Hey everyone! (Winces slightly) Damn, my head still hurts… Word of advice –if you're ever invited to a wedding in Poland, be prepared for a hangover of your life. (Mumbles to self) Almost a week and I still feel the aftereffects. Damn you vodka!
Okay now (looks slightly sheepish after noticing he said the last bit out loud) Em… The fic, yes! I, your humble host Eagle White, welcome you to yet another chapter of "Natha keeshe lu' natha khaliizi". Once again, I apologize for the long wait, but this time I have a good explanation. (Adds silently) As if your cousin getting married and you suffering from a gigantic hangover wasn't good enough. The reason for this chapter being posted now and not sooner is because, well, basically I wrote it from scratch. I didn't have this one written beforehand, it originally being a much smaller part of the previous chapter, and I just needed to work everything out.
This chapter here may appear to be a bit on the slow side, as not much of it is action packed. As it is, it serves the purpose of clearing out some issues that may or may not arise in the later parts of the fic. Also, it served the purpose of introducing another OC of mine, one already mentioned in chapter one.
Also using the occasion, I would like to address an issue one of my anonymous reviewers had. So, to Guest: it may appear that my character is viewed too highly by the school staff, but keep in mind –they aren't impressed by the fact that he repaired a broken item by magic, but by the simple fact that he did that without using a wand, which is virtually impossible for most accomplished wizards on Earth.
There's also one more thing I would like to address before we start the chapter. I wanted to add a shout out to the user named syed for his great suggestions. I may not use all of them, but they do help me in creating a better and more detailed version of the world I try to present, and at least a couple of them will find their way into the fic. If you're reading this: THANKS! I really appreciate it!
Now then, I'll won't keep you from the chap any more. Hope you'll find this installment satisfactory and hope to see you again.
Really. Do not get roped into a drinking contest during a wedding. (Sigh) I need a new ice bag.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything that may be remotely considered a property of anyone else. The Harry Potter series, the Forgotten Realms setting, Neverwinter Nights and Dungeons&Dragons are all owned be their respective owners.
Natha keeshe lu' natha khaliizi
Gultah dos h'rost nauxahuu*
After Dumbledore led his guest and his deputy into his office he looked at the white haired one with a friendly smile, his eyes twinkling. There were things that happened during their trek, things that were amusing for the elder wizard to say the least. And most, if not all of them involved the traveler from distant lands.
The first thing he noticed that brought a small smirk on his lips was the way he was walking. Dumbledore suspected, that being shrunk and placed in a body with slightly different proportions than the ones you were used to could make coordinating ones moves difficult. That being said, Zak was having a really hard time walking straight for more than a few steps. He tended to stumble and wobble, each of his steps slow to the degree that both he and McGonagall had to wait for him on more than one occasion. In the end, the drow decided that leaning one hand against the wall was the only way to get around in a relatively quick pace. Still, it all looked more like he was drunk than he had problems with walking, and although Dumbledore wasn't keen on seeing children intoxicated, this small picture was downright hilarious.
There was also the one time they entered a specific corridor, windows placed on one of the walls of it. Normally Dumbledore didn't pay much of his attention to this particular hallway, considering he spent almost a century himself roaming his school. That was probably why he forgotten about one particular window, a window that was unique in all of Hogwarts. The said window… didn't show what was behind it. In fact, it showed the entire school seen from the surface of the Black Lake, a unique phenomenon in the scale of the whole school. And, by pure chance, Zak had looked out of it.
The Headmaster didn't exactly know how to react to what he saw. One moment his guest was stumbling along the wall, his face in a concentrated frown. Half a second later, he was getting acquaintanced with the local parquetry. And as if that wasn't enough, he rose to his feet in just under five seconds, gripped the windowsill for support and gazed wide-eyed at the scene behind the window. It was getting even better, because Zak, still staring out the enchanted piece of glass began moving his mouth like a fish out of water. It took almost whole five minutes for the drow to finally come to terms with what he saw, turn around and continue following him and his employee. The look on his face however was still amusing like hell.
Third time's the charm as they say, and considering the ever rising spirits of one elderly wizard it just meant that this time he actually began to laugh (or rather chuckle). It all began as they entered yet another corridor, this time around littered with magical paintings. Dumbledore thought, that something like this wouldn't affect someone who claimed to be a wizard of exceptional skill, but he was greatly mistaken. It seemed that it was the first time Zak encountered moving paintings with speaking, living to an extent people on the canvas. He looked with a wild, somewhat fearful expression on his face at every painting they passed by, his free hand inching towards his backpack as if he wanted to pull something from out of it. However as soon as the drow noticed an amused expression sent his way courtesy of Dumbledore he forced himself to look impassive. He even began to pointedly ignore every painting in the immediate vicinity, or at least pretend to do that. Seeing that he still shot them sideways glances and was a bit twitchy did nothing to improve his image. So it wasn't really that much of a surprise when the Headmaster started chuckling to himself silently.
He missed the annoyed glare sent his way by Zak.
Arrival to his office also was a rather unusual event. Like always when Dumbledore was either absent, preoccupied or out for an extended period of time the gargoyle protecting the way to his workplace took its position before the entrance. Used to this by now the silver bearded wizard without so much as a heads-up uttered his password ('lemon drop', but that shouldn't surprise anyone) and waited for the stone being to move aside. It did just that after maybe half a second, but the moment it moved it was hit by a crimson beam that after a quick examination was found out to have originated from no other than Zak. The drow didn't seem at all perturbed by what he did, and answered the unasked question of McGonagall with a quick "I don't trust gargoyles." That being said, the stone being in question didn't seem to be damaged in any fashion, so both Dumbledore and a reluctant McGonagall had to drop the issue.
Returning to the here and now the Headmaster shock his head slightly. As amusing as those events were… well, most of them at least… they were here for a very important reason. Stealing a glance at his coworker Dumbledore cleared his throat and again with a kind smile spoke to their guest.
"Now then, Mr. Vicloth, why don't you take a seat so we may begin our…" The Headmaster didn't get to finish his sentence however, silenced by the raised hand of the drow, signaling him to stop.
"No thank you, I really need to get a hang of this new body." Zak replied, walking slowly around the office and looking with a mildly interested expression on his face at the contents of the room. From Dumbledore's magical equipment, the silvery machines that were silently humming and letting out wisps of some kind of vapor, trough the empty golden perch where Fawkes usually sat, the bookcases filled with mysterious titles and the claw-legged desk that remembered more than fifty former Headmasters. Finally he noticed the rows of magical portraits, filled with silently snoring predecessors of the man he was going to discuss matters with. Eying them warily he spoke, his voice firm and with no room for objections.
"If we're going to discuss anything, I want them gone." Zak gestured towards the sleeping paintings with his chin. "I gather that they can hear us, and I rather not talk about anything important with unnecessary witnesses, even if they're only paint and canvas."
"Please, Mr. Vicloth, there is no need for this. What I wish to discuss with you won't leave this office, I assure you on behalf of my honorable predecessors."
"Sorry, but that won't do." Replied Zak, his eyes bearing into Dumbledore's with unwavering determination. "It's entirely up to me to decide who may and who may not be present during this conversation. I have my doubts in allowing her…" here he gestured in the general direction of McGonagall "…to stay here, seeing how she reacted to my story. I seriously doubt these… paintings are going to be any different."
Dumbledore looked into the lilac eyes of the drow, searching for an answer why their guest really didn't want any witnesses. It was a fact, that what he had to say to the drow would be regarded as a secret, one which only a handful of wizards in this world would be aware of, but he trusted the portraits of the former Headmasters with his life, and if one thing was certain, it was that they could keep a secret. Still, why would Zak be so adamant on the level of secrecy? It wasn't like he knew what was going to be discussed here now… could it?
The thought struck Dumbledore like a ton of bricks. Was it possible that a legendary being like a Svartalf was capable of Legilimency on a level that he had trouble comprehending and as a result countering? Was he already in his head, despite his Occlumency shields? No, it couldn't possibly be that. There had to be another reason. Maybe it had something to do with what he wanted to discuss? Maybe his drow guest wanted to speak about something he himself considered a secret? Or maybe he was just plain mistrustful of the paintings? Yes, whatever it was, Dumbledore doubted it had anything to do with what he wanted to discuss.
"Very well." The Headmaster decided, nodding to Zak and turned around in his chair so he was facing the wall with the paintings. "I am deeply sorry for this, but could you leave us alone for a while? We need to discuss some issues of great importance, and my guest here is rather adamant in you leaving us."
The former Headmasters hearing this dropped their act and began to move out of their frames, leaving only empty canvas and in a couple of odd cases some of their belongings, like a hearing horn and such. A couple of them said their goodbyes as well, using the occasion to take a look at the –for them –skinny, white haired boy, that apparently had the nerve to order Dumbledore around. Some of them were surprised at this, and one of them even looked at the present Headmaster with an amused smirk and commented idly: "Yer growin' soft, Dumbledore". Aside from that little incident however, which by the way brought a slight smirk on Zak's face, the wall "emptied itself" in no time, leaving only the living occupant of the room behind.
"Kind of knew they were listening in." Zak commented, the smirk on his face still present. "Talk about walls having ears."
"Well, they don't have anything better to do most of the time." Dumbledore replied, a smile behind his beard. "Now, can we proceed?"
"Yes, by all means." The smirk on the Spellsword's face grew more predatory. "I'm waiting for my blade, just like we agreed."
Dumbledore wasn't surprised by that, he did promise Zak that he would return his sword to him after they got to his office. So, without further ado he reached under his desk and after a moment brought out the weapon, placed firmly in its sheath, and handed it to the drow. The whitehead for his part wobbled his way towards the desk and as quickly as possible took his possession from the hands of the Headmaster, as if the mere thought of being separated for even a moment longer was too much to for him to bear.
The aged wizard watched with great interest at what would be the next actions of the drow. Zak, completely disregarding him and McGonagall, who looked like she was torn between glaring at Dumbledore for keeping something like this from her and protest about giving the drow any form of weapon began inspecting his prized possession. Firstly he looked at the state the sheath was in. The piece of hand carved wood gleamed like always with its black surface, painted long ago and systematically renewed by all of its possessors. Zak however looked deeper. As the one to place them there he looked at the slightly darker specks near the mouth of the scabbard intently, looking at hidden runes, and then frowned. Looking up from the weapon, the drow shot a glare towards Dumbledore.
"My sword was recently unsheathed, and it wasn't me who did it." He said, his voice icy like his glare. Even someone as powerful as the Chief Warlock and Supreme Magwump felt a shiver run down his spine while meeting his gaze, and to end this rather tense situation he decided to confess.
"Alas, I fear that is true, Mr. Vicloth. I did in fact took a closer look at your weapon, but you must remember –at the time I did not know that you were in fact an adult. Thinking it a bit bizarre, that a child was carrying a weapon such as yours I decided to check if it was in some way magical, searching for an answer to both the origin of you and your blade." Dumbledore, still a bit unnerved by the look Zak was giving him almost audibly gulped and continued. "I assure you, that the weapon itself is in prime condition. I did not let anything happen to it, and everything that you may deem as damage happened before I even took it in my hands."
"You better hope it's in good condition." Muttered Zak under his breath, still glaring at the old wizard. He did however return his gaze to the weapon itself and decided to continue his evaluation.
The Spellsword inspected the scabbard once more, deeming it being in acceptable condition despite being manipulated by Dumbledore. Pleased with his examination he moved to the sword proper, and with a quick and clearly well trained move of his wrist he unsheathed it. Ignoring McGonagall's startled cry he weighted the blade in his hand, checking both if the blade felt any lighter or if his strength decide to leave him alongside his coordination. He decided after a moment, that all was surprisingly well, and that for some reason his strength seemed to be the same as before. How was that possible, he had no clue, but hey –he wasn't going to complain. Still, he knew that right now he would need both his hands to properly wield Dragontongue due to him losing quite a bit of counterweight. Wielding the sword one-handed would be rather awkward right now.
After his initial checkup Zak went to the more detailed one, starting with checking the balance of his blade. To do so, he placed the sword on his outstretched finger in the place, where he knew the center of gravity should be. This test was passed with flying colors as well, and Dumbledore began to steadily calm down. The weapon seemed to be in great condition, and its owner seemed mildly pleased. Still, the drow examined it with watchful eyes, seeking anything that could mean any damage dealt to the blade, if not by Dumbledore's attempts at discerning wetter it was magical or not then by the change of planes it undergone. Therefore he approached slowly one of the windows in this office and inspected the blade in the sunlight, letting the bright rays of the slowly descending sun gleam off the well polished surface of dozens of layers of steel.
Zak's inspection of his blade was slowly nearing its end, only a few things left unchecked. The drow ran his index and middle finger along the flat of the blade slowly, muttering an arcane formula under his breath, and watched with an almost bored expression as the normally only carved runes close to the hand guard came to life. Glowing a faint but still visible blue they caught the attention of both Dumbledore and McGonagall, who never up until today had seen something like this. To the Spellsword however it was completely ordinary, as he had seen this more times than he remembered, and went straight to the point. Examining the glowing runes he searched for any form of abnormality in their structure, and finding none he let himself smile softly. There was only one test left.
Grabbing the hilt of his weapon in both hands the drow muttered under his breath the command word. As always when he invoked this special ability of his sword, red-hot flames engulfed the blade, creating a coat of fire hot enough to melt gold and cause significant damage to anyone unfortunate enough to find himself on the receiving end of his blows. They were like music to Zak: pure, beautiful and deadly in the same time. They were perfect. And that meant only one thing –that Dragontongue was in prime condition, despite Dumbledore's prodding. And speaking of the Headmaster…
The aged wizard looked at the display of magical properties of one single sword with bated breath. His test did provide him with some basic information about the blade, but dry information about a "level of enchantment" wasn't capable of conveying the true power hidden inside the piece of steel. In all his long life he hadn't seen anything like this, and it was saying something. And to think all this power was just dormant until their guest uttered that almost inaudible word, hidden from prying eyes in a guise of a mundane object. It was truly amazing, even if a bit scary, for if this one normal looking object was indeed a powerful magical item, then what stood in the way of say boots or even a toothpick being something similar?
To McGonagall however the beauty and splendor of magic in its prime was lost, replaced by cold dread creeping down her spine. Up until now she had her doubts about all the things that Zak had said. She trusted Dumbledore, she really did, but even then she couldn't help but wonder what utter nonsense could come out of the whitehead's mouth. And the fact that her long time friend believed in all this was short of ridiculous. Now however she seen everything in new light; light produced by a deadly weapon in the hands of someone, who if you believed his words was a skilled wizard with a knack for swordplay. And that lone thought was making her nervous if not downright terrified, because if he wanted to, he could probably kill her right here, right now, and even Albus' lightning reflexes wouldn't be enough to stop him.
During all this Zak was completely oblivious to the thoughts of the two locals, more concerned with his "baby". All seemed well: the enchantment was stable, no sudden fluctuations passed through the length of the blade and the local equivalent of the Weave supported this kind of magic in the same way as the one back home. Still, the drow wanted… nay, needed to check it some more, to feel the weapon in his hands again, its weight when he swung it in a deadly arc, to see the brilliant display of wisps of fire tracing behind each of his blows. So he relaxed his muscles, cleared his thoughts, and simply let his body doo the rest.
Both of his hands gripped the handle tighter, readying for what was to come. He subconsciously placed his left foot in front, balancing most of his weight on his right leg. He calmed his breath and shut his eyes for a brief moment in concentration. In these few seconds his senses heightened to the level where he was able to hear the breathing of the two humans and smell the sweat pouring from underneath their skin; to sense their presence more accurately than he would be able to in normal circumstances. A trick he learned from a now dead master of the way of the Diamond Mind, an ancient school of swordplay; it allowed his mind to focus before battle to plan every tiny detail of his moves and to predict the moves of his foes almost at a level of a clairvoyant. He stayed in that position for a moment, letting his new body adjust and prepare for what was to come.
Finally, after what felt like hours but in fact was mere seconds Zak's eyes snapped open, and he began his deadly dance. He stepped forward, pushing himself with his left leg and in the same time making a diagonal slash towards it. Fire traced behind his blade as it sailed through the air, and as it came to a stop near his left leg, it almost immediately found itself raised again. With another quick step Zak brought the deadly peace of flaming metal down, just like before in a diagonal blow, this time directed at his right. Then, when the blade reached the end of its trail the drow used its momentum to make a pirouette, stepping yet another step forward, and bringing the deadly weapon for a strong, parallel blow, showering his surrounding with sparks of fire. After the combo of an x cut and a half-turn and taking yet another step forward the drow drew the sword to him, only to perform a powerful stab which sent another handful of little flames dancing trough the air. That wasn't however the end, as Zak had to perform one last pace of his dance of death. With speed unparalleled by even the best of Earth's swordsmen he lifted his blade over his head, and with the last step turning into a genuflection he brought it down, the blade only visible thanks to the flames trailing behind it. Stopping at last and letting out a breath he didn't even know he was holding, Zak slowly raised to his feet, after just under five seconds of unity with a weapon he cherished above all other.
Both Dumbledore and McGonagall looked wide eyed at the display of swordsmanship presented by their white-haired guest. At first they didn't know what was he planning, the look of concentration on his face unnerving the both of them. After he made his first step their hearts went all the way up their throats, and as sudden as it all happened, the transfigurations professor wasn't able to contain a surprised and frightened cry. Seeing however that Zak wasn't attacking and just going through a routine with his blade, and considering that after the first two paces he all but passed her by she calmed down a bit, letting herself be amazed by the deadly performance. What was surprising was that the drow seemed to regain all of his deadly grace in those few short quick moves, just like if he didn't have any problems with moving. The thoughts of him regaining his motor functions were extinguished a moment later, when he tried –and fumbled might I add, while rising from his kneeling position. It seemed that he regained his moves only while fighting. But why only then? It was a mystery that only Zak could discover.
After the drow finally gotten back on his feet and canceled the enchantment in his blade, making the flames die out in a manner of seconds he sheathed his weapon, running his finger over the runes placed on the scabbard, once again activating them so that he may be able to check if someone tried to take it out of its place of rest. Moments later he heard the unmistakable sound of Dumbledore clearing his throat, gaining his attention.
"Well, I must say –that was an impressive display you just shown us, Mr. Vicloth." The aged wizard said in a voice that barely was able to mask his amazement. Hearing this however made Zak smirk, though if it was because he appreciated the compliment or rather picked up on the hidden awe was a thing of dispute.
"Thanks." He replied simply, holding his weapon by its scabbard in his hand.
"Yes, a true swordsman you are, of that there is no doubt. But I must ask: where did you get such a blade? The magic contained within it is simply unbelievable, like nothing I have seen before."
"Where I got it is not important." Zak answered, eying his prized possession with some longing in his eyes. "As to the enchantments –I put them on myself, at least most of them. It's one of the ways I actually made money back home –enchanting weapons and armors for a fee. One can really live off of this, if he knows what he's doing and is good at it."
That tidbit of information right there was something Dumbledore wasn't expecting. Zak didn't exactly say what he was capable of during their last talk, so he shouldn't really be surprised by that revelation, but considering true enchanters were rather rare in magical Britain led the Headmaster into thinking, that another plane was no different in that regard. Also the fact that he was basically talking to someone, that made a sword more magical than the legendary Excalibur itself was beginning go get to him. Fortunately in that moment Zak decided to do something, that preoccupied him for some time and gave the aged wizard time to gather his thoughts. That is, it would have gave him the time, if what happened next wasn't so outlandish.
The drow was studying Dumbledore's expression for a few moments now, and when he noticed the faraway look on his face he guessed, that it would take him a good while before he regained his composure. That however meant, that this 'little chat' would stretch on for a bit, at least until the old man got back to reality. Not wanting to lose time by standing idly, Zak decided to check upon something he should a little while ago. Going to the pile of his things, sitting under the wall from which he began his little test he picked up his more ornate bag and placed it on the floor in the middle of the room. This action brought a questioning look from the only woman in their group to which he just shrugged.
"I need to check up on something. Mind if I do it now? It seems Ol' Silverbeard here went to la-la-land and it doesn't seem he's coming back anytime soon." He pointed in the direction of the Headmaster.
At first McGonagall didn't know how to respond, the obvious disrespect directed at her long time friend was something she was not very familiar with. Then again, this… well, Svartalf, there was no denying that now, especially if more things than his swordsmanship was true, had probably never heard about Dumbledore and therefore didn't know how to act around him. Deciding that it was wiser to act like she didn't hear the last bit she shook her head and replied with a curt "not at all".
Zak, pleased with the answer began his work. He kneeled before his bag and touched a series of inscribed runes in a seemingly random order. The action in itself looked like it was completely pointless, as nothing seemed to happen, and the truth was it was just a distraction. Zak, cultivating the old drow custom of not trusting anyone hoped to create a diversion while he silently whispered the command word that loosened the unicorn-hair twine that magically sealed his possession.
The silvery twine undid itself magically, just like if a invisible hand had something to do with this, and the sack opened itself. At first the inside of the bag seemed to be darker than expected, even considering that leather, from which it was created normally didn't let to much light trough it. After some seconds though something unexpected happened, something that McGonagall, who was watching all this with interest had not foreseen. The bag seemed to stretch a good bit, its mouth getting wider and wider, to the extent, where the spiral staircase leading to Dumbledore's office would probably fit in. And then, just like that, the inside of the sack became filled. Filled with something, that sure as hell wasn't anything a normal person would try to fit inside a leather bag.
A granite spiral staircase, not that different from the one leading to this office.
The transfigurations professor looked with bewilderment at the site she was witnessing. Why would someone keep a staircase in a bag? Better yet, what was in the feet of the stairs? Did they lead somewhere? Was this like the odd magical trunks that some wealthy wizards possessed? And if so, then why choose something as fragile as leather to contain such magic? Thoughts and questions like these circled around her head as she stared at the unexpected sight and the drow that seemed not at all perturbed by what was happening before his eyes.
Zak looked inside his bag, his eyes glancing at the state the worn rocky stairs were in. At first all seemed to be in order, the staircase aside from its dulled with the passage of time edges looked ancient, like always. Only after a moment did he notice something, that began to worry him. A crack line was running down the stairs, not at all large or threatening in any manner, but it wasn't there last time he checked on them. That meant that it must have appeared not to long ago, probably during his two days of unconsciousness. But if his staircase was damaged by the passing trough planes then what happened to the rest?
The drow paled, which was perfectly visible due to his now human skin, and seemed to get a bit troubled. A frown appeared on his face and he furrowed his brows angrily. If that blasted skull damaged in any way, shape or form his possession, his magical bag, he was going to find him and make a urinal out of him, even if it was the last thing he would do. And if he injured his familiar…
Zak was by now as white as a sheet of paper. He was furious with all that happened to him: his change, his loss of over five hundred years of life, his status as stranded in a unfamiliar plane, his loss of pointy ears… damn, how he missed them already… Generally he was so angry, that he forgot about something, that should be way more important than any damage made to his possessions, something, that made him now more scared then anything that happened in this world up until now. With a shaky step he approached the staircase and took a deep breath before he looked down into the depths of his bag.
"Kelell!?" He shouted, hoping for an answer.
"Aw shit!" Was the only thing he could think right now. Out of all the moments he could possibly decide to check up on him he decided to do it now, when he still didn't have a suitable explanation to all this. It was like the gods decided he was going to suffer for that one time he deliberately led him into a beehive. With a sigh and a heavy hart he rushed in the direction of the voice.
After a few nervous moment and quite a bit of flapping his wings he climbed the staircase and approached the exit. Seeing bright light he thought it quite a bit strange. His Boss wasn't known to willingly travel by day, even if the sunlight wasn't that much of an issue for him. Pushing that thought to the back of his mind for now he flew out the exit and as soon as he did that he needed to level his flight as to not hit the ceiling. Not the first time he was summoned outside indoors, but it was definitely the first time when the Boss was invisible.
He circled the room a few times, searching for his master with his beady eyes. Something was not right here. The first thing he noticed was that there were some old humans, probably wizards or sum such sitting near what he guessed was a strange desk. Then he spotted a white haired human boy, somewhat resembling his Boss but not quite, as he knew perfectly well that Boss wasn't one. Disregarding the fact that he was confined basically to a small room in what he guessed was some kind of tower, if the view from the windows was any indication, he really needed to find his other part. Even if it meant hearing him chewing him out for letting something happen to their "nest". And then, as he was getting invaded by dark thoughts concerning his near future the white haired kid brought out his arm in the same manner as his Boss usually did.
Unsure what was going on he lowered himself a bit and began to circle the kid, watching him intently. He was human, as he noticed before, but something about him struck him as familiar, and it wasn't the fact that he waited for him to land on his outstretched arm. Something in his face was similar to his Boss, something that he couldn't place at the moment. Was it his features? Well yeah, they too looked similar, and the fact that he haven't seen too many humans with almond-shaped lilac eyes… Wait a moment!
"That's you?!" He shouted, or rather cawed out in shock, momentarily forgetting about the fact he was airborne and flying straight into a wall and then fell on one of the tables littered with strange devices, knocking down most of them. However he quickly got back on his talons and stared at the white haired youth, that looked at him with bewilderment written on his face and still sticking his arm out.
"Well, that was random." He commented idly, finally dropping his arm. His voice however was something, that made the whole situation a lot more strange for the poor crashed bird, for the voice, a bit changed was still definitely his Boss'. But how was that possible?
"If you're who I think you are, then you should be able to understand me right now." He proclaimed loudly in a caw, looking intently at this Boss' look-alike. If he truly was his bonded wizard, then he should be able to understand him, and even reply in the same manner, using a caw himself. And sure enough an answer in just that manner came from the whitehead.
"I may have changed, Kelell, but I'm still bonded to you." So he knew his name, could understand him and talk in the language of crows with him, had the same eyes and the same voice. That could mean only one thing.
"Oh… err, hi…" Kelell replied unenthusiastically, sudden dread rising in his little bird heart. It raised to an even greater level when he noticed his Boss approaching and reaching out for him with his hand. In a sudden panic attack he scrambled to the air and flew across the room, sitting on the strange golden porch that was apparently vacant. Zak looked at him with a rather surprised expression.
"What's going on Kelell? Why'd you do that?" He questioned, turning around and looking at him with concern. "I was only going to check if you were alright after that crash you had."
"No need, I'm right as rain!" Kelell cawed out quickly and changed the topic as fast as he could. "You on the other wing look like you fell victim to Garl Glittergold's latest prank."
"Yes, because it's every day I run into a gnome high deity that has nothing better to do than change me into a human child." His Boss rolled his eyes, his voice oozing with sarcasm. Either he was angry at the predicament he found himself in, or he didn't appreciate the colorful analogy. Whichever it was, it wasn't good news for Kelell, that's for sure.
"So what happened?" The crow asked, trying to sound like he hadn't anything to hide. It worked rather poorly, but Zak decided to humor his familiar and answered his question.
"The short version? A flying skull-megalomaniac turned me into a human child and sent us to another world, just for laughs. I'm stuck like this and until I find a way to change back, I'm going to live and die like a human, so no pressure. I have just a bit less than a fucking century to do that." Yep, the Boss was definitely pissed at the predicament. But there was one thing that bothered Kelell in this story. "And as if that wasn't enough, the locals…"
"Wait, wait! I… I'm not changed too, am I? I'm no, I don't know, pigeon or a freaking chicken nestling, am I? Please, I don't wana to be a chicken…"
"You flew you idiot, and chickens don't fly." Zak answered in a deadpan. That brought a stop to his familiars rambling, thanks be the gods. He knew perfectly well how the crow was able to basically talk your ears off if left unattended. "And now, as I was saying before you went all frantic on me, the local wizards are probably of no help to us. From what I gathered they barely even understand how they work magic, not to mention that they probably have something like the Weave here and still didn't even know about its existence."
"Talk about dunderheads." Kelell commented, trying to alleviate the stressful situation they both found themselves in. "And I gather that's why we're talking like this instead of using drowish, right?"
"They look spooked enough looking at me cawing to you, no need to trow 'em on a loop with you speaking in a somewhat human voice." Zak replied looking behind his back at the two elderly looking humans, gawking at them with their mouths opened in shock. "As of now I beg you, do not speak in any language 'sides our own private one when there's someone in the vicinity, not without my permission, okay? I don't want anyone to dissect you just to find out how are you able to talk, you hear me?"
"Yes mum, I get it." The crow replied halfheartedly, as messing around with people was his favorite pastime while not helping his Boss in his research. However as soon as he saw the glare directed at him from Zak he nodded quickly, or at least did a birds equivalent of it. "So… care to tell me where are we exactly? I heard something about a different plane, and what I saw through the window seemed to imply that we're somewhere high."
"We're in a castle of some sort." The drow shrugged. "I dunno where exactly we are, this is a different world after all. Only thing I do know is that we're in a castle that looks like fey designed it."
"Worse. If it wasn't magical I doubt that it would stop even a peasant uprising, let alone any kind of force. Believe me, when I saw it from the outside (I still don't know why that window showed what it did) I was like "who in their right mind would build something like this?!""
"I guess dunderhead mages that don't even know about the Weave?" Kelell replied, trying to lift his master's mood. Unfortunately for him, that exact moment Zak decided to ask the one question that his crow familiar dreaded.
"So, tell me, what happened down there." He gestured in the general direction of the bag. His winged companion did the best impersonation of a gulp that a bird could manage and forced himself to speak as calmly as he possibly could, which by the way was an effort in vain.
"Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Everything is as it should have been, nothing to report. Boring to the extent I began to count the cracks…"
"Like the ones on the stairs?" Zak cut him off with a suspicious look and a raised eyebrow. Kelell for his part looked like he just was informed that a crow soup was his master's next dish.
"T…the stirs?" He asked, trying to play dumb. "I don't know what you're talking about…"
"Oh really?" The raised eyebrow sailed even higher, almost hiding itself under the drow's hairline. "If there isn't any cracks in the stairs or anywhere else, then why did the bag seal itself moments after you came out of it, hmm?"
If anyone doubted that a crow could blench, Kelell was there to prove them wrong. You could almost see his feathers turn white at the tips, and his beady, lilac ayes, so similar to those of his Boss' went as wide as they possibly could, wild panic clearly seen gleaming in them. Finally, after an agonizing moment for the bird which in reality was no more than five seconds long he regained his voice.
"Are… are you sure that you didn't close the lab yourself, Master?" He asked faintly. Seeing the look his wizard was giving him he cringed slightly. He knew he messed up.
"Now I know there's something going on." Zak looked at his familiar seriously. "You only call me 'Master' when there's something you don't want me to know about. So… spill."
"OK Master, OK." Kelell sighed (as much as a crow was capable of doing that) and looked at the whitehead with pitiful eyes. "It was like this: I was soundly asleep, minding my own beak when there suddenly was this huge crash! And then I woke up and saw that the walls were moving, and they were like rippling and stuff, and I panicked and flew of… and there was this next huge crash…! And another, and then one more… And~I~didn't~know~what~to~do~so~I~flew~and~there~was~this~cabinet~and~it~fell~on~me~but~I~dodged~and…"
Next thing he knew, Kelell's beak was held shut firmly by the hand of his Boss, preventing him from saying even a word more. Surprised by this the crow looked at his wizard questioningly. Zak's other hand was massaging his temple, looking at his familiar with annoyance.
"How many times do I have to tell you that your voice is annoying when you begin to ramble?" He asked trough gritted teeth. "Now take a deep breath, count to ten and start over, this time slowly. Better yet, give me a sit-rep on how heavily the lab was trashed."
Kelell tried to answer, but as his beak was still firmly placed in his Boss' hand he merely flapped his wings in confirmation. After Zak released him from his hold Kelell took the promised deep breath, counted to ten (loudly, to Zak's ever growing frustration) and began his tale.
It took the avian a few moments to complete his story, which consisted of him having near-death experiences for what felt like hours, in which the inside of Zak's bag (which by the way was a powerful magical object, housing a whole sub-dimension in which the drow created his wandering laboratory) was basically pretending to be a digestive system with all the peristalsis-like movements the walls were doing and trying to crush him under random furniture. Of course the Spellsword knew perfectly well that his familiar was exaggerating, but he also knew that trying to stop him would be futile. So he endured it, tried to make any sense of his rambling and keep his sanity at the same time. In the end, Kelell finally calmed down, only to look at the ground in a defeated manner.
"What are you doing?" Zak questioned, looking at the crow with a raised eyebrow yet again. His familiar on the other hand lowered his head even more.
"I'm waiting for the scolding." He answered with a resigned sigh. "I messed something up and now I'm waiting for the scolding."
"OK now, this is getting more bizarre by the minute." The drow concluded, looking at the crow like he just grew a second head. "You're acting all submissive and stuff… that's not normal at all. And why for the love of Sune would I be angry at you? You didn't do anything, it was I who got caught by that bastard of a skull and sent here and it's my fault that the lab got damaged." Hearing this the black bird looked hopefully at his master.
"Really?" He asked, and after getting a nod in confirmation he cawed loudly in triumph, flapping his wings in a show of relief. Only after a moment or two had he calmed down enough for Zak to be able to talk to him.
"You done now?" Kelell nodded in response. "Good. Now can we get to the more important bit, like what exactly got damaged during all this jazz with changing planes?"
Most of the new enthusiasm that Kelell showed just a moment ago evaporated, changing the cheerful crow into a solemn-looking one.
"Well…" He began, his voice showing uncertainty. "You see Boss… I don't have a report ready, there's much I don't actually know about. But I'll do my best!" He added hurriedly after seeing the look in Zak's eyes.
"I'm waiting. And try to be professional, just this once."
"OK, so… Chambers from A to F –minor damage: cracked walls and ceilings, overturned furniture, one or two broken cabinets. Chamber G and its content seemed to be intact. Chambers from H to K –medium damage: cracked walls and missing parts of the ceilings, damaged and broken furniture; storeroom J is inaccessible, but it seems that the content is largely intact. Chamber L is blocked, so I can't give a full report on that. Bookshelves are largely smashed to bits and pieces, but the books are in good condition from what I've seen. Chambers M, N and O suffered heavy damage –partitioning walls collapsed, content burned or soaked wet, ceiling partially collapsed… A void field appeared in chamber N, but it's been contained and atmospheric losses are at a minimum. Chamber P suffered minor damage –cracked walls and floor. Unfortunately the storerooms cabinet fell and its content broke and spilled on the ground. It's quite fortunate that it didn't react to violently when mixed with one another. Chambers Q and R are heavily damaged –the floor disappeared and a stable vertical void wall replaced it. Also any and all furniture fell into the void, so we lost a bit of equipment. Chambers S and T are intact. Chambers from U to W –medium damage: cracked and partially collapsed walls, destroyed furniture, damaged equipment. Chamber X is inaccessible due to the lock being stuck, so I have no clue what's the damage in there. Chamber Y –minor damage: cracks in the ceiling and on the floor, overturned furniture. Chamber Z is intact. Also hallways from #1 to #5 are largely intact and #6 to #12 suffered only minor damage; all hallways are passable."
Kelell all but began panting after finishing his report, as he tried to convey as much information as quickly as possible while still being understandable. He looked at his Boss, who seemed to have a faraway look in his eyes, like he was thinking intensely about something. Worried by his wizards actions, or rather the lack of them, Kelell decided to check on him by pecking on his finger. This brought him somewhat back to reality.
"Note to self: design and place two new runes on the lab-sack." He muttered while rubbing his pecked finger. "First one: protective –against hazards caused by forceful changing planes. Second one: informative –about the damage dealt to the lab." After that he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "So we lost all our potions and wands in one single go?" Feeling that it was a question directed at him Kelell decided to nod in confirmation. This left Zak nothing else to do besides… "Aw shit…" …muttering that.
"Believe me Boss, I said the exact same thing." The crow familiar added, hoping for his master to cheer up. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, as the frown on his face was still the same.
"I appreciate your effort, but I'm not in the mood right now." Zak's voice said it all. He was borderline furious, only through sheer willpower was he able to contain his rage. He took a few deep, calming breaths and looked again at the bearer of bad news which happened to be his only friend. "Any estimations on how extensive was the overall damage dealt to the lab?" He asked.
Kelell didn't like the way this was going, not one bit. His Boss, barely controlling his anger, his eyes almost burning with the white-blue flames of his special ability… He wanted to crawl under a rock and die. His wizard was just too scary at times. Alas, he could not do something like this, so he steeled himself and answered, his caws sounding a bit more… squeaky.
"I'm not quite sure, but… um… I would say about… em… somewhere between… um…"
"All right, all right! It's somewhere between twelve and fifteen percent. Ya happy now?!"
The look on his face was all the answer the crow needed. His Boss was very unhappy. To be quite frank, Kelell didn't blame him for that. If he was informed that his home was basically trashed like that he would be furious too. Still, why did he need to show his emotions on his face like that? He was spooked by him as it was.
"Twelve to fifteen percent?" Zak repeated slowly, his voice trembling with anger. "You mean to tell me that the lab-sack will be shut off for the next four to five months? That we'll won't have access to most of our recourses for close to a hundred and thirty five days?"
"Y-Yes." Kelell managed to squeak out. His drow partner looked like he was going to explode, his face getting redder by the second. Finally, he snapped.
"I am going to find my way back there, find his phylactery and send it to the Elemental Plane of Earth trough an unstable portal, all the while crushing his bony face with a vice… slowly. And when I'm done with him, I'll resurrect him and do it again… and again… and again…"
"Yes, Kelell?" An unnerving smile adorned Zak's face while he looked at the crow. The familiar gulped.
"Calm down, your freaking me out. Furthermore, your freaking them out." He gestured with his wing in the direction of the desk with the two local human wizards. Zak looked in their direction and noticed their still dazed expressions, although they were whispering between themselves and looking at him cautiously, like they weren't sure if he would attack them or not. The drow quickly cached up to that and went through a series of calming techniques.
"Right, find a way back and a way to become drow again first, then plan revenge." He muttered to himself and looked at Kelell. "Sorry 'bout that."
"No problem. I'm quite angry myself at that… "bony bastard" you said?" The crow responded helpfully. It was also truthful, he was rather furious at the thing that not only tried to kill him (indirectly, but still), but made his wizard angry. And the fact that their nest was out of commission was just an added bonus.
The thing with the lab-sack was that it was a cross between a bag of holding and a portal leading to a sub-dimension, kind of like a portable hole. It was fragile as it was, any and all physical damage made to the bag in the material plane would result in serious damage made to the inside. And the fact that it handled crossing planes rather poorly was an added hazard in its handling. It was a miracle in itself that the sack didn't implode when the demilich tossed Zak trough that portal. And Kelell knew that perfectly well.
He saw firsthand, or rather first-wing what happened to the lab, and it was by no means pretty. The fact that there were breaches in reality inside the bag was a problem in itself. It meant that the enchantments placed on the item were slowly falling apart, and if the plane-switch took even a moment longer than it did, it would probably lead to total collapse of the sub-dimension. The stable, localized 'wall' of the void –the nondescript space between planes, even the astral plane –was a dangerous occurrence, that in larger quantities could be possibly lethal. Falling in it meant falling for the rest of eternity in a place, where there was nothing, not even air to breath. But the unstable sphere of the void, oh, that was just plane nasty. Where the wall was nothing more than a "portal" to the void, a two sided one but not hazardous in itself, not if passed, then the sphere was a rip in reality. It sucked everything it could in itself: air, physical objects, even spells. It could not be controlled, hardly even contained, and getting rid of it was a tricky endeavor. Fortunately, the sack was designed to fight the effects of something like this.
The bag had a self-repair function, that was powerful enough to handle everything less than 90% destruction of the item itself. It could repair almost everything, from surface scratches to near total destruction, and something as trivial (for the sack) as getting rid of the void was child's play. It couldn't however replace completely destroyed objects, especially magical items, but still –it was almost unbelievable what the sack could repair. Unfortunately, this repair level had one major downside. It took time. And lots of it. For every percent of damage taken it took almost ten days for the bag to repair it. Ten days during which no one could get inside the bag, not if they were inside it the moment damage occurred. One could argue that it wasn't such a long time, considering that if something like this happened in the material plane then it would take even longer to fix it, but for someone stranded in an alien and potentially dangerous place it was more or less undesired. And Kelell, and in extension his Boss were in such a predicament.
"You know Kelell, I think that I ignored those two long enough." The voice of his wizard brought the crow familiar from his musings. The avian looked at the drow questioningly, and then shot a glance at the two sitting at the desk.
"They want something from you?" He asked, looking at them intently, like if he could guess what they were thinking by staring at them.
"Yes, in point of fact." Zak shot his familiar a crooked grin. "Ol' Silverbeard over there wants to speak with me, I dunno 'bout what. Guess I'll have to find out what's this all about."
"Ya sure do, Boss. And remember, if bad comes to worse, I'll be right here, ready to scratch their eyes out."
"Don't joke around like that." Zak playfully scolded his feathered friend. "It might come just to that."
Dumbledore was trying –and failing miserably –to wrap his head around what he just witnessed. His guest, the self-proclaimed drow wizard who apparently was also an enchanter of great power just held a conversation in what seemed like the language of crows with a bird that flew out of a bag. A bag that apparently held some sort of stone object, probably a granite-carved dungeon-like accommodation if he had to guess. What's more, the bird seamed to show emotions. Real, human emotions. It was by far the strangest thing he seen in his life, and he saw his fallen student, young Tom Riddle talking with snakes, so that was saying something. The reptile at least was more or less indifferent while it "talked", not like this bird, this… Kelell if his old ears didn't deceive him.
He shot a glance at his companion and decided that he wasn't the only one surprised at seeing all this. Minerva McGonagall looked like she wanted to jump out of the window, just to get out of there. The bad image that Voldemort created for Perselmouths was strongly rooted in the subconscious minds of the wizards and witches of this time, and seeing anything resembling that particular talent was viewed as a sign of the dark arts. Dumbledore himself knew better than to believe in something as ridiculous as that, but he couldn't just tell someone to see things his way. He firmly believed that everyone should gather wisdom from experience, and what better way to come to terms with based opinions on something than experience it firsthand? He at least hoped that this white necromancer type of wizard didn't in fact mean that he was using dark arts not designed to kill but to maim.
It seemed that their guest had ended his talk with his feathered companion, as he turned to face them with a slight frown on his face. He seemed not to pleased with what he heard from his avian friend, but didn't seem to want to begin any type of conversation himself. It fell up to Dumbledore to start the interlocution.
"It is quite a talent you got there, Mr. Vicloth." He began with the most recent development that occupied his mind. "That was the first time I have seen someone speaking to a bird. Talking with snakes I have seen, but not with birds, crow or otherwise."
Dumbledore had noticed, that his guest was looking at him with a knowing gleam in his eye. Had he known already about Tom? No, it was probably something else. Maybe he guessed that talking to any kind of animal was uncommon in this world and this just confirmed it for him? Judging from the expressions on their faces from not too long ago, it was probably safe to say it was the latter.
"So speaking with crows is unknown and speaking with snakes isn't?" Zak asked, rising an eyebrow, his voice clearly amused. "Where's the logic in that?"
"It's just that there is no records on anyone being capable of speaking with any type of avian." The Headmaster replied. "Even Perselmouths are extremely rare. The last known one was a warlock called Lord Voldemort."
As expected, once he uttered the name, his companion flinched visibly with uncontrolled fear. And, as expected, Zak didn't even react to the name, clearly not knowing about whom was he talking about. And by the looks of it, he wasn't even interested, if his bored expression was anything to go by.
"Lord Voldemort, eh?" The Spellsword rolled his eyes, like if the name was more amusing to him than anything else and completely ignoring McGonagall's second flinch. "Should of known that would be an universal constant in the multiverse. Every gods-damn self proclaimed dark lord has a cocky name. Why there's no, I don't know, Tim the Destroyer or some other normal sounding warlord?"
"I gather that you have experience with dark wizards?" Dumbledore asked in a polite manner. In response he got a shake of the head from his guest.
"Like you'll never believe." He muttered with annoyance. „Khrel-Ithyr is only just the tip of the iceberg. Zuldankun of the Seven Serpents; Seerex the Spider Disciple; Lady Yerendara, crest Thunderbarer; family Bregon, leaders of the Tears of Selûne syndicate… the list goes on and on." Zak counted down the names, each of them uttering with more annoyance and more hate than the former. It was clear that he really had bad memories regarding every one of them, not to mention that it only proved his theory of an universal constant regarding names used by "dark lords". He however quickly wiped the sour expression from his face and looked at Dumbledore with expectation. "Enough of that though; you wanted to speak with me about something that, and I quote: "will be beneficial to the both of us". So, I'm waiting. What's this mutually beneficial something?"
Dumbledore for his part looked a bit taken aback with the sudden change of topic, but for his defense he recovered quickly. He had wanted to talk with this unbelievably extraordinary individual, and the only reason he didn't do it up until now was the fact that he was so full of surprises, that he couldn't get his thoughts straight. Now however a golden opportunity presented itself, and he was going to use it to its fullest. Taking a deep breath and steeling his face, his warm, grandfatherly smile in place, he cleared his trough.
"Yes, of course. I did in fact want to discuss some things with you, Mr. Vicloth, things that I for one believe are vital if you are going to stay in our world for any period of time. I wanted also to extend an offer of assistance in regards of both getting your original physical form back and finding a way back to your homeworld."
The look the Headmaster received in return was a mix between a suspicious glare, a surprised look and a unbelieving frown. It was hard to say what was Zak actually thinking about, and the fact that his Legilimency was almost useless against the brain of his guest made it even more difficult. One thing was for sure –he didn't expect this kind of offer.
The Headmaster noticed also from the corner of his eye that Minerva looked mildly shocked at this bit of news. She probably didn't understand why in the name of heavens was her employer trying to help someone like their drow guest. To be perfectly honest, Dumbledore didn't blame her for this one bit. If he was in her shoes, figuratively speaking of course, he would be very much surprised himself. There were however things that she didn't know and he suspected, that made all this trouble worth it.
"I have a hard time believing that you can help me, Mr. Dumbledore." Finally a response came from the drow, but it wasn't what the aged wizard was expecting. "For starters: up until I mentioned other planes and described some of them you clearly didn't have the slightest idea of what I was talking about. That leads me to believe, that plenar magic is largely unknown in this world, and in extension leads to the conclusion, that any help in that regard would be more like me giving you information, that although useful for you and your society will be by no means helpful in my endeavor to get back to Toril."
Dumbledore didn't show it, but he knew that he was just outmaneuvered in less than a minute, at least when it came to his helpfulness in one of the two major issues the drow was having. He really believed that one such as he would gladly take up any help, with being stranded on an alien world and all, and while accepting it he would share his wisdom with him, maybe giving the magical world an edge that it was looking for over half a century now. He didn't however take into account that Zak might have been distrustful like the rest of his race, for he didn't have any experience with Svartalfs up until today. Still, he kept his smile in its place, trying to look like nothing happened.
And then Zak decided to continue.
"As for me getting back my real body, I must say: maybe. For now I do not have any ideas as to how to counter Khrel-Ithyr's magic, so any help in that regard may prove useful. Still, I am curious: the way you work your magic. By wands…"
"What about them?" For the first time from the moment they entered Dumbledore's office McGonagall decided to take an active part of the conversation. The Headmaster looked at her with a slightly arched eyebrow, wondering why did he feel a level of protectiveness from her words. Was it the fact, that she was in the presence of someone, that defied the laws of magic by working it in a way unseen before, without the use of any outside help that made her nervous?
He looked at the whitehead, waiting for a response from him. Zak for his part smirked hearing the question, clearly enjoying the fact that he apparently made the witch nervous. He was going to reply her, when his crow decided to caw loudly from Fawkes' porch, bringing Zak's attention to him. After a moment in which the black bird apparently discussed something with the wizard-turned-child, the said drow looked a bit sheepish and rubbed his stomach, looking in the meantime at Dumbledore.
"I know this is kind of sudden, but… can we get something to eat? I didn't have anything in my mouth for days, and this annoying ball of feathers cant's seem to go on without food for more than a few hour… ouch!" He was interrupted by his familiar's beak pecking on his hand. Apparently the bird didn't appreciate the description his wizard gave him. Still, in response to his request and the antics of the two Dumbledore could only smile.
"Of course." Was the only thing he said and with a flick of his wand he conjured up a tray filled with sandwiches. "I'm afraid that is all we have right now, and I must apologize in advance: we do not have any type of mushrooms in the castle right now, at least no edible ones."
"That's alright, I don't like them anyway." The drow replied, grabbing one of the sandwiches and beginning stuffing his face with it. In the meantime he put aside some of them and gestured at his crow, who apparently understood him and flew up to the desk, landing on it and beginning to eat himself. "Ya know, being almost eaten by carnivore fungi makes one think twice before eating mushrooms himself." He added between bites.
"Carnivore fungi?" McGonagall asked, rising an eyebrow.
"Shrikes. Used by noble drow families as sentries and a first line of defense. They're almost as big as humans and they emit a "shrieking" sound when approached; some species can emit sound waves that can deafen someone or even outright force him into unconsciousness**. In addition, they commonly coexist with violet fungus, a moving, extremely poisonous type of fungi, that actually hunts for their meals. Nasty buggers, and common in the Underdark too."
Dumbledore and McGonagall exchanged looks, not sure what to make out of this. Sure, there were extremely dangerous plants and fungi in their world, but not many of them. And they didn't grow the size of men. And didn't shrike. And couldn't move about. At least fungi didn't. Still, they quickly regained their composure and looked intently at Zak, who bit down on another sandwich, watching them all the time, like he was weighing his options. Ultimately he decided that it was high time he answered the transfiguration professor's question.
"From what I've seen so far, you guys do not posses any type of magic that doesn't involve the use of wands, correct?" He looked intently at both McGonagall and Dumbledore. The Headmaster shook his head slightly.
"Not exactly. Most of our magic needs wands as conduits, but there are some skills, that do not need their use. For example potion brewing…"
"That's not exactly magic in the sense I was talking about." Zak interrupted. "I don't know how your kind of potions work, as I didn't have any opportunity to see them in action, but still –it's not what I've meant. By magic I mean spells, charms and curses cast by a single wizard or sorcerer."
"Well, in that regard then yes, you are quite right, we do not have much magic that does not require the use of wands. Few spells can be cast wandless, but not much, and it quickly drains the caster from his power." Dumbledore was about to launch into a detailed lecture about using wandless magic, as he was one of the few that was well versed in the skill, but the rised hand of his guest stopped him before he could get started.
"I understand that wands are in this case essential for a wizard to control arcane powers in this world?" Zak asked, not really expecting any answer. Dumbledore however was a bit baffled by the odd choosing of words to describe magic. Arcane powers? That was the first time he met with that name. His musings were interrupted however by the ever slight shake of the drow's head, that and his pitying look.
"Is something the matter?" Dumbledore asked, curious as to the odd behavior of the drow.
"No, everything's in order." Zak replied, his voice cracking with mirth. "I'm just curious how you guys are able to stand your ground in a fight, with the constant need to hold a wand and all. I'm more than certain that anyone with half a brain would go for the wand first in such a predicament. That's a serious handicap if you ask me."
"So your saying, that…"
"Never mind what I'm saying. It doesn't matter right now." Zak interrupted McGonagall before she could ask her question and looked at Dumbledore again, his expression one of mild interest. "If memory serves me right, you wanted to inform me about something concerning your world, is that right, Mr. Dumbledore?"
"Yes, I do have quite a bit to discuss with you, Mr. Vicloth, and I believe that it is high time that we "get a move on" as the youngsters these days say." The aged wizard replied with a smile, and began the long explanation of the workings of the world that he called home.
As Dumbledore expected, conveying most of the common in his view knowledge about Earth and its working to someone as alien with it as absolutely possible was a tedious endeavor. It was in a way like a combination of the talk, that most, if not every muggleborns went through when they first received their Hogwarts letters, and a shortened version of the first few lessons in muggle studies. That, and a quick skim trough the various subjects of wizard prosecution in the history of the –at least –British Isles. It was even more difficult, because Zak didn't know anything concerning the world he found himself in and needed help in understanding a few of the concepts that were common knowledge in both in the muggle and wizarding parts of society.
The Headmaster wasn't the only one explaining the issues concerning the world they were in. Minerva, after a moment of silently listening in on the explanations her friend was giving decided to add something from herself and she too got involved in the process. Still, she acted warily while talking to the drow, like she was more than a bit frightened of him. Zak however didn't seem to mind her that much, and aside from some sideways glances at her while she was acting too reserved for it to be natural he largely ignored her behavior. Dumbledore guessed, that he was used to this kind of reception and grew accustomed to it, to the point that he could largely ignore it. Truly, if he was capable of doing just that, he might have entered the path to true Occlumency without even knowing it. Remarkable.
What was even more remarkable was the fact, that aside from the occasional question the drow didn't interrupt the explanations at all. Up until now he didn't act like the listening type, being more proactive in his approach and leading the conversations where he wanted them to. This side of him however proved, that he could, if he only wanted to, act like a scholar, gathering as much information as possible before making any statements of his own. That was a trait, that Dumbledore didn't see so much nowadays, especially in one so "young" as the drow. Even if he was over a hundred years old, it was still refreshing to meet someone with an open mind for a change.
Finally, the long explanations drew to an end, several hours worth of almost constant talking taking its toll on the throats of both him and Minerva. From the corner of his eye Dumbledore noticed, that the sun was beginning to drew to the horizon, the sky changing colors from the usual blue towards a vivid orange. Who would have thought that just a couple of days ago he was on his way from this exact office to the kitchens and had the fortune to witness this extraordinaire individuals arrival. That if it wasn't for him he would be right about now bored out of his mind, or better yet still waiting for the answer for his first Hogwarts letter from a young individual with raven-black hair. He shook his head slightly, tossing this thought at the back of his head and once more looked at the now pensive face of the drow guest.
"So let me get this straight." The drow muttered, rubbing his chin slowly in contemplation. "This world is artificially divided between two groups: magic users and non-magicals, known as muggles." It was probably the slight exhaustion getting to him, but Dumbledore could have sworn, that Zak uttered the word muggle with distaste, like if the word sounded inappropriate to him. "The former don't know anything about the magical part of the world, and they compensate for the lack of arcane powers by being extremely inventive. This state is in place from over w few hundred years now, and it fit the magic users just fine, furthering the civilizational gap between both groups. To enforce this state of affair contacts between the two worlds are cut down to a minimum, and practicing and/or selling magical services and items to the other world is strictly prohibited, to the point that one can actually go to jail for something like that. Is that right?"
"For the most part, yes." Dumbledore managed to croak out, before he needed to conjure up a glass of water and down it quickly. After that he continued. "I wouldn't however say that we, the wizards of this world, cut ties with our muggle counterparts completely. We try to understand them, some of us are even fascinated by their inventiveness…" The Headmaster trailed of, seeing the scowl on Zak's face. "Is something the matter, Mr. Vicloth?"
"Yeah, you could say that." He muttered dejected. "It's just my stinking luck that I winded up in a world where magic is prosecuted."
That was something, that neither Dumbledore nor McGonagall were expecting. Did this mean, that Zak came from a world, where hiding ones magical talents wasn't required? Was it possible, that he was a native of a world, where wizards could practice at peace? That was a concept, that proved difficult to imagine, especially if you lived in a world where the complete opposite idea of the worldview was a fact. Finally, after a moment of silent wonder Minerva proved to be the first to regain her voice.
"Are you implying, that your muggles know about the existence of magic?" She asked basically what Dumbledore was thinking right now, her voice hoarse like that of the Headmaster himself. In response she received a stiff nod from Zak.
"Yeah, existence of magic is pretty much common knowledge on Toril."
"But what about the innate fear of anything unexplainable? Surely your muggles must feel at least a bit wary of anyone who can cause something they cannot understand."
"I guess there is a few arcanophobists in the civilized parts of Faerûn, but not many. Magic is so common, that most people gotten used to it by now. We sell our talents for coin, sell our products, teach, serve as backup forces in armies, conduct research on matters of common interest, sometimes even advise kings and other rulers. There were even a few magocratic countries in the history of my world, like Netheril for example. A society ruled by archmages, their flying cities were real marvels I heard."
Dumbledore was slowly beginning to notice a pattern in these conversations. Whenever their white haired guest spoke of something regarding his world or his views on magic, both he and his companion were only able to stare at him, mouths agape in wonder. It was probably more annoying than anything else for Zak he mused, seeing that once again he rolled his eyes upon seeing their reaction. Quickly regaining his composure the aged wizard decided to steer the conversation once more to his own homeworld.
"All that is fascinating, Mr. Vicloth, but still –this world had no such luck and we just must keep our existence a secret." He said, and was going to say more, if it wasn't for Zak muttering something under his breath. If his ears weren't deceiving him, it was something in the lines of "figured as much". Shaking his head Dumbledore continued. "As much as it saddens me, I must request that you at least try to refrain from using magic in public, Mr. Vicloth. It could lead to unwanted attention, both from the muggles and Ministry officials."
"The Ministry… You mean the elected rulers of this country's magical part of society?" Zak looked a bit confused for a moment, but quickly regained his composure, remembering what the old wizard had said about it. That didn't however mean, that he fully understood everything. He looked at Dumbledore questioningly. "And why pray tell would the local authorities be after me, hmm? If I'm casting spells in places that aren't public and aren't frequented by muggles than they shouldn't care about it, shouldn't they?"
This was the million galleon question right there. From it depended if the Headmaster's plan would come to fruition, or be just an unsuccessful attempt on his part. Steeling himself for what was about to come, Dumbledore took a deep breath and looked at his drow guest with the utmost attention.
"You, Mr. Vicloth, are –and I am sorry for using this term –considered underage, at least physically wise. What that means is that you are not seventeen years old, and as such considered a minor… I assume your world has a concept of minors?" After Zak nodded in confirmation, although his nod was very stiff, Dumbledore continued. "That means, that according to the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery you are forbidden to use any type of magic outside of specified places, situations, or in the case of an emergency, cast as a self defense measure."
Zak gave him a look, that sent shivers down Dumbledore's spine. It was a mix between an annoyed glare and an angered, pointed look. The aged wizard noticed, that the drow was actually clenching his fists too, and if he wasn't mistaken, his eyes flickered white and blue a couple of times, reminding him of the strange flames that his guest used on Severus. Figuring out that Zak was on the verge of snapping he quickly initiated damage control.
"I am afraid, that there is nothing I can do about the laws: they were placed years ago, and changing them does not lie in my power. However there might be a way to…"
He didn't finish, cut off by Zak slamming his fist on the ancient desk, startling not only Minerva and him, but also his crow companion, who flapped his wings in panic and gotten airborne in a manner of seconds. Getting back to the dark elf however –he stood up, knocking his chair to the ground, his entire body shaking with poorly controlled anger, and pointed his throbbing hand at the Headmaster in an almost threatening manner.
"You mean to tell me…" He began, his voice also shaking with rage. "You mean to tell me, that not only is magic prosecuted here, but I, a Master of the Arcane Arts am forbidden from using any kind of magic, just because of some ridiculous rules? That by using magic I risk getting myself into trouble with the local authorities? And what if I don't give a damn? What then?"
"Well…" Dumbledore actually had to gulp, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Maybe Zak didn't use any magic this time around, but the fluctuations in his magical aura that the Headmaster was able to sense were giving him the idea, that this Svartalf was way more powerful than most of his enemies, probably as powerful as Tom himself. "You see, Mr. Vicloth… It is entirely possible, that you would get overpowered by a large" he stressed the word "group of aurors, that is specialist officers responsible for law enforcing, and taken into custody. There it would be possible that the Ministry officials would actually notice the differences in your "build" so to say, and…"
Zak's glare intensified, making Dumbledore once more shiver from the cold fury in his eyes. He was more used to people trying to mask their emotions or children which carried them on the surface most of the time, but this mixture of anger and sheer power was making even him nervous. The drow in the meantime looked with disgust at the Headmaster, something that he most noticeably reserved only for occasions, that shook him to the core.
"You humans are sick." He hissed out, this time his voice barely above a whisper. "So I'm not one of you, I'm different. That's why you're going to lock me in and study me, like an animal? Or are you going to kill and dissect me? Because I will not stand for any of those possibilities, and if it comes to something like that, I will not hesitate to use lethal force. Even we, drow, aren't as vile as some of you can get."
Once more a chill had run down Dumbledore's spine hearing the drow's declaration. He wasn't surprised that he made it however. He even understood his reasoning (kind of) –he himself would not stand by idly and watch, as someone tries to study him like a lab animal. Still, the conviction that he had in his voice while he said that was unnerving, for both him and Minerva, who looked at the young looking individual with barely canceled fear. Trying to prevent Zak from actually giving her a heart attack the aged wizard spoke up.
"I assure you, Mr. Vicloth, that no one is going to kill and dissect you." He tried pleadingly, trying not to flinch under the Svartalf's stare. "I merely pointed out, that there is a large possibility of you getting caught and found out, that you are not a mere human. That would most probably lead to unpleasantness', and I am sorry to say, but our society is for the most part controlled by old, pureblood families, that tend to be somewhat… racist."
"As most people in a position of power, they're narrow minded fools, probably having control only due to their money and connections." Zak muttered angrily but didn't do much besides that. Dumbledore took that as a good sign and decided to pull his ace from his sleeve.
"As I said before, there is not much we can do about the laws, changing them is not an option, but there might be another way to grant you relative freedom, Mr. Vicloth." The Headmaster smiled reassuringly under his long, slivery beard, hoping for the best.
Zak looked at him with for the most part concealed surprise, and sat down on the chair, that he lifted from the ground with a lazy flick of his hand. Sitting and looking the aged wizard in the eyes, he most probably looked for signs of deception on the old human's part, drumming his fingers on the desk. It was quite remarkable, how fast he could go from being furious to the point of almost shouting to calmly observing and contemplating an indirect offer made by someone.
After a moment Kelell, who circled them for the last few minutes in the air landed on Zak's shoulder and joined his master in his staring competition, creating a mostly surreal effect in Dumbledore's view. Once again he felt like if the bird had more intellect than it should have hade and showed almost human emotion. More even, he decided that the bird was actually not looking at him like its owner, looking for a lie on his part, but more… mockingly, if it was possible for a bird to look like that. Baffled by that the Headmaster blinked a few times and almost missed the drow's answer.
"I must admit, I am… intrigued by your words, Mr. Dumbledore." Was the Svartalf's answer. He still drummed his fingers on the oak desk though, like if he was expecting something. "Please, continue. I wish to hear more."
"So far so good" Dumbledore thought, although you couldn't say that by looking on his face, frozen in his reassuring expression. "As of now, you, Mr. Vicloth, are considered an unregistered, underaged potential wizard, like most muggleborn wizards your "age". That means, that the Ministry has still no power over you, and you are free to do as you please. Still, casting spells would be highly discouraged –bringing attention to yourself in this way would be a bad idea." Dumbledore made a small pause there, letting his words sink in. After a few seconds Zak prompted him to continue. "Considering however, that the option of you willingly forgoing any magic for the next seven years is not an option, I have an offer; one, that I believe will suit the both of us."
"Can you please get to the point?" The Spellsword asked exasperated, intensifying the drumming of his fingers. It was painfully obvious that he didn't appreciate beating around the bush, not now at least. Dumbledore, trying to stay on the good side of his guest nodded.
"What I have to say is that your physical body belongs to a child, that should by my estimations be no older than eleven years old. That being said, it is the age in which most young wizards and witches begin their magical education."
Suddenly Zak's face changed into one of understanding. It was clear, that it downed on him what was Dumbledore's plan for him, and how it fit the description of it being "mutually beneficial". The Headmaster smiled seeing his expression, glad that he wasn't required to explain everything in detail for the drow to understand. His throat was killing him as it is, no need to strain it more than it's necessary.
"You want me to pose as a new student." The whitehead stated, looking at Dumbledore both warily and with a bit of new respect. In the mean time however, Minerva almost choked on her own salvia, looking at Dumbledore like he lost his mind. Seeing this the aged Headmaster asked the drow for a moment of patience and beckoned his old time friend to the side, hopefully out of Zak's earshot. Once there he opened his mouth as to say something, but McGonagall beat him to the punch.
"Albus, are you insane?" She whispered hoarsely, her throat holding up no better than his own.
"Well, I never claimed to be sane in the first place." He answered with a smile, prompting McGonagall to facepalm. Apparently she wasn't in the mood for jokes.
"Listen Albus, I don't know why are you doing this, and frankly I don't understand why you want to help him." She gestured in the direction of the drow who began leaning back in the chair. "What I do know is that what you are trying to do can be extremely dangerous. You heard him, you seen him working his magic for god's sake. He doesn't like something, he's going to make it gone, either destroying it or killing it. And you want him to stay here? Whit children?!"
"Minerva, calm down, please." The Headmaster pleaded. "I assure you that I have thought this trough."
"Not enough you didn't." She answered, giving him a glare, her lips pursed into a thin line. "Your obviously missing the point. The… Svartalf… is dangerous. Dangerous! It knows magic that we have problems comprehending. It wields a flaming sword. It…"
"Has a name, and doesn't appreciate being called an 'it'." Came the voice of no other than Zak. Surprised by this sudden development both McGonagall and Dumbledore looked in his direction, their eyebrows raised in surprise. "You're forgetting that I'm an elf. I have a better sense of hearing than the average human." He answered the unasked question, and glared halfheartedly at Minerva, who in turn paled slightly. "I assure you, I have moral standards. I wouldn't rise a hand against a child… well, as long as the child doesn't do anything that could be remotely considered physically threatening against me. I don't plan to get murdered by a child assassin. But besides that, I would never deliberately kill a child."
"You see Minerva, nothing to worry about." Dumbledore smiled at that small declaration made by Zak, however he was a bit concerned about the child-assassin part. Putting that thought at the back of his mind for now he was going to get back to explaining his plan to the drow, but the whitehead's voice cut him off.
"Also, I didn't agree to be put in a foreign school to begin with." His voice was level, however the look he was giving the Headmaster said it all. He was testing him.
"Mr. Vicloth, let us be reasonable." Dumbledore began, a slight tone of panic present in his voice. "That is the best solution we have right now. Either you agree to be placed in Hogwarts as a new student and get yourself a "permission" of sorts to practice magic, or you are risking being found out by the authorities, and we both know what that could mean."
"Still, staying in a school when I could basically be wandering and looking for any possible way to get back my body and to get back to my world, all the while being able to proceed with my experiments seams counterproductive." He answered, ceasing to drum his fingers on the desk and crossing his arms on his chest. "My research could prove to be extremely time-consuming, and considering being in a school implies that I would need to be seen on lectures and the like, not to mention completing assignments placed on my by the local masters, and that would greatly hinder my work. As such, I am willing to take my chances with the authorities: keep a low profile and possibly avoid being found out. That way I would at least have more time."
Dumbledore, for all his vast wisdom couldn't find to many flaws in Zak's reasoning. Many a student had complained about the workload placed on them by teachers, at one point he himself was one, both teacher and complaining student, and being present on lectures, that could for the most part take up even the better part of a day could prove a serious handicap in the eyes of the drow. Still, willingly risking being arrested for "underage" magic was a serious setback, at least from the Headmaster's point of view. It actually seemed like if Zak was deliberately aiming a sort of attack on the government structures, trying to prove that it was flawed in some way. Maybe he wanted to be a fugitive of sorts and prove how a organized force was powerless against him? Did that mean, that they had to deal with an anarchist?
Zak looked at the aged wizard, a slight smirk present on his lips. Dumbledore's confusion seamed to lighten his mood a bit, a thing that the Headmaster was quite quick to take notice of. It was like he was hoping for that reaction, like it was more of a game to him than anything else. Then again, the drow did point out that he could survive a prolonged stay in the wilderness, so the theory that he was more or less bluffing while saying he was going to spend his time "lying low" was unlikely. Did that mean, that he had a different reason for apparently declining Dumbledore's offer? Without his Legilimency the Headmaster had a hard time figuring him out. And it was going to be times like this when he regretted not learning more mundane methods of "reading" a person.
"I urge you to reconsider, Mr. Vicloth." Dumbledore finally stated, regaining as much composure as possible. He once again sat down at his desk, accompanied by Minerva, who was looking at the drow with a mixture of relief and silent curiosity (and a bit of apprehension) and touched the tips of his fingers together, trying to calm his thoughts and concentrate. "There is much you can lose if you get couth, especially time, that –like you said –is for you of the essence. In fact, it would be much more time than if you stayed here, at Hogwarts. Also, our school, as you probably guessed, is a boarding school, which means, that we are more than capable of providing you free shelter and food supplies."
"That's not much." Zak replied, shrugging slightly. "A place to stay and some food… While it's a nice gesture and all, I am more than capable of taking care of both of these things. I can conjure up an impressive, neigh indestructible interdimensional manor-like object in which I can spend my time, and as for food –I'll hunt, it's no big deal to me. And if bad comes to wore, I could try conjuring up something edible. Not my strong side, but I'm decent at it."
"And what with your research?" The aged wizard asked, but he couldn't keep the surprise at hearing about conjuring up food from his voice (it was one thing using a spell to summon already existing food, but creating it from thin air? It broke one of the most fundamental laws of magic). "I am sure that you can look out for yourself just fine, but finding food will, again, take up precious time you could use for your research. What's more, here, in Hogwarts, the largest collection of books in magical Britain is placed, a collection in which you could find some interesting information that could prove helpful in your endeavors."
"You mean in a way like you are helpful for me with researching a way to get back to my home plane?" Zak asked with an arched eyebrow, sarcasm clearly heard in his voice.
"Well, maybe not helpful concerning that particular problem, but I am more than sure that you will find our knowledge about transmutations and shapeshifting more than satisfactory." He replied, quickly salvaging the situation. "Human-animal transformations, appearance changing spells, both cosmetic and complex shape-shifting… the list is long I must say."
"That actually sounds remotely useful." The drow muttered, scratching his chin in thought. Seeing an opportunity, Dumbledore followed up with another offer.
"While you are staying in Hogwarts, we could arrange a workplace for you, as I am certain that you will need somewhere to conduct your research at. We can provide you with any equipment you can think of, and…"
"Sorry, but I doubt the last part." Zak interrupted him, however he still was in a thinking pose and for the most part didn't look at the aged wizard. "You probably won't have the instruments I require, like the Weave-Tread Separator or Grandier-Boht's Universal Alchemical Accelerator. Some basic equipment maybe, but not the advanced stuff, as that requires the practical use of the theory of the Weave, which I am certain isn't even in the early concept stage of this world."
"Still, I believe that it beats working in the wilderness." Dumbledore pressed on, sure that the drow would see the logic in his reasoning. "Even if we are not able to provide you with advanced magical equipment, we can help in setting you up with the basics, so undervalued these days, and knowledge that could be useful for you, especially in conjunction with your vast knowledge."
"Stroking my ego, eh?" Zak smirked and looked at Dumbledore in amusement. "If you were a young, long-legged dryad then who knows, I might have fallen for that. As it is however, I really must ask you to stop that. It's making me uncomfortable, and makes you look like a lickspittle… no offense."
"None taken." The Headmaster replied, smiling slightly despite himself. As much as the predicament he found himself in was beginning to frustrate him, and his inability to convince the drow to his point of view made him nervous, this one jab was enough to lighten his mood. It was so rare to find someone with a sense of humor these days, especially intelligent people.
"As for your… offer…" The drow again was all business. It was almost as if Albus was talking with a mirror image of himself, the least the way he changed subjects. "I'll say… yes. After consideration I think I will take you up on your offer, Mr. Dumbledore."
He blinked a few times, making an interesting impersonation of an owl. The aged wizard wasn't expecting something like that. Just moments ago it seemed like if his guest was adamant on leaving Hogwarts as soon as possible. His sudden declaration of accepting the offer took Dumbledore completely off guard.
Not only the Headmaster was surprised. Minerva looked like she had swallowed a shot of vinegar. Up until now all seemed to indicate, that he was going to refuse Dumbledore's offer, to which she was very grateful. She had no intentions to stay in one place with a being, that not only acted extremely strange and was able to probably a killer, if his moves with his sword were any indication, but was also able to use magic without the use of wands. And that frightened her. Now however, after the sudden decision that he was going to actually stay here as a "student" the situation was getting all but terrible. Sigh… she hated being right like that.
Back to Dumbledore –the aged wizard was about to proclaim his victory with a grateful "splendid!", when he noticed Zak's rised hand passing right before his eyes a few times. Again blinking, this time from the sudden close movement the Headmaster withdrew a bit in his chair. This brought a new smirk on the drow's face.
"Don't try to freeze on me again, Mr. Dumbledore. One time was enough." He laughed slightly, returning to his chair and leaning in it, arms again crossed on his chest. "As I said, I am willing to take you up on your offer, but I do have some demands of my own, if all this is going to work out."
"That's… understandable I think." He replied slowly. His surprise at getting the drow to agree was slowly wearing off, as well as his moment of victory when a thought struck him. It was not over yet, Zak could still withdraw from this agreement and walk away, just like that. What's more, there was no telling what he was going to request from him in exchange for his stay here. It could be anything…
"I'm happy to hear we have an agreement." Once more the drow brought the elderly wizard out of his musings. "Now, to the matter at hand: first off, and I am adamant on this one, is that the workplace I will be given meets the following requirements…"
Something told Dumbledore, that he just walked straight into really vile smelling dungbomb.
Almost an hour passed since Zak began listing his requirements and other conditions from which depended if he was going to stay in Hogwarts. To be frank however, they weren't exactly rock-solid demands, that he was adamant on being granted, more like requests that if they were fulfilled, they would be enough to begin recreating at least a part of his lost possessions. If they were granted to him than great. If not… well, he could live with that. Not that Dumbledore needed to know that.
The drow used every ounce of his bargaining skills during this little haggle, every trick he learned while dealing with big-time merchants, hired swords, shady shopkeepers and outright black-market thugs. He knew, that starting high had its perks, so he did request some things that were outright strange, not to mention costly, and if he saw that he was going nowhere with it he lowered slightly his offer, until he gotten a satisfactory response. Sometimes he actually used it as a bluff, as to soften the old wizard up before making a seemingly random but not costly request, prompting him to agree without thinking. Other times he deliberately started low, gradually working his way up with additional things until he sensed that he was close to the breaking point and backing out. Never had he used the same techniques twice in a row, and he tried to stay as random at it as possible, both keeping his hopeful benefactor from figuring him out and getting the best offers in trough sheer confusion on Dumbledore's part. For the most part it paid off. For the most part…
There were some incidents that left him silently fuming, things that he didn't manage to acquire via his negotiations with the Wizard of Eye-Twinkle. The most noticeable one was his inability to convince them (seeing that this whole McGonagall woman was probably the right-hand woman around here) to supply him with human, or at least humanoid thigh bones. It shouldn't be that surprising, really –he himself said, that he knew a bit about necromancy, and considering the bad reputation the art had with common folk it was no surprise they looked at him warily. He tried to reason with them: that he isn't going to use them to rise skeletons or the like, nor did he wished them to acquire them in large numbers and fresh, settling for older bones and even donations, but sadly, he didn't have much luck. They weren't going to budge even an inch in that. So, with a heavy sigh, Zak was forced to accept on bones gained from cattle. Well, the bones themselves weren't bad per se, at least as a material for wand-making, but humanoid thigh bones were so much better…
There were a few more mishaps like that, some of them actual fails on the drow's part, some of them simply impossible to acquire in this world. All in all, it wasn't that much of a setback as the drow initially suspected. Aside from some exotic materials and more advanced equipment he was able to convince Dumbledore to set up a workplace slash temporary laboratory in which he could commence some basic experiments, at least until his lab-sack was repaired.
After the long and tiresome negotiations were finished the aged wizard requested the stranded drow to sign a paper, that was, as he put it, essential in his placement in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (the name did bring a patronizing smile on Zak's face once he heard it). Normally, as Dumbledore explained to him, twinkling eyes and all that, students were chosen to attend the school by the level of magic that flowed within them and was measured at birth by healers, or, in muggleborn students cases, from observations of effects created by, what he called it, "accidental magic". As for Zak, he wasn't a native and as such no one could tell how magical he was beforehand, so he used the second best option the Headmaster had. A request form for an exchange student.
It was a slowly dying process, not many foreign student attending Hogwarts these days. Most countries were now capable of providing magical education for their youths, and the few that didn't in the last century, like Ireland, had for some reasons chosen other courtiers as their preferred study destinations. Zak guessed, that it could have something to do with the reputation of this place or political reasons, but as he wasn't a native he couldn't in all honesty answer that.
There was also another reason why exchange students became so scarce over the years. Apparently Hogwarts needed (as weird as it sounded, almost like if the castle was alive) to "have a look" at the magical aura of a person to produce a Hogwarts letter, basically an acceptance letter which any and all students needed to receive and at least skim over. And to do that with someone with which's aura it's not acquaintanced (via blood relatives or information provided by the Ministry) it needs a sample of magic. Preferably contained in blood.
It was a weird process in Zak's eyes. Dumbledore first of all gotten a form, an old one at that, from a seemingly unopened for years upon years cabinet. The slightly crumpled and dusty piece of parchment contained rows upon rows of strange symbols, letters as he guessed. After looking at it for a moment his amulet kicked in and provided him with knowledge of what every of these symbols meant, giving him the knowledge about how he should read them, and if need be write them. As long as he would have his pendant on his neck, he was going to be able to understand it no problem. So, having acquired the skill of reading in this strange language he began reading it thoroughly, looking for something that could be used against him. He wasn't one for signing written contracts so his apprehension was something natural for him, but every time he actually did signed something, he made sure to both check if it wasn't written in a way that made him get the proverbial shorter end of the stick, and –if everything seemed alright –stick to the agreement. It wasn't actually his honor that dictated this behavior, but rather his illogical fear of the Inevitables.
Having read trough the form and finding nothing that could be used against him the drow looked warily at Dumbledore. He didn't know why, but even after reading trough that document he felt a bit apprehensive. It probably had something to do with the way the old wizard was acting, all cheerful and helpful, if not a bit weird at times. Being used to ridicule at every step meeting with someone that didn't judge you at face value was rather confusing and hard to get used to. But still, there was something else that made him nervous, not that he showed it. Only problem was, he couldn't quite place it.
When Dumbledore, after seeing Zak finished with reading the form explained to him, what was required he was going to suggest using a Blood Quill, a magical type of quill that enabled a person to write using his own blood as ink without the need to actually draw it. However, once the words that the drow's lifeblood was needed were uttered, the said drow reached for the closest writing instrument and bit the thumb of his left hand, drawing the crimson liquid, and had already dipped the writing end of the quill in it. Deciding that it was no use telling him to stop now, the Headmaster looked in silence alongside his by now really freaked out deputy as the Svartalf signed his full name in the designated place.
The old magic placed on the parchment came to life with a show of soft, blue light, easily visible in the now darkening inside of the aged wizard's office. Zak, who wasn't expecting something like that raised an eyebrow in silent surprise and looked expectantly at the Headmaster. Chuckling to himself slightly he assured the drow, that all was in order and that the parchment just worked its magic, conserving his magical signature on its surface so that Hogwarts could generate his letter. Slightly calmer Zak nodded in understanding and asked what was next.
There was only one thing left to do regarding the drow's entrance. With a soft smile hidden behind his beard Dumbledore asked Minerva, if she could go and check if everything was in order with Zak's admission. Still wary and not sure if it was wise to keep someone like the drow in the school but more freaked out by actually staying in his presence for too long she gladly welcomed an excuse to leave his presence, and with one last look at Zak and (hopefully not) Dumbledore she left the office, leaving the two men alone.
The aged wizard looked at his guest in silence for a few minutes, observing as he whistled a short tune almost inaudibly while looking at his wounded thumb. To the surprise of the silver-bearded man, the finger shone for a moment with pale white light, almost blinding in the slowly creeping darkness, and after a moment disappeared, leaving newly healed tissue in its wake. A bit mesmerized at seeing a healing spell working in such a manner, Dumbledore missed the moment when Zak stood from his chair and began pacing slowly, like a few hours or so ago, once again trying to get used to his new body form.
It was almost surprising how quickly was the drow able to grasp the basics of his new shape. Not so long ago he all but stumbled around, incapable of normal walking. Now he almost didn't trip, and although his speed left much to be desired, as he most probably needed to think about what he was doing before he did it, it was a huge improvement. Dumbledore suspected, that it could have something to do with his sword, as he seemed to regain his grace and elegance of movements once he unsheathed it, and began faltering once he put it away.
Speaking of the blade, the old wizard wad a serious problem brewing for him. He easily noticed, that Zak was very protective of his sword, the fact that he basically knew that it was unsheathed and that he reacted rather poorly once he was sure of it was proof enough. That being said, Dumbledore couldn't just let him walk around carrying this weapon in the open. For starters –it would bring to much attention to him. A child, walking around with a sword? The Ministry was bound to take notice of something like that. Moreover, this kind of blade was forbidden in muggle Britain from what he remembered. How was it called again? A katana? No, it wouldn't do if he walked around with something like that. The problem was however, that the Svartalf would probably be reluctant to part with his possessions, any of them.
Unbeknown to Dumbledore, Zak was thinking along similar lines. He gathered, that being a kid implied, that he wasn't capable of using weapons. So, to keep up the guise of an eleven year old he should somehow get rid of Dragontongue, at least temporarily. If his lab-sack was fully functional he wouldn't have this problem –he would just go down there and store it in one of his storerooms, preferably in chamber A –his private armory. However with the recent developments he could cross that out, not to mention that he really didn't fancy walking around with the lab-sack while it was out of commission –it would only anger him if he did take it with him. And unfortunately his backpack, which worked in a way similar to a bag of holding had a limitation on how big the objects stored within it could be placed. As it was, his weapon was slightly to long to fit in.
Frowning a bit while wandering around Dumbledore's study, Zak concluded, that the only possibility of storing his sword sat by the claw-legged desk. It wasn't ideal, and he had his doubts regarding the old human, but what choice did he really have? Risk being uncovered by those "aurors" or whatever they were called? Like he wanted to tangle with them right now. He had enough problems as it was. The only thing that comforted the silver haired castaway was the fact, that this place seemed to be rather peaceful, at least if you believed in Dumbledore's assurances. He could take care of himself without his blade just fine. So, with a heavy heart and knowing, that it was going to be the last time he sees his pride and joy for more than a couple of months at the very least, he approached the aged Headmaster with this small problem.
To say Ol' Silverbeard was surprised was the underestimation of the year. Here he was, devising a plan, a way to approach the foreign wizard and not aggravate him, and as it turned out, it was all unnecessary. Not only did Zak approach him of his own volition just in that regard, but he also asked, if he could leave one of his bags, the one with that weird staircase in it. It was way more than Dumbledore could ever dream of. If he done everything right and was cautious enough, he could probably even take another look on the enchantments and try to understand their workings! He wasn't this giddy in many a year.
There was also another "problem" that needed to be taken care of. Both Zak and Dumbledore were sure, that if the drow was to keep up his front as a kid, he needed some kind of back-story, a cover if you will, that would explain both his sudden appearance in the magical (and non-magical) world, but also his lack of grasp of the basics of both worlds. As it already was, his story couldn't get out into the public, for it would bring unwanted attention towards him, attention that would probably lead him to an extended stay in the Department of Mysteries. Zak also couldn't devise his cover on his own, for he didn't know anything about the world he found himself in. So, with the help of Dumbledore, they forged Zak a cover, that he was going to use from now on.
While devising the cover story, Zak requested some things to be left as they were, including his name. That wasn't that much of a problem, for his name, as odd as it been, was well within the limits of what wizards of the old days used. Add to that the fact, that thanks to Dumbledore's help it was decided, that Zak was going to pass as a former citizen of Norway (which was the closest they could get in Europe in regards to an actual North), his name began to be less and less conspicuous. That also was the second part of his new cover –his former citizenship. As a young wizard of foreign descent, no one was able to track his story down, not in magical Britain at least. The governments of magical nations rarely shared information on their own compatriots, even if it was in regards of ones that decided to migrate to new lands. As it was, it made for an excellent cover story, one, that the Ministry would have problems in confirming or disproving.
There were also some minor details, like the fact that Zak was adamant on being called an "Ilythiiri" –the name of his race in his own language –and keeping his underground upbringing (as pun-ny as it sounded) as a fact. The first one Dumbledore was easy to understand: the Svartalf wanted some kind of connection to his real form, as to not go completely insane with being basically a prisoner in his own body. The second one however… The Headmaster tried to reason with him, explain, that this bit of information would sound suspicious, but the drow remained steadfast in his decision. He explained, that yes, it was true, he would get some weird looks for it and maybe even bring some unwanted attention towards himself, but he was willing to take the risk. As he reasoned, he needed to somehow be able to explain the differences in his appearance towards other students, and he was sure they were bound to question just that, and his ability to see in the dark. Not that he wanted to brag about that to everyone, but if the need arose, he wanted to be able to explain it. So, after a few minutes it was decided, that Zak was going to represent a long separated branch of humankind, people, who once were living on the surface of the world but went for some reason underground, literally, and stayed there for so long, that their decadents evolved, to accommodate to living in a dark place like the Underdark (Zak was adamant on keeping the name as it was –less confusion on his part). It wasn't the best explanation, nor would it prevent people from looking at him strangely, but it was the only way the drow would have had it.
Hopefully, the Ministry would buy it.
There wasn't much to discuss after that. Zak, armed with a cover story and with more than half of his gear safely (hopefully) tucked away was theoretically ready for anything this strange new world could trow at him. Only thing left was for him to get the Hogwarts letter, a formality really, and set off to get his "school supplies" so to say, and that meant waiting for McGonagall to get back from the Quill Room with his letter. They didn't have to wait long, as the transmutation professor arrived just moments after they finished with the cover story.
The look Minerva gave the two occupants of the room was inscrutable. One could say it was a mix between relief –a clear sign that she was thankful to whatever deity was looking after her principal, and a well concealed layer of anxiety that the drow couldn't quite place. It was clear that it wasn't anything concerning him, as her look would in such a case reveal also a tang of fright directed at him, an emotion he gotten used to seeing on her face. The fact that she was also holding not one but two parchment envelopes was also a dead giveaway.
"Dumbledore." She announced with a slight tremble in her voice, again –not with any type of fear but "normal" anxiety. "We may have a problem."
The aged wizard raised an eyebrow and beckoned his subordinate to continue, inviting her in the same time into his study. The witch complied, albeit still a bit wary of the other occupant of the room, and approached the bearded individual. After he prompted her to share her thoughts she slowly continued.
"You see, once I acquired Mr. Vicloth's letter… by the way, here it is…" She passed one of the envelopes to the drow, who in turn with a bored expression took it and glazed trough the address, rising his eyebrow at seeing the "Headmaster's Office" bit written on it "…I decided to check up on the responses from new students. Apparently, Mr. Potter still hadn't sent his own answer, and the address I found on the latest envelope made me a bit worried about his welfare. Besides, it's best if you see for yourself." And she passed the second envelope to her employer.
Dumbledore gazed trough his half-moon spectacles at the piece of parchment and the twinkle in his eyes quickly lost its power, glazing over with worry. What he seen here was really disturbing, and possibly implied something, that he wished wasn't true. Placing the envelope on his desk he entwined his fingers and began murmuring to himself in deep thought. From time to time he shot quick glances in Zak's direction, like if he was trying to decide something, and furrowed his brows even harder, as if the action itself would help him come to a decision quicker.
Zak for his part wasn't sure what was going on, but frankly –it didn't interest him in the slightest. That is it wouldn't, if he didn't catch the bearded human looking at him time and again with those damn blue eyes. It wouldn't concern him that much, if not for the fact, that it was the first time he had seen the wizard with eyes so normal, so… devoid of their usual twinkle. He wasn't sure now if he preferred him with the sparkle in his orbs or not, but one thing was for sure –the oddity itself was enough to warrant his attention and for the letter he was going to unseal to lay all but forgotten on the desktop.
After a minute or two Dumbledore finally came to a conclusion. He cleared his trough, gaining the full attention of his employee, who was shooting wary glances in the direction of his drow guest, and stated:
"I feared it would come to something like this." He sighed, as if it wasn't apparent enough that he was saddened by what he learned. "Minerva, would you be as kind as to send Hagrid this way?"
"Hagrid, sir?" She asked a bit taken aback.
"Yes, Hagrid." Dumbledore nodded slowly, still partially in thought. "I talked to him a couple of days ago and informed him, that it may come to something like this. Also, I wanted him to carry out an… errand for me while he collects our stray student."
"Albus, are you absolutely sure you want to send Hagrid with something as important as…" She cut herself off once she remembered, that they weren't the only ones in the room. She shot a glance at Zak, who seemed to be more interested in examining his crow's feathers, and cleared her own throat before continuing. "I mean there are people more suitable to carry out something like that."
"I know Minerva, I know." The aged wizard replied, still deep in thought. "However you do know, that I would trust Hagrid with my own life, and simply collecting something for me along with checking up on young Harry is well in his capabilities. I'm more than certain he will manage."
McGonagall didn't look particularly convinced by this statement, but decided to keep her thoughts to herself. Besides, it was Dumbledore she was talking to, if he decided to do something his way, there was nothing that would stop him from doing just that. That, and usually he was right, at least most of the time. So, with a sigh of defeat and yet another wary glance in Zak's direction the Transfigurations mistress went in search of Hagrid, once again leaving Dumbledore and Zak alone.
"Trouble in Arvandor?" The drow asked once McGonagall left the room, a slight smirk on his face. In response Dumbledore sighed, nodding at what he thought was a changed version a commonly known phrase.
"It appears a new student of mine has difficulties with receiving or responding to his Hogwarts letter. Fortunately, I was prepared for something like that and I already took some measures into solving this slight problem." After that Dumbledore grew silent for a moment, looking out the window at the slowly darkening sky. "Night is coming."
"Aye, that it is." The drow responded, also looking through the window. Once Dumbledore took a look at him he noticed, that the Svartalf was genuinely smiling, for the first time they entered his office. "A beauty of a night I might add. Do you have a moon in this world?" The question took the Headmaster by surprise, but he quickly recovered.
"Yes, we have a moon. Why do you ask?"
"No reason." Zak replied, although his smile grew even wider. "Usstan brorn vel'bol ol loren saph. Usstan kestal ol zhah iz' ssin'urn 'zil a delmah."
"What was that?"
"Oh, nothing… just wondering something, nothing to be worried about." The drow replied, looking once more at Dumbledore's wrinkled face. He noticed with no problems the thoughtful frown adoring his visage, a clear sign that he was considering asking him something, that if the dark elf was to guess would concern him and probably his expedition for his "school supplies", by the way a strange thing he couldn't just get the items right here. And if his luck up until now was to serve as an indication, he was probably going to be roped into the whole mess with this "stray student", what's his face… Harry Potter? Yep, it was definitely that, no denying it.
Zak sighed and looked like he was going to say something, but in the end he stayed silent, once again gazing at the slowly creeping night out the window. He was probably overreacting, the stress of the last few days still taking their toll on him. Besides, was it such a big problem, that he was going to make a great fuss about it? He needed to stay true to his ruse, and what other way to accomplish just that if not by making some acquaintances amongst the future students alongside which he was going to stay? And who knew, maybe the boy would prove to be a distraction for his darker thoughts. Gods knew that he needed a distraction.
Finally, after a few minutes spent in silence the door to the study shook violently in a manner that could be called knocking, if the one knocking was a complete drunk or a giant not aware of his own strength. Zak, surprised at the sudden noise almost immediately found himself standing at his now even less imposing stature and silently preparing to cast a protective spell on himself. However once he heard the good natured chuckle coming from Dumbledore he relaxed a bit, letting his hands rest along his sides. Moments later the Headmaster invited the one that was apparently trying to get inside with a gentle "come in".
Nothing could prepare the drow for what he was about to see. He knew that now, after he was changed into a human (round ears –ugh!) child he was way smaller than he was used to, but even so the… man in front of him was enormous! By his quick estimation it seemed that Dumbledore's guest was almost ten feet tall, and with a physique that most half-orcs would die for. He was a mountain of a man, covered with muscles that made one wonder how much strength could one single being posses. But what really drew the drow's attention was his face.
Zak had seen many humans of many positions, from simple farmhands to nobles of high caliber and from wizened scholars to men of the wild, but never have he seen someone like this. The man had a wild, almost primal look to his face, his dark hair and his beard tangled and clearly not kept in any semblance of order only reinforcing the savage visage. Yet his dark, beady eyes held no maliciousness to them, shining in the dim light of the setting sun with both mirth and a sort of wisdom one gets not from studying, but from personal experience. The eyes of this man were probably the only thing that enabled the Spellsword to properly guess, that the giant before him was smiling a good natured smile under his unruly beard, easing him and making him relax.
"Ah, Hagrid, good of you to come so quickly!" The voice of the Headmaster brought Zak back to reality. So this was the Hagrid fellow that he presumably was going to go alongside to find the Potter boy. Interesting.
The giant now identified as Hagrid beamed at the mention of his name and entered the study, his way to large for it to be normal body standing out like a sore thumb in the well organized office. He spared a passing glance at the drow, who for him must have looked like nothing more than a thin, diminutive child with a weird hair color, and looked at the Headmaster with the utmost attention.
"Yeh called, Professor, so I've come a' soon as I could." Answered the Hagrid fellow, his voice heavily laced with some kind of accent that Zak for obvious reasons couldn't place. "Its 'bout Harry, innit? Yeh want me ter give him his letter an' take 'im to Diagon Alley?"
"Yes, we already discussed that last time we talked, and considering that the need unfortunately arose I see no other way." Dumbledore replied, nodding slightly at the giant. "However some… unexpected occurrences forced me to slightly change the plan."
"Sumthin happened, Professor?" Asked the giant, concern creeping into his voice. "But it ain't anything with Harry, innit?"
"No, no, I assure you Hagrid, Harry's alright." The aged wizard tried to calm his enormous guest down, which seemed to work, as the agitated look in the giant's eyes seemed to all but disappear. "No, the issue at hand has nothing to do with our dear Harry. In fact, the "issue", as inelegant as it sounds, sits right here with us."
Zak wasn't surprised in the slightest by that, so the only thing he did was shoot a passing glance at the Headmaster and focus his attention on the man known as Hagrid. The giant however was more than surprised and regarded the whitehead like if he saw him for the first time. His dark eyes, so similar to two shining beetles fell on him and he apparently began studying him with the utmost attention, as if he tried to burn his image into his memory. Finally, after what seemed like a good five minutes of staring the giant grunted slightly and placed a smile on his face, at least Zak thought so, and extended his tremendous hand to a hand shake.
"Didn' see yer there." He chuckled. "I'm Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper o' Keys an' Grounds at Hogwarts, but yer can call me Hagrid."
"Zak'Talqosee Vicloth, but simply Zak will do." The drow replied and grabbed the giant's hand in a shake. Well, it would be called a shake, if not for the simple fact that the drow was almost certain that Hagrid in his enthusiasm had accidentally dislocated his arm. Rubbing his sore arm he looked at Dumbledore. "Am I to guess, that you want me to go with Hagrid here to this… Diagon Alley, Professor?" He added the honorific quickly, remembering that he should act as a new student.
"Yes, precisely." The aged wizard agreed, nodding his head and looking at Hagrid. "Zak here is new, both in Hogwarts and in magical Britain. It's a long story and I am more than sure, that he will gladly share it with you on your way. That is, if you are willing to take him with you of course. I can arrange for someone else to…"
"Nah, you don' have to look fer anyone, Professor. I'll be glad to take Zak here with me, it's no problem fer me." The giant answered, waving Dumbledore's offer of. Next thing Zak knew, Hagrid placed his hand on his arm with enough force to make him almost fall on his face. Not sure what to do, the drow looked at the Headmaster, who only chuckled and shook his head slightly in amusement, prompting the dark elf to growl in annoyance under his breath.
"That is great news!" Finally Dumbledore exclaimed, after which he handed Hagrid the envelope addressed to Harry. "Now, I want you to take this letter and deliver it directly to Harry, no matter the opposition you will meet. You'll find the address on the envelope, I'm sure you will manage to find your way there. And as for you, Mr. Vicloth" At this Zak ceased his growling and looked at the elderly wizard with a raised eyebrow. "Do please remember what we talked about and try to act accordingly. Also, as we discussed already, you're expenses will be covered by the school fund, so you need not to concern yourself with anything. I do believe that is all…"
"And what with my accommodation, sir?" Zak asked before Dumbledore was able to bid them farewell. At first the wizened man looked a bit surprised, but after a moment his face lighted up with a smile, the twinkling in his eyes returning with full force.
"I will look into the meter, try to figure something out. If I find anything suitable I will contact you." Zak wasn't sure what kind of place would the wizard before him consider appropriate for him, nor how he would be able to contact him, but he let it slide for the moment. Right now it wasn't the most important thing in the multiverse. "Now then, with that being taken care of, I do believe that you need to find and deliver that letter to someone, Hagrid."
"Yes, o' course. Goodnigh' Professor!" Hagrid announced loudly, gently (only for him) nudging Zak in the direction of the door. After the drow stumbled for a second he regained his balance, bid farewell to the wizard who decided to help him for reasons the dark elf couldn't phantom, and called his familiar to him, which the crow did, landing on his left arm and incidentally bringing a smile on Hagrid's face. Something told the giant, that he was going to like this kid.
Dumbledore waited for the duo plus a crow to exit his office, and just to be on the safe side he waited a couple more seconds for them to descend down the spiral staircase. Once he was sure the Svartalf was out of earshot the elder wizard let out a sigh, rubbing his blue eyes under his spectacles and standing from his desk.
He approached the window through which both he and his exotic guest were looking just a couple of minutes ago, and gazed at the darkening school grounds, especially at the looming Dark Forest, now looking the part thanks to the shadows the ancient trees were casting upon one another. The view had a calming effect on the Headmaster, not as strong as a cup of hot chocolate, but sufficient enough right now. He really needed to gather his thoughts after all he had learned today.
He never would have expected, that something like this would ever happen to him, not after he basically lived a century and change. All was supposed to be behind him now, nothing to shocking were to happen now. At least not for the next few years he had left. However the appearance of Zak, a being of extraplenar descent, and all the new and exciting information and magic he brought with himself, now that turned the world upside down for him, and made life once more worth to live. But it also could mean one more thing.
Another of Sybill's prophecies could possibly come to fulfillment. If only he could find the other three…
And so, Albus Dumbledore, known as the brightest wizard of his century drifted into deep thought, not noticing a small figure creeping out of his office on its eight hairy legs.
*Drowish for "Offer you can't refuse"
**Technically, Shrikes are incapable of any of those things beside shrieking, but consider these mentioned here advanced ones or new species of these fungi