Néron's father turned to the house elf at his feet. "Zazou, run and fetch Néron's things. You remember how to find is room, no?"

The elf bowed and disappeared with a sharp popping sound. The Seigneur de Malefoy faced his son. "Good news!" he said. "I've made all the necessary arrangements with the Headmaster at Hogwarts. You're set to begin in September."

Néron sighed heavily but bit his lip. Austor, who hadn't moved from the spot where Néron's father greeted him, suddenly realized where he was and bowed away as quietly as possible.

"You'll find Hogwarts is every bit as fine a school as the Academy," Flavius said, judging the meaning of his son's frosty demeanor. "They've got an excellent faculty, an extensive library…."

"I'll miss my friends."

"You'll make new friends," Flavius said. When Néron said nothing, he added, "Néron, not every wizard is granted an English lordship. It is a title of great responsibility and influence. I'm in a position to do some good for our kind. You understand that."

Néron simply gazed at his father in silence.

"Some day you will be the Seigneur de Malefoy," Flavius continued. "It is in your best interest to understand how the wizarding world works in England. I see no better way to gain that understanding than to finish your education at Hogwarts."

"I don't even speak English!"

"Neither do I!" Flavius blurted, a slight blush rising on his cheeks. Composing himself, he said, "The language of instruction at Hogwarts is Latin, just like here at the Academy. You'll have no problems getting along, especially as there are quite a few Norman children attending there now."

Néron knew it wouldn't do any good to argue. He had learned long ago that his father always got his way in the end.

"At least let me say goodbye to my friends."

"Of course, Néron. I would never be so cruel as to deny you that. The carriage is just outside the palace gate. Zazou and I will wait for you there."

Flavius de Malefoy turned away, and his rich vermillion cloak flapped behind him like the wings of some mysterious creature of wind and fire.

Néron's thoughts turned to Elionor. He dashed inside the palace to look for her. She wasn't in the entrance hall, nor in the Great Hall, where some students were visiting with each other and waiting for their parents to arrive.

"February," he muttered to himself. He would go to Hogwarts in September, but in February he turned seventeen and came of age.

There was no sign of Elionor in the classroom wing. He accosted a couple of girls leaving the girls' dormitories to ask if she were there. Neither of them had seen her.

A plan was beginning to form in his mind. A sense of resolve was growing, making his heart race.

He found her outside in the gardens on the far side of the palace. She smiled when she saw him, then frowned as she realized he had come to say goodbye.

"Elionor," he said. She started to say something but he held out his hand and continued. "My father is here to fetch me home. He insists I go to that wretched English school next year."

It was nothing Elionor had not been warned to expect, but still she seemed heartbroken at the news.

"I'll come back," Néron said. "Less than a year, and I'm no longer under his authority."

"Néron, what are you saying?"

"I'm asking—"


"I'm asking…if you…if we…" Words failed him. He reached for his mokeskin pouch. He pulled out his wand. It was, he realized, the only thing he owned that had not been paid for with his father's money. His books, his cauldron—even the clothes on his back. Only his wand was truly his. It belonged to him, and him alone. If he was going to do what he planned, his wand was the only thing he wanted to use.

Néron took a deep breath. "Elionor," he said, and lowered himself to one knee. "I give you this wand in the name of marriage."

Elionor started. "Néron, I…"

Néron could see the hesitancy in Elionor's eyes. "U-unless you…don't…."

"No, Néron!" she protested. "I do…but… Oh, Néron, we're too young!"

"But isn't that the point of a betrothal? To declare our intention to be married when we both come of age?"

"Well, I suppose… But please don't ask me to take your wand! Give me something else. Anything else!"

"I have nothing else to give," he said flatly.

"But your father! What will he say when you tell him you've given me your wand?"

"There are bound to be wand-makers in England," he shrugged.

She shook her head. "It's too much, Néron. I'm not sure you've thought this through. You can't just give away your wand!"

"Then give it back to me," he said. "The first Saint Nicholas Eve after we're married, or my next birthday, I don't care. But for now, I'm giving this wand to you—and I guarantee it will never perform more powerful magic than it can right now…if you'll let it."

Elionor blushed. She stretched out her hand and gently cradled the wand, feeling its heft as Néron let go of it. He rose to his feet.

"They say the weather in England is dreadful," Elionor scoffed.

"Then I'll start working on father to take a lordship in Sicily," Néron joked. He bent down to kiss his betrothed. His whole body became warm and tingly. In the distance, he could just hear the songs of wood nymphs echoing in the trees.

Néron let out a satisfied sigh. He realized with a broadening grin that he would rather kiss Elionor than any wood nymph in the forest.

• England's Norman conquerors continued to speak French, which became the language of court and law for centuries. French influences upon English vocabulary and pronunciation drove the development from Old English to Middle English.

• In the Middle Ages, betrothals involved the ritual exchange of virtually any object—a ring, a flute, some coins, or even a ball of string. Betrothals were often established as the "waiting period" until one or both partners came of age.

• In addition to England, Normans ruled in Sicily, southern Italy, and even Jerusalem during the eleventh–twelfth centuries.

• I've now written a brief vignette about the early days of Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbâtons. Shall I proceed to other wizarding institutions? Azkaban? The Triwizard Tournament? Ollivander's?