Before she was sixteen, Helga never even saw a wand.

If you were a slave belonging to a minor Mercian lord, there wasn't much time for using magic – and even if you did somehow have the time, even if you somehow knew a wandmaker, there was still the question of the money to pay for a wand. Some families like hers shared wands, passed down over the generations. But Helga's father had been born to Muggles.

Helga never cared that her father couldn't afford a wand, though she knew it worried him. It was an undercurrent to her entire childhood. Her father was always working in those days; he sacrificed much of what little spare time he had to earn coin on the side. But somehow he always snatched a little time for her. Weary but good-humored as ever, he'd tell her stories about her mother or sing to her or simply sit with her until she fell asleep.

She knew that as long as she had moments like these, she had all she needed.

It was in Helga's thirteenth year that everything changed. One day she saw her father talking to a stranger. He wouldn't tell her what the conversation had been about, but whatever it was made him look ten years younger. It would be months before she realized what he had done, and by then it would be too late.

He had come, a rich lord, and bought her from Gyric. She could not protest, of course; she was, after all, as good as property. Her father begged her forgiveness as he said goodbye; that what he had done, he had done out of love.

"I want a better life for you," her father had said fervently. "You're bright. You'll make something of yourself. And maybe someday you can come back and free your old man, eh?"

"I promise," said Helga. "I promise I'll free you."

"I love you," her father said, and then it was time to go and she was hugging him and weeping.

Helga dried her tears on her sleeve, and looked up at her new owner, chin jutting stubbornly though she knew she should act meek.

"Don't look at me like that, little one," he said, his grey eyes twinkling, and Helga was surprised to realize that beneath the hardness this man looked kind. The next thing he said surprised her even more. "I'll free you when we get home. We're none of us slaves where we're going."

All she could do was gape.

"Magical folk must needs stick together," the lord explained. "So many of us must live as Muggles, pretending magic does not exist, shutting away that part of ourselves because we haven't the time or the resources to train our gifts. Life has given me great fortune, and so I try to help where I can. My friend Sigbert met your father some months ago, and I learned about you through him. The rest, of course, you know – except, of course, my name, which is Osric. I hope you will use it."

Helga was stunned at his generosity. Some churchmen, she knew, regularly freed slaves for the health of their souls. But this man, she realized, meant to give her a home, a wand and an education.

This promised gift was precious beyond words, and she suddenly understood what her father had meant about her making a better life. Part of her ached hollowly for what she was leaving behind, but another part was warm with the kindness of this stranger. If everyone where she was going was like Osric, perhaps she might be happy there, someday. But she would keep her promise.

She would.