When Milo walked downstairs Hallowe'en morning, he was greeted by utter bedlam:
"I—I never thought this day would come," said Seamus. "Me mum always said it would, but... I guess I never really believed her."
"Well, I, mean, it's surprising, but really, we've been ready for it," said Ron.
"I say it's about time it happened," said Fred.
"Keeps us from having to live out the rest of our lives in suspense, just waiting for it to come," said George.
"I... I lost everything," said Lee Jordan soberly. "Everything."
"What happened?" asked Milo. "Did Vol—did You-Know-Who return?"
"What?" asked Fred. "You've lost it, mate, it's nothing like that—"
"—Although to some, like our dear Lee here, it's arguably worse—" continued George.
"—Teaches him to bet the farm on a sure thing—"
"—Don't be snide, you're only happy because it's your farm, now—"
"—Our farm, Fred, our farm—"
"Look, guys," Milo interrupted. "Can one of you just give me a straight answer?"
"I am led to believe," said Hermione Granger, sitting casually in an armchair, "that the Chudley Cannons went up against the Wigtown Wanderers this morning and actually won."
"Wait, and this is supposed to be important?" Milo asked.
"Blimey, important, mate!" said Ron, "That was the Northwestern Regional Semi-Finals!"
"So, to answer your question, apparently," said Hermione.
"The Cannons haven't won a match in decades!" Ron exclaimed. "Their fan club, back when they had a fan club that is, well, its motto was Let's all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best."
"Yawn," stated Milo. "Anyways, I have a sidequest to prepare for—and, for that matter, classes."
"Speaking of," Hermione said coyly, "what are you going to dress up as?"
"I don't actually have to do that, do I?" Milo asked.
"Oh, my, yes," said Hermione. "It's a prerequisite."
Well, that settled it. You can't ignore prerequisites. You can bend them, re-interpret them favourably, work around them, or barrel your way on through them, but you can't ignore them. Milo sighed.
"Okay," he said. "So I'll survive all my classes, stop a dark vampire wizard from returning from the dead, foil an evil professor's schemes, and make a Hallowe'en costume before the start of my sidequest, which is at five o'clock sharp."
"Oh, before you go," Hermione said, as if she'd only just remembered, "make sure you take this with you. Wouldn't want you to be late for your... sidequest... with Ms. Abbot." She held out a small, pink strap of some sort. There was a sort of a doodad in the middle, Milo wasn't sure how to describe it.
"Er," he said, "thanks, I think. What is it?"
"You don't even know what a watch – no. No, I'm not saying it. It's called a watch, Milo, it tells the time."
"Go figure. How's it work?"
"There's two hands, the short one points to the hour, the long one points to the minute... only, it's the hour times five. It's a bit complicated. Here..."
She spent the next ten minutes trying to explain how the watch worked, before giving up and bewitching it. She assured him that it would remind him when it was time to leave, and there would be no possible way for him to miss it. She then apologized, saying she had a bad case of hiccups coming on and fled the common room cackling. Milo had read that the Muggles here had a ridiculous stereotype of witches, flying around in broomsticks with mad hair cackling away under a full moon. Turns out all stereotypes really are grounded in fact somewhere down the line, he thought. Go figure.
Milo was particularly wary when he went down to get breakfast. The other Gryffindors seemed absorbed in their discussion of the Cannons' latest victory, so they lingered behind. At this rate, he thought, they'll miss their precious breakfast.
Milo was vaguely aware that the food was sort of holiday themed (there was much orange and black in attendance), but as usual, stuck to his Everlasting Rations. As long as he had 'about a pound of decent food' per day, he'd be fine, and this was really just more convenient than all this cutlery business.
"Oh, hey Milo," said a round-faced boy sitting next to him.
"Hey, Nev." Milo said. "What's new and relevant?"
"Well, I forgot where I left my Remembrall, I was wondering if you could do your trick...?"
"It's in your right pocket," Milo said.
"Wow! And I didn't even hear you cast it this time!" Neville said, grabbing the ball from his pocket. Like any other time it touched Neville's hands, it was glowing slightly red.
"I didn't. You always keep it in your right pocket."
"Oh, right—whoops!" the ball dropped out of his grasp, and fell towards the floor. The smoke in the glass ball turned black as soon it as left Neville's hands.
Milo reached to catch it, but with the distinct feeling of a failed Reflex Save, his fingers closed a second too late and he just wound up knocking it further away. It hit the cold stone floor and shattered all over the ground, but Milo was too distracted to care: in the instant that Milo's hands touched the ball, it glowed bright red. Brief as it was, there was no missing it. Before Milo could properly consider the problem, his thought process was interrupted.
"Had a little accident, have we?" Milo heard an all-too familiar voice.
"Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Coyle, Mr. Grabbe, pleased to see you," Milo said cheerfully.
"You know, after all that trouble Potter went through to get that ball back for you," Malfoy said to Neville with a sneer, "you'd think you'd take better care of it."
"Are you just here to exchange banter, or is this more than purely a social call?" Milo asked. "I'm on a schedule, you know."
"Are you, now?" Malfoy asked, his eyes suddenly alight. "The pressure starting to get to you? Distressed at seeing your plan fall all to pieces now, are we? I know what you're up to."
What in the Hells is he talking about? Milo wondered.
"You can't prove anything," Milo said, because it seemed appropriate. "And even if you could, you can never stop phase three," Milo said. He liked the sound of that phase three. It implied that there had already been not one, but two successful phases in whatever it was that Malfoy thought he was up to. Malfoy looked him up and down, closely.
"You're bluffing," Malfoy determined.
"Of course I am," Milo said. "Everything I said to you today was already a lie. Except this, of course." Milo leaned in close, and whispered, "or is it?"
Malfoy looked briefly perplexed, but recovered admirably.
"You act all tough," he said, "but I know where you really come from," he hissed. "And I know what you're trying to do. But it'll never work. My father's much too clever, and has too many friends, for it to work."
"Oh, we'll see about that," Milo said. If I keep him talking, maybe he'll let something else slip.
"Indeed we shall," said Malfoy. "Why don't you just ask your friends in the Wigtown Wanderers what they think, eh? See if they've still got your back now," Malfoy laughed and walked away, flanked by his goons.
"Well, that was weird," Milo said to Neville.
"I think it's really cool how you stand up to Malfoy," Neville said. "And, listen, are you going to eat your treacle tart? Can't remember where mine went."
"What? No, it's all yours," Milo said absently.
"Thanks," said Neville from around the tart.
"So, say Neville, any decent ideas for a Hallowe'en costume? Only apparently I need one for later this evening," Milo said. "It's got to look like a monster, but also allow enough movement that I can fight off actual monsters in it, if the need arises. Which it will, I'm sure of it. And I need easy access to my Belt of Hidden Pouches. No ideas, huh? That's cool, I'll think of something."
It occurred to Milo that Neville wasn't responding.
Milo glanced over at the boy, who was now slouched over the table, his face lying flat in a pumpkin pie.
"That's odd," Milo said as he looked around the Great Hall for help; but was surprised to find that, now that Malfoy had left, it was empty. What? He wondered. How is that even possible? This place is never empty... Frantically, Milo reached into his Belt of Hidden Pouches and grabbed his small vial of Antitoxin.
"Right, Nev, we got to get you to the Hospital Wing. Upsie-Daisy," he said, pouring the Antitoxin down Neville's throat. It wasn't an antidote by any means, but it should help somewhat. He attempted to lift the (fairly heavy) boy, but failed to have much success. "Agh! Curse this 8 Strength! There's no helping it, Levitate." I'd hoped to get to the evening with all of my 2nd-level spell slots intact. Never seems to work that way, does it?
Neville floated gently off the floor, and Milo gave him a solid push in the general direction of the door. He followed along, pushing Neville occasionally to keep him moving. Once he made it to the corridor, he broke into a run.
"Out of my way!" he shouted, scattering a bunch of students Milo didn't recognize. Probably Hufflepuffs, then. Neville was floating in front of him, looking decidedly unhealthy. The boy was shaking and growing increasingly pale as Milo pushed him along in front of him.
Why was the Great Hall empty? Milo wondered. How could that happen?
"Ickle wickle firsties," Milo heard an aggravating voice taunt from above. "Why is the ickle firstie floating? Are we using magic in the halls? Naughty, naughty firsties."
"I don't have time for this, Peeves!" Milo snarled, rounding a corner. "I think Neville could die, so don't try anything."
"Firsties always so dramatic," said the still-invisible poltergeist, "never see the joke, never see the laughs."
Milo decided to just ignore the taunting spectre. If he absolutely had to, he could use a Silent Image to chase him away with an image of the Baron again, but Milo really had to conserve his magic.
Milo, running at maximum speed and decidedly distracted (the most commonly forgotten -5 penalty to Spot checks known to man), never noticed the oil slick Peeves had placed in the corridor.
Milo slipped backwards, hitting his head on the floor. Neville, however, continued to float at Milo's running speed down the wrong corridor.
"PEEVES!" Milo shouted. "Come out and face me!"
"Face you?" Peeves asked. "But of course!"
A cream pie (nobody knew where Peeves got them from; the house-elves stopped making cream pies two hundred and thirty five years ago to try and discourage him. It didn't work.) materialized out of thin air and hit Milo in the face.
"You're a coward, you know that?" Milo asked. "You're even scared of a Silent Image of the Bloody Baron." Alright, it wasn't the smoothest sounding sentence ever, but Milo had to find some way to work Silent Image into conversation without making it obvious he was casting a spell. An image of the Baron drifted towards them from around the corner.
"Lies and Tricks!" Peeves shouted. "Lies and Tricks! Lies and Lies and Lies and Tricks! The Baron is in the Dungeons!"
Milo was already late for Potions, and hed'd lost sight of Neville. Milo stood up and wiped the cream out of his face.
"Very well, Peeves, you leave me no choice but to destroy you," Milo said, lying through his teeth. "I call upon the fell arcane might of Corellon Larethian!" Corellon was the god of elves, but there was no possible way that Peeves could know that. Milo, who still had an active and alterable Silent Image available, made the Baron vanish and redirected the spell at himself. His eyes started to glow white, and thirteen slender columns of white fire appeared about him in slowly rotating circle. Milo had once seen a Meteor Storm cast by an epic Sorcerer, and it hadn't looked half so impressive as this.
"Magic in the halls! Magic in the halls! Filch!" Peeves called from wherever he was hiding.
"In the name of Corellon Larethian, God of... of Doom, I abjure thee!" Milo shouted. He threw in some illusory mist for atmosphere and made it appear as though a pair of giant, purple eyes slowly opened from behind him. Milo was making this up entirely as he went by now, and wasn't really sure what he would do if Peeves didn't run away. Fortunately, bravery was not the poltergeist's strong suit.
"No! No! No doom, no doom!" Peeves wailed, and fled. Milo dismissed the spell and ran after Neville.
"What," Madam Pomfrey asked as the cream-covered Milo entered her domain at the speed of sound, pushing a floating Neville Longbottom in front of him. "is the meaning of this?"
"Shouldn't... have... dumped... Constitution..." Milo panted between breaths.
"I'm sorry, what about the Constitution?" Pomfrey asked.
"Poison," Milo managed.
"You've poisoned the Constitution?" Pomfrey asked. "Isn't it, you know, a sheet of parchment?"
"Neville!" Milo sputtered. He really needed to catch his breath; he felt like he was going to faint.
"You mean to suggest that Neville poisoned the Constitution?"
Milo groaned. Why did this keep happening to him?
"Neville's... been... poisoned!"
"Oh, my lord! Why didn't you say so at once? Quick, get him on the cot!" The stern mediwitch grabbed her wand immediately and started casting what Milo presumed where diagnostic divinations.
"We were just in the Great Hall," Milo said. "He was having breakfast, then I turned around and found him face down in some pie. So I rushed him here as fast as I could."
"And the food made him float, did it? Most unusual..." Pomfrey said.
"What? No, I Levitated him," Milo said.
"Oh? Impressive. Now get out, so I can try and save his life without distractions. He'll probably wind up in St. Mungo's again... poor boy."
"Right," Milo said, and bolted from the room. He had to make it to the Dungeons in... negative twelve minutes. Ah, Hells.
He eventually stumbled into the Potions class twenty minutes late, still covered in cream and bits of pie crust, drenched in sweat, and gasping for air.
"You're late," Snape said shortly, "by twenty-one minutes. Twenty-one points from Gryffindor, and detention this evening immediately after your Defence Class."
"But... Peeves..." Milo started to say, but immediately knew it was the wrong choice of words. Peeves hadn't been an acceptable excuse for tardiness for years. Snape just shook his head silently, then went back to berating Harry for his latest minor mistake.
Milo groaned. He hadn't been awake for an hour and he'd already lost twenty-one House Points and two of his very limited number of spells per day. And now he'd have to suffer the humiliation of utterly failing to make a potion again. Well, there's nothing else to do, he thought, than follow the directions on the chalk board and hope for the best. Sigh.
Malfoy gave him a smug look.
"Hey, Ron," Milo whispered, "where was everyone during breakfast?"
"Well, most of the Gryffindors were too busy caught up talking about the Cannons' latest victory to bother eating, and I imagine it was more-or-less the same with the other Houses."
"But Hermione loathes Quidditch, why didn't she come down?"
"I can't say for sure," Ron said slyly, "but I think she was enjoying making snide remarks too much to leave."
"And Neville? He was there."
"Dunno, mate," Ron admitted.
"Nev was rushed to St. Mungo's yesterday," Harry supplied, "after one of Fred and George's pranks got out of hand. I guess he only just got back. Where is he, anyway?"
"Poisoned," Milo said simply.
"No talking!" Snape snapped. "Five points from each of you."
Hermione groaned. Gryffindor was rapidly approaching zero points, and it was largely their fault.
The rest of Potions was uneventful, with the exception that Snape seemed incredibly pleased with himself. If he were a normal human, Milo thought, he'd probably be humming to himself. As it stood, he was simply sneering just a little less – not that this made him any more pleasant to be around.
Milo ran his fingers through his hair nervously as he left the Dungeons. Detention after Defence class... well, the class normally ran until three, but Quirrell had said he had something special planned for his Hallowe'en lesson. That should still leave me with plenty of time to make my costume for five, assuming Snape doesn't go overboard.
My plan relies on Snape's mercy.
"We've got half an hour before Transfiguration," Harry said from behind him. "Want to visit Nev?"
"What?" Milo asked distractedly. "Why?"
"Uhm," said Harry. "Because he's our friend? And he's sick?"
"Oh, right, yeah. Friendship. Let's go, then."
"Nah, really, it's fine," Neville said, lying on his hospital bed. "Actually, it's a shame it wasn't more severe."
"What? Why?" Harry asked.
"Well, it's just that if I go to St. Mungo's one more time, I get a free ice cream," Neville said. Harry chuckled.
"So, what happened, anyway?" Potter asked.
"Madam Pomfrey says I ingested lethal quantities of arsenic, deadly nightshade, cyanide, chlorine, and ricin this morning," the round-faced boy explained.
Harry gave a low whistle.
"I don't even know what half of those even are," he admitted.
"It's no problem at all," Neville said. "Madam Pomfrey says that as soon as I regain feeling in my limbs, I can go back to class."
"Why would anyone want to poison you, Nev?" Harry asked.
"They weren't trying to poison him," Milo said simply. "They were trying to poison me. What's more, I know who did it."
"What? Who?" Harry asked.
"Huh, that's unusual. The scene's supposed to change after I make a dramatic announcement like that."
"Oh. We should head to Transfiguration, or we'll be late and lose more points."
As it turned out, they were late anyways.
"Two points from Gryffindor," McGonagall said sternly. The rest of the class sat down and attempted, with varying levels of success, to turn pumpkins into teapots. Milo, however, was given the same matchstick he'd had at the start of the year.
"I can't let you start on teapots until you've managed to transfigure more than just the colour of the stick, young man. I'm sorry," she explained, then sighed. "If you can manage to change its weight, sound—that is, the sound it makes when dropped—or shape at all," she added, "then I'll let you move on."
Milo frantically pulled out his spellbook and re-read the description of Prestidigitation. There was nothing in there about anything beyond colour. He bit his lip. There was a sewing needle in his Belt of Hidden Pouches, but Milo assumed that other students had tried to pull that one in the past and McGonagall probably had a way to tell the difference. He hadn't prepared Ghost Sound, which could create illusory sounds, but even if he had he probably couldn't get the timing right to make a ping! sound at the exact moment the pin hit the table. If he'd prepared Mage Hand, a weak telekinesis spell, he could maybe push down very gently on the pin to simulate the metal's higher density, but his only 0th-level spells were Dancing Lights, Prestidigitation, and Acid Splash.
Milo ran his fingers through his hair nervously. There was absolutely no way he could turn this stick into a pin using his arcane magic. He had one last, desperate ploy...
He slowly withdrew his wand from its pocket and, following the directions that Milo had only ever half-listened to, focused on the image of a pin in his mind. He imagined every curve, the metallic glint, the slightly heavier mass, and the steely sound a pin makes when dropped. With all of that in his mind he, very carefully, tapped the wand on the matchstick and held his breath. He closed his eyes.
Come on, secret wizard powers, activate!
He didn't feel anything happen, and very slowly opened one eye to peer at, hopefully, a shiny new pin.
Nothing had happened.
"Nuts," Milo muttered. It was probably for the best, though as he might have been stuck multiclassing into two primary casting classes—or in layman's terms, permanently magically handicapped. Milo could use the oil he kept in his Belt of Hidden Pouches to create a fire and sneak out in the ensuing chaos... no, these wizards could create water. Milo sighed. He raised his hand.
"Yes?" asked McGonagall.
"Professor," Milo said quietly, then stopped. He looked around at the other Gryffindors in the room. Harry was looking at him with an unreadable expression, Ron was trying to find his wand on the ground under his desk, and Hermione was studiously examining her newly-transfigured teakettle. He'd never been quite sure what they thought about him. Milo was certain none of them completely believed his story about being from another world altogether, so they probably thought he was mad. Milo was okay with that. All the really brilliant Wizards looked at least a little mad to outsiders. At times, they were impressed—seriously impressed—with what he could do with magic. He was the only student below fourth year who could efficiently deal with Peeves, and his defeat of the Acromantula in September was very nearly legendary. His nightly Scholar's Touch-enhanced studying had made him the top student in History of Magic, much to Hermione's chagrin. But... other times, times when he didn't have the right spell prepared, times when he asked "what's Quidditch?", times when he'd run out of spells per day, times when Arcane magic just couldn't do something – times like this, they just looked at him with pity.
"Yes?" the Professor asked.
But there was more at stake here than his own pride, although there was that, too. What would Mordenkainen—the legendary wizard, not the rat—say about this? What about Elminster, Treantmonk, and Otiluke? Sorry, legendary wizards, it turns out I found another universe and their magic is superior to ours. Best put away your spellbooks, start naming your currency after sailing ships, and drop by Ollivanders for wands if you want to keep up.
But what could he do? Polymorph Any Object was eighth level. Eighth! Most Wizards never made it past 3rd-level spells. By the time Milo could turn this match into a pin, if he ever even got that high level, he'd be able to alter reality to his liking. He'd be going toe-to-toe with Wyrms.
Even Wizards can't do everything, he reminded himself, so there's no shame in admitting defeat. It takes a Cleric to heal... well, actually, a Wizard could just summon a monster that can heal people for him. It takes a Rogue to pick a lock... actually, that's not true, a Wizard could just cast Knock. Okay, a Rogue to sneak around... no, Wizards can cast Invisibility.
Ah, screw it. So maybe Wizards can do everything. But not all at once, not all in one day, not with only one Wizard, and not all at level three.
"I – I can't do it," Milo admitted bitterly. "I can't turn one thing into another like this. It just can't be done."
McGonagall remained silent for a moment, her eyes boring holes into his head.
"I see," she said simply. "Well then. Drop by my office after your Defence class and we'll decide what to do."
"I have, uh, prior arrangements," Milo confessed. The other students avoided making eye contact with him.
"Then cancel them," McGonagall said simply. "Your education must come first."
"You'll, ah, have to take that up with Professor Snape," Milo said. "I've got detention. Again."
McGonagall briefly covered her face with her hand.
"Very well. Come afterwards as soon as you can," she said, then left to go help Ron, who had only managed to transfigure his pumpkin into another pumpkin.
Milo then realized his mistake: there was still half an hour left to Transfiguration class, and it was going to be awkward without anything to do. Next time, he thought, if there ever is a next time, never admit defeat without an exit strategy.
Milo spent the time trying to figure out what to use as his Hallowe'en costume, but hadn't made any progress by the time the Professor dismissed them for lunch.
"So," Harry asked him expectantly as they walked towards the Great Hall, "Who did it?"
"Did what, convinced the capricious, adolescent, vengeful, petty being who runs the universe to make my life as difficult as possible? Me. It's my fault for trying to push Spontaneous Divination."
"You shouldn't talk like that," Hermione said. "You might offend someone."
"I think he's already pretty offended," Milo said. "That's sort of what I was getting at."
"What?" Hermione asked. "Wait, you think you offended God? Wait, you believe in God?"
"Wha?" Milo asked. "Gods? Sure, there's loads of 'em. Not believing in them is like not believing in magic. In fact, it's exactly like not believing in magic—ask a Cleric."
"Wait, no, I meant—" Hermione began as they entered the Great Hall, but Harry, uncharacteristically, cut her off.
"And I meant, who poisoned Neville?" Harry said. Milo waited to respond until they'd approached the person he was looking for. Milo crept up directly behind him
"Draco Malfoy," Milo said, simultaneously to answer Harry's question and get Malfoy's attention.
"Oh, it's you," said the blond Slytherin, jumping slightly. "What do you wa—"
"This morning Neville Longbottom was poisoned," Milo cut him off. "It was by someone attempting to get at me. Someone, probably, with access to Snape's storerooms, someone with an inexplicable grudge against me, someone with access to my food, and someone stupid enough not to watch me long enough to realize I never eat any food offered me."
"What are you blabbering on ab—" Malfoy began, but was cut off again.
"That would narrow it down to a limited list of suspects, but you even practically told me who did it. You arrogantly bragged something about the Quidditch game, frankly I wasn't really listening, but you seemed to think a victory for the Wrongton Wunderbars, or whatever, was a problem for me. So I thought, what made you think I care about Quidditch? And realized, nothing. You knew I don't care about Quidditch, no, you wanted the Great Hall empty this morning. So the ridiculously circuitous plot that your twisted brain invented was to somehow rig the Quidditch Midwestern Final Pseudo-Regionals so that all the students in Hogwarts would be so busy being flabbergasted about their beloved Cuddly Cannons losing that they'd skip breakfast. All the students except for me, that is – me and Neville, who came in from St. Mungo's. And so you poisoned my treacle tart where there would be no-one to help me. Draco Malfoy, you tried to poison me. And you would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for my Everlasting Rations. And the fact that you came by to gloat in the middle of the assassination attempt. I mean, seriously."
"He had me up until 'Wrongton Wunderbars,'" Ron said quietly to Harry.
"It was the Pseudo-Regionals that got me," admitted the Harry.
"Cuddly Cannons," Hermione laughed. An uncharitable person would call the sound she made a giggle, because while it was still politically correct to have giggling girls in a piece of literature in 1991, this is no longer the case.
Malfoy stared at Milo completely disbelievingly for a moment, then laughed. His laugh was like a Wizard's power progression by level: it started slow and weak enough to lose a fair fight with a cat on occasion, worked its way up gradually to defeating, with some difficulty, Hobgoblins and Bugbears, then in the snap of a finger was suplexing the laws of physics and ruling the universe before breakfast.
"You seriously think I tried to poison you? Milo, if my family wanted you dead, you wouldn't still be standing here. And besides, that's not why I rigged the Quidditch game, and you know it."
"Wait, he actually—" said Ron, flabbergasted.
"This whole wild accusation is just to divert attention from the blow I struck to your real masters," Malfoy sneered, "and only serves to underscore your own defeat. Fool." With that, Draco spun on his heels, and started walking away. Then he paused, and turned around. "Actually, this is my table. Gryffindor's is back over there. You leave."
"Crap," Milo muttered when they got back to their table. "I was pretty sure, like, 70% at least, that it was Malfoy who did it."
"I dunno," Ron said. "I still think it could have been him."
"Nah," Milo said. "If it was, he either would have denied everything, or fessed up and challenged me to an honour duel or something. He admitted to being behind the Quidditch thing, so it can't have been him."
"So what was he trying to do? What did he mean by 'your real masters?'" Harry asked.
"Who knows? Who cares?" Milo shrugged. "Anybody want my treacle tart?"