“Nothing is ever as it appears. Ever does both preconception and experience colour perception. We cannot avoid them, but we can all better serve ourselves by being aware of their influence.”
General (ret.) Jigme Dorji Wengshuk
The sound of voices filled the open area in front of the large building. The din was so loud almost nothing else could be heard but the sound of the cars that bustled by in the crowded streets and streamed in and out of the parking lot. Throughout Paddington Station, the guards grumbled to themselves at the absurd levels of people pouring into the station. The veteran guards, of course, were prepared for it, as it was always like this on the First of September, though none of them could think of why.
The station was packed with crowds of travellers and commuters, but there were others who were at best difficult to ignore. They were often family groups with luggage, but that of course was normal enough. It was the presence of odd pets like owls and the strange way the adults dressed that caught the most attention. Not only that, but every one of the oddly dressed, owl-owning families were heading on to King’s Cross rather than Paddington itself.
It was hardly surprising then, in this influx of strangely dressed families with odd pets, that no one noticed the woebegone figure as he made way to a spot to the side of platforms nine and ten of King’s Cross. He was wearing a roughed and ragged coat that came down to his ankles and could have once been blue but now seemed a faded grey and a wide-brimmed hat which covered most of his face in shadow. He set a small cup on the floor and took a long-stemmed pipe from his pocket. He filled it slowly and lit it with a match. He then took a few long puffs and sighed, revelling the smoky flavour.
He leaned back against the wall and looked around at the still bustling scene as he puffed on his pipe. His eyes were keen and bright as he took in the passing travellers. In particular, he seemed most interested in the strangely dressed families. Unlike the guards, it wasn’t the odd clothes that seemed to interest him. Instead, his interest seemed focused on the owls and the faces of their young owners. It seemed more as though he was looking for someone in particular, rather than idle curiosity. However, he seemed to be finding it difficult to separate individuals from the other passengers, and he chewed the stem of his pipe in apparent frustration.
The man shifted in his seat and as if from nowhere produced a violin and bow. He looked it over carefully, almost worshipful, as he tested the tightness of the strings. Its surface was heavily scratched, and the varnish was splotchy and uneven. He played a few hollow notes as he tuned it, and several passers-by rolled their eyes or gave him disdainful looks as they passed. He took another puff on his pipe before he set it down and put the violin into the crook of his neck, and set the bow to the strings. He didn’t play at first; he merely closed his eyes and took a deep and reverent breath, as if just the position of holding the violin, ready to perform, was almost as moving to him as the actual performance.
Finally, his bow sprung to life sliding delicately and expertly over the strings, his fingers dancing on the neck as he played. Most of the passers-by paid him no mind, and he played on, just as oblivious to them in return. However, his music seemed irresistible to the families in cloaks, who would often pause to listen and even throw the occasional small bronze or silver coin into the cup, which despite its small size, never seemed to get full.
The ragged violinist played on, changing fluidly between simple folk tunes and the stringed pieces of symphonies. His eyes sparkled as he played, intently watching the families that came up to him to listen, studying them all as they approached to place coins into the cup. Suddenly he glanced up and paused, almost like a conductor who heard a wrong note amongst the orchestra.
There was another family approaching. A large, beefy, neck-less man with a bushy moustache was in the lead. Following behind was a long-necked, horse-faced woman, and a portly boy. The boy, in particular, seemed slightly anxious, eyeing everyone nervously and walking as if trying to keep anyone from seeing his enormous backside. The only other odd thing about the family was a trunk on a trolley which seemed to be following them of its volition.
The ragged violinist’s eyes narrowed as he watched, but he finally smiled as the last member of the group came into view. It was a young girl who the chubby son had wholly blocked from sight. By the way she was following with her trunk, it seemed to be as if she’d been ordered to do so to keep the rotund boy’s backside hidden. He noted that despite her diminutive size compared to him, the son didn’t seem all that happy with the walking arrangement, as though he was terrified of the girl who stood a head shorter than him. The violinist grinned more broadly as he noted that atop the trunk was a sizeable birdcage, and within was a large snowy owl.
He returned his attention to the girl. She looked to be around eleven years old; her hair was black, slightly untidy, shoulder length and covered most of her face as she nervously followed the other three. She was thin with knobbly knees and wore raggedy, second-hand clothing. The glint of glasses was visible through her fringe. The violinist finally resumed playing, but changed his tune yet again, playing a more whimsical score.
The girl paused while the remainder of her party kept heading into King’s Cross. She considered him and then started walking closer slowly, curiosity showing in her bright green eyes, which were prominent even through her glasses and thick, black hair.
As she approached, the violinist smiled to himself and spoke.
“It’s dangerous getting separated from your family in this day and age you know?” he said, just loud enough for her to hear him over the crowds behind her. His voice was gravelly, as if rarely used, thick and rough, though of a somewhat precise and calculated tone, apparently meant as a reprimand.
The girl blushed softly at the violinist’s reproach. “They’re not my family, well, I mean not that kind of family…” she admitted.
The violinist nodded and played another few bars as the girl drew out a small pouch. “Still, best be catching up with them,” he went on while he played.
The girl pondered him for a moment, then looked around at the others going into the station, stepping aside as a woman in a cloak stopped to put a couple more silver coins in his cup.
“How come so few people notice you?” the girl asked as the woman walked away. “You’re incredible, but it’s like some people can’t even hear you.”
The violinist chuckled and tilted his head to peer up at her from under the brim of his hat and winked, “Magic.”
The girl pondered him a few moments more before she finally reached into the pouch, drew out two large golden coins, and bent down to drop them into the cup. He kept his head tilted just enough to note the peculiar lightning-shaped scar on her forehead. At the same time, she finally looked into his face and seemed a little surprised to see him looking at her.
She jumped as a loud voice behind her bellowed, “Girl!” It was the large man who’d led their group. “Get away from that riff-raff; we haven’t got all day!”
“S-sorry,” the girl called, heading off after the man, who gave the violinist a scathing, sceptical look before turning back into King’s Cross. The violinist pondered after the two for a moment, before picking up his pipe again and relighting it.
“So… that’s the Girl Who Lived, eh?” he muttered under his breath chewing the pipe stem.
The violin had vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. The Violinist got to his feet, dusted himself off, and blew a smoke ring before he headed off towards a nearby alleyway. He hung his head, deep in thought, casually puffing on the pipe as he reached the alley.
The violinist glanced over his shoulder, chuckling when he saw the fat, neck-less man leading a guard back outside. The fat man was looking incredulously at the area where the violinist had just been sitting. The guard rolled his eyes in frustration leaving the fat man to rant on about riff-raff and strange folk. The violinist shook his head in amusement and finally stepped into the alley. He drew a long, thin, wooden wand, shaped somewhat like a violin bow, from his coat pocket.
He raised it but paused to turn around again as a deep, though friendly, voice piped up. “Ah, so here you are Sherrod; what brings you here so far from home?” asked the man who just stepped into the alley behind the violinist.
The violinist chuckled and doffed his hat, bowing to the newcomer. The newcomer was tall, and very old, with waist length white hair and a beard, and half-moon spectacles. He was wearing midnight-blue robes and a tall pointed hat.
“Ah, and a good morning to you, Albus. As for my presence, let’s just call it some ‘scouting’ as you might say,” said Sherrod. His voice was changed now, still thick and slightly gruff, but less gravely, a hint of laughter in it.
“Scouting?” asked Dumbledore, striding into the alley as his piercing blue eyes surveyed the younger man thoughtfully.
Sherrod chuckled in a good-natured way and nodded, putting his hat back on. “Oh yes, Albus, you don’t think you’re the only one with a vested interest in the girl’s future, and safety do you? Or that of the rest of the Wizarding World’s?”
Albus took a few steps closer. “Sherrod, you do recall our discussion on this from ten years ago, I’m sure…” he said though in a hardly threatening tone, more that of a parent reminding a precocious teenager of the house rules.
“Oh yes, I remember,” Sherrod replied and nodded. “I was simply interested in seeing just what sort of person young Miss Potter had grown into under your watch, Albus…”
Sherrod looked up and smiled warmly at the older man.
“You were right, as always, Albus,” Sherrod said conceding. “She has grown into an outstanding young woman; you can tell that within a minute of talking to her. Modest, and very intuitive, despite the obviously rough life she has led. It does build one’s character I suppose,” he said, drawing out the two galleons that the young girl had put into his cup.
“She knew I was a wizard; she took out her pouch of Wizarding money right away. Granted, given her family, I’m assuming, rather safely I’m sure, it’s the only money she does possess.”
He paused and contemplated the galleons. “She could have given me sickles or knuts, but she gave me two galleons. I’m sure this will be most helpful to our scholarship students, every bit helps,” he went on re-pocketing the galleons.
Dumbledore chuckled, and the two men strode towards each other, clasping their hands tightly and beaming broadly in a sincerely heartfelt greeting.
“I’m glad you approve, Sherrod,” Albus said as they broke the hand-clasp, and patted the younger man on the shoulder. “It was all a gamble, but she has indeed developed into a most engaging child. Arabella has kept me well informed of her progress growing up.”
“Old Figgy!” exclaimed Sherrod, smiling. “So you’ve had her watching out for our little survivor, eh?”
“Oh yes,” replied Dumbledore, “she has proved most useful, even if, alas, she has been required to help in keeping Harriet’s lot as unenviable as possible, though her family necessitated that, unfortunately. How’s her grand-niece doing, incidentally? She’s a dancer I believe?”
“A magnificent dancer. Do tell Arabella I said so personally, won’t you?”
“I most certainly will,” Albus replied smiling merrily. “How are you, Sherrod? How goes the running of Rathlin?”
“Ah, my life bides fine. It’s business as usual, truth-be-told. Theatre students badgering art majors; primary students running amok. Managing sixteen hundred students is no small order, after all.”
“No, I shouldn’t think so, even for a headmaster as youthful and talented as yourself,” said Dumbledore nodding.
Sherrod bowed and smiled roguishly. “And what about you and Hogwarts?” Sherrod asked in return.
“Oh it has been par the course these past ten years, though I am sure now young Miss Potter is joining our student body that is about to change dramatically,” Dumbledore replied wistfully.
Sherrod suddenly looked severe, and his eyes darted around as if looking for an eavesdropper. “I have information, Albus; it’s the reason I was here checking on Harriet as she got to the station. I mean—only her family for protection, away from her aunt and uncle’s house—it was where she was most vulnerable. I’m sure you heard about Gringotts?”
“Of course,” said Dumbledore, listening intently.
“The item isn’t safe anymore… not even at Hogwarts. He’s on the move; he has left his nest and found another to do his bidding, according to the High Council. Neither is Harriet safe; keep on your guard this year, Albus, and keep Severus on the alert as well. That’s all the information I can give you for now. Dark times are coming, even if the Girl Who Lived is finally learning and walking her true path.”
Albus nodded, digesting the information. “Thank you, Sherrod; I was sure something like this would happen, that’s why I had it moved from Gringotts—in just the nick of time it seems. Yes, I will give the Stone every defence necessary, and Harriet as well. Indeed, you may even want to consider Harriet herself may be a defence against that which we fear most.”
Sherrod nodded thoughtfully, before changing the subject. “How are Nicolas and Perenelle, by the way?” he asked vacantly, still deep in thought.
“Oh as fine as ever for people of their rather considerable age,” Dumbledore replied chuckling. “Their second youngest umpteenth great-grandchild, Dora, starts at Hogwarts this year,” Dumbledore went on smiling.
“Ahh yes, so their youngest Emma will start in… two years then?”
“Though we will certainly lament the loss of young Miss Martinez, she was an incredibly promising talent,” Sherrod said giving Dumbledore a slightly reproving look.
Dumbledore merely chuckled. “Ah Sherrod, time and again this happens, it is ever so unfair of you to keep holding it against me that students leave from your primary to come to Hogwarts instead of continuing to your academy. We do not have a primary school of our own to compete.
“I’m sure Miss Martinez will prove an incredibly capable witch as well as dancer and singer. Hogwarts most certainly will not steal that love and joy of art you and your staff worked so hard to nurture,” Dumbledore said with a soft chuckle.
Sherrod grimaced before changing the subject. “There’s more news Dumbledore, again nothing I’m sure you haven’t heard but just in case, you are aware of the situation going on across the pond?”
Dumbledore nodded too, gravely. “Yes, yes I have heard rumblings…”
“It’s quickly becoming far more than rumblings. We’re getting pretty regular updates, particularly as we’ve had several American families pull their children from the school over this fiasco. They’re on the verge of all-out warfare. The American Wizarding government is preparing to mobilise, and several states are poised to try and secede. Does no one pay attention to history in that damned place?” Sherrod went on, muttering the last sentence darkly and waving his hand vaguely to the west.
Dumbledore sighed. “No, leastwise not to Muggle history at any rate.”
“Should war break out, it will be difficult to keep it contained. This will be like nothing we have seen for a long time. This won’t be anything like Voldemort; there won’t be anything secretive about this. This won’t be coup and cunning; this will be all out warfare. This will be something even more dangerous, a war between two sides who believe they are both completely on the right. We need to be ready, Albus and Fudge must be prepared for the fall out should a civil war in the States break out, because we will feel the effects here, make no mistake.”
Dumbledore nodded, putting a reassuring hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I shall speak to the Minister as soon as possible on what, I assure you, is our shared concerns, Sherrod. You have my word.”
Sherrod exhaled in relief and took a few more puffs on his pipe before pulling out a watch with hands consisting of planets. “Well, then I must be back off to Rathlin—it’s our first day back as well—ah how time flies over the summer. Shall I give regards to Watkins for you?”
“You may indeed,” nodded Dumbledore smiling and clasping Sherrod’s hands in his again. “I do so miss his spirited performances.”
Sherrod chuckled. “Oh yes, I’m sure he’d appreciate being able to integrate Fawkes into a future performance again as well. Well then, have a good term Albus, I will pass along whatever information I can as it comes to me, and please be sure to do the same. It will be difficult, but we may be able to hold him off again.”
The two broke their handshake and took a step back, sighing as two dear friends parting far too soon after too long apart.
“Oh, one last thing, Albus,” said Sherrod in sudden afterthought.
“Yes, my dear man?” asked Albus in reply.
“How did you know it was me?”
Dumbledore chuckled, and his eyes twinkled a little over the half-moon spectacles as his moustache quivered in a smile. “My dear Sherrod, only the esteemed Headmaster of Rathlin School of the Arts (and Magic of course), possesses a violin that is only audible to whomever its possessor wishes to hear it. And I could not help but notice a few of your breath-taking compositions sneaking in as well between the Beethovens and the Bachs and the playful ditties,” Dumbledore replied chortling.
Sherrod smiled and without another word doffed his hat again, bowed low and swept the ground with it before disappearing with a loud crack. Dumbledore chuckled softly, turning and looking back out towards King’s Cross.
“Have a pleasant trip, Harriet. I shall see you at Hogwarts,” he said under his breath before he too vanished with a loud crack.