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Chapter 1: One
Will crouched down and adjusted his gloves, leaning away from the garbage bins so he could peek around the corner to Diagon Alley where bustling Witches and Wizards went about their business. He was just skinny enough to squeeze between the bins without rattling them and having anyone notice him. Will was good at not touching or bumping into things. In this place, he had to be.
He sighed and sat back against the wall of Knockturn Alley, where the buildings cast longer shadows and the Wizards who came down this way never smiled and always smelled bad. His uncle’s potions shop sat at the corner of both Alleys and dealt with all kinds of Witches and Wizards and Will was supposed to stay away from all of them, whether they smelled bad or not.
Will would still be out in the school yard playing and goofing off if Mutch had met him after school as usual, not here behind the shop catching rats. He had surprised Mrs. Welfield by showing up so early after school and asking to be taken home, even though he knew that all he’d have waiting for him at his uncle’s shop were extra chores followed by keeping to himself up in his room alone.
Rats were easy to catch if he sat quietly behind the shadows of the trash bins. His best position was huddled in between the bins, right next to the magic door he wasn’t allowed to touch. Will scooped up one of the furry things with one hand and grabbed the sack with the other. He held up the sack, ready to plunge the rat inside and then felt an uncomfortable churning in his stomach.
He’d gotten dizzy at school yesterday and almost vomited twice today. Tomorrow would be worse. Tomorrow he’d go to the hospital for his treatment.
Will held up the rat and looked into its beady black eyes. “I bet you don’t have to get poked and prodded, do you? You have a pretty nice life out here. Going wherever you like, eating whatever you want.”
He’d miss a day of school too. His uncle said he’d recover faster from his treatment if he wasn’t so skinny. Will’s almost constant nausea prevented him from eating more than a few mouthfuls at a time, especially when he got so weak.
A loud banging sound down the alleyway interrupted his thoughts and startled the rat. Will had to drop the sack so he could grab the rat with both hands as it struggled to get away.
Will lifted his chin into the air and inhaled, but all he could smell was dirt and the remains of his uncle’s lunch. “It’s only someone taking out the garbage,” he assured the rat. Will held it close to him and whispered softly, trying to calm it down. He was feeding the rat scraps of crust when his Uncle appeared at the entrance to the Alley to check on him.
“William! What are you doing? I asked you to bag the rats, not invite them to tea!” His uncle’s stout frame hovered over the bins. A thick finger waggled disapprovingly at the rat in Will’s hands.
“Sorry Uncle. He looked... lonely?”
The fact was, Will was lonely. So very alone. And he hated bagging rats.
“It’s okay,” he said to the rat after his uncle had gone back inside. “It’s not your fault that everyone thinks you’re a bother. Uncle finds a use for all of God’s creatures.”
Or that’s what his uncle kept saying. Will wondered if Uncle truly believed that, or if he was simply trying to make Will feel better about himself. That’s why Will got along so well with Mutch. Mutch was Mutch. And around Mutch, Will could be himself.
Without Mutch, hanging out after school wasn’t any fun.
Bricks scraping slowly against each other brought Will’s attention back to the rats and the garbage bins. A strong unpleasant smell hit his nose, which the rat must have also smelled because it spooked again. Will shoved the struggling rat into the sack, knotted it up and silently ordered it to be still.
A click, click, click came towards him on the cobblestones and then a pitch-black robe billowed by his garbage bins. He saw a hint of a silver mask as a man’s long shadow disappeared around the corner into Diagon Alley. Will scrambled to his feet with the sack and checked his gloves again. He rapped on the window next to the door he wasn’t allowed to touch and hoped that the light wasn’t fading too fast, now that the shadows had come out.
His stomach churned and he clutched the sack, remembering to take deep breaths. The day after tomorrow would be better. And then the day after that he’d be fine. For a while.
When the nausea passed, Will rapped on the window harder. He stepped back as the bricks next to him started to glow softly and the outline of a door appeared and opened inward. Then his uncle’s impatient hand signaled him inside, opening the door wide enough for Will to slip around the large man without touching the walls. The door in the Alley faded back into the wall like it had never been there.
The door on the inside disappeared too and once again became a wall of shelves. The bad smell had faded from the air and Will handed the sack to his uncle. His uncle peered inside the sack and frowned.
“I wasn’t feeling well. And I saw one of the masked men again. He smelled really bad.”
His uncle jerked his head out of the rat sack. “He didn’t see you?”
Will shook his head. “No. I was behind the garbage bins the whole time.”
“You remember what I said about them.” His uncle waggled a fat finger at him. “They hate squibs like you. They’ll kill you if they catch you.”
“Yes Uncle,” Will said. “I’ll do better with the rats next time too.”
His uncle let out a heavy breath. “Never mind the rats today.” He patted Will’s shoulder. “My apprentice needs checking up on and I have a customer tonight. Go upstairs and rest.”
Will sighed as he climbed the stairs to the small flat above his uncle’s shop. He knew all about potions ingredients and he was only twelve! Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the truth. Will was working through the Fifth Year Potions Theory text and had two more volumes before he completed the curriculum. But he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the vials or ingredient bins. Squibs were never invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and get a certificate of completion like his uncle’s apprentice had.
Will sat down heavily on his bed and stared at the large climbing vines that rustled against the window pane. If he felt better, he’d climb those vines up to the space behind the chimney where no one could see him. It let him get away from the magic smells that reminded him of home and his parents and how he’d never see them again. Sometimes Will wished the Alley wasn’t his world. Will wished he didn’t need the treatments. Wished his parents were still alive too, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Wishes were imaginary things, like some of his stories.
At least he still had his Uncle to take care of him so Mrs. Welfield wouldn’t have to take him to the orphanage. And he had Mutch, when Mutch was around.
Will discarded his gloves and threw them on the bedside table near the unlit candle and the little box of light his uncle had made for him. The other children, the ones who’d gotten their letters to Hogwarts used to take their balls of light out of the boxes and play games of catch with them. Will reached inside his box for the light and lifted it out of its box. It flickered in his hand. Will watched the light get smaller and smaller and disappear in a thin swirl of smoke.
After fumbling in the dark, Will found matches and lit a candle. He stared at the flame for a while and picked at the melting wax, rolling it between his fingers into a little ball.
Uncle tries to pretend that he lives with a squib. But squibs don’t break magic like I do.
Will lay in bed after coming home from his treatment and listened to the vine’s branches scrape at his window. He wasn’t going climbing right now. The muggle nurses had hooked him up to the pumping machines and left him in the harsh light of the hospital room for over an hour. When he tried to stand up too quickly, he felt dizzy and his vision blurred. Sometimes he stood up anyway, if only to prove that he could.
The muggle children would make fun of him tomorrow for being so weak, especially the big bully named Anthony. Anthony made fun of the way Will had to hold on to things to boost himself up to his feet and the funny way he sat at his desk when he got tired. Worst of all, Anthony made fun of Will’s stories about wizards and witches and the strange powers they had. Will hated it when the teacher made him read out loud to the class.
If he could prove that the magic was real, Anthony would stop teasing him about his stories. But Will couldn’t even hold a ball of light without snuffing it out. There was no way he’d be able to prove anything to Anthony, even if he had wanted to break the rules.
Today, Will couldn’t do anything more than lay about and read or play games. His uncle waved his wand around the kitchen, boiling the pasta and cooking the vegetables and watching the pots fly about. When Will did it, he had to carry the pot and fill it with water and strain the steaming water out. He didn’t mind. He liked using his hands.
The game board sat on the table, away from Will and his hands. It was something his uncle could do with him while dinner was cooking. His parents had taught him to play before they disappeared. Will loved the game.
“Black Queen to White Knight.”
The Black Queen gave him a whithering look and crossed her arms, refusing to move.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” his uncle warned from the kitchen.
“Why not? It gets the Knight off the board and gets me closer to the King.” The Black Queen fretted at his words and stomped her foot.
“That is true, but it puts you in a compromising position in three moves.”
“I’m going to try it,” Will said, but the Queen remained in her square and glared up at him.
“Who’s playing this game, anyway?” Will frowned at the queen.
His Uncle chuckled at him. “Pieces giving you a hard time again, are they?”
“Yes they are.” Will grunted. “I might as well move them myself.” He reached out an un-gloved hand and the whole board of pieces cowered away from him.
“Oh, no no no!” cried the Black Queen and moved hastily to oust the White Knight off his space. There was a small skirmish on the chess board but in the end, the Queen stood victorious. “See?” she said, exasperated. “No need to threaten me.”
Uncle came over to the board and commanded his move. The pieces dutifully obeyed and removed one of Will’s pieces from the board. Will sulked. Uncle never had to argue with his pieces.
“It’s all about intent, Will. You have to believe it will happen and then project that out into the world.”
Will had read about that. It was the magic behind all magic. Everything he’d never been able to do.
“Direct your pieces with confidence.” His uncle’s voice was stern. “Make your move.”
Will looked at his uncle skeptically. He stared down at the board and took a breath.
“Black Rook to White Pawn,” he commanded, not seeing his uncle threaten the board with his wand behind his head. He was surprised when the pieces made their move without argument.
“I did it!” Will exclaimed.
His uncle chuckled. “Attitude. Works on muggles too.”
Will felt better at dinner, having no more objections from his pieces for the rest of the game. He bit into a mushy piece of pasta and ate his peas and burnt toast without complaining. He could make dinner better than his uncle when he was strong enough to use his hands. The thought made Will smile.
Sometimes magic wasn’t the answer.
The next day, Will waited under the school yard tree for Mutch. None of the other children stopped to sit under the tree. They all hurried away from the school yard when the bell rang, as if they had better places to go.
A new girl he didn’t recognize passed by him on her way to the back gate. Then she stopped and looked at him curiously. “You’re Will,” she said.
It took a moment for Will to realize that she was talking to him. The other children always whispered behind his back how they didn’t want to catch the sickness from him. It was silly. His condition wasn’t contagious at all.
Will blinked at her. The new girl had talked to him again. “Aren’t I what?” he asked. He thought she might be getting ready to tease him like the others.
Instead she smiled. “Isn’t your name Will? By the way, I’m Marly,” she said after Will hadn’t said anything for a while. “I’ve seen you around. The other kids say you write stories.”
Will almost told her no, that he didn’t write stories because he’d been teased too much about it. But the girl’s smile made him think that maybe she was different from the rest of them.
“Do you like stories?” he asked her.
“Oh yes. I love stories! I’d like to read one of yours some time.”
Will smiled back at her. The only person who’d ever asked to read his stories before was his teacher. He thought about digging one out of his knapsack, but then he saw Anthony at the edge of the school yard. Anthony gave Will a nasty smile and started over.
“Hey you!” Anthony shouted out as he came up to the tree.
Will held his knapsack closed. “Go away, Anthony,” he said shakily, wishing the bully was one of the chess pieces he could just order off the board.
Anthony turned to Marly. “Why are you talking to him? He’s nothing but a weak little nobody.”
Marly took a step towards Will. “No he’s not. Leave us alone and go home!”
Anthony laughed at her. “And who’s going to make me? A little girl?”
“I’m not little!” she retorted, putting her hands on her hips.
“Oh yeah?” Anthony took a step towards Marly, but then a tall dirty man stumbled up behind him and grabbed his arm.
“There ya are!” growled the man. “Let’s go!”
Anthony lost all of his composure and shrank away from the man who took him away.
Will almost felt sorry for Anthony when his father dragged him away from the school yard. At the moment, Will was simply relieved that the big bully wasn’t going to tease him anymore in front of the new girl. Or worse.
Anthony’s father brushed his way past Mrs. Welfield and her feisty terrier who gave them an intimidating yap. The little dog snapped at everyone except for his owner, who tried to shush him and keep him from hurting anyone.
“That’s the nastiest boy I’ve ever met,” Marly muttered under her breath, watching Anthony and his father walk away.
“I have to go,” Will said, seeing that Mrs. Welfield had spotted him. He stumbled as he got up clumsily and then looked worriedly back at her, hoping she wasn’t going to laugh.
“It’s okay,” she shrugged. “The other kids told me you were sick a lot too. It doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Will picked up his knapsack from the ground reluctantly, sorry that he couldn’t stay and talk more to Marly. But with the way he felt, he was glad that Mrs. Welfield had come. He really was too weak today to stay after school and hang out. “Maybe I can show you one of my stories next time.”
Marly waved to him as she headed for the back gate of the school yard. “Next time!” she called out.
Mutch would like Marly, Will thought. She’s not afraid to talk to me like the others. Maybe she’s too smart to believe all that stuff about making everyone else sick.
Mrs. Welfield’s dog cowered between her legs as he approached them. Will frowned at the little terrier. “He’s still afraid of me too.”
Mrs. Welfield kindly took his knapsack and helped him across the street. “Has that boy been bothering you again?”
Will shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
Mrs. Welfield’s dog yapped at the passers by all the way back to the Alley. Like Will, Mrs. Welfield couldn’t do magic, but she knew all about the Alley. Will’s uncle had given her an amulet that she used to touch the bricks and open the door between the two worlds. She waved him through and Will was careful not to brush up against the walls of the passageway. She didn’t have to wear gloves or a heavy cloak. As far as Will knew, he was the only one who wasn’t allowed to touch the magic.
“I’m always here to help you, Will,” Mrs. Welfield said to him when she led him to the door of the Potions Shop. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
“Go upstairs and study,” his Uncle ordered when he got inside. “I have customers coming.”
A highly reputable Potions Master, Will’s uncle was always getting visitors and Will had to scurry upstairs and hide away until they left. “You always make me study,” Will whispered on his way up the stairs, which he really didn’t mind, “Or catch rats,” which he didn’t like, “or take out the garbage,” which he did because it made him feel useful. Will felt like he should be able to do more. He couldn’t be good for just those things, could he?
Uncle had made him read all the magical texts the other wizard children were studying on top of his muggle schoolwork and given him the previous years’ OWL exams in three magical theory subjects from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Will had aced them all.
When he got to his room, he saw a big box on his bedside table with a note on it from his uncle. It read “To Will: I hope you find this educational and rewarding. Love, Uncle.”
Will threw aside his knapsack and tore open the box. He stared inside it in awe at the thick leather cover and rumpled pages. “A Bestiary!” he exclaimed. It was one of the magical texts he’d always wanted. As he reached into the box, the crease in the middle of the cover snapped open to reveal an angry eye. Startled, Will pulled his hands away. He thought he heard it growl at him.
Will watched in wonder as the ill-tempered thing tossed itself out of its packaging and thumped onto the table. He hurriedly dug his gloves out of his knapsack and put them on, hoping to find out more about Mrs. Welfield’s little dog and how to make it like him better. But when he got close enough to grab the book, it flapped wildly off the table and scuttled under his bed. Will got down on his hands and knees to get it, but it let out a horrible screeching sound.
Will sat back on his knees and covered his ears. He’d never had a book scream at him before. “Shhh! Quiet!” he said to it, but it kept making the loudest racket Will had ever heard.
Uncle’s footsteps echoed up the stairs. “Will?” he called out.
“In here, Uncle. I found the book, but it won’t come out.”
“Step back. It can sense you.”
Will watched as his uncle coaxed the book out from under the bed.
“I’m afraid it’s not going to let you touch it, Will. Sorry. I’ll keep it downstairs with the rest of the magical texts. Maybe I’ll read it to you tonight after the shop closes?”
His uncle took the Bestiary down the stairs and left him alone in his room with the empty box.
Will sulked in the corner for an hour.
When he woke up on Saturday morning, Will fought off the dizziness and did all his chores as fast as he could manage. He was upstairs, packing a knapsack with his pencil and a notebook. Also a cheese sandwich he could share with Mutch if he found him.
“William!” His Uncle’s voice rang through the shop.
“Coming, Uncle!” he called back, getting down the stairs as fast as he could. He rounded the corner, careful not to bump into things as he hurried down the hall.
He skidded to a halt at the bottom of the stairs in front of a gaping hole in the wall where the magic door used to be. Instead of a wall lined with shelves of potion ingredients, Will saw right through to the garbage bins outside.
Will couldn’t believe it. The door had been there this morning when he’d taken out the garbage. He’d been very careful.
A shaking finger pointed to the hole. “Did you...” His Uncle’s face was redder than a spoiling tomato.
Will shrank back. “I wore my gloves. I don’t know what happened...”
“Ruined half a day’s spell work is what you did!”
“I-I’m sorry Uncle. I don’t know what happened!”
“What have I told you about touching things around here? There’s a nice orphanage not far from here that would take you in an instant! Don’t think I haven’t spoken to Mrs. Welfield about it. Is that what you want? To live with the muggles?”
“N-no, Uncle!” Will was distressed at the thought of leaving his uncle. His parents had wanted him to stay here. He was the only family Will had left.
Will held out his gloved hands. “I’ve worn them all morning, through my chores and everything!” Eager to prove to his uncle that it hadn’t been his fault, Will wasn’t concerned about the bits of cheese and crumbs hanging off the fraying stitches in one of the fingertips.
His uncle’s face softened. “You must remember the rules, Will. You can’t... touch... things.” Then he frowned. “Let me see your gloves. Take them off.”
Will dutifully removed his gloves and handed them over to his uncle. He watched Uncle examine them. “There’s a rip in the fingertip of your glove.”
Will’s uncle pulled out the wand he always had stuck inside his belt and waved it over the gloves. “Repario,” his uncle intoned at the stitches as they refastened themselves. Then he wrinkled his nose. “Scorgify!”
He handed the repaired and freshly cleaned gloves back to Will. “That should do it.”
“Yes sir. I’ll... go upstairs and...” Read? Write stories? Stare at the wall? He didn’t bother to ask if he could go into town now. Will felt horrible about what had happened, even though it hadn’t really been his fault.
As soon as he got upstairs, he felt a tingling in his hands. The newly stitched fingertips sagged and the threads holding them together had unraveled again. Will threw his gloves down on the table and plopped down on his bed. He dug around in his drawers for a needle and thread.
“Little good magic does me. I’ll have to fix these myself!”