Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Locus :: 03

03

Another summer rolled by, this time leavened by the presence of Tom, who taught him as much as possible given that Joshua could not use a wand. A trip had been made very early on to Diagon Alley so that he could pick up the books Tom recommended for his electives, and that occasioned a trip to Gringotts to visit his vault. He was on the ride back up when a thought struck him, so he turned his head and said, “Who would I speak to find out more about exactly how much money I have?”

The goblin grunted. “I shall inquire once we are back in the main bank.”

A bit later Joshua was somewhat upset to realize that all he really had was the vault he knew of, and while that contained a fair amount of galleons in it, it was not something he could depend on for much beyond several years past the end of his schooling, if he was frugal. Even Tom was puzzled, having known of the Potter family as a fairly wealthy one. Granted, not all pure-blood families were so (take the Weasleys, for example), but he could not immediately account for where the money had gone.

Tom’s investigations within the bank itself were difficult. While he could not be seen, the wand he was using—Ginny’s—could be, so he had to be careful. That, and the wards of the bank were able to prevent some of his movement and actions, as he seemed to be classified more like a poltergeist than a ghost, even if he wasn’t.

“What about people who were close to my parents?” Joshua asked. “Might they know?”

“Perhaps, but we don’t know who they might be,” Tom pointed out.

He laughed a bit stiltedly. “Funny how people never really like talking about them.”

Tom shrugged one shoulder. “Go ahead and start reading those books. I know where to find more money should it be necessary. I’m going to check some things out, so I’ll see you later.”

When his school letter arrived Joshua was quick to take the permission slip for Hogsmeade visits to his aunt. She signed it quickly and pushed it back, so he nodded and slipped up back to his room. He supposed he could have intimidated Vernon into doing it, but it was Petunia who was blood kin and thus made more sense.

He again received no other letters that summer, making him wonder if Dumbledore had done something odd, keeping him hidden and isolated in the muggle world. Knowing what he did of the Dursleys he realized that being inundated with fan mail for the freak in their midst might have caused them—Vernon in particular—to do something irreversible. Unfortunately, he was not knowledgeable enough about warding to make sense of what he could see, and Tom wasn’t learned enough yet, either. That particular issue would have to wait.

By the time he had arrived for his yearly stay at the Leaky Cauldron he was quite well versed in his chosen electives. He had been right; Tom was very pleased with just how much he had attempted to learn on his own, simply because he thought Tom would have done the same. He noticed in passing that evening that not only were there wanted posters scattered about regarding an escaped convict by the name of Sirius Black, but that the Daily Prophet was running a story about the man.

Allegedly, Black was responsible for the betrayal of his parents, making it possible for Voldemort to find and kill them. Tom was already planning to find the man and interrogate him, such as was possible in his condition. Legilimency counted for something, after all, even if the target could not see his attacker.

The train ride was par (aside from the creeping presence of dementors), Draco’s visit was par, but the opening feast was muted at the Gryffindor table, mostly due to how subdued the Weasley family was. A part of Joshua mourned the death of an innocent girl, but another part of him sneered at just how foolish she had been.

The year itself was passing by mostly in a blur aside from several scares in the middle of the night. Someone—presumably Sirius Black—had been able to get into Gryffindor. Tom finally caught him one night in a cave near Hogsmeade, and used Ginny’s wand to knock him out and bind him, then place a sleeping spell so the man would not rise to consciousness before he was ready to let him.

“So let me get this straight,” Joshua said slowly. “Sirius Black was innocent and chucked into Azkaban without a trial due to Barty Crouch Sr, and survived there because his innocence was not a happy thought, and because he’s an animagus. Peter Pettigrew, thought to be dead, is a rat animagus, the real betrayer and follower of Voldemort, and is presently sleeping in my dormitory as Ronald’s pet rat. And Remus Lupin, my current Defense professor, is also a part of this group, and he’s not bothered to say one word to me despite being one of my father’s best friends growing up. And oh, he’s a werewolf.”

Tom nodded. “And Dumbledore did nothing to see that his little Order of the Phoenix member received a fair trial, else you might have been living with Black all this time, and we would never have met the way we did.”

Joshua rubbed his face with both hands. “You know, I’m not feeling good about any of them.”

“How do you mean?”

“Sirius Black was first on the scene, yet he left me to go chase after Peter? He abrogated his responsibility toward me to go be a reckless Gryffindor. Remus presumably disappeared to go mope over the ruin of his life, and even now says nothing to me, as though he would prefer to forget I even existed as the son of his friend. Sure, I get the idea that Black is after Pettigrew to clear his name, but what then, if he succeeds? Am I supposed to jump up and down with joy and want to live with him or something? He abandoned me then, and apparently he could have escaped years ago had he wished, but saw no reason to until he was taunted by Fudge and noticed Pettigrew’s rat form in a picture? Is he even sane?”

“Mostly,” Tom replied. “It’s rather hard to tell when a lot of his memories have been splintered due to the dementors. Much of what remains is unpleasantness and even malice. If he was not so focused on Pettigrew I have to wonder if Snape would still be alive. They had quite a rivalry going on, which also explains why Snape hates you so much, as your father was quite fond of tormenting him.”

“Great. I knew he didn’t like my dad, but I never knew why.”

Tom shrugged. “This impacts you heavily, Joshua. What do you think? What do you wish to do?”

He felt helpless and completely indecisive. “Is there any way you can do the same to Lupin?”

“I don’t see why not. I can simply catch him while he sleeps. I take it you want to know more about his decisions?”

“Yes. I feel like neither one of them gave a damn about me, so I’m not sure I should give a damn about them.”

Tom arched a considering brow. “You might feel differently when you’re older.”

Joshua gave an irritable shrug of one shoulder. “But I’m not older, am I. Besides, from what you’ve told me, I sincerely doubt that Black and Lupin will be all over the idea of joining you just because you’re my best friend. My only friend. They’d probably send me off to a psychiatrist given half a chance. Hey, if they live their lives, fine, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it alongside them.”

Tom simply nodded and got that look in his eyes, the one that said he was planning.

Lupin, as it turned out, had fled his life due to grief. He mourned James, he mourned Lily, he mourned Peter, and he mourned his traitorous friend Sirius. As for Harry, Lupin believed he would be too dangerous due to his lycanthropy (never mind that it was only once a month he was at risk), so it was best to leave the child alone, not that he had any idea where Harry was living, not having bothered to ask. And presently, he was far more interested in the fact that Sirius Black was allegedly roaming around Hogwarts to care about revealing anything to the son of one of his closest friends.

Joshua also learned more about the man as a school boy, and just how very spineless he really was. Lupin was a follower, not a leader. Frankly, Joshua felt a sense of twisted amusement that in many ways Lupin was very much like Pettigrew, only far more intelligent. But then, what good was intelligence if it wasn’t applied? Lupin never stopped the malicious ‘pranks’ his friends devised and enacted, even as a prefect, even knowing he was abusing his position.

Not, Joshua decided, a man he was particularly interested in getting to know.

And through the memories of Black and Lupin, it was apparent that James and Sirius had streaks of malice slicing through their characters like veins of tar. Perhaps James had matured, but his life had been cut so short, and Sirius had never really been given the chance to grow up, not really.

Again, not a man Joshua was particularly interested in getting to know.

He had, in some respects, put the entire matter out of his mind for quite some time. Joshua was headed for Gryffindor after his last exam (Ancient Runes—“Oh, I think I might have messed up Ehwaz,” Hermione had fretted on the way out, as though he cared.) when someone bumped into him in a corridor. His jaw clenched as he stepped away, then went slack as the person was revealed to be none other than Trelawney, the Divination professor, who appeared to be in a trance. Then she spoke.

The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by his followers. His servant has been chained these twelve years. Tonight, before midnight . . . the servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master. The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more terrible than ever he was. Tonight . . . before midnight . . . the servant . . . will set out . . . to rejoin . . . his master. . . .

He was racing down the hallway like a shot from a gun before she ever had a chance to come back to normal consciousness. Several minutes later he was sliding into one of his favored sanctuaries with no idea what to do. Joshua had only just calmed his breathing when he became aware of voices becoming louder beyond the hidden entrance.

“I don’t know, Ron! I just heard what was said.”

“Trelawney? Giving a prophecy? You can’t be serious.”

“I know what I heard,” she said gratingly. “Maybe we should go to Professor Dumbledore?”

Rumbling was heard, then a huffing sound. “Honestly, Ronald!”

“I can’t help it if I’m hungry! It’s time for dinner! Dumbledore will already be down there, so if you want to talk to him so badly catch him before he leaves. I doubt you’ll want to march up to the head table in front of the whole school, though.”

“Oh, I don’t know. . . .” Her voice trailed away, footsteps in tandem following, becoming softer.

Joshua took a moment to ponder the cycle of abuse those two put each other through. She harped and nagged, he insulted her and slacked off, and it just kept going around in circles like a tarnished band of Gryffindor gold. Once he was sure they were gone he darted back out of hiding and headed for the Great Hall himself, taking every shortcut he knew, and arrived well before them. He chose a seat which guaranteed they would not be able to sit anywhere near him, and tucked into his dinner, wondering where Tom was.

He finally noticed him as dinner was nearing its conclusion and heard him say, “Those two Gryffindors are planning to enlist your help for something. I’m going to get you sent to the infirmary, and we’ll speak there.”

Joshua continued to eat his treacle tart after a faint nod, then heard Hermione’s voice saying, “—already slipped out!” Two seconds later he suddenly felt not only overheated but very queasy, and got up quickly, which proved to be a mistake when he nearly lost his dinner, then blacked out.

When he came back to consciousness he kept his eyes closed.

“I’m right here, Joshua. We’re alone at the moment.”

He sighed and opened his eyes to see Tom standing next to the bed, his eyes flicking back and forth between the entrance to the infirmary and Madam Pomfrey’s office. “Trelawney gave a prophecy,” he whispered. “Check my mind.”

Tom glanced over quickly, a wand flicking into view, and suddenly he was reliving those moments, plus those of the conversation heard after. Then Tom was back to scanning the doors. “I shall follow them. A tracker has already been placed on Pettigrew, so if he is the one. . . . Stay safe ’til I return.” And then he was gone.

When he did return it was along with a completely flustered Hermione, Ronald with a broken leg, a sneering Snape, and a serene and twinkling-eyed Dumbledore. He himself would not still be there but for Pomfrey’s insistence that he stay the night in case of ‘complications’. With as little as he was able to understand about what had happened, he was glad when the two Gryffindors were forced to sleep and the adults took their leave.

Tom, naturally, explained what he had witnessed, which essentially consisted of a grim-like dog (Sirius) attacking a rat-holding Ronald in the entrance hall and dragging him to the Whomping Willow, breaking the boy’s leg in the process, and pulling him into a secret passage. Hermione had followed, either because she feared for a fellow student, or was too nosy to stay away and do the sensible thing: fetch a teacher.

Lupin had obviously seen something and had followed, as well, and somehow Snape got involved, though he had been knocked out early into the confrontation. The rat was revealed as Pettigrew, Lupin as a werewolf, Black as innocent, and yet, even with two adults and one reasonably smart and talented student witch, Pettigrew managed to escape just as a criminally forgetful Lupin began to transform.

Still, nobody was dead, even if Black was, apparently, locked up somewhere in the castle awaiting the aurors.

That night he thought about the recitation. He thought about how an adult, a professor, a man who had lived with his curse most of his life, had raced off into danger without taking wolfsbane potion on the night of the full moon, nearly leading to the deaths of several people. He thought about how Black seriously harmed a student in his efforts to capture Pettigrew.

Desperate people? Perhaps. Still not people he was particularly interested in getting to know.

The gossip that weekend was all about how Black had been captured, yet had escaped. Joshua wondered if anyone was ever going to mention the part about how Black was his godfather, though he doubted it. He also wondered just how many people now knew the man was actually innocent. He thought it was. . . .

Albus ‘Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot’ Dumbledore did nothing to force a trial for an allegedly innocent man. It was one more reason never to trust him, with anything.

Tom told him, after Joshua had had time to properly process the whole tale, that investigation of how Lupin had known to follow had revealed a magical map on the man’s desk, as well as a potion-filled goblet. While the goblet remained untouched, the map ‘mysteriously’ ended up somewhere else entirely. And no, Tom had no idea how the thing worked, not being exactly alive.

He breezed through his exams, ducked the other Gryffindors for the week following as he read up about the patronus charm and pondered the possibility of ever having a memory happy enough to power one, and returned to London on the train, pleased to be away from it all again. He had muggle classes to study up for.

Joshua was utterly shocked one night to dream and remember it in vivid detail, and he was quite certain that it had been Voldemort as the star considering that a sniveling Pettigrew was present, along with a very large snake.

“That sounds a great deal like the house those people had, as you describe it,” Tom said once enlightened. “Those muggles,” he added, sneering.

He arched a brow, honestly having no clue.

Tom shook his head. “Don’t worry about it for now. If it’s the place I’m thinking of, you’ll find out for yourself, at the appropriate time. I will go check, though, just to be sure. I confess to wondering if Voldemort can see me.”

“Do you think it’d be wise if he could? I mean, wouldn’t that be confusing? He’s already trying to kill me.”

Tom emitted a faint sigh and glared at him. “Do give me more credit, Joshua.”

*

Draco was more than happy to tell him that Hogwarts would be hosting the Triwizard Tournament that year. It was beside the point that Joshua was already aware of that. What upset Joshua, sitting later at the Gryffindor table, was the announcement that there would be no Quidditch that year, mainly due to the fact that Ronald was already whining obsessively about it, despite the fact that he was not a member of the house team.

It was not until after his name had come out of the damn cup as the fourth champion—he was beginning to dislike Halloween just on principle—that Tom informed him of Voldemort’s plan. “After all,” his friend said, “an honest reaction to what happened was preferable.”

“This is doing wonders for my reputation,” he replied dryly. “All right, fine, what’s really going on besides another attempt to kill me?”

Tom chuckled lowly and shook his head. “There is that, yes. There’s to be a ceremony at the conclusion of the tournament, which will give Voldemort back his body. Some ritual or other.” He waved a hand carelessly. “A Death Eater is impersonating your Defense professor and he will be making sure that you win the third task and get portkeyed away as the guest of honor.”

Joshua snorted. “So there’s no real point in me even trying to win, nor is there a point in me fighting the inclusion. I mean, it’s got to be all kinds of illegal for me to be magically bound to participate when it was someone else entering my name.”

“From what I can tell that’s not the way it works,” Tom disagreed. “The goblet is a powerful artifact, true, but it isn’t as though it has any sentience. There is only so much one can do with the magical structures wizards are normally able to employ. Also keep in mind when it was forged and enchanted. No, it is much more likely that the real secret behind the goblet is its rather primitive workings.

“All it gets are pieces of parchment with a name and a school. Out of the set within a single school it chooses a participant. There are, in fact, far many more schools out there than just the three acknowledged for this. Do you honestly think that people in Japan are sending their children to Durmstrang as a matter of course? Or that every Italian learns to speak English or German or Russian? No. You know full well that there’s Salem Institute in the United States, so what about them? The Triwizard Tournament is an elitist European tradition, nothing more.

“The cup only cares about a set of schools, and the names for them. If someone entered a name along with a school outside the three, it would automatically be chosen as a representative of that school. It could be true, given what I saw of the arrival of the Durmstrang students, that every single one of them entered Krum’s name, to guarantee he was chosen.

“The cup has no way of verifying that a school is real, never mind that the name on the slip is actually associated with the school given. The end result is that Voldemort’s man entered your name using a fourth school, knowing you would be picked, ensuring your participation. I admit, it was a pretty clever move on my part.”

Joshua favored him with a slightly exasperated look. “But how can I be magically bound by this?”

“I do not know the answer to that,” Tom admitted. “However, this works in our favor, so why fight it?”

He scowled. “And you’re going to try to kill me again.”

“I will be there to make sure I do not.”

Joshua laughed at that. “Have you any idea how silly that sounds? Fine, fine. Well, you get to help me figure out how to deal with whatever these tasks are. I have no intention of putting myself out trying to win them, but I can’t seem completely incompetent.”

His existence at the school, which had heretofore been a fairly quiet one, was now filled with a large number of people jeering at him, sure he was a glory-seeker who had bribed or cheated his way into the tournament. And, while it was true he was close to no one out of choice, it only went to show just how facile and fickle the public was, especially when none of them believed his initial shock and protestation, nor bothered later to actually ask any questions. The good part of things was that Ronald kept shooting him glares rather than trying to follow him like a lovesick puppy.

The first task was dragons. “How wonderful,” he commented.

“There is a book in the library, southwest quarter, fifth stack, third section, second shelf from the top, which has methods for dealing with them,” Tom informed him.

“So you’re saying the obvious route—one that the average wizard would never think of because it involves a little something called common sense—of summoning the egg would fail.”

Tom nodded. “Surprisingly, yes.”

“Maybe a muggle-born was involved,” Joshua muttered. Naturally, he sneaked into the library after hours and set to reading. It wasn’t until he ‘officially unofficially’ learned about the task (thanks to Hagrid) that he could be seen somewhat openly scouring shelves. At least he did not have to worry about any of his exam scores, not that they presented any great challenge. Still, people seeing him reading at all hours had a decent idea of why, and it was not because McGonagall was teaching them how to transfigure hedgehogs into pincushions (something which made no sense whatsoever to him).

For the task itself he drew the worst dragon there was: the Hungarian Horntail.

When his turn came up he took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself, then stepped out. It took all he had not to turn right back around. Instead, he began casting a series of charms, for de-scenting, silence, and various other things, then shot curses at the dragon’s eyes in order to blind it and confuses its senses.

All in all, it took him the longest to complete the task, in fear for his life every second it took to creep forward (trying to displace the air as gently as possible), slowly take the egg, then retreat. His scores were a curious average; high for having completed the task without damage and low for taking such an incredibly long time. He ended up in last place.

Certain Gryffindors eased up on the glares after that, but Joshua barely noticed the change. A frontal lobotomy might have changed his attitude, but without one. . . ?

Luna Lovegood was his date for the Yule Ball, one of the few females in the castle he knew just by looking would not suddenly gain outrageous expectations from the arrangement.

The second task was both easier and harder. He had no idea how to swim, for one thing. He was also hampered by the library not having something useful like a computer to cross-reference things. It was purely by chance—not—that he came across Neville reading up on water plants of the Mediterranean and noticed a bit about gillyweed. It should at least help him to flail about better underwater. He then brushed up on anything that might be found in the lake.

The actual task was on an overcast day, making it seem even colder than it was, and Joshua was well pleased to fling himself into the water even as his body was shifting to accommodate his new gills and altered appendages. He immediately looked for a ‘landmark’ to make for and began swimming, staying fairly close to the surface. Below him were various creatures peeking out from behind long waving grasses.

As he swam he experimentally attempted to cast some spells with his wand and immediately realized he had to try more than twice as hard to get any kind of results. It was almost as though the water was an insulator, or a material which absorbed magical energy. When he caught up to the ‘landmark’ he paused, turning in a slow circle and listening carefully, then set out again.

Eventually he made it to the target. Two people were there, and two empty harnesses. Luna was floating gently, her hair streaming about her like seaweed, while another girl with blonde hair—quite young looking—was in much the same condition. A check of the time revealed that his watch was dead, occasioning some mental swearing, and a quick spell revealed that nearly forty-five minutes had already passed.

‘Do I or don’t I?’ he thought, glancing at the stranger. A moment later he shook his head and released Luna from the harness, then began dragging her upward at an angle. A brief look topside showed him which direction to head in, so off he went, waiting until he could feel the gillyweed wearing off before he surfaced entirely. Luna woke up at that point.

“Nice,” was Tom’s comment when they were back on shore. “Although, now everyone knows you can’t swim.”

Joshua’s eye twitched, and he dearly wished he could respond. The judges had been divided on their scores again, but this time it was Fleur who came in last, having not retrieved her person at all.

When a story broke across the Daily Prophet about Harry Potter’s love affair with Luna Lovegood he had only a wry smile to send her, which she returned in good humor, they having already discussed the possibility that she might be targeted by that nasty reporter. He wondered if her father would have a response.

By the time the third task rolled around students were mostly back to ignoring him, and Ronald would give him looks every so often, as though he wished to speak yet lacked the courage, but otherwise left him alone. Joshua was dead last in the rankings—big surprise—so he was sent in last.

He found that his path was suspiciously clear, though that was not to say he encountered nothing. More on the order of easier things, such as a boggart and a sphinx. Tom, of course, was also there, helping to guide him on the quickest route to the cup. At the entrance to a small clearing holding it was the body of Krum, who appeared to have lost a fight with some kind of creature, and which Joshua ignored to take the cup.

He shortly found himself flat on his ass somewhere else entirely. There was a bit of a scuffle where Joshua was disarmed by a lucky Pettigrew, and he was tied to a gravestone, after which Peter brought a very ugly baby-type thing to a cauldron set up nearby. Joshua assumed it was what he had seen nearly a year ago in his dream. And where the hell was Tom?

Peter, after sliding the thing into the cauldron, added a yellowing length of bone. That was followed by Peter’s right hand, hacked off with a knife. Joshua winced just seeing it. How on earth could anyone inspire that kind of loyalty? And despite the self-inflicted gross injury, Peter came over to him and sliced open Joshua’s arm with a wickedly curving blade, then dripped the resulting blood in as well.

All too quickly the cauldron misted over, plumes and spills of fog billowing out, and from it stepped a man, a very snake-like man. “Robe me.”

Peter sniveled as he complied, then handed over the wand he had been using. Voldemort rather absently flicked the wand, granting Pettigrew a new, silver hand, which caused a round of bowing and scraping and more sniveling.

Joshua was dismayed to realize that, when Voldemort’s gaze turned on him, his scar exploded in pain. He was in so much pain that he wasn’t processing what the man was saying at first. That is, until his wand was tossed to him and he was being told to bow prior to a duel. He blinked. Voldemort took that as insolence and tried to use the imperius curse on him, and was subsequently surprised when it failed.

Joshua licked his lips, shrugged internally, and started making escape plans. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do without Tom there, or at least he didn’t think so. If Voldemort really was crazy, even Joshua’s name might mean nothing whatsoever. Before he could decide on anything concrete, however, Voldemort attacked.

He was starting to be very concerned for his life when a most wondrous thing happened. Their spells collided, sending up a spherical cage of light around them and softening the air with phoenix song. Joshua rather felt like he was holding the reins to a recalcitrant horse with the way his wand was acting, but before he could do much more than tighten his grip, the world collapsed.

He was suddenly aware that someone was prodding him in the side, rather impatiently, he thought. “What happened?” he muttered.

“Who are you?” a voice demanded.

Joshua opened his eyes and blinked in surprise. “Tom? Is that you?”

The other’s expression tightened. “Who are you?”

“Tom, it’s Joshua. Please say you remember me. Tom Riddle, right? Mrs Cole?”

Tom’s eyes narrowed and his chin lifted. “Your full name?”

“Joshua Blake Durand.” After a second he smirked and added, “Snake speaker.

Tom sat down with a thump. “It really is you.”

“Yes,” he said as he carefully sat up, cataloging his aches and pains. “I’m so incredibly happy to see you again.”

“Where have you been?” Tom demanded.

Joshua opened his mouth to explain and realized very quickly he could not speak except to say, “Elsewhere.” He frowned and shook his head. “That is not what I meant to say. I was—elsewhere. Damn it.”

“I can always try veritaserum on you.”

He considered that and shrugged. “If you have some. Or can get some.”

Tom looked at him speculatively. “Have you at least been receiving an education? Your clothing suggests so, though I must say the colours you have on are hideous.”

Joshua looked down at his competition tunic and grimaced. “Yes, I have been, at—elsewhere. Right.” He sighed and looked away briefly. “What about Legilimency?”

Tom arched a brow. “Perhaps. That aside, seeing as how you are here. . . .”

“But for how long?” he whispered. “When is it?”

He was awarded a suspicious look for that, but received a ready enough answer. “The twelfth of June, 1942.” After a heartbeat Tom added, “The end of my fourth year here.”

Joshua took a good look around, his eyes widening. “Hogwarts,” he breathed. “Think they have room for one more student?”

Tom’s mouth thinned drastically, something like anger sparking in his eyes, but toward what, Joshua could not tell. “Well, Headmaster Dippet is a bit of a fool. It should be easy enough to get you in. Though, I expect you would end up back at the orphanage.”

Joshua smiled. “But I’d be with you. I don’t know why I left originally. I certainly didn’t want to go. I was happy. But then I found myself back with those people. But don’t worry,” he said, a smirk forming. “I just thought of what you’d do. That set them straight. They’re afraid of me, of what I can do to them.”

Tom finally relaxed, a faint smile stretching his lips. He nodded. “I think it should be no trouble. You should have been on the list anyway. We could spin a tale about tutors? But I think you should alter your appearance, just in case. Mrs Cole can always be induced to overlook the change. The train back is tomorrow, so we should hurry.”

“Okay, um. . . .” He thought about it for a few minutes then decided on a style rather different from his natural appearance, something like his experimentation at the orphanage had produced. His hair turned a very pale butter-type colour, longer in the front but close cut at the back, and his eyes changed to a pale green shade. A few tweaks to other things and he felt confident for the moment. He had discovered, during his forays into reading anything he could get his hands on, that what he was doing was an ability, not a spell, which made it very advantageous. He just needed to study himself enough in the coming days to be able to switch to this appearance at will, without having to think about it.

“Come on,” Tom said as he stood. “Let’s go.”