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Chapter 11 : Muggle Magic
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ISOBEL was humming to herself, hovering over the bubbling stock-pot. Nothing compares, nothing compares, she sang, stirring the cabbagey slop. Nothing compares to soup!
After months on end picking the most edible components out of the heavy Hogwarts fare, Isobel relished having access to a kitchen again, and control over what and when she ate. She’d spent several of the last days labouring over intricate meals for her family. It usually took most of the late afternoon and early evening to artfully pare, fillet, dice, and soutee, but Isobel never joined her parents in the dinner she cooked. Instead, she chose to slurp a supper of anemic-looking cabbage soup night after night.
Florence and Ahmad were each taking half-days off work, under the pretense of spending time with their daughters. Isobel's sister, Iman was staying at home in Godric’s Hollow and apparating to St. Mungo’s for her internship. Even Isobel’s Great Uncle, Elphias, spent a few days at the Doge-Mostafa house. They all said a lot about ‘family’ and ‘the holidays.’ In reality, Laurel’s hex-out hadn’t reflected well on Isobel, and they were keeping an eye on her.
“There are about a thousand students at Hogwarts--she could have been using rec magic with any one of them!” Isobel lied angrily. “All those N.E.W.T. students are hexed out their heads on study spells! Why don’t you go ask one of them how they feel and stop accusing me?”
The worst thing for Isobel was finding the time to smoke, with the eyes of her family trained so hawkishly on her comings and goings. By and large, the most effective and least suspicious cover she’d found was smoking while running a shower--but she could hardly take four showers a day.
“Oh, these socks are Laurel’s. I think she’ll be wanting them--best go bring them round to her mum,” that was worth at least one good cigarette.
“I need a different type of cream for the bechamel sauce, I’d better dash down the shops,” could be enough time for nearly three.
Otherwise, it was nice enough having some family around. Isobel loved Elphias, he was an interesting and jovial old wizard, not unlike his best friend, Albus Dumbledore. Isobel wondered vaguely whether the Headmaster was gay, and if he’d ever had a thing with her uncle. Elphias was gay, and something about the way he talked about the 'old days' made her think there might have been something there.
Isobel’s father had also invited Laurel’s mum to join them Christmas Eve, but Betty had turned down the offer. Isobel was privately relieved, since she wasn’t sure how she’d face Ms. Braithwaite after Laurel’s hex-out. Despite the stories she made up about returning socks, Isobel hadn’t seen Laurel’s mum since the summer.
Finally, Isobel’s father agreed to take her up north to Emily’s house using side-along apparition. It had taken many long interrogations, and much negotiation, but in the end, Isobel had won furlough through New Years day.
Early on the Friday after Christmas, Isobel sat at the kitchen table reading The Prophet over coffee, waiting for her dad to get ready.
“Morning, Izzy,” called her mum, gliding into the room. “Have they printed anything else about that break in at Gringotts? Last I heard, the investigation was considering it might be an inside job. Can’t imagine a goblin would ever rob the place, though.” Isobel’s mother worked in the Goblin Liaison office and knew quite a bit about them. Isobel scanned the paper for updates, but it seemed like The Prophet had gotten tired of the story. Instead, there was a long piece about Myron Wagtail’s sordid personal life (“Weird Sisters Womanizer Back on the Brew. Circe Says: It’s Me or the Potions.”)
“Florence, have you seen my glasses?” called Isobel’s father from the stairwell.
“Bedside table,” she called back, pouring egg whites into a skillet. “And tell Iman breakfast is nearly on.”
The eggs and fruit salad were nearly done when Isobel’s father eventually reappeared in the kitchen, dressed in muggle clothes and ready to go. Isobel jumped up at once, grabbing her overnight bag from beside the table.
“Oh Ahmad, do stay for breakfast,” entreated Florence. “And Izzy, honey, you can’t just eat cabbage soup every night, iare you certain you're getting enough protein?”
“Yes mother,” Isobel sighed.
“I know your OWL year can be stressful. It hasn’t been getting to you too much, has it?” asked Florence, the worried parental gleam returning to her eyes.
“I’m fine,” insisted Isobel.
“They’ll have food in Scotland, I’m sure,” Ahmad told his wife. “I’m glad to see you exercising honey,” Ahmad said, leaning in to kiss Isobel on her annoyed forehead. “But your mother’s right, it’s unhealthy to lose too much weight too quickly.”
Isobel scowled. When when she'd been twelve and thirteen, her parents had frequently offered thinly veiled hints that their rapidly developing daughter might do well to 'tone up.' The hypocrisy stung like a doxie bite.
Finally, Isobel and her father were permitted to disapparate. Within an uncomfortable second, they popped into Emily’s front yard so many miles north of Godric's Hollow. The whole Madley family had been outside awaiting their arrival, and burst into applause when Isobel and her father appeared from thin air.
“Well that is incredible,” remarked Emily’s father, striding up to them and taking Ahmad’s hand. “Jim Madley, Emily’s dad.”
Isobel noted that he had long hair for a muggle, and a wizardly looking beard as well.
“You must be Isobel, heard so much about you,” Jim said, shaking Isobel’s hand vigorously.
“Hello Isobel, dear,” said Emily’s mum, brightly, as she took Isobel up in a warm hug. They’d met a few times at King’s cross.
“Levinia, hello,” said Ahmad, taking her hand.
“Pleasure to see you again,” she replied warmly.
Emily’s parents were English, and apparently her mother originally came from some sort of important muggle family, but Emily had never met her maternal grandparents.
Isobel hugged Emily enthusiastically while the adults made their niceties. Laura and Eli, Emily’s younger siblings, jumped excitedly around Isobel’s legs.
“All right Isobel,” said Emily’s older brother, with a nod.
He was bloody gorgeous, and looked very much the boy version of Emily—he too had long hair.
“Lucas, yeah?” replied Isobel, and the handsome older boy took her in a one armed hug.
The group then tramped into the little house where the adults set themselves down in the sitting room. Lucas distracted the children in the yard while Emily gave Isobel a tour. There were a number of crystals, and a great deal of Buddhist art decorating every room.
Emily’s home was more of a compound than a house. They had a great stretch of land where they grew their own food, and there were several clusters of structures committed to muggle things that they couldn’t do without magic. Emily explained how everything worked, and how it was meant to be ‘environmental,’ which was an issue that didn’t matter to wizards since they were already ‘environmental.’
Emily lead Isobel up to a loft above a barn where they kept the chickens in the winter so the two could share a fag.
“Your brother’s fit,” commented Isobel.
“Trust me, he knows,” said Emily. “Oh, by the way,” she said, pushing aside a sack of feed. “Lucas came through with the shake.”
True to her word, Emily dislodged a massive bag of marijuana.
“Why are you hiding it?” asked Isobel. “I thought your parents were ok with us baking it?”
“Oh, they are,” replied Emily. “But Lucas thought it best they don’t see how much we’re using.”
“How is it that he can grow so much? I thought you said weed was illegal for muggles,” wondered Isobel.
“It’s easy to do in the states,” answered Emily. “He works on a farm in California, and he’s trying to make it legal to grow for sick people.”
Isobel marveled at the idea of a whole weed farm.
“Fancy a spliff?” offered Emily. “I have some better stuff in my room, this is really just for baking.”
“After my dad leaves,” replied Isobel.
The two rejoined their parents in the sitting room, where Isobel’s father was explaining what he did for a living.
“It’s academia, really,” Ahmad said, taking a sip of tea.
“Comparative Magic, you say?” asked Jim, tentatively.
“Precisely. I look at the magical traditions of different cultures, see how it’s been done, and then use the information to integrate with western magical theory,” he went on.
“How exciting,” said Levinia.
“It can be,” agreed Ahmad. “Especially when one of my discoveries goes into practice. About five years back, Damocles Belby cited my own research into Aconite when he first synthesized the Wolfsbane potion. That might be my proudest accomplishment.”
Emily’s family looked impressed, even though they didn’t know a thing about werewolves.
“What were saying about Unspeakables?” asked Lucas, who was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed casually across his chest. It was difficult for Isobel not to look at him.
“The Department of Mysteries is kind of like the wizarding MI6,” explained Emily. “And Unspeakables are like the people who make magical James Bond gadgets.”
Whatever she’d said seemed to make sense to her family, who nodded along.
“What’s the trouble with them?” asked Jim.
“Well, they tend to interrupt my research,” said Ahmad. “They’ll show up unexpectedly and take all of my work with them, including my notes and samples, to use for some confidential project. Sometimes its years of research they take, and I’m never allowed to talk about it again. The worst thing is that I never know how it turns out.”
“Don’t they pay you?” asked Levinia, shocked.
“Oh they do, but not enough,” said Ahmad.
“Government tyranny even in the magical world,” chuckled Jim,
The Unspeakables had called the very first day Isobel had been back, in fact, taking with them all of her father’s notes on Spirit Walking as well as the draft of the paper he was just getting ready to submit for publishing. All they left him in return for his hard work was a few hundred galleons and a Non-Disclosure contract.
“Is there anything you’re working on now?” asked Jim. “I don’t mean to pry, if it’s confidential.”
“Not at all,” Ahmad assured him, sipping his tea. “I’m looking into Native American divination rituals at the moment. There’s a specific potion I’ve been researching, but I can’t tell yet if there’s anything to it. Not until I’m approved for testing, anyway.”
To Isobel’s great annoyance, Emily began fidgeting nervously. Thankfully, Emily’s parents decided to take Ahmad for his own tour of their compound, where he found their 'solar panels' just as fascinating as they had his stories about magic. The adults left Isobel, Emily, and Emily’s brother alone in the sitting room.
“What’s with the spasms, Em,” teased Lucas. “Know something about Mr. Mostafa’s magic potion you’d like to share with the class.”
“She’s just terrible at being sneaky,” Isobel said, play punching Emily.
Emily buried her red face in her hands.
“So, is it magic?” asked Lucas, leaning forward and causing his upper arms to bulge.
“She said it was like magic mushrooms,” offered Isobel.
“Sweet,” replied Lucas. “My kind of magic.”
That night they joined Lucas in a shack near the chicken coop that he’d set up as a bedroom for his visit. Isobel was having a hard time not using magic, and since they were in a muggle dwelling, she’d surely set off the alarm if she worked any spells underage.
“How do you muggles do it?” Isobel demanded, trying to locate the lighter she’d just had so she could relight her spliff. Her frustration prompted Lucas and Emily to wail with laughter.
“So, you were saying about Arithmancy,” Lucas reminded Isobel, leaning forward to light her spliff with a match.
“Right, it’s the study,” she inhaled deeply, and passed the spliff to Emily. “The study of numbers and their magical properties. Seven is the most powerful magical number, but it can be unstable. Twelve has to do with time, but also nature. Twelve months in a year, twelve hours in each half of the day, and so on.”
“Numbers are magic,” Lucas mused, leaning back and blowing a smoke ring. “I like that.”
Emily reached into the cooler beside Lucas’ bed and cracked herself another can of lager.
“Emily told me what happened to your friend. That she overdosed on magic, or something?” said Lucas, after a pause. “You lot weren’t messing around with that, were you?”
“Not since she hexed-out,” replied Emily, honestly. “And none of us ever did it as much as she did. Tristan came close, but he’s off all that now.”
Emily was asleep when Isobel crept out back for a fag some hours later. The highlands were beautiful and vast, and Isobel wondered what it must have been like to live somewhere so remote without the option of apparating. Technically, Emily’s house wasn’t that far from Hogwarts, but it was unique in its isolation.
Isobel had never spent much time around muggles before, but was starting to see what Tristan meant about their being magical in their own way. Isobel heard the door to Lucas’ shack creak open, and saw the cherry of his spliff bouncing as he approached her.
“All right,” he said, perching at the edge of the deck next to her chair.
“It’s really amazing up here,” she said, and took a drag of her roll-up.
“Yeah,” he replied, looking up at the wide open sky.
“What’s California like?” she asked. She knew from Tristan that it was where all the famous muggles lived.
“Mostly a lot of trees,” said Lucas. “I’m pretty far north, and the state is huge. Much bigger than England. In the south it’s all desert, and a lot of big cities like Los Angeles.”
“That’s the one with the famous people, right?” asked Isobel, and Lucas found the question hilarious.
“Yeah, it’s the one with all the famous people,” he said. “Where are you from?”
“Godric’s Hollow?” she responded, unsure if he’d ever heard of it.
He shook his head, so she went on.
“It’s an historic old village in the West Country, mixed muggles and wizards. It’s where Harry Potter is from, I dunno if you’ve heard of him?”
“He’s the one what killed that evil bloke when he was a baby?” confirmed Lucas, and it was Isobel’s turn to laugh.
“That’s about right,” she chuckled.
Isobel stubbed out her fag, and accepted the spliff Lucas offered.
“What’s the story there?” he asked.
“Well, he was about one when you-know-who—”
“Shhhh!” Isobel cut him off. “We never say the name.”
“Right, sorry,” he apologized.
“S’alright. I know it seems silly, but we take it pretty seriously. Anyway, you-know-who broke in and killed Harry’s parents, right, but when he went after Harry, the curse backfired and killed you-know-who instead. It’s a big deal, since no one’s ever survived a killing curse. Not ever. And little Harry only got scratched.”
“Wicked,” said Lucas. “So what made the little boy so special?”
“No one knows,” said Isobel. “I figure he must have some sort of strong magic though. He took down a full-grown mountain troll and rescued a little girl on Hallowe’en.”
Lucas began coughing violently.
“Wait, a troll?” he croaked, still coughing up smoke. “Emily hasn’t mentioned trolls. What about unicorns?”
“Uh-huh, we have those,” replied Isobel.
“Unbelievable,” he marveled. “Dragons?”
“Yup,” she said.
They spent a pleasant half hour with Lucas listing off magical creatures, and Isobel confirming or denying (mostly confirming) their existence. Isobel was well high after they finished off another spliff, and Lucas walked her the five steps to the back door.
Isobel woke up the next morning to the smell of breakfast. Emily was already sitting up on her side of the bed reading Slaughterhouse 5.
“I thought you’d finished that,” said Isobel, groggily.
“I’m reading it again, it’s brilliant,” said Emily. “Breakfast?” she asked, and Isobel nodded.
Emily pulled a pink dressing gown over her cloud pattern pajamas and stepped into a pair of slippers. She offered a robe to Isobel, who slipped it over her nightdress. The smell of cooking sausage got stronger as they descended the stairs.
“Mmmmmm,” said Emily, kissing her dad on the cheek.
“Sit down, girls, breakfast’s nearly on,” said Jim. “Levinia, will you go and wake your son?”
Isobel sat down next to Laura, who was staring at her, looking amazed.
“Hi Laura,” said Isobel, but Laura continued to stare silently.
“Laura, say hi to Isobel,” Emily chastised.
“I made a teapot explode,” Laura whispered. “Lucas wouldn’t let me have one of his special biscuits so I exploded it.”
“Oh,” replied Isobel, confused.
“And three weeks ago,” Laura’s voice grew quieter still. “Eli wouldn’t give me back my doll even though I asked nice, and then it was in my hand,” Laura confessed, almost inaudible.
“Wait,” said Isobel, catching on. “You got upset and a teapot exploded?” Isobel looked at Emily, who nodded excitedly. “Well, be careful you don’t blow anything else up.”
“Ok,” said Laura, solemn, finally tearing her eyes away from Isobel.
Eli, who was ten, clamored into the room and sat down noisily.
“My friend at school said witches are bad,” he informed Isobel while munching on a breakfast roll.
“Eli, remember we’re not supposed to talk about Emily’s school or witches outside of the house,” Levinia scolded.
“I didn’t!” cried Eli defensively. “It’s Michael said it.”
“Some witches are bad,” replied Emily, fairly. “Like any people, there are different kinds.”
“Green skin?” he asked.
“Do me or Isobel look green to you?” asked Emily, tickling her brother. He erupted in laughter.
“No,” he said, bringing his arms down tight and dodging her wiggling fingers.
“No. That’s right,” said Emily.
“Hags are kind of green,” Isobel told Eli. “Well, greenish.”
“How come?” he asked.
“I’m not sure, really,” replied Isobel.
“How do you become a hag?” asked Laura, looking terrified.
“You don’t become a hag, it’s like a separate species,” explained Emily.
“That’s probably what your friend was talking about when he said ‘witches,’” Isobel told Eli.
Levinia started loading serving dishes onto the table, telling them all to eat up. Isobel put a little bit of everything on her plate, not wanting to seem rude. Over the meal, Isobel explained all about unicorns and fairies, much to the delight of Laura, as well as dragons and vampires, which most interested Eli.
“I can’t believe you never told them about this!” Isobel said to Emily.
“It just never came up,” she replied, pouring herself more orange juice.
After breakfast, Levinia cleared the kitchen and took out the baking supplies for the girls, before sending the two younger children outside to play.
“So this is for your friend? The one who’s in hospital?” asked Levinia, checking that she wasn’t assisting anything untoward.
“Yeah,” replied Emily. “She got sick from a spell, and there are loads of painful side effects, but since she got sick from magic they aren’t supposed to use magic to help her, and she’s in a lot of pain.” Emily summarized the protocol that Isobel told her, leaving out the more grim details.
“Well I hope it helps some,” said Levinia, leaving them to their work.
Lucas came by and showed them how to render the butter. It was a complicated process whereby they boiled the butter with the shake, separated the leaves from the mixture, and removed the ‘chlorophyll,’ before ‘refrigerating’ the concoction--which took hours to get cold. It reminded Isobel forcibly of potions. At every step Lucas lectured about chemicals like ‘THC’ and structures called ‘trichomes.’ It wasn’t until after tea that they finally looked proudly upon their big block of highly potent butter. Isobel was rather proud of her muggle handiwork. When their work was done, they’d filled three old tins full with their special biscuits.
“No. No. No,” Emily said, grabbing her younger sister’s wrist.
Laura had snuck a finger into the bowl that Isobel was fixing to wash (without magic), and Emily had stopped Laura just in time before licking. Emily, who was crouching at her sister’s eye level, licked Laura’s finger off herself.
“Ewwwww,” cried Laura, wiping her hand off on her jumper.
“These are medicinal biscuits,” Emily scolded. “For sick people and grownups only.”
End Note 1: Myron Wagtail is the lead singer of the Weird Sisters.
End Note 2: "Nothing compares to soup" is a reference to Sinead O'Connor's cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U," which would have been on heavy rotation at the time of this story. Since Godric's Hollow is mixed muggle and wizard, Isobel would have heard it in the village.
End Note 3: Levinia Madley came from an upper class aristocratic family. In the late 60s, she became an ardent environmental activist and joined the hippie movement. She met Jim while following the Grateful Dead on their 1972 European tour. Levinia was disowned by her family shortly after becoming pregnant with Emily, and moved to the Highland’s with Jim to set up a small, sustainable, organic farm--mirroring the American 'back to the land' movement of that era.
End Note 4: In Order of the Phoenix, Slughorn mentions that he knew Marcus Belby’s uncle, Damocles--inventor of the Wolfsbane potion. It had to have been invented after the mid-1970s, because it wasn’t yet available when Lupin was at Hogwarts.
End Note 5: All rights to James Bond are not belong to me.
End Note 6: The "Cabbage Soup" diet was a very unhealthy crash diet popularized in the 1980s.
A/N: The validators have been on FIRE the last few days! I dunno if it's considered tacky to give a shout-out to them, but props where props are due! :)
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