Chapter 1 : A Brusque Departure
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Its cathedral-like structure easily towered over the rest of the block, the bell tower that woke each late sleeper up every morning threatening to touch the sky. Moss grew in the mortar rivets despite the staff’s consistent attempts to remove, most of which were giving the children a small pick and loosening them into the fenced land: Grime and rust specked the piping and ancient railing on which the rain began its song. His window was stained like every other in the building, but it only gave the grey drops of rain an even more lifeless pale. Their tune was similar to every other storm’s, but still rattled the ceiling of his top floor enough to breathe a life into the morning. The number of people trailed off, their splashing footsteps finding a wooden door to escape into until only a few were left: The younger ones who still had a beat to their heart rushing to work in blue and khaki. They stuck out like sore thumbs on Marksten Street, but that wouldn’t last too long. It rarely did here.
He stretched and pulled his tired eyelids taut, trying to remember why he thought waking so early might have been a good idea. Most mornings he barely turned over at six, but he had wanted to watch the middle-aged collars siphoning in and out of the unmarked office across the street, he supposed. It had been far more of a happening than an intention, at least. His hands absent-mindedly pulled the chair out from under him as he returned it to the table that sat in a cramped corner of his tiny room. Less than a foot from where he stood in the middle of his room, his old dark blue and grey bed was tidily tucked behind a dresser that barely fit between the wall and the board of his bed. His untrained eyes figured the room to be a claustrophobic ten foot by ten foot room, a measure that would be identical in every of the other forty-nine rooms. Each floor above the first “business floor” had been built into hallways between these small cubicles to ensure as many people could be give a room as possible.
But he tried not to think about the confining walls around him, the stairwells that were locked each night and the tall wrought-iron gate that kept the children in line. Ten years of dressing in the same motley gray uniform and the same formal haircut didn’t mean he had come to accept it. He scratched his split lip gently and looked out the window again, desperately trying to conceive exactly how long until the bell would ring. It had to be close enough to seven by now. Everyone was already sitting at their desks, unfolding “important” documents that just said the same thing as every other one in the end for the next lost day. He belly-flopped onto his bed, smirking at the screech of rusted springs and hoping the sound woke someone else, maybe even a Miss so she could come yell at him. Nah. He wouldn’t be so lucky.
There was so little time separating him from those seven rings of freedom, that he had an eternity. He’d be out the door before anyone else, and if the gate had not been unlocked, he knew he’d just jump it. A pen was already twirling in his pale fingers and his distressed messenger bag was loosely wrapped over his neck. He just had to wait. One of them would soon pass by, unlocking the doors with a familiar click as they expected him to sit and wait. Just wait.
He bit at his lip, pulling the skin open again as a salty taste filled his mouth. If they caught him outside his room before seven, he’d be going nowhere for a week, perhaps weeks. The only logical thing to do was stay inside and wait for the old bell. It wouldn’t do him any harm. But it was something about the taste of following the every-day routine that had decided to bite him more than usual: His heart twitched at the thought of sneaking out and he smirked. If anyone had been there to see it, they might have known precisely what he was up to, and he knew it.
His shoes barely touched the hard wooden flooring as he walked on his balls to the door adrenaline coursing through his veins. Sunlight cast his creeping shadow against the dark wooden door in a way that made his hair look even more out of control than it actually was, and his smirk persisted. The shadow was closer to the person than his own face. His hand encased the doorknob and he closed his eyes, focusing on a single movement as he had found worked. With a slight tapping of his fingers against the metal knob, he heard the familiar sound of the lock disengaging and he slipped out of the barely ajar door to the empty hallway. He worked his will again, dancing his fingertips on the door and nobody would know he had slipped out early.
It was still and the windowless hallway was darker than underneath his bed where formless monsters hid, but it gave him less of an issue than it might have to others. He was accustomed to poor lighting, having spent many nights in the pitch black of his room and his feet found their way easily. With a slight tip-toe he was pulling open the door to the stairwell that had been locked and would be locked again for anyone else. His ears pricked up at every creaking, knowing at any moment someone might start to make their rounds unlocking doors, but he heard little more than a slight tap as he started down the stairs.
His mind twisted inside the captivity of the situation at hand, dancing in joy at the idea of breathing the fresh air a morning rain left. He anxiously slipped his hand up and down the strap of his bag as his feet found their meticulous way, taking each step in its slow stride. The door to bottom floor came into view and he smirked again, wider and more maniac than the ones before. His lithe fingers frantically grabbed the handle and lock fell back just as he heard voices. He stood rooted to the spot for a moment, his mind pulling every possible idea to fix his gross mistake. If he had been just a little more careful, stayed in his room, used his brain a bit more, he wouldn’t be stuck here. The stairs were too long and a voice was drawing near too fast.
He pressed his back against the wall and cursed softly under his breath. Nothing left to do but hold his breath as the handle turned.
“No need for that, Mrs. Waire, you seem to have unlocked it just as I walked in.”
“Ah, did I? Must have been trying for an early start this morning. The keys are right there, you won’t have to look at all. Just remember: He’s a bit special.”
The door swung open and a tall figure stepped in just enough to shut the door behind him. The man was strange, for Marksten anyhow: His dark jacket was long enough to be a trench-coat but flared with an odd twist, almost like a robe; His face was young and had a vibrant tan, the opposite of most middle-aged pale lines that walked into the orphanage. And the man’s eyes were a bright green staring directly at him, albeit cocked at a strange angle.
The door shut behind him, and his lips pulled back to reveal a sharp smile of pointy teeth. He reciprocated it with a sheepish smile trying to figure out if he would call Mrs. Waire back or try to deal with a kid out of bed himself.
“Well, you’re a bit special after-all. Should have been expected.” He whispered under his breath, still smiling and reached out grasp his shoulder in a firm grip. “I trust you are Felix after all?”
“Well…” He lost his voice and pulled back a little, shrugging from underneath his hold which was easily relinquished and spoke in dull tones. “Yeah, Felix Wistar, Mr…?”
“Livingstone. I trust you were taking a few extra minutes of your day outside?” Felix nodded and squinted suspiciously at him. This would be the moment that made his heart pound in his throat.
“Are you going to turn me in?”
He laughed a bit louder than Felix might have expected, even though the man had only smiled through the entire conversation. “No, that would be slightly hypocritical of me. You have only saved me a walk up the stairs. We need to talk.”
There wasn’t a reason to doubt him, he seemed an honest enough person on the superficial terms and Felix couldn’t pick up any signs of deception. The gears turned with a ratcheting sound that he knew the man could hear, the green eyes flickering across his face. Mrs. Waire had apparently approved of his being here, and the strict procedures of the orphanage were enough to assure him the man was harmless. Not that he couldn’t handle himself against whatever this man could offer. “Sounds like a plan-- I think we’re doing it now, by the way.”
Livingstone chuckled and clapped the boy’s shoulder, gently guiding him out of the corner and out the door as he locked the door behind the two of them. “Ah, at least you haven’t fallen short in the family’s talent of snide comments.”
It was a short walk to the front door, over cracking stone flooring and past doors leading to offices and rooms for examinations. He was happy to see the doors pass and open as they stepped outside, even though it might have been slightly different from his original plans.
“Do you remember me, Felix?” Livingstone kicked a small stone off the sidewalk leading to the gate and paused as he held his hand on the rusted latch. “I can’t blame you if you don’t.”
The question threw Felix’s brain in a tailspin. Not a bone in his body doubted he wouldn’t recognize this man if he had ever been on Marksten street before, but it seemed rather sinister to assume they had passed one Saturday afternoon. Nobody younger than a comfortable forty had ever been to see him, and Livingstone seemed to be a sprightly late twenty. “No, I can’t say I have, Mr. Livingstone.”
He threw the latch back and they stepped over the threshold with a noted relief as they left the draining grasp of the orphanage. A small clang churned the air as it shut behind them, already on their way down the street. “Fair enough. I was hoping I might have something to build off, but it seems I’ll have to completely reintroduce myself.”
“You introduced yourself to me before?” Felix was stunned and his legs kept walking forward on instinct. He must have been young, before the Wickerwhere orphanage had claimed him. He must have known his parents.
“Well, yes. A lot of us did.” Felix stared at Livingstone and saw a slight grimace taint his otherwise cheerful features. “A long story. Fancy a bite for breakfast? Or are you trying to starve yourself?” Livingstone crossed the street without looking back for Felix, his eyes set on a small flicker of color on one of the transitioning streets from bustling London to his street.
“They really do have fantastic omelets there, Mr. Livingstone. Best in the area.” Felix ran to catch up to him, eyes looking sideways on an empty street. Far in front of them, small cars chased each other back and forth, completely oblivious to the two pedestrians. “Not to say it has much competition.”
Livingstone glanced sideways at Felix and smirked in a way that gave Felix the impression of a mirror. “And you just find that amusing, eh?”
Felix smiled and shoved his hand into his pack, searching for his wallet. The least he could do for his hospitality was pay for his own tab. As Felix jammed it into his back pocket, however, Livingstone caught the slight movements of his hand. “I can pay for both, you know.”
Livingstone caught him off-guard, and he could almost hear the offense that Livingstone thought he was incriminating his success. Perhaps this was not the best idea. “Of course, I just thought you have been nice enough not turning me into the orphanage, I mean, it’s not that I thought you couldn’t.”
He laughed again and tapped Felix’s back as he held the door open to the small café, smiling as they both took a deep breath of spices. “Relax, Felix. I need to explain enough that you don’t need to offer help.”
Felix led the way to a small table, looking over his shoulder for one of the waiters as he arranged his things underneath his chair. The menu was a single sheet, which Livingstone barely looked interested in, instead scanning the almost empty room. Two tables were full in the back, on the other side of the bar and a small half-wall to make things “cozier.”
“Do you need this?” Livingstone touched the menu and stacked it on his at Felix’s shake of the head and placed them at the edge of the table.
“Well,” Livingstone cracked his knuckles and took a deep breath. “You can stop calling me Mr. Livingstone and just call me Caden. I’ve never been one for too many formalities. I’m what you could call an old family friend. I knew your parents, both of them, from when I was still in school. Funnily enough, we all went to the same school.”
He stopped for a moment to tilt his head at Felix, who had a silent stunned look. He barely knew his parents’ names, let alone where they had gone to school, but Livingstone—Caden had a look of expectation on his face.
“You don’t remember a thing.” Caden leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his short but still messy blonde hair. There was frustration, which he could understand. An odd sensation sat at the pit of his stomach, waiting to erupt at first prodding. “Your father and mother, Timo and Dalinda, were special, Felix. Special in a way you already know about. Don’t shake your head at me, I know there’s only one way you could have gotten out of your room. I’ve seen those locks, Felix, you can’t lie to me.
“It’s an inheritance, passed down through families. There’s not much your parents could leave for you, but they did manage to give you one of the best gifts imaginable: You wouldn’t quite like having stunted powers. And there’s a place that people with these inherited traits go to help sculpt and train them. Unlocking doors is one of the smallest things it can do.”
The feeling in his stomach seemed to have incubated a twin in his mind, inducing a reverie on the man’s every word. He was lying. Was he? No. He knew about him. Did he? Bluffing? “The school…?”
“Ah! There we go! You’re catching up! A bit behind the family standards, but sharp enough.” Caden winked jokingly and nodded his head towards a lady walking towards them, her nose buried in her pad. Her dark hair was a mess, frizzy from the cooking in the back and sweat glistened at the edges of her uniform. She looked rather bedraggled and even her grimy nametag was skewed almost vertically. “I’ll have what this fine young man is having, Miss.”
Felix tripped over his words for a moment, fumbling with the menus as he handed them to her and smiled. “Just a –uh omelet and a slice of the house’s toast.”
She looked up from her legal pad and cocked her eyebrows at him, coughing from tar-ridden lungs and began to croak. “What’ll you have to drink, love?”
It was one of the most dispassionate “love”s he’d ever heard, and he’d heard more than his stomach could take. “Just a water for the two of us, please, Annie.” Felix smiled appreciatively, an act that was returned with a short curving of her bottom lip. She buried herself in her pad again, apparently re-thinking their orders for them and Caden waited until her red checkered uniform slipped behind the bar again.
“I don’t know how much you’ve…Experimented with your gift, but I know you haven’t tapped into your true potential. I mean, you don’t even have a wand yet, but you wouldn’t know what that might be. What else do you do?” Caden leaned back and looked expectantly at a slightly shell-shocked Felix.
He’s asking me a question. “Oh, right…Um…What precisely is it?”
“Oh, that’s a good question.” Caden smiled again, and stretched his back against the chair. “It’s complicated. I can’t even truly understand the damn thing, but if you want a crude analysis of superficial terms, I’m your guy: Generally anything you can’t understand. Things moving without your “normal” influence. Things changing. Inconsistencies with happenings around you. You’ll know it when you see it. Just like magic, Felix.” Caden twirled his fingers in the air like fireworks and nodded his head slowly.
Felix stared at him. There was an electrical disconnect in his mechanical brain. He already knew this, why was he acting like this? Where did he knew this from? No, he knew what he knew from where he knew it. No, now he was talking in circles to himself. Isn’t this what he had done years ago? He should have known something like this was imminent. Caden took his silence for disbelief.
“Here, let me show you.” Caden twisted his chair around and motioned Felix to do the same, which he happily did, and began twisting his fingers again. A pocket, only a few inches wide, flew open without his fingers ever touching it and a small piece of parchment began to fight its way out. The yellowing paper spun through the air until it met a sliding end against Felix’s hand.
For a moment he wasn’t sure what happened, until his brain caught up with his eyes. He picked the letter up with strangely nimble fingers and found small, curving letters inked onto the front of it.
Felix Dagian Wistar
He turned the letter, staring at the small, red wax crest holding the envelope shut. The sensations began to spread through his mind, dully eating away at his stomach and thoughts. It was an odd sense of anxiety, but he wasn’t even sure about what yet. That was a lie. He knew it had to do his gift. It must be the school. Or something more sinister? Which led to another question: Would he ever stop being so cynical of simple actions?
Caden’s head peeked around the corner and gave him a slight nod: Permission to open the letter. He didn’t need told twice. He pulled out two sheets of paper, both yellow like the envelope and covered in the same writing.
You have been accepted to Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and by reading this letter it means you have been located by the wizarding world. As you have grown farther than detached from our world, you may require some assistance in all respects, which my dear friend, and hopefully soon to be yours, Caden Livingstone will help in any way possible. Your arrival is anticipated on August 25th, while any later date is strained.
Enclosed also in this letter is the standard list of materials needed for first years. Livingstone will help you in these regards as well.
Headmaster of Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardy.
A long list carried on both sides of the other sheet, which had far too many dashes and lines for Felix’s fried brain to comprehend. He placed the papers down carefully, as if they might explode at a single drop of the feather. He looked at Caden. Caden smiled back at him.
“I can make things move.”
“Sorry?” Caden leaned over the table, his smile disappearing for a moment. “I didn’t quite understand that.”
“You asked what else I could do. I can make things move: Make them disappear.” Felix blinked awkwardly and scratched the back of his head, instantly apologetic for being so melancholy about it all. “I did sort of know when I was younger, you know. If I got mad and thought about something, it happened: Even if it meant a toaster oven flying through the window. I just tend to open more doors now, I guess. Tamed down a bit in my old age.”
“That’s what I’m talking about! Sprucing up to look more like a Wistar by the moment.” Caden drummed a quick tune on the table and jumped to his feet, holding his hand out to Felix. “Now that we’ve got the slow part over, if you’ll hand me the list we can get moving. They’ll expect us at the castle by the afternoon.”
“But we haven’t had our breakfast?” Felix put the addressed part of the letter in the envelope again, carefully keeping the seal whole and handed Caden the list. He shoved them in his pack as he rose, watching Caden skim through the list with an incredulous face.
“Haven’t we? Oh dear, no. Are you particularly hungry?” Caden looked him up and down with an examining eye that reminded him of doctors tapping the knees on another wasted patient.
“No, I guess not. I think action and foreign schools of magic tends to do that to a person, really.” Felix strapped the hook on his bag, ensuring his things wouldn’t spill out. “How do, err, wizards travel then?”
“By flick of the eye or broom, generally, but I know a pub down the street that will allow us to get to Diagon Alley for all your needs. It’s just across from your former home, actually.”
“Former? Wait, you mean that office sitting right across from the orphanage? There aren’t any wizards in there, Caden, just under-paid paper-pushers.” A burning sensation tore inside Felix’s nose, but he ignored it. Was this all a joke? Or was Caden, a wizard, wrong? He had a gift, powers, magic how could he be wrong about this?
“Don’t worry about it, Felix. We tend to do that as a way of making sure we can get where we want but still ensure muggles don’t know what we’re doing and where.” Caden tucked the list back into his pocket and started towards the door, egging Felix on with him.
“Muggles being normal people? People who don’t have magic?” Felix held the door for him in turn, and the two of them bustled down the street, carving into the open air.
“Oh, I knew you weren’t as slow as you looked. Sometimes, if you’re in pretentious company, you’ll call them “non-magical folk” but that tends to be rare. With muggles thinking we don’t exist and all, I don’t think relations are all too important.” Caden stopped and pointed to an all-too familiar fence. “Need anything?”
Felix shook his head and bit his lip. His fingers trailed over his bag again, fondly brushing an old memory in one of the pockets.
He sobered up and looked Felix in the eyes. “You won’t be coming back. Only the kids will remember you, and kids rarely help anything in terms of breaking into a place.”
“No. I carry everything I need with me.” Felix shook his head to re-re-emphasize his point and they trudged on another few years until the steps to the “office” were directly in front of them. Small letters became visible above the entry-way on the bricks.
Marksten, Dullet: Floo Powder Network
“In that case I believe the term is: Onward ho’!” Caden pulled the door open and zipped in behind Felix, his trench-coat robe flying in the wind like the blazing fire he was.
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