Professor Penelope Clearwater had introduced countless Muggleborn students to the wizarding world, but it wasn't yet a task with which she felt comfortable. She was a Muggleborn herself, which was half the reason that she nevertheless continually allowed the other professors to coerce her into taking them all, instead of dividing the share fairly among the heads of houses. She remembered her own first introduction, and she remembered how terrified she'd been, and that was with the friendly face of now-Headmistress Pomona Sprout doing the honors. She simply could not imagine allowing the well-meaning but socially bumbling Professor Longbottom to put anyone off by providing such an eccentric first glimpse of the wizarding world. And as for Professor Yap.... She almost shuddered to think of it, and the sun was uncomfortably warm today. Was there some secret school rule that allowed the only the most intimidating graduates of Slytherin to return as the House's Head? If anything, Yap was even worse than his predecessor, Snape. Severus might have turned out to be a hero - it was the version that Potter was standing behind, anyway - but that didn't change the fact that if a Muggleborn had ever agreed to follow Snape into a mysterious new magical world, then Professor Clearwater would eat her shady-brimmed hat, which she now adjusted in what she hoped was an elegant and impressive manner as she stepped forward to approach the dark-haired boy.
"Excuse me, young man. Your name is John Thomas Dawkins?"
He nodded, warily, which Penelope decided was to be expected. She approached most new Muggleborn students with their parents present, in their own homes, but occasionally the files had little notes, as this one did, to approach the children independently. It usually happened with orphans or children in foster care, but sometimes even when the sole surviving parent was simply very sick. Cases such as these were more delicate to begin with, and a stranger on the street who knew his full name surely did nothing to tip the balances back in her favor. She smiled, but that didn't seem to work either.
"Is there somewhere we can talk?" she asked significantly, very aware of the young girl standing just a few feet away. Before John could respond, however, the girl's mother called from a nearby house and the two were left somewhat alone.
"Here will work now, won't it?" John asked, and sat down on the doorstep as if the question were already settled. The expression on his sharp features was more curious than anything else, but it appeared that he was not forgetting his understandable reservations just yet.
Penelope bit her lip. "Well, I suppose if it must. It's just that I'd rather not attract attention from any of the neighbors, and this will be startling news." John did not move, speak, or appear to be impressed. Penelope stood in silence for a moment, wonder if perhaps she ought to sit as well, as undignified as that would be. Then she cleared her throat, peering awkwardly down at where he sat, obscured by her own shadow. "My name is Professor Penelope Clearwater. I teach at a school called Hogwarts. It has an odd name to your ears, but it's a very special school for people with extraordinary powers. People like you." It was usually best to start simple and blunt.
John looked blank. "Powers? Like psychics and things, do you mean?"
"Like wizards and witches, although a little like psychics, yes, if it helps you to understand. It's a school of magic."
"How much does it cost?"
This was not a question that Penelope had ever been asked after telling an eleven year old that magic existed. "Pardon?"
"That school you said. Hogwarts. How much money does it cost to go?"
"Well... quite a bit, actually, but we have a very good scholarship system," she hastened to assure him, as the disappointment registered in his eyes. "If you'd like to come, the headmistress and I will make absolutely certain that it happens. Albus Dumbledore - well, he was a very prominent headmaster, a wizarding hero, in fact - he said that if a person had the ability, then they ought to be taught. And Headmistress Sprout follows Dumbledore's example as closely as she's able. You're a wizard. She won't keep you out over something like gold. I promise."
John took a moment to think this over. "If you want me so bad," he said amiably, "then I guess it's a yes." He had the air of a person who considers all of the important questions to have been dispensed with. Everything left was merely clarification of petty details. "I can move things with my mind," he confided, "but not very far, and not if I'm thinking about it. What sort of magic is taught at a school then? How to do the same thing, but on purpose?" It was clear that he did not find this a very impressive prospect, but was willing to give it a fair trial.
"Much more than that," she promised. "But as I'm sure you can realize, with a little thought, magic is a bit of a secret. Muggles - that is, non-magical people - are really not supposed to find out, if we can help it. Is there somewhere more private we could go? I could give you a demonstration."
John nodded, slowly, and Penelope made a small movement towards the door they were standing in front of before she remembered that the address didn't match with the one she'd been given and John pointed at one across the street.
Penelope was sure she saw a face disappear from the neighbor's window, and the faded blue curtains certainly flicked closed as they passed, but she gave it no thought. She made more a point of noticing that the house they approached was distinctly less well-kept than any other on the street, which was not, on the whole, anything like the higher-scale streets she'd ever visited. Inside, the house was little better. John led her through a small entranceway to an only slightly larger living room. The entranceway was covered with dust, but the majority of the surfaces in the living room were covered with dirty dishes. In the adjoining kitchen and dining area, the sink was filled with empty bottles. Penelope pulled her gaze away as John offered her the sofa and dragged a chair across from the dining table to a space across from her.
"We have to be quiet," he informed her. "My dad's sleeping upstairs."
She nodded. "Well, John-"
She nodded again and continued. "Well, Jack, there are many different kinds of magic taught at Hogwarts. They range from simple charms," she produced her wand and nonverbally lifted an empty bowl from the end-table to her right and floated it over to a clear space on the counter beside the sink; her eyes followed the bowl, and so she did not notice the fleeting anger on Jack's face as she did so, "to the slightly more complex branch of transfiguration." She turned the spoon still lying on the end-table into a fork and back again. "As you probably noticed, most magic requires a wand." She held hers up for emphasis.
"Where do I get one of those? Are they expensive?"
"Diagon Alley. That's the next thing I was going to mention." She produced a bag of gold from her purse. "This is from the scholarship fund, and it should cover all of the necessary supplies, which are listed here." She handed him the envelope and explained exactly how to reach Diagon Alley. "You can ask Tom the barman if you need any help. He's getting on in years, but he's still as willing as ever. Or if you'd like, I could accompany you."
"I'll be alright," he said immediately.
"You'll be able to get to London on your own?" she asked. "Your father-"
"I have money for a bus," he said, and there was something fiercely defensive in his eyes, so although it was the second time that he had interrupted her - behavior that most of the professors would not tolerate at Hogwarts - she simply nodded. The defensiveness had reached his voice when he said, "My father is sick."
Penelope deliberately did not look over to the sink, but continued to nod. She was doing a lot of that, she realized, and she wasn't sure that she liked it, or that it was the appropriate response. "Of course."
She said nothing, not knowing what to say, but Jack did not fill the silence, so eventually, after nearly a minute had passed, she decided to change the subject. "Well, you'll have to get there twice. The train will take you to Hogwarts from King's Cross Station. There are more details in the envelope I gave you."
Jack immediately opened it and scanned the pages. "Nine and three quarters? There's a platform like that?"
"Yes, but Muggles don't see it. It's hidden behind a barrier, and you have to just walk on through, even though it looks like a solid wall." Jack's expression grew odd and she got the impression that he was imagining exactly what would happen if she wasn't telling him the truth, or if, for some reason, the magic didn't work for him. "Try and get there early," she said. "There'll be lots of other young wizards and witches around, and you can watch them, or ask one of them for help. Most of us are friendly enough."
Jack shrugged. "Alright then. Is there anything else I need to know?"
"I don't think so. Oh, the coins. The gold ones are called Galleons, silver ones are Sickles and the other ones are Knuts, with a k. It's twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle and seventeen Sickles to a Galleon, and... oh, I can't remember what the exchange rate is, with Muggle money, but you don't have to worry about that anyway. All of the prices at Diagon are fair, so just pay what they ask you." She ran a hand through her hair, thinking very hard about anything she might have forgotten, but nothing came to mind. There was plenty more to know, of course, but it would all be explained along the way, and there was no sense giving him too much to digest, so to speak, all up front. Although he seemed to be taking it exceptionally well. She frowned. "You know, you don't seem at all surprised about this. It's highly unusual."
Jack shrugged again, his expression decidedly disinterested in what she considered to be usual. "Well, there can't not be magic in the world. I know there is. I've seen all sorts of weird things. The only thing I wasn't sure about was what form it would take when I finally met it straight on."
Penelope pondered this rather odd statement, and concluded that Jack must have seen a wizard or a witch performing magic at some point, but hadn't had his memory wiped, because of course he wouldn't have shown up as a Muggle on the Ministry's sensors and he didn't seem to have made a commotion about it. "Well, alright then. That makes things easier. Now, I'd better head back, I have all sorts of lessons to get planned before September." She stood, and Jack stood as well. "Be sure and head to Diagon as soon as you can. Shops don't usually ever run out of supplies, but you don't want to get the copy that's had its cover all bent in the bottom of the box." He nodded and Penelope Disapparated right from the Dawkins' living room. She told herself that it was simply for convenience's sake, since there was no reason not to, the boy already being so accepting of magic. But secretly she felt a smug satisfaction at the confidence that finally she had done something that he wasn't likely to take in his stride. She only wished she could have seen his expression.
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