WIZARDS AND WORLDGATES,
the story behind that intrepid travelling trunk, the Luggage, and its very first adventure in the wizarding world.
Prequel to Witch In Exile
In the face of the overwhelming reception that the Luggage has received, (see my other story, Witch in Exile) I've decided to write the story of how Dumbledore and the Luggage came to be acquainted. This story takes place in the holidays before Albus Dumbledore's fifth year. I think that works out about 1855.Chapter One: Wizards, Worldgates and Otherworldly Flotsam
The rain was sizzling fiercely on the cobblestones, obscuring the clop-clop of the horses' hooves, when the black robed, red haired woman walked out of the bricks of London's Big Ben clock tower. Not from a doorway carefully hidden, but from the bricks themselves, as though their solidity was only illusion. She looked around her in irritation. Reaching inside one sleeve, she pulled out a large, clunky pocket watch and studied it for a moment. Then swore.
It earned her one long, shocked glare from the other occupant of the street.
This was a young medical student, who'd been making his way home on foot after a dinner dance to save the price of a cab. His surprise made him stop walking. One foot ran into the other and nearly tripped him up. That was hardly language for a woman! "Excuse me, ma'am," he approached her, "but is something wrong?"
She blinked at him from deep, narrowed
black eyes. "What?"
"Are you lost? I mean, are you alright?" He blushed.
"What makes you think that I'm not?"
"Well, I, ah," he stopped. She obviously wasn't concerned about the way she was dressed, and her watch might have made some sense to her, though he'd never actually seen one with miniature planets on it before. Quite possibly, she was a little ill, and thought that she was normal. His generous heart filled itself with pity. "London at night is no place for a woman alone. Madam, would you at least permit me to escort you to a hansom cab, if your lodgings are not near?"
She studied him. She laughed. "You are a queer one, aren't you? Kind sir, you may indeed escort me to a hansom cab, for I am on my way to meet my husband, and my 'lodgings' are, as you have guessed, not near."
The woman held out one arm and the boy took it, noting the assurance with which she held herself, and the hawkish way in which she watched him. He placed her age somewhere in the mid-forties, the age of his own mother. She had to be ill, otherwise there was no way that she'd be out here. He tried to picture Mama in the setting and failed, miserably. At this time she'd be home, reading by candlelight or knitting socks if she were waiting up for him, or in bed already if she were not.
"You wish to know what I am doing here, do you not?" He came out of his reverie to find the lady watching him slyly, half-smiling.
"Madam, I would never think to pry."
"You wouldn't?" She shook her head in surprise. "Ah, here's a cab. Will you be the gentleman and hail it for me, my good man?"
He waved it over. "Madam, is there anything else I can do for
When she was settled in the cab, robes bunched up around her – he couldn't think of her garment as a dress, however greatly he stretched his imagination – she leant out the window and held his eyes with her own. Suddenly he felt strange. A flickering tingling feeling started in his stomach and made its way up his insides. Then she was speaking to him, and it was only distantly that he made out her words. "There is nothing. In thank-you for your manners and your kindness, I shall tell you that your son will be something special." And she dipped her head, smiling. "Adieu, Mr McGonagall."
The hansom rattled off, and the young man was left staring after it in bemusement. "But I don't have a son." The lady was most assuredly ill. Yet, when he peered at the cab for one last look at her, he could swear even in the murky light that the back seat was empty.
(10 years later his wife would give birth to a son who would be one of those elite that man called wizards. In many many years this son would have a child, and the man would be there to see the birth of his grand-daughter. When the house went up in flames and only the child survived, he would hold her in his arms for one last time and stare down at the tiny face to see a pair of curiously familiar black eyes. But of course, by that time, he had forgotten why he knew them. And when the kind-looking man came to relieve him of the little shiralee he couldn't care for, he couldn't say why he felt he recognised him either.
If he'd known this at the time of this first meeting it might have been interesting, but wouldn't have had any real bearing on things anyway.)
Morag Montmorency-Dumbledore materialised in the family manor, tense and worried. "Chryon!"
Her husband's head appeared from under the piano. "Hello, love. I didn't expect you to be back for a few days."
"Neither did I. That's the problem." She started to pace with fingers clenching in her robes. "The Gate is malfunctioning again. I was due at Aldox to deal with a severe case of influenza hours ago – you know what wizarding diseases have done to the dwarves there, they have no defences – yet I spent the whole time in flux. I thought it was just the traffic mounting up until the Gating Network spat me out here. I am parched. Do we have anything to drink?"
Chuckling, Chryon climbed to his feet and clapped his hands, and a silver tea service appeared on the table by his wife. "Shall I pour?"
She nodded. "Thank you. Peppermint, I presume?"
"With honey. The perfect remedy to all ills. If I were in charge of St. Mungo's, I could cure every incurable case with a good cup of peppermint tea."
Shaking her head, Morag took a sip of the brew, feeling herself relaxing already. It was good, she had to admit. But the medi-witch still wouldn't wager a handful of sickles on his chances at her hospital.
"What did you See?"
"How did you know? Oh, forget it." She passed a hand over her brow, holding up the suddenly too-heavy head. "I remember. Never ask a Dumbledore to tell you how he know anything, Sight runs in their veins like we mere mortals have blood." The family had the uncomfortable tendency of usually being able to tell what was going on in the minds of people around them. Some claimed it was evidence of extra, 'special' powers. After being married to one of them for nearly twenty years, Morag knew that it was only uncommonly good skill at reading people combined with lightning quick wits. Most surprisingly, it was a skill that seemed to be inherited instead of being nurtured into them. You could probably leave a Dumbledore to be brought up by absolute monsters who hated him, and he would still turn out an excellent judge of character, courageous and wise. (Though she was a little prejudiced by association.)
Thank goodness most of them were honourable.
"Morag, that's hardly fair. More tea?"
"No thanks, love."
She rolled the liquid over on her tongue before scalding her throat in a quick swallow.
"It wasn't anything important, I think. I came across a muggle – unusually polite for his species, might be a quarter-blood or something – who eventually called and helped me into one of those horrible carriages they used.
"He'll have a son, a wizard, and I'll have something to do with them both. Someday. But it was too murky, too distant, to really make anything from. You know how my Sight works. It's as much instinct and flashes of insight as it is genuine ability."
"Still…" Chryon raised an eyebrow, drained his cup. "That's a lot of detail for a flash of insight. No wonder you're drained. Maybe that man had a touch of the gift himself, not enough to go to Hogwarts, but enough to strengthen yours."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I'm more worried about the Gate."
Soberly he nodded. "Yes. Can you remember any specifics that might be important?"
The Worldgates, or simply 'Gates', were doorways between a multitude of dimensions, providing as a rule a steady, not too painful way of travelling between the worlds for anyone too poor to have a personal gate built, or not learned enough to manage the gating process by themselves. Their existence was controversial; there had always been those who pushed to have them outlawed, but their usefulness usually outweighed the problems that they caused. Because the Gates could be funny things: like most almost sentient constructions, they had off-days.
Sometimes you found yourself in the wrong place. Sometimes they opened up in new places and took unsuspecting people for the ride of their lives. Sometimes they closed for no reason at all, and people found themselves stranded in transit. Some said that a week in the ether was enough to wipe your mind and leave you a blithering, gibbering idiot. But that was only supposition, since no one lost in transit was ever found again.
One time many years ago, all the world gates had relocated every traveller to the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. Though it had made for some very irate visitors, it had also been great business until someone on the Council realised it was a publicity stunt, located the wizard responsible, and fined him two hundred galleons for harassing the public. That had been enough to stop any similar incidents.
The main gate was located at the foot of Big Ben, London, England, while portals were scattered worldwide. The clock tower had been laughed at by the senior members of the Wizarding Council years ago, when the amount of traffic going through the portal demanded that they relocate from Stonehenge, until someone had pointed out the benefits of having a clock that could be enchanted to show the different times of every destination, as well as travelling conditions and expected transit times. Then, like most governing committees, the Council had adopted the idea as its own and had wasted no effort in its implementation.
A problem with a gate meant reporting the trouble to the nearest gating technician, and hoping you weren't too inconvenienced until they managed to find the solution. (While they tried to fix things as quickly as possible, sometimes it wasn't just possible and you had to make the best of it.)
Chryon Dumbledore was one of the few human gating technicians trusted to work on the main gate itself. No doubt, as soon as reports of the gate's malfunctioning trickled through to the technicians on duty, (since very rarely was one incident an isolated occurrence!) he would be called to sort it out. Given the time, that meant he could expect assignment to Big Ben in the morning.
He sighed, and eyed his empty teacup moodily. "Damn. I'd just promised Albus I'd take him to the quidditch tournament tomorrow, too."
"Hey, who wants quidditch when there's Gates involved?"
The Dumbledore's fifteen year old son popped through the doorway, bare feet making a squicking sound on the polished wooden floor. He was already in his sleeping robes, and by the way his flaxen hair was ruffled up, had been in bed when Morag had arrived. But his eyes were glowing with the fervour he normally reserved for books, Gates, sweets, and quidditch, in that order.
"You're not coming."
Albus pouted. "But it's the start of the summer holidays, and the weather's way too pour to do anything here except sit inside and read. Since you can't take me to the quidditch match in Romania that you promised, surely you can let me tag along with you to work? I won't get in the way, and I'll take lots of notes, and I'll even carry your cloak for you or anything else that you want! Please?"
Chryon exchanged Looks with Morag.
"Very well," he said heavily. "Now get back to bed, and no more eavesdropping – actually, I'll mind the invisibility cloak for tonight, I think, you'll get it back tomorrow morning – and if you wake your sister, young man--"
"Couldn't!" Albus called back cheerfully. Moments later, his feet sounded on the passageway and faded into quiet up the staircase.
"That boy is a handful."
"He's what you wanted, isn't he?" Morag's smile was mysterious. "A Gryffindor. A little lion-hearted son."
"Not so little anymore, I think. Besides, I have a bit of a soft spot for
little girl Slytherins as well…"
"Little!" She pulled away from him, seemingly insulted. "That's it, then, I'm leaving you. I refuse to be insulted like that."
"Really?" He curved a hand around her waist.
"Really," she sniffed.
"You don't consider I might have been talking about our daughter, now, do you?"
"Well, why didn't you say so?" Her smile became wolfishly seductive and she leaned in close.
"My dear, you didn't give me time to finish."
When Big Ben announced that it was ten o'clock, the rain that had been hammering so the previous night had trickled off to a drizzle. Albus stood underneath the clock, huddled in a thick blue cloak.
He was a gangly boy, all elbows and knees and joints sticking out at odd angles. His hair sat up like a untidy flaxen haystack. He was munching on a strawberry toffee. This being more toffee than fruit, his teeth were too stuck together to call out a reply to the snickering comments of the other people walking through the area. These people being muggles, or non-magical folk, they found his cloak and robes fairly queer. As queer, probably, as he did their funny hats and suits. But Albus had the advantage, being fully aware that they belonged to two distinctly different cultures, while the muggles had no idea that they coexisted with a magical society. No doubt the thought would have frightened some, and intrigued others into all degrees of law-breaking.
So the newly formed Ministry of Magic (a replacement for the stagnate Wizards' Council) made certain that the worlds remained separate. In centuries past, as many muggles had known about magic as had wizards. This had slowly changed, as the non-magical civilisation evolved, coming up with idea after idea to emulate what wizards did with a flick of the wand, and prejudice after prejudice to hide the envy of what they couldn't do themselves. Magic became seen as something evil. Those who practised it openly were hunted out, forced to leave their homes or start spell-casting on their muggle neighbours. Envy spiralled into fear and hatred. Eventually, muggles started accusing one another of witchcraft, and slaughtering the hapless accused in rivers or on stakes.
This demonstration of barbarism had been enough for some of the more extreme members of the magical community to call for the extermination of the muggles; not even the worst 'monsters' of their realm so willingly murdered one another for such trumped up reasons. And there were a few cases, too, where careless witches and wizards had been caught wandless, and subjected to the same fate as the muggle innocents. In response, the Council decreed it unlawful to consort with those incapable of magic; soothsayers, apothecaries, herbalists and mediwizards gradually filtered out of 'normal' society, or limited their involvement to that which a muggle was capable of. Court wizards became a thing of legend. Colleges of magic were a tale for children's stories. While history could not be changed, it could fade, and fade it did, gaining in stature and incredulity, morphing into legend and fable. And magic sauntered gaily on, unseen by so many, but in no way diminished in power or presence by the greater population's lack of awareness.
Albus Dumbledore was one who would have liked to see the two communities working in co-operation and harmony, but he acknowledged the that the likelihood of this happening in his lifetime – or his grandchildren's – was very slim indeed. The views he held weren't very popular even in his own society. Among people fearful and mistrustful of what they couldn't understand – to whom magic was a thing of myth – they would have been even less so.
So as he chewed on his toffee, he nodded a few time to the people who pulled faces at him, not riled in the slightest by their ardour. If he had been able to speak, he wouldn't have said anything anyway. He looked up at the clock tower again, noting patterns in the stonework. A particularly loud 'tick' from Ben told him someone was coming through the local door.
The older wizard shook his head and laughed. "Come on, then, there's work to be done. I've had a cursory look, and the whole network seems to be off-kilter."
They passed through into a small,
unevenly lit chamber. "Will you have to
take all the Gates off-line then?"
"No, we should be able to do everything necessary without having to go that far." He sounded understandably proud.
Chryon's weathered face broke into a wide smile.
"Merrih." He inclined his head to the tortoiseshell cat who had come to greet them. "My son, Albus. Albus, this is Merrih Fleetfoot, the head of the local gating team."
"Delighted." The boy held out a hand for the cat to sniff, and she did so, flicking her ears after a moment in approval. "Anotherrrr Dumbledorrrre is always welcome," she purred. "Perrrhaps you will be a technician too?"
"I don't know yet."
"You arrre still young. Yes." She flicked her tail sharply. A large ginger tom jumped down from a hessian blanket on an overturned wooden crate. "Silas, show the kitten arrround while I discuss the Gate with his father."
He sniffed once. "Come on, kitten."
Albus had one last look at Chryon, who was nose-to-whiskers in discussion with the ageing feline matriarch about the latest 'tremor in the Gate's whiskers'.
"I'm Silas Lightpaw, the newest member of the London team," the cat said proudly, leading Albus over to a thin and cobwebby trellis of strands spun across the side wall. "You're the Dumbledorrre's kitten, corrrrect?"
"My name's Albus." He stuck out his hand again. Silas sniffed.
"Welcome to the litter! This is a representation of the web that all the Gates are part of. You can see in a whisker's notice everything that's happening in the web. And to an extent, manipulate it, slow down the traffic a bit, speed it up, that sort of thing. All the big adjustments are made on the main web, but Merrih won't let me touch that yet since I'm too young." His tail lashed, giving his opinion on that.
Albus grinned. "You're just a kitten too, aren't you?"
"Am not. I wouldn't be on a gating team if I was!"
"Hey, don't be upset. I'm still a kitten too."
Silas twitched his nose. "To hearrr Merrih, your fatherrrr's still a kitten. But no offence taken. If we sneak parrrst them, we can get a look at the web itself. And it's worrth seeing, I tell you."
They pussyfooted – on the tips of paws and soft soled slippers – past the senior technicians discussing the finer points of some theory or other.
The Web itself was, indeed, worth seeing. It stood several hands high, and pulsed with colour and vitality; thin luminescent strands criss-crossed the tapestry, flowing and curving in ever changing patterns. Albus watched it in delight. His eyes followed first one strand, then another, and another – no wait a moment, that was the same one! Or was it? He found himself caught up in the design, trying to focus on something just beyond his vision…
"Hey, kitten!" A sharp claw to his leg brought blood, and sent him spinning back to awareness. "Don't starrrrre at it. If you look at it long enough, you'll go mad," Silas admonished him. "The Web does funny things to people's brains."
"How do you manage to look at it to manipulate it then?" asked Albus.
"Cats' eyes arrre made differrrently. We can look without harrrrm."
Silas flexed a claw idly. "We'rrrre the perrrfect technicians. Eyes forrrr prroperrr sight, and built in tools for web contrrrol. Humans arrre too clumsy to do it prrroperrrly without specially made instrruments."
"That's incredible. Do you think you could show me how you work the Gates?"
The cat looked around quickly, assuming a shifty expression. "I'm not rrreally supposed to," he rumbled, "but forrr a Dumbledorrre…"
He put his nose up against the closest strand, and sat back on his haunches, lifting a paw. "Sit close beside me and put yourrr hand on my back, so if I feel you going into a trrrance, I can swat you." Albus complied.
Silas narrowed his eyes and stuck his paw into the tapestry, which flared into brilliance. The pillars on either side of the web seemed to grow bigger.
"The web itself is a Gate, isn't it?" the wizard asked.
"It is the Gate," the cat corrected. "The entirrre network. Frrrom herrre, we contrrrol all the Gates. They all have strrands like this."
"Only you - I mean I - can't see them."
"Corrrrect." His tail swished in amusement.
Around them, the web flared even brighter, the strands spinning and twisting out from the tapestry till it encompassed them, weaving its pattern around and above them. Albus bit his lip nervously. "Um, Silas, I don't mean to be critical, but is the Web supposed to work like this?"
The cat's answer was lost in the light and the heat that flashed through them.
When it cleared, the tapestry was as brilliant as before, but the space in front of it was occupied by three figures, not two.
One was a cat, one was a boy, and the third, seemingly bewildered and bewildering, was a battered wooden trunk with two rows of hairy little feet.
Disclaimer: Albus Dumbledore belongs to J.K. Rowling. The Luggage is Terry Pratchett's (and a lot of fun to play with!) The concept of worldgates, and feline technicians, is adapted from On Her Majesty's Wizardly Service, by Diane Duane.
Note on vocabulary: 'shiralee' is the Irish word for burden. Anyone familiar with the literature of D'Arcy Niland will recall the novel and film about an Australian swagman and his 'shiralee', a 3 year old 'swag' called Buster with a cabbage tree hat and a penchant for collecting caterpillars. If you haven't come across it, it's a delightful story.