CHAPTER 8: Books and Baby-Prudes

In which Hermione and Dean go to extreme measures to enter a library, and Flora protests the use of slurs.


It had been raining all night, the water puddles on the ground were quite large, and Hermione didn’t even have time to scream before she was lying on her stomach in the largest of them. The laughter of the other children rang in her ears as the cold water soaked through her clothes.

“Oh dear,” came a sweet-sounding voice from above. “Are you all right?”

Hermione looked up into the pale but pretty face of Sirena Engleby, whose mask of innocent concern couldn’t quite hide her obvious schadenfreude. Nor could it erase Hermione’s memories of the hands that had pushed her from behind.

“But how clumsy you are…tripping over your own feet like that,” the girl cooed in a horrible, faux-motherly tone. “Let me help you up…”And before Hermione could respond, Sirena grabbed her and unceremoniously hauled her back onto her feet.

Hermione breathed heavily. She looked at the other children gathered around her. Some of them were still laughing, others were like Sirena and were trying (and failing) to look concerned. She tried not to let her humiliation show, but this was hard when her soaked shirt and shorts were clinging uncomfortably to her skin. Instead she snapped her head back towards Sirena, who was looking at her expectantly.

“What?” she demanded.

“Thank you, Sirena,” said Sirena pointedly. “Thank you for pulling me back onto my feet after I clumsily fell down.”

Hermione was about to answer, but was interrupted by Mr Aston, the instructor, as he came running up.

“Is everything all right here?” he said. He sounded half concerned and half annoyed. “Hermione, what happened?”

“She fell in a puddle and I helped her up,” said Sirena. “Right, Hermione?”

Hermione caught the hidden threat in her voice, but she had never been one to let herself be kowtowed that easily. She looked straight into Mr Aston’s eyes. “Mr Aston, I didn’t fall. Sirena pushed me.”

“I never did!” Sirena’s fake innocent indignation was pretty good. “I was just trying to help you! It’s not my fault you can’t walk two steps without falling over!”

“Settle down,” said Mr Aston. The annoyance was definitely overtaking the concern as he looked at the children around them. “What happened?”

“Hermione fell,” said Sirena’s friend Liv, and several of the girls nodded.

“That’s rubbish!” said one of the boys in the back of the small crowd. “Sirena pushed her. I saw it!”

“Oh, you saw something, Dean?” said Liv acidly. “How did you manage that when you never look up from that sketchbook of yours! Are you in love with Hermione or something?”

“All right, that’s enough!” Mr Aston barked. “Hermione, go change out of those wet clothes. Sirena, I want a word with you.”

Hermione ignored the hateful look that Sirena shot her and ran off. Lucky that Mr Aston hadn’t told her to be quick about it; now she could take her time and be alone for a bit.

This was her sixth day at Keywater Activity Camp (for British Campers Aged 7-17). She’d have to suffer through eight more days before her parents came to take her home.

She hadn’t exactly been thrilled at the idea of going to summer camp in the first place, but she understood why her parents had sent her. The house renovations were taking longer than expected, and of course they’d get a lot more done without an eight-year-old girl around.

Of course, she’d have been happier if they’d signed her up for something sensible, like a Junior Academic course where she could actually learn something… but there had been a lot of talk about summer camps in the media lately. Childcare experts were praising the American tradition of summer camps and were saying how (as long as British conditions like shorter summer holidays and unpredictable weather were met), a week or two at a residential summer camp would bring “character-building and developmental benefits.” Which was exactly what Keywater Activity Camp (for British Campers Aged 7-17) was promising in its brochures, along with “team activities, outdoors adventures and building friendships, all done in a fun and positive environment.”

Hermione knew that her parents sometimes worried that she didn’t get along with other children her age. She didn’t really see the point in worrying about this, since she was also the top of nearly every class in school except PE… but she was a good daughter and so she hadn’t raised too many protests as they had signed her up for Keywater Activity Camp (for British Campers Aged 7-17). Besides, despite the lack of an academic angle, this particular camp was held on and around the ground of Keywater School, an old and prestigious boarding school near Brighton. The school was closed for the summer, of course, which was why it was hosting a summer camp to begin with… but getting to see a prestigious boarding school from the inside would at least hold some interest. Especially since there was a very large school library there…

It had been a huge disappointment to find out (after she had kissed her parents goodbye and watch them drive off) that the library was also closed for the summer and that campers did not have access to it. Even during the rainy afternoons that in Hermione’s opinion were made for exploring libraries or at least curling up with a good book.

An even bigger disappointment had involved Sirena Engleby. The older girl had seemed perfectly pleasant at first, not to mention she was very pretty with her long, silky black hair and heart-shaped face… but she quickly turned to be far less pretty on the inside. She delighted in small cruelties, and had quickly chosen Hermione as her favourite target. It had started as small, passive-aggressive insults about Hermione’s unmanageable bushy hair and large front teeth, but now she had worked her way up to “accidentally” pushing Hermione into rain puddles.

There was of course a chance that the talk with Mr Aston would convince her to back off, but somehow, Hermione doubted it.

Now, she had reached Birch House. One funny little detail about Keywater was that all the buildings were named for trees, even though they were all mainly made out of stone. Birch House was the building where the girls’ dormitories were located, a stone’s throw away from Fir House, which housed the boys’ dormitories. (Where transgender or intersex children went, or even if Keywater accounted for them, Hermione didn’t know.)

She was about to enter the building when she heard a loud “Hey! Hermione!” behind her.

She turned around somewhat tentatively, half-expecting some kind of trouble, but she was relieved to discover that it was only Dean Thomas, the boy who had spoken up on her behalf.

Hermione only vaguely knew Dean, but she did know he had never been one of her tormentors, nor had he been among the ones who laughed when Sirena tried to tease or humiliate. He was about Hermione’s age, but much taller and (she supposed) fairly good-looking, and he seemed to spend most of his time on the sidelines, usually drawing something in his sketchbook.

“Hey,” he said as he came to a halt next to her. “Just thought you should know… Sirena’s pretty angry with you. Didn’t appreciate having to have that talk with Mr Aston. She’s going to try and take revenge.”

“I sort of guessed from the look she gave me,” said Hermione. “Thanks for the warning, though. And thanks for… you know, for telling Mr Aston.”

He shrugged. “I’m not usually a tattler, but Sirena had it coming.”

“Won’t she be angry with you too, though?”

“Probably, but she can’t do anything to me,” said Dean in a self-assured voice. “She may be older than me, but I’m stronger than her, and I’m hard to sneak up on. Besides, I know a few tricks.”

“Tricks?” Hermione repeated.

“Yep, so she won’t lay a finger on me,” said Dean, but didn’t elaborate. “It’s you who should be worried. I mean, you even live in the same building as her.”

“But not on the same floor,” said Hermione, and hoped she sounded as self-assured as Dean did. “Thank you, Dean, but I can take care of myself. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going inside to dry off and get changed. No boys allowed at Birch House, you know.”

“Oh, er, right.” Dean seemed to only now remember that she was still soaked. “See you later then.”

Hermione left him and hurried inside.

Birch House had two floors, each floor hosting five separate dormitories, a common room, and a common bathroom with toilets and shower stalls. Hermione’s dormitory, which she shared with four other girls around her age, was located on the ground floor. A nice enough room, though as an only child Hermione was still not quite used to having to share her living space. It was especially awkward when undressing for bed or using the shower, especially since some of those other girls had no body modesty at all… but of course, right now, with everyone else gone and Birch House empty, it somehow felt a little more welcoming. Certainly more peaceful.

This suited Hermione fine; now she could change into her dry clothes in peace and quiet… and, since she still had some time before lunch, she could sneak in a bit of reading at the same time.

She entered the dormitory. It was light and airy, with tall windows, desks and cupboards; during the school year they were used by whatever students were attending Keywater School, but for now it all belonged to the campers.

Hermione made certain the door was closed before she stripped out of her wet clothes, folded them together and placed them in the laundry basket by the foot of her bed. It felt nice to get out of those soaked rags… and it felt even nicer to be able to put on some fresh, lovely dry clothes. Yellow t-shirt, blue shorts… that worked.

Barefoot, she sat down on her bed and reached for her backpack.

Hermione had several curious abilities when it came to books. One of them was the ability to fit an uncanny number of them into any small space. This particular backpack shouldn’t logically have had room for more than, say, ten books, but Hermione had managed to pack thirty. It was just something she could do. Backpacks, suitcases, even bookshelves… she didn’t know how, but if she wanted a book to fit, it did.

Maybe it had something to do with her passion for the written word. Her parents may be worried that Hermione spent more time with her nose in a book than playing with other children, but it was when she was reading that Hermione truly felt alive. Fiction or non-fiction, children’s books or books for adults, it didn’t matter… books spoke to Hermione in a way that people did not.

The book she pulled out now was one of her favourites: Matilda, by Roald Dahl. It was a wonderful story about a genius little girl who gets even with her nasty parents and tyrant of a Headmistress. Hermione identified strongly with Matilda… well, all right, the school she went to was quite nice, and she had kind and loving (if often very busy) parents, and unlike Matilda she couldn’t quite do sums in her head like a calculator. But she felt, oh how much, Matilda’s passion for books and reading, not to mention her unbridled curiosity when it came to learning new things.

She opened the book, and after a moment’s searching found the place where she’d left off. It was the part where Matilda first discovered her strange supernatural powers.

And now, quite slowly, (Hermione read) there began to creep over Matilda a most extraordinary and peculiar feeling. The feeling was mostly in the eyes. A kind of electricity seemed to be gathering inside them. A sense of power was brewing in those eyes of hers, a feeling of great strength was settling itself deep inside her eyes. But there was also another feeling which was something else altogether, and which she could not understand. It was like flashes of lightning. Little waves of lightning seemed to be flashing out of her eyes. Her eyeballs were beginning to get hot, as though vast energy was building up somewhere inside them. It was an amazing sensation. She kept her eyes steadily on the glass, and now the power was concentrating itself in one small part of each eye and growing stronger and stronger and it felt as though millions of tiny little invisible arms with hands on them were shooting out of her eyes towards the glass she was staring at.

“Tip it!” Matilda whispered. “Tip it over!”

She saw the glass wobble. It actually tilted backwards a fraction of an inch, then righted itself again. She kept pushing at it with all those millions of invisible little arms and hands that were reaching out from her eyes, feeling the power that was flashing straight from the two little black dots in the very centres of her eyeballs…

Just then, the book was torn out of Hermione’s hands, yanking her back to reality. “Pay attention, Hermione!” a voice sounded.

She look up to see Sirena Engleby, together with Liv and two other girls. Sirena was holding the book high with a look of triumph on her face.

“And now she notices we’re here!” she said. “All these books aren’t good for you, Hermione! I think you have some horrible allergy to books or something. The moment you have one in your hands, you go blind and deaf! You didn’t hear anything I said, did you?”

The other three girls laughed. It was clear that Sirena was enjoying the attention.

Hermione felt her cheeks grow hot. “I heard every word, actually!” she snapped. “I just don’t answer when people are rude!”

“Oh, you heard me, did you?” Sirena laughed. “What did I say, then? If you can repeat exactly what I said, you can have your book back.”

Hermione glared at her. And then recited: “Oh, there you are, Hermione. I want a word with you about what happens to tattletales. Hermione, it’s rude to ignore people when they’re talking to you. Stop reading and look at me, Hermione! Hermione? Pay attention, Hermione!”

Sirena and the three other girls gaped at her.

This was another one of Hermione’s book-related abilities: She could pay attention and not pay attention at the same time. Even when deeply absorbed in a book she always heard everything that was said to her, and could even flawlessly recite it afterwards, even if the words didn’t actually reach her brain. It was an ability she’d been grateful for more than once.

A burst of laughter sounded from just outside the room. “She got you! She got you good!”

Everyone turned to the open doorway, where Dean stood, laughing and pointing at Sirena.

“Dean!” Sirena yelled angrily. “Get out of here! No boys at Birch House!”

“But bullies are okay, are they?” said Dean. “Go on, give her the book back!”

“I knew you were in love with her!” said Liv. “You know you wouldn’t fit together. You’re not a book and she’s not a sketchpad.”

Dean gave her a look. “Really. That’s the insult you’re going with. Come on, my baby sister could think up a better insult than that, and she’s not even two years old.”

“Stop embarrassing yourself Liv,” Sirena sighed. “Don’t bother. We have better things to do than banter with children anyway. Come on, let’s just go tell the instructors that Dean decided to sneak into Birch House. Here’s your book back, Hermione.” She held out the book to Hermione…

…and then hit her on the head with it.

It didn’t hurt, not really, but something snapped inside Hermione. All of a sudden, she felt… weird. It was like a strange kind of electric heat was welling up inside her, trying to escape through her eyes. The world was a blur around her and time seemed to slow down as she lifted her head and stared hard at Sirena.

Sirena’s eyes widened in surprise. She opened her mouth to say something, and then froze completely. She stood perfectly still, stiff and unblinking, like she was a video recording that someone had decided to put on pause.

Hermione snapped out of her weird trance to realise that Sirena really had gone stiff like a statue. She stood frozen and unmoving, her eyes staring blankly out at the world. She was breathing, Hermione could tell, but otherwise she looked to be completely frozen in position.

“Sirena?” Liv waved a hand in front of Sirena’s face, to no avail. “Sirena, what happened? What did you do to her?” She turned on Hermione, anger and panic on her face. “What did you do to her?!”

“I – ” Hermione began. And stopped. What had she done?

“She’s not moving! She’s not…” Liv’s voice started as a high-pitched and panicked scream, but then and without warning sank to a soft and drowsy murmur. “She’s not… she’s not… ah… I don’t know what… ahh… dunno what’s goin’ on…” Her eyes drooped.

Hermione could only stare as the girl swayed back and forth.

“Dunno wass gooin’… ah-h-h-hh…” With that, Liv’s eyes closed, and she sank down onto Hermione’s bed. “No… I… ahh…. zzzz…” She was snoring lightly even before her head hit the soft mattress.

Startled, Hermione scampered to her feet, and then saw that the other two girls had gone limp as well, and had dropped to the floor like a couple of rag dolls.

Only Dean was still on his feet. He looked agitated, but not surprised.

“What… what’s happening?” Hermione tried to keep her voice from turning into a shrill scream. “Why is… I mean, how… what’s going on?!”

Instead of answering, Dean raised a hand to point at Sirena, who was still like a statue and not reacting to anything. “Did you do that?”

“Did I do what?! No, of course I didn’t –” Hermione stopped her panicked tirade before it even begun. That strange feeling inside her, the weir way time had seemed to slow down… Her initial sense of panic was starting to fade, replaced with a sense of awed confusion. “Actually…” she heard herself say. “Actually, I think I did. I don’t know how… but I must have.”

“Because I did that.” Dean pointed at Liv and the other girls, who all seemed to have slipped into a deep sleep.

“But how…” Hermione began.

“No idea,” Dean said. “Look, I… I can sometimes put people to sleep, all right? I have three younger sisters and they sometimes get annoying and… sometimes I can make them fall asleep.” He pointed at the frozen Sirena. “And it looks like you can freeze people by wanting it.”

“But this is stupid!” Hermione protested. “It shouldn’t be possible to make people just fall asleep like that, or freeze them, or…”

“I know it shouldn’t be possible,” said Dean. “But fact is that three girls are asleep, and I know I did it. And one girl is impersonating a statue, and you know you did it.”

“Wait… was this what you meant when you said you knew a few tricks?” said Hermione. “Is it… is it some kind of hypnosis?”

“I think it’s some kind of magic,” said Dean.

“Magic?” Despite herself, Hermione scoffed. “Don’t be silly. Magic is just superstition. It’s just a term people use to explain away things they don’t understand…”

“Oh, stop talking like a grown-up,” Dean said with a frown. “It’s just your imagination, Dean. Don’t tell stories, Dean. There’s a natural explanation for everything, Dean. I get enough of that from my parents!”

“But it can’t –”

“How did it feel?”


“How did it feel, when you made Sirena freeze up?”

“I…” Hermione paused and tried to recall the moment, before the confusion and panic. “I don’t know, it felt like… it felt weird. Like nothing I’d ever felt before, really. But it also felt… it also felt… good?” Trying to put words around it, she could hear how silly it sounded.

“Like your insides were on fire, except not in a bad way,” said Dean. “Am I right?”

“Huh,” said Hermione. “I… yes. Well, more like electricity than fire, really, but that’s not a bad description.”

“Because that’s how I feel when I put people to sleep,” said Dean. “Don’t tell me that’s just some kind of hypnosis! That’s magic!”

Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but then stopped to think. Magic only existed in books, in fiction and legends; she’d known that for years. And yet… Her eyes fell on Matilda, which was still firmly held in Sirena’s frozen grip. She’d thought that book was just fiction too, but freezing the girl had felt almost exactly like Matilda’s experience had been described. Was it possible that things that everyone knew only existed in books… might actually exist in real life? The thought both excited and scared her. She lived in a world where it was possible to make people fall asleep or freeze in place just by wanting it. And really, hadn’t she already known that? For years she had been able to make dozens of books fit into spaces that should logically only fit six or seven. Wasn’t that just as impossible, when you got down to it?

“All right,” she said. “Let’s call it magic, at least until we find out more about it.”

“And how do you suggest we do that?”

Hermione’s initial panic had all but died down by now. All she felt was a burning curiosity; a need to find out more. “Well, if we have these abilities, there must be other people who do as well, don’t you think?”

“Maybe, but I’ve never met any,” said Dean. “Not before I met you. If you have any ideas on how to find these other people, let me know.”

Hermione pondered. “There’s not a lot we can find out while stuck here at camp. I wish we had access to the school library… or maybe even the computer lab. There must be a book, or at least a website, or… something about people turning into statues…” She looked at Sirena, still stiff like a statue, and then at the other girls, still sleeping peacefully. A slight feeling of concern welled up: she didn’t like these girls, but having them sleep forever or remained permanently frozen seemed like it would be disproportionate retribution. “Do you think they’re going to be okay?”

“Liv and the others should wake up in half an hour or so, and be just fine,” said Dean. “My sisters always do. I can make them sleep for longer than that if I want, but it’s usually just half an hour. As for Sirena… I don’t know. She’s breathing all right, she just isn’t moving. Maybe you should try unfreezing her.”


“I don’t know! You were the one who froze her in the first place! Just do what you did then, except backwards!”

After a moment’s hesitation, Hermione took a long breath, and then stared deeply into Sirena’s unmoving eyes. Move, she thought, trying to summon up the weird feeling of electric heat. Unfreeze. Wake up.

Nothing happened.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Hermione sighed. “I don’t know how. If I had some kind of instructions to follow, or someone who could tell me what I was supposed to do…” She exchanged looks with Dean and knew they were thinking the same thing: The instructors and the other campers wouldn’t be any help. Neither would it do much good to call their parents. That really only left one option… “We’re going to have to check the school library. I’m rubbish with computers, but I’m good with books. Maybe there are some books on hypnosis or mysticism or something that can explain what’s going on.”

“Not very likely, is it?” said Dean.

“No,” she agreed, “but it’s the only plan I have. We’ll have to sneak into the library.”

“Library’s in Oak House, above the dining hall, and it’ll be lunch soon,” Dean pointed out. “How were you planning on getting past all the people?”

“Well…” Hermione sighed. This wasn’t a very nice thing to do, but… “How many people do you think you could make fall asleep at once? And do you think you could teach me how to do it?”

“Oh, will you look at this,” said Phoebe in an annoyed tone. “There’s no way this was all accidental. Nobody could manage to knock out this many people accidentally.”

All over the school grounds, Muggles were lying on the ground, all in a deep sleep. Boys and girls, small children and older teenagers, and a few scattered adults, all blissfully unconscious and unaware that the ground they were lying on was still wet after the night’s heavy rain.

Careful of her pregnant belly (she was really feeling bloated these days!) Flora leaned over one of the smallest girls to make certain she was all right. Luckily, apart from having decided to take a nap in wet grass, the girl seemed quite healthy. “Hope they don’t catch a cold,” she said. “It’s not like they have Pepper-up Potion here. Still… if I’d known everyone was asleep, I would have kept my green wig instead of putting on this dull brown one.”

“Always one to focus on the unimportant details, aren’t you?” Phoebe grumbled. “If I were you, I’d focus more on all the work we have in front of us. A school full of Muggles to wake up from a magical sleep, make sure their clothes are clean and dry, and make sure none of them remembers being put to sleep in the first place… we’ll be here for hours. All because some overeager little Baby-Prude discovered she could put people to sleep and decided to get ambitious about it.”

Flora straightened herself and shot Phoebe a dirty look. “Don’t use that word.”

“What‘Baby-Prude’? It’s just an expression. It means a Prude who isn’t old enough for Hogwarts yet.”

“It’s insulting! And frankly, it’s more than a little disturbing,” said Flora. “Calling Muggle-borns ‘Prudes’ is bad enough, but ‘Baby-Prude’? That’s just icky.”

“”You Yanks are more prudish than the Prudes are,” Phoebe huffed. “One of my coven-wives is Muggle-born, and she doesn’t mind being called ‘Prude.'”

“Well, one of my coven-wives is Muggle-born too, and she does mind,” Flora countered. “Come on, you’re supposed to be working for the Muggle Liaison Office. If I have to say ‘Muggle’ instead of ‘No-Maj,’ the least you can do is say ‘Muggle-born’ instead of… that word!”

“The difference is that nobody here in the UK knows what a No-Maj is, while everyone knows what a Prude is,” said Phoebe haughtily. “Speaking of which, we have a Baby-Prude to find.”

“Will you stop saying that?!”

“Will you stop looking for excuses to be offended? Come on!”

Flora bit back an acidic reply. Why couldn’t she have been partnered with Mandy on this assignment? Her coven-wife was so much more understanding… not to mention, a lot more professional about these things. Despite smart-looking business suits and Flora wearing her most mundane wig, she and Phoebe didn’t come across as a very professional pair.

But then, professionalism was often an afterthought in the Muggle Liaison Office. Honest exceptions like Mandy aside, the entire Office was made up of witches who were either freshly out of Hogwarts and lacked the job experience to get a more substantial job, who simply didn’t have the ambition to get a better job… or were just temporarily re-assigned while on break from more demanding jobs.

Flora belonged to this last category; for as long as she was pregnant her coven had insisted that she take a break from her work with dragons and instead went for a safer and less strenuous job.

So she’d let herself be talked into joining the Accidental Magical Reversal Squad, which was pretty much the least taxing job in the Ministry. Entire shifts could pass without anything happening, so you were free to just sit around and play cards or read Muggle crime novels. And even when there was an assignment, it was usually was just a matter of matter of finding a scared and confused young girl who had accidentally turned her annoying aunt purple or whatever, calm her down and reassure her that nothing was wrong with her, and then give her the standard “you’re a witch, and yes, magic is real” speech, before reversing whatever accidental magic she’d done… and if you had children of your own (and Flora of course had twelve in her coven) reversing accidental magic was pretty much second nature and took very little effort.

Sometimes it could get a little tricky if there were a lot of Muggle witnesses who needed to either have their memories modified or be fed some cover-up story, but this didn’t tend to be too much of a challenge either. As long as you took care to dress inconspicuously and didn’t leave too many traces of magic around where the Muggles would find them, you were pretty much good.

The weird part was that… well, even though Flora missed her dragons and had every intention of going straight back to the Dragon Researchers once her daughter was born, and she was off maternity leave… she kind of liked meeting new Muggle-borns. There was something incredibly adorable about their reactions when they found out that magic was real. Flora, who had grown up around magic, could only imagine what it felt like to make that discovery.

It took a few minutes, but finally the location spells kicked in enough to inform Flora and Phoebe that the Muggle-born in question was located in the biggest building on campus… a large stone building that for some reason sported a sign over the entrance door saying OAK. It made a little more sense once you entered the building and stepped into the entrance hall. The exterior of the building was stone, but inside there was a lot of wood… wooden floors, wooden panels and a grand wooden staircase. Flora had no clue about different wood sorts, but it could very well be oak.

Flora and Phoebe made their way through the entrance hall, taking care to not step on any of the Muggle children who where sleeping on the floor, and up the wooden staircase.

Upstairs, at the end of a rather boring hallway, a pair of glass double doors led to what was obviously a library. Through the glass, behind tall bookshelves, it was possible to make out a moving figure. There, that would be the Muggle-born. Why she had decided to visit the library, Flora had no idea… she’d have to ask about that…. but then, she was surprised to see that there were two figures moving behind the bookshelves.

“Hah!” said Phoebe, sounding oddly triumphant as they approached the doors. “Two Baby-Prudes!”

“You’re just doing it on purpose now,” Flora sighed.

“Course I am, but that’s not the point. If there are two of them, that goes a long way to explain how they could knock out all these Muggles. They teamed up!” She shrugged. “Oh well. Looks like we’ll be giving the standard ‘you’re a witch’ speech to two girls at the same time. That’s convenient. Come on!”

They opened the door. Now, two hushed voices could be heard, one slightly deeper than the other:

“—don’t think you’ll find the answer in a children’s book!”

“How do you know? Maybe the author has the same powers and wrote the book as a hint!”

“I’m telling you, we should look for books about mysticism and hypnosis, not fairy tales!”

“Fairy tales can be very – shh!” The deeper voice suddenly cut itself off. “Did you hear that?”

“It’s all right, girls!” Flora spoke up, making certain her voice was calm and reassuring. “You’re not in trouble. My name is Flora, and this is my colleague, Phoebe. I bet you have a lot of questions right now… we’ll do our best to answer them. Please come out so we can talk.”

Slowly, hesitantly, a girl of about eight stepped out from behind the bookshelf. She had brown skin, an unruly mop of frizzy hair, and large front teeth, and she was clearly trying to look like she wasn’t scared at all. And right behind her –

Flora blinked.

“A boy?” Phoebe sounded about as astonished as Flora felt.

“Er… hi?” said the boy uncertainly. He was almost a head taller than the girl, and his skin was a shade or two darker brown than hers.

“I don’t believe it!” said Phoebe. Her astonishment was quickly vanishing to be replaced with annoyance. “What are you two doing here? And what do you think you’re doing, putting sleeping spells on an entire school of Muggles? Haven’t your parents taught you anything? We thought there was a Baby-Prude here, someone who didn’t know any better, but honestly! What coven do you belong to? Your parents are going to have to have a serious talk with the Ministry – did you just try to put a sleep spell on me?!” She looked at the boy, shocked and outraged.

“Er…” The boy just gaped at her.

“Isn’t this fucking typical!” Phoebe growled. “Whenever a coven gets a boy, they end up spoiling him, and he thinks he’s allowed to do everything.” She turned to the girl. “Young lady, what were you thinking, letting your brother run amok among Muggles?”

The girl, who had looked just as astonished as the boy, suddenly got an indignant look on her face. “He’s not my brother!” she said. “What, just because we’re both black, you think we’re related?”

“Phoebe…” said Flora. “I don’t think they belong to a coven. Either of them.”

“What are you talking about?” the girl demanded. “What’s a coven?”

“Don’t be absurd,” said Phoebe, though her voice was softer now, with a growing edge of unease. “Are you saying they’re both Muggle-borns? There hasn’t been a male Muggle-born since… since Tom Riddle…” She trailed off and just stared.

As Phoebe’s annoyance faded, the Muggle-born girl’s annoyance seemed to rise. “Excuse me?” she said. “Hello? Could someone explain what’s going on here? You said you could answer questions! Well, I have questions!”

“Right. Sorry.” Flora looked at the two children, trying to gather her thoughts. Of course. She couldn’t let her own surprise and confusion get in the way of the most important part of this assignment. No matter the sex, there were still two confused Muggle-borns here who needed answers. It was just that the standard Muggle-born speech she’d had to memorize kind of escaped her mind at the moment. “Um. Sorry, what’s your names?”

“I’m Hermione Granger,” said the girl. “And this is my friend,” (she stressed that particular word) “Dean Thomas. We’re not related.”

“Not even distant cousins,” said the boy. “Far as I know, anyway. I’m not quite up on my family on my biological father’s side… and we do both seem to have these weird powers…”

“Powers. Yes,” Flora said hurriedly, happy to have a topic to grasp onto. “That would be magic. See, some people are born with magic powers. You two are witches.”

“Hah!” Dean looked triumphantly at Hermione. “Told you it was magic!” Then he frowned. “Wait… witches?”

“Yes! Well, that is… Hermione, you’re a witch. Dean, you’d be a wizard. Sorry, there just aren’t a lot of wizards around, so Phoebe and I, we were kinda put off our stride here.”

“So…” said Dean hesitantly. “I’m a wizard? Hocus pocus, light fires without matches, turn people into frogs, control the weather, make broomsticks fly, that sort of thing?”

“Well, broomsticks are traditionally for witches, weather control is restricted by the Ministry, and you really shouldn’t turn people into frogs, that’s just mean,” said Flora. “But… yes, pretty much.”

Hermione opened and closed her mouth a few times, as if about to say something and then thinking better of it. After a few false starts, she settled for: “So it really is magic… I mean, it’s not just some form of hypnosis.”

“Maybe a demonstration’s in order.” Flora pulled her wand out of her pocket. “What’s your favourite colour?”

“Er… pink?”

“Then watch this.” Flora flicked her wand towards Hermione’s yellow t-shirt, which immediately shifted and turned a cute light pink. Her blue shorts followed suit, turning a deeper, darker pink.

Hermione shrieked in surprise.

“That was so cool!” said Dean. “Do me! My favourite colour is red!”

Flora obliged, and Dean’s light blue t-shirt turned a bright, fiery red.

“It could be a trick,” said Hermione, a little shakily. “You could have hypnotized us both and made us think we saw our clothes change colour…”

“But I didn’t,” said Flora. She very gently placed a hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but magic is real.”

Hermione looked at her and then sighed. “I know,” she said, in a tone that was part relief and part annoyance. “I think I always knew. It just sounded too ludicrous to say it out loud… magic is real and I’m a witch.”

“You get used to it,” said Flora comfortingly.

“I suppose you would,” Hermione agreed. “How, though?”

“How do you get used to it?”

“No, I mean… how am I a witch? What happened to me to make me a witch?”

“Nothing happened to you, you were just born that way,” said Flora. “Just like me… or just like Dean. for that matter. Magic is something you’re born with. it’s as simple as that. Look, how about we all sit down somewhere, and I’ll explain everything. Then we can see about reversing your magic afterwards. I promise you, everything’s going to be all right.”

Phoebe, who had been mercifully silent during all this, suddenly grabbed Flora’s shoulder. “Could I just have a quick word with you first?” she said sweetly.

“Um… okay,” said Flora. “Excuse us for a moment.” She let Phoebe drag her off to a corner of the library, leaving Dean and Hermione to talk excitedly among themselves.

“This is big!” Phoebe hissed as soon as they were far enough away from the children. “The girl won’t be a problem, but the boy… He’s a boy! A Baby-Boy-Prude! What do we do about this? You realize we have to report this to the Office?”

“First of all, never say ‘Baby-Boy-Prude’ again,” said Flora. “Second of all, let’s take a moment to think here. What’s the Office going to do when they find out we have a male Muggle-born here? Place him under supervision? Take him away from his Muggle family and forcibly place him in a coven to ‘educate’ him on the ways of the witching world?”

“Well… probably.”

“That’s cruel! Besides, I’ll admit I’m no expert on recent witching history, but wasn’t that exactly what they did with Tom Riddle? Took him away from his Muggle life to be raised by a coven? Look how that turned out!”

“So what are you suggesting?” said Phoebe. “Let him grow up in the Muggle world and not be prepared for what he’ll face in the witching world? You know that the moment he steps into our world, all eyes are going to be on him. They’ll eat him alive if he’s not prepared! Besides,” she added as she thought of another argument. “No matter if we try to keep this hidden, the Ministry’s going to find out sooner or later. Do you want to explain to them that we found a male Muggle-born and didn’t report it?”

“All right, all right,” said Flora. “I’ve got it. Here’s what we’ll do. If we can put off reporting this to the Ministry for a few days, I can contact someone. A friend of my coven. I’m sure he’ll be able to help.”

“Friend of your… Oh, no,” Phoebe groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re talking about that tosser Albus Dumbledore!”

“Okay, I won’t tell you,” said Flora sweetly. “But I am.”

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