Title: Two Worlds and In Between (4/?)
Rating: PG-13 for now, may change to R later
Summary: The 19th Century history of the Potterverse: a saga with adventure, angst, romance (het and slash), ethical dilemmas, drama, betrayal, war, and lots of magic. Opens in 1855, at Hogwarts with the Dumbledore brothers - and Julius Marvolo, grandfather of Tom Riddle.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. The title is a line from Lucretia, My Reflection - a song by the Sisters of Mercy. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
List for updates and discussion: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvoloverse
Author's notes at the end of the chapter.

Two Worlds and In Between
by Minerva McTabby

Part One: STATUS
Julius Marvolo
1855

Chapter Four

"Oh, plague take this thing!"

It was a simple spell. A Finding Charm, such as I had worked a hundred times. Why should it fail me now?

I closed my eyes, vaguely aware of my head beginning to ache again; also aware of Tamino's grave gaze on me as we stood together by the lake. Although we had made haste to get here, there was no sign of Dumbledore Minor, and calling his name had brought no response. No matter - he had been here, very recently, so a Finding Charm cast from this place ought to tell us where he had gone.

Raising my wand, I tried once more, and again the spell failed to take hold. It flickered over our immediate surroundings - and faded.

"Julius, should we - "

"No! Do be still, I'm trying..."

Trying to focus, and failing for a reason all too disturbingly obvious; not a reason I wanted to explain to Tamino at that moment. On our way to the lake, he'd already asked me what had happened in Transfiguration - even if he wasn't speaking to Valery, Tamino could have been reading his thoughts, for all I knew - and I had brushed aside his question. Too shameful, now, to admit the class had shaken me so much that even an hour later I could not control my powers enough to work a Finding Charm.

The spell required me to focus my attention on the one I sought. Another attempt, and the boy's face wavered in my mind, exactly as it had several times already - his pale blue eyes merging with those of his brother, who stood by Switch's desk and raised his wand - and I saw the flower again, I was back inside those damnable colors, dragged there against my will -

I released the charm, simply in order to breathe.

"Julius - "

"Oh, if you're about to suggest that you should do it - be my guest, I'll gladly stand aside like a good little Squib..."

His answer to my bitter attempt at a jest was light with laughter.

"Now, why would I do that, with the hash I made of Finding Charms at the end of third year? Fitchett was scandalized... No, I'd sooner leave the Charms to friends who are ever so skilled at them - " A shadow crossed Tamino's face; likely enough he didn't want to think of Valery or Belcore, any more than I wanted to remember the Transfiguration class.

Then his smile returned as he moved closer. "Do let me try something else! It's new, we've only started it, but I think I can... Where's his wand?"

I drew the rowan-wood wand and held it out, uncertain of what he could want with it.

"Yes, hold it like that, open your hand - oh, you can tell so much about people from things like this! We're learning to See their past, or future, or - this is the point, now - discover where someone is, or might be..." Tamino covered the wand with his own hand, palm warm against mine. "Don't speak for a moment, and I'll try my best."

At least he hadn't told me to close my eyes and spit over my left shoulder, or turn around three times widdershins, or do any other outlandish Divination ritual. Neither had he told me not to watch him - so I did.

Tamino had sought to describe it for us, many times; he always said that the problem with having the Sight - one of the problems - was that it felt like a vast external force, with the Seer as a leaf caught in a gale. Some students turned away from that, unable to bear the terror or break through it - as Professor Lott insisted they learn to do. He taught them that it was an illusion; in reality, the Sight came from within, and would answer to the Seer's will... if the Seer had the courage, and the ambition, and was clever enough and prepared to work for it... With students from all four Houses in his Divination classes, Lott used a variety of arguments, methods, and penalties in teaching those he judged to be worthy of his time.

Tamino's brown curls glowed in the last rays of the setting sun. I felt his hand shake slightly on the wand; he bit his lip, and took a deep breath. Then his eyes widened, looking at me and straight through me as he Saw.

He'd told us the Sight's terror never went away completely; at that moment, fresh from a truly uncanny experience of my own, I felt somewhat closer to understanding. My other hand rose to cover his.

The silence held, and the lake was still; only the wind rustled through the few trees around us. I turned my thoughts to Dumbledore Minor again, hoping we would find him within the castle - he might have returned there unobserved, and would be hiding, very likely... Or had he run the other way, into the Forest? I'd have to go in after him, quickly; there were good reasons for permitting only students above third year to walk there. And once I'd found him... I'd think of what to do with him. I had to remember it was now a matter of status to ensure that he could and would fly, as soon as possible.

Suddenly Tamino's hand was snatched back from the wand.

"The gates!" His grey eyes burned into mine; he spoke loudly, urgently. "Julius, the gates, we have to get - "

"Wait - what - you Saw him there?" This I had not expected at all.

"Yes, he's there - or he will be - him, you, I don't know who else - yes, Julius, the gates! Come on, we have to hurry!" He clutched at my sleeve, pulling me in the direction of the long drive that curved around the lake down to the main gates of Hogwarts.

"Carus, stop! Let me at least call my broom, it'll be faster - "

"Gods, the last thing he'll want to see is a broom!" Making an exasperated face at me, Tamino turned and ran.

Once we found the little demon, I'd hex him - very, very thoroughly. I promised myself that much. Then I raced after Tamino toward the Hogwarts gates.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

He had always been the swiftest - whenever the four of us ran together Tamino would be in the lead, with Valery at his heels, leaving Belcore and myself far behind. Now the gap between us widened, and by the time we were halfway down the long drive that curved around the lake he must have been twenty yards ahead of me. When he suddenly stopped in his tracks and bent down to gather something from the ground, I couldn't make it out until I reached his side.

Wordlessly, Tamino held up Dumbledore Minor's robes.

We were indeed on his trail, it would seem - but whatever was the boy playing at now? Irritated, I only muttered an oath in response, hearing it leave my lips as a breathless hiss, and then I was running once more; somehow, Tamino's sense of urgency had conveyed itself to me. The sight of those crumpled black robes gave me the same feeling I'd had when I saw Jigger open the door of the Potions classroom that morning: the foreboding I associated with my status partner's incidents. At that moment, I half-expected to find the gates no longer standing.

Tamino was ahead of me again. As he disappeared around the final bend of the drive I heard him shout a name; and then I was there too, seeing what he saw.

The gates, still intact. And a small yellow-haired figure, some hundred yards ahead of us, running as hard as we were. He glanced back over his shoulder - yes, he could see us, yet he didn't stop.

He had gone far enough. Still running, I raised my wand; at the top of my voice, I called out the spell I had threatened to use on him at luncheon.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

His hand had only just touched the gates when he fell to the ground. I slowed my pace to a walk, noting with some satisfaction that my ability to work a Body-Bind was unaffected by whatever had disrupted my Finding Charm.

Tamino reached him first, and levitated him upright. The blue eyes locked onto me as I approached - not hurrying, giving him plenty of time to be afraid.

When I got to the gates, there was a brief silence; an owl hooted in the twilight from the trees by the lake, and a breeze ruffled my hair as I stood there looking grimly at Dumbledore Minor. He'd gone more than far enough this day.

"Julius, if we could - "

I never heard what Tamino was about to propose. Even as he spoke, I released the binding - Dumbledore Minor stumbled forward, off-balance - then, with an inarticulate cry, he whirled around and leapt at the gates, climbing -

"Damn you, stop!" He'd caught me by surprise, but he didn't get far - scarlet ribbons whipped from my wand, pulling him down, his hands clutching uselessly at the wrought iron - and he found himself with his back against one of the stone gate-columns, tied securely in place. This time I left him his voice, wanting answers... Yet the questions faded on my lips, for at that moment I became aware of his appearance - and stopped, unable to do anything but gape at him.

"Gods, what are you wearing?"

The reply was predictably brief, hostile, and unhelpful.

"Clothes!"

"You wear... those garments in your dormitory - where others can see?"

He made no answer. I looked him up and down again, wondering what the status implications of such peculiar garb might be; I'd never seen its like at Hogwarts. Those leg-coverings - not even breeches, such as some of the plebeians wore, but longer - how uncomfortable they must be... Our robes covered us from neck to floor, and I'd never spared a thought for what he might be wearing underneath. I'd assumed - but no, this was another thing which would have to be stopped, before his yearmates decided to tell the entire school about his fondness for Muggle clothing.

"Distasteful, as well as inappropriate." A wave of my wand Transfigured the oddities into a plain black tunic and hose, copies of my own; and once again I was relieved to find my skills undiminished. "Now," I went on, ignoring his howl, "you'll put on your robes and come back to the castle - whyever did you run out here? Come, we have work to do if you're to make up for that flying class - "

I glanced at Tamino as I spoke, to see if he still had the robes - and he did, but he seemed distracted, peering around as if he'd lost something.

"Don't you hear me? I'm not going back!" Dumbledore Minor's voice rose to a shriek.

"Don't be absurd!" I snapped, still looking at Tamino. "Of course you are..." Perhaps it would be best for all of us to avoid Central that evening; I could take the brat back to the dungeons, and Belcore would bring me some food while I tried to work out a plan for regaining the status lost -

"I'm not listening to you any more! You lied to me!"

Tiresome, insolent... Mudblood.

"If a fondness for truth-telling had any value in our House, I might take offence at that," I answered coldly, turning to face him again. "As it is, you only reveal your ignorance - which has already caused far too much trouble this day. Be silent! And remember who I am, or by the Fates, I will leave you to fend for yourself in the game, and we'll see how long you last."

"I don't care! I thought you w-wanted me to stay, but none of it was true, and - and I did as you said though I knew it was wrong..." He choked out the words, glaring at me. "Well, I won't do it any more! You and your status and the whole bloody game can go to the devil! I'm not going back, you can't make me - "

"I most certainly can! If you don't - "

"But where else would you go?" Tamino broke in, placing a restraining hand on my wand arm. "Home? It's a long way from Scotland to Surrey. And then you'll have to come back, you know - you've barely started, you have so much to learn before you're fully trained as a wizard - "

"No! I won't - I can't - It's vile." The boy's mouth trembled, and his eyes filled as he looked at Tamino. "I can't bear it, I hate myself - when it feels good to do spells, though I know it's wrong and nobody will like me any more - "

"No one likes you as it is," I said brutally. "And this foolishness will not - "

"I don't mean here! I mean real people!"

Tamino sighed. "I think he means Muggles won't like him, Julius..."

"Then he's raving. The very idea of it - "

But Dumbledore Minor interrupted again, straining against the force binding him to the gate-column. His furious, accusing gaze was fixed on me. "I meant to run the very first day! Then I listened to you - and you're the worst of it, you seem so real - the only one here who does - and when you talked it all made sense, and I did as you said, and - oh Lord, I even liked some of it... And you were lying all the time! I hate you!"

My anger mingled with bemusement; I glanced at Tamino, but he also seemed at a loss to make out what the boy could possibly mean. At any rate, this was entirely ridiculous. "Real? Wrong? What are you babbling about? Enough! We'll return to the castle, now. And I have your wand, you dropped it - "

"I don't want it!" he cried, flinching from the wand as if it sickened him. "I threw it away! Are you deaf? I don't want any of this - I don't belong here - and I'm not going back! It's wrong!"

Tamino gasped in dismay, not even protesting when I shook his hand from my arm.

"Perhaps you failed to comprehend what Martin said to you this day." My voice was glacially soft, laced with danger. "He said your wand erred in choosing you. That was an insult - some of the worst words one wizard can say to another. Yet it seems you have gone him one better..." I released him from the binding, holding out the length of rowan-wood. "This wand honored you with its choice - and you dare toss it aside? I'll not permit you to shame it so. Take it back!"

Pale blue eyes stared at me defiantly from the dusty, tear-streaked face above the black tunic. "You don't really want me to stay, do you? Do you?"

"No, I don't!" The bitterness in my own voice surprised me for a moment, but I was too furious to care. "I don't want it, curse you - but I gave my word for you before the House, and I can't get rid of you now, so stay you shall - whatever I have to do to you!"

"I'm not scared of you!" he burst out - an obvious untruth. "Go - go to hell! Whatever you do to me - you can't do it forever, and I'll run away again, first chance I get! I won't listen to you, ever - and I won't do any more magic!"

"But that's... impossible," said Tamino at my side, a catch in his voice. "It would be - losing part of yourself, like cutting off an arm... You're a wizard."

"I'm not! I won't be! None of it's real!"

"Stop." I held him at wand-point. "You say we are not real? Hogwarts is not real?"

"No!" shouted Dumbledore Minor, tears streaming down his face. "It's like a bad dream! Like something in storybooks, with evil sorcerers, and goblins, and witches flying on b-broomsticks... It can't - it can't be true, I won't let it, I'm not part of this! Let me go!"

"Oh, yes you are part of it," I said quietly, sensing the rage build and build within me. "Here you are, and here you'll stay. You have a gift, you little idiot - and for all your squalling, you're a wizard! Now - for the last time - take back your wand."

He shook his head wildly. "No! I'm not. I'll stop - I just won't do it any more - I don't want to be a wizard! It's better out there!"

I took one step toward him, wand raised. He froze, not taking his eyes off me, his hair a pale shadow in the twilight against the dark stone of the gate-column. My weariness had vanished; I felt very strong, and the colors dancing at the edge of my vision troubled me not at all.

"And you speak to me of lying," I said to him, with a deliberate laugh. "I'd far rather be a liar than a fool such as you... I'll not ask it again. Take back your wand! Imperio!"

The link slammed down between us. Caught, and held.

He knew nothing of this, less than nothing, and he didn't stand a chance, for this was no simple hex - it was one of the great curses, far beyond any spell I had shown him before. One of my favorites. A thing of elegance in the working, demanding both power and skill; supremely useful as well, for attack or defense, and I had made sure all my friends learned to cast Imperius - even Tamino, who protested that he'd never use it.

Dumbledore Minor knew nothing of countering this. I watched his eyes as the base of the spell swept over him - the insidious, delightful trance that would hold him helpless as a fly drowned in honey - while I stood on the brink, feeling it, yet not falling. That was the first art required here, and many an incautious wizard had failed this test and found himself trapped in his own spell: for Imperius drew on the caster's own capacity and longing to surrender and escape all pain, all fear, accepting the decisions made by another's will.

My command echoed silently across the haze in his mind: Take the wand. Accept what you are. Come back...

At his age I'd already been confident in blocking this curse, and I'd begun to practise it on house-elves, who offered no resistance at all. My father counselled me to seek my own manner for the working. When he cast Imperius, it appeared in his mind as a fast-flowing stream, to be turned and channelled in the right direction; and later I heard Professor Lott remark in a Dark Arts class that he saw it as soft clay in his hands, to be shaped and formed as he desired. For Belcore it was a Lethifold's embrace, while Lucretia made us all laugh with her vision of Imperius as a work of embroidery, binding another's will to hers with each delicately powerful stitch.

Wizard, take your wand... Come back...

"Julius..." whispered Tamino, somewhere far away, outside the link. "Not enough... it's - oh, Julius..."

But I would not be distracted. Standing with my own wand in my right hand, holding out the other in my left, I cast the spell with all my skill and ire, seeing in my mind's eye the form it took for me: a shining cage of light, its bars curving to close around the shrinking shadow that was my prey.

Wizard... Take back your wand. Wizard.

Yes, I had him now - face blank, eyes empty, his hand reaching out - as the bars of the cage drew closer and closer, almost touching -

And stopped.

A new voice spoke within the link of Imperius: No. Not a wizard. No. His hand paused, then pulled back; the cage of light wavered, blurring in the face of his refusal.

I remained motionless, astonished, holding the link in place, but every muscle in my body tensed. So he would fight? Well, I had worked this spell on Malfoy and Delacroix, for all their resistance, and I would work it now on this preposterous child who stood there denying his own power even as he fought off one of the great curses...

"Imperio!" I snarled aloud, and across the link I told him: Take back the wand that chose you. Take it, wizard! You are one of our kind!

His hand faltered. Reached toward me once more. Held still.

Not one of you. No.

Take the wand. Now!

I won't. Never one of you!

Then the cage-bars were snuffed out like so many candle-flames. For an endless moment, neither of us moved. Dumbledore Minor, still caught in the trance, cast only one word into the silence, over and over: No. No. No. And I, speechless in outrage, was unable to complete the curse. It was unthinkable - maddening - he could not be doing this to me!

Colors flickered in the shadows around the gates.

When I released the spell he slumped against the gate-column, and the effort of withdrawing my power from the link rocked me back on my heels. Tamino spoke to me, but I raised a hand to ward him off and turned to gaze out into the gathering darkness over the lake. What was I meant to do now - accept defeat and walk away?

No. Not ever, and especially not after all that he and his thrice-cursed brother had done to me this day. Even if I couldn't understand... No. It was he who didn't understand, he who was mistaken here, and his own words proved it -

"Aulus..." I breathed, my eyes still on the lake. "Aulus was right..."

"What?"

I spun around to face Tamino and the boy behind him. "He was right! Not power. A question of loyalties - and it seems that you," I said, shooting a vicious look at Dumbledore Minor, "require to be lessoned in loyalties, before you're capable of seeing what's plain as the nose on your face! Very well..."

Mudblood. He was a Mudblood, that was the heart of it, one of a handful of them in the school; and while I knew of the others, I had barely spoken to any. No wizard of my rank would associate with the creatures - everyone knew they were untrustworthy, forever tainted by the world that spawned them, the world that loathed our kind. The proof of it stood before me now, spouting nonsense about Muggles and bad dreams.

No, not this Mudblood, whatever might be said of the rest. For this one was my status partner, and I had sworn he would be an asset to the House...

The memory infuriated me. A Slytherin, blubbering about right and wrong, shrinking from his own power? Ludicrous. To think that any of our kind, of our House, would care two pins for the opinions of Muggles, or be heard to say so - And after all I'd done for him, the ungrateful little -

"You say we are not real," I began, pointing my wand at him again. "That offends me. And you would turn your back on us, on your own skill and your own wand, to live among Muggles? That does more than offend me - it is an affront to our kind, and to our dead. Hear me now: there is no way back for you, no way you can ever deny what you are! Even if you flee this school, you poor dunce... you cannot leave the wizarding world. It is not permitted."

"Don't care - won't listen to you - " It was almost full dark now, and I could no longer see his face clearly, but the breathless, desperate voice rose in protest - as if the sentiments of some unknown Muggles, somewhere beyond those gates, could ever carry more weight than my words...

"Lumos!" I sent his wand to hover between us, shining with a harsh, fierce light that left him nowhere to hide. I would make him listen to me yet.

"You stand on this side of the gates now, and I'll have you show a proper respect for it - so I'll tell you what we think of Muggles here, and how you shall think of them henceforth... I'll tell you how things really are!"

I almost choked on the indignity of having to explain anything at all; he ought to have obeyed me instantly - or, failing that, I should have been able to put the curse on him... Oh Hades, I'd make him pay for this.

"I shall say it briefly, so that any simpleton child may understand. First: we are few, and they are many. Second: they hate our kind, and would destroy us if they could. Third - do you hear me?" I raised my voice, punctuating the words with bursts of black sparks from my wand. "Third - they are as dust beneath our feet! Not worthy of a moment's thought for any decent wizard."

Dumbledore Minor made as if to speak, but I wouldn't let him.

"Don't you dare repeat to me what any damned Muggle has told you! I'll hear no more of what you call real or wrong! And as for them not liking you - " I spat out a laugh at that. "What did you expect, fool? You're one of the evil sorcerers now! They will hate you - hunt you - and give you to the fire or the sword if they can, as they have done to so many, and would do to all of us. How else could it be?"

I ran out of breath and paused, expecting some impudent reply - but none came, and for the first time he looked properly frightened: it was in his face as he shrank back against the gate-column, hands splayed out against the stone, casting quick, nervous glances at me, at Tamino, at the castle and the lake.

Triumph swept over me. I had reached him; and now, if he accepted his place, he would see I could be generous. Measure of influence: sanctuary.

"Forget them! You're under Marvolo protection, you need never see another Muggle - "

"No. They - they won't do that to me! You're lying again!"

The sting of disappointment was brief, but final. That shrill, relentless rejection cut through my words, dispelling whatever delusions had possessed me for the past three weeks. Loyalties could not be changed. I should have remembered that. And as I moved forward, wand poised for the next curse, I didn't know what I would say - I only knew it was over, done, finished. I'd had my fill of him.

I'd had enough, this day and many other days, of failure and frustration - and I still couldn't think of that classroom without feeling ill, damn him! - and what was more monstrous, that a Mudblood would think I'd bother lying to him, or that any wizard would lie about this? No more! I'd be rid of him, even if it cost me the head of the table - for a while - and I'd take the lectures from Lott and my father, I'd admit the whole notion had been rash idiocy - but he would be gone. My hand clenched on the wand. Let him reject my protection, let him skulk on the margins of the wizarding world - no way out of it for him, that much was true - doomed to a lifetime of the menial work fit for Squibs and failed wizards. He deserved no better! I felt as if I stood beneath that cauldron on the ceiling again, firing spell after spell at it... all for nothing. Why, to think I'd done that for him - and he'd made a mockery of me, again and again - and now he would mock our history too, and side with the Muggles -

There was a tightness in my throat, of the kind that could only be cleared by curses; but even as my lips parted to speak them, the path to my target was blocked.

"He's not lying," said Tamino, standing between us to face Dumbledore Minor. "Please, listen to me - it's something you do need to know, I swear, the history of - "

"I don't need you to vouch for me!" This was too humiliating. "Get out of my way!"

Tamino looked back at me over his shoulder, hesitating. "But he doesn't understand... I only want to explain - "

"And is it your tale to tell - in front of me, and to a Slytherin?"

He lowered his eyes at once. "No - no, of course it isn't. Your pardon, Julius..."

I watched Tamino stand aside. Not for him to tell, indeed; while there were those of his blood among the dead of past centuries - what wizard or witch among us could say otherwise? - his ancestors had not died fighting. Mine had. My grandsire's grandsire, the young Lord Marvolo who barely had time to father his first heir; if that heir had not proved worthy, our line would have ended then.

As I faced Dumbledore Minor once more, I wondered where his ancestors had been: faces in the crowd howling for a witch's blood - or something worse?

"One last lesson, then, since Carus wishes it - and then you may go where you please, for I'm done with you!" My voice sounded odd, as if I were casting a spell after all.

Dumbledore Minor watched me, silent and suspicious as ever. Tamino kept his eyes on the ground between us, not even glancing up as I said his name. It was dark now outside the circle of wand-light, and I could see nothing beyond the gates.

I began to speak.

"Because we were few, and they were many..."

That was how all the tales of the Burning Times began. Though I drew the rest of what I said now from a multitude of books, from long conversations with my father and other elders, the opening phrase always took me back to how I had first heard the tales: the long winter evenings at Valery Hall, with Lord and Lady and retainers gathering before the hearth - the bards and illusion-weavers who passed through, to accept a goblet of mead and work their art - Lucretia and Lucan and I, huddled together, holding hands and holding our breath as we listened and watched the centuries roll back... Tale after tale. All those years ago. For we were few, forever too few, and they were many...

"Mindless brutes in their bloodlust, with no respect for life - not caring how many of their own they killed, if only they could destroy our kind - the merest suspicion sufficed, for what they did to wizards and witches. Especially to witches."

I kept my voice steady, but I felt the grief and the rage echo in my words, as any of us would - anyone but a Mudblood... I could almost see them, all the witches and wizards of the past who might once have walked through these gates, and I sensed the question: what would I have done, had I been living then?

Only one reply possible: I would have flown with the other Lords of the great families - I would have led them - in that time when the Dark Arts went beyond the game, when we did not cower in secrecy, but fought the natural enemies of our kind.

"They gave us to the rack, and they drowned us, and they sent us to the stake... And we replied with the Cruciatus Curse and all the other arts of war. And the Dark wizards flew, to save and protect - or, if too late for that - to avenge and to punish. And because they outnumbered us - for each of our dead, a hundred of them would die..."

A soft sigh from Tamino. My voice growing louder, ringing out in the night - and the curses ready on my lips, impatient, as if they longed to blend with the tale. Colors glowing on the fringes of the wand-light, spiralling gems in the darkness past the Mudblood, who stood so still that he seemed part of the gate-column.

"And when the warriors of our kind flew in vengeance, the Muggles fought - but though one wizard might fall with an arrow in his throat, another would take his place, to send the hangman spinning high into the air and cast him down, to burn the inquisitor in his own fire..."

We had done that, and I would have done it myself, yet the dead stayed dead - their wands broken, their spells silent, their arts lost - making the few still fewer. Centuries ago, like yesterday. The waste of it.

That only made it worse to think of any wizard throwing away his own gifts... another form of waste, right here in front of me, and there was nothing I could do. Hot anger surged through me, my pulse pounding as fast as those colors flickering in the night. Wasted, all wasted, these past weeks, and all I'd done this day, for he would be gone; and oh, how I wished I'd never started this, never seen him - if only I never had to see his brother again either - and people had laughed at me! - and I'd have to explain this to my father, how I'd come to do something so stupid... Damn all Mudbloods, anyway, I'd never speak to one again, and it was all this Mudblood's fault and I'd make him pay - now.

"Well, have you nothing to say? It should please you, surely, to hear of all those evil sorcerers slain - "

He wouldn't meet my eyes, but I saw him shudder, and hurled my scorn at him like a parting gift.

"You Muggle-loving fool, you talk of bad dreams, yet you won't look at the nightmares of our kind? What would you say to the dead - that you'd stand with the Muggles and light the pyre yourself, rather than take your wand and accept your power? But of course - you still don't understand! How could I forget... you need pictures, don't you? I'll give you pictures!"

Though no equal of a trained illusion-weaver, I was by no means incompetent. As the spells burst forth from my lips, the ground between us and all around him bubbled and heaved - and then he screamed, and kept screaming, and my reward - my revenge - was in the absolute terror on his face as he learned one History of Magic lesson he'd never forget. The bodies of our dead had risen from the earth for him.

He stood in a charnel-house, and he screamed at the corpses - some in their blood-stained robes, some naked, others reduced to charred bones or torn limbs, torture-scarred - and he choked on the acrid tang of scorched flesh, irrefutable as the demands of memory and loyalty. He raised his head to look at me across the illusion I'd worked, and I looked back at him, and smiled.

A moment later I began to laugh.

Too perfect, this: after all he'd said about never doing any more magic, there he was, rising into the air! Straight up he went, all round eyes and flailing limbs, his screams trailing off in a squeak of surprise. I lowered my wand, allowing the illusion to fade, the better to enjoy the spectacle before me: the Mudblood standing on the wide bronze back of the winged boar atop the gate-column, four yards from the ground, staring down at us with a startled, indignant expression that was quite priceless.

"Don't be afraid! It's all right, children do this all the time - wait, we'll get you down from there - "

"You'll do no such thing, Carus!" I pulled him back as he drew his wand. "After all, if he's not a wizard, he couldn't have done that, could he? So it's obviously not real, and certainly no problem of ours. Let him stay there!"

"You can't mean to - "

"Why not? I'm sure he's about to show us how a true Muggle conducts himself in such a predicament. Come, we wait to be enlightened!" I called to the boy above us. "Shall I bring the rest of our House here to watch?"

He started to speak, swayed, and flung out his arms to steady himself, peering uneasily at the sheer sides of the gate-column and the sharp spikes along the top of the gates.

Would he beg me for aid? I'd take pleasure in refusing him. The sight of his disrespect crumbling beneath the weight of fear might make me feel better than I had since I'd watched a cauldron float free from the ceiling.

"Surely you're not waiting for your brother to rescue you?"

At that, he found his voice. "Stop - stop laughing at me!"

"Why don't you come here and make me, Muggle-lover?"

Tamino touched my shoulder. "Enough," he whispered. "Let's get him down and go! He doesn't even have his wand - "

"Easily remedied!" I said, silencing him with a glance. "Shall we make this even more entertaining?"

"Julius, no - "

I levitated myself, grabbing the rowan-wood wand out of the air on the way, rising lightly to stand on the other winged boar, facing the Mudblood. Then I sent his wand spinning across the gates to land at his feet.

"Yours, little as you deserve it! Will you throw it aside again, you worthless excuse for a wizard?"

He stared down at the wand for a long moment - then slowly, cautiously, bent to pick it up. As soon as he touched it, the light I had called from it died. I realised I'd been holding my breath.

"Lumos!" Tamino's voice pierced the darkness as new light flared to show his troubled face looking up at us both.

I waved at him, then turned back to... my former status partner, and suddenly I was reminded of my first sight of him with that wand in his hand: alone in the dormitory, surrounded by spiders. If only he had stayed there. Even now, he held the wand as if it were something foul, rather than an honor... Bitterly, I thought of all the hours I'd wasted on him - and not only I, but Tamino, Belcore, Valery, and Lucretia. He was a nobody, a Mudblood; he should have been sensible of the privilege in this, and grateful, and anxious to please. He should have been.

Yet he would cast all that away, along with his wand and his skill...

"Well? How long are you going to stand there?" I demanded. "You fail to amuse me - as you fail at everything else... That unfortunate wand must indeed be regretting its choice, but not half as much as I regret I ever saw you!"

There was pure venom in his look as the wand flew up to point at me.

"Ustulo!"

I slapped the tiny jinx aside in derision. "So you seek to burn a sorcerer, as a good Muggle should? And with a spell? How original! But you'll have to do much better than that. The word you want is Incendio," I told him. "Will you use it, wizard?"

A simple spell to start a fire; or something more, when wielded in a duel. With a contemptuous smile, I waited to see what he'd do. Try again? Beg me? Jump? In any case, I would have some fun with him now.

I felt wild, reckless, all the smouldering anger of that long day spilling over into an urge to lash out and fight. When this was over, I'd go to Central and seek an opponent worthy of my skill. Meanwhile, let this fool see what fire could be made to do - perhaps that would teach him some respect for the world he was so eager to escape.

His eyes narrowed over the wand. "Incendio!"

I was ready for him. As the flames rushed toward me, I caught them and mastered them, easily, binding his wand to the spell with one quick curse and his hand to the wand with another. Then I sent the impatient tendrils of flame flowing around us, up and down and out, so the wrought iron gates were wreathed in fire and the columns blazed. He and I stood in a burning bower, unharmed amidst the searing heat - for as long as I chose to have it so.

Tamino cried out, but his voice was lost among the inferno's roar and the savage laughter welling up inside me, ringing in my ears as I added power to power, making the flames leap higher, burn brighter. It felt very good.

"No! Marvolo - stop, please stop! Let - me - go!"

Dumbledore Minor's face twisted as he fought me, but I held him fast and kept the fire streaming from his wand, to be caught and patterned by mine, sent whirling around us both in a dance of yellow and scarlet.

I laughed again, giddy and drunk with heat and light, feeling the force of enchantment flow through me like strong wine or a lover's embrace or the thrill of the dueling floor. I fancied I could see flowers in the flames, blazing with a hundred colors against the night.

Let them all be consumed, reduced to ashes. I would delight in it.

"Didn't you want to burn me, Muggle-lover?" I taunted him. "Shall I let the fire take us now? I'm an evil sorcerer, oh yes I am - but if I burn, then by all the gods, so do you, for you are one of my kind!"

"I'm not!" he shrieked, wild-eyed. "I'm not, I'm not! Liar! Imperio!"

My laughter stopped in a gasp of surprise; but I barely had time to be astounded by his temerity in turning that curse against me, or his ability to cast it at all, for a link formed between us again - and there was chaos.

I felt the link, and the familiar trance beneath, which I evaded with practised ease, but the quality of this spell was like no other Imperius Curse I'd ever encountered. Strong, yes, but entirely unfocused, with nothing remotely resembling an attempt to shape a command: only the link and one continuous, silent scream of denial - quite deafening, and most unpleasant. He was shaking all over, his hand still locked to the wand it held, and his eyes squeezed tight shut. Clearly, he had not the faintest notion what to do with this curse; so I simply left the link in place and waited for him to become trapped in his own Imperius trance.

The arc of fire still streamed between our wands. With my attention elsewhere, I dismissed the first glint of fresh color in the flames, thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me again - until cooler air touched my skin. The colors grew more vivid. When I looked at them properly, I nearly fell off the winged boar.

Something new had kindled in his wand, flying to mine and outward to embrace the gates, and the breath caught in my throat as the blaze in which we stood changed before my eyes.

Heat died and colors shifted around us, now burning cold and bright.

Burning white and blue and black.

Gods. The wizarding fire, the flame of Mastery that marked the strongest of our kind.

I had no leisure to gape at it: Dumbledore Minor opened his eyes and let out a yell, aloud, to match the din he was creating across the link of Imperius. I winced. Not trapped in the trance - but he was panicking, badly, as he struggled to break the link and put out the flame. I took a deep breath. Then, doing my best to sound composed, I spoke to him silently.

Mudblood! Calm yourself. This is important. Have you ever seen this flame before?

I can't stop it! No - no - no - Make it stop!

Calm yourself. See, I'm no longer angry. Be still! Hear me.

Makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop -

Not while you're howling like a banshee! Be still. Listen to me. Have you seen this flame before?

No! I don't know! Make it go away! Marvolo help me -

Mudblood, it's your flame. Do not fear it. Quietly, now. Listen, I'll show you what to do...

So he still didn't know what he'd done - any more than I knew what he was; but at least the noise had died down. Speaking slowly and clearly across the link, I explained what I was doing as I released my own spells; the fire disappeared from the gates and the columns, faded from my wand, shrinking to a small flame around his. After taking another long look at the colors, I showed him how to extinguish it.

All the while, my thoughts raced as I tried to fit the evidence of my eyes to any comprehensible explanation.

Mastery, perhaps, but Mastery of what? He showed promise in Transfiguration; yes, that could be it - or Charms... or... No. Impossible.

Then I guided him through releasing the Imperius Curse, thinking only that he should not have been able to cast it. Too ignorant. Too young. No one I knew had worked Imperius at that age... except myself. And the wizarding fire had burned for him as he did it.

The obvious conclusion made me wish this whole day could be classified as a bad dream, so I could somehow return to the breakfast table and start over.

A Mudblood Master of the Dark Arts? No. The deepest contradiction in terms, an utter violation of every tenet of history and loyalty. Impossible. And yet, against all odds, Fortune and the Sorting Hat had cast him into Slytherin: the House of Dark wizards, of the warrior arts and the game. My House.

With a wand of rowan, the wood of sanctuary and protection.

I pushed my hair back from my forehead, feeling more than a little tired and hungry, as well as confused. Dumbledore Minor was now sitting astride the boar on his gate-column, looking dazed, still clutching his wand in one grubby fist.

"Why in Hades did you try Imperius on me at all?" It was the first question that came into my head.

"I - I meant to do that fire spell again..." He shrugged. "I must have mixed them up..."

I made a sound that was half-laugh, half-groan. That was ridiculous enough to be true, for him; and if my guess about his flame proved correct, then the field of Dark Arts might be facing some interesting times... Had I really almost allowed a potential Master to leave the school, untrained?

Perhaps it was time to return to the ground.

A quick charm brought both of us floating down to stand before the gates again, and at once I looked around for Tamino, finding him by the glow of his wand. He had moved some paces away, standing with his back to the gates, looking up the long drive at the lights on the castle's turrets, visible above the trees. The wand in his right hand switched back and forth in rapid, agitated rhythm to a music I couldn't hear.

I hurried over to him. "Carus! Did you see that, did you see what - "

His arm felt taut as a curse waiting to be spoken; when he spun around at my touch, I suddenly found myself facing one of Tamino's rare tempers.

"Yes, I saw - you and the fire, and then I couldn't see past it - couldn't see anything! Why did you do it? Why?"

"But Carus, the colors - "

" - of all the senseless tricks - never do that again! Too close - "

After everything that had passed, to be scolded by an outraged Ravenclaw who was completely missing the point - it was too much. I burst out laughing once more and pulled Tamino into an embrace, ignoring his spluttering, clinging to him until I was able to speak.

"Gods, are you quite deranged? Julius - "

"I'm fine! He - I - did you see the colors?"

"I wasn't thinking of that! I saw the fire - no, not your usual colors, what did you - "

"Not - my - colors," I gasped, turning him so that we both faced the gates. "Not mine!"

Dumbledore Minor, shoulders drooping, stood where I had left him.

"Oh my," said Tamino.

The boy stared back at us blankly.

I sighed. "What am I to do with you now, Mudblood?"

"I'm still not staying!" His chin came up and he folded his arms defiantly - in a manner that left his wand ready for immediate action. I recognized the stance as one of my own, and almost dissolved in laughter again, but instead I simply looked at him, waiting; sure enough, it didn't take long for him to lose his nerve.

"I'm not!" His voice quavered higher. "You can't make me - and all those things you said - and - and - those people - " Then he crumpled to his knees, retching.

Tamino and I exchanged one brief, resigned glance and moved to his side. Leading him to the shore, both of us provided light as we waited for his sobs to subside, then washed his face in the cold lake-water. Throughout it all, he wouldn't let go of the wand - and I smothered a smile at that. His wand-arm knew the truth of it, at least, even if his stubborn head still balked.

We crouched on either side of him, and as his ragged breaths grew more steady, I was still wondering what to try next.

Unexpectedly, Tamino spoke first. "Would you consider staying... for a while?" Shooting a sharp look at me over the boy's head, he went on, his voice disarmingly clear and gentle. "Until Samhain, shall we say?"

"Carus, that's not - " I fell silent, unwillingly, as he brought a finger to his lips. His eyes urged me to let him continue.

"When is... Samhain?" Dumbledore Minor kept his gaze on the reflections of wand-light rippling in the water.

"Oh, of course, you'd know it as All Hallows' Eve," said Tamino swiftly. "That's not so very long, is it? Only a few more weeks. I'd be sorry to stop our reading lessons now, wouldn't you? And we'll try to make things easier for you, indeed we will - "

I snorted at that; Dumbledore Minor remained silent.

"But you do have to make allowances for Julius..." Tamino's smirk in response to my appalled glare told me his temper hadn't entirely cooled. "Just as you've never seen a place like Hogwarts before... well, Julius has grown up in a big castle a long way from anywhere - and it's hard for him to imagine the world you come from. Why, I'll wager he's never spoken to a Muggle in his life - have you, Julius?"

"I have not," I replied coldly. Of course I hadn't, and Tamino knew it, and I didn't see the relevance of this at all. We were talking about the Mudblood, not about me.

"But he's very clever, as you can see, and knows all about such matters as... oh, dueling - and snakes - and other useful things, so he's well worth listening to!" The gleam in Tamino's eyes threatened to spill over into open mirth; I raised my wand and saw him bite his lip, keeping his voice steady with an obvious effort. "So - what say you? Do stay till Samhain! And tell us - you must tell us what you want, and if there's anything we can do to help - none of us will be angry, truly, we want you to stay - "

Dumbledore Minor raised his head. His hair was still damp, and droplets of water on his face glistened like tears by the light of my wand, but the pale eyes that met mine were clear and dry.

"Do you? Do you really want me to stay?"

Behind him, Tamino made a frantic series of faces and gestures to indicate that unless I said yes, he would either hex me or never speak to me again.

For one instant that felt like forever, all I'd said to Dumbledore Minor in anger streamed through my mind - and all the outrageous things he had said - but as I drew breath to answer him, I found that none of it mattered. No, it did matter; how could I overlook the fact that he was a Mudblood with uncertain loyalties? Yet all of it seemed less important, somehow, than the moment when he'd asked for my aid within the link of Imperius, and I had given it, and he had trusted me enough to follow where I led.

I'd known it on the very first day, when I faced him in my chamber, and now the certainty returned to me at last. Skill like my own. Not wasted. Not lost. I looked at this impossibly irritating little Mudblood, and saw another wizard who knew what it was to work one of the great curses at the age of eleven.

"Yes, I do," I said. "I swear it by the flame that burned for you, status partner."

There was a long silence. Tamino let his wand float above our heads, still shining, and reached out to take my free hand in his.

"I... don't like them laughing at me." Dumbledore Minor seemed to speak to the lake, or to the night, not looking at either of us.

"Learn a few more hexes, and I'll show you what to do about that," I said. If he really wanted the whole school to stop laughing, he'd also have to cease doing inexplicable things to cauldrons and making up wild tales about sheep - but this hardly seemed the time to go into details.

He turned to Tamino, who gave him an encouraging smile, then glanced at me again, wavering. "No more brooms?"

"As you please," I replied with an air of indifference. "I'll not put you on a broomstick..." Now there was a promise I had no intention of keeping. Fly he would, and soon, though I hadn't yet decided how it might be done.

"Till... Samhain, then." He said it to the lake, very faintly, and I grinned, and Tamino squeezed my hand.

As we rose to our feet, Tamino held out the boy's bundled robes, inviting him to put them on. I toyed with my wand, thinking ahead to our return to the castle, and later... I could still follow my plans for his training. Samhain was six weeks off. He'd forget all about Muggles and their ways by then, I'd see to that myself, or else he could -

"Marvolo..."

I looked up to find him watching me.

"Give me back my own clothes." An undertone of challenge there, slight but certain.

I bit back the impulse to tell him to do it himself. He couldn't - not unless I drove him to desperation, as I'd done in the Great Hall on his first day; but I was in no mood for that now, and besides... it was not the point of his request. The question was not whether he could do it, but whether I would. I recognized his move, reminded of the subtle shifts of power between myself and Belcore: less intense now than they had been in our first year as a status pair, yet still present. Never any doubt of where the balance of strength lay - it would always be mine - but rather a constant testing of boundaries, through oblique demands and elusive concessions, even as we faced the rest of our House together.

This Mudblood learned fast - when he consented to learn at all.

Hissing in annoyance, I did as he asked, and watched him don his robes without another word of protest. Very well, let him think he'd won this little byplay; I'd still have him decently clothed before the month was out, and I knew just the person to help with that.

"We've missed dinner, for certain," said Tamino, slipping an arm around my waist. "Why not stay out a while longer?" And he drew me down to sit beside him under an old willow tree by the water's edge. Dumbledore Minor slowly followed, perching on a rock in front of us.

It was a mild, moonless evening, with a last hint of summer lingering in the air, and only the small noises of the night came from the darkness beyond our wand-light. Tamino raised his head, as if listening for something more. Dumbledore Minor kept casting uneasy glances at the gates. I sighed, reaching for composure, but found myself thinking of everything at once - status implications, Switch's classroom, Belcore's glare, the parchment my father had sent me, Delacroix, Martin, and the gates ablaze with the wizarding fire - over and over again. I felt drained, yet excited - and still confused - and hungry. Definitely hungry.

At least I was no longer seeing colors everywhere.

"It's gone," said Tamino, echoing my thoughts. "I've had a sense of being watched, ever since we got here - but now it's gone..."

"Lott, of course, peering at us in his scrying-bowl! Weren't you expecting it?" I settled back more comfortably against the tree, adding yet another knot to the tangle dancing in my mind. Gesius Lott couldn't have missed that performance, and would certainly draw his own conclusions from it. If he could be convinced to tolerate even the possibility of a Mudblood attempting Mastery in his own field - that Mudblood would have to conform. In everything else.

I glanced at Dumbledore Minor, who was shifting about nervously, looking at the lake, the gates, the ground - anywhere but at me. Then I banished the light of my wand with one quick word, and began his next lesson.

"Mudblood. It is a courtesy among us, to provide light for others. We have done so for you. The word is Lumos. Do it, now."

I waited. Tamino looked on, intrigued, his shoulder brushing mine, his wand still shining. One heartbeat. Another.

"Lumos!" Dumbledore Minor stared back at me by the light of his wand, and I wondered how it was possible for anyone to look so appalled and defiant over a simple Lumos charm.

No matter. He had done as I asked.

"It's only light, no more," I said, nodding at the wand. "What you saw before - well, that was something else..."

Then I explained to him, briefly and clearly, what had burned for him across the gates - and what it might mean; though what I said didn't amount to a tenth of my own thoughts on that point. Even as I spoke, I was reflecting on whom I would tell of this, and when - Belcore had to know, and Valery too, and my father - but not the whole House, not yet... I called my own fire for an instant, to show Dumbledore Minor the difference in colors; he flinched away from it. I sighed again, and went on. No, not our House, and not the rest of the school. The immediate question there was not whether my errant status partner was a potential Master, but whether he could stay on a broom; Dumbledore Minor would have to fly, for all to see, before I could put Martin in his place.

I paused, trying to decide what to explain next - the Imperius Curse, or my plans for his training, or any of the myriad of other concepts he needed to know. Then I noticed that Tamino's wand-light had gone out.

He had closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the tree. His face was half-shadowed, but I could make out a slight frown, and the sight touched a memory in me. How long had it been since I'd watched Tamino sleeping? In the past year, there had been a period when he'd spent as many nights in the Slytherin dungeons as in Gryffindor Tower. He never invited Valery or myself into Ravenclaw; since his family could not afford to give him his own chamber at Hogwarts, he still shared a dormitory with several other plebeians.

"Dreaming, Carus?"

"No... Thinking." He opened his eyes. "Pay no heed, I was feeling low - it's foolish, I know, but - oh, perhaps I've heard too much this day that I didn't want to hear..." He looked away into the night.

A question had been nagging at me for the past hour, and I used it to divert him.

"What were you saying, back there - about not enough? Can you See what passes between others within Imperius now?"

Tamino shook his head. "I cannot. All I meant was..." His gaze flickered to the boy in front of us, then back to me. "It's not enough for him to stay because you command it. Were you seeking yet another retainer?"

"If I ever call you that, Carus - may my own next curse strike me down!"

"My thanks for those words..." Tamino smiled into my eyes. "But it's true nonetheless, for - you are what you are, Julius, and we also have our place, and we do as we must... I accept that. I have to. But this one?" He tilted his head, looking appraisingly at Dumbledore Minor. "He has no place."

I thought about it. Before this, I had been too absorbed in the immediate challenges of his presence in Slytherin to consider the far future; but now I thought about it. Whatever Tamino might say, for Dumbledore Minor it would be no bad fate to become a Marvolo retainer. The wizarding world was neither welcoming nor safe for a lone Mudblood, even if he did achieve Mastery some day; in the greater game, he could never be more than a tool, or a weapon, or perhaps a prize. Better to have his loyalty secured to our line, not some other family, for he could be useful to me, and if he wished for a long life -

"Do you know that you could live a century or more?" I asked him suddenly. From the startled look he gave me, it was apparent that no one had bothered to explain this to him either. "Yes, or perhaps half as much again - what do you say to that? The Muggles may outnumber us, but we live longer than they, and we can Heal almost any illness or injury - you'll learn to do that for yourself, if not for others - "

That uncomprehending look again.

"Gods, I have to start teaching him Healing at once," I muttered to Tamino, "and he doesn't even know what it is!"

"Already?"

"Yes." The accepted pattern at Hogwarts was for all students to learn Astronomy in their first year and Healing in their second, then choose between the two from their third year onwards. Everyone in our House chose Healing, as an essential complement to Dark Arts; I had been glad enough to leave Astronomy behind after a year - it was deathly dull, and I'd always be able to throw someone a few Sickles to read the stars for me if the need arose.

First-year students were not expected to do more damage to themselves or each other than might be remedied by the nearest prefect or the school's Infirmary. Normal first-year students, even Slytherins, did not require a detailed knowledge of Healing. I could recall being an exception to that rule.

"Do you remember me Healing your hurts, the day we met?"

Dumbledore Minor nodded.

"Well, I'd not be able to do that to a stranger, ten years hence - and neither will you." I started rolling up the left sleeve of my robes. "That is something we lose, we who work the Dark Arts - a matter of empathy, and more - in our maturity we cannot Heal others, save perhaps a few, very close to us." My father could Heal no one but me. I bared my left arm to the elbow, and raised my wand. "But we can Heal ourselves. We must. Watch closely, now."

It took no more than a moment. One spell left my wand as a knife-blade, slicing through the flesh of my left forearm, and as I'd been trained to do, I kept my wits clear in the brief burst of pain - thinking over it and around it, speaking a charm which closed the wound almost before my blood had time to flow. Easy enough. In a duel, I would have been attacking my opponent even as I Healed myself; and some day, in a duel to the death - well, blood loss from untended wounds was hardly the most painful way to fall in a duel, but defeat was defeat.

Dumbledore Minor leaned forward, staring at my arm. It bore no mark at all, save for a trail of blood that vanished at a touch of my wand, though the place where the wound had been still smarted.

His eyes shone for a moment in the light from his wand. A covetous look, and one I recognized, having felt it myself - the hunger for a new skill.

"Ooh... Can I do that?"

"Indeed." I gave him a cool glance. "I'll show you how - if you cease whining about magic not being real."

His reply was faint, but clear. "Yes, Marvolo..."

Perfect. I slid lower against the tree, resting my head on Tamino's shoulder and rubbing at my arm to ease the sting. "Got him," I whispered, feeling more than entitled to a smug smile or two at this.

Tamino laughed softly. "As for who's got whom here - not for me to say, I'm sure... Shh, let me see to that - oh, it isn't fair, I do miss Healing - "

"Shouldn't have dropped it," I said, watching his wand trace a path along my arm. The last ache from my spell dissipated at the touch. "You were always good."

"But I like Astronomy!" he protested. "And I need it for Potions - and Divination - and Alchemy - still, I do wish I could take both..."

His wand moved to my forehead, across my temples, and the headache which I'd pushed to the back of my awareness faded away. I closed my eyes, savoring a sense of complete well-being for the first time since the Transfiguration class.

Tamino's hand rested on my arm. I looked up and found him watching me, smiling slightly.

"This night? A request, Julius."

His fingertips brushed the sensitive skin where the wound had been; I seemed to feel that light, questioning touch from the roots of my hair to my toes, and it was a dozen times better than Restorative Draught.

I raised an eyebrow at him. "And Lucan...?"

"...really is an unspeakable idiot, sometimes."

"Mmm. So is Aulus."

"Mmm..." Tamino sighed, then gave me a mischievous look. "And what are we, for seeking their company?"

"Valiant? Generous? Under Imperius?"

We laughed; then he paused, still watching me, still stroking my skin in the way that made breathing so absurdly difficult.

"This night?" he asked again.

"Why not, indeed?" I said, as casually as I could manage. "Should sleep elude me, you might explain some more Alchemy - "

His indignant reply remained unspoken, for at that moment the wand-light went out. We turned, startled, as a dry branch on the ground nearby suddenly burst into flame.

An instant earlier, I'd heard a very soft "Incendio!" - and now Dumbledore Minor, wand still raised, looked back at me uncertainly in the flickering light.

"I - I just wanted to see if it really worked," he muttered, abashed.

"Of course it works, you little - Oh Hades, Lumos!" I scrambled to my feet and reached out a hand to Tamino. "Let's go back! I'm famished, and they'll be waiting for us in Central - "

Tamino nodded agreement, and the three of us walked away from the lake, toward the long drive that would lead us back to the castle. I gave the gates one quick glance, remembering.

"Are you sure you've never seen the flame before?" I asked my status partner. "What about - at Ollivanders, the first time you touched that wand? Did it burn for you then?"

He shook his head. "There were some sparks, I think..."

"Oh, everyone gets sparks!" I paused, considering this. "But Switch - Look, Mudblood, you still haven't told me a thing about that! He must have said something about why he was there - he must have spoken to you, surely - what did he say? Tell me!"

"He said - " Dumbledore Minor stopped at the edge of the drive, fixed his eyes on the ground, and spoke in a rush. "He said I was a wizard and he was a teacher and he was looking forward to seeing me in Gryffindor and if I learned my lessons well I could be just like my brother - and then I stopped listening!" He raised his head, scowling. "I didn't want to come here, and I didn't want to be in Gryffindor, and I never want to be like him!" Then he looked away again, and his next words were spoken so low I could barely hear them. "Rather be like you..."

Tamino pressed my hand, and I could see he was trying his best not to laugh.

I smiled. Even though I still didn't know what to make of all this - it certainly felt like an extra couple of points for Slytherin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Notes:

Like Chapter Four? Hate Chapter Four? Do tell me about it; I care. The email address is minervamctabby@yahoo.com.au and the LiveJournal is at http://www.livejournal.com/users/mctabby - so do tell.
Marvoloverse: a list for update notifications and discussion of Two Worlds and In Between and related fics. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvoloverse

Thank you to all who have taken the time to read the first three chapters and have waited so patiently for this one - hope you've enjoyed it!

Huge thanks to those who have read substantial parts of Chapter 4 as it came together, and offered opinions: Catherine Cook, ColdCoffeeEyes25, Dorothy, Faith Accompli, Fidelis Haven, Frances Dormouse, Hecate, Hypatia Croaker, JOdel, Juliane, Kristina, Lev Stone, Lillith Janvier, Riley, teluekh, Vulgarweed.

Thanks to Ayla Pascal for Niffling this fic at FictionAlley Park! I was most flattered. :)

Special mention to Angie Astravic for reading, reviewing, considering, speculating, and generally immersing herself in the Marvoloverse to an extent that simply awes me.... angie_v12, every one of your posts on the list has been a delight - especially the "Albus Don't Duel" filk, and suggestions for how Esslin might survive. LMAO!

Special mention to Keket, who experienced recurring technicolor dreams based on the chrysanthemum scene, featuring Switch and Lott. You scare me, Keket. :)

Gileonnen from FAP and Wendy from FFN - your reviews were... the best I've had. Wow. *blush* Thanks!

And everyone else who has reviewed at FFN, sent me email, dropped into my LJ, plugged TWIB around lists and boards, read TWIB for their Unexpected Task, nitpicked, asked questions, pelted me with comments, pestered me for the fourth chapter - well, the OCs and I are very, very grateful. To all of you: A. Lee, Alchemine, aldalindil, Andrew Carey, Anemone, angelphish, Aurora de la Noche, Azalais Malfoy, Essy, Flourish, Gwendolyn Grace, KitLee, kkpixie, Kryssi, linkinparkchica, Little Alex, ljmimnaugh, Mark, MartianHouseCat, Mijra, Phoenix Demonia, Proserpina, queen of slytherin, Random Slytherin, richelle, Rider Riddle, RowanRhys, Sarah Black, Sharaclyz, slynxter189, Straya Luna niqui, Taliesin, Tinderblast, undauntra, VerityEmory, Weaver, WvB, Zebee Johnstone.

Interesting new development: Gesius Lott has been slithering into other people's fics... well, he got to teluekh some time ago, as well as Keket's dreams - but now he's also mentioned in Chapter 3 of She'll Come Back As Fire by VerityEmory at http://www.thedarkarts.org/authorLinks/VerityEmory and Chapter 14 of The Serpentine Chain by Fidelis Haven at http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=631464

Finally, I'm sorry the story hasn't got as far as I thought it would in this chapter. This scene by the gates and the lake wouldn't stop until it was good and ready. So - next chapter will open in Central, where Belcore and Valery are waiting for Julius. There will be more Esslin, and a brief appearance by Albus Dumbledore, and even some Peeves. See you there. :)