For the Secondary Characters Competition.
I apologize for my inability to write Irish accents.
I own nothing.
If you want to know more about the background of my Seamus Finnigan, go read "The Things We Overcome."
"A Matter of Culture"
"Just a minute!" she calls at the knock on the door. She stirs the vegetables into the pot bubbling on the stove and then sets down her spoon. As she walks to the door, she wonders who on earth it could be – they hadn't been expecting any visitors.
She pulls open the door and blinks at the stern looking woman standing there. Her hair is pulled back into the tightest bun Maggie Thomas has ever seen. She wears a pristine-looking black suit with a tailored jacket with thin white pinstripes and a matching pencil skirt. Underneath she wears a deep green blouse. It is, all in all, a very professional outfit, and Maggie feels rather underdressed in her black pants and her work shirt from the diner, her apron thrown over top.
The woman's lips pinch up in some semblance of a smile. "Good evening, ma'am. My name is Minerva McGonagall. I'd like to speak with you about your son, Dean."
"Do come in, won't you?" Maggie invites, but inside she's wondering what's wrong. People in suits usually only show up when things go wrong.
The woman only nods slightly and follows Maggie inside. Maggie shows her to the living room, apologizing for the mess as she does – with an eleven year old boy and twin seven year old girls, the minute the house is clean, it's dirty again.
Minerva simply shakes her head. "I've seen worse in my day," she assures, sitting on the couch that Maggie gestures to.
"Would you like something to drink? Perhaps a snack?"
Minerva shakes her head. "No, thank you," she politely declines. Maggie nervously smoothes her apron. "Perhaps," Minerva suggests after a moment, "this would be easier with the whole family at once?"
"Oh! Oh, of course! I'll be just a moment," Maggie says, and she rushes off to collect Dean, Lena, Marissa, and her husband Jordan. She's only getting more worried by the moment, as she can't think what would possibly concern the entire family that they'd need to learn from a woman in a pinstriped suit. She wonders momentarily if it could have something to do with Dean's… strangeness, but she dismisses that idea quickly. It couldn't be.
She smiles at the prim woman as she introduces her kids one by one. "This is Dean… Magdelena…"
Her daughter scowls at the hated name and mutters, "Lena" under her breath.
Maggie – who understands her frustration, given her full name is Margaret – corrects herself. "Lena, sorry… This is Marissa. And this is my husband Jordan."
At the woman's look, Maggie realizes her mistake. "And I'm Maggie."
The woman nods and introduces herself once more as Minerva McGonagall.
Jordan is the first to speak after that. "So, what's all of this about, Mrs. McGonagall?"
Minerva takes in a deep breath. "What I am going to tell you is going to come as a bit of a shock, so I'd like to assure you, first of all, that I am not a lunatic, and I am not a quack. I would like you to hear what I have to say in its entirety before you make any judgements, if you please."
The Thomases all nod.
The next time Minerva speaks, she's talking directly to Dean. "You know you're different, don't you, Dean? You know you aren't like the other kids."
Dean's brown eyes widen, and he nods.
Minerva's head bobs up and down once, as though this affirms what she already knew.
"You've been different since you were born, Dean. It may not have been obvious until later – age six or seven, maybe?" Maggie is nodding along with Dean – age six was the first Incident. "But it's something that's been with you since birth. Now, Dean, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I need you to have an open mind, all right? Because if you have an open mind, what I'm going to say is going to feel very right to you – almost as though you knew it all along, as though it's the only natural answer. Okay?"
Dean nods again.
Minerva takes a deep breath and then lets it out. "You're a wizard, Dean."
The room goes dead silent. Lena and Marissa stop fidgeting. Jordan goes still. Dean's eyes go wide.
"I'm a what?" Dean asks after a moment, breaking the silence.
"You're a wizard. You were born with a magical core deep inside of you – those times when you did things that it felt like you couldn't control? That was your magic, welling up and spilling over. When you're young, it does that. But you can learn to control it. You can learn to harness it, and use it."
"What in the world are you on about, woman?" Jordan explodes. Maggie puts a hand softly on his arm, but he shakes it off. "Magic is for fairy tales, storybooks! It doesn't exist!"
"A perfectly natural reaction, Mr. Thomas. I can assure you, however, that magic is, in fact, real."
"You're off your rocker."
The corner of her mouth twitches. "I can assure you, I am not."
"No, you definitely are-"
"Dad." It's Dean. And when he speaks, Jordan shuts up, because Dean isn't a talker. "Dad, it makes sense. How else do you explain Ms. O'Malley?"
Jordan blinks at the reminder of Dean's third year primary school teacher, who vanished mid-sentence one day while screaming at Dean about the importance of her class, when all he'd wanted was to use the toilet. No one could ever explain the fact that only a toad was found in her classroom, but Dean remembers vividly the surge of heat coursing through his veins – the sheer power of the feeling. He also remembers the guilt, afterwards. Ms. O'Malley never did come back.
And Maggie can see in her son's eyes what Minerva talked about – that it feels instinctively right to him. And she remembers all the other times, when seemingly impossible things happened around her quiet boy, and she wondered.
"Okay," her husband mutters. "Okay, all right. Wait, what? No. No, this is crazy. It's nuts. It's absolutely barmy, but…" he trails off.
"I think it's true, love," Maggie says gently. "It seems insane, but I think it's the only logical explanation."
She can see the gratitude in her son's eyes as she speaks the words, and she knows that he needed her to believe.
"Okay. All right. Dean's a wizard." Jordan still seems a bit flattened by the news. "So what happens now? You said he can learn to control it? What does that involve?"
Minerva McGonagall smiles slightly. "That's why I'm here, Mr. Thomas. I'm a Professor at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and I'm here to offer Dean a place at our school. It is the very best in Wizarding Britain, with prestigious staff and an excellent record of success. It truly is the best way for him to learn to control his magic."
She pulls an envelope – is that actual parchment? – out of the pocket of her suit and hands it to Dean.
"Read it, son," Jordan encourages him. Smiling lightly, Dean flips the letter over and breaks the seal.
"Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," Dean reads off the heading. "Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore, Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorcerer, Chief Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confederation of Wizards. What?"
Minerva's lips are pursed in an almost disapproving manner. "That is simply a list of the Headmaster's credentials. I keep telling them that we really ought to take that off the letters to Muggleborn students, but they never do listen, and insist that I write it regardless."
"Muggleborn?" Jordan asks.
"It refers to those with non-magic parents," she explains. He nods, and then gestures at Dean to continue.
Dear Mr. Thomas,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. It will be seen to that you procure all of necessary supplies.
Term begins on September 1. The train leaves at eleven 'o clock from Platform 9 3/4. Find enclosed your ticket.
"Platform 9 3/4?" Maggie can't help but ask.
"Don't worry. It seems a little alarming, but I'm here to help you through all of this. It certainly isn't easy, I know."
"You've got that right," Jordan mutters.
Minerva nods. "The first thing you have to determine, now, is whether or not you want Dean to go to Hogwarts. I'm going to lay this out simply – it would be in Dean's best interest to go. Kids who aren't schooled in the magical arts, well… Those random outbursts of magical energy? They don't stop.
"It is a boarding school, however, which I know isn't easy for some people. There are holidays, and many kids do return home for the duration of several throughout the year, and there are three months off in the summer.
"There is also a tuition fee, though there is a program for those financially unable to pay it, so it is my hope that that will not be a factor."
Jordan and Maggie look at each other, but Dean is the one that speaks.
"I want to go."
Maggie looks at him, and she can see in his eyes that her son has never wanted anything more than he wants this. She can't do anything but nod. Jordan looks at her again, but he's nodding too.
Minerva's lips curl into a tight smile. "Very well. The next step is to set up the best time to get Dean's supplies. I will have to take you, as access to the alley with all of the magical shops requires a wand, which Dean obviously does not yet have. In future years, he will be able to take you himself."
As Jordan discusses with Minerva the fine details, Maggie finds her brain wandering. She can still hardly believe it. Her son, a wizard. Magic. It will take some getting used to.
"Just trust me, Mr. Thomas. I haven't lied to you yet, have I?"
"Well, no, but-"
"Oh, Jordan, honestly. I'll go first, then, shall I?" Maggie asks. Jordan sputters, but Maggie has already taken Minerva's arm and taken off at a brisk walk toward the wall – surprisingly enough, not even phasing Minerva, who keeps pace with her. Maggie shuts her eyes just before contact, but they never hit the wall. She can't help but gape.
It's not as astonishing as Diagon Alley, but it's still far beyond her wildest imagination. The scarlet steam engine, the children in robes, the giant green fireplaces at one end of the platform – are those people coming out of the flames? – it's all so incredible. Minerva smiles at the astonishment on her face, and then vanishes back through the wall to bring Jordan and the twins through, because Muggles can't cross the barrier without a witch or wizard.
First Minerva comes through with the twins, then Dean and Jordan together. Jordan's eyes are pinched tightly together as if he's thinking that if he doesn't see the wall, he won't hit it. Dean, on the other hand, is staring at everything, wide-eyed. Dean tugs on Jordan's arm. "Dad, we're through."
Jordan opens his eyes, blinking as though he doesn't really believe it. "Wow," he murmurs. Maggie meets his eyes and just nods. Jordan utters a half laugh, then he slings his arm around Dean's shoulders. "Just think, buddy. You're a part of this."
Dean grins up at him. "I know," he breathes, and Maggie watches all the kids who seem to take this world of magic for granted, and she knows that her son isn't like that, and probably won't be, for a while at least.
Professor McGonagall politely takes her leave, stating that she has other Muggleborn children to escort through the barrier. Maggie thanks her profusely before she leaves, and then the Thomases are left on a Platform in a world they never knew existed.
Maggie kneels down and looks her son in the eyes. "I don't have to tell you to be a good boy – I know you will be. Just, make me proud. Make our family proud, and don't ever forget where you come from, okay? Be proud of who you are, my son."
Dean nods. " 'Course, Mum." She nods in return, and then she stands up.
Jordan attempts to ruffle Dean's nearly-absent hair, grinning as he does. "You'll be all right, won't you kid?"
Smiling, Dean simply nods. Lena and Marissa mob him with hugs, and then he turns to board the train. Maggie takes Jordan's arm, and they watch as Dean walks into a whole new world – his world.
Maggie smiles as she sees her son get off the train. It's just her, this time – Jordan is at work and the girls still have a week of school left. She'd asked a woman who was rushing straight at the barrier to help her in.
Dean is walking next to a short, slim boy with sandy hair. The two exchange a few words and a brief hug, but when the other boy turns to walk away, Dean catches his arm. He says something, low and intense, and the other boy just nods. Dean's eyes follow his path as he walks away, though.
After a moment, her son looks around for a familiar face, and Maggie waves at him. Grinning broadly, he bounds over and throws his arms around her waist. "Hi, Mum."
"Hello, Dean," she says, returning the hug tightly. "How was school?"
"It was amazing!" Dean says proudly, and her normally quiet boy chatters on about all the things that were amazing about it, but his eyes cloud as he glances back at the sandy-haired boy, and there's something stressed in his voice when he talks about the staircases that move, and she knows in her heart that there are some things that he's glossing over or skipping because he doesn't want her to worry. But the smile on his face when he talks about a happy-go-lucky kid named Seamus soothes her worried mind, because Dean has always been her quiet child, and he never made friends so easily, and this Seamus boy seems to have been good for him. So when Dean asks if he can invite Seamus over sometime during the summer, Maggie says yes.
The solemn-faced boy who shows up at her doorstep isn't what Maggie expects. His mother stands at his side, a hand on his shoulder.
"Do come in, won't you?" Maggie invites, but the woman frowns.
"I'm sorry, but I really can't stay."
"That's too bad," Maggie says. The woman just purses her lips.
"Indeed." She turns to Seamus. "I don't want to hear of any trouble from you, now, Seamus."
"Of course not, Mum."
She nods. "Good."
Seamus hugs her quickly, and then he steps inside. When Maggie glances out the door again, she's gone.
As soon as the door closes, Seamus transforms. He's instantly bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Hi, Mrs. Thomas!"
"Hey there, Seamus. Dean's in his room. I'll…" But she trails off in the middle of volunteering to show him the way, because Seamus can't wait, and he's already gone.
Maggie can't restrain her laugh. That was more like what she'd expected, from Dean's stories.
"Boys!" Maggie calls, hours later. "It's time for lunch!"
Two sets of feet bound down the stairs, voices arguing over the proper time for dinner. "It's dinner then supper!" Seamus insists.
"Only on Sundays," Dean says. "Every other day, It's lunch then dinner."
"That's absolutely barmy!"
"Is not! That's how it is!"
"Why in Merlin's name would it change on Sundays?"
Maggie finds herself laughing.
Seamus glances at her. "What are you laughing at, Mrs. Thomas?"
"You two," she tells him, grinning. "Some things are different in different households, boys – between the two of you, especially, I'd imagine, Dean having grown up in a non-magic household and Seamus in a Wizarding one."
Something in Seamus' eyes darkens at her statement, and he grins without his eyes. "You're pretty smart, Mrs. Thomas."
Maggie chuckles again. "I wouldn't say that, Seamus, dear. I've just been around a bit longer than you boys."
Dean leads Seamus to the sink to wash his hands, and without her having to ask, the boys set out the plates as Maggie sets out the silverware.
Seamus startles a little and Dean makes a face when Maggie says grace, but both boys dig into lunch quite heartily.
When Dean thanks her for making lunch, Maggie gets her first true culture shock.
"Wait, what?" Seamus interrupts. "You actually made this? Like, yourself?" His blue eyes go wide. "What about- Well, no, you wouldn't have house-elves, would you?"
"Have what?" Maggie can't help but ask.
"House-elves. They're…" But then Seamus seems to find that he isn't entirely sure how to explain it. "They're like… servants, only not, because as a species, they're bred to be insanely helpful, in a way. They live to help wizard-kind, and they aren't happy if they don't have a Wizarding Master."
Maggie frowns. "That seems oddly… barbaric."
Seamus shrugs. "They get mad if you try to pay them."
And Maggie has to tell herself that it's a different world that Seamus lives in, but it seems intensely strange to her. She glances between the boys before turning to Dean. "What else is different?" she asks him. "What else seems strange to you but commonplace to others?"
And she listens in rapt attention as her son explains about food that appears on plates and paintings that speak and move. He talks of boys who don't get in fist fights but fight with spells and hexes instead. He talks of a matron who can mend a broken arm in a heartbeat and colds that vanish with a Pepperup Potion and a bit of smoke out the ears. And then he explains about a world where nationality and skin color don't matter at all, and Maggie can't help but be glad for her son, who found a world where he truly fits.
But then Dean and Seamus exchange a glance, when she asks, "Then there's no racism at all?"
Seamus flinches at her question, and the movement makes his shirtsleeve twitch, and something beneath it catches her eye.
"Seamus, what happened?"
His blue eyes widen in something akin to terror as he follows her gaze to the scar on his wrist.
"That's… old," he says. She can tell from his tone that he's telling the truth – but not, by any means, the whole truth.
He grimaces at her expectant look. "I fell down a flight of stairs."
Dean frowns at him disapprovingly, and Seamus glances at Dean with a pleading expression. Stubbornly, her son shakes his head. Seamus bites his lip and then frowns. Dean meets Seamus' eyes very seriously, and Maggie marvels at their nonverbal communication as she waits for the whole story.
Eventually, Seamus sighs. "Okay, my stepdad pushed me down the stairs. But it's not as bad as it sounds, honest! And it was really only the one time that he hurt me. I swear."
Again, Maggie can sense that she's getting the truth, but not the whole truth.
"I don't even think he did it on purpose," Seamus adds. "He just… gets mad at me sometimes." Seamus is tracing the grain in the dark wood of the table.
"Seamus," she asks gently, "why does he get mad at you?"
Seamus glances at Dean, who sighs and then nods.
"There are a lot of people – my stepdad included – who believe a wizard isn't worth anything unless he can trace his ancestors way back to Merlin or the Founders, all of them wizards. It's utter rubbish, of course – best witch in our year's Muggleborn, and everyone knows it, and then there's Dean here, who's one of the best people I know – but it's rubbish a lot of people swear by, which means it matters, no matter how much rubbish it is."
And Maggie can feel her face falling.
"My Da was a Muggle. He married my Mum without knowing what she was, and when I was seven, I started displaying accidental magic and she had to tell him. He left. I see him every other weekend, now, but he's still mad at her for keeping it a secret for so long. And he divorced her, legally, so my Mum married my stepdad like she was originally supposed to before she married my Da. And my stepdad is what you'd call "pureblood" – one of those who can trace his ancestry back. So's Mum, actually, but she doesn't much act like it, a lot of the time. But he doesn't like it that I'm not – because I'm a reminder, to him, that my Mum married a Muggle once, and he doesn't like that. I'm the stain on his perfect family."
And all Maggie wants is to give the boy a hug, but her son is faster. "You aren't a stain, Shay," Dean mutters. "You aren't, and he's just stupid for thinking that, okay?"
Seamus looks up at him, and Maggie is saddened by the amount of pain in his blue eyes.
"You have to understand," he says. "My stepdad made it very clear from the beginning that I wasn't a part of his 'perfect' family. It's why I never bought into their ideology, though. I wasn't about to buy into something that told me my dad – who was the only person who treated me like an equal – was something less than my stepdad."
And Maggie can't help herself; she's horrified by how world-wise Seamus is, because he shouldn't have to be. And she looks between him and her son, and she sees the similarities between them. Both boys have seen already, at too young an age, the detrimental effects of prejudice – though prejudice of different types, surely. The difference between them, though, is that Seamus faces prejudice not just from the world, but from his own family. And that, she thinks, is the cruelest thing. A family should be a haven from problems, not the root of them.
And maybe she can't fix that, but at least she can help. "Well, you're certainly welcome here any time you'd like, Seamus, dear."
He smiles at that, just a little bit. "Thank you, Mrs. Thomas. I really appreciate that."
Maggie stands up, taking her plate with her to the sink to wash.
"Wash or dry?" she asks Seamus, who followed her lead with his own plate. He frowns at her in confusion.
Chuckling, she says, "The dishes, dear. Would you and Dean like to wash them, or dry them?"
Seamus blinks. "I… I don't actually know how," he admits. "The house-elves have always done that, too."
And Maggie is forced to take a lesson from her own words about cultural differences.
"Best dry, then. Dean will show you how," she says as she runs the water in the sink and tries to imagine a world where things called "house-elves" do the cooking and washing up.
She watches her son – always so patient – teach his friend how best to dry dishes, and she can't help but think that they'll be good for each other.
Later, when the dishes have been cleaned and dried and put away, Maggie nods at her son and watches with a smile as the boys scamper up the stairs. As often, she is amazed at the resilience of children, and their remarkable ability to bounce back from unfortunate events and circumstances, and still maintain a certain degree of innocence.
As she props the laundry basket up on her hip and carries it down the hallway, Maggie can't help but glance into her son's room on the way, curious as to exactly what the boys are doing. She doesn't exactly expect to see them both flopped back on Dean's bed staring at the ceiling, just talking, but when she glances at her watch to see that it's nearly dinnertime, she's not surprised. It's probably been a long day.
"…just don't ever take it for granted," Seamus is saying.
"I don't, Seamus. I promise you. I know how lucky I am."
Seamus nods. Maggie silently shifts the laundry basket on her hip, and her son speaks again.
"Just because she's not like my Mum, doesn't mean she doesn't love you."
Without even being able to see Seamus' face, Maggie knows it closes off. "I know that," he says flatly. Dean knows better than to say anything in response, but after a moment Seamus sighs. "It's just… It's not too hard to tell she loves them more, you know?"
Her son rolls up on his side and props his head up on his arm, looking Seamus in the eyes. "You aren't worth anything less than they are. You know that, right? It's just prejudice talking, and prejudice is just hatred born from people who can't handle differences. That's what Mum says."
Maggie smiles. Clearly some of her lessons sank in.
"I know that," Seamus says softly. "It just doesn't seem fair sometimes."
"Everybody struggles, Shay."
"I know that," Seamus says, sitting up and facing Dean. "Only, you've got your family to come back to. What do I have? A stepdad that'll shove me down the stairs and a Mum that'll take his side, and half siblings who should be too young to learn any of it but already know that the world isn't equal."
"You've got me," Dean half whispers.
She can't see his face, but Maggie can sense Seamus' smile. "Yeah," he says softly. "I've got you."
Maggie nearly drops the laundry basket for the lack of attention she's been paying it, so she shifts it on her hip again and moves down the hall, humming as she does. Yes, indeed, she thinks. Those two will be good for each other.
"I think I have to explain it to him," Maggie tells Jordan when he gets home that night, after Seamus has already left. She's already explained to her husband about what Seamus said about the Wizarding version of prejudice. "I don't think there's really another option. And he had to know sometime, didn't he?"
Jordan nods. "He did. But I think you ought to let me. If… Well, there's no point in him being mad at both of us, and if you tell him, he might be mad at you just because of that."
Maggie sighs. "He's going to be mad, isn't he?"
Jordan shrugs. "Nothing's for certain, Maggie. It seems somewhat likely, though. I mean, keeping a secret like this… It can't be easy on a kid."
"He's strong," she whispers.
"He is. No doubt about that. That doesn't mean he's perfect, though, Mags."
"I know," she sighs. "All right then. You tell him."
He nods, and then walks down the hall and knocks on the doorframe of Dean's open door. Maggie can't help but hover behind him.
"Hey, kid," he says. "Could I come in?"
Dean shrugs. "Sure, Dad."
Jordan sits on the bed beside Dean, and Dean sticks a scrap of paper in the Potions text he was reading and sits up.
Jordan fidgets with his hands in his lap, unsure of how to begin.
"Your Mum said… She said your friend Seamus was talking about being… What's the word? For a kid with non-magic parents?"
"Muggleborn," Dean supplies.
"Yeah, Muggleborn." Jordan sighs. "The other kids, Dean, do they… are they horrible to you, because you're Muggleborn?"
Dean looks pensive for a moment. "Some of them, yeah," he answers finally.
"And that would be better, if you only had one non-magic parent?"
Dean frowns. "Dad, parents are something you're born with. You can't just change them."
Jordan sighs again. "Not always, Dean. Parents, sometimes, are chosen. Step-parents."
"I really don't think having a wizard as a step-parent would help, Dad. And besides, it's really not practical, and it's not really that bad anyway."
Jordan shakes his head. "You're misunderstanding me, Dean. I'm not saying you should have a step-parent. I'm saying you already have one. And your biological Dad might have been a wizard."
Dean freezes. His eyes go wide. "I… What?"
Jordan can't meet his gaze. "Eleven years ago, I fell in love with a woman, and she had the most adorable one-year-old son who had me wrapped around his tiny finger before I could blink. Your mother and I decided, together, that since you'd adopted me into the family so easily, it would be simpler to just let you believe that I was your biological father." He looks up, finally meeting Dean's eyes. "I'm sorry, kid. Neither of us ever liked keeping secrets."
"So why did you?" Dean's voice is barely louder than a whisper.
"Because you were happier, believing it."
Dean stares at his lap. Maggie can practically see the gears whirring in his head as he processes this, and Jordan seems to decided that the best thing for it is time. He stands.
"So you can tell them that, then, if it'll help. That your father was a wizard," he says.
"He may have been," Dean replies, looking up. "But my Dad is a Muggle, and I'm proud of that."
Jordan can't help the smile that spreads across his face as he steps forward and wraps his arms tightly around Dean. "You're a great kid. He's a fool for missing out on that."
Dean lets out a large breath, hugging Jordan back. "I'm lucky," he murmurs, and though Jordan doesn't understand entirely, Maggie does – he's keeping his promise to Seamus, and not taking anything for granted. "I'm lucky," he says again, barely more than a whisper, as though he's speaking to himself.
"So am I, son," Jordan breathes. "We all are."
Maggie smiles from the doorway. We are indeed.