Somewhere in the vast countryside of London, encased in large wide walls where ivy hung unchecked across its face, stood a once-handsome manor that appeared nothing more than an abandoned building. Its windows were boarded, part of the double door, which was chipped and crushed, was broken right off its hinges, and the house itself radiated an incredibly unhealthy perception of danger; there had even been a small wooden sign hammered before the rusted wrought iron gates that said, quite plainly, DANGER.
The people of Forest Town did not dare defy it, for every single one of them knew all too well of the tale behind it. They called it “Butcher’s Hollow,” since long ago a butcher, who did not have the best of attitudes, had a son who had wandered beyond its creaky gates. The butcher went searching and never returned, nor had they seen his son ever again.
Everyone was happy to agree that Butcher’s Hollow was just too strange; it would even come as a shock if you just happened to stumble upon it. However, no one could even begin to fathom just how strange it was. Butcher’s Hollow was in fact not abandoned. The house had only looked abandoned because of an enchantment that had been put on it.
An enchantment? Yes, the house was under a spell to appear as though no one lived in it. The enchantment also ensured the manor had been balanced between one world and another. What other world, you would ask? A world where owls were messenger birds, even pets. A world where brooms and shoes fly. Where people were more likely walking about in cloaks. Where there, tucked away from the eyes of those who thought odd occurrences were coincidence, was a magical wand. This world existed in the forest of the manor, but what existed in the forest was but a mere village called St. Bridget’s.
No one but the inhabitants of this manor would know that Butcher’s Hollow lay in between Forest Town and St. Bridget’s (and none from the residing location knew the other existed). The two places were unlike each other in many ways.
Forest Town was home to individuals who drove cars to work everyday and had to make sure they had enough money to pay for their water, electricity and food. Nothing much was exciting about their everyday lives. As the name implies, Forest Town was a very leafy suburb where the houses, no matter how large they were, had been closely packed together. And even though they had such close neighbours, only a few befriended each other and that few often judged others in the neighbourhood who did nothing short of strange.
St. Bridget’s, on the other hand, had been a rather small village where houses of all shapes and sizes had been scattered across a parcel of evergreen land. Everyone was friendly to one another, and they knew all too well that the ruckus that howled on a weekly basis sounded from the baker’s cottage, where the baker’s delicious concoctions had been tampered with by his meddlesome two children (who managed to bother only the grumpy man three blocks down). No one would blame them, however, as many houses had a tendency to explode in a magnificent display of sparkling colours because many of the children had fiddled with their parents’ wands.
Still, with all the noise and joyous rowdiness of St. Bridget’s, the only thing separating the two places had been Butcher’s Hollow, and the only people who knew about it was Mr and Mrs Clark.
And Mr and Mrs Clark owned the manor.
The Clark Manor, which only took the facade of the abandoned Butcher’s Hollow, had been much more lively than what people saw. Ivy only spread where Mrs Clark wanted it to, and the windows were far from boarded. The door was fully intact and its oak surface shined brightly even on the dullest days.
No one would believe that this place could even look like Butcher’s Hollow. The gardens were green with a pond that spluttered with fish, and a large patch where Mrs Clark tended her bulbous lilies and her lavender-blue catmint. The manor was encircled by a forest that, after a few tiresome minutes of walking, led right into St. Bridget’s. Mrs Clark was grateful for the trees. They covered most of the Clark garden. If it hadn’t been for them, Mr and Mrs Clark would have to put up with a wide open space that would start to look even more tedious if they planted more flowers. She especially loved them in winter, when leaves pampered the ground in beautiful beds of brown, red and yellow. Also, it meant more work for Mr Clark.
Mr and Mrs Clark were neither unhappy nor where they ever a grouch. Whoever met them always told them that they were a delight to meet, and the amiable pair liked to think that there was never such a thing as negativity. It became a mystery as to how the Clarks kept so happy. Mrs Clark was an ordinary woman, who was thin and small with bright green eyes and thick red hair – no more ordinary than usual. Mr Clark was tall and thin, with dark blue eyes and curly brown locks – the only thing peculiar about him was his constant knack to wear spectacles he didn’t need.
The question of how two very bright and ordinary people became so famous was a high topic. They hadn’t just been friendly ... they helped put an end to the greatest dark lord of their time. Mr and Mrs Clark were a certain kind of people called “wizards”, and wizards had a wand and the knowledge to know just enough spells (and just enough spells saved the world). Most unfortunately, for ten years, this event ripped them away from the most important thing to them: their son.
His name was William who, at his infant age of one, had sprouted the same curly brown hair and blinked with the same dark blue eyes as his father. And it was not short after the child’s first birthday that Mr Clark thought “William” was too long of a name, thus he shortened it to Liam. He subsequently found that “Junior” suited the little boy best, as he was morphing more and more into a mini-Mr-Clark than anyone.
The same dark lord they helped get rid of had taken them away from one-year-old Liam, and for ten long and painful years, they had gone without seeing the light, barely even remembering their child’s face. They had been beaten and tortured to the last of their wits, but they never gave up hope in ever seeing him again. And not too long ago, their wish had come true.
The last they could recall before the door opened, and they stumbled out to grasp the fresh air, had been a long sleek sheet of oily hair tied into a ponytail. They didn’t have much time to recognise their saviour because, as weak as they were, they bolted up to their son to save him; their captor had an agenda to follow, and it involved the murder of their eleven-year-old son.
Liam hadn’t known who they were, but he was smart enough to realise that the two people who had gotten in the way of his death had been his parents. He didn’t have much trouble getting comfortable with them either.
It was because of this that they decided to bypass any means of recovery and take Liam on a holiday, just to get to know him more. Mr and Mrs Clark had planned Liam’s first holiday before the incident happened. They knew they had little time to spend together before he would be off to his second year of school, and Mrs Clark would not allow him to miss a day.
Liam caught his first glimpse of his new home the week before his birthday. Because no one had watched after the manor in the last ten years, a dusty waft hung thick in the air. Mrs Clark had set everything to work; the brooms waltzed across the floors; the dishes doused themselves clean; the cupboards were all polished and buffed, and Liam was partly alarmed at the many sheets and duvets that scudded from room to room. Mr Clark tried dressing like a ghoul in one of the sheets, but Liam, who spent an entire year with ghosts and an annoying caretaker, was hardly frightened.
He managed to bring a smile to Liam’s face, something he had forever framed in his head. Perhaps it was that they had been away from him for ten years, but Mr and Mrs Clark had a constant urge to remember every good thing that happened to the family – particularly to Liam – from that day on. They didn’t want to miss a bit of his life. He had already lived ten years without them. Ten years that they missed.
Mr and Mrs Clark were now proud enough to say that they knew their son had been slightly taller than average. Apart from the brown hair and blue eyes, his face was thin (like Mrs Clark) and his feet were already too big for an eleven year old (yet another thing he adopted from Mr Clark). What the Clarks were most grateful for was the fact that Liam took his one most odd feature more of a gift than a burden. Liam had a scar that cut into his forehead in the shape of a bolt of lightning. From the caretakers he had lived with (who, although Liam never knew up until his acceptance letter, were wizards as well), the Clarks learned that he had never asked a question about it. The scar set him apart from all the other kids his age, and he accepted that difference long since.
The scar often hurt after Liam had dreams of a green and red flash, but apart from that there wasn’t a bad thing about it. There was, of course, the day of his parents’ freedom, which was the only other time his scar hurt.
Liam had a very rocky life. Although he enjoyed it with his caretakers (Mr and Mrs Powell), there had never been a day where he didn’t imagine what his real parents looked like (and never did he think he would be seeing them after). He knew he was different, but he didn’t know how. More than thrice had Liam been caught doing something he never meant to do, but the result of which was usually so coincidentally strange that not even he knew how it was possible.
His most prominent moment was when the school he attended before age eleven had somehow found a way to blame Liam for their school trip to the zoo turning into a bus-rafting sail over a river. Cruising at the back of the bus over a deep river whilst the driver frantically spun the wheel back to the road was perhaps the most amusing thing yet, but the trouble Liam got into afterward ranked the event higher than mistakenly turning the most disliked teacher’s hair blue.
Liam was grateful to get his acceptance letter to Hogan before he got expelled. Apparently, he was the easiest to blame when the English teacher’s hot mug of coffee suddenly turned into steaming briny fish water. As humorous as it was watching him swell like a bullfrog whilst reeling a goldfish from the depths of his #1 Dad cup, the headmaster had sternly warned Liam’s caretakers that if he stepped one more foot out of line he would be thrown out of the school.
Curiously enough, an owl had swept by that evening leaving a letter on the dining table, and Liam could remember just how excited he was when he found out he was a wizard. The emerald words on the yellowish parchment did nothing to justify this, but it did state the truth. He could remember it so well:
HOGAN SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmaster: Fredrick Glumberry
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards, Master Augur)
Dear Mr Clark
We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogan School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl no later than 31 July.
Liam had since been able to meet both those professors at Hogan. Professor McDonald had been the Deputy Headmistress of the school. She had also been the Transfigurations teacher, which was a branch of magic that focussed on changing the form of an object to another. Liam’s first impression of her was that she wasn’t someone to mess with, for she had a very flinty face that looked as though someone had pinched her nose until her features looked very mousy and hawkish. To top that off, her eyes were pale grey and steely so that it emphasised that she meant business.
Professor Glumberry, on the other hand, had ironically been more comfortable company. There had never been an occasion where Liam would agree that his headmaster was the best teacher to be around, but Glumberry had changed that. He was a tall and thin elderly man with long white hair and a long white beard. He wore round spectacles that made him look even more humble than he first appeared, and had a fascination of the colour green that stretched beyond Liam’s comprehension. He had blue eyes, that Liam noticed was similar to his, and a scar that ran from behind his left ear down to his collarbone (which he had only seen upon their meeting at the end of the year).
The one thing that Liam could agree on was that if it wasn’t for him asking Glumberry to move houses, he would be suffering for the rest of his school career. At Hogan, there were four houses: Wolfhowl, Scorpiosting Blinderbowl and Phoenixdan. Blinderbowl was the yellow house where all the hardworking and humble students had gone. Wolfhowl was the blue house and was for the smartest and brightest. Phoenixdan, the red house, accepted those of whom were brave. Liam would have wanted to be in any one of them except Scorpiosting. Scorpiosting was the green house, and they accepted the cunning and ambitious. It also happened to be the house in which the Dark Lord Valindor (or Mr Who) had been Sorted into.
Mr Who – which was the name everyone gave him out of fear – had attempted to kill Liam and his parents ten years ago, and it was a curious thing as to how they all managed to survive. That was the very same night Liam got his lightning scar, and the very same night Mr and Mrs Clark had disappeared. The entire family became famous because the Dark Lord’s failed attempt had also been his downfall, which meant the Wizarding world had been safe at last.
Apart from that night, Liam had never met Mr Who, but he heard stories about him and knew that this world was better off without. However, he had felt his presence. Glumberry had explained that, even though he may be weak, he was still alive and he would try and do anything that would bring him back. And one particular wizard had taken that as an excuse to kill William Clark. Accordingly, Liam is the “only” thing standing in between Mr Who and his journey to his new reign, and Ronan Droge had attempted to act upon that.
Ronan Droge, the recently late Minister of Magic – working under the Prime Minister of Magic, Eric Cornel – had been the face of the Ministry. He was a tall, handsome young man with dark eyes and a chiselled face. Droge changed the way Liam perceived people. He could never really know someone unless he knew everything about them. The man planned to kill him, and he nearly did if it hadn’t been for his parents and – he would rather sleep on a bed of needles than say this were true – Professor Wilber Wolverhampton.
Professor Wolverhampton was the only teacher who truly hated Liam – for a while he believed that the professor tried to kill him. Liam suffered an entire year being told what to do by him. Wolverhampton didn’t hesitate to throw threats about expulsion in his face, and he certainly gained pleasure in bossing “famous William Clark” around since he had been Sorted in the house he hated most: Scorpiosting. Wolverhampton had been the head of Scorpiosting, and that gave him the liberty to give Liam as many detentions as he wanted.
“You hungry, Junior?” Mr Clark’s voice reeled Liam’s mind back to reality. Staring around, he found himself deep within the padding of his pillows in such a warm state he thought he might have fallen asleep. Liam nodded in response and his father smiled. “Well, your mother’s nearly done with dinner. I promise her cooking will put seafood paella to shame.”
Liam scoffed, “Thanks, dad.”
He felt his mind falling into a numbing state as his father vanished behind the door. Junior. He loved that name. Whilst half the world thought he was Will – a name he sorely hated – and the other thought Liam, the name he thought that defined him most had simply been “Junior”. Although Liam had reserved that name for his father only, there had been other names he went by. His only friend at school liked to call him “William”, but Liam supposed it was because she had been too reluctant to use jargon that nicknames hadn’t existed to her.
Tessa Williams was her name, and everything from her head to toe had screamed out intelligence. She was the brightest witch in Liam’s year. In fact, Liam was slightly convinced that she might have had more common sense than most of the sixth years. She had a bossy attitude about her that Liam didn’t mind because she tended to put that side of her away when she was around him.
Tessa had a small round face, long red hair and the most extraordinary pair of eyes he had ever seen. They captured him nearly every time she would look at him, which he admitted freaked him out. They were green with gold specks and were rather brighter than any usual eye, so it almost seemed as though a light was gleaming through her pupils.
When Liam ruined his only chance of getting friends at his new school (by telling off the snobbiest twins he ever had the privilege to meet), Tessa was the only one who stepped in. The funny thing about it was that Tessa was in Phoenixdan, and the whole Hogan populace thought anything against the revelation of a Scorpiosting and Phoenixdan student being within a one-centimetre proximity of each other.
Had it occurred to Tessa, Liam never knew. She had ignored every single thought about Liam being a Scorpiosting and put every bit of her effort into befriending him, even when he told her off. Eventually, he couldn’t figure out why she would bother and decided he ought to be nice to her back. It was the least he could do.
It was mainly because of her that Liam decided he ought to do something about his house. He hated Scorpiosting and wanted more than anything to be in Phoenixdan. Tessa had made sure that by the end of the year, the Phoenixdan students had accepted Liam as part of the red house. So he asked to move, right in front of everybody. And he was told he could, so he did.
“Boys! Dinner!” came his mother’s voice from downstairs. Staring, his mind elsewhere, Liam slid off his bed, tore open the door and strolled along the hall.
Although he had never been here before, he felt at home in the dim warm glow of the lights. Even though every hall and room was all but foreign, he felt comfortable and safe. Everything around him made him feel that way. The oak-panelled ceiling glistened brightly at him. The carpeted floors and wooden walls kept him at peace.
He had to stop on the landing just to decide which way to go next because the house was too big. However, following the waft of Mrs Clark’s dinner, he went through the archway. His mother, who was dishing out lamb shanks onto three plates, looked up and smiled at Liam upon his arrival.
“Have a seat, dear, I’ll be done in a minute,” she said, and Liam did so. The table looked much better now that it had been dusted and cleaned. He was rather shocked when he first saw it, he’d never seem such a thing as a thundercloud-table. The most extraordinary dining decor he’d experienced had only been at Hogan, which had a ceiling enchanted to imitate the weather outside and candles that floated overhead.
He got to enjoy numerous meals there, even though he sat alone at the Scorpiosting table. Ignoring the jeers and mockery from the mouths of the McElroy twins, Liam would peer over to the Phoenixdan table and enjoy Callum Thompson’s usual games with Beck Lavery and Simon Faulkner. The three of them were noted to be the most mischievous in Liam’s year. Callum had a small face and short black hair, beetle-black eyes and he had a tendency to smile whether in grim situations or not. Beck Lavery had umber, dark yellow-brown skin and was notably the smallest, but that only made it easier for him to sneak about the castle. Simon Faulkner, on the other hand, was tall and had curly blonde hair. Liam was convinced that at some stage the kid would be as big as a boxing champion.
Of course, Liam couldn’t always sit alone. The McElroys found some way to ruin his fun. Adrian and Dmitri McElroy were by far the worst people he had ever met. Liam never let them bring him down, but he hated the fact that he couldn’t go a day without seeing them. Even if he was lucky enough not to see them throughout the day, he was likely to be sitting near them during classes, dinner and he had to come back to the Scorpiosting common room every day. To make it worse, Liam roomed with Adrian and not even the green hangings around his bed could keep him out of his business.
The twins looked so alike that Liam would have mistaken one for the other if it hadn’t been for the fact that they had different hair colour. They both had long faces, pointed noses and pale green eyes. Whilst Adrian had brown-streaked blonde hair, Dmitri had blonde-streaked brown hair. It satisfied Liam to know, however, that if somehow both their hair mysteriously disappeared, people would start thinking Adrian was his sister instead.
They were most likely one of the very few people who were upset Liam escaped his near death. The twins were firmly convinced that if they couldn’t have the best Ayers player since the 1970s, no one could, especially not Phoenixdan.
Ayers. A game he loved yet one that brought back such a terrifying memory. He had Ronan Droge to blame for that. Before Tessa, Liam had no one to turn to, and that’s when Droge took his opportunity. From the very first term to the last, Droge befriended him, fooled him – he even bought Liam the fastest and newest edition of Ayers flying shoes – only to turn around and stab him in the back. Tessa tried to tell him about Droge, and so did Wolverhampton but he had been so consumed in his trust in Droge that he didn’t see just how much in danger he had been in.
Droge had the school compete in an Ayers Challenge. Ayers was a sport played on a pair of shoes that sprouted wings so that one could fly. There were twelve players and five balls. two shooters a team, one has to score with the ball called the Runner – which was the size of a hockey ball and happened to randomly fly in the opposite direction on its own accord – and the Base – which had no magical properties whatsoever so that you had to make the effort to fly when it was passed to you. Then there were four Batters – who aimed to hit away three balls called Beaters – and six Fielders – who made sure the Base got to the Base Shooter.
The only person allowed to score with the Runner is the Runner shooter himself, and the only person allowed to score with the Base is the Base Shooter. The Batters can not intend to hit a Beater towards a player, specifically in the opposing team. Players may not throw either Base or Runner at a person in intent to injure them. No player can purposefully bump into another player to knock him off guard, especially when he or she has the ball. Players may not use any vulgar language, either through gestures or verbally, toward another player.
The points were dependant on the ball and what post one scores through. Scoring a goal through the Minnie – the smallest post – with the Base and Runner cost fifty points. Scoring through the middlemost post – the Medio – with the Base will earn the team another fifty, but because the Runner tends to, well, run it is worth a hundred points. One would be incredibly, unbelievingly and remarkably mental to even attempt to score through the highest post. They called it the Soarer for a reason: because it was so tall that the clouds covered it. If one were to score the Soarer with the Base they get two hundred, and with the Runner, they get five hundred and fifty. Either way, the game would end immediately if they scored through that post.
Liam, in order to prove he was a better Phoenixdan than Scorpiosting, had attempted to score the Soarer in his match against them, and because he couldn’t reach it he cost Scorpiosting the game. And because the post was so tall, Liam fell out of the sky almost half frozen. He spent two months in the Hogan hospital wing just to thaw out, with the additional concussion and numerous broken bones.
Ronan Droge had all the Ayers teams compete in this Ayers Challenge, and at the end, he promised to reward the team and the most valued player. Liam, who was not given the title of ‘best Ayers player since the 1970s’ for no reason, was Scorpiosting’s most valued player, but he turned down Droge’s gift and instead asked if he could change house to Phoenixdan (because if the Minister of Magic had the power to take him out of the school, why can’t he have the power to change houses?). Professor Glumberry had permitted it, but Droge was not happy as his “gift” was his way of simply killing Liam. Liam would never find out what he wanted to do, and he wouldn’t try to look into it, but he knew that if he hadn’t turned the offer down he would be dead.
“You okay there, Liam?” his mother asked.
Liam looked at her blankly for a moment, then said, ” Yeah. Why?”
“You look a bit tired,” she said.
“I’m fine, mum,” said Liam, smiling.
Suddenly, a pungent smell of frog wafted through the air and Liam turned his head to his father, who had walked in covered in green goo. He had a smile on and hardly seemed to notice the substance oozing down his face when he walked into the kitchen toward his wife.
“Good lord, Thomas!” Mrs Clark yelled.
“Calm down, I’m going to wash it off,” said Mr Clark, grabbing a cloth from a hook above the sink. “I’ll be back in a minute. Don’t eat without me.”
“What’s the occasion?” Liam asked. “You look rather happy.” Liam didn’t expect them to remember, they had been gone for the last ten years of his life anyway. In a couple of days from now it would be his twelfth birthday ... and the first birthday he would get to spend with them in the last ten years.
“Oh, nothing ...” Mr Clark winked at him. “Just harblindibs, Junior!”
And without another word, Mr Clark left the room.