, she said: "Building on the ideas and advice of a close friend, I moved the sorting up to the end of first year, to give the students a time together, in Hogwarts House, to give them a chance to develop, to become more of… themselves!" She shook her head. "I'm sure you, as a physician, can understand the huge number of changes a child can go through in these early years!"
He nodded. "Of course!"
"A year! Hardly what I wanted, but it was the most I was able to nudge it, what with the storm of protests. Owls and Howlers and meetings with the Ministry and ugh!"
"Don't fret yourself, Minerva," came another voice from the back wall. Centred quite intentionally and prominently hung a golden frame, and in it a portrait of an old man with a great white beard and a crooked nose. He nodded to Wilson in greeting, and then continued: "I think I can say quite surely that in the past few years our Gryffindors have never been more brave, our Hufflepuffs more industrious, our Ravenclaws more bright and our Slytherins more…" A pause, punctuated with a slight twinkle in his eye. "…Resourceful."
Across the wall, the greasy-haired man gave a groan, though McGonnigal nodded to the older man and smiled.
"Thank you, Albus. Now, Dr. Wilson, I'm afraid I'm running straight out of time." She took to her feet, shaking a small pile of papers straight and flat. "As we all realise, you're probably more than finished going through puberty yourself, so I hope you won't mind staying with Hogwarts House for your first year all the same. It will give you a chance to associate with your future classmates."
"I'd be glad too." He stood himself and held out a hand. "And I want to thank you, again, for the opportunity."
She took the hand and shook it. "I can only hope we'll be of some use to someone in your circumstances. Oh, and that reminds me, you'll be meeting with Madame Pomfrey once a week to get started on your healer training. I know it's a bit early but your circumstances considered, I'm sure you'll understand." He nodded and she raised her wands slightly towards the door, which opened quietly behind him. "Good luck to you, Dr. Wilson. I'm hoping we can expect the best from you."
Before he had touched down in England once again, Wilson had expected that Hogwarts would look, with the necessary Wizardy touches, like Oxford, which he had visited once in his youth before settling on McGill. Now that he was there, in the Great Hall, he realised he had guessed quite wrong. Hogwarts was nothing like he had ever seen: the Great Hall itself was lined with tapestries and careful brickwork, furnished with six tables, four facing lengthwise down the room and headed by a great tapestry depicting four separate coats of arms, and two width-wise. Wilson stood between those two tables, flanked by the jovial and talkative Deputy Headmaster, Professor Slughorn.
"I think the start of term feast is the most remarkable part of the Hogwarts year, my dear James." James, he called him. Always James. "There was always a time in my retirement," it was the third time he had mentioned his retirement, "always at this time of year, that I would feel a pang in my gut, if you'd believe it. Not for the food, of course. The food is delicious, best in the world, I'd say! But if I wanted good food I could always visit O'Reilly's in Cornwall. I taught O'Reilly myself, of course. He was never much interested in shrinking solutions or vanishing draughts, but one day he and I stumbled on an anti-Gnome formula that tasted marvellous on chicken. Don't ask," he added with a slight shudder. "So, naturally, O'Reilly will have me brought right to my booth beside the kitchen, whenever I'm in the neighbourhood. Great boy. What were we talking about?"
The room was filling with students, slowly but steadily, dressed in their wizard robes and the occasional hat, and Wilson felt suddenly less ridiculous in his own slightly oversized new robe. Already he was attracting some errant eyes, and wearing a full set of Muggle clothes would have probably drawn the whole room to him.
"Ah, yes, the feast! Like I was saying, it's not the feast so much as the children. Seeing their delighted faces looking forward to a new year of education; untapped talent and ability just waiting to be discovered! Why, just this morning on the train here I met a delightful young woman who can do remarkable things with light. Of course I always knew she had it in her, that's why I never set out to overwhelm her with too much of my help in Potions class. Have to keep the mind clear for Charms and Transfiguration, after all! It all just reminds me why I haven't returned to retirement: there's so much left for me to do, you see! I have to do my part for the youth of the world, and for remarkable people like you, of course, James!"
Assembling in the seats on one of Wilson's sides were the teachers, from the tiny Professor Flitwick to giant Professor Hagrid. They looked at him too, though they had the sense not to gawp like their younger charges. To the other side, at a table marked with the Hogwarts coat of arms, sat a group of nervous looking second-years, who eyed the four tables behind them with apprehension. They were, as far as Wilson understood, to be sorted into those houses in just a few moments, and even as he thought of it a plump woman, with whom he had not yet been introduced, came into the room carrying a stool and a ragged hat. Behind her trailed a pack of small first years, none much older than eleven, who looked about the room in sheerest awe. Professor Slughorn disappeared far faster than Wilson thought him capable.
"Gather around, gather around," said the witch, who filed the second from the Hogwarts House table to the front of the room, and set down the stool. "Now," she said as a few older students indicated to the first years that they were to take the seats at Hogwarts House. "As I call out your names, please take a seat on the stool and place the Sorting Hat on your heads."
The proceedings that took place did so with a hushed, respectful silence, broken intermittently by, to Wilson's initial surprise, the hat itself, which would shout out the name of one of the four houses after an inconsistent period on the head of the student. This call was followed by raucous cheering and applause from the students of the house just named until the next name was called and the silence resumed. With no idea of what was really going on, Wilson, who stood by one wall of the room, not far from the table decorated in red and gold, wandered the room with his eyes, and settled on a strange wizard who stood precisely across from him, by the table decorated with green and silver. He was a tall man, with stark white-blond hair and matching thick, ebony walking staff. The man acknowledged Wilson's questing eyes with a slow nod and a wry smile, and Wilson nodded in return.
After "Yeel, Brian" became a Gryffindor and the room had calmed down at last, Professor McGonagall took to her feet and gestured for quiet, cleared her throat, and spoke to the room with a commanding voice.
"Welcome, one and all, to a new year of learning here at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! I have a number of start of term announcements, the first of which concerns—" There was a hollow clack then, the sound of wood against stone, and McGonagall lowered her eyes. "Yes, Mr. Malfoy?"
The man who stood across the room smiled at her then, and spoke to the room instead of her. "It's really nothing, Headmistress. It's just that the Board of Governors has expressed that they would rather I speak to the students on this issue. For publicity reasons, I'm sure." And while Wilson could not see, the man gave a smile that dripped with artifice.
"Well, if it is the will of the Board of Governors," McGonagall stood aside with a sarcastic sweeping motion and waited as the pale man took her place.
"Thank you, Headmistress. Students of Hogwarts School, the Board of Governors would like to make the following announcement." As he spoke, with fully enunciated flourish, he pulled a strip of parchment from his cloak and read from it specifically. "The Board of Governors would like to welcome a student to its first-ever 'Mature Student Program', from the United States, a Mr. James Wilson..." He lowered his eyes to the paper quite deliberately, and then raising them to Wilson directly he finished with an exaggerated sense of surprise: "…Ph.D!"
He then offered a stiff hand in Wilson's direction, and with the gaze of the entire school settled on him, Wilson crossed the hall and took the hand. It felt cold, but he shook it firmly, making sure to meet the eyes of the strange figure. When the man released his grip he gestured casually to the Hogwarts House table, and took to crossing back to his original spot. Wilson found himself nestled between a small girl with mousy hair and the empty head of the table. The former looked up at him with confused eyes, and he tried to calm her with a smile, but her blank reaction made it clear it was a bit too early to try to make friends.
While Professor McGonagall took back her place and speech with a presence, Wilson caught notice that the strange man had stopped on his trip back to the side of the room. Not normally one to eavesdrop, he could not help but notice that the man he had stopped behind, Professor Hagrid, seemed to fidget and squirm, and was making a definite point not to turn around.
"…Hagrid." The man said after a pause. Wilson could barely hear him clearly enough. Hagrid seemed to wince.
"Draco." Another pause. "How's your father these days?" He seemed to ask with no conviction whatsoever.
"Oh, retirement treats him well enough." There was another, longer pause. Professor McGonagall started to explain something about a forest that Wilson, straining to overhear the whispered conversation between the stranger and the giant professor, missed entirely. The man, Malfoy, broke it, saying in a voice that was a mix of pity and irritation: "Hagrid. Bygones, Hagrid."
"No, Draco. Not yet. Maybe not ever."
Pause again. "I suppose… that is your right," said the man who, without any further words, took steps away from the table to his original spot.
He never made it: at that exact moments the doors to the great hall flew wide with a great bang, and a figure, standing in the doorway, took slow steps up the hall.
"That!" proclaimed the figure as he started. "…was very clever!"
Wilson could not believe his eyes. Neither, it would seem, could Professor McGonagall. But there it was: Greg House was dragging himself down the Great Hall, irrepressible grimace across his entire face.
"Of course, I might have not noticed if I hadn't left myself a note on my Blackberry. You people are smart but if you don't start checking people for digital recorders, you're going to make a lot more mistakes." And then, as if surprised: "Hi Wilson!"
"Mr. House, I presume," said Professor McGonagall in a commanding voice, "I'm not sure how much I care about how you got here, because it has little to no bearing on your immediate future. You will—"
"You know, it's interesting, your warts aren't half as large as I had expected."
"I'll have to go back and correct that Halloween costume immediately."
McGonagall fumed. "You will be leaving immediately, and with a far more competent and Muggle-oriented Obliviator!"
House, who had rounded the table, began to gesture with his cane. "Oh, now let's not fight. Wilson gets to play nice with all the jailbait, and I'm not going to cause any trouble. I can… wave a stick around and wear a funny hat just as well as the rest of you."
As if to punctuate his point, House caught up the Sorting Hat with his cane and, before anyone could stop him, propped it, lopsided, on his head.
"Ah!" shouted the hat. House, rather surprised, raised an eyebrow. "A Muggle? Now this should be interesting."
"Now that's certainly enough—"
"No, no, Headmistress, I can handle this. Now let's see…" the room around the hat was silent as could be, and the hat seemed to lean forward on the head of the confused-looking Muggle as it spoke. Then it balked, suddenly. "Hah! Gryffindor or Hufflepuff indeed!" and then shook from side to side as if chuckling. "No, no," said the hat, as if all sense of propriety and silence had been lost. "I think I'm torn between a driven quest for knowledge…" House seemed pleased at that. "…and a complete, borderline psychopathic disregard for the rights of his fellow human beings." Even though the hat leaned in as he said it, House seemed even more pleased with that.
"Well," said the hat, perking up a bit. "I suppose he's going to drive someone crazy, so it might as well be the people who understand it. Let's make it… RAVENCLAW!"
There was a deathly silence, save for a few broken claps from the first years and a loud smile from House, who was most certainly proud of himself. Wilson wished he could crawl under the table or hide behind the girl beside him.
"Pro…Professor McGonagall," managed Slughorn. "That hat doesn't mean… this man is actually a student now…" He seems to twich. "Does it?"
"Certainly not!" said the Headmistress, drawing her wand. "Now, Mr. House, I think it's high time you step out of this room and—"
"Leave?" said House, feigning surprise. "But I just got here!"
"That is hardly—"
"You know, it's been a long time since a woman pointed her stick at me." Wilson felt himself shrink away at the words, and knew that House turned to face him. "It's not a story I like to tell, I'll admit."
McGonagall had had more than enough, and levelled her wand and shouted "OBLIVI—"
"Wilson needs a partner!" House shouted, not flinching. McGonagall's eyes lowered, but so did her wand and House took on a look of triumph. From the far side of the room, then, came a soft clapping sound. Wilson looked up, once more, to see the smiling face of the stranger, Draco Malfoy.
"Bravo, Mr. House. I daresay I was expecting you. Oh, don't look so surprised, Headmistress." Wilson couldn't help but note that McGonagall did not look the least surprised. No, if he had to put a finger on it, he would have called it blind rage. "Mr. House is famed for his deductive reasoning. You would know that if you had read all the reports. In fact, I'm not surprised to see him in Ravenclaw, though I can't help but feel I've lost another potentially great Slytherin." Hagrid, for reasons Wilson could not imagine, seemed to grimace. "So, doctor. You say your friend Dr. Wilson needs… a partner?"
House considered the stranger for a moment, tilting his head as he so often did, before smiling. "Professional opinion."
Draco, for theatrics only, spread his arms and cane wide as if yielding the floor. "Then I see no reason to object. Important research is about to begin, Professors, students. And I don't claim to understand it. I say we let Dr. House play his part and see how things… play out."
He stepped back, and Wilson found himself looking from House to McGonagall and back to House again. There was a soft, hidden contest of wills there for a moment, and McGonagall seemed to be grinding her teeth. And then, as if completely bored, House turned about.
"Well, since that's all over, I think I'll go take my spot. Under the giant blue bird?" He pointed as he asked and walked towards it anyways. He took four steps before McGonagall stopped him.
He stopped, the room was quiet, and McGonagall's face crunched tight with ferocity. But then...
"The hat, Mr. House. Return it."
House, grinning, happily obliged, flipping the hat with a flourish, lifeless to its stand, and walked off towards the Ravenclaw table with an unshakable grin and a spring in his steps.
"I get to sit with the big kids!" he said to Wilson with a smile like the Joker himself, and took immediately to seat between two older-looking Ravenclaw girls.
And so it was that Greg House and James Wilson became students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And as the food was served and the discussions closed, the latter looked across his steak and wings and smiled.
Hi ! I had this little present for a friend of mine lying around and decided to use my FictionPress cross-site account to throw it onto this page! Being a canon-adherent, I have to point out that this was written before Deathly Hallows was released (and definitely before Jo said that McGonagall wouldn't be Headmistress for this long!), so that should explain that mistake! And that's all! Bye!
August 17 2008: A friend of mine points out that Wilson went to McGill in Montreal, so I made a few changes to the text. A few days ago I took out a joke from a few seasons ago that didn't make sense any more, too.
April 4, 2009: Re-filed using the new Crossover feature.