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Livia: A Solace or An Heir by lkaz

Format: Novel
Chapters: 61
Word Count: 492,067
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Crossover, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Dumbledore, Snape, Bill, Molly, Neville
Pairings: OC/OC, Snape/OC

First Published: 06/18/2017
Last Chapter: 09/24/2017
Last Updated: 09/24/2017

Summary:
The books and film create a wonderful environment that is destroyed. What happens to it? How could a headmaster who cared about it leave it vulnerable? Why would he question his closeted ally, his Potions Master, if the latter loved one woman his whole life? Why would that man grasp at straws before enacting the plan that made him entirely trustworthy to their adversary, as if he could live some other life? These things could only make sense if you think that they would have nutured a Plan B to a prophecy from a questioned source. This is her story.


Chapter 1: A Humble Beginning
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Chapter 1: The Early Years

            She was called Livia, though she her birth certificate indicated her name as Olivia Mary Woodcock. At least that is all that she was told until she was about six years old. She lived in the quaint market town of Framlingham in Suffolk, sometimes called just “Fram” by locals. A picturesque, mostly quiet locale that had existed for centuries, most people knew of it owing to its intact castle exterior, which eventually became a notable tourist destination. The town’s long historical associations dated back to the Domesday Book commissioned by William the Conqueror. Castle inhabitants included members of the Plantagenet family and several dukes of Norfolk.  Even the St. Michael’s Church’s clock had a notable past, though Livia did not often think of Queen Victoria’s surgeon Sir Henry Thompson as its donor when she scurried past it to make her mother’s set supper time. As soon as she was old enough to walk, Livia liked to spend time outdoors near the castle alongside its Mere, a watery meadow where she daydreamed. At first she joined her brother but when older she would often venture there alone. When her brother could not go, birds kept her company. They flocked to her.

Her family lived in a Victorian-era dwelling constructed nearly adjacent to St. Michael’s, where Livia’s father served as rector. St. Michael’s essentially served as the town’s focal point, and few who lived in its vicinity did not know the reverend and/or members of his family. The Woodcocks celebrated Livia’s birthday on 4 September, but the first time Livia could truly remember it she found the celebration odd. She was only five but somewhere inside of her she had misgivings about the situation; she got the distinct notion that what took place somehow appeared as less than a real birthday, at least compared to everyone else in the household. Her mother, Emma, had never shown great enthusiasm for it. Sure, there was a cake and her father, Rev. James Woodcock, the rector, made sure she had at least one nice gift and her brother, Thomas, the eldest child, would make sure to tell a story that amused everyone. Tom, as everyone called him, endeavored to make the day most enjoyable, especially for her. He even reminded her of her birthday starting about a week beforehand – only later did she realize why he did so.  He continued reminding her like that for as long as both remained in Framlingham.

            Livia started to show an ability to understand the motivations and emotions of those around her, particularly her sisters Cathy and Lydia. Cathy usually appeared amiable that day, but something seemed, for a lack of a better word, un-sisterly. Cathy dutifully participated but generally held only a slight amount of enthusiasm. She behaved far more sincerely and acted more fondly towards Livia on Christmas. Perhaps the choir inspired her or it had to do with her instinct to it in the back of her mother’s 1970 Vauxhaul Viva with Livia, in order to prevent Lydia from trying to hurt her (the bonus of Lydia feeling special by being in front and saying nothing derogatory to Cathy was a great bonus). The younger sister, Lydia, the sister only a year older than Livia, held back a great deal of contempt for the day as with any other involving Livia – as if biding her time for the right moment, usually when her father attended to clerical duties without them or when they were away from the house and his oversight. Livia’s first attempt to peer inside a person’s mind involved trying to understand her sister’s emotions. On the surface, Lydia did everything her father might expect from her. Beneath that, she wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. A hateful sneer lay hidden beneath her polite well wishes. Only when Livia pointed this out to Tom did he note it as well. He marveled at Livia’s keen abilities of perception.

            Livia truly began to understand her sister once she formally enrolled at Sir Robert Hitcham’s Primary School, a small structure of only a few classrooms. Already at that school for a year, Lydia had amassed a number of female friends. As a group, they taunted Livia mercilessly, as if looking for the right button to push to make her cry, be it a physical or emotional trigger. To these girls, the prospect of making Livia cry became a challenge, but she never did. At recess behind the school, the bullying often became relentless and included a retort Livia never forgot. Lydia, usually sly about her behavior, had unwittingly allowed a teacher to witness her pushing Livia down onto the blacktop. This teacher reported the action to the headmaster after confronting Lydia with the fact of what she had witnessed and that it was particularly callous of her to lead a group in bullying her own sister. Lydia quite angrily told this teacher, “Why should I care about her? She’s not really my sister anyway!” Only because the headmaster spoke to Mrs. Woodcock versus her husband did Lydia escape serious punishment. Emma Woodcock merely reminded Lydia that her behavior was “unacceptable for a daughter of the parish rector,” and she warned Lydia that she would have to tell her father if it happened again. The school put Lydia and her friends in detention for a week and the other parents, when notified, took a harsher view of the incident than Mrs. Woodcock had. The only thing Mrs. Woodcock did was pay more attention to separating Lydia and Livia in her car, wherever possible.

Meantime, Lydia even resented that Mrs. Woodcock would give Livia clothes that Lydia could no longer wear owing to her growth. Lydia’s friends could tease Livia for lacking her own wardrobe, of course, but Livia never complained because she generally accepted or even liked how she looked in what she wore.  Lydia thought she could torment Livia but only because Lydia was jealous that Livia usually looked better in whatever she wore than Lydia ever had, regardless of how Livia or Mrs. Woodcock manipulated Livia’s long, loosely curled locks (Mrs. Woodcock preferred Livia have a hair bun straight out of a Jane Austen novel; it was the only time Mrs. Woodcock showed great interest in her). Lydia merely tried to exercise her own anger by acting it out on Livia. Livia knew it very early on but also figured there would be zero benefit in speaking the truth so she learned to show nothing and hide her own thoughts and feelings so adroitly that no one knew what they were other than Sarah and the crows she happened to encounter. A few teachers remarked how they had never seen so stoic a young student ever. The only time she showed any enthusiasm occurred when she saw her grades on an assignment or exam – which would have appeared as a slight flicker of satisfaction to anyone else. In Livia, any emotion stood out. A standardized school uniform eventually resolved the issue – at least at school – regarding Livia’s attire.

            Yet this small statement by Lydia to a teacher spoke volumes to Livia. She started to remember how Lydia constantly resented Livia having even the slightest interest in any of her toys, which helped Livia gravitate toward those Cathy possessed. Cathy tended to be at least more civil, and she more generously shared or simply gave them to her, if she felt she had grown indifferent to them. Cathy’s abiding love was her collection of stuffed animals. Livia played with them carefully and often was seen gently trying to clean them or dress them or groom them. Livia also ensured they were perfectly arranged on Cathy’s bed or on her dresser, depending on the time of day. Cathy may not have been a perfect sister, but she appreciated Livia’s care and believed Livia was less spoiled and more amiable than Lydia.

            Upon more reflection over Lydia’s remark, Livia realized that she did not greatly resemble anyone in the Woodcock family other than Tom. Both girls had blonde hair and brown eyes and when sunbathing in Brighton could become very tan, much like Mrs. Woodcock. Tom had dark brown hair and blue eyes, much like Rev. Woodcock, but both also could tan and had a more medium-white skin tone when not tanned, just a bit lighter than Cathy and Lydia. Livia was very pale and had very dark hair with pale blue eyes. If she did not wear heavy sunscreen, she would burn miserably, her skin would peel and she would return to her pale pallor very quickly. She had to remind her father to buy it, since Mrs. Woodcock often forgot to bring it, even though all the children would benefit from at least some sunscreen.

            The only member of the household to really dote on Livia was Tom. In turn, she was curious about his work at school. She always asked him questions, and he patiently would explain his homework or his lessons for that day. Tom oddly found himself to have a better grasp of his school subjects because Livia’s questions reinforced what he needed to know. And sometimes her queries led to Tom’s recognition of his own mistakes in his homework. In this fashion, Livia almost functioned as a tutor though she was five and he was already 11 and had started attending Framlingham College, a preparatory school that would serve him until he went to university. In fact, this arrangement had actually even begun before Livia set foot in a classroom herself. She knew the alphabet, she knew basic math and she could even print her name. Tom even steadied her hand so she could write her name since someone that young had great difficulty holding a pen.

            Perhaps her relationship with Tom was the reason why Cathy and Lydia especially took issue with her. But Livia sensed Lydia’s grievance went beyond that. Tom enjoyed a strong bond with Cathy but had very little relationship with Lydia. Tom even went so far as to criticize Lydia for her incivility to Livia. Lydia ignored him, however, as she tended to do. Since Mrs. Woodcock always doted on Lydia, even more than Cathy, Lydia felt no inclination to alter her behavior towards Livia. Lydia merely concealed her disdain around her father, since she knew he would view it rather dimly. As the rector, he would scarcely allow his congregates to treat anyone poorly, let alone a child under his own roof. But Mrs. Woodcock’s clear feelings limited his ability to reprimand Lydia; he also avoided getting in the middle of any family drama whenever he possibly could do so.

            Two other events stood out in Livia’s mind as to how vexed Lydia felt. Around the same time, a moggie female tabby with white pawed mittens appeared near the door where the family lived. The cat apparently had been taking shelter around or even inside the parish church for some time when she decided to try to get the family to let her in. Lydia enthusiastically wanted the cat, but actually liked to mistreat her. Indeed, Lydia chose the cat’s name: Sarah. Despite this, Lydia acted toward the cat as if the cat was a substitute for what she wanted to do to Livia. Once, towards the end of the fall that year, Lydia threw the cat against a wall, and the cat ran into Livia’s room. From that point on, Sarah was Livia’s cat, much to Lydia’s displeasure. Livia became Sarah’s protector and her friend. Only then did Livia actually discover that she could communicate with Sarah. Sarah also could recognize Livia’s voice as well as the snap of her fingers.

            Sarah did not mind her name, she liked Livia’s nickname Sairy, but she did not like Lydia at all. Livia and Sarah understood each other perfectly. Livia told Mrs. Woodcock what food to get for the cat, what kind of litter to buy and even if the cat required a veterinarian’s attention. No one could understand how Livia knew these things, given her age and given that no one should know these things. Mrs. Woodcock would have dismissed her recommendations entirely, had not Rev. Woodcock pointed out that there was no harm in trying what Livia suggested. Livia was never wrong, either, another point which greatly peeved Lydia. The rector tended to indulge whatever Livia said – at least according to Lydia. Rev. Woodcock found Livia credible, convincing and astute. He did not know why, though. Sometimes he wondered how she could be this and yet be so young, but he kept his thoughts on the subject to himself. He and Tom discussed it once, since Tom noticed the same thing and opted to ask if his father had noticed. He had.

Cathy, who had a stuffed toy cat herself, was delighted and greatly respected Livia’s concern for the cat’s well-being. Sarah sometimes slept among Cathy’s stuffed animals on school days, which would thrill Cathy when she came home early enough to see it. Cathy even got her father to photograph the scene, and it became a treasured picture as Cathy grew up. Cathy imagined working in a veterinary clinic.

Livia spent a great deal of time in her own room, especially if unable to wander the castle grounds and Lydia was around. Occasionally, she kept company with one of Cathy’s stuffed animals there or just with Sarah and the odd crow now and then. She found she could speak to them, also. Cathy was never upset about the borrowed animals because she typically only noticed how precisely lined up and well cared for they were in her room. She knew only Livia, rather than Mrs. Woodcock, would do this. This realization gave Cathy the idea to buy Livia stuffed animals for herself, usually ones Cathy herself did not own, like the first one she gave that Christmas, a bobcat. A wild feline, the bobcat only existed in North America, not England or anywhere in Europe. Finding one to buy for Christmas took some doing for a nine-year-old, but Rev. Woodcock thought it so great an idea when she told him about it that he helped Cathy locate one and have it sent to the rectory in time. The bobcat became very special to Livia, the only American possession she ever prized, especially given what she learned later. The fact that it somewhat resembled a brown tabby like Sarah only added to Livia’s gratitude for it.

Otherwise, Livia spent time in Tom’s room. She never made any friends at that point, in part because she loathed going to the local park where Lydia and her friends might be – or even to the town’s green by St. Michael’s. Furthermore, whether she attended Sir Robert Hitcham’s Primary School as a nursery charge, a  pre-school student or a first year student, the other children her age were not nearly as sentient as Livia was becoming or even vaguely interesting. Cathy rarely stayed home, playing with her own friends at their homes instead. Livia could not really tag along, but it did not matter. Tom was typically in his room once he got home, doing schoolwork. And Tom was grateful when Livia inquired about his work. Almost immediately, he perceived how valuable her questions were because he made the realization usually reserved for college tutors or graduate students – one truly masters a subject only when one begins teaching it.

Livia did not necessarily believe it helpful, but Tom did. He admired how smart she was even though she was so young. She seemed to know what to ask and when to ask it. Some of Tom’s friends teased him for being Livia’s tutor, openly questioning why he wanted to spend any time with a girl too young and ignorant to be anything other than a distraction and waste of his time. Tom did not see it that way, but he could not explain himself to their satisfaction. Livia almost seemed to understand what Tom needed to be asked and what Tom needed to know or be able to explain. She read his papers, she listened to his presentations and gave him feedback or asked for clarification. Ultimately, Tom even could show his friends how to do complex maths problems based on his interactions with Livia.

A few of Tom’s friends came over one day to witness Tom’s instruction of Livia for themselves, believing they could prove to him how mistaken he was. At first, they remained unconvinced, so he set up a game that essentially was like Hasbro's Trivial Pursuit where they could choose sides and answer questions about topics the boys had been taught or were being taught. It was Tom and Livia versus Tom’s friends Adam and John. The first time Tom and Livia won, Adam and John considered it a fluke or achieved entirely because Tom wrote the questions or was just smarter than both of them. But they played a number of times over the course of that year and Tom and Livia always won, even after Adam and John added questions to the bag. Livia requested Tom write down her questions, too. When Adam and John could not answer one she asked him to write, he proudly pointed out to them that she came up with the question that had stumped them. Still, Tom never revealed how much input Livia had; he always acted as if the two were consulting each other before Tom gave an answer. Adam and John thought it was merely a ruse, and Livia did not say much. Only Tom knew that Livia was a budding genius, and any test of her intellect would reveal a very high IQ. Late that school year, when he found what constituted a standard IQ test, he got her to complete it and calculated the result as being in the about 165, probably higher. In other words, trying to measure her intelligence was ridiculous. Tom took the test himself and got 142, which he considered fairly accurate. To him, it meant he was smart but not hugely so – just smart enough to recognize true brilliance, such as in Livia. When Tom eventually showed the results to Adam and John, they no longer doubted his claim that she assisted him with his schoolwork. They asked him what they should call his little female Einstein girlfriend. He simply said, “Her name is Livia. She is my sister.”

Tom wondered even before he tested her: How bright was she? What accounted for her being so bright? Should not his father look into the matter and have Livia skip at least one grade in school? Shortly before spring term began, Tom suggested it. Rev. Woodcock thought it best to keep the matter quiet. He was thinking about the future, including Tom’s future academic success, as well as what might happen if Livia was promoted either to Lydia’s grade or higher, since Lydia was at the same school. The only hope for Livia, Rev. Woodcock explained, would be to place Livia in a different school than Lydia. That could involve an expense the rest of the family would find objectionable, even if Lydia could think of it as “getting rid of” Livia.

“Surely, there must be some form of scholarship Livia could get,” Tom suggested. “Could she not attend Framlingham College with me?”

“That’s an idea – and you are probably right, Tom,” Rev. Woodcock answered. “But I daresay there might be obstacles given her background and I probably would have to deal with loud protests of various kinds unless she were to be boarded far away from the only home she’s ever known. I think that would be hard on her as well as you at this point. Perhaps when you finally leave home yourself it would be easier for her to do so, also. I think we need to wait, and I think we need to explain to her exactly from where she came first. I think this will be a hard needle to thread. Investing in her future could yield us all great benefits, but I scarcely think anyone other than Livia or ourselves will accept this point.”

“I think Livia already wonders about her background,” Tom said. “I do not think you can keep the truth from her for much longer. She already suspects something is amiss. She knows there is something behind Lydia’s disdain for her. But is she not your daughter, Dad, as far as the state goes?” Tom asked.

“That remains somewhat of an issue, Tom. The local council allowed me to essentially be her parent – but that could be only as a foster parent. I am not certain they assigned me full custody as an adoptive parent, though I should be allowed to make educational decisions, regardless.”

“Perhaps you should formalize this already, if it is not so. We have at least one solicitor among the congregation, do we not? You should ask him.”

“I should,” Rev. Woodcock said. “I know I would not be denied the request, but should the rest of the family know I am doing this, that I need to do this, it will not go down easy. Lydia will throw a tantrum, and your mother will likely want to do anything to please her. Why your mother indulges her so much has puzzled me constantly. Somehow, your mother thinks Lydia was cheated out of something, but Lydia has never wanted for anything. There is no sense in trying to reason with either of them. Either I try to do this in secret, which might be a problem if your mother has to sign any papers, or things must remain as they are. I will discreetly ask, but I wonder if letting the issue go is preferable – at least for now. It depends on if I can talk to the solicitor unnoticed.”

When Livia turned six, Lydia let it slip that the family celebrated what pet owners call a “Gotcha” day, much like Sarah, the cat Lydia wanted to like her, despite the abuse she continually dished out. Lydia said it with great disdain, as if Livia were nothing other than a pet, which to Lydia was practically like equating Livia with an inanimate object, like one of Cathy’s stuffed toys. Still, Lydia had no idea Livia could hear her, but Livia was not that far away and had acute hearing along with a number of emerging gifts that she could not fully explain. Livia knew things about people, she could converse with animals, particularly birds and mammals, and she found herself able to produce items like cat treats or birdseed just by thinking about them. She thought it had to do with the animals, but the power to do these things lay entirely within her. Livia had no idea what it meant, except that she had to keep these things entirely to herself, much like she knew Rev. Woodcock was withholding information from her. Livia knew no one else around her shared these abilities, and that they would frighten most people, including those within her own family. So she kept it all to herself, even from Tom. She had to be certain that Lydia, in particular, never knew because Lydia might find a way to use these things against her.

The only part Tom knew about was her ability to understand people, as if mindreading. He called her “the most naturally empathetic person he knew.” As Livia came to understand the psychic aspects of being called an empath, she accepted that specific word as the best description of her abilities. She had no exposure to any other word that so aptly captured what she was and what she could do. While it did not explain all of her emerging abilities – no empathy could create birdseed or cat treats in her closed fist from thought alone – it explained her abilities to penetrate the thoughts and feelings of people, birds (crows especially at that time) and mammals completely. She kept the word to herself for a long time, letting Tom’s more pedestrian use of “empathetic” stand uncontested. Thanks mostly to Lydia, she learned at a very young age the value of being circumspect, and it served her well for many years to come. Livia alone could decide what to reveal to someone and when to do it. Livia disciplined her mind – both thought and feeling – beginning at an age when some children could do nothing other than be entirely transparent and emotive. The contrast was stark and only made forming friendships with other children all the more difficult. She did not lack emotions; she saw no clear and safe outlet for most of these except to creatures who could not speak of them.

During what seemed to be Livia’s sixth birthday, she asked her father (as far as she knew) what a “Gotcha” day was. Rev. Woodcock furrowed his brow and wondered why she was asking. She said she heard Lydia refer to this day as such and had not referred to the cat. Rev. Woodcock finally admitted to himself that Tom was right: the time to tell Livia the whole story of her coming to Framlingham had come.

After her typical birthday celebration (as much as it was), Rev. Woodcock asked Livia to join him in his study, which seemed more like a library of religious materials. Volumes and stacks of various types of parchment or simple paper seemed everywhere. Livia realized that Rev. Woodcock took his own studies very seriously and that Tom had inherited the same work ethic. Indeed, Livia wondered if Rev. Woodcock often published anything based on what appeared to be extensive research material. While Livia examined the room, Tom stood in the doorway, realizing what was going to happen and insisting on being there. Rev. Woodcock considered the matter with some care, at first thinking that including him was a bad idea. He had only turned twelve weeks before on 6 July. Was he even ready for this? Would he upset her? He had not read the letter, either. He was only told about its contents. Finally, Rev. Woodcock relented and allowed Tom to come into the room. Tom had a role in the story, after all, and Tom probably wanted to say so himself. Really, Tom’s insistence on keeping Livia drove Rev. Woodcock to allay his wife’s concerns. Tom should probably see the letter as well.

Rev. Woodcock closed the door and asked both to sit. They sat next to each other, with Tom putting his hand on her shoulder. He acknowledged that Tom probably knew why he wanted to speak with Livia. Livia seemed prepared, too, oddly enough. Rev. Woodcock then produced a letter carefully preserved in an envelope addressed “To whom it may concern.” The writer, Rev. Woodcock explained, had pinned this letter to a blanket on a small basket that contained a nearly newborn child, a girl. “You must read this, Livia, if you can,” he said. “It is your story.”

“She can read it, I am certain,” Tom stated. “I doubt there are many difficult words in it. If there are, she will figure them out. Livia, please read it aloud – I never got the chance to read it for myself and I want to know what it says.”

Livia carefully read the typed, unsigned letter aloud, as Tom asked. It stated:

I leave you this young girl. I am not the birth mother. She is a young American friend I met in London while studying drama. She was about 20. She became with child over the winter break of 1971 and gave her family a story of her staying in England to do behind-the-scene stage work this summer, for the sake of concealing her situation from them. This girl was born on 28 August at about 1:45 am. I thought she had to be premature, but she looked perfect. I helped with the birth; there are no hospital records.

 

My friend started calling her Olivia after a famed actress (and perhaps in part for Lord Laurence Olivier). She had no plan of keeping the child, however. I cannot say why she had a child she never planned to keep or formally tried to place. She left that up to me and left the country. I am not old enough to care for this child or to know what to do, especially if I am to keep her mother’s identity a secret. I know very little of the father. He seemed to be on break from some school outside of London. He was no older than 20 and likely younger. She told me she saw a school gown somewhere in the small room he was staying in while on a break with some friends. This gown had a crest that was prominently green, I believe, as was a striped tie that went with the gown.

 

I met him once but never knew his name. The father had blond hair and a pale complexion; my friend had the same complexion but dark hair, like this child. My friend took a fancy to him once we met him and his friends while hitting the pubs around Carnaby Street. She told me that she had a specific motive, though I do not believe it related to having this child. I thought he had drugged her, but she said she feigned the effects of something for his benefit and kept a large portion of whatever it was. That’s the only motive I can imagine, though I do not understand why she did this. I know he never knew about this girl. She had no further contact with him and did not seek any.

 

I hope you can find a loving home for Olivia. She is a very pretty baby – she was born with all this dark hair and never seemed anything but pretty, cheerful and easy tempered. I drove through this part of England before and thought your town square and church seemed so idyllic, like she would have a real chance here to be loved and happy. I cannot tell you much else, not even my name. Godspeed to Olivia. Oddly enough, I think I feel more attached to her than my friend ever did. I daresay I will think about her more often and more fondly, though I only spent about a week with her.

 

The text explained so much but left so many new questions. Rev. Woodcock also showed Livia and Tom a few newspaper stories on the “found baby” and the rector’s decision to keep the child and raise her like his own.

Tom wanted to be there when Livia discovered this in case it upset her and to explain that he was the first person to find her by the entrance to St. Michael’s. He immediately found his Dad because he felt he should not try to pick the baby up, uncertain if he could carry her safely at age six. Rev. Woodcock made some inquiries, but rather than surrender the girl to a government agency, he requested that he be allowed to keep her. Her name was officially registered as Olivia Mary Woodcock, and though only Tom acknowledged 28 August as a special day then (countdown to her celebrated birthday or not) it was listed as her date of birth. The family chose to mark the anniversary of her arrival, 4 September, though Mrs. Woodcock was never remotely enthusiastic about adding a fourth child, especially given how young Lydia and Cathy were at that time. She agreed to it based on the ease of passing down clothes and on obtaining some childcare help via Sir Robert Hitcham’s nursery but, once she saw that Livia was a model baby, she felt after two years or so that extra help was no longer necessary. It was Lydia who had the “terrible twos” in the worst way, not Livia. Once Lydia turned three and Cathy began attending school along with Tom, Mrs. Woodcock could manage the children herself. She said so, anyway.

The differences between Livia and the Woodcock family seemed so more obvious at that point. Her heart-shaped little face, their more squared jaws, the emerging shape of her slightly turned-up nose, their straight, somewhat wide ones. Later, the contrast between Livia and Tom was a lot harder to see. Still, other points became clear, such as the origins of Tom’s gentle regard for her as if his own sister. He was protective of her from the second he saw her. He told her as much, and his insistence on not letting her go stiffened Rev. Woodcock’s resolve to keep her. “But who am I really?” Livia said, finally. “Do I have a father? Would he want to know me? What should I make of this?”

Rev. Woodcock tried to reassure her that he was her father, all she knew and all she needed to know. He further emphasized that God gave her to them for a reason. For Livia, he said it was entirely in her hands who she would be, no matter who gave her life or what happened to her, good or bad. Our choices, especially when put under extreme stress, show our true character, and we can only believe that those choices somehow coincide with God’s plan.

Tom had a different assessment. “I know who you are already,” he began. “You are a kind soul and a very intelligent, well-meaning and sensitive being. My sisters would do well if they but partly followed your example. Lydia, the wannabe queen, will probably never do so, but perhaps Cathy will more fully come round. You are very special and scarcely know how valuable you have been to me. I, for one, know I am a better student for you being here. I am proud to call you my sister, and I always will endeavor to make you proud of me. Always. Maybe that was part of God’s plan, Dad. I think so.”

“Possibly so, Tom. You show your own strong character by your concern and affection for your sister, Livia.”

“I cannot do otherwise,” Tom replied. “I am your son, sir. I know you are proud of me for this, among other things, and yet I doubt you are fully aware that we are both indebted to this girl, as well. I know I am. On that account alone, you should be.”

“Yes, I do agree with you. When you take your O-level exams, it would be nice if by then everyone else saw it, too. For now, I think only your friends really have any inkling. Of course, if they tell, half your class will be at our doorstep – we would have to open our own school.”

“Could they not give testimony as to why Livia should attend Framlingham College with me?” Tom asked.

“I doubt the school would readily accept the word of underage schoolboys, no matter what they have witnessed. Is anyone from the College in our congregation?”

“I think so.”

“Perhaps you can point out the right person to me. Did you tell me once you tested Livia’s IQ?” Rev. Woodcock asked

“I did. It was so high I am not sure I got an accurate number for her. But what I got was 165. Mine was only 142, which I can believe.”

“Really?” Livia asked. “You did not tell me any of this. What does that mean?”

“It means you are smarter than anyone in this room – or this house. And perhaps our entire congregation.” Tom replied. “I am only smart enough to recognize that the test did not greatly err regarding your score – or mine. I can recognize genius, but I am not really a genius myself.”

“Mensa would disagree with you, Tom,” Rev. Woodcock said. “I believe a score of 130 is considered genius.”

“Well, I can say I have academic talent,” Tom began, “But to say there’s no significant difference between myself and Livia dismisses my own experience. There IS a great difference – and I would be a fool to not notice it. I think the test shows I am not that.”

“Keep all of this to yourself, Livia – for now,” Rev. Woodcock said, turning toward her. “I need to find out what options I have. I am not certain you are formally adopted, despite the birth certificate’s obvious assertion of it. And this may or may not relate to your admission. In a way, if you are considered an orphan or technically a ward of the state, Framlingham College actually might be more inclined to admit you at little expense. I need to talk to people about your situation, quietly. Do not talk about this until these matters are settled.” Rev. Woodcock explained.

“I understand,” Livia said.

That line in itself made Rev. Woodcock almost shake his head in disbelief and contemplate the scene. She’s six and she understands? How long would it have taken me to say that? Tom’s IQ must be higher than my own, since he asks nothing either, whether for his own benefit or hers. At least Rev. Woodcock comprehended their affinity for each other – he was certain neither his wife nor his daughters possessed anything akin to their innate intelligence. Tom was truly his father’s son. Livia? Only God knew but Rev. Woodcock felt thankful he had at least enough ability and concern for her to help her – he just hoped it was enough.


Chapter 2: Last Years in Suffolk as a "Normal" Child
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            Livia began her second year at Sir Robert Hitchens School finding one new girl worth befriending. Her name was Farah Marie Hibbert; her family had just moved to the area. Her father had served in the British military while her mother was Malaysian. While Farah tried to tie her name to an emerging American actress then called Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the name and Farah’s light brown complexion easily revealed her roots, especially when tanned. A number of students saw her as decidedly different and subsequently either poked fun at her owing to this or marginalized her completely. Livia could not have disagreed more. Livia saw a gentle soul unable to easily adjust to her surroundings.

            Livia quickly befriended her and reassured her, confessing to the fact that the biggest bully in the school was her own alleged (adopted) sister. While Livia could not fully protect her, there was a kind of safety in being a twosome versus being entirely alone; the other girls, concerned about a repeat offense for bullying Livia, tended to ignore them when together. Farah agreed that being a pair helped, noting that few people said anything when she was with a parent or anyone other than her young brother, Daniel Ahmed, who had just turned three. Livia asked her at recess after knowing her about a week if she had ever spent time on the grounds of Framlingham Castle. Farah had not. “I used to go there with my brother but not as much lately, now that school has begun” Livia said. “Perhaps one day we can go there together.”

            Farah liked the idea, though she admitted to enjoying the swings at the local park quite fondly. “I do not get to go there much because the other girls seem to dislike me. But I might go there if you would join me.”

            Livia felt ambivalent about the idea. She knew Lydia and her friends would not treat Farah well and Livia would not be sufficient in curbing their behavior, if Lydia amassed enough girls, which she might accomplish away from school supervision. Yet she also realized how deeply Farah wanted to go. Farah told her that her brother often went to play in a sandbox there with a nanny. Since the nanny was a local and Daniel strongly resembled his father, they attended the park in peace. Livia tried to imagine a situation where they could both she and Farah could go and enjoy themselves without any interference. “Let me think about this, Farah,” Livia mused. “There has to be a way we can do this, without affecting your brother.”

            The teachers at the Robert Hitchens School started to really take notice of Livia’s academic talent. It manifested itself in several ways. First, they judged her writing as extraordinary for a young student. She seemed to pick up grammar and vocabulary quite easily, almost innately. Her skills in other areas also created a stir, like music, maths and local history. The teacher who spent the most time with her, Mrs. Harrison, a thin, gray-haired teacher approaching retirement age, decided to do an IQ test, not knowing at first that Livia’s brother Tom had already done one. When Livia saw the test, she alerted Mrs. Harrison to this fact and told her that Tom calculated the result as 165. Mrs. Harrison considered the matter, but thought another child administering the test likely rendered a skewed result, though how much she dared not guess. If anything, it just had to be too high. So Livia took the test again. This time Mrs. Harrison got a slightly different number: 172. She checked it and rechecked and thought Tom must have done a credible job, but she also barely could fathom that her scoring would produce an even higher number. Mrs. Harrison immediately brought the results to the headmaster, Mr. Lenihan, a genteel, distinguished man who never was seen at school without his crested academic robe.

            “Headmaster, you have to look at this. I can scarcely believe it myself. I cannot remember teaching a child with a score like this. What should we do with this girl?”

            Mr. Lenihan, a tall man of average build with salt and pepper hair, perused the paper and the scoring. “Well, I would have thought you had made a mistake except I do not see one here. This is remarkable. There are a number of things we can do – either promoting her early, giving her private instruction or referring her for schooling in a more advanced environment. Since my family attends St. Michael’s, I will speak with Rev. Woodcock about her. Surely we can do right by her one way or another.”

            Rev. Woodcock and Mr. Lenihan spoke in private after the following Sunday’s last service of the day. Rev. Woodcock confessed that his own observations of Livia confirmed what both Tom and Mrs. Harrison had found. “I must be quite blunt with you, sir,” Rev. Woodcock said. “I adopted Livia when she was left as a baby at the door of St. Michael’s. I cannot take any credit for her abilities, but I want to do right by them just the same as you. I have a problem, however. My youngest daughter, Lydia, who you know, greatly dislikes her, probably out of jealousy. Moreover, my wife dotes on Lydia and would never consent to anything that promotes Livia’s potential, as if it were a crime against Lydia. Whatever you do, you must do it quietly, so neither Lydia nor my wife make it an issue. I will agree to any proposal that can keep this problem in mind.”

            “Are you saying you cannot stand up to your wife?” Mr. Lenihan asked with genuine surprise.

            “I suppose it looks that way,” Rev. Woodcock replied. “My son Tom even suggested to me I try to get Livia into Framlingham College, but I am reluctant to fight this battle because I know how it will go. I could never spend any money on her without protest. It would not shock me if even Cathy sided against Livia for what will be deemed unmerited special treatment by Lydia. I am all for you tutoring Livia beyond the work expected of her at her age. For now, you and your faculty should only discuss Livia’s studies with me or with Livia. Livia realizes far more than any six year old should. Your faculty can attest to this, I daresay. Just ensure you never indicate anything unusual is taking place as far as Lydia and my wife are concerned. Make up any excuse that you can, even if it comes across as punishment.”

            “Well,” Mr. Lenihan began, “I guess you know all about the bullying Lydia has led against Livia, then?”

            “Actually, I do not know any specifics, but nothing you tell me will surprise me.”

            “The worst incident took place last year,” Mr. Lenihan revealed. “Lydia threw her down on the playground during a recess after she and her friends had been verbally taunting her for some time. Mrs. Harrison happened to see this one episode fully. A staff member rang up your wife, I believe. The involved kids all received detention for a week – it would have been longer, except we could not verify that other episodes had occurred. The other parents apparently came down hard on their girls, who do not seem to be helping or hindering Lydia’s desire to bully her because they do not want to be involved. I think one of them even has changed her mind about Livia owing to some falling out she had with Lydia. The remaining group likely found an easier student to bother, but Livia, to her credit, interferes with their efforts. Livia defends this new student, Farah Hibbert, and apprizes us about the bullying, more than she ever did anything to help herself.”

            “Interesting, but that’s so much like Livia. And of course my wife said nothing to me about what Lydia did,” Rev. Woodcock said. “Typical, also. Makes me wonder if anything Lydia does will ever warrant any serious discipline from her. From now on, please only talk to me about Livia or Lydia. Call my office number, not the rectory. If I do not curb Lydia’s behavior, I cannot imagine the harm she will cause nor to whom other than Livia she will direct it.”

            “Yes, we will do so, Rev. Woodcock. I will leave a note in their files and tell my staff. Perhaps we can consult the College and try to prepare Livia for examination to be taken by them when they open places for scholarship students. If we prepare her, she likely can transfer there after she turns 11. If they find anything akin to what we know, they should welcome her quite readily. I will inquire.”

            “Good.” Rev. Woodcock said. “That would probably help Tom, too. Even my wife could not deny that. Meantime, I need to look into some legal aspects of her adoption. I am unclear if I am a foster parent or the adoptive parent, though this should not matter regarding her education. Anyway, thank you and good day, sir.”

            Rev. Woodcock ultimately consulted a solicitor who guided him through the process of finalizing Livia’s adoption. He did so quietly; the small legal notice was entirely missed by Emma, Cathy or Lydia Woodcock – since they knew of no reason for reading those items. The borough’s approval drew little notice, either. Both Rev. Woodcock and Tom were relieved when the solicitor, a jovial auburn-haired stout man named Alan Wilson, delivered the news. Since Livia never knew of her uncertain status, neither Rev. Woodcock nor Tom told her. They merely enjoyed a quiet moment of satisfaction in Rev. Woodcock’s study. Then Tom asked, “Does this mean Livia will be coming to the College soon?”

            “I’m having her prepared for their examination at Sir Robert Hitchens, Tom,” Rev. Woodcock replied. “Mr. Lenihan told me they should have her well prepared to join you when she’s 11 and you hopefully will be preparing for university.”

            “It HAS to happen, Dad,” Tom stated. “Please. Livia deserves a chance to do something special. You have to see why already. She’s probably gone halfway through your library by now.”

            Livia noticed a change to her schedule soon after. She occasionally was pulled from a class for advanced assignments or tutoring and seemed to miss recess once a week, if not occasionally more than that. Since Lydia’s former friend, the slight blonde Avery, began being nicer, Livia took it upon herself to ask Avery to watch over Farah when Livia could not. Livia also told those who generally supervised recess to make sure Farah was safe. These two actions usually proved effective, but Livia always asked Farah about her absences, to be sure. Not fully satisfied with Farah’s answers, Livia took to conversing with a few local crows, who had a nest nearby and often perched there. On days when Livia was absent, they began sitting atop the school’s swing. One even directed a poop shoot on Lydia one early uncommonly warm November afternoon. After that day, none of the other girls ever bothered Farah on the swings. One even mistook them as one of Edgar Allen Poe’s fearsome ravens. Farah express great surprise to Livia that the crows never bothered her but had taken on the bullies, especially Lydia, and had kept her safe.

“Glad to hear it, Farah,” Livia said. “Crows are very smart. If ever Lydia was cruel to one, they would all know her, and all would treat her badly. They somehow recognize people. They are much smarter than most people know. They could see your suffering as akin to theirs.” She dare not tell Farah the crows watched over her at Livia’s request. It was too dangerous, Livia decided, so she preferred Farah think that the crows did it on their own.

Tom had some free time during the fall break and, with his friend Adam, accompanied Livia and Farah to the castle’s grounds. Livia just lay on the ground taking in the scene while Tom and Adam showed Farah how to skip stones on the Mere. Later, Farah got down beside her. “This is peaceful and rather fun. Your brother and his friend are both very nice. I see why you like it here. We definitely should do this again. I still want to enjoy the playground, though.”

“I doubt Tom or Adam would join us there. I think both have other things they prefer and like to think of themselves as too ‘mature’ to like that playground. I do not want to disappoint you, but that playground has always been Lydia’s base. Your brother is lucky to have escaped her attention, though your nanny surely would put her in her place if she were foolish enough to pick on him. If you went there, you would need the nanny, too.”

Fortunately for Livia and Farah, Lydia’s mother decided the time had come for Lydia to take piano lessons at home. Emma Woodcock had given up on Cathy learning after Cathy found reasons to avoid them by going to friends’s homes instead. Cathy did almost everything somewhere else, other than a few dinners a week at home. Thwarted in her efforts to mold Cathy into an accomplished, sedate figure Jane Austen might recognize, Emma turned to Lydia and decided this sort of disciplined teaching would make her more of a proper young lady, rather than a bully who could embarrass her father. It was only on Wednesday afternoons, though, but it gave Livia an opportunity to join Farah at the park and even meet her little brother, who had dark blond hair and blue eyes. Other girls at first considered starting something but they lacked their ringleader. Given the Hibbert’s nanny and the presence of a single observing crow, the other girls resumed their usual activities and left Livia and Farah in peace.

This pattern of Livia’s studies, sharing time with Farah on the castle grounds or Wednesdays in the playground continued for some time without incident. Soon after Livia turned eight, Lydia found a new way to humiliate the sister she never wanted. Lydia had some friends over and all were in her room. Rev. Woodcock and Tom were still not home yet, Cathy was at a friend’s house and Mrs. Woodcock was preparing dinner. Just before they had entered Lydia’s room, they caught sight of Sarah the cat sleeping in Cathy’s room and a friend, Celia, carried the cat into Lydia’s room. The cat hissed and snarled, which alerted Livia, who had just gotten in herself. She ran upstairs and saw Lydia’s door closed and the cat nowhere else to be found. The cat clawed her way free and hid under the bed, giving herself a corner to defend. Still, it would have been only a matter of time till one of the trio of girls dragged the cat out.

Livia banged on the door. “Do you have Sarah? What are you doing to her?”

“Oh, nothing yet, but that might change soon,” Lydia responded. “I will make you a deal. If we let you in, we will let Sarah out.”

Livia understood the stakes and that she could defend herself better than the cat. “Okay.”

The door opened and Sarah bolted from the room as Livia was dragged into it by Celia, a tall and strong girl for her age. “Restrain her,” Lydia told her friends. “We are going to have real fun now.”

Livia was forced down into a chair. “What will make Livia cry?” Lydia picked up Livia’s left foot and shoved a thumbtack into it. Livia’s anger blocked the pain. Unfortunately for her, the window to that bedroom was shut and locked. No birds could bail out Livia. Livia remained stoic and glad they had not been able to torment Sarah. “How about two then?” Lydia said, putting another into the same foot.

“Are you even human?” Celia asked, while continuing to force Livia to stay seated.

“Yes, in fact I have to use the bathroom right now,” Livia replied.

“A lie, for sure,” Lydia asserted. “Do not let her up.” Lydia shoved in yet another tack.

“I do not lie,” Livia spat. “You prefer me to pee in your room?”

Celia and the other girl Carla began to loosen their grip, though not quite enough for Livia to stand, especially on less than two uninjured feet. She only got to the edge of the chair.

“You will not deny me this. Celia, Carla, keep her there.”

“I have to go. Now!” Livia yelled. Still, she remained in place.

Then it happened. A stream of urine came down from Livia, down the chair to the carpet from Livia legs and partly the chair. “I told you to let me out!” Livia shouted.

The other girls recoiled and with that Livia, despite the tacks, quickly escaped the room. She ran downstairs and into the bathroom where she removed the tacks and tried to clean herself up as much as possible.

Mrs. Woodcock thought something was amiss, seeing how Livia hobbled into that bathroom. “Livia, what is going on?”

“Ask you daughter Lydia and her friends,” Livia called out from the other side of the door. “They would not let me out and I peed in her room. And that after Lydia put three thumbtacks in my foot.”

Lydia tried to make up a story that Livia stepped on the tacks of her own accord by entering where she was not wanted, but she had no explanation for the rest of the evidence that the Woodcocks saw and smelled themselves. Celia and Carla, wanting to leave upon seeing Rev. Woodcock arrive, decided that they could not support Lydia’s story. They could not lie to a man still in his clerical attire. Right in that room, to both of Lydia’s parents, they apologized for restraining Livia so Lydia could torment Livia with the thumbtacks and participated in keeping Livia there even when she said she needed to use the bathroom.

For once, Emma Woodcock was embarrassed and compelled to punish her favorite child. “Lydia, this is your room. So you are going to have to clean this up – to my satisfaction. And you will apologize to Livia – in writing. Furthermore, you will be confined to your room for the rest of the day to write it and to clean your room. Should anyone bring you food, you better be grateful for it, because I am not sure that I can do it. Right now, I am too angry to even look at you.”

Livia wondered how much Mrs. Woodcock meant what she shouted. For the moment, she sounded genuinely angry. But would it making any lasting difference? Was she concerned about Livia or was she annoyed about damage to the house? Or was she just acting vexed because Rev. Woodcock had witnessed any of this?

Tom and Cathy learned of the incident when Lydia’s absence was explained at dinner – and Livia’s change of clothes was noticed. Tom hoped his mother finally would stop coddling Lydia and after dinner went to his room. He ultimately collected his work and went to Livia’s room to do it, to ensure she was okay and not trying to walk too much on her left foot. Cathy brought Lydia some leftovers and took her written apology to Livia. “You better mean this, Lydia,” Cathy told her before leaving. “It does you no credit to act this way. Nor to Dad.”

“Cathy, one day you will see things my way,” Lydia asserted.

“Lydia, you need to grow up. Did it ever occur to you that, like Tom, you could benefit from Livia being here?”

“Do you?” Lydia asked.

“Not like Tom, certainly. But Livia has always been obliging to me. She is not a monster.”

Lydia bit her tongue. She would bide her time until she found the means to get Cathy on her side.

Cathy delivered the note to Livia. “I gave her some food and took this note,” Cathy said. “I hope it is sufficient.”

“It would be if Lydia actually meant it,” Livia stated. Livia showed the note to Tom “What do you think?”

“You have always read her rightly,” Tom affirmed. “This would be fine, but I have my doubts of its sincerity, also.”

“Cathy, perhaps you can get Lydia out of the house more and ensure nothing like this happens again.”

“Hmm. None of my friends really like her. She has a reputation already and today will only further it. I am sure Celia and Carla will see to it. Maybe I can take her to the sweet shop a few times every so often and that will change her attitude some.”

“Yes, the loyalty of her big sister should be most helpful,” Tom stated. “Lydia has never thought much of me. She knows I am close to Livia, too, so I could never change her mind.”

For a time, all seemed to go well. Lydia did not dominate the local playground as much and she was no longer queen bee at school. Cathy spent more time with her when she was not continuing to take piano lessons. Cathy’s time with her seemed to smooth out some of Lydia’s expressed animosity toward Livia. Cathy still continued to give Livia stuffed animals and make small gestures to let her know that Lydia’s harbored, if contained, feelings had not made Cathy a convert. Livia, Farah and a now school-age Daniel seemed to enjoy more freedom to have unspoiled fun, at the playground, at the schoolyard or the grounds of Framlingham Castle.

Livia’s studies also became more serious and complex. The Sir Robert Hitchens School faculty took the matter most seriously and Mr. Lenihan had kept his word. He knew exactly what Framlingham College would want to see out of a prospective scholarship student and they assiduously gave Livia everything she needed to impress them. Midway through her sixth year with them, around age ten, they believed she would succeed. They scheduled her testing and interviewing with Framlingham College for May of 1983, around the same time Tom would sit for his O-level examinations. Both fed off each other’s academic ambitions and helped each other feel secure and prepared. Tom had quite a list of subjects, including economics, English, geography history, religious studies, sociology and physics. He considered wanting to study subjects in preparation for the study of law or economics. The fact that any of this resonated with Livia just made her ready to wow the admissions staff.

The night before Tom’s exams, both were called into Rev. Woodcock’s study. Both seemed very calm, so much so it surprised Rev. Woodcock. “You must be ready, I suppose,” he said.

“If Livia thinks I am, I am,” Tom stated.

“He is,” Livia asserted. “He will make you very proud.”

“Your interview is tomorrow, also, Livia,” Rev. Woodcock declared. “What about you?”

“I fear nothing they can ask,” she replied. “Nothing they will test, either.”

Both slept soundly, and Rev. Woodcock himself drove them to the college. Livia impressed the committee who spoke to her collectively as well as the individuals who spoke to her or tested her on their own. They could not officially tell her what determination they ultimately would make, but the pleasantries extended to her towards the end seemed sincere enough to Livia to believe they would admit her. Before she offered the group her farewell, she made an unusual request.

“I know this will sound odd to you, but could you delay issuing your decision and make sure only to inform Rev. Woodcock at his office?”

“What a strange request,” the admissions chair, the bespectacled Mr. Williams, acknowledged. “Why?”

“I am adopted, as you know,” Livia began, “my so-called sister Lydia would do anything to sabotage my attendance here. Frankly, I do not know how she will try to accomplish this, but she will somehow turn people against me, including all of you. Your student Tom knows me better than anyone else. Just ask him about the things she has done to me and if jealousy would motivate her to try something.”

Livia finished first, and she waited for Tom’s testing sessions to be completed, sitting on the grounds quietly feeding some squirrels and crows and remembering things she read about wildlife. He found her on a courtyard bench and beamed, feeling all the work done had paid off.

“I think my exams went well. How about you?” he asked.

“Oh, I think they will support my candidacy, though I warned them not to disclose their decision too quickly.”

“Why would you do that, Livia?” Tom inquired.

“Lydia. She will not take the news well. I believe she will try to do something that prevents me from ever coming here.”

“How could she do that?”

“I am not sure,” Livia answered. “But you know her. You know a lot of what she’s done to me over the years. Frankly, I wish I could hide here or at your father’s office or anywhere that Lydia cannot try to turn people against me.”

“But Livia,” Tom began, “she has a reputation and there are a number of people who know about her or know she has tried to hurt you. I cannot say I would believe her. Who would?”

“Your mother, for one,” Livia replied. “Maybe she gets Cathy on her side, somehow. If no one else sees anything, I cannot imagine what exactly will become of me.”

“This should be a great day for you and me, Livia. Do not spoil it for either of us.”

“Just promise me you will remember how much I want this to work out and for years have endured Lydia’s behavior without responding as I could have. I know I will need you if Lydia has all summer to ruin this.”

“I will have your back. You know I will,” Tom asserted.

They then made their way toward the area where day students get rides home. Rev. Woodcock arrived almost seconds after they had reached the curb. Tom decided to get in the back with Livia, sensing she still had not felt secure. “Well? Do I have two success stories today?” Rev. Woodcock asked.

“We will not know officially for a bit, but I think all went well with me,” Tom responded. “I have zero doubt Livia owned the room and left the admitting committee stunned.”

“I would hope so,” Livia stated. “I am sure my session went well. I am sure Tom performed ably today, also.”

 “Should we celebrate now or when we hear the results?” Rev. Woodcock queried.

“Why not just a quiet moment for us three at the sweet shop right now?” Tom suggested, thinking about Livia’s concern. “No chance of this moment being spoiled. The family can have a dinner out when the results are official.”

“Done!” Rev. Woodcock agreed.

“I must tell you, sir, what I told Tom before you arrived,” Livia began. Tom looked a little miffed but recognized that Livia could never enjoy herself unless she spoke about Lydia. “I told the committee to delay their decision and to only inform you at your office, so you might sit on any good news.”

“Lydia still bothers you, Livia?” Rev. Woodcock asked.

“She has on occasion but my admission here would put her over the edge. I just know it. I will be in danger until I finally attend a class here. Can you send me anywhere to be out of her reach? I will even stay confined to your office if I have to.”

“This should not be your concern today,” Rev. Woodcock asserted, to which Tom readily agreed. “I will try to hide the information. But just hang around Tom as much as you can. Maybe at the Mere. I know neither Lydia nor Cathy like it, and I know you do not say this lightly. I will try not to take it lightly.”

Both Tom and Livia exceeded expectations and easily earned high praise for their respective performances. Livia was invited to attend Framlingham College that fall and the college even acknowledged they might have to adjust her studies to fit her unusual talents. Tom was urged to be boarded at Framlingham to be able to fully master his upcoming studies in law, English, history, politics, economics and philosophy. Based on their conversation with Rev. Woodcock, they wanted to prepare him to be admitted to study, perhaps law or politics, at the University of Durham. Rev. Woodcock, familiar with Durham’s Castle, Palace Green and massive cathedral, felt awestruck, almost giddy at the thought. He deemed losing Tom’s presence even partly by boarding him at the College a small sacrifice, compared to this prospect. Livia could also find a way to check on Tom, he figured, and she would keep him informed.

Rev. Woodcock kept his word. The family went out only to celebrate Tom’s success at the end of June, and he said nothing about a decision arriving regarding Livia. Unfortunately, the following Sunday, someone from the College congratulated him regarding both Tom and Livia. And Lydia stood among those who heard it.

Livia was beside herself. She would have to survive the following ten weeks or so unscathed. She knew that Cathy’s attentions and Lydia’s advancing age had not extinguished Lydia’s determination to get rid of Livia. Meanwhile, Lydia found herself quite annoyed that she had lost about a week to execute a plan to stop Livia’s admission. But how? She thought long and hard in her room later that day.

Cathy. It had to involve Cathy, Lydia thought. No one will believe me unless Cathy backs me. Cathy took the news more in stride and congratulated both Tom and Livia. So how would Lydia get her on her side? That following week, Lydia gave herself a mission to keep watch of Cathy’s activities. Cathy, at 14, was starting to become interested in boys her age and in various forms of verboten amusement with her friends. Cathy had missed curfew a few times and Lydia decided to find out more. She even thought she smelled cigarette smoke on Cathy one night. Lydia discovered Cathy had friends who had taken an early fancy to parties consisting of smoking, drinking and a type of dancing the Rev. Woodcock would not think proper for a 14-year-old girl. Lydia had her, thanks to a tip from a younger sister of one of Cathy’s friends, as well as Cathy stumbling in drunk late one night after sneaking out, though somehow still able to return without rousing anyone other than Lydia, who was waiting for her.

“So,” Lydia began, “what will you do for me to ensure I do not tattle on you for sneaking out and going to these parties where everyone drinks and smokes?”

“Oh, God, you cannot do that,” Cathy said. “What are you trying to do to me?”

“Nothing,” Lydia countered. “Except you will help me get rid of Livia once and for all, without this college admission feather in her cap. Or I tell. Your choice.”

“Damn,” Cathy responded, somewhat in a drunken stupor. “Why do you hate that girl so much? What has she ever done to you?”

“She has stolen my rightful position as the youngest child. Our father prefers her to me, in fact. Tom prefers her to me. When she is gone, this will all change.”

“Since when did you care about Tom?” Cathy asked. “And I doubt our father loves you less just because he loves Livia. He loves Livia BECAUSE she has helped Tom. He succeeded in part because she helped him study. If our Dad has shown any preference, it is for his son’s sake.”

“Oh please,” Livia stated. “Tom does not need her. What could she possibly do that helps him? She is 10 years old.”

“You seem not to know your brother, then, because that is not what he says. Nor his friends. Nor our father. Framlingham College admitted her for a reason. She is gifted.”

“Are you going to help me, or are you going to continue to defend that nerdy turd?”

“What do I have to do?” Cathy asked, finally.

“Just bear witness. Back me up. I am going to show our parents she is not to be trusted and my feelings have merit. When I tell them what she had done to me, you say you saw it, too.”

“Oh bloody hell,” Cathy fumed. “Where? When?”

“At the park, join me there this weekend. Livia likely be there with her stupid friend Farah.”

“But the Hibbert kids will dispute your story, no?” Cathy asked.

“They will not dare. I will see to that.”

Livia avoided the park that day, much to Farah and Daniel’s disappointment, as well as Lydia’s. Cathy hoped weeks like this would pass. Livia tried to tell the Hibbert kids that her sister Lydia was up to something, and they were all safer with Tom and his friends by the Mere. Farah and Daniel could not comprehend Livia’s concerns very well and pressed her for a future day and time they could go to the park playground. If only they still had a nanny, Livia thought, who Lydia would be unable to intimidate and silence. “All right,” Livia agreed. “We will try next Wednesday when Lydia is supposed to be having a piano lesson. If she shows, I cannot stay.”

“That sounds a bit silly,” Farah responded. “Daniel and I will not be invisible, you know.”

“Do not put anything past her,” Livia warned. “If you go against her, she will find a way to discount you, if not hurt you. Count on it.”

Before Wednesday came, Livia ran into Mrs. Harrison on the street. When Mrs. Harrison congratulated her on her scholarship admission, Livia turned rather grave than happy. “I am not there yet. You know as well as I do how much Lydia hates me. This has not changed. She will try to sabotage me going there. Please tell the headmaster, too. Something is going to happen and at least half my family will turn against me. All you at Sir Robert Hitchens will have wasted your time with me if she succeeds. I know I will need your help.”

“Of course,” Mrs. Harrison affirmed. “You really think Lydia still hates you much?”

“Yes, I do. My admission already has pushed her over the edge, I think. I will not rest easy until the fall term begins. Lydia has enough time to derail it.”

“I will talk to Mr. Lenihan and talk to the college,” Mrs. Harrison offered. “None of us want to see your education and future lost to nonsense.”

Lydia did find a way out of her Wednesday piano lesson and almost immediately Livia spotted her with Cathy at the park playground. Livia, Farah and Daniel were sharing a swing set.

“I just have to leave,” Livia announced.

“We want to stay here,” Farah countered. “You are nowhere near Lydia. A bunch of other kids are here, also. Where’s the danger?”

Livia paused and it was enough. She was at the playground when Lydia awkwardly fell off a monkey bar set and hit her head on the metal as she fell. Immediately, Lydia started crying loudly and dramatically while running home, with Cathy following her. Livia knew where this would go.

Lydia entered the house crying and telling her mother that Livia made her fall off the bars by loosening her grip on them. The bump on her head and a bruise on her arm gave Mrs. Woodcock ample evidence that something bad had happened.

She turned to Cathy. “What happened?”

“It’s as Lydia said” was all Cathy said. Indeed, from that day forward, for some time, she would never describe the incident in detail, just saying, almost robotically, “It’s what Lydia said.”

Meantime, Livia, accompanied by Farah and Daniel, had reached Rev. Woodcock’s office.

“I was on the swings with the Hibbert kids when Lydia fell off the monkey bars. I can guarantee you she is right now telling her mother that I made her fall.”

“You were on the swing?” Rev. Woodcock asked. All three nodded.

“There were more kids there, too, including Cathy,” Livia revealed. “I have no idea how she will get Cathy to back her story, but she will. Now the fight begins.”

Rev. Woodcock used his office phone to call the rectory. Tom, who had just gotten home, took the call. “Where is your mother and the girls?” Rev. Woodcock asked.

“She left me a note. She has gone to our local police station. Something about filing changes. Do you understand this?”

“Unfortunately, I do,” Rev. Woodcock answered. “Your mother, with Cathy’s assent, must believe Livia hurt Lydia intentionally at the playground today.”

“What happened to Lydia’s piano lesson?” Tom asked.

“I do not as yet know if the teacher canceled or Lydia did.”

“Livia was right – again,” Tom responded, sighing. “I so hoped this one time she would be wrong. I should have been watching out for Livia every day.”

“Right now, the Hibbert kids are here, and they all say Livia was on the swings with them when Lydia fell. Tell my son, kids.” Each briefly got on the phone and told Tom what had happened, including Livia’s desire to leave upon immediately seeing Lydia there.

Tom shook his head and muttered to himself. “Funny how Mom did not think of seeing a constable when Lydia was caught dead-to-rights regarding that thumbtack incident.”

“I have to live with my wife and daughters. You are probably in a better position to defend Livia than I am.” Rev. Woodcock asserted. “Come over here and let us all talk to my solicitor before the police come for Livia.”

That move was the only thing Lydia had not anticipated: that her father had a solicitor ready to act on Livia’s behalf. Still, she knew she could neutralize the Hibberts. By the time Livia was made to appear before a Youth Court, Lydia had threatened both kids, especially young Daniel. Hearing about the latter unhinged their parents, Siti and Patrick Hibbert. From then on, they refused to allow their children to affirm anything or testify to anything. “We would tell you what we saw, but our parents believe it is in our best interest to say nothing. We cannot help you.”

Livia’s real birthday came and went and only Tom remembered. Rev. Woodcock was too preoccupied with Livia’s future and the rest of the Woodcock family simply did not care.

The hearing was somewhat informal, despite the presence of three judges and the setting of a courtroom, with all its trappings. Livia once again denied all charges and maintained that she was nowhere near Lydia when she fell.

“But you have no formal witnesses to come forward today.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Hibbert are too scared to allow their children to be here. It would be nice if you asked them about that,” Livia asserted. “Still, I have several character witnesses who can testify that I never struck or harmed Lydia, no matter what she did to provoke me physically or what she or his friends said to me. Even some of Lydia’s friends know this, but the testimony of my brother, Rev. Woodcock, Mrs. Harrison and Mr. Lenihan should mean something.”

Even Framlingham College sent a representative, a Mrs. Johnson, to the proceedings. The judges had to decide who had set whom up. Did Livia’s prediction come from her experience or from her own premeditative desire to get back at Lydia?

The judges disagreed, with the majority at first on Livia’s side, given her references, her academic goals and Tom’s testimony questioning the existence of a motivation for Livia, while an easily discernable one for Lydia appeared rather straightforward.

They agreed on one point, however. Livia and Lydia needed to be separated, regardless of who really needed the protection. Mr. Lenihan, Mrs. Harrison, the Hibberts and even Mrs. Johnson, on behalf of the college, stepped forward to request temporary guardianship in order for Livia’s education to proceed as planned. Mr. Lenihan even offered to hold a fundraiser for Livia to be boarded there. Tom even told the judges that, if he were older and living independently, he would also apply. “I know her better than anyone else. Lydia is lying – and I well know she can do that quite well – and for whatever reason Cathy will not contradict her. Cathy does not like going there anymore, so that is suspicious to me straight away. The fact that Cathy offers no details also suggests to me that she has her own reasons for backing Lydia’s story, which have nothing to do with what happened.”

Rev. Woodcock had trouble with the custody issue. He despised the fact that saving Livia’s education meant he had to surrender her, even if partly. That act in a tangible way would violate his pledge to be her father. He believed it the right thing to do for Livia’s future, but he did not know if he could do it. In the end, his angst did not matter to the court, since the court claimed it would not or could not grant temporary custody to any of the applicants. Instead, they asserted their own authority. That is, without any known adult relatives, Livia stood at the mercy of the state. The judges asserted that there were ample reasons to doubt both accounts of the events and, regardless of the truth in this incident, they had to separate Livia and Lydia. They ignored Framlingham College’s desire to keep her, for it offered no guarantee that Livia would stay away from Lydia or vice versa. One panelist wanted to dismiss the whole thing as a waste of time over a Cain-Able family squabble, but Judge Martha McDonald, the least experienced panel jurist, was essentially ignored by the two men who essentially ran the court, one of whom took a dim view of any child of an impoverished or otherwise unknown, illegitimate background.

Thus Livia’s desire to attend the college with Tom would disappear. The officials interviewed her and reviewed her school records and entrance exam results. Locally, she was out of their depth; they could not agree on where to assign her. They understood why Framlingham College wanted to keep her, and once again Judge McDonald urged them to find some accommodation to suit Livia’s potential. She renewed her objections to dealing so harshly with a girl praised by so many who had never in their experiences shown any sort of violent behavior towards anyone, least of all Lydia, even when thoroughly provoked. Once again, the other two viewed their hands as tied and asserted that they would be viewed as rewarding Livia, if in fact she had been the aggressor. They again reminded Judge McDonald that no eyewitness formally contradicted Lydia Woodcock’s testimony and that, at the very least, they had to separate Lydia and Livia. Of course, by 1982, the rehabilitation borstals were being eliminated. The Thatcher government had not entirely settled the question as to finding a suitable place for such children, especially one like Livia. Livia would have to leave the county to find even a remotely appropriate place. Only London offered anything resembling an education with a secure living environment.

So before Tom’s year at Framlingham College began, he traveled with his father and Livia to her new school. Tom ensured she could keep her favorite stuffed animal, the bobcat she received from Cathy years ago. He also openly wept upon leaving her and barely said a civil word to his father the entire trip. Tom was openly heartbroken for many months after, though at least he became successful in channeling his regret and sorrow into his schoolwork. He had a small desk where he kept a framed photo of himself with Livia at the Mere. Every girl he ever dated thereafter thought Livia was “the other woman” but instantly felt for him and even Livia herself if Tom managed to tell Livia’s story. He could not bear speaking of it except to anyone he knew and trusted for a long time. Indeed, only his best friends Adam and John really understood how upset he remained, and they did all could to cheer him up or get him to focus on his work, as if his achievements somehow were hers, also. They suggested he try to think of what he could do for her. Allowing himself to wallow would accomplish nothing.

Lydia became the queen bee of her household, if not the whole town. She acted like the world revolved around her, with her mother’s approval. Rev. Woodcock and Cathy kept their heads down. Tom came home so infrequently – because he could not forgive any of them for their roles in sending Livia away. In fact, he openly snubbed Lydia if he even saw her in town, telling her once, “Count yourself lucky your fate does not rest with me, and Livia would never encourage me to harm you. I will never call you my sister again.” Cathy took Lydia’s obnoxious behavior as a rebuke for her own weakness whereas Rev. Woodcock took it as a rebuke for him letting his wife and Lydia (chiefly) destroy Livia’s future. He prayed there would be a reason for his inability to protect Livia. He also prayed that she and Tom would forgive him. He recognized Tom’s absence most of the year as a sign his son would not accept even his own apology. Rev. Woodcock had less certainty Livia would either forgive or accept any apology, either. Tom fought hard for Livia, but he too felt he owed her an apology. Owing to this, he heeded his friends’ advice and dedicated himself to his schoolwork. Tom opted to dream of a legal career if for no reason than to be able to clear Livia’s name. Somehow, someday, Cathy would have to explain herself and not just to him.

Sarah the cat, once realizing her favorite person had gone, made her statement clear. September had not come close to ending, and the cat had disappeared. Rev. Woodcock carefully inspected every inch of the rectory, the church and the grounds. No cat, no sign of Lydia killing and burying her, either. She was gone and never returned. Lydia assuaged her displeasure at Sarah’s departure by playing roughly with Cathy’s stuffed animals, mangling at least a few. I brought this on myself, Cathy thought. She considered confessing what she had done and why, in the hope Livia could come home. Maybe her father would be so happy at Livia’s return that he might not punish her too badly. She remained too scared, though. It would take her a few years before she could tell Tom or her parents the truth, let alone allow it to become known well enough to exonerate Livia.

The Hibberts, too, would come to regret their failure to allow their children to save Livia. Farah, especially, once again experienced the barbs of catty local girls, including ringleader Lydia. This time there were no crows or friends as a buffer to spare her. She wondered how long she would pay for not protecting the one real friend she had made. Daniel experienced no great problems, resembling his father so much, including the ease of manner which earned him many loyal male friends. Farah had to face the brunt of Livia’s departure and became more withdrawn and downtrodden as a result. Siti and Patrick Hibbert blamed themselves for Farah’s quick decline. Eventually, they moved to Norwich the following September in the hope they could start again. They began to call their girl Sarah and even legally changed her name, hoping she would rebound and the name would make her fit in better. Before leaving, they allowed their children to give legally-binding statements on that fateful July day that had changed their lives as much as Livia’s. Mr. Wilson thanked them, though he expressed doubt if this would change the situation at all. The court still wanted to keep Livia and Lydia apart, and Cathy had not altered her support for Lydia’s account. Someday, Mr. Wilson told them, these affidavits will prove valuable. But so long as Cathy backed her sister, the court would not rescind its decision.


Chapter 3: Nearly Two Years of Limbo in London
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          The Youth Court decided upon a secure facility for female juvenile delinquents of some skill or talent that recently opened in the Victorian structure once known as Colindale Hospital in the northern portion of greater London. Of course, Colindale classification as a reformatory school was a misnomer, really – it sounded like they cared, but really it was a dressed-up warehouse for 400-600 wayward girls. Younger students like Livia typically received a dormitory-like room whilst older girls received single rooms on floors once dedicated to patients requiring special care or isolation. The building was a solid red brick structure with arched windows and thick glass and surrounded an entire block. The building was an enclosed square allowing for a garden-like courtyard space to take up much of the interior. Students could enjoy sunshine and some naturalistic surroundings while remaining within the Colindale Secure Training Center, an institution Livia rightly saw as part superficial, worthless boarding school but mostly prison. Orphans, young thieves and various other female offenders could find themselves there, with the supposed goal of teaching some sort of employable skills, perhaps hairstyling or some similar job, whilst cultivating proper feminine behavior. Clearly, the majority on the Suffolk Youth Court believed Livia needed to be taught her place. Yet that institution held nothing of great civic or social value. Tom saw it, too, when he first entered the building reception area with Livia and Rev. Woodcock. “Oh my God,” he said. “Did Charles Dickens see this place?”

            Rev. Woodcock said nothing. He did not feel happy about dispatching with this particular duty, but he could not send Livia alone or with a stranger. Tom could not have accompanied her alone, either. The court would not have trusted him, and they were probably right. Tom might have tried to take her to the American embassy first, since Livia held in her possession the original letter carefully preserved from the time her mother’s friend had left her at St. Michael’s doorstep. If she could claim American citizenship, maybe she could improve her prospects, but at what cost?

Rev. Woodcock could only hope that the time would come when Livia would rightfully leave this place. He wondered if he had been wrong to have quietly adopted Livia, after all. He asked himself (and later his solicitor) if he could get anyone who applied to take charge of Livia to be able to claim her sooner rather than later, especially since the court had diminished his custodial rights. Framlingham College, unfortunately, slowly grew more indifferent to her over time, having bestowed its funding on other worthy students. The admissions staff also had experienced some staff turnover and after even six months lacked a great personal investment in Livia necessary to continue pursuing her admission. Tom would be the only Woodcock child to attend their school. Neither Cathy nor Lydia possessed the skills or talent to attract their attention.

Before leaving Livia, Tom asked his father to speak to her alone. They found a small spot where they could talk quietly to each other. “I know how talented you are with birds and mammals,” he began. “Would it be possible – and quicker – if we communicated in a means other than the post? Perhaps we could be more frank with each other if the college, this place or our family know nothing about the contents of at least some of our letters.”

“Crows do not really deliver mail, I think,” Livia replied. “I will ask them about this. I agree with you. Only use the post if you feel what you are sending is beyond anyone’s reproach. I will let you know as soon as I discover if I can correspond with you more privately.”

“Good, I hope we can at least try to do this,” Tom said. “You cannot imagine how badly I feel. I must apologize for my failure to protect you from this. I fought hard, but only after the accusation. This never should have happened if I had been more diligent in watching over you.”

“I know you feel badly,” Livia replied. “It is not your fault. You did not cause this. It should not have been your task to protect me from your sisters. You do not need to apologize to me. I know you are still trying to get Cathy to tell you why she lied for Lydia.”

“I will get answers, and I will clear your name,” Tom stated. “I promise I will keep trying until the day the town or the court – if not both – apologize to you. In the meantime, I will try to find ways to make this place as tolerable as I can.”

“I know you will, and I know I will need your help. This is not a happy place. I will have bullies even meaner and stronger than Lydia to face. I am sure they will attack me. Somehow, I will have to find someone here to look out for me, at least when I am indoors, anyway.”

Rev. Woodcock made his farewell brief. He admitted to having failed her and, looking at this place, said he knew she deserved so much better. “I am deeply sorry. I dare not ask for your forgiveness. I know I do not deserve it.”

“Ask me when I leave this place,” Livia said. “If I get out of here in one piece.”

Tom and his father left shortly afterward. Livia was left to a chief officer who interviewed her about how she came here.

“I know you will not believe me,” Livia asserted. “So many entrants must tell you some sob story, and you are quite immune to them or any assertions of innocence. My sister, Lydia, accused me of injuring her intentionally on a playground when she had bullied me and tried to hurt me for years. She could not stand that I had earned entrance into the same school as her brother, and she succeeded in blocking it. Quite ironic that I and not the bully come here and likely because I was an abandoned child, if one adopted by the town’s rector. Really, his own daughter should be here, not me. Yet my lack of birth parents has led me here.”

“You are correct about my attitude towards newly admitted girls,” the stout, dark-haired Mrs. Smithson admitted. “Lucky guess?”

“No,” Lydia answered. “You will find any measure of my intelligence to be high, but logic has little to do with my observation. I am quite skilled in what is commonly termed reading people. I am what you might call an empath. If you do not believe me, test me, in any manner you choose.”

“Oh, I will,” Mrs. Smithson said.

“I can tell you your secretary is looking for another post, half the staff fear you and the other half laugh at you because they believe you cannot injure them professionally or personally. I can also tell you that you will assign me to classes I will find boring because all they will accomplish is criticizing my penmanship. You will also relegate me to a dormitory where three girls will try to attack me in the bathroom and while I sleep, because it is in their nature to ‘initiate’ any new girl, though they will try more than once, out of a particular dislike for me.”

“You certainly are a bit bold in your predictions,” Mrs. Smithson concluded.

“I could tell you a great deal more in time, if you were truly interested. About myself, I will tell you I have an empath’s gift in communicating with animals. When I am outside, I will be safe, once the other girls see how some creatures behave if anyone bothers me. And, no, I cannot teach anyone how to converse with animals. It is a gift and one either has it or not.”

Mrs. Smithson’s jaw slightly dropped. Livia answered a question before she could ask it. “Have you any thought about what you want to accomplish here?”

“Just my survival. One day, I might want to train or work with animals, perhaps at a sanctuary or a zoo, but your institution cannot help me there. You also cannot truly further any academic ambitions I have, either, despite what the Youth Court asserted. I could probably pass some O-level tests right now, given how I assisted the young man who came with me succeed in a number of them. That is precisely why Lydia Woodcock wanted to put me here.”

Mrs. Smithson called in her dormitory officer, Mrs. Hatfield, a tall, still young-looking woman with deep auburn hair and a pale complexion. “It is time for you to take Livia to her new quarters after we ensure she has not brought in anything illicit,” she announced before turning to Livia. “We wake our students promptly at 7 am, and you will follow the other students there to breakfast and your classes beginning at 9 am. Lunch is at noon. We stop no later than 16:00 and begin dinner at 17:00.”

Examining the contents of her suitcase, both seemed unusually interested in Livia’s sole stuffed animal, a bobcat. They looked for secret pockets and squeezed it in various places and contemplated cutting it open. Only then did Livia show concern.

“Please do not destroy it,” she begged. “I was accused of hurting my sister, not of being a drug dealer. There is nothing in that animal, but the happy memory of receiving it. You should both feel pretty foolish if you destroy it and find nothing wrong with it.”

Mrs. Hatfield decided not to cut the toy open. “Okay, for now, but if there is any suspicion, we will not hesitate to do so. If there is something hidden there, you better show us now or else we may confiscate the animal later.”

“I have nothing to reveal about it. I only want to keep it secure in whatever locker or chest I can have. I know only too well if you do not destroy it, someone else will try, just out of spite. I have only one other keepsake to protect.” Livia showed them both the letter describing the circumstances surrounding her birth and arrival in Framlingham.

“That is why you are here, undoubtedly,” Mrs. Hatfield stated, showing some warmth for the first time. “Your adopted or foster sister accused you, and your background gave authorities ample excuse to find fault with you. You have an unknown heritage, except for the letter here spelling out your illegitimacy. In some eyes, that still would be sufficient to think poorly of you. Victorian ideas about women and the polarity of them being either Madonnas or Magdalenes are not exactly dead. The same goes for illegitimate versus legitimate children.”

“Yes, very likely so,” Livia agreed. “Yet my brother Tom has never wavered in his belief in my innocence. He will still try to prove it. But he was not present when the alleged incident took place. And anyone who could have spoken as a witness was threatened and said nothing on my behalf. The parents think this saved their kids, but they will learn that is has not.”

“That’s quite a tale,” Mrs. Smithson cynically observed.

“Ask him if he does not think me innocent. Ask the various people who applied for temporary custody of me – a former teacher, my former headmaster and the parents of two friends of mine, ones they blocked from testifying. Even the college that admitted me expressed a willingness to accept custody and take full charge of me. Ask the solicitor who tried to defend me. Make all of these inquiries. None will dispute what I am saying. Even Rev. Woodcock would have trouble disputing this, though his wife and daughters’s insistence regarding me created a conflict he could not or would not resolve. Two Youth Court jurists just sealed my fate.”

“You have made me curious,” Mrs. Hatfield asserted. “What is the solicitor’s name?”

“Mr. Alan Wilson,” Livia replied. “He is a member of the St. Michael’s congregation. My brother spent a lot of time with him trying to stop that court from sending me away. Both Tom and I wanted to attend Framlingham College together while he finishes his education there. Right now, he is on very bad terms with the rest of his family and lucky to be boarded at the college because I think he would rather avoid them. The headmaster’s name of my former school is Mr. Lenihan, the teacher Mrs. Harrison – both work for Sir Robert Hitchens School in Framlingham. And the family who wanted me are the Hibberts, who felt it was the least they could do given how they felt about their children being threatened if they testified for me.”

“Time for Miss Woodcock to be taken to her room and meet everyone there,” Mrs. Smithson said.

Fortunately for Livia, she was able to secure items in a medium-sized trunk at the foot of her bed before Mrs. Hatfield left to put her suitcase into storage. The lock on it had a key that only Livia and one senior staff member held. Livia wore it around her neck and never took it off. After Mrs. Hatfield introduced her to the other fifteen girls in the room, the reason for such prudence almost immediately became apparent.

Three girls held sway over everyone, perhaps because each had had their own interactions with police well before they wound up at Colindale. The leader, Megan, was an uncommonly sizeable and strong-looking girl for being no more than 12, with brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin. She was a head taller than her two closest allies, Rachel and Patsy. Rachel might have been bullied for being a freckled redhead, but her unbreakable support of Megan put her beyond any open ridicule. Patsy’s real name was Patricia, Livia was later told, but she would pick out targets or distract them whilst another stole someone’s wallet, which solidified her nickname. Patsy was a plain girl with dishwater blonde hair, and her insecurities likely drove her to slavishly supporting Megan. Livia realized they had been sent to Colindale together, probably at least months ago, since they seemed at ease with each other. The other dormitory girls had heard something of this as well, confirming Livia’s observation. She immediately took note of the fear the rest had for the trio, even among the oldest girls in the room who really weren’t much older, however.

Livia learned from another dorm resident, Mary, a sullen pale girl in hair, eyes and skin, that the three self-appointed leaders of the room did something to “initiate” a new girl there, since they had lived there for longer than even she had, and she had come the beginning of the calendar year. It seems they want to torment you until you cry and then they ridicule you for crying for some days afterward. The “initiation” occurred a few days later when Livia was in a common lavatory, brushing her teeth, even though no one insisted that she do so. That became the opening line of Megan’s taunting of her.

The three ended up cornering her and pushing her around and occasionally either knocking her down or into a sink, garbage can or window. Livia, without much thought, reacted as before – she stood her ground and never showed emotion. She thought through how to defend herself best and avoid serious injury. In other words, she found she could blunt the damage without causing any suspicion. Someone – or just perhaps the noise of the commotion – brought the night monitor, a lowly prison officer named Miss Hatch, into the bathroom. The altercation was over. Livia hoped (in vain, she knew) that that would also end her initiation, but the trio, incensed at being caught by someone in authority, had another idea – making Livia’s prediction entirely correct. Early in October, after they emerged from their detention, they set upon Livia as she slept. She could not repel the three physically and, given the potential for additional witnesses, she dared not try to protect herself by even calling for an owl. She did not recall other nocturnal types of birds. If anything unusual happened, Livia could expose herself to too much scrutiny and perhaps even a worse situation, if possible. She immediately wondered what could be worse and did not dare contemplate it. She focused on defending herself and making sure the attack was noisy enough for someone to notice and stop it.

            Livia made use of both a high tolerance for pain and a way to soften the blows made against her. But though Livia protected most her body, she decided to leave her face more open to injury, because it would provide obvious evidence of the abuse. She wanted to show that these girls had attacked her physically without any provocation. Maybe they could be moved or she could be. The school’s nurse, roused by the Miss Hatch, the night monitor, was a kind, rather young-looking blonde woman. Miss Scott, who perhaps still had teenage sisters, could not avoid examining Livia without expressing horror at Livia’s split and swollen lip, emerging bruising under her eyes, slices from a sharp object, especially defensive, if somewhat superficial, wounds on her hands and lower arms, recording each injury dutifully. Miss Scott did not miss a scratch, even if partly hidden by Livia’s flowing dark, thick hair.

            The nurse wanted to keep Livia under observation for at least till the next day. Keeping a close watch on her only patient right then, Miss Scott sensed there was something different about this girl – and being attacked twice in one month by the same trio meant a dormitory setting held only the potential for more problems. They found a reason to single her out. Her only safety would be to put her in a single room, a privilege typically reserved for older girls on their own floor or for girls with a contagious illness. Miss Scott’s report documenting Livia’s injuries included the recommendation of moving her into her own room. It matched Miss Hatch’s account, also. Mrs. Smithson decided, as the chief officer, not to hesitate, in case a more serious injury took place and higher ups decided to sack someone for doing nothing given prior documented incidents. The somewhat new government put institutions like Colindale on edge that, if they drew much scrutiny, they might be shut down, or draw frequent, unannounced visits or undergo a large staff turnover.

            So Livia’s trunk was moved along with her spare uniform to a newly vacant room – that which had belonged to a girl recently released. Livia received a room key, a code to enter the floor and a key to the elevator for her floor, the same floor where executive offices existed on a different wing of the red bricked quadrangle and where staff meetings also took place. They had their own access key and controls to enter that wing of the building, a place students seldom ever saw. For the first time in about four weeks, Livia felt happy about something. This move would enable her to survive this place.  The next day a more amazing thing happened – the cat, Sarah, had found a way inside Colindale. Livia immediately took her to Mrs. Hatfield and begged her to help her with the pet that ran away from Framlingham and found her way there. “If you cannot let me keep her, will you at least help me find her a new home?”

            Mrs. Hatfield eyed her quizzically. “Why not just call Rev. Woodcock to take her back?”

            “She would just run away again. Sairy fears Lydia Woodcock will still torture her. The only difference between myself and this cat is size,” Livia revealed. “Lydia could not hurt me by herself, but she can kill Sairy and hide her tracks about it by throwing the remains in the Mere.”

            “Well, tell you what,” Mrs. Hatfield began, “if Sarah is a good mouser, we could use her right here. I am not sure you could formally keep her, but at least you would know some of the staff feed her and look after her.”

            Livia paused for a moment; it was just long enough to ascertain that Sarah would function as an excellent mouser because she liked stalking mice. “I think you will like Sairy’s ability to control the rodent basement population,” Livia asserted.

            “How did you know they mostly dwelled in the basement?” Mrs. Hatfield asked.

            “On the telly, mice get found in basements, right?” Livia rhetorically asked, which in itself marked Livia as uncommonly smart, even if the content suggested a typical childhood experience.

            Mrs. Hatfield thought to herself, this child is bright and possibly trying to hide it. Maybe she belongs with an older group of girls anyway, even if not as old as the 15-17 year old girls who usually received housing where Livia got installed.

            Sarah proved her worth in chicken and tuna from the first day she was let into the basement. The lead dinner lady of the staff that served the staff and kids alike took a great fancy to the cat and gave her various scraps and water to keep her strong. Of course, Sarah could have just existed on the mice she caught, but Mrs. Banks had heard somewhere that a well-fed cat makes the best mouser, so she showed her pleasure at having a rodent-free kitchen and dining area by leaving scraps where Sarah could eat them. Sarah also showed she could find a way to Livia’s room, despite its limited access. Likely other girls let her get onto the floor, but no one ever mentioned doing it. Sarah’s arrival, coupled with her insistence in spending her down time with Livia, led the floor officer, a new employee named Miss Cane, to supply a dish for giving Sarah water, a makeshift bed, a litter box and various accessories necessary for an indoor cat. An overly thin woman with a quasi-punkish hairstyle, Miss Cane, generally an amiable woman, told Livia that she and Mrs. Banks had bought the items so Sarah did not create any food hazard by making the entire institution her litter box, forcing the kitchen staff or those involved with the third floor girls’s wing to have to deal with cleaning anything up. Every day when Livia returned after supper, Sarah either waited by the door or started scratching and meowing at Livia’s door soon after she had returned from dinner. Livia was grateful to see her, and it became a daily routine.

            Finally, realizing who Mrs. Banks was, a sophisticated-looking, tall, medium brown-haired woman angling for an Assistant Chief promotion, she thanked her for giving Sarah food and water as well as the ability to maintain the cat in her room. She told Mrs. Banks she had a question.

            “Since Sairy can kill more mice than she can eat herself, where should she put the extras?”

            What an odd question, Mrs. Banks thought. “If I told you where, how will that make a difference in what the cat does?”

            Livia paused then answered: “I can train this cat to leave the mice wherever you say, so long as I can go there, too. Maybe there is a spot you can designate in the courtyard? From things I have read, Barn Owls can live in residential areas where they can still feed mostly on mice. Wherever you choose should offer them a chance to take the killed rodents off your hands. Seems that would suit everyone, right?”

            “Barn Owls?” Mrs. Banks asked.

            “I think I read in a book my father had that one Barn Owl can kill and eat a thousand mice a year,” Livia stated. “They burn calories fast and they need the mice for their owlets, too. Please pick a spot so I can get Sairy to use it.”

            Just after mid-October Mrs. Banks picked a spot on a diagonal corner opposite from the kitchen and a spot where birds could land and take them. Livia showed Sarah the spot and via a few crows got to meet a local Barn Owl pair. The owls communicated two things to Livia: that they felt happy to have such a great food supply made available to them and that they, as well as a few other owl species, would willingly and ably deliver letters between herself and Tom Woodcock at Framlingham College. Indeed, Sarah distinguished herself sometimes with as many as a dozen extra rodent kills a day, often exceeding what one pair of Barn Owls needed. So they shared at times with other types of owls, all of whom Livia could see from her window.

            Livia soon after wrote her first letter to Tom, telling him she had endured a few scrapes with some nasty girls but got for her trouble her own little room. She said her studies were dull and required little effort; Colindale could not and would not challenge her mind. The boredom might kill her. She asked Tom to send via regular mail any books he liked or anything else he thought would help her.  No sooner than she finished sealing the note and addressing it to Tom did a Barn Owl begin pecking at her window. Livia opened the window, smiled and bowed at the owl, a creature wonderfully bespectacled on its midsection and with a strikingly shadowed face. These colors clearly identified the owl as female (a point she acknowledged), and Livia decided to call her Sydney. Sydney silently indicated an interest and fondness for the name.

            Apparently, a well-fed Barn Owl can fly pretty far, too, since Sydney returned a few hours later bringing a note through the partially opened window Livia decided to never lock and Sydney left it on Livia’s small desk. Sydney woke Livia up somehow by the flapping of her wings or some clicking sounds, and Livia began reading the letter as Sydney flew off into the night. Sarah remained asleep the whole time. Tom’s note read:

            My dear sister Livia,

 

Hope you are doing well now that you have found a secure room for yourself as well as a way to send me private notes. I am still at a loss to understand Cathy’s behavior, but I have been avoiding the rest of them till maybe Christmas. Perhaps she will finally confide something then, or I can urge her to explain herself to you. As far as I can tell, Lydia has become a lost cause, and I want as little as possible to do with her. School has begun well for me. I like my subjects and Adam and John are still around me. We may be able to secure a room together in the near future, but I may leave this place early, if I can apply myself well. I am looking into it.

 

I keep a picture of you and me at the Mere on my desk so I think of you often. It motivates me to work hard, in case I learn something that helps me to get you out of there via Mr. Wilson. I will mail a couple history and fiction books you surely will like. Recently, we read an E.M. Forster novel I know you will like. I will ask around to collect books that I can send quickly. Some students have older siblings, so I might be able to help you with some donations from kids I know – or that Adam or John know. I have something else in mind to send you for Christmas, so I might just box everything together. I will not wrap anything because I am sure whoever goes through the post will examine it all before you see it. I will also try to get another copy of the picture I have and send you a framed copy of that as well.

 

Whilst it seems I am unable to free you presently, perhaps I can at least visit you over break, probably shortly after Christmas. My friends want to explore London now that we can do so by ourselves. I know you do not get to leave so I will come, alone or not.

 

Your loving brother,

Tom

 

Livia loved getting the note as much as she loved hearing of the things Tom would send. She felt no need to send an immediate response. Likely, Livia did well not to alarm Tom again so soon, since the trio Megan, Rachel and Patsy still had not given up on trying to torment Livia. They made the mistake of trying to isolate Livia whilst she was offering birdseed to a few crows outside and reading one of the first of many books Tom got to her by Royal Mail to tide her over.

            Megan started by addressing Livia in a snarling, threatening tone. “Just where did you get this stuff to feed these birds? Don’t you have anything more useful to do? These birds are an ugly menace that the staff would not want around.”

            Livia looked up and saw the three formed a kind of triangle that cornered her on this bench. The crows had avoided being stepped on in the process but soon called out for more of them from some trees near the courtyard. Soon a murder of crows was swooping on each of them. Patsy seemed the first to become terrorized by their close passes and ran off, despite Megan calling after her. Rachel, too, began to back away when waving her hands at the crows did nothing to stop them diving down toward her. Megan was left alone and she seemed less than impressed or scared until one of the birds who had bothered one of the other girls few into the tree above them and directed a poop shoot squarely at Megan’s face. Megan was done, running off to the laughter of all the other girls around the courtyard who uproariously mocked her appearance. As she cleaned herself off, she swore that Livia would pay for this, as if Livia herself had humiliated her. It could not happen outside, Megan realized. Crows started harassing the trio every time they exited the structure, whether Livia was present or not. The crows recognized the girls and dished out what Livia dared not do. Megan would never consider blaming anyone other than Livia, even though no one Megan spoke to could come up with a logical explanation for why Livia deserved blaming. Mrs. Hatfield and Mrs. Smithson found these incidents a bit unsettling, even though they told each other that the girls harassed by the crows thoroughly deserved what they got.

            About two weeks before Christmas, Megan came up with her plan. The three previously discovered that Miss Hatch kept a small amount of liquor at the facility for herself. First, they compelled Miss Hatch to share it and procure more for the girls, for either drinking or selling. Then Megan went in for her chief objective: access to Livia’s floor. Miss Hatch would know how to get them in and perhaps able to get Livia to open her door, should it be closed. Miss Hatch felt the pinch. Should she warn Miss Cane? Could she do anything that would not get her sacked? She thought maybe if she put paper in the door that closed off the third floor, maybe whatever happened would not come back to her. So she informed Megan she would get the trio on the floor but nothing else. After all, if Miss Hatch got exposed and sacked, they would not get any more liquor. So Megan opted to have Patsy learn to mimic Miss Cane, who she had overheard in the dining hall. A few days of practice led to Patsy sounding convincing enough, especially through a closed door.

            On the night of December 20, the trio had everything set. They even had a plan to wrap the cat in a towel and toss her out of the room, should the cat be there. Livia would be left defenseless. The trio only missed the facts that Livia kept her window unlocked and ajar and that nocturnal birds came to that window. The incident began as they desired, with Patsy’s voice mistaken for Miss Cane’s. The trio quickly entered the room, grabbed the sleeping cat and ejected her from the room, then closed the door.

            “Your luck has run out this time, Livia,” Megan said with as much bile as she could muster. “You have no escape and no one will help you.” With that the three shoved Livia to the floor and attempted to kick her hard as she squirmed around the floor. Livia kept her calm, softened the blows and called out to her owl friends silently.

            The trio were wrong on two counts. First, Sarah ran to where Miss Cane had her office space on the floor and meowed to get her attention. After Miss Cane thought about the oddness of the situation, she figured the best thing would be to return Sarah to Livia’s room. In the meantime, a few owls, including a huge Eagle Owl, a species rarely seen in Britain, came to the ledge of Livia’s window. The first to arrive, the Barn Owl Sydney, pulled open the window with her beak. The talons of that large Eagle Owl meant business, and it flew right to Megan’s head and attempted to dig its talons into her face and head. One ear was damaged greatly and Megan cried out in horrible pain. By the time Miss Cane reached the end of the hall where Livia’s room stood, the door opened and Patsy and Rachel ran out, terrified. Livia remained on the floor and the Eagle Owl released Megan and left the room with the two Barn Owls, Sydney and her mate, who Livia named Mel. Megan’s head bled significantly and she was crying. Miss Cane, able to stop the other two from leaving the floor, held onto each as she gazed at Megan’s bleeding face, scalp and ear.

            “You do not even belong on this floor. What is the meaning of this?” Miss Cane realized the second question had an obvious answer, since Livia’s night clothes had several footprints on them where she had been kicked or stomped.

            Miss Cane marched Megan to the school nurse, still holding the other two girls. Miss Scott determined that Megan needed a number of stiches, and she had no way to provide them except without any serious painkiller. Megan had to endure over 20 stiches in various places without anything more helpful than aspirin. The other two were brought to a detention room and spent the night there while Miss Cane investigated the incident and alerted superiors to what had happened. Some suspected Miss Hatch whilst others felt one of the other girls on that floor enabled the trio’s entry, intentionally or not. The three would-be hooligans spent the rest of their time at Colindale in a small room by themselves. They no longer could access the grounds or the dining hall. Food came to them as well as whatever tutor tried to teach them anything that might turn them away from permanently being the nasty creatures they were. Livia never spoke to any of the three nor saw them again.

            After bringing Megan in the detention room, Miss Scott went to check on Livia. She saw a few bruises about where the footprints appeared on her night clothes but no broken bones or serious injuries. “You are very lucky,” Miss Scott said to her. “How did Megan get so injured? I don’t see any blood on your clothes.”

            “As I told the facility chief officer, Mrs. Smithson, I am an empath. I can speak to animals without talking. They also can learn or know when I am upset or in danger. That’s how a pair of Barn Owls opened my window and came in.”

            “A Barn Owl did that kind of damage?” Miss Scott asked, puzzled.

            “No. I am not sure how this happened, but what attacked Megan was an Eagle Owl, I think, a rare type to be seen here versus the rest of Europe and Asia. They are ferocious birds of prey with sizable talons. I cannot be sure if that owl responded to me or followed the Barn Owls. Barn Owls are quite capable, but their talons are not nearly large enough to cause the damage you saw.”

            Mrs. Smithson demanded to see Livia the next day and wondered, given recent incidents, if Livia had harmed her sister via an owl or another creature. “No,” Livia said. “They showed up to defend me. I have the bruises to show that I was being attacked in my own room.”

            Mrs. Smithson still thought this strange power held potential danger for others, which cemented the idea of keeping Livia in her own room and perhaps instigating even greater limits.

            “Why should you punish me?” Livia questioned. “I was attacked. The door to the third floor was somehow left open, and those girls tricked me into opening my door. One of them sounded like Miss Cane. Who have I attacked for spurious reasons or for sport? The incident that sent me here says nothing about any creature attacking Lydia Woodcock. Check the records.”

            Mrs. Hatfield already had looked into the story and found there was merit to Livia’s protest. The Youth Court sought to separate Livia and Lydia but could not award custody to anyone outside her family, since Rev. Woodcock had adopted her. Mrs. Hatfield informed Mrs. Smithson that existing testimony and records did not contradict Livia. She had never attacked or bullied anyone via any sort of animal. In fact, the dissenting judge did not even find Lydia’s story credible, given how her older sister offered a simple, if oddly non-specific, sort of support for her testimony.

            “Mrs. Smithson,” Livia began, “my brother – and I consider him my brother – wants to visit me over his winter break. He also wants to send me stuff for Christmas. I hope you are not going to block him now.”

            Mrs. Smithson thought the matter over. “You know we will thoroughly examine whatever he sends, right?”

            “Yes,” Livia replied. “That is why he will not wrap anything. Once you determine there is nothing you deem out-of-bounds, I hope you let me have the package and allow him to see me.”

            Mrs. Smithson and Mrs. Hatfield looked at each other and whispered some. “If we find nothing objectionable, we will allow him to see you – but only in the courtyard.”

            Livia once again sent him a message by owl, informing him of another scrape and the conditional approval given for him to visit based on their acceptance of what he sent. When she finally did receive her Christmas package from Mrs. Hatfield, Livia learned that Tom had called to ensure that nothing he wanted to send would run afoul of their rules. When she opened the box, she saw the item that drew his concern. Tom had sent her a radio that they opened and tested to ensure that was all it was. The radio was a small kind of boom box, since it also had its own mini-speakers and cassette player. He never mentioned why he sent an Italian dictionary, however. Later Livia found that it fell into the box. He decided somehow she was meant to have it, so he later added Dante’s Divine Comedy, translated and in Italian.

            Since most of the girls had far more troubled pasts and typically no family, they did not see a radio, so far as anyone could remember. The rules did not specify banning such a device; they decided to allow her to have it. The other items met no objection, though they did raise some eyebrows, given the books included did not typically attract readers only 11 years old. Tom later told Mrs. Hatfield that he knew her best and that she would like the books he sent.

            Before he came, Mrs. Hatfield had a chance to ask Livia about the books she received.

            “Do you remember that Framlingham College wanted me because I tested and interviewed well with them?” Livia asked.

            “True, but I doubt they assign Howards End, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice or Tom Jones to children that are 11 years old,” Mrs. Hatfield remarked. “Maybe A Christmas Carol.”

            “Do you doubt I can read them or what?” Livia asked.

            “They are rather mature for a young girl to read.”

            “No one challenges me here. Tom has stepped in to give me my brain something to do. He told me some time ago that his own class had read a different work by E.M. Forster.”

            “That would challenge them, even,” Mrs. Hatfield stated. “You will enjoy the radio more.”

            “I will enjoy all of it,” Livia asserted. “Have you ever read any of these? It would be great to have someone here to talk to about something.”

            “I did read Howards End once, some years ago. I do not know how much I will recall, but that should give you the opportunity to refresh my memory and perhaps I can help you when you have questions about it.”

            “Smashing,” Livia said.

            True to his word, Tom showed up on Wednesday, December 28. He told her that Adam and John would have joined him but that Mrs. Smithson would not allow them entry. They therefore set a time and place to meet up later that day. Livia hugged her brother and expressed some sadness that his friends could not join him. They seemed more and more to resemble each other by then. She also apologized for being unable to make him anything she would consider a nice gift at that point. He dismissed her concern.

            “I should also tell you Sairy showed up here sometime after you left,” Livia revealed. “The staff usually watches her during the day and I see her at night. The kitchen supervisor, Mrs. Banks, really likes her because she tightly controls the rodent population in this old building.”

            “I am glad to hear that she got away from Lydia. But how did she find you?” Tom asked.

            “I do not know. Animals have keen senses. Maybe she learned something from you.”

            “I will let Dad know, at some point, so long as he tells no one else,” Tom said.

            “How do you get on with them all now?” Livia asked.

            “I can barely speak to anyone except Dad – and not even that well with him.”

            The visit seemed all too brief, given the monotony of Livia’s life at Colindale. She requested an Italian textbook to go along with the dictionary. He agreed and sent one, along with other books. The boys left London a few days later. Tom spent most of his break before and after Christmas at Adam’s house, rather than his own. He had told Livia that he would not return to the college until the middle of January. He would, of course, let Livia know if Mr. Wilson could change her situation as soon as he knew. “Cathy still will not be open with me, despite me telling her that I will never reconcile with her until she comes clean. Since Cathy has been hanging out with some big partiers and delinquents, I suspect Lydia has something on her.”

            Other than the few hours she spent with Tom, the time went by very slowly and Colindale seemed particularly quiet and gray. At least Livia read a lot. She liked all of the fiction Tom had collected, though her favorite was Wuthering Heights. She wondered how the book might have read if told only from the perspective of the tormented, orphaned Heathcliff, rather than a possibly unreliable servant. She related to his background and how others contributed to, if not determined, what became of him. Livia struggled to understand the lead female character’s choices or what made her attached to the man she married. The servant perhaps assumed that the reader knew.

Meantime, some of the Colindale girls were released, some older ones were given holiday work passes whilst the staff seemed cut back, if not skeletal, for the holiday season. The instructors and various staff all had vacation time or looked at the end of the year as an opportunity to take another position. Livia started another of her books, Pride and Prejudice, but also turned on her radio. She played classical music when she lacked a taste for a BBC station playing holiday tunes. Ultimately, only one piece drew her in: a song called “New Year’s Day” by the Irish band U2, which the presenter said the band officially released as a single on 1 January, 1983.

            An empath like Livia could only be stoic for so long. Alone in her tiny room, the lyrics hit home hard – even though they did not describe her situation. “I want to be with you, be with you, night and day/Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” Livia crumbled. Tom had just been there only a few days ago but missing him tore her up like nothing else. She soon learned she could not turn up the volume or sing without drawing attention. This problem led to Livia finding out that she possessed another amazing talent. She could soundproof her room by just waving her hand above, below and around the room. Once she realized she could do that, she wailed and wailed at any song that struck her, and nobody ever knew. Only the owls seemed ever to hear and they tended to like her musical taste, if not her voice. She read in the courtyard and every evening sung her heart out. Mimicry, though not as astonishing an accomplishment, also came out. Her favorite singers to imitate were male tenor voices like the lead of U2. She was more of a contralto herself so she could replicate a tenor voice well. No lilt or accent or phrasing proved impossible.

            Livia’s fancy really took flight when a retrospective of another singer’s work took place later that year included a song that dated from 1971, released as a single the following year. It preceded his London concert. Livia wondered if her birth mother had heard it and when. It was one of the rare times she ever thought of her mother, of whom she knew very little and usually showed little interest in finding, a kind of reflexive distaste. After all, she had abandoned Livia almost immediately after giving birth. Was she anything like this “Tiny Dancer”? Regardless, that song seemed to focus on a yearning not fully decipherable to Livia at that age. Yet emotion in these voices resonated with her like nothing else, though no one there knew. Some even presumed she listened to the news, only, even though Tom would on occasion send her cassettes. They could not conceive that Livia had emotions because she hid them so well. So they would never recognize that she had found an outlet for her longing to leave her confinement at Colindale. Once more serene, she switched to classical music sometimes.

            She later did enjoy exchanging some notes with Tom or conversations with Mrs. Hatfield about the book Howards End. The broken, tragic aspects of both Leonard and Jacky Bast’s lives suggested to Livia why the Youth Court found it easier to send her away than view Lydia Woodcock as a bully and liar. Tom saw the same point – in fact he made reference to double standards for women and people of little economic standing owing to birth circumstances – as a central part of his own assignment regarding the book. Mrs. Hatfield did not remember those characters well. She more enjoyed discussing the cross stitch works in her office and gave Livia insight into learning about those, even permitting her school time to learn how to make them. Livia concentrated on making something she could give to Tom that she’d give during his next visit.

Forster’s prefatory line “Only connect” spoke more to Tom and Livia because they tried to do that, even if only via an obliging owl. To pick herself up, as the summer came with no change in her status, she went back to part of the “New Year’s Day” lyrics. “I will begin again, I will begin again.” Livia just did not see how she would get there, though. Still, she realized that if she did not look up to find a new beginning, she would lack any chance at ever having one.

            Tom visited her again for her twelfth birthday. He told her that he had taken his A-levels already, thanks to his industriousness and avoidance of leaving the college. He had done exceedingly well, so he was beginning the study of law at the Durham University that fall.

            “You only took your O-levels not even 18 months ago – you were going on 17 then. How did you manage this?”

            “I worked very hard. I wanted to start university quickly because Mr. Wilson gave me the idea that, if I could independently establish myself as an adult, I could try to claim custodianship of you, even if only still a student. You would be separated from Lydia by having me take charge of you. That would be compelling, I think, especially if I can get the truth from Cathy.”

            His sister Cathy, he added, would be leaving school at 16. She would train as a veterinary technician. “If she leaves home, I think whatever caused her to assist Lydia would no longer exist.”

            “I will believe it when I see it,” Livia asserted.

            “I have a new tape for you – some American bloke I knew at school got me to listen to this group called Journey. They did a song called ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’ You might like it and keep thinking forward to something better. You have to believe I can get you out of here, even though at present I cannot. Probably next year, after I establish a residence outside a residential college.”

            “In other words, I will not be going anywhere until 1985,” Livia surmised.

            “I know. I cannot do better presently.”

            Between the books and music Tom sent, the fall had a few good moments. Sarah performed ably, though her prime mousing days had started to go. Still, she left a decent number of mice for owls to take. Sarah informed Livia the school should adopt a young cat to take her place eventually. Mrs. Hatfield arranged for the adoption, taking Livia with her to choose a cat, a young one that could learn from Sarah and take over when Sarah got too old. A young male cat, who Livia named Sam, took up residence there; within days, he tripled the mouse kill rate, placing their bodies in the same place Sarah would. The two did everything together, even resting in Livia’s room.

            Tom visited again in late December, again, and announced that he had made a breakthrough. Cathy told him why she gave Lydia support to her version of the playground incident, minimal if apparently sufficient to two panel judges. Lydia knew about Cathy breaking curfew for various parties, including one where she snuck out to smoke and drink with some friends and see the boy she was dating against their father’s wishes. The rector’s daughter, drinking, smoking and carousing with that boy would result in a world of trouble for Cathy.

            “Did she tell you what she did with him?” Livia asked.

            “No, but I think it had to be a big deal for Cathy to allow Lydia to have such power over her. I have my suspicions.”

            In January, Cathy finally wrote to Livia, giving some indication of her duress during the hearing and after the court removed Livia. She begged for Livia’s forgiveness via Tom and an owl. She confessed that Lydia had the means to blackmail her, but she still hoped that her lack of detail would make the court question her sincerity. She also thought someone else on the playground would have openly contradicted Lydia, thus relieving her of the burden of her complicity and subsequent guilt. Tom made sure the original found its way to Mr. Wilson, also. He agreed that it would help get Livia released, but she had to have somewhere to go, which Tom planned on securing in Durham by the end of his first year there. He often visited the cathedral, especially the chapel set aside for the Venerable Bede and asked him for strength and wisdom.

            Livia wrote back a short note for Cathy. It read:

Dear Cathy,

 

Thank you for your letter. Glad to hear of your position and hope you do well helping animals. I cannot really forgive you so long as I remain in this place, though Tom tries to make it bearable. When I leave here, you may ask me again.

 

Your once and perhaps future sister,

Livia

 

Livia thought it honest and appropriate. Tom could not blame her. Livia lost her freedom and the opportunity to pursue whatever dreams for herself she had, as well as the chance to reach her full potential. Perhaps two years would not in the long run make for a significant loss, but at present the blow must have pained her. Tom did not dare ask how much so. He feared how much such an admission would hurt him. He only experienced a vicarious sliver of it and that only from being allowed to review the medical records of injuries she had received, as documented by Miss Scott. He had gotten to see them through the solicitor, Alan Wilson. It was a brutal read. He only got through to Cathy by forcing her to read them, also.

            Still, a bleak winter in a drafty Victorian building put Livia in a bad frame of mind. She did not even want consolation from the radio. It was just a pacifier, often causing her to vent her own distress and despair, rather than a means of achieving any sort of progress or having any real hope. The right voice and lyric could cut her to the core, though through it, she had perfected a means to let no one else know anything about it. Her mask outside that room remained unblemished, serene, intellectually aware and mostly silent. That night, however, Livia just stared at the ceiling in the darkness, wishing she would fall asleep and not wake up until someone came to take her away from Colindale.

            Just then, the owl Livia called Sydney appeared at her window and tapped at it. Livia lit a small lamp and let her in. Sydney went for Livia’s desk and, removing a pen from its holder, laid it flat on the desk along with some blank paper she pulled from a drawer she had opened. Livia understood the gestures and could feel Sydney telling to write about everything she could do and how she came to Colindale and her desire to leave to resume her education if and when her brother could win her release. Livia poured herself into this letter, as Sydney wanted. The letter said:

To whom may receive this letter,

 

My name as far as I know is Livia Woodcock and I was born 28 August 1972. The name Woodcock comes from the church rector of Framlingham, Suffolk, who kept me for about 11 years before a false accusation by one of his daughters removed me from his home. I never knew my parents because a girl (not my birth mother) left me as a baby at the door of St. Michael’s Church. I reside in a type of prison school for juvenile delinquents in Colindale, an area of Greater London. A Barn Owl I call Sydney has asked me to write this. She likely knows how forlorn I have been for some of my time here, which dates to September of 1983. I am not aware of why she wants it. She refuses to tell me, lest I gain any false hope, she says.

 

I can talk to all sorts of animals, usually birds and mammals. When I first came here, my pet cat followed me here all the way from Framlingham. She was allowed to stay if she could be a mouser for the facility, and I essentially told my cat where to leave the mice she kills here. I told the staff I trained her to do this. I have keen insights into the thoughts and feelings of other people as if their greatest secrets are open books to me. When I was first housed in a group bedroom, I found how I could create a false bottom to a trunk and the items I wanted most safe became concealed from anyone’s view, should they ever look into it. I knew several of the girls taunting me would be only too glad to seize and destroy these things. I have skills at predicting events, also. I have made myself very careful not to show anyone my own thoughts or emotions, which led to my discovery that I can seal my room from emitting any sound by waving my hand to cover all walls, the floor and the ceiling. I once materialized an item from home into a folder when I forgot it, too. I suppose I am capable of harming others, but beyond a few trips of people who have crossed me (that I can do without saying or doing anything), I have not done so, in case my various talents are discovered. I dread that I would receive a worse punishment than this place, where at least I have my own room and my cat.

 

My adopted brother Tom and a teacher have estimated my IQ as being in the 160s or 170s, though I have no idea how this institution has dulled my intelligence. Only Tom sending me challenging things to read or music has sustained me. He has promised to gain custody of me later this year when he has his own living space in Durham, but I am approaching a breaking point. He and I see each other rarely but typically communicate by messenger owls. Only when he sends packages does he use the Royal Mail, ensuring Colindale does not object to anything he sends.

 

I have told Sydney what this letter says and she has deemed it sufficient, though I know not why it is so. I am thus at the mercy of her kindness and yours. She has never let me down – she even came here once with a rare Eagle Owl to defend me from a brutal, physical attack – so I entrust her with this and hope you do not let her down. She tells me she may have to create a relay team to get this note to you, so you may not get to meet her. She says she will convey my thanks for the safe arrival of this to any or all additional carriers.

 

Sincerely,

Livia Woodcock

 

Livia folded up the letter, and one she sealed it, Sydney took it and disappeared. The significance of Sydney’s request did not register for months. Indeed, Sydney never mentioned it in any future encounters and would only tell Livia “it is out of my hands” whenever Livia tried to grasp at why she asked Livia to write it. Long before spring’s end, Livia stopped asking about it.


Chapter 4: Freedom Brings Unusual Gifts
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            Livia turned her attention to notes she received from Tom. He told her that he had begun putting his plans into action. He had moved out of a residential college into an apartment he shared with one other male Durham student and two female students. The other residents all signed affidavits to Mr. Wilson that Tom’s sister was welcome to reside in their apartment and they would make any necessary modifications to the space for her to live there for as long as needed. Tom also concerned himself with finding a local Durham school ready and able to accept her and perhaps even board her there if they deemed the arrangement appropriate.

            Tom had one final thing to accomplish: Rev. Woodcock had to sign documents allowing his son to accept physical custody of her whilst maintaining that he would be willing to continue offering Livia financial support. After his spring term ended, Tom traveled to Framlingham, where Mr. Wilson already had scheduled a hearing to award Tom custody of his adopted sister. Lydia fumed when she got wind of the plan and even tried to get her mother to oppose the arrangement. Yet Emma Woodcock also loved her son, at least somewhat, and never fully realized it until he ceased spending time with the family. Having seen Cathy’s statement as well as experiencing her son’s alienation from her, she could not make herself oppose the arrangement. “Why do you care if Livia is not returning to Framlingham? Why does it matter if she is in London or Durham?” Mrs. Woodcock asked. Lydia could not answer. Further, Mrs. Woodcock first began to see how doting on Lydia had made her spoiled. “I already know Cathy has changed her story. I will not support continuing to subject Livia to living in that place for no reason.”

            “Cathy is a liar and a whore,” Lydia began, “so why should you now believe her?”

            “Lydia, language. Besides, she lied only because you forced it on her. If Cathy is not credible, then no one ever supported your story. When do you take responsibility for that?”

            By early July, the Youth Court had relented. The town council helped. They had not formally apologized (and Tom would still pursue that), but they awarded Thomas James Woodcock physical custody and issued the order for Colindale to release her to him. Tom made the trip to London with his friend Adam, and they met John there. Both had looked upon Livia kindly but had not seen her in nearly two years. Tom told them she had grown some and one thing they had to do was buy her some new clothes, since the hand-me-downs from Lydia would no longer fit. John informed them, since he already had been accepted at University College London, that he had secured accommodations for all from a dormitory turned into a bed and breakfast during the summer at Passfield Hall on Endsleigh Place, a connected group of Georgian structures that stood a short walk from Euston Station in one direction and a lovely little park at Gordon Square in another, where the Bloomsbury Group had lived decades ago.  He had a surprise, too, but he said he would wait until Livia joined them to reveal it to everyone.

            Tom looked very mature for 19, tall, dark-haired, more fair than he seemed when younger and muscular, when he entered Colindale to provide the paperwork needed for them to release Livia. Adam and John waited for him outside the building. Tom came to Colindale at their appointed time, late in the morning of Wednesday, 10 July. Livia realized she had only some of her books, radio, the little picture of herself with Tom, letters from Tom, the note explaining her past and the stuffed bobcat to put in her suitcase. She had given away many books as gifts, which lightened her suitcase. None of her original clothes fit, so she left them there. Mrs. Hatfield had found a neighbor with a teenage daughter and was able to get some items that the older girl no longer could wear, including footwear that fit Livia. Livia wore some and packed the rest. Tom signed all the papers they presented to him, briefly spoke to a few staff members who had come to see Livia off, one being Mrs. Banks, who had placed Sarah in a cat carrier. Since Sam was doing such a great job, Sarah had earned her release, also. Mrs. Banks considered it Sarah’s retirement.

            Livia’s only regret was the fact that Sydney and her partner, Mel, would no longer be near her. Sydney reassured her that they would relocate to wherever Livia was, so long as she had settled in somewhere and called for them. Other owls would eat what Sam left. Finally, Livia entered the reception area and saw the carrier and knew Sarah was in it. She had brought her suitcase. Tom hugged Livia tightly and took control of both the strap of her wheeled suitcase and the cat carrier. He realized a short time later that they would have to make arrangements to board Sarah whilst in London, as he doubted she could keep the cat in a university dormitory.

            A number of the staff seemed genuinely touched and both happy and sad to see Livia go. Even Mrs. Smithson possessed some emotion, if well hidden. Mrs. Hatfield, Miss Case, Mrs. Banks and Miss Scott (soon to be Mrs. Birks) all became more expressive in bidding Livia well, each taking a turn in giving her a hug. Then Livia was free. She left the building with Tom and immediately recognized Adam and John waiting near the entrance. Still, each had grown a lot since she had last seen either. Adam had dark blond hair in that new wave, quasi-mullet style. He stood nearly as tall as Tom but was more tightly muscled and sinewy. John stood slightly shorter than Adam (perhaps owing to his footwear) and had fairly short and straight dark hair. They were boys no more, but they remained Tom’s friends and hers now, too. After hugging Livia and remarking how big she had grown, Adam grabbed the cat carrier to leave Tom a little less burdened. John seemed equally delighted.

            “At last, you are rid of that place,” John said. “I am so happy for you. And I have made some arrangements for us all to have some summer fun in London.”

            “Great,” Tom stated. “Only problem is – what do we do with Sarah, Livia’s cat?”

            “Let me make some phone calls. I think I might be able to find a friend of my father’s to care for her whilst we remain in town,” John asserted.

            True to his word, John did just that, using a phone by the Colindale tube station. He found the name and address of a nearby lady who loved cats but who had recently lost hers. Miss Barker, a petite immigrant from the Caribbean who worked for a London record label, told John that she would be delighted to watch Sarah for a few weeks. They found her only a few stops from Colindale. Sarah indicated to Livia that the garden and the house and the lady would suit Sarah quite well, and she would be invigorated by her time there to rest rather than try to catch mice. She would be ready when Livia collected her to accompany her anywhere she would go.

            What do you mean anywhere? Livia asked silently.

            Sarah told her: Remember that letter you wrote? I do. It had a real purpose. Your time in Durham may not be as you currently think it will be.

            Livia was intrigued, but Sarah said nothing else and the foursome made their way back to their lodgings, where they would formulate their dinner and shopping plans and John would reveal his surprise.

            They all arrived at Passfield Hall just before 15:30, giving them time to get Livia some new clothes and find a nice place somewhere off Oxford Street to eat. Tom had received a good deal of money from his father to enjoy these things and whatever else everyone else they wanted to do. Livia’s request was to visit the National Portrait Gallery. She enjoyed reading the faces as well as the painter’s or photographer’s intentions. Other ideas included the Tower of London, a pub crawl (a drunken binge of celebration), Covent Garden and the Victoria & Albert museum.

        John interrupted their brainstorming. “No, we are doing something else entirely this weekend,” he revealed. “Have you heard of the great concert event of the century, if not ever, called Live Aid?”

        “Of course,” Tom replied. “I desperately tried to get tickets in the hope that Livia and I could go. Nothing worked. Scalpers wanted way too much for me.”

          "Well, then you will forever be in my debt, all of you,” John stated. He removed an envelope from the inside of his sock. “I could not trust them to go anywhere but on me. My father, who has great connections in the music industry, got me four tickets to be on the pitch at Wembley for Live Aid this Saturday.”

            Before Adam could fully say “You’re joking, mate,” they saw the four tickets and began to examine them. They were real. Everyone’s jaw dropped except John’s.

          'Now this is a way to celebrate Livia’s freedom,” Tom announced. “Can I do anything to thank your father or you, John?”

            “We can take some pictures, or you can just send him a note,” John responded. “Believe- you-me I thanked him profusely already. He had some idea what this would mean, and he was very happy to make it happen. I think he told some people he knew about Livia’s sorry story, and that made them exceedingly motivated to ensure that he got these.”

            “This is brilliant,” Adam assented. “We have got a great deal to celebrate now.”

            Tom wondered about the best place to hide the tickets till then. “What do you think, Livia?”

            “I think John has been doing so well thus far that it would be wrong of me to question his choices now,” she whispered. “But since my suitcase is in my room, it might have a good pocket for concealing them, if John thinks he would not want to carry them everywhere. I learned a trick of sorts, but you have to swear never to tell. I will conceal them till we need them.”

            John consented to see what Livia had in mind. She took the tickets and put them inside the envelope that contained the letter pinned to the basket Tom had found containing her. She wordlessly conjured the false bottom to the suitcase so the envelope with the tickets could not be seen by any of them. “Where are the tickets, Livia? I cannot see them.”

            “Neither can anyone else,” Livia answered. “I will retrieve them when we all are ready to go on Saturday, and I will give them all to you, John, then.”

            “Dare I ask how you did that?” Adam asked, awestruck.

            “Probably better you do not know,” she replied. “They are safe from any housekeeper or whatnot. I guarantee you will see them again on Saturday.”

            “We should all trust Livia, strange as it seems,” Tom said. “She may still be quite young but you already know her talents are many and varied. And I know she wants to go to this event as much as the rest of us do.”

            The foursome spent a very pleasant few days before Saturday. Livia even got to speak to Miss Barker to ensure Sarah had adjusted to her new surroundings. “Oh yes,” Miss Barker assured. “She sleeps a lot but often right next to me. She must have been very tired from all the mousing she did. I give her some boiled chicken, kibble and water, and she’s fine. She has no issue with her litter box, either. She’s a great comfort to me. My late Marley would love that I did this.”

            Passfield Hall required its guests to get up early for breakfast in its basement, which worked perfectly for the four to get to Wembley in good time for the concert’s opening at noon. They gathered in the room Livia had and she, as promised, produced the tickets. Adam and John, in particular, were dumfounded by how they seemed to appear out of thin air. “Is there anything you cannot do, Livia?” John asked.

            “I think the answer is pretty obvious, given where I was until Wednesday.”

            On their way to Wembley, the four started wondering about the concert’s length and how they would handle the need for food or WC facilities. Given the list of acts and the feed from Philadelphia, it would be an all-day affair.

            “First, we should all go before entering the grounds,” Livia stated. “Leave the rest to me. Give me a fiver, Tom, and I got this, if we pass a Boots store.”

            The fiver and the store were a ruse. Livia knew she could conjure up food that would break down without requiring bathroom trips or water. Further, she would later offer what she called a homeopathic medicine to suppress any urges, claiming the Colindale nurse had tipped her off to this. “Still,” Tom began, “we need a plan if we get separated, for any reason.”

            They agreed on a place to meet inside the stadium at the end of the concert, if they were not together. Everything soon fell into place. They arrived early, each used the WCs and they headed onto the grass toward the stage. Livia gave them these little white pills to take, that she said would keep them from needing more trips until much later. She told them that she had also acquired healthy snack bars to tide them over, all of which she kept in a small bag Tom bought for her a few days before. John had one of those bum bags worn around the waist to hold a camera and some keys and a small address book for his father and other contacts in town. There were other early arrivers, so they found themselves about two dozen or so rows beyond the stage.

            Live Aid prompted began at noon with a little royal pomp to announce the beginning of the event. Livia did not know much about the first performers, but Tom, Adam and John all seemed pleased with them. They were all blown away by this new singer, who with a self-named band had released her first album, “Diamond Life.” But only Livia had ever heard her sing before. “She has an amazing voice,” Livia asserted.

            “Forget that,” Adam said. “I have never seen a more beautiful bird in my life and usually I don’t take that great a fancy to women of African heritage. But blimey!”

            “Agreed,” John affirmed. “She is just stunning. Full stop.”

            For Livia, it was her song “Why Can’t We Live Together?” that hit home. “No matter what color, you are still my brother…” Tom put a hand on Livia’s left shoulder. She reached up to it with her left hand and clutched it. She had to keep herself in check, hard as it was.

            Livia fared better when other acts she liked came out. Seeing the U2* lead from a short distance, especially when he leapt down from the stage to an area below it, made her hypnotically stare. Tom had picked her up so she could see him better. He did not see the look on her face. John did. “Ut oh,” he stated. “I think Livia just woke up to find she’s not a little girl anymore.”

            “I have heard him sing so much. I never knew what he looked like,” Livia said.

            “Sounds like a big crush starting to me,” Adam chimed in. “I agree with John. And Livia, we will not hold this against you.”

            “Eh, she could do worse,” Tom added, laughing. “Must be the leather trousers.”

            “What are those lyrics he’s singing?” Livia asked. “They are not part of the song ‘Bad’.”

            “The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed,” John responded. “Guess you need to get caught up on some older material. There’s much you can hear. What in the world have you been sending her, Tom?” The boys laughed.

            Just then there was a commotion and from where they stood, neither Tom, Adam nor John could figure out why the lead signer had jumped to the ground in front of the crowd and gestured at some people. “What is going on?” John asked.

            “Some girls are being crushed against the front barrier,” Livia answered, gesturing toward the lead singer. “I think he is trying to get security staff to pick them up and get them out of there before they get hurt.”

            They saw the singer embraced one and danced with her, then a second and third. It seemed he had kissed each of them, too.

            “Don’t worry, Livia,” Tom begun. “We are here, and you will not get hurt.”

            “I think I would risk that for a dance and kiss from him, though,” Livia asserted.

            “She’s officially off the rails now,” John maintained. “Though I must admit that I am jealous of him because those girls were rather pretty.”

            “Yep, I agree on that point, too,” Adam responded.

            “Okay, so we are all jealous,” Tom summarized. “The three of us that we are not that bloke there and Livia because she was not among those girls he plucked from the crowd.”

            “I guess you will all need to start a band, then,” Livia suggested. “I think the U2 members largely taught themselves how to play and wrote their own music because of that.”

            “There’s an idea,” John said, taking a turn in hoisting Livia to give Tom a break.

            Other acts they saw also proved amazing to see in person. By the time Queen had come out, Adam was picking up Livia so she could see. They would continue rotating duties as long as they remained. They also found themselves able to slowly get closer to the stage as other people left for lavatories or food vendors. Livia kept them all from needing either until the London portion of the show ended. All of them thus really enjoyed Dire Straits, though Tom had to explain to Livia what MTV was. At that point, they decided to leave, finally hitting the WCs, getting some food and dropping off John’s film for developing before heading back to their temporary London home. They were able to relive highlights on the telly in the basement recreational area of the hall. Before going to sleep, Livia ensured she wrote a note to John’s father and his friends for making this day possible for her. She said she would be forever grateful that she had benefited from their kindness. The next day, she gave the letter to John. Sunday brought much less to do so she and Tom walked around the park within Gordon Square. Meantime, Adam and John played snooker.

            They sat at one of the benches, just enjoying the day and the quietness of the area, which was a great feat within such a large city. An old gentlemen with a long beard tucked under his shirt approached them and sat down. “Are you Livia Woodcock?” he gently asked.

            Tom looked stunned and Livia a bit blank yet puzzled. “I am,” she replied. “How do you know my name?”

            “I know a lot of things about you, thanks to a Barn Owl you call Sydney,” he responded. “She sends her regards. She and Mel are well. Their current clutch of owlets have grown well, thanks in part to the cat you named Sam.”

            “Sir,” Tom began, “this is very strange to me. An owl communicated with you and told you where to find my sister?”

            “Why do you think it strange, Tom?” he inquired. “You have gotten messages from this same owl, have you not? Do you think Livia is the only living being with this particular ability?”

            “I see what you mean, sir,” Tom admitted. “It still leaves me a bit unsettled, however.”

            “Will you allow me to talk to your sister alone?” he asked. “You can sit on that other bench and watch, of course.”

            Tom told Livia he would be only a short distance away and to call him immediately if she wanted or needed him.

            With Tom out of earshot, the stranger began by asking: “Do you know why I am here?”

            Livia sized him up. “You are a challenge for me to understand, which is unusual for me. Give me a few seconds…you run some sort of boarding school?”

            “Yes,” he affirmed. “Your owl Sydney arranged to bring the note you wrote in January to me. I am the headmaster of a special school for very talented people. From your note and what you have done the last few days, it seems to me that you belong there.”

            “How do you know what I have done recently?”

            “I have followed you some and have had a few spies. You hid tickets in what should have been plain sight, you gave your friends food you conjured as well as pills to retard their bodily functions so they could watch a very long concert without needing a lavatory break.”

            “Did I not cloak my abilities well?”

            “You do, to anyone who does not have equal or superior abilities or at least more education in using the abilities they have,” he observed. “I have only one issue with inviting you to attend my school when it resumes classes.”

            “What is that?”

            “It’s your age,” he replied. “Normally, our students start at 11 and finish around 18.”

            “I see,” Livia said. “I possess a fairly high level of intelligence. Would that not enable me to accelerate my studies and get at least closer to pupils my own age? I mean, thanks to my brother, Tom, I read and write far above my grade level – I could probably sit for a several O-level tests right now.”

            “That is not how we evaluate our students, but you might be able to catch up a little.”

            “Then what is this place?”

            “I do not want to tell you right now,” he answered. “Our new school year does not begin till orientation in early September. Usually, it is 1 September, but given that is a Sunday, it will be 2 September. If you can, do not leave London and give me a chance to speak to you again here, but more frankly at that time. You can call Sydney and she will find me.”

            “To whom do I address the note?”

            “Just write ‘Professor Albus Dumbledore’,” he responded. “She will know what to do.”

            Thus the man stood up, bowed and went over to Tom.

            “I am making an offer of admission to my school to your sister,” he informed Tom.

            “Oh?” Tom asked. “Where is it? What would it cost to send her there?”

            “Do not worry about that,” he replied. “I will find the means by the time I return. Just, if you can, do not leave London till I have the chance to speak to her and you again, which may not be until around her birthday and probably just after.”

            “I was planning to celebrate Livia’s birthday in Durham, though,” Tom disclosed.

            “I get that, though transporting her to my school from Durham will be less straightforward than from here,” he revealed. “Obviously, I cannot stop you, and you likely have your own reasons for returning there, since you must attend college. If you cannot wait, allow Livia to send word to me via Sydney. Perhaps you can return.”

            “Okay, sir,” Tom agreed. “This is all so strange to me. Since I have primary responsibility for Livia’s wellbeing, I need to be extra careful with any custodial matters. Legally speaking, I believe that I need to establish her residence in Durham, since I live there, and she is supposed to be able to call it her home, also.”

            “I see,” the bearded, sprightly old man stated. “You are a law student, right?”

            “I am,” Tom confirmed. “How did you know that?”

            “Livia can decipher things, but I am presently better at it than she is,” he answered. “Establish her as you need to do, but please get her back here before September, if you can. If I have to do it, I will get to Durham. Geographically, Durham is a lot closer to my school than London, but you know Brit Rail has its quirks. It is far easier to get anywhere from London than it is to get from a town or small city to a similar locale, especially going East-West or West-East.”

            “So I can establish her residence and bring her back here?” Tom asked.

            “That can work,” he replied. “It might be tight for you. Just make sure she tells me your plans. We normally start students at 11, so Livia already trails her age group. She has expressed an interest in trying to accelerate her studies. I cannot call it impossible, but it is rare.”

            “I did it once myself, just to get custody of her,” Tom stated. “If I can do it, so can she.”

            “I hope you are right,” he responded. He rose, bowed his head slightly and left the square. Neither could see him after he passed the blue plaque marking the former residence of John Maynard Keynes at the end of the block.

            Tom moved closer to Livia. “That was a most strange encounter,” Tom asserted.

            “Indeed,” Livia assented. “But he seemed well meaning and honest to me, if rather cryptic about his school. The fact that my Sydney trusts him says I should, also.”

            “We have to establish you at my Durham residence, though, legally speaking,” Tom said. “Perhaps we should leave here at the end of the month, do this and return here to meet him again?”

            “Sounds like a reasonable plan, but what about Sairy?” Livia asked.

            “Put that question to the gentleman,” Tom answered. “I gather he would board you at his school. I have no idea about his policy on pets. If they do not accept Sarah, I will keep her. My flatmates will probably spoil her to no end.”

            “Good,” Livia stated. “We should rejoin the others, if we are going to be leaving in like two weeks. I will send a note via Sydney about these plans before we leave.”

            The four enjoyed their last two weeks together seeing all sorts of places, both common to tourists and not. Some of their list was realized, some not, other things added, like the West End show “Evita”* from the front of the nosebleed section. The group retrieved Sarah before parting ways, with Tom giving Miss Barker money for watching Sarah, though she had been extremely reluctant to take it. John stayed behind because he enrolled in UCL. Adam went back to Framlingham, before making his way to the University of East Anglia in Norwich. True to her word, Livia called Sydney to take a note saying she was travelling to Durham to establish it as a home base, but she would return to London after her birthday and before Tom’s education resumed. Livia also inquired about whether or not she could bring her cat, Sarah, with her. She also indicated that Tom could not stay long, owing to his own responsibilities.

            During her last jaunt through Gordon Square, Sydney brought an answer. The reply gave approval of Tom’s plan. It further requested that she meet the man again on Friday, 30 August at 14:00 in park area of Gordon Square. She could bring her cat, and he would find a place for them before she departed for his school as well as there, as needed. He also expressed hope that Tom would be at ease entrusting her to him, reminding Livia to message Tom after he returned to Durham as well as when she was settled in her new school. “If he is able to hear from you often enough and see you on breaks, he will have less concern,” the note read towards the end. The letter further requested that any available owl take a message to him if plans had to be altered.

 

*Author's Note*

The music for "Evita" derives from Andrew Lloyd Webber; its lyrics were written by Tim Rice.

I have attempted to render the events of the seminal concert Live Aid as accurately as possible and encourage anyone unfamiliar with them to view available video from the stage performers who lent their artistry to it. I neither own nor possess any interest in U2 or any other musical act who took the stage for it on 13 July 1985.


Chapter 5: A Few Weeks in Durham and a Return to London
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            Tom and Livia almost could walk to King’s Cross to take a Brit Rail train to Durham, though taking the tube from Euston worked better, given they both had luggage and Sarah to manage. Livia wanted to stop at the church ground at St. Pancras, but Tom thought it not meaningful. “Historically, the church and its grounds were moved, you know. If you seek history, we should have gone to Highgate Cemetery along with Westminster Cathedral.” Livia nodded. “I presume you read Frankenstein?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Livia said. “Was Mary Shelley not buried at St. Pancras?”

            “Initially, yes,” Tom answered. “Her son moved her remains to Bournemouth when Victorian-era renovations took place. I am surprised you did not know that.”

            “I guess I wanted to see if any trace of her spirit still resides here.”

            “That may as well be in the station itself,” Tom said. “I do not know what this place looked like back then, so I cannot say I know where they would have placed her or if any of that matters.”

            The trip would take about three hours. Tom phoned his old home before they left (affiliated with the residential college where he remained a member and took board). No one answered. He rang a porter at nearby St. Aidan’s College and begged for someone to put a note under their door. The porter found a staff member who obliged, as she knew Tom well and his circumstances.

            Livia found the passing landscape fascinating. She had never seen this much of the countryside before, since she hardly paid attention from the trip from Framlingham. Tom took notice. “Yes, we see quite a lot on this trip – much more than you knew existed, I bet,” he said.

            “I am also wondering about that older man we met,” Livia stated.

            “Older? I am uncertain how many people I have ever met that were that much older than him,” Tom replied. “Perhaps just ‘old’ is apt.”

            “He seemed rather spry for an old man, though,” Livia said. “We both should be so lucky to have such powerful, seemingly youthful energy at whatever his age is.”

            “I see what you mean,” Tom began, “I still do not know what to make of his offer to you or who he is. I admit I was not able to place you at a school here without the staff meeting you. This man makes me question if I should bother with attempting to place you here, but I do not want to shirk this responsibility for the sake of convenience. I have to be sure he and his school will do right by you.”

            “Are you asking my opinion on whether we should return to London?” Livia asked.

            “I guess so,” Tom surmised. “He knew so much that suggests he has vast abilities akin to your own. Then there’s your messenger owl – he seemed to know her well.”

            “I never told you this, but I forgot about it when Sydney refused to give me information other than ‘it’s out of my hands’,” Livia revealed. “I was rather down after you left, and she had me write a letter detailing all I could about myself and my situation in a letter. She took it from me, told me she might have to create a relay team to get it to the right person. From all that he said to me, I have to conclude that she meant for him to receive it, and he read it.”

            “This is odd. Has this owl ever shown anything to suggest this is untoward or dangerous?”

            “Not from her, no,” Livia answered. “In fact, she told me she and her partner would relocate to wherever I settled. Sarah, too, gave some indication before I left that my stay in Durham may not last as long as I once had expected.”

            “She did not meet that man, though. How can she assess the situation rightly?”

            “Let me ask her,” Livia replied. Livia picked up the cat carrier and looked in. Sarah was relaxing inside peacefully but remained awake. Livia started a silent conversation with her. Sarah pledged to protect her as long as she lived and that she did not think that Livia would require protection from the headmaster who saw her. Livia asked how she knew what the man did. Sarah shifted slightly and simply indicated that she knew that man would do right by her.

            “Sarah seems to agree with Sydney about being able to trust him,” Livia stated. “I did not really get an answer as to why she would know this, though.”

            “I still hardly can believe that, if he’s well intentioned, that I will not have to pay him for your education,” Tom asserted.

            “I am not clear on that, either. He did not discuss money with me. My age seemed to bother him more than that issue.”

            “Well,” Tom began, “he said he will raise whatever he needed for you and talk more about that in late August. It begs the question of what do we do if he cannot do this. So I think I shall ask my father for a signed blank cheque just in case.”

            Tom spent much of the rest of the journey telling Livia about his living situation and those with whom he shared his residence. He believed all of them would like her and actually be sorry that she likely would not be staying terribly long.

            One of Tom’s flatmates, Jake Hertford, a medium-built student with short dark blond hair and wearing a Sunderland football club jersey, met Tom and Livia on the platform soon after they left the train. He immediately smiled, took Tom’s hand then extended it to Livia. “You must be Tom’s sister. I have heard so much about you. I hope we all will make your stay in Durham pleasant.” Jake then picked up the cat carrier. “This must be Sarah,” he said. “Hello there, young lady. Welcome to you, too.”

            “Thank you so much for meeting us, Jake,” Tom said.

            “No problem. I got our pal Gary waiting outside in his car to drive us home.”

            “How thoughtful,” Livia said. “Thank you.”

            “Let me warn you, Livia,” Jake said. “Gary is a tad eccentric. I think he wishes he were that singer bloke who looks like a girl. He’s harmless, though – his Geordie accent also can be hard to distinguish if you have not been around him long. You’ll understand it better after some time.”

            “I have never seen who you mean,” Livia said. “Please explain. And what does he look like?”

             After Tom filled her in, Jake continued.“He’s a pale, big bloke with cornrows in his hair, makeup, plucked eyebrows, a hairband, hat and clothing that does not strongly indicate a gender. So far, Gary just likes his clothes.”

            After brief introductions and quickly loading the car, the sandy, short-haired Gary Reading sped away from the station. Before five minutes had gone by, he put car onto the curb and stopped. Livia was told this was a typical practice in such a town with narrow streets in general. Tom and Jake carried everything up a flight of stairs to an apartment that hung over an office for a university department not far from the Wear, the river than flowed almost entirely around Durham. Soon after, Livia met Tom and Jake’s two female flatmates, Alice West and Audrey Moss. Both were mostly fair, blonde-haired, blue-eyed women and at least somewhat resembled each other. They claimed to all be friends, but Livia thought there either was or would be more to the situation than that. In any case, both girls pulled Livia in and kissed her on both cheeks and declared how happy they were to meet her. “Your picture sits here,” Alice said, pointed to a bookcase in the living area. “Tom often speaks of you. My, how you have grown since then. We must get a new one taken.”

            “How about all five of us in it?” Audrey asked. “I think everyone here would agree that you are part of our ‘family’ now, so to speak.” Within a few weeks a collage of photos hung on the wall, featuring a few of all four with Livia, the original picture of Livia and Tom and two pictures from the Live Aid concert featuring John and Adam with Livia and Tom.

            The weeks passed rather quickly, though many things took place. The girls took Livia to a store to buy more appropriate clothes for fall and winter. All went to the castle again just to delight in Livia’s fresh eyes looking it over, then they had some afternoon tea and treats at the almshouse converted into a genteel, subdued café. Privately, Tom took Livia to Durham Cathedral, taking her past the tombs of St. Cuthbert as well as the Venerable Bede. Tom told her how often he asked for Bede to help him succeed in his studies and in his ability to gain custody of her. He also explained to her the meaning of the “bishop’s flag” on the cathedral’s roof, noting his presence.

            “He has his own flag?” Livia asked.

            “Oh yes,” Tom answered. “Centuries ago the bishop had his own army in Durham.”

            “He knows things,” Livia asserted when they entered the Venerable Bede’s chapel. “He probably cannot be able to help anyone but he knows plenty.”

            “I want to pause here so I can be sure taking you back to London is the right thing to do,” Tom said. He knelt before the tomb. Livia joined him.

            “Does he say anything to you?” Livia whispered.

            “No,” Tom replied. “I rarely can sense a clear answer. Helps to think, though.”

            “Maybe you can open yourself to him,” Livia suggested. “Then you might feel something.”

            Sarah settled in fairly well and the flatmates, that is Alice and Audrey, made sure the cat had all the necessary items, like food and water dishes, food, a brush, a litter box and even her own bed. Livia urged Sarah to use the bed at least occasionally, so no one will think they wasted their money on it. Sarah complied, still feeling a need to rest up anyway, knowing more travels lay ahead for them both.

            Tom had to attend to a few university-related things, like paying his bills, acquiring some books and writing supplies and assuring Aidan’s College that he had returned and would resume dining there once the term had begun. Livia often spent those times in the Cathedral. She, too, had her lingering questions and hoped one of the highly distinguished occupants would give her a clear answer. Finally, one of them did, or she hoped he did, telling her to go and return as often as she could. Obviously, they would not be going anywhere.

            Livia also enjoyed Durham Cathedral’s evening music services, which Tom or one of the girls would attend with her. They all soon found she had a great interest in music and was quite the mimic. When Gary visited, he was quite entertained, and a bit jealous, at her rendition of “Do You Want to Hurt Me?”

            “Can you teach me how to do that?” he asked. “I swear I will pluck my eyebrows and go all the way for some school contest if you can.”

            Now this was a teachable skill, Livia thought. She delved into the phrases, the notes he hit and how he enunciated his words, and his restrained but present emotion. Gary had to come back a few times for her to hear him and make suggestions, but they could both do the song together in less than two weeks. Tom jokingly told Livia, “I think you created a monster in Boy Gary.” Meanwhile, Tom got to thinking about all the tapes he should buy her for her birthday, presuming she would be leaving soon afterward. The others told him to make a list for all of them to get something to give her. At least one said she would need extra batteries for the Sony Walkman Tom planned on getting, too.

            They all decided to dine in on some delivered Indian food while Audrey and Alice made a three-layered, red velvet cake with 14 candles (one extra for good luck). They put out enough food for their additional friends, including Gary, to come share the evening together. The all brought little gifts, especially various tapes from music they had found Livia liked. Tom had heard from his father regarding the request for a cheque, but he had not expected that Rev. Woodcock and his daughter, Cathy, would make the trip. 

            Livia’s party got into a groove early and seemed in full swing when there was a loud buzz to be let up. Tom thought it might be another friend who said he might make the party, but when Tom opened the door, he saw his father and Cathy instead.

            “Well,” Tom began, “this is something of a surprise. Never thought either of you even remembered Livia’s actual birthday, let alone would come here for it.”

            “Neither your mother nor Lydia will know,” Rev. Woodcock responded. “So I simply told them I wanted to spend some time with Cathy. They will have no clue. Your mother is not even ready to admit any fault of her own in what happened and, well, you know where Lydia stands.”

            “We both came here to express regret and to ask Livia to forgive us both for the roles we played in what happened,” Cathy asserted. “I hope you will welcome us in.”

            “Does this mean you finally have told Dad everything that prompted you to lie for Lydia?” Tom asked.

            “I have told him enough. He knows I snuck out to see that boy I was dating against his wishes as well as attending a party. I guess he has forgiven me, since I recanted and Livia is free.”

            “Livia!” Rev. Woodcock exclaimed as she approached the door. “Do you welcome us and accept our sincere apologies?”

            For once in her life, Livia considered being bratty. She even wondered if her sister and father would suck the life out of the evening’s general sense of fun. She decided that, given her prospects had a good upside, she would take the high road. “Sure,” she stated. “Come in and meet Tom’s friends, who all have been so kind to me. Alice and Audrey’s cake is most excellent, too.”

            Every gift of music got played that night, from Simple Minds to the Cure, the Clash, Talking Heads and Billy Joel. Livia even got to perform a little U2 and Culture Club with Gary. The evening perhaps did not rank quite as high as the Live Aid show (which everyone wished they had attended), but it came somewhat close. Adam and John had not forgotten and sent cards and small gifts, which Livia saved for opening that evening. Livia was glad Rev. Woodcock gave her some cash because she realized she had a lot of thank you notes to write. Cathy brought a card they picked up along the way. She had not planned initially on her father taking her to Durham, so she apologized for not bringing a gift. Livia sent her a thank you note, just the same.

            As soon as the party ended, everyone became more anxious in general, in anticipation of the new term approaching. Tom realized his schedule would be somewhat tight. He would leave Durham with Livia early on the 30th and hope to return as fairly quickly, this time staying in a nearby modestly-priced hotel. All the Durham students she had met came round once more, though the party had occurred so recently and had a going-away salutation for Livia, even though she could not tell them exactly where she was going. They all found that hard to believe.

            “She tells the truth,” Tom affirmed. “The gentleman who offered her a place at his school did not tell us much about it, other than it would be better to get there from London than Durham. And Sarah was welcome to join her.”

            “Awww, we lose Sarah, too,” Alice responded. “That’s sad. She looks so cute in her bed.” The collage eventually also included a picture of Sarah.

            “So what do they teach at this school?” Gary asked. “How to sound like a pop star?”

            “I think not,” Tom replied. “Livia has a lot of other gifts that I do not understand altogether. Let me first say this to all of you. If you ever see an owl carrying a letter, get me. We have exchanged notes for almost two years this way. How Livia gets them to do this, I have no idea. Apparently, this headmaster knew about it and uses them, also. My best guess, then, is that they teach things that have to do with all of Livia’s unusual talents, that being just one.”

            “You’re joking, right? An owl?” Alice asked.

            “When you see this, you will know,” Tom replied.

            “What kind of owl? Is it big or mean? I know owls are great predators,” Audrey inquired.

            “I am not sure,” Tom said. “Livia used a Barn Owl with me. There are other owl species, though – some bigger and some smaller than those.”

            “Is a Barn Owl okay, Audrey?” Livia asked. “If I get my wish, the owls I hope to use are ones I have used before. I call them Sydney and Mel. Barn Owls do not generally have long life spans, so I have to keep them fit. They are neither the largest nor the smallest type of owl. They and Sairy had no problems, perhaps because both eat mice, so I don’t see why a person here will.”

            “So you will work with animals there?” Jake asked.

            “I guess so, since many can come there,” Livia answered. “The school does not use O-levels or A-levels, so I am not sure if animal accomplishments determine grades or what they do.” Livia had some idea by this point, but she knew better than to say much more. “The only issue the headmaster had with me concerned my age. They typically begin at 11. I have asked about being able to accelerate my studies. If I am allowed to do so, I may spend a lot of time there initially playing catch-up. My break times may be very short because I will want to study during them.”

            “We all know Tom did this,” Jake stated. “We will understand – and if he does not write regularly enough, at least one of us will take up the slack. We are here for Tom and for you.”

            “Thank you so much,” Livia responded. “It might be I who has trouble writing often enough, if they truly challenge me, as I hope they can.”

            “Indeed,” Alice asserted. “Since we all are students, how can we not get that?”

            That last evening, the four took a good stroll around town, and riverside by the Wear. Livia stated that spring must make this area quite lovely.

            “Yes,” Tom agreed. “The crew team also enjoys it.

            “And don’t forget the wedding parties,” Audrey added.

            The walk helped Livia sleep well. They all got up the next day and had a good breakfast before one by one hugging Livia and bidding her well and hoping she returns soon.

            “I will try,” Livia said. “That cake by itself was enticing. Still, you all must go somewhere for Christmas, so perhaps I can come back after that or about then.”

            “Just let any of us know when we should be here,” Jake stated, as he released her.

            The trip back to London seemed mostly uneventful. Sarah seemed content in her carrier and Tom said little.

            “Are you nervous, Tom?” Livia finally asked.

            “Some,” he replied. “I am finding it hard to contemplate letting you go, since I tried so hard to bring you to me.”

            “Understandable. That’s why I will send word I am okay as soon as I get settled wherever I am going. My only question concerns the timing of that. How long is too long to wait?”

            “If your stay in London without me lasts more than a few days, you better let me know that you are still there,” Tom answered. “I think if a week goes by with no word, I will go mad, no matter what my workload becomes. I mean maybe you should ring John if you stay there a spell.”

            “Okay,” Livia agreed. “On both counts.” Livia confirmed how to reach John there.

            Upon arrival in London, Livia and Tom checked into a local hotel. Livia had successfully fooled the staff about Sarah. They saw a suitcase, not a cat carrier. Tom never asked about it. He was going to inquire about the cat when Livia slightly shook her head and he stopped. He realized they did not see Sarah, in the same way no one could see the Live Aid tickets in Livia’s suitcase, not even after Tom and her friends saw her place them in it. He considered that maybe this was a school for magicians. He asked Livia if she thought so.

            “More or less, that rings true,” she affirmed. “Perhaps this headmaster can print money, which is why he did not ask for any!” Livia herself laughed at the notion with Tom.

            Shortly before 14:00, Livia and Tom headed to the park within Gordon Square. When they arrived, the spry, old man already had taken a seat on one of the benches and was feeding a variety of birds, including pigeons and crows.

            “Glad you could come again, Livia, Tom,” he said, standing then bowing slightly.

            “I have a blank cheque from my Dad,” Tom stated. “I should be able to cover whatever you need for at least the first term.”

            “How kind of you, Tom. I imagine you have some cash you can offer Livia,” he responded.

            “I can spare about 200 quid,” Tom replied. “That cannot be sufficient.”

            “Give whatever you can spare to Livia and let me talk to her alone for a few minutes, please,” he asserted. Tom walked over to a nearby bench again and regretted he could not lip read.

            “Have you figured out where you going yet?” he asked.

            “Not entirely,” Livia answered. “I know it involves some form of magic – that’s the word Tom actually used. I suspect it is more complicated.”

            “Oh, it is,” he responded. “My school is called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You, my dear, are an extremely talented witch and do not realize it.”

            “Well,” Livia began, pausing some before continuing, “It does explains things I can do that no one else can. I thought I was perhaps just an empath.”

            “You are that, too, no doubt,” he confirmed. “Students at Hogwarts are not necessarily skilled in things you associate with that word and are easy for you to do. This will make you quite formidable as a student and you might scare at least a few classmates because you understand children and muggles in general so easily. ”

            “What are muggles?” Livia asked.

            “Like your brother, Tom – that is, people lacking in wizardry skills,” he responded. “They cannot grasp your abilities fully nor replicate them. You are extraordinarily special, which is why you belong at Hogwarts. Your gifts need to be harnessed and enhanced. I gather you are staying at a nearby hotel but your brother needs to head back to Durham soon.”

            “Indeed – my cat is there, too, but no one has noticed,” Livia stated. “I am feeding her special food that I conjure, and she remains quiet.”

            “Masterful at your age. If he can stay till Monday morning, he can go home on his train and you can go to yours. They will be in the same station, but he will not be able to see you off.”

            “Why?” Livia asked. “Couldn’t he get a later train?”

            “Muggles cannot access the platform. See this ticket? It is for you.”

            “I do not understand this.”

            “Go to the platform between these numbers and look for the children with any sort of owl or animal with them. They, or their parents, will show you what to do. You should get there early enough to see them. Your money will become rather useless after you board the train, but you may need it at times when you try to visit your brother. Giving you money was a bit of a ruse, actually.”

            “Okay,” she acknowledged. “Do I call you professor or what?”

            “That will do. You will see me after you settle in. Before then, I also will send someone to help you acquire the things you will need for the term. He will meet you after your brother leaves.”

            “How will I pay for those things?” she asked.

            “He will take you to a bank where you can open an account and get money. The board of our school has approved setting aside funds for you, with my recommendation. That bank also can exchange your currency, but it shouldn’t be needed. Our stipend should be enough.”

            “How will I pay you back?” Livia inquired.

            “By being a good student and offering help to whomever asks it from you. If you succeed, and you are willing to maintain such a role, you will pay back this investment many times over. You also would get the opportunity to contribute to Hogwarts yourself, the longer you are able to aid other students. Livia, I think you will like our school so much that you will not choose to leave it often, even if you successfully catch up with your peers.”

            After giving Livia a few additional instructions, the man then motioned Tom to join them. He asked if Tom could stay till Monday morning, 2 September, if he left on the first train out that day. Tom assented. Getting back to Durham then would work just fine, Tom said, because he would have plenty of time to organize himself for whatever tasks remained until the term began.

            “Good. I have given Livia her ticket. She will take a special train from King’s Cross. She can bid you farewell at the station. I am sorry to tell you this, but you will not be able to see her off. As you said yourself, there is a type of magic involved. I know you usually do not ask questions, but I can sense your concern about leaving a young teenage girl to fend for herself. She will not be alone, I assure you. I will send someone to help her. Besides, if she could protect herself from Megan, Rachel and Patsy, a little time in a busy train station should not worry you.”

            “I see what you mean,” Tom conceded. “And a last weekend with her sounds nice.”

            “Just tell your friends when to expect you back, in case anything requires immediate attention,” the man suggested.

            “Blimey, an even better idea,” Tom responded. “I am beyond stupefied.”

            “I understand,” he said. “Savor this time with your young sister. Maybe your friend John can join you two for part of it.”

            With that, the professor took his leave and once again seemed to disappear as soon as passed the blue plaque for John Maynard Keynes. Livia had expected as much while Tom reeled whilst still processing everything the man told him.

            “This man sure is impressive,” Tom asserted. “What should we do now?”

            “Make your phone calls, then we can proceed.”

            They began walking back to where there was a phone near the hotel. “Did he tell you enough about his school and everything?” Tom asked.

            “Yes,” Livia assented. “It is much like you predicted though more complex. Forgive me, but I do not know if you ready to have me repeat all that he said. I will tell you, perhaps when I am more certain I will not take you more aback than the headmaster already has.”

            “I admit it,” Tom revealed, whilst just reaching the phone booth. “He did. He knew so much and had such excellent ideas. You told him none of those things, I gather?”

            “None of it,” Livia replied, as Tom reached for change and his address book. “I do not even know how he got the names Megan, Rachel and Patsy. I have not even thought of them in months.”

            John had made his way back to London after a brief trip to Framlingham whilst Tom and Livia had resided in Durham. He had nothing pressing that weekend, though, so he readily agreed to meeting Tom and Livia for supper at a nice eatery off of Covent Garden. He had just met a girl he immediately liked and this new student, a medium-height girl named Perita, joined them. Born in Hong Kong of an Asian mother and English father, she came from a London suburban school. Perhaps the fact that she possessed long hair braided like he saw at Live Aid had captured John’s attention straight away.

            Perita seemed stumped at how Tom and John spoke with Livia. Clearly, Livia was younger, but they treated her as if she could more than hold her own on their level. When Livia excused herself to go to the lavatory, Perita decided to join her. “I hope you do not think this odd, but I am curious – how old are you?”

            “I just had my 13th birthday,” Livia answered. “Did you expect something else?”

            “Well,” Perita began, “I am glad I accompanied you, given your age, but no, I did not expect you to say that. In terms of your appearance, I believe it reasonable, but in the way that both Tom and John talk to you, it is strange. Even when John has spoken about you or Tom’s loyalty to you, I would have thought you were at least maybe 15. You are certainly the most mature 13-year-old I have ever met.”

            “I think I had to be to survive some of my misfortunes,” Livia stated. “You have to think fast when three girls want to beat you up.” Livia knew she gave a plausible response, if not actually a more realistic one than citing either IQ or any other attribute.

            “John thinks you are a prodigy,” Perita said.

            “I hope I am,” Livia responded. “The last few years may have dulled me beyond repair.”

            “From what I understand, intelligence forms at a very young age,” Perita asserted. “So I doubt you lost anything recently. I think there was a study that said pregnant women should expose older fetuses and newborns to Mozart, among other things, to heighten skills in maths.”

            “Interesting,” Livia observed. “All I know of my mother is that she was doing a stage tour the summer of the year I was born, though not as a performer.”

            “Maybe Shakespeare deserves some credit, then. Summer theatre tours often include or only put on his works.”

            “I have guessed she exposed me to a lot of music, since I tend to like it for all sorts of reasons,” Livia asserted. “It sure kept my mind off a lot of things when I needed that.”

            “I heard John got tickets to Live Aid,” Perita said. “I am so jealous.”

            “It was great,” Livia recounted, widely smiling. The three of us went with their friend, Adam, who is at university in Norwich. They took turns giving me a better look at the stage.”

            “Very sweet,” Perita responded. “Sounds like you are telling me something.”

            “Yes. John’s family has connections to the music industry, and he is a very kind-hearted person. Hold onto him if both of those things appeal to you.”

            Perita laughed as both made their way back to rejoin Tom and John.

            Tom and Livia would see both again on Saturday. They all went to Highgate Cemetery, though Perita and John often strolled through it on their own. Livia found it all interesting, from the uneven ground to the giant head marking the grave of Marx. They all paused for a moment by the grave of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

            “I forget,” Tom mused. “Did he get buried with some of his unpublished work?”

            “Yes, but it was later recovered. Nothing would remain of any papers there now, even if they had left any of it behind. Those who dug up the grave did not miss anything, I believe.”

            “I wonder how he would have felt about that,” Tom considered.

            “If only they had a photocopier, they could have left him with them and published them, too,” Livia replied. “That might have been best for everyone.”

            Dickens also drew special attention, though the grave did not seem particularly impressive.

            “I like a lot of what he wrote, but I cannot say I personally have a great affinity for him,” Livia revealed. “Except that he liked cats quite a lot.”

            “That lack of affinity does not surprise me,” Tom stated. “A lot of Victorian men did not make great husbands or fathers.”

            “That might be the reason I want to see George Elliot’s grave,” Livia said.

            “I have wondered why she hid behind that name. Didn’t Jane Austen publish as herself?”

            “I know Mary Shelley issued her book anonymously at first and the Brontës had pseudonyms,” Livia replied. “Not sure about Austen. I think most female authors, and this might include Austen, too, held the idea that they wanted the work judged on its own merit, without any bias for or against them based on gender. Just ‘I like it’ or ‘I hate it’ not ‘good for a woman writer’ or some such backhanded statement like that. Sometimes, reasons remain like that to make an author evade identifying gender, though this happens much less now. Perhaps this will change more as figures like David Bowie explore ambiguous images.”

            “How did you find all this out?” Tom asked.

            “Some of the books you sent with stuff I got from staff who knew I liked challenging myself as a reader,” Livia answered. “Books and music, along with Sarah, were my main friends with me at Colindale. I spent most of my time with these. I did not talk to many girls.”

            “What about my letters and our picture?” Tom asked.

                        “Well, the letters and the owls bringing them were like guest appearances, special but not daily. That had to be as it was, so I cannot complain and am not complaining. Sometimes I sang to your image, though, like you could hear me, but you did not, obviously.”

            “Will you think it odd if I ask you to attend a church service with me tomorrow – perhaps the ‘Actor’s Church’?” Tom queried. “I want to take some comfort there before I let go of you.”

            “I have no objection. The churchyard is very pretty.”

            Livia spent most of the late morning service staring at the actress Ellen Terry’s urn, which was behind a grate but inset into the wall. The container probably had six sides – hexagonal – with a domed lid topped by a figure she couldn’t quite decipher. It appeared to be silver and the grate the same or copper, dulled by age. Something seemed amiss with the dating on Terry’s life.

            After the service, Tom asked Livia why she had been so quiet.

            “I was thinking about Ellen Terry,” Livia stated. “She had such an interesting life, but I do not think she got enough credit for the things she did.”

            “She is here, though,” Tom offered.

            “Indeed,” Livia affirmed. “She was made a Dame, too. Yet I think her ‘colorful past’ kept her out of Westminster Abbey, where they put her longtime acting partner, Sir Henry Irving.”

            “Maybe because of the obvious cremation?” Tom suggested.

            “No,” Livia answered. “Irving, I think, was cremated, also, and he died more than 20 years before her.”

            “Did she talk to you or something?” Tom asked.

            “Not really,” Livia replied. “She’s at peace with her place here and much else. So long as she is here, those interested in acting and the theatre will remember her.”

            They met up with John and Perita at Trafalgar Square and took in a few sites and ate before heading back to their hotel. Tom grew quiet, recognizing tomorrow he would part ways with Livia for some length of time – again. He thought he would not feel the same way he did when Livia went to Colindale but much of it seemed precisely the same.

            “Tell me again this is the right thing for you, or I will just take you back to Durham,” he finally told her. “I don’t want to mess this up.”

            “I think it is the right thing,” Livia reassured him. “It seems the school has a good grasp of my abilities and will challenge me. Right now, I shouldn’t tell you everything the headmaster said to me. I will tell you when the time is right and I can show you better. I also need to maintain some secrecy, and I know it seems wrong that I do this when you have given me no reason not to confide in you fully. When I finally tell you, you will understand why I – as well as the headmaster – have withheld some information from you. This is a bit of a burden on me to be this, well, cautious, but he basically asked it of me and for now I will do this because I think he is right. I sure do not wish to be on his bad side so quickly, either.”

            Monday morning came round too soon for Tom. Livia could not say why she slept so well. She knew Tom had bought something to help him sleep. They checked out and quietly and very early ate their breakfast at a café area within King’s Cross. Tom seemed to eat the whole meal one-handed because he held Livia’s hand with the other, compelling Livia also to eat with one hand. Sarah, now fully visible, was given some water and some food from Livia’s plate, along with things she held in one of her sweater pockets. Tom seemed to stare at his plate a lot, or perhaps he was looking fondly at Sarah, wondering when he would see her again. Tom finally looked up. “Do you have your ticket and everything else you need?” he asked. “The money is safe?”

            “Yes, I think so. I am not sure where someone will meet me, though.”

            “Hmm – you could ask an owl,” Tom suggested. “A message might serve you well.”

            “Good point,” Livia replied. “Where there is an owl or a crow, I have options.”

            Livia said goodbye to Tom on his platform as he headed back to Durham on the first train out, still quite early in the day. He seemed quite emotional in parting from her, which he did not typically show. He asked all sorts of mundane questions about items she packed, if she could push a cart to her platform, if she needed anything they could buy there. She assured him again. He hugged her tightly and took his stuff and boarded, getting a window seat near where she stood so he could keep waving. He did so till he could no longer see her. He let out a heavy sigh and sobbed. He could only hope he would hear from her very quickly, even though he knew he had his own affairs to arrange and forced himself to write a list of things to do once he got back. This guardian stuff was draining, he told himself.

            Livia followed the headmaster’s instructions – which included a few she kept to herself. She put all her items into a checked storage area and went up towards the station’s entrance.  Just then she spotted an owl that swooped off the rafters and dropped something right in front of her. It had her name on it. The note instructed her that she would be meeting a very large bearded man who would help her acquire additional things for her trip. She should call him Hagrid.

            Almost immediately they saw and greeted each other. “The headmaster asked me to take you to withdraw some money, get you a wand and other supplies you will need. We need to act quickly, even though your train leaves later in the morning than you or your brother had thought.”

            They traveled outside the station and in a short time entered a world that seemed odd but thrilling. The bank itself proved a little strange given its layout and lighting, but Livia had little experience ever being inside a bank to appreciate all its peculiarities. Livia signed her name – in fact it was the first time she was asked to sign “Olivia Woodcock,” and she inquired if she could change this, given no one ever called her that name. A very undersized man, a goblin she learned, furrowed his brow and exhaled somewhat loudly. “What do you want it to be?” the teller asked.

            “Everyone has called me Livia – I am just asking if you can drop one letter. Is that hard for you to do?”

            The teller sighed in relief. “No. I will make a note as an ‘a.k.a.’ and put ‘Livia Woodcock’,” he said. “Sign this document here as your given name and here as the name you wish to use.”

            Given the nature of how Livia gained money via Hogwarts, she received money set aside that the teller had waiting for her. “Will you be establishing your own account with its own vault?” the teller asked.

            Livia looked at Hagrid. “I am supposed to do this, right?”

            Hagrid told her that yes, she should set one up, even if it remained empty for a time. “You may get opportunities in the future to make deposits, so you should do this. And if the school allocates money to you, then it has a home, rather than just being brought out front for you.”

            Hagrid had her acquire some notebooks, parchment, writing utensils – all of which seemed rather quaint. “You mean I cannot use my own pens?” Livia asked.

            “You have muggle pens?” Hagrid countered.

            “I have muggle everything. Muggle music, muggle paper, muggle clothes. What don’t I have that did not come from there?”

            “Well, we do things differently. How do you have muggle music?” he asked.

            “Guess you do not know what a Walkman is, I suppose,” she responded.

            “Not a clue.”

            “Well,” Livia began, “it is a portable player of music with headphones and an area to insert these small tapes of them that are called cassettes. It runs on a power provided by small batteries. I have these things in my suitcase at King’s Cross.”

            “Hmm,” he said. “I think I might like to see this sometime.”

            “I have a question, Hagrid,” Livia began, “I know these two Barn Owls that I will attempt to summon to the school because they have been loyal to me and have carried letters for me. They are not pets, though. I have given them names – Sydney and Mel. I do not know what to do with them once they arrive, since I do not wish to cage them or limit who they are. I do not know how I will be able to feed them or keep watch over them as a student.”

            “I see you recognize that I am the keeper of the grounds at Hogwarts,” he said.

            “I sensed you are very fond of animals – that’s not magic. One animal lover just knows when they meet another.”

            “I will build them a small owl box when we all get to Hogwarts. I will see that they live long enough to carry many letters for you.”

            “I am most grateful. I guess that means I will be visiting you quite often.”

            “You are most welcome – and welcome to visit. We must hurry and get you a wand here because the wand master is here and not at his shop in Scotland typically.”

            So, it was time to visit Ollivander’s Wand Shop and, as he put it, have a wand choose Livia. Mr. Ollivander, a spry man much like the headmaster, tried a number of woods and cores, so he said, and never quite thought he had found a perfect match. He then thought he would try one like that made for a great former teacher at Hogwarts. Livia’s was about a half an inch longer but in wood and core it matched former professor Horace Slughorn in being made of Cedar with a dragon-heartstring core, he said. Hagrid quickly returned Livia to the station, helped her get her things, placing the recently-purchased items and remaining money in them before getting her onto the train platform. He seemed to depart just after the elevator opened on the platform, so Livia gathered her bags in a nearby cart. How could he just vanish, Livia wondered.

            Just then, another school-aged girl, a petite girl of about 12 with medium-length curly medium-dark brown hair approached her. “Hi. My name is Shelley Silver. Did I just see Hagrid?”

            “Hi, I’m Livia Woodcock – yes, he was there and then gone. You know him?”

            “Of course,” Shelley answered. “Everyone at Hogwarts does. Who sent him to help you?”

            “The headmaster,” Livia responded. “Hagrid helped me buy things. I have never done this before and both Hagrid and the headmaster gave me information about getting to the right place.”

            “Blimey,” she said. “Professor Dumbledore has taken an interest in you already – nice!”

            “It might be because, as you can see, I have no family here,” Livia stated. “I recently left my adopted brother on another platform. I have no idea who my parents are or why I belong here.”

            “The headmaster knows,” Shelley asserted. “That will do just fine. I strayed from people I know to find a rubbish bin. Follow me and we can get to our platform together.”

            Livia could hardly believe what had just taken place. Having joined others penetrate a wall seemed impossible. She stared at it. At least she had some clue as to why Tom could not join her.

            An old-fashioned steam locomotive awaited them and a bunch of newly-arrived pupils as well as those already boarding. Shelley made some introductions, but Livia did not catch all she said. Livia followed Shelley onto the train. Shelley inquired about her carrier, being a bit odd there.

            “It’s for my cat,” Livia asserted. “Would I really want her out of it if she seems content?”

            “No reason to bother her, then,” Shelley said. “Some take pets without carriers or cages, unless they have owls.”

            “Who has an owl as a pet?” Livia asked.

            “Many students do. Did you not see them sold at Diagon Alley? You never had one?”

            “No, I have used wild owls, typically fed with mice Sairy kills,” Livia said. “I have a pair in particular I have relied on, if more the female, but neither has ever been a pet.”

            “They listen to you – wild creatures?” Shelley asked.

            “Oh yes. I can talk to this cat without making a sound.”

            “I guess some here can do that, but I have not seen it myself,” Shelley stated.

            “I take it you have been here before?” Livia asked.

            “Yes, this is my second year. You must be extra tall to be a first year student.”

            “No, I am just older,” Livia revealed. “I hope I can catch up to my age group, if possible.”

            “There is a lot to learn,” Shelley said. “I do not envy the task you set for yourself. Perhaps this is why Professor Dumbledore finds you interesting.”

            Before Livia fully realized it, the train had begun moving and her new life truly had begun.

 


Chapter 6: A New Beginning and New Challenges
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           Shelley introduced Livia to several of her school friends, a few of which settled in their car. Most of them were also second-year students, like Reggie, a youngster of African-Caribbean descent who was quite quick-witted, jovial and seemed rather kind. He had spent several years in a tough neighborhood in Brixton, London, and his inner toughness made him unafraid to be generous to those friendly to him. An olive-skinned, dark haired girl named Clara also took a seat in the car. She asked Livia if she wanted to know anything in particular about her studies or the professors or the headmaster. Livia declined, which struck everyone as a bit odd, given she admitted almost total ignorance about these things. “I prefer to make up my own mind, rather than anyone sway me one way or another,” she explained. “I am sure I may ask some of you later about things I may need help doing, but I trust myself regarding what I observe or feel. I like making decisions from first impressions. Do you know what I mean?”

            “You may change your mind after you meet a few people,” Reggie said before Clara could.

            Shelley then told both of them that Livia hoped to skip a grade to catch up with those about her age, a feat Shelley thought extremely difficult.

            “You mean you would be on the third level when we are?” Clara asked.

            “Yes, I hope I can join you,” Livia answered. “I know I am starting late, and I think some disagreed with the headmaster’s offer of admission. If I can show enough skill and determination to at least join you next year as you begin level three, I will have proven him correct.”

            “Can anyone think Professor Dumbledore is ever wrong?” Shelley asked.

            “Good question,” Reggie replied. “But I should think the entire faculty would have to approve that and who knows how that will go.” Clara, Reggie and Shelley all gave a knowing look to each other. Livia realized they thought someone in particular would pose the biggest obstacle. Yet if she gained that person’s approval, she thought she certainly would succeed. She did not wish to know more about their thoughts and closed off herself to knowing anything beyond the suggestion behind that knowing gaze. She would figure out it all in due time. She wanted to assess it all on her own, without any outside influences. She felt the need for her own judgement to outweigh anything else, though she realized that she had great difficulty in gauging the headmaster and figured the faculty whilst teaching would be at least as difficult to evaluate as individuals.

            “I see you have a cat,” Clara stated to Livia. “Why a cat and not, say, an owl?”

            “My cat at one point provided mice to owls. I never had the opportunity to have an owl. I only think of them as wild creatures, not pets. I am hoping two I befriended can come to school and resettle there somehow.”

            “Really?” Reggie asked. “How do you do that? Do have a whistle or something? Are they following the train?”

            “The owl I call Sydney told me to call her when I am settled, and she and her partner Mel would join me. I do not know how she will make the trip, but somehow she got letters to the headmaster, so I must believe she can do it.”

            “You must introduce us all to them, then,” Shelley asserted. “They must be very special.”

            There was some ruckus on the train in general and the exchange of food or drink, but the trip passed pleasantly enough until they reached their destination.

            The terminal where they all left the train seemed small, serving as more of a place to transfer to another mode of transportation. Various people waiting there helped students with their belongings, marking them and taking them so the owners could later claim them. These traveled somewhat separately from the students. Shelley told Livia that all the luggage would go to their respective house quarters or, if a new student, to a waiting area until the new ones were “sorted.”

            “Sorted?” Livia asked.

            “Hogwarts has four houses, each bearing the name of one of the school’s founders,” Shelley replied. “Only when you are sorted will they know where to put your belongings.”

“I see,” Livia said.

            “We all get to see the school from this amazing perspective and, since we first must go to the Great Hall first, we do not need our belongings immediately.” Hogwarts looked like a number of the castles she had seen, such as those in Framlingham and Durham, though the exterior seemed even more sturdy, tall and impressive. That reminded her of the thick walls of the late 11th century-built Durham Cathedral and its impressive central tower. Hogwarts, however had various parts with multiple stories and height that many structures akin to this lacked. Livia could not imagine an equivalent, but her travels had not been extensive enough in her youth to think of one. Perhaps Leeds Castle in Kent offered a reasonable parallel yet even that did not measure up.

            Livia soon found herself separated from any of the experienced students who already took their places inside. She and other new students remained behind and found no one interested in talking to her. Everyone seemed on edge. Livia remained merely curious because she had no expectations, whereas other students had knowledge of the school from family or older siblings or friends. A veteran, older female instructor welcomed them and introduced herself just before opening the doors to the hall.

            When the doors opened Livia found herself awed by the number of students seated at various long tables and a high table stood at the far end reserved for the faculty. The room’s only light came from flame, either candles or larger embedded caldrons equally spaced out on walls in the long room. She again beheld the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, now dressed in a much more colorful and, well, enchanting garb. He sat at the head of the high table not far from at a podium surrounded by gilded owls and candles. The podium was somewhat displaced to one side. An empty stool and conical brown hat that seemed sliced midway down its peak took center stage.

            Professor McGonagall, an imposing but perhaps kindly figure, Livia thought, had brought them inside. Livia realized an inherent realism and stern fairness in her, meaning she could not be the one the students seemed to think would challenge her the most, though Livia recognized the instructor possessed strong teaching skills as well as being personally formidable, making it essential to impress her, nonetheless. As the new students crowded around the front of the room, she announced that each student would step forward as called, sit in the empty stool in the center area in front of the high table and allow the “sorting hat” to be placed on each to determine the student’s house. Fortunately, she called “Livia Woodcock” rather than “Olivia Woodcock,” which Livia figured the headmaster had done by listing her name as such on the handwritten list.

            Livia stepped forward, making it obvious that she stood a head taller than the second tallest student and older than the rest, who were 11. She could hear murmuring about this, even at the high table. Some wondered who she was, how old she was, why she was there – she heard it all because no other background noise drowned this out. The only consistent answers mentioned that she was Professor Dumbledore’s own project – said on the high table – or that the headmaster personally must have approved of her attendance – the assertion of other students. She could not make out who seemed most critical or cynical regarding her attendance – she only knew it came from somewhere on the high table. She had fixed her gaze on the stool and the hat instead, so she only figured that whoever had questioned her attendance the most coldly must be the person the group on the train had tried to discuss with her. The whispers made attempting to decipher gender exceedingly difficult, so she could not guess more at the time than the general direction of the source. Still, she became aware that someone judged her before knowing her.

            She sat down and the hat placed on her. The hat spoke, which gave the slit a function, if a very strange one she took in stride by betraying no emotion. The hat muttered at first. It started to point out a number of Livia’s qualities and suggested she would perform well in any house. Then the hat mentioned a legacy. Everyone really seemed to take special notice of that because no one there had ever heard of any former student named Woodcock. It mentioned her father being an alumni of the school and asked her if she wanted that fact to determine her sorting. It seemed that comment drew in every ear, as did her response.      

            “No,” Livia responded. The assembled group almost seemed to gasp – or at least a few people did. “I know nothing about my father. He does not even know I exist. I only know that he was not named Woodcock. I received this name from the man who adopted me. Judge me on me alone, my potential here and what I want to accomplish. My fate should be mine alone.”

            The hat consented, adding that Livia’s academic aptitude, skills and motivation made the choice easy. “Ravenclaw,” it announced. The table where those students sat all applauded and welcomed her heartily, a reception she had only began to receive after her release from Colindale, one that gave her a slightly visible smile. She felt gratitude, if not fully showing it.

            Livia went to join that table and found Shelley Silver already there, congratulating her. She explained that the two other students Livia had met earlier belonged to another house, Hufflepuff. “It makes sense you should be here,” Shelley stated. “We are all hard-working as well as gifted students. This school will determine if that translates well into also being good witches or wizards, since the two are not necessarily the same thing. Some of us are very talented in that respect whilst others work hard to obtain better skills, though never among the best here.”

            “Yes, I got that impression,” Livia acknowledged. Now that Livia essentially had a home and Hagrid would build one for Sydney and Mel, she reached out to them, hoping they could follow her thoughts of them like a beacon. She conjured it in her mind, one that would give them a path to her. She told them of a home that an older, large man, the school’s groundskeeper, would make for them. He also would look after them. She further told them that some students kept owls as pets and she did not wish to curb their freedom and innate nature but instead wanted them to be safe and healthy. After a few minutes, she faintly heard Sydney reply, “We hear you, we see your signal and we are coming. We know something of the man you mention. You can expect us in a few days. You may want to send a note to your brother through a friend of ours we will contact as we set off. We would imagine that your brother is already anxious to hear from you.”

            Shelley helped Livia settle into a Ravenclaw girls’s dormitory for younger students and introduced her to a few people there. First, she met Selene Landers, a pale, dark red-haired girl with glasses who seemed even more withdrawn than Livia ever acted. She was painfully shy and unsure of herself but smart and in possession of more talent than she believed that she had. She had to grow out of her sense of her own awkwardness. She left the room to speak to Ted Tolleson, a tall, medium brown-haired boy who seemed much more comfortable and confident because he maximized a slightly lesser talent because he had the willingness to stretch himself and not take setbacks seriously. Another house friend of Shelley’s, the short-haired blonde and tiny Athena Anthony, felt a lot of pressure to live up to her both her names, as members of her family all had attended this school before her whilst she had been named for the goddess of wisdom.

First year Ravenclaw students who also filed in joined the discussion so they could establish some connection with their new housemates and each other. For some reason, they tended to avoid directly addressing Livia. At first, she thought it was a snub, but then she got a different impression. It felt more like they found her intimidating. Livia asked about it as they retreated into their own little group. “I think they have some idea that you will not be among them as a classmate for very long,” Shelley asserted. “I must admit that you betray so little about yourself other than that comment to the sorting hat as to make you mysterious, and that likely unsettles a novice student. Those of us who have spent even a year here have a different attitude, being exposed to so many people with skills difficult to understand or personalities that seem hidden. We take it more in stride. They may also, in time – especially if you remain friendly to them.”

“Oh,” Livia said. “I am so accustomed to being on guard owing to events in my past that I have cultivated this, I suppose. So if you find me unfathomable, just ask, because I might either have a reason, or I just fall back into that habit as an instinct to protect myself.”

“What were you protecting yourself from, might I ask?” Shelley inquired.

“Oh, one supposed sister, her friends, bullies at a detention hall where this ‘sister’ got me sent and people in general to whom I felt I had to keep what I knew or could do a secret.”

“Quite a list,” Shelley admitted. “Sounds like building a fortress around yourself was your main means of survival.”

“Indeed,” Livia agreed. “It became quite solid, too. But I might have gone off the rails had not my brother maintained his faith in me, along with his closest friends.”

After the introductions, the head of Ravenclaw, a small, distinguished looking mustached man, Professor Filius Flitwick, with his student leaders, showed the first year students their common room for studying and gave them the code to enter it as well as their own quarters. Fittingly, the professor of charms was rather charming all on his own, though he also gave enough of a biographical description to indicate that he more than held his own as a wizard. He also distributed hand-written class schedules to each student, which included times and location information. Classes, he said, would begin tomorrow shortly after breakfast. He further gave them basic instructions on how to find various classrooms and how to reach the areas where the various faculty had offices. He gave a rather animated tour, with historical information as well as giving a sense of the building’s own quirks. He finally showed them the room location where Professor Dumbledore himself offered tutoring assistance every Friday to anyone who came seeking his help. Professor Flitwick highly recommended this, even though he himself welcomed them to seek his help with any issue. He further noted that Ravenclaw had plenty of tutors, student leaders and books, all of which could assist them quite well, often from the comforts of their common room. Some experienced tutors had progressed to having their own office spaces and lounge, as they generally resided at the school most of the year. The headmaster himself, Professor Flitwick said, may be the best resource for some things versus others. “As you proceed as students, you will get a sense of who to see about any particular issue. Or just ask me who to see, if unsure.”

Just before he left, he called Livia to step forward. He told her that the headmaster wished to see her at her earliest convenience. “Is anything wrong?” she asked.

“I do not believe so,” he answered. “I have great confidence that you will do well here. The headmaster would not have invited you here, or to his office, if he did not believe it himself. I do have a question: he told us the muggles rated your IQ as in the 160s or 170s. Which is it?”

“My older brother did the first test and got 165. A teacher at my first school doubted him and did another test and came up with 172.”

“Interesting,” he said. “Very unusual here, also, as well as there. On that point alone, the sorting hat got it right.”

 Livia decided to write her note to Tom after she visited Professor Dumbledore’s office, especially if he said anything she could repeat to Tom. She carefully followed Professor Flitwick’s directions, which she found so important, given how complicated negotiating the school could be, especially given the limited amount of light available at that point.

She knocked at Professor Dumbledore’s office softly, and he quickly responded, “Please enter, Livia.”

Livia noticed that the headmaster had just removed his face from a disk-like bowl that seemed to contain a liquid but his face showed no trace of moisture. “Do you mind if I ask what that is?” she inquired.

“Oh, it is one of my perks, I guess,” he said. “It’s called a pensieve and I can access the memories of others by using it.”

“How so, sir?” Livia could not resist further questions.

“There are several ways it can serve useful, but typically a person’s tears give away their most private or intense memories. Sometimes recent ones also appear. I can witness everything.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well, I presume that is not what you want of me, is it?”

“No,” he answered. “I wanted to congratulate you on your sorting and settling into Ravenclaw. You will learn much from Professor Flitwick and, if you can skip a level, he would be the one who could provide the most material to get you there. His slight stature may fool people, but they would make a fatal mistake in underestimating him. He was a champion duelist.”

“He seems a very gentle, emotive person, so I would not have guessed that,” Livia observed. “I might be the former, but I try to hide the latter in all but the most private of moments. Much of my life required me to present a mask of some kind, and since you know I am an empath, as outsiders or muggles would say, that has been no easy task.”

“Oh, I know,” he agreed. “You may have been born in late August, but you are much like a crustacean, or the sign of Cancer, the crab – tough outer shell that keeps most from finding the softness underneath. Your young classmates will be quite unprepared and uncertain as to how to deal with you.”

“How about the faculty?” she asked.

“That will vary,” Professor Dumbledore replied. “Some will not notice because they focus solely on the material at hand. A few that do notice may not care, because they will not see it as part of their position to know you on a personal level. But that may not be universal, and you will have to judge how to deal with that situation.”

“You know something you are not telling me,” Livia stated. “And I bet it has to do with whomever questioned why you chose to admit me the most. I heard all those murmurings from the students and the faculty. I have very good hearing, but I was not looking at the person who seemed the most dismissive of me being here. I expect it was the same person some of the second year students tried to warn me about before I shut them down, saying I did not want to know.”

“Why did you do that?” Professor Dumbledore asked. “I would think you would want to know everything before you walked into a classroom.”

“That’s just the thing,” Livia responded. “I pick it up as I go. I want to judge people as I encounter them. I do not like receiving information before. I trust myself – I have had to trust myself to recognize, understand and react. That’s how I know.”

“You are especially good doing this with me, but not everyone here will be as open as I am and, as you know, I am not exactly open that much, especially with students,” he stated. “Are you sure you are ready to walk into any and all classes this way?”

“I already know that Professors Flitwick and McGonagall will be fair with me. Given where I had just come from before I met you I think I can handle whatever comes my way.”

“Are you still determined to move from level one to level three next year?” he asked.

“Yes,” Livia affirmed. “Definitely. I want to prove myself and demonstrated that your trust in me was not misplaced.”

“Well, I suggest you do a lot of reading ahead and see me or Professor Flitwick privately as often as you can,” he asserted. “Tutors will help, also. You will take your first year exams at the end of the year, but you must take the second year exams before school resumes in the fall. They must be graded and the entire faculty has to approve this. I cannot overrule them. You must earn it. In doing so, it likely means you will spent a lot of time here – like breaks and summer.”

“I understand,” Livia agreed. “I will not let you down, sir.”

“One other thing,” the headmaster said. “Your desire to visit your brother. Underage students are not supposed to do anything in the muggle world involving magic. I will endeavor to get a limited exception for you regarding any trip you make, but you must observe extreme caution about this and not perform any ‘tricks’ – as they might call them – as long as you remain a juvenile. I cannot stress this enough. This issue is taken most seriously.”

“Yes, sir,” Livia affirmed. “As I said, I will not disappoint you.”

With that, both the headmaster and she bid each other a good night. And Livia made her way back to her dormitory. She found a table near her bed and jotted a quick letter in muggle ink and paper to Tom, as she would write all her letters to him:

Dear Tom,

I am settled into a dormitory where other students are of similar mindset and generally amiable. I am safe. I have summoned Sydney and Mel to join me, but Sydney indicated I should use another owl they know to carry this, because they have not arrived yet. When they do, the school’s groundskeeper said he will look after them, since Sairy is more of a sleeper than a mouser right now. Those owls likely need assistance to continue living well. I just met with the headmaster who says my attempt to bypass the second level is entirely out of his hands – and that I must earn it unanimously from the faculty. I will likely be spending a lot of time here in order to succeed, especially over the summer, since I will take the second level exams shortly before fall term next year begins.

I have met a few faculty members who I believe will treat me fairly and give me this chance. I keep getting hints thrown my way that one professor will pose the biggest challenge. I have not figured out who that is yet, in part because I want to make my own judgements regarding the motivations and approach of whoever it is. I hate when I have been judged unfairly through a jaundiced, narrow view (say about my birth circumstances), so I have to see for myself. Apparently, that person has judged me critically without meeting me, but I won’t fall into that trap.

Classes start tomorrow. Hope you and all your friends are well and starting off your term on a good note. My best to all of you there – as well as your friends Adam and John.

Your loving sister,
Livia

  With that, Livia silently opened a nearby window and summoned Sydney and Mel’s friend, another Barn Owl. Within about two minutes, he appeared at the window and entered the room. He told her to call him Sevy. Okay, Livia agreed. She gave him a treat and told him the recipient was a muggle used to getting such notes, but his flatmates had never seen this. She gave him helpful details to find the recipient, too. She then turned over the letter, clasped her hands together and bowed to him. He took the letter addressed to Tom in Durham and flew off into the night. Livia then prepared to sleep in the bed adjacent to her belongings and soon drifted off peacefully and without trepidations like she previously had at Colindale.

            She awoke the next morning to find a puffy-shaped letter addressed to her dropped on the same desk where she wrote hers. Some students were amazed she had received it without having her own owl. Shelley said she saw a male Barn Owl pecking at the window early in the morning and let him in and closed the window after he left.

            “It’s a local owl on the grounds that seems related to or acquainted with the owls I knew in London,” Livia revealed. “You mean you cannot speak to your own animals, even?”

            “I cannot,” Shelley said. “I do not believe this is a common trait. We have a relationship and most of us understand behaviors and gestures, but this does not involve actual conversations.”

            “What a shame,” Livia asserted. “They are great creatures to know.” As students got busy to be ready for the morning meal, Livia told anyone listening that she would speak to any of the students’s pets if they want to know anything. She later told one student what food his pet preferred and another that her pet hated the nickname “Chucky” and preferred “Charlie” or just “Cha.”

            After Livia was ready to leave the room, she got warned to take her notebooks, writing materials, books and wand with her because she might not have enough time to fetch them after the meal. Still, she gave herself five minutes to read Tom’s response before leaving. It included a cassette tape with a sheet of paper wrapped around it.

Dear Livia,

  I am so happy to get your letter. Things are going well here, though your Barn Owl friend startled Alice as well as Audrey a little. We warned them! Now they believe. I think they also realized how beautiful a Barn Owl is up close. I presume that owl with his mostly white chest and face was male. Wonderful example of the species.

  Anyway, to make this brief, John sent me two copies of this new album by the Scottish group Simple Minds. It gets released to the public in next month. He knew you would love it and probably at least some of my friends would find it great as well. I did not include a case, to lighten the burden of what the owl would carry.

  Write back when you can. I know these first few weeks are hectic.

  Your loving brother,
  Tom

 

Livia found the letter great and she could not wait to hear the tape, though it would have to wait till the end of the day.

            Livia made her way to breakfast and found a seat by Shelley, Ted, Selene and Athena. Selene, perhaps aware as to how unthreatening Livia was, bravely asked about the letter left to her.

            “My brother sent it,” Livia explained. “He also sent me a music cassette of a new album coming out next month. He has a friend whose father has ties to the music industry.”

            “You mean muggle music?” Ted asked.

            “Yes,” Livia answered. “I survived a lot owing to my ability to bury myself in music. My brother sent me a radio and sometimes these cassettes, also. You might think it odd for students here, but it was a way to release my burdens and it sustained me when little else other than books could give me an outlet. Maybe I read too fast, though I am not a speed reader exactly.”

            “Indeed,” Shelley stated. “Some of us with ties to the muggle world can enjoy such things, but no one here flaunts this interest. Others take a dim view of anything muggle-related.”

            “That’s too bad,” Livia asserted. “For me, it kept me going, and I will never dismiss it for that reason alone. Other than that, some of it is just brilliant.”

            “Your brother is a muggle?” Athena inquired, puzzled.

            “He’s my adopted brother, and yes, he is,” Livia answered.

            “So you do not share either parent?” Athena queried again, just to be sure she understood.

            “That is correct,” Livia confirmed.

            “Then what was the sorting hat talking about?” Ted asked. “He referred to a legacy.”

            “The hat knows something I do not,” Livia asserted. “My mother abandoned me as a baby, and I do not believe she ever informed the father about me. She did not tell her own parents. She just left the country and returned to her home in the United States.”

            “Do you think she was a witch?” Ted inquired.

            “I have no confirmation. Some friend of hers left me in the front of a parish church with a note. I have the note. It is possible, but the sorting hat did not refer to her as any legacy.”

            “So do you have any idea from the note about your father?” Shelley asked.

            “I still have the letter pinned to my baby blanket and, it describes the young man having a crested school gown,” Livia replied. “But I wonder if I should speculate about this, not knowing anything about this person.”

            “Really?” Athena asked, quite surprised. “Maybe you will figure it out when it is meant to become known. Too bad the hat did not say more.”

The morning classes seemed to go well, such as History of Magic, Charms and Transfigurations. The syllabi, often presently orally more than in writing, all made sense, and she started to think of how to make the most of them by reading as much as she could to get ahead of the material presented. She felt grateful that she read fast, and her brother had given her a few tips about retention and the use of making notations in books and finding a topic sentence in every paragraph. She seemed serene at lunch whereas some of her new friends seemed a little disturbed about something. Livia realized it involved their studies and schedule, so she decided to leave it alone and not try to comprehend it.

            Her first afternoon class spelled out everything. Livia knew it the second he walked into the basement classroom. Yet she thought the professor seemed a little young to be the cause of such angst. She guessed he was about 25. Everything he wore from his academic robe to his high-necked buttoned jacket and trousers was black. Only a small hint of a white ruffled shirt sleeve peaked out from his jacket and fell well beyond his wrist. His hair was of medium length, if long for a man, also fell fairly straight and was also black. His eyes seemed just as dark. She tried to look as closely at them as she could from the last row of seats. They seemed piercing and completely endless and unfathomable. He showed enthusiasm for his subject but not with childish antics. Despite his youth, his formidable qualities struck Livia hard. Could she tread lightly around him? No, if he pushed her, she would push back. She knew he intimidated almost everyone – except her. She realized if he ever recognized this, he would become quite infuriated. Given the fact that she also innately sensed how much he could teach her, she sought to focus on the subtleties of potion making and little else.

            For whatever reason, that first day he picked her out, despite being in back of the classroom. “Miss Woodcock, I see you. You do realize that even back there you cannot hide from me?”

            “I am not trying to hide, Professor Snape,” Livia answered. “I can learn very well from being unobtrusive and observing all around me. I cannot follow everything from the front.”

            “So noted,” he observed. “And yet I can only ask: whatever possessed the headmaster to admit you given your advanced age?”

            “I cannot say, sir,” Livia responded.

            “Are you so obtuse to not know what a rhetorical question is?” he retorted.

            “Do you actually think the headmaster had no justification whatsoever?” Livia could not help herself. If he was going to dish this out, she would stand up for yourself.

            “Touché, Miss Woodcock,” Professor Snape said. “I hope you make potions as well to back up the audacity you show me right now.”

            Silently, she looked right at him and sent him a message: Bring it on. I will not crumble. The last person who attacked me needed over 20 stiches from an Eagle Owl landing on her head.

            He seemed to stare back at her – at least incredibly slightly so to everyone else. If he was surprised, no one there but Livia saw even a hint of it. Livia knew that he heard her as if she had said it aloud. As he subtly glared at her, she ran her hand across her mouth as if she had zippered it shut and then threw away the means to unzip it. With that, he resumed his lesson, outlined his plans for the term and his high standards and expectations, even though he asserted that only a select few ever performed to his satisfaction. Livia took this as a direct challenge to her, though she knew he had directed it at the entire class.

            Whilst she was engaged in much talk afterward with the four other Ravenclaw students who had warmed up to her, she spent much time reading in the common room, except for brief periods before or after supper (depending on the weather) outside. Part of this habit involved visiting Hagrid, especially after Sydney and Mel had arrived. Perched outside the owl box Hagrid had constructed, they allowed her to lightly stroke their feathers. She inquired about their health and if they liked their diet. On one particularly fine warm fall day, Sarah went with her, but as soon as she arrived at Hagrid’s home and saw the owls, Sarah ran into the nearby woods. Hagrid seemed concerned the cat would not return.

            “Just watch,” Livia said. “I have an idea of exactly what Sairy wants to do.”

            Less than five minutes later, Sarah returned with a decent-sized mouse and laid it near the owl box. Sarah then repeated this, so both Sydney and Mel had a rodent to eat. As the two owls flew down to strip off a part then swallow their meals head first, Sarah wrapped her tail around both and rubbed her face against both in turn after Sydney and Mel had consumed their food.

            “That was impressive,” Hagrid stated. “Whilst these are not supposed to be thought of as magical creatures, I wonder if that assessment needs re-thinking.”

            “They all have a relationship,” Livia asserted. “It’s not that great a mystery. They share a fondness for eating rodents, and they all like me, though I would probably rank myself as second to the mice.”

            “I will try to get more gophers or mice for them,” he offered.

            “Mind you, they did not complain about you or your food, they just missed this,” Livia said. “It was a treat Sairy could provide. She is getting old and cannot do this so much anymore.”

            “So noted.”

            On another day, she went with Shelley, who seemed quite impressed with the whole thing. More typically, Livia went out on the grounds alone away from the school with her wand, some birdseed and her Walkman. Sometimes, she tried to get her wand to gain insight and loyalty to her by using is like a baton and directed local crows and songbirds – and even with Sydney, Mel and Sevy – in performing some kind of collective tune. The clacking noise of a barn owl could act like percussion, even. Livia conducted her choir like Professor Flitwick might do with singers. They even could act like Livia’s backup band for singing, if she wanted. She tried to do this far enough away from the school to escape notice, but at least one faculty member saw it. They largely dismissed it as cute, though the fact that Livia held sway over these wild birds presented itself as an oddly powerful activity. Its resemblance to her head of house made it seem quite benign, though.

            She did something else that raised more attention and some alarm. It involved her Walkman, which she had been happy to show Hagrid when he expressed interest in seeing it. She had become quite attached to the (apparently) muggle album Once Upon A Time by Simple Minds and would twirl in the grass and spread her birdseed among those gathered around her. She would sing to them as a perfect recitation of the lyrics and the lead singer’s voice. The girl who often said little in class said and sang plenty to this audience. It just so happened the window with the best vantage point to seeing her performance belonged to Professor Snape, and the wind somehow brought some of the sound to his partially-open window. He looked out, puzzled, and amplified what he could see and hear. There she was, crooning as if a male tenor; he could faintly hear the music, too, to a song called “I Wish You Were Here:”

Footsteps, I can hear footsteps in the hall
I hear your footsteps, seems like I've been through this before
Some time has come now, and some time has passed
But things still look the same
Is heaven all above and paradise below
And the questions still remain


Ooh, can we see you?
Ooh, are we near you?
How could you disappear out of here?
I wish for something, I wish you were here…






That lyric made him shake his head. She has no idea, he thought – how could she? Still, he made himself listen to the entire song, though it was not because the song made him happy. He did not flinch, either. He endeavored to remain perfectly still and unaffected – and yet he could not stop watching. She fully voiced the emotion invoked by the lyrics and music and worse to him she actually felt it keenly. How could she mimic that emotion, he asked himself. How could that come from in a 13-year-old girl? Everything else seemed perfectly playful and unaffected. He finally pushed himself back into his chair and back to his work, though this would not be the last time he observed her out in the field dancing and singing with a strange contraption in her hand and headphones on her ears. Ultimately, he realized that Livia used those moments to entertain the birds, but also to exorcise her own emotions or any near her that she wanted to release. This was a therapeutic performance, not the mere play of a sentimental child. He then would again have to remind himself that she was only 13-years-old.

            Later that day, after students had retired from supper to their study lounges, the faculty held a meeting where Livia’s odd behavior was brought up to the headmaster and Professor Flitwick. The latter seemed quite amused hearing about her “choir practice” among the birds. “I guess she emulates me a little,  whether she knows it or not,” he said, then laughed. “If I don’t mind, why should any of you?” Professor Dumbledore found himself in total agreement with this assessment.

            But Professor Bertrand Bends, the current Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, went further. He tersely noted that Miss Woodcock used some strange thing to play and sing music. Given that he suspected that she carried a muggle device of some kind, he recommended it be confiscated or at least examined closely. “Her behavior does not seem appropriate for Hogwarts, does it?” he asked. “She was some yards from the school, but Severus, you had to have the best view of what took place. Don’t you agree something is amiss here?”

            “Bertrand,” he began, “we teach children, remember? I really don’t pay attention or care about what these students do on their own time. If they do their work and perform reasonably well in my class, why should this be my concern?”

            “You HAD to see this. Perhaps if you did, you would take an interest in it.”

            “Well, I did not,” Professor Snape said. “I have work to do. I think we all should be concerned about this student’s performance. Other than the first day, she has said nothing in my class, though all of her assignments and potion performances show promise in sensibility and practicality towards my subject. I don’t say that easily. The only thing I can complain about is the lack of anything substantive to complain about, in her potion making or her papers. I think, frankly, she knows that she knows too much and lets the others try to learn as best they can. I am glad that I did not take that bet with you about her prospects here, Albus. What do the rest of you think?”

            “Her papers are among the best I have ever read from any student at any level,” Professor Flitwick said. “I cannot take credit for this, except to say that I am proud that she is a member of my house. If we had any kind of writing competition, she easily would beat all the first year students and give even the most senior students serious competition. Her clarity of prose, the impeccable structure to her papers, her clear theses, her command of vocabulary beyond her years and her perception or analysis of any topic are all top drawer. I suspect these will continue to improve, too, though I cannot imagine what her ceiling is. I dare anyone to challenge me on this.”

            “I certainly will not,” Professor McGonagall said. “She does excellent work for me, also. I think she would be a credit to Gryffindor if she were my student. I think the Muggle Studies professor should ask to see whatever muggle belongings she has. They may be useful for a better understanding of that world, but otherwise, I agree with Severus – she is a child enjoying herself as such, and it really should not concern us unless it adversely affected her work or caused problems at Hogwarts itself.”

            The Muggle Students instructor, Professor Quirrell, thought this a reasonable request to look at her muggle belongings. “She-she is not my student, so I-I think Filius should bring her to me so-so to make the in-introductions, and I-I can see if this f-fuss has any m-merit. It seems muggles are-are inventing lots of interesting things of l-late, so I-I may as well examine this device. I-I am sure it is harmless if all-all it does is play m-music. Indeed, a number of musicians are-are witches or wizards. Often, those-those musicians who st-stay in that world are-are not pureblood.”

            Finally, the headmaster summed things up. “I also agree with Severus. If any of you have a complaint about a student – Miss Woodcock or anyone else – it should involve that pupil’s studies, not their extracurricular activities, unless those somehow affect this school or another student. That clearly is not the case here. As for any muggle item this student has, it would be to Professor Quirrell’s benefit to examine it and nothing else. He need not keep it to understand it, though he may want to borrow it if he wants to show it to his own students. I doubt it is terribly complicated and requires that Miss Woodcock herself show them how to use it.”

            Whilst Livia concentrated on accelerating her reading in the Ravenclaw common room, Professor Flitwick entered and asked her to speak to him in the hallway. Livia sensed he had something pressing to discuss with her.

            “Miss Woodcock,” he began, “I have just come from a faculty meeting where your possession of some muggle items raised some issue with a few people.”

            “Really?” she asked. “What is the problem?”

            “We don’t as a rule have many of these things around the school. Some people here take a very dim view of such items whereas others do not feel terribly concerned.”

            “Which side are you on?” Livia inquired.

            “Yours, I hope,” he answered. “I did agree, though, to bring you and whatever device you have to Professor Quirrell, who teaches Muggle Studies, as some thought he should look at it.”

            “I’m not going to lose it, am I?” she inquired. “My brother gave it to me. It may be only things he can give me that I will ever have here, since he is not a wizard and can never be here.”

            “Your attachment makes sense, and you are correct – he likely will never set foot here.”

            “Fetch it and meet me back here,” Professor Flitwick stated.

            “That is not necessary,” Livia said. “Just give me a second.” She closed to eyes, held out her hands and said the word here to herself. The item thus appeared in her hands, with the Simple Minds tape still inside the cassette holder.

            “This is what you wanted to see, yes?”

            “Who taught you how to do that?” Professor Flitwick asked.

            “No one,” Livia answered. “One day I forgot to bring something to school, and I made it materialize from my desk at home into a folder I had. No one ever knew it had not been inside that folder the entire time. My desire to have it, so I would not miss a school activity, made me want to retrieve it, so I discovered I could do this without saying a word. The key is knowing where it is when I want something to come to me. If I don’t remember, I cannot produce it.”

            “Impressive,” he observed. “Before we go, show me how this thing works.”

            Livia opened the cover so she could show the professor the cassette, which had recorded music tape within it. She uncovered the slot for batteries that powered its ability to operate. She showed him the labels for play, fast forward, reverse and stop. The she asked him to put the earphones over his ears and adjusted them so they directly lay correctly on his head. Then she hit the play button.

            As the music came through the headphones, she showed him the dial to turn the sound volume up or down. He turned it up some and hummed a little as the tape began with a song called “Once Upon A Time:”

And you
Yes you speak to me tonight
And you say so, say so
That once upon a time
When love, love was a white dove
And hope, long live hope, could spin the whole world 'round

I'm talking east to west
I'm talking lost and found
Get up to the mountain top
I'm going to drop unto the ground…



He removed the headphones and turned the player off. “Very interesting,” Professor Flitwick told her. “Not sure if I care for the music itself, but the voice of that man is very, very good. I would put him in a choir of mine in a heartbeat.”

            “Yes,” Livia agreed. “I absolutely adore his voice. He’s from Glasgow, Scotland, according to what I have read about him. I think he has a bit of an Irish lilt in his singing, also.”

            “The two have similarities from what I understand,” Professor Flitwick asserted. “Let us go visit Professor Quirrell. He once lived as a Ravenclaw student here. He said he would be at his office to meet us both. He wanted me to introduce you to him.”

            Livia did not know what to make of Professor Quirrell as she entered. His prematurely balding head made her wonder if his brain chased away his hair, but, from what she heard, he taught his subject fairly objectively, if quaintly, for someone not really ever a participant in that world, whereas Livia knew only of it for all but the most recent part of her life. He had a very theoretical understanding of things versus a participatory one. Livia understood because she had turns at doing both. He also possessed a bit of a stammer.

            She nodded to him. Professor Flitwick did a lot of the initial talking and told him that Livia showed him how the device worked. He handed it to Professor Quirrell who examined it, opened various parts, removed and reset the batteries and almost seemed to peer inside its core circuitry beneath the plastic. “I-I am satisfied there is-is nothing h-harmful about it. Sh-show me it-it working,” he said, looking at Livia directly.

            She handed him the headphone after demonstrating how to wear them. He put them over his head, with the ear pieces rightly positioned. She rewound the tape so she played the exact thing to him as she had Professor Flitwick hear.

            “Oh, I-I see,” he said. “Interesting. Muggles really like music and are-are ever finding new w-ways to make it available. Do you l-like this, M-miss Woodcock?”

            “I do,” Livia answered. “My adopted brother bought me this device and sent me the tape very recently. I find this man’s voice very strong and captivating.”

            “Sent you the-the tape?” he asked.

            “From Durham, yes – we have communicated through Barn Owls for some time now.” Livia answered.

            “Where is the-the s-singer from?” Professor Quirrell asked.

            “I think he lives in Glasgow, Scotland, but has some Irish background,” Livia replied.

            “What is-is your view, F-filius?”

            “The music is passable,” he said. “I agree totally about the singer. I would put him in a choir immediately if he were here.”

            “Some with talents in music can-can have wizardry skills,” Professor Quirrell told Livia. “I think it is among the-the chosen pr-professions of our kind.”

            “It is,” Professor Flitwick agreed, looking at her.

            “Do you have any-any other t-tapes?” Professor Quirrell asked Livia.

            “Yes. I think I can locate one,” she answered. “Give me a few seconds.” Again, she closed her eyes and put out her hand. Another cassette – this one in a case – appeared in her hand.

            “Filius, did you know M-miss Woodcock could do-do that?” Professor Quirrell asked.

            “She just showed me,” he admitted. “I did not teach her this. Apparently, she developed this ability all on her own.”

            “That c-could explain the headmaster’s interest,” Professor Quirrell suggested. “That is-is not a c-common thing novices do. Older students, maybe. What is-is this tape, Miss Woodcock?”

            “The album is called The Unforgettable Fire by the Irish band U2,” Livia said. “I can sing the lyrics if you want to know what they are. I know this song completely. I have played it a lot in the short time since its release. In any case, some also consider me a good mimic – at least my brother’s friends thought so.”

            “No, just-just play it,” he said. “I am-am c-curious as to what f-fascinates you.”

            “Oh,” Livia said. “That will be obvious. I saw this band at a great concert called Live Aid earlier this year. This group has a great following among muggles like my brother. It will be so hard for me NOT to sing with it.” She hit play:

Ice
Your only rivers run cold
These city lights
They shine as silver and gold
Dug from the night
Your eyes as black as coal


Walk on by
Walk on through
Walk 'til you run
And don't look back
For here I am…


He understood – a talented, elegant and strong male voice, with that lilt detectable, too. Professor Flitwick wanted to hear it, too, so one professor passed the headphones to the other as the song continued. He shut it off after about half a minute. Well, he is better than the last one, Professor Flitwick thought.

“What is this song about, Livia?” Professor Flitwick asked.

            “The inspiration had to do with nuclear war and the devastation muggle weapons of destruction can cause to their own kind,” Livia revealed. “If they blew up the world, would we get destroyed with it?”

            “Probably not,” Professor Flitwick replied. “But that is a very good question. I am not certain I have the definitive answer. You should ask the headmaster if we are immune to such destruction.”

            “I consider this-this d-device innocuous in itself,” Professor Quirrell concluded. “But some may disagree b-because, with your interest, you-you put yourself in their world, not ours, even if some f-famous musicians have-have powers like ours.”

            “I was raised there, and until recently, it was all I knew – and it is my main source of connection to the brother I do not see. For a time, he was all I had as any tie to any world outside a miserable detention center for children.”

            “How did-did you get your p-powers, then, M-miss Woodcock?” Professor Quirrell asked. “Whilst y-you are not-not my student, I have heard your work praised and-and just producing this tape s-so easily sh-shows me you-you have significant gifts that merit your place h-here.”

            “I have no idea precisely,” Livia answered. “I do not know the identity of either parent. The only clues I have concern what the sorting hat said and something in a letter written about me after I was born. My guess, if I had to guess, is that my father attended Hogwarts as a Slytherin.”

            “H-have you told Professor Snape this – it-it is his house?” Professor Quirrell inquired.

            “No,” she said. “I don’t really speak in his class. He likes pushing the buttons of his students, especially the new ones. I stay out of his way and learn as much as he makes available to me. My impression is that many, if not most, non-Slytherin students are too intimidated to learn well, which is a shame because he really knows his craft.”

            “Craft?” Professor Flitwick asked. “Really?”

            “There is both precision and artistry in what he does,” she replied. “He really knows what he’s doing, and his demeanor sometimes makes students turn away when they should be focused on the minutiae of what he says or does. What would be a better term for it?”

            “I think only a Ravenclaw c-could think that w-way,” Professor Quirrell concluded. “Well done, M-miss Woodcock. Very intellectualized assessment, even with-with that s-sensibility added. If y-you shared that-that view with him, he probably would get rather t-testy with you. I-I think y-you are right to keep quiet. We sh-should al-also keep quiet, for-for your s-sake.”

            “The sorting hat did not err here, I think,” Professor Flitwick said. “I am glad, too.”

            “I m-may ask to borrow s-something from-from you, Miss Woodcock, if I-I can find where it f-fits into my lessons,” Professor Quirrell asserted. “Do y-you have any is-issue with that?”

            “None at all, so long as I get it back any item I lend you, since, as I said, it’s my main tie to my brother, and I don’t know where I would be without him.”

            “I have heard of that-that Live Aid event, so p-perhaps an eyewitness account of-of it would be useful at-at some p-point, too,” Professor Quirrell suggested.

            “Honestly, sir,” Livia responded. “That was the highlight of my life thus far, which is why I am attached to anything that reminds me of it and my brother. I went with him and two of his best friends, who basically treat me like their own sister – at least when I see them.”

            “Do you think your brother knows what you actually are?” Professor Flitwick inquired.

            “He knows about some things, magical or not. He thinks of me as a talented empath – a type of muggle with powers to do things like speak to animals and understand the feeling of others. As I said before, whilst he was working on getting me out of that prison, we bypassed the potential for anyone to read our letters by communicating though some wild Barn Owls that chose to help me because my cat fed them plenty of mice whilst I was stuck there.”

            “You started this when?” Professor Flitwick queried.

            “Age 11. I used to talk to crows and they were the ones who helped me find this Barn Owl pair that now lives in an owl box Hagrid built for them.”

            “Not-not pets?” Professor Quirrell asked, appearing puzzled.

            “No,” Livia answered. “I never had a pet owl, though I see enough students with them. To me, they belong in the wild, but Sydney and Mel – what I call this pair – as they age will need some human caretaking to stay healthy. Hagrid volunteered to do it.”

            “Y-yes, he likes all s-sorts of animals – p-probably some you never have s-seen before,” Professor Quirrell asserted. “Sounds like a-a nice s-setup for them, Hagrid and-and you.”

            Professor Quirrell left the encounter with the idea he would send a note when he needed something and bid her a good night. Professor Flitwick did not say much on the way back except to remark about how much he enjoyed the second thing he heard. “You have a good ear for a fine human voice,” he said.

            “It grounds me in a way and keeps me levelheaded during the school day,” Livia remarked.

            “I get that,” he said. “I feel like that about my choir ambitions sometimes. To direct one gets my mind off of things and when I return to them, I have a better focus on how to deal with whatever I need to do. What is your own singing voice like?”

            “I almost don’t remember,” Livia answered. “I mimic so often. I believe muggles would call it contralto.”

            “That makes sense because it gives you access to what a male voice can produce.”

            Livia returned to the common room, finished her reading and retired for the night. She later heard from Professor Flitwick that Professor Quirrell had told the rest of the faculty that he saw nothing untoward in her activities, so long as they remained chiefly her own activities and that they did not adversely affect her studies. He suggested they might help her work, since he learned this Walkman was a gift from her brother, who as a muggle, could never set foot on the grounds. A girl with a taste for music, even muggle music, was better than a homesick child who could not pay attention or attend to her assignments. He also reported that she had some outside experiences that he might want to tap into at some point when his lessons made them relevant.

            Shelley and the other Ravenclaw girls she knew noticed the added attention she had gotten by Professor Flitwick, and they sought to know why he had sought her out. “My Walkman seemed to have caught the attention of a few people, and Professor Quirrell wanted to examine it.”

            “Oh,” Shelley stated. “That thing with the headphones and tapes. It is a strange contraption, I guess. But isn’t it like a toy?”

            “Well,” Livia began, “it could be viewed as that – or as a technological device. Just that it is a muggle source of muggle music made it seem strange.”

            “It is true we only rarely hear much of that here – unless the artist is known to have powers like ours – whereas those muggle-born or partly muggle know it better. But why would anyone care about what you do when not in class if your work is at least decent.”

            “No idea,” Livia said. “I guess the Slytherins would particularly not like it, and a few think as they tend to do. Anything from muggles is bad.”

            “Maybe we should get you more involved in Quidditch,” Athena suggested. “Our team has not often been great – because only a few of us are athletic. This is why we do not win often.”

            “I know nothing about it. Someone will have to sit with me at a match and explain it. I doubt I could play it. I am just getting used to riding a broom.”

            Before that could happen, Livia picked a Friday to ask Professor Dumbledore a few questions stirred up regarding her work and her muggle-related conversations. He wanted to see this Walkman thing himself and thought it intriguing and rather fun. He still had a playful mindset, she realized. He told her that Professor Snape was the first to shut down the complaints about the device, even though he generally did not like much of anything muggle-related. “How?” she asked.

            “He reminded the room that you all are children and so long as any student’s work does not suffer and no harm comes to the school, we should let you all be. I have to admit I was surprised to hear him say that. The person who complained told him he would change his mind if he saw whatever you were doing outside with your music and thought he had the best view of it. Still, Professor Snape remained unimpressed and uninterested.”

            How odd, Livia thought, since he chewed me out on day one and he has not said a word to me since. The explanation makes sense on one level, but that it served to defend the activity as well as her seemed very puzzling. She realized just how complicated he was for a professor as young as he was. She moved on, though, and asked the question that seemed more important.

            “Professor Flitwick suggested I pose this to you,” Livia stated. “I mentioned a specific song that he and Professor Quirrell heard, and I told them of its inspiration – which involved muggles using what they call nuclear weapons. If they exchanged these weapons on a large scale and destroyed this planet, would we survive here or not?”

            “That’s an excellent question,” the headmaster responded. “We have some inklings of what goes on there, which gives us the potential for preparations. Our defensive capabilities could potentially save us, though much of our environment would experience damage. It is highly possible we could repair this, but it would take time and likely our world would be the only thing left alive. We would need warning to prepare, though. I think we have adequate resources for that, but nothing is foolproof. Given geography, Diagon Alley would be in greater danger than Hogwarts. Only some of us would survive if the warnings were rather late in coming.”

            “Would I be allowed to save my brother if it happened?” Livia asked.

            “That is hard to say. In trying to reach him, you would put yourself in danger, also. Let us hope muggles are not that daft.”

            With that, Professor Dumbledore made small suggestions with some of her work as she pushed ahead with her readings, assisting her in anticipating lessons to come, and in getting her wand to work for her, seeing how she was so inclined towards wandless magic. “You still need a wand and to work better with it. It will only amplify your abilities. You will not do well in our world without it. Also, I think you got an excellent one. That’s cedar, is it not?”

            “Yes,” Livia affirmed. “Just under 11 inches long with a dragon-heartstring core.”

            “Very much like the potions master who taught Professor Snape. I do wonder how he would react to seeing a version of his own Potion Master’s wand in the hands of one of his students. Nothing seems to startle him, but that might give him some pause.”

            “Since I do not use it in his class much, I cannot imagine when he would see it.”

            “Do some more imitations of Professor Flitwick conducting with your wand near his window. He’s bound to see it eventually. I do love sometimes playing jokes on him, like little gag gifts for his birthday. At some point, if he still says that he has not seen your wand, I will tell him myself just to see if he reacts at all. I might even tell him that you will succeed him as Potion Master someday. I will not say that around you because he likely will say something rather unkind, to say the least, about that to you.”

            He imparted some additional advice on getting ahead in Livia’s various classes and then Livia left for dinner. She would not have time to go outside that Friday. She would check in with Hagrid, Sydney and Mel on Saturday and keep working as much as she could.

            She did write another letter to Tom, nonetheless:

Dear Tom,

  I hope this letter finds you and all your friends (in Durham or not) well. Sairy does a lot of sleeping but is content and nonetheless apparently healthy. She did go out to visit Sydney and Mel once and caught each of them a nice mouse. The groundskeeper doesn’t typically give them those to eat, so they loved it. They did not complain about his feedings, but he decided to work in more rodents into their diet, since they are so fond of eating them.

  It seems my written work usually is well received and most of my professors at least satisfied with my progress. I found out who the other students thought would be my biggest obstacle. I only crossed swords with him once and stopped talking in his class. He seems to accept my work without complaint because he finds others more deserving of his ire. I see why a number of students find him intimidating, but they miss the fact that beneath his bark he actually is very smart and shows a lot of subtlety as well as precision in his work. Since no one will read this here, I will confess several observations: 1) he was treated very badly during his childhood and vents the residual bitterness in bullying as some parallel to what he endured himself; and 2) he either never had or lost whoever might have given him a lifeline that would have sent him down a different path, more likely the latter. If I had ever lost you, I could see myself becoming rather spiteful and angry. Thereby, these two insights may be related.

  The final insight 3) is that teaching is a performative act. I learned this some years ago but never could express it rightly. I think I first noticed this when the headmaster Mr. Lenihan would talk about needing to wear his academic robe because he could not serve as headmaster without it. For those who teach, the costume is like any actor’s clothes for a given part. This instructor has chosen his part. It may be necessary to be so stern owing to his age. It fully separates him from the upper level students. I have seen this with young teachers or assistant teachers trying to cut their teeth at Colindale. If they are not much older than the students, it can skew their expectations (I could do this at that age, so why can’t you?), but also they can draw complaints if they cannot control a class. He has a gravitas the average 25-year-old professor only could evoke with great difficulty. He demands respect, probably because he has to do it. I say nothing to him because one faculty vote would sink my attempt to skip a grade, and if he read this, he might be angry enough to deny me simply because he can. As relatively young as he is, he seems very complicated and quite powerful.

  I work hard, but I enjoy the tapes I have so much, too. I find them useful in venting constructively, leaving myself totally focused and sharp for my studies.

  Give my best to everyone at your flat, in Durham and beyond (i.e., Adam and John).

  Does Cathy ever visit or write you? Or anyone else named Woodcock?

  Your loving sister,
  Livia

     
Livia opened the window and asked for whichever Barn Owl had the strength to take a letter to Tom’s Durham flat. Sydney arrived in less than two minutes, said she was ready to go and happy to bring something to Livia’s brother again. Livia told Sydney what Tom wrote about two of his flatmates being startled by Sevy, but they should act better this time. Livia bowed to her lovely owl friend and off Sydney flew into the night and Livia settled herself into her bed, leaving that window unlocked and ajar so Sydney could enter the room later if she returned quickly.


Chapter 7: An Unusual Friend Or What?
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            Livia awoke on Saturday morning to a letter on her desk in her brother’s handwriting. She had only a short time to read it before having to be ready for breakfast. She got ready first, then sat down to go through it:

Dear Livia,

I have spoken recently to both Adam and John. They are both doing well and send their regards. John especially sounded pleased that you like the tape he sent.

Everyone here is well, also. Audrey and Alice wanted your Barn Owl Sydney to stay for some time. They tried to feed her to entice her, since they did not know how to keep her there. I thought they saw a mouse or something, but they told me they had never seen a prettier owl ever. Sydney’s face shadowing and specked chest feathers enchanted them, I found out later. I had to explain that the first owl was a male and Sydney a female, which accounted for this different appearance as well as size – they realized Sydney was a little larger. I think they have been thoroughly converted. If ever we do see mice – possible in this town – we will try to point them out to any owl you send. I never knew how scared young women could be of mice until I lived with these two. Maybe we need you to pick us out a cat.

Gary sends his regards with all my flatmates. He would like to thank you for helping him with that Culture Club song. He did wind up entering a contest as “Boy Gary.” He got a wig and makeup and totally looked the part. He won, too.  He gives you great credit for that.

I hear from my family sporadically. Dad is fond of Durham and likes to invent reasons to see those who run the cathedral, as if he wants a position here. Maybe he does. I hear from Cathy now and again. She loves her post, though she wishes she could know when to let animals try to fight something like cancer and when it is time to let them go. She wishes she could ask them. It seems that dilemma is the hardest on pet owners but also on vet techs. Lydia, I hear, will leave school at 16, given that she has almost no discernable academic talent. Cathy had no idea what Lydia will do with herself in terms of work. I obviously do not directly speak to her. I saw my mother once on a trip she made here with Dad. She still does not confront herself regarding her own conduct in regard to what happened to you. She does, though, recognize that Lydia is difficult. She cannot imagine that she played any role with that, either. She just tried to concentrate on reconciling with me as her son, which is doomed because she cannot see its connection to anything else.

Until she admits all that happened as well as her own culpability as an adult, I cannot say I will be on great terms with her. Dad knows this. He does try to make amends, and he does inquire about you. Since I am not totally clear about your situation, I am pretty vague with him, too. He suspects there must be something I am not saying whereas we both know it is something you feel the need to keep to yourself. Livia, I respect you too much to question your reasoning and know you will tell me more in your own time. I admit I am mystified, though. It’s supposed to be school, not rocket science. Since I get no bills or reports, I am very puzzled.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that Jake and Audrey’s relationship has blossomed into more than just being friends. They seem very much attached to each other. I think they look particularly cute sometimes. They both have good family backgrounds that make the match seem right from that point of view. I am very fond of Alice West, but I think she only chose to live with us out of consideration for Audrey, rather than a real need to split expenses. Alice’s family has ties to several aristocratic families, including the Russells (I think she is a distant cousin to Bertrand Russell), and some lineage from the original Bloomsbury Group.

My work marches on, but it is going well, and I will likely have summer employment here with a local practice, who may sponsor me to become part of his practice if the summer goes well, and I make progress in sitting for an exam known as the BCAT. I like this little city very much, so the idea of settling here appeals to me. He may want me to train more elsewhere at some point, perhaps even at some college of Lincoln’s Inn. If I became a barrister, it would be a help to them and obviously to my own success. I would think I could really wrangle that apology out of Framlingham then, too. You would have to appear with me, probably.

Write again soon. Hope to have another tape by then.

Your loving brother,
Tom

 

All sounded well. Livia smiled and left the room. She told Shelley, Selene, Athena and Ted the good news. Of course, Tom’s position could make her ability to tell him about herself a little complicated and asked what they thought about it.

            Athena responded first: “Your caution is appropriate. I would ask the headmaster or Professor Flitwick what you should tell him – ever.”

            Shelley tended to agree. “At least wait until you are at least 17 if not done here. Then you will have to judge how quiet he can be, despite whatever responsibilities he has at that point.”

            Ted staked his view on Livia’s relationship with her brother. “If he truly has defended you and stayed true to you, you should be able to figure out how much you can say and when. But we are not supposed to practice magic in the muggle world until we are 17, and he might not believe you unless you showed him. On that point, waiting until you’re an adult seems like a good idea.”

            Selene only quietly added that everything the others said made sense, but she would especially seek out the advice of the headmaster or the head of Ravenclaw about it. “If he loves you, telling him should not be a mistake but HOW you tell him probably matters.”

            Livia decided the issue could wait until the following week versus bothering faculty on their down time, even if they rarely left the castle-like school. She and the other four all visited Hagrid later that day and saw his animals and, of course, met Sydney and Mel.  Livia asked Hagrid how the owls acted and he saw nothing wrong, a point both confirmed, a great relief to her. She told them about what Tom wrote and the potential to find mice in Durham, which both liked.

            Much of the rest of Livia’s weekend was spent reading, practicing her wand work and writing out various assignments she had, with Sarah happily sitting nearby. She bumped into Professor Flitwick in the corridor of Ravenclaw and asked him a quick question about a charm she wanted to understand a little better. The question seemed simple enough to her, yet it showed to him a great deal of thought in wanting to clarify a subtle point regarding the charm’s purpose and how one’s technique impacted its efficacy. “You never cease to amaze me,” he said. “Your questions show great thought and foresight. At some point, I have to tell the headmaster you need to not only be promoted, you should become a prefect, a tutor and eventually a professor in your right. You demonstrate the curiosity and the thoroughness needed. You only lack the experience of doing the advanced work you will ultimately master, I am sure. Your wand skills should improve with time, especially if you focus enough attention on this.”

            Because Livia had devoted her time to other things and had not spent that much time out of doors, especially alone, as the weather grew cooler and wetter, she made a highly unusual gaffe the following Monday afternoon. Professor Snape, in fine form (if you can call it that), had started ripping into another student’s work and the class in general when Livia voice was heard for the first time in that room in at least a month.

            She laughed. Though she tried to put her hand over her mouth, the sound was audible, and it did not escape notice, either from the other students, or Professor Snape himself. A few jaws dropped and eyebrows went up upon hearing it.

            “Miss Woodcock, what is so funny?” he demanded to know. “Are you so superior in your own mind as to have entertained the ridiculous notion that we are here to amuse you?”

            “I deeply apologize, professor,” Livia said. “If I have offended anyone, it was not my intent or desire. I am sorry I have disrupted your class, sir.”

            “Well, we are waiting for an explanation of this insolent outburst,” he said. “How long should we wait for it?” Professor Snape walked over to her and his eyes bore straight into her.

            “Please, I would rather you just punished me than take up more time for a pointless explanation,” she said. Livia did not flinch. Silently, she sent him a message. Rip into me all you want, deduct points, give me detention, but ask me to explain this to you in private. If I give you an honest answer, you may not like it at all.

            “Now Miss Woodcock wants to be quiet again,” he began. “She expects us to tolerate her silly and insulting interruption as if it did not happen. You know you have crossed a big line with me, and I do not tolerate such foolish impudence from a supposed know-it-all who comes from nothing. Ten points off Ravenclaw house, two weeks of detention and you will come to my office promptly at four o’clock to explain yourself. I will deduct an extra point and give you an extra day’s detention for every minute you keep me waiting. Have I made myself clear?”

            “Yes, sir,” Livia said. Silently, she added: Thank you, Professor Snape. I promise I will tell you everything you want to know and maybe even stuff you rather I did not say, especially here.

            The rest of the afternoon proceeded normally, though Shelley heard of her run-in with Professor Snape and asked if she was okay.

            “Yes,” Livia said. “I will be fine. I will do as he asked or as he will ask when I get there.”

            “How are you so calm?” Shelley asked. “Most students would be shaking about seeing him in private. Some say that if he stares at anything, it dies. And you got the full glare.”

            “I know what I am in for,” Livia explained. “Few would have laughed in his class, as I did, so I can take this. You forget what I have been through.”

            Livia showed up outside his door at 15:55. He was not there. Professor Snape actually arrived at 16:01. Livia could not help herself. “Who do I get to take a point from for you being a minute late?” she asked, smiling politely.

            “Inside. Now,” he replied. I cannot remember a young girl ever being that feisty with me.

            He closed the door and sat behind his desk, and Livia noticed his window seemed ajar. He had many shelves of books and bundles of papers inside his office. His desk seemed rather large and dominated the space. She realized many a student crumbled whilst being in this situation. The residue of their fear remained, but she ignored it by defying it. Professor Snape would not scare her in the least. They were idiots, she thought.

            “Where would you like me to begin, sir?” Livia asked. “I usually have better control over myself, but since I was unable to spend much time alone outside, I lost some of it today. That is one thing I would not wish to confess to your class. Only a few people know I am what muggles call an empath. It takes great discipline by me to release emotions carefully in order to retain full governance over myself. I can tell you many a student has been in this room shaking in fear over what you would say to him or her. You know that perfectly well, I’m sure. I am not one of those students, however.”

            Professor Snape studied her carefully. No, she was not fearful at all. Quite unusual.

            “Yes,” he affirmed. “I realize that, and that you don’t want it widely known, either. Why?”

            “It is part of what prompted me to laugh, honestly, sir,” she answered. “I consider you excellent in how you perform your duties. And I mean perform. It is a performance and many students would not recognize that ever. Teaching anything requires skill in a performative capacity, and you take on a commanding persona. You own the room, and if I said any of this, it could undermine you. Frankly, I find your performance epic, and I am not trying to flatter you. You know this as well as I do. If you did not do this, some might question why a man still as young as you has this responsibility. No one asks that now. I wonder if anyone ever did, actually.”

            “You completely puzzle me, Miss Woodcock,” he confessed while narrowing his eyes. “Where is this coming from exactly? These are very odd statements for a young girl to make.”

            “Well, I’m not the average young girl or even young witch,” she admitted. “How many students have you had who tested with an IQ that muggles rated as high as 172?”

            “Very few, I would guess,” he replied. “What does that have to do with your skills that make you call yourself an empath?”

            “I am not sure,” Livia responded. “They do not seem to correlate well in my mind. But I can understand things about people and animals like few or no one I have ever met. I know you are greatly feared by students younger and older than I am. But I told you already why I do not fear you. You cannot really hurt me. Those who tried failed and got a lot dished back at them for bothering me. I actually feel safe here. You can’t take that from me.”

            “And how is it that you understand me?” Professor Snape inquired, still somewhat hostile.

            “That is a good question, because I have to say you are the most difficult person I have ever come across as far as that goes, which makes you very intriguing to me. I find you an incredible challenge academically and personally. I did tell my brother a few things without naming you or revealing anything about my studies here – he is a muggle and I know better.”

            “Are you are trying to penetrate my mind?”  Professor Snape snapped back at her. “That is pretty outlandish if not insolent.”

            “I apologize, sir – I started doing it by default,” she answered. “I don’t consciously try. Nevertheless, I think I recognize a few things about you that are similar to me. I may not be mature enough to completely fathom all of it, but some things come to me because of this recognition.”

            “It seems, then, you have me at a disadvantage, because I do not study my own students that closely. Typically, they bore me because they whine and are selfish or silly,” he said.

            “If you want to remedy that disadvantage, you can either ask me anything you wish, or I will give you the means of seeing whatever there is to see.”

            “What do you mean, Miss Woodcock?”

            “I have seen the headmaster’s pensieve in his office,” she asserted. “I will allow you to go through everything in my past if you desire it. I don’t exactly have anything to hide.”

            “Why would you trust me with that when you know I could use any of it against you?” he asked. “You take a very big risk here – you know that, don’t you?”

            “You will also see what has toughened me up and who has protected me,” Livia answered. “I already told you about that Eagle Owl, did I not?”

            “You did,” Professor Snape affirmed. “I easily heard you, which was rather impressive in itself, particularly for a first-year student.”

            “I told you things I thought best not to share. And given the fact that I have some insight into you – which you will see if you can read a letter I wrote to my brother – I doubt you would risk sparring with me in a classroom beyond what preserves your reputation, if not mine. I only think it fair that I basically level the field.”

            “Since you are here,” he began, “I may as well ask about the comment the sorting hat made to you. A few faculty members have speculated about its meaning, yet they seem to not share their full assessments with me. Your head of house says nothing, and I believe he hides something.”

            “Let me show you something that will shed light on this,” Livia asserted. She remembered what the headmaster said about her wand so she used it to retrieve the letter that came with her baby basket, even though she really did not need it. She pulled it out and pointed it at her open hand and thought here and the letter almost instantly appeared.

            “First, tell me about that wand,” he said.

            “Cedar, just under 11 inches long, with a dragon-heartstring core,” Livia described.

            “About the same as Professor Slughorn’s, my own teacher,” he revealed. He went inscrutably blank, but he was thinking about it, realizing the girl who sat before him should become quite formidable sooner or later.

            “Yes, the wand maker said that, but read the letter,” Livia directed.

            He did. The description of the school gown made him realize what Livia meant to convey. “If I read this and what the hat said rightly, you have surmised that your father was a Slytherin?”

            “Yes, that seems the only logical conclusion,” Livia affirmed. “You agree, I presume.”

            “And it says you were born 28 August 1972, premature yet quite healthy,” Professor Snape stated. “That means your father likely met your mother on winter break, maybe in his last year?”

            “That’s what I think,” Livia agreed. “Do you have an idea about who he was?”

            “Not offhand,” he replied. “I do think I must have met this student because I was a first year student here in 1971. Some male students left school early for London before break, too. I may or may not have known him then, depending on who exactly he is. The letter to me suggests the motive of your mother, though. My guess is that she was a witch tutored by family, and she took the opportunity to become involved with this student to be able to study whatever potion or potions he used on her, taking her to be a muggle. She wanted to duplicate them and later use them for her own benefit. She may have wanted some rich muggle to take care of her – or a number of them, depending on her inclinations.”

            “Makes sense – I can believe that, also,” Livia assented. “I do not think very kindly of her, except for the fact that I consider it a positive that I probably will never meet her. What you describe makes her sound like a parasite to me. Nonetheless, I believe your account sounds credible, which justifies my lack of interest in her. Her friend, though, was not clearly not a witch.”

            “Since we both agree that you are probably a Slytherin legacy, you have become more interesting to me,” he stated. “I am curious as to what the pensieve will show, given your unusual background. You know how it works, I gather.”

            “Yes,” Livia confirmed. “It’s probably easiest if you make me cry. Tell me something horrible about my brother, Tom. That is the surest way to do it.”

            “Your brother was a talentless fool who allowed himself to get killed yesterday because he thought he had to protect you from a knife-wielding thief.”

            It worked. The thought of Tom being dead immediately broke her down, and she started to cry. She quietly sobbed and tears freely flowed, allowing Professor Snape to grab a small empty bottle and capture them as they trailed down her face. Just as he finished there was a solid tapping at his window. It was a crow that attended Livia’s music sessions outside.

            “Open the window fully, please,” Livia suggested, still in the process of regaining her senses. The crow had landed on the exterior window ledge, then hopped to the interior side through the opened window. “Alastair wants to know if I am all right.”

            “What?” he asked, rather startled.

            “Let me talk to him for a minute.” Livia silently explained her crying was not because Professor Snape had hurt her. It had a different, intentional purpose. She would be fine and he need not stay. She clasped her hands together and bowed to him from her chair, thanking him for his kindly concern. She took out her wand and materialized some food for the crow on the ledge. With that, Alastair left the room and started pecking at the birdseed.

            “I don’t think I have ever seen that before,” Professor Snape observed.

            “Well, I told you, didn’t I?” Livia asked.

            “Hearing and seeing are different things,” he stated, after a short pause.

            “For your benefit and mine, I think I am going to demand something more from you tomorrow,” Professor Snape asserted. “I am going to ask you to demonstrate making a potion that first-year students typically all have to make to pass my class. Basically, I am going to tell you that I will extend or reduce your detention time based on your performance. Read up on the Forgetfulness Potion. Be ready for a curve thrown at you. If you even act a little out of sorts, it will go well, no matter how the potion turns out. Or if I find a reason to insult you about it.”

            “Okay,” Livia agreed. “Something has just occurred to me. You have seen me outside with the birds and my Walkman, haven’t you?”

            “Can you tell if I lie to you or tell you the truth?” Professor Snape asked.

            “I am not sure,” she answered. “Try me.”

            “I told Professor Bends I did not see you,” he stated. “I have not.”

            Livia pondered for a moment. “Very challenging answer,” she asserted, pausing for at least ten seconds. “Part of it is true, part of it is not. I am not sure which part is which yet.”

            “So far, you are correct,” he replied. “Which is which?

            “My best guess…hmm…you did say that to him, but you did see me. In fact, you actually listened. What did you hear?”

            “The first song I heard was called ‘I Wish You Were Here’,” Professor Snape admitted. “Was that about your brother?”

            “Somewhat,” Livia replied. “I am overloaded sometimes with emotions from other people. Such a large collection of them bombards me sometimes with way too much and I can only dismiss them for so long. I have to let them go from time to time before they affect me and my peace of mind. I do not know who those lyrics fit more than me, be it you or anyone else.”

            “That is way beyond what faculty should discuss with a student, so I will not comment,” he said. Saying that, though, and watching him, made her suspect it resonated with him more than he would say, at least for now. Livia let it go. She had no right to ask or to know.

            “I understand,” Livia concluded. “I will take my leave so I am prepared for all the things required of me tomorrow. You have a good evening, sir.”

            After she left, Professor Snape thought he had said too much. Since he had the means to know exactly who she was and what she knew, he headed to the headmaster’s office.

            He knocked and Professor Dumbledore welcomed him inside. “What do you need, Severus?” he asked.

            “I just had the most intriguing if bizarre conversation with your ‘project’ student, Miss Woodcock,” Professor Snape answered. “She showed me a letter that came with her as a baby. Did you know her father was a Slytherin?”

            “I did not, Severus,” he replied. “It makes sense, given what the sorting hat said, how she replied and how she was sorted. Do you suspect someone in particular? Would her father have been still a student when you first became one?”

            “Likely yes, but I don’t know who yet,” he stated. “There are at least several possibilities. If I recall rightly, a number of young men in their final year left campus early to enjoy London during much of that winter break. Whoever it was could have disguised himself in some way, too. The letter provided no name but did give specific information about the academic gown’s crest and tie. With the sorting hat’s comment, Miss Woodcock came to the same conclusion – that her father was sorted into Slytherin and ultimately graduated from here as one.”

            “Is that why you came?” Professor Dumbledore inquired.

            “Actually, no,” he responded. “I want to use your pensieve.”

            “For what?”

            “Miss Woodcock consented to me doing this.” He produced the small bottle he had.

            “Tell me what you find out, for I am excessively curious,” Professor Dumbledore responded. “Some things I know about but not in detail like you will see. She seems fearless at times, and I cannot fathom a young girl being that, nor why the sorting hat did not choose Gryffindor owing to it. Perhaps this will explain why regarding all of that.”

            “I will do my best to address this curiosity of yours. She already told me of the muggle estimate of her IQ stands as high as 172. Given her desire to skip a year, the sorting hat chose what would help her best achieve that immediate goal, don’t you think?”

            “True enough,” he acknowledged. “I recall that. I told Filius that. Yet the hat, along with the rest of Hogwarts, has to know that you would judge her the most harshly. I tried to tell her that. In fact, other students tried to tell her that, but she did not wish to know.”

            “Why?” Professor Snape asked. “Where is there reason in that?”

            “I guess you will discover one when you see what you have there,” he responded. “She only told me she prefers her own judgements without the influence of other people. That contributes to why I called her fearless, though some might think it foolish. I do not she is foolish, though. I think she has great faith in herself. Has she shown you her wand yet?”

            “Yes, I saw it,” Professor Snape replied. “A little longer than Horace Slughorn’s and a bit less ornate but its composition is identical. There is somewhat of a resemblance, too.”

            “But what did you think?” Professor Dumbledore asked.

            “She is going to be most powerful someday. I will concede that now. You were right.”

            “I already said to her that I would tell you that I saw her as your successor someday.”

            “Nice one, headmaster,” he replied with a biting sarcasm. “You do love to toy with me. Tomorrow, I will get to see if she has the innate skills necessary to teach. I will let you know – honestly – how she does. I do not know if I will tell the class the same thing, since they expect me to be highly critical of her.”

            “Yes, I heard you ripped into her today because she laughed in your class,” Professor Dumbledore revealed. “She apparently did not seem fazed by your comments or glaring directly at her from a rather short distance – most unusual. You seem unable to scare or unnerve her.”

            “I want to know why. She did not look even remotely uncomfortable, except when apologizing for disrupting the class.”

            The headmaster excused himself and let Professor Snape have the pensieve to himself. Soon after he emptied the contents into it, he began to see her past. He saw her family, especially moments she spent with her brother, Tom, and his friends, including laying in the grass near the Framlingham Mere. He saw Cathy’s gift to her, then he saw Lydia be abusive to her and saw her parents. He saw Farah and the crows Livia used to protect her. He saw her interview at Framlingham College and saw her foretell the incident that sent her to Colindale. He viewed the incident itself and the hearing that determined her fate, despite the petitioning of several people to gain custody of her. Two of the judges believed the legitimate child and the minimally supportive sister over an illegitimate, adopted one – no wonder why she hates prejudiced statements versus her own assessments. He then saw all the presumptions about her upon her entry at Colindale, which only solidified her feelings about biased conclusions. He saw Megan, Rachel and Patsy attack her in their bathroom, their dorm room, outside in the courtyard and in her own little room. He saw her use wandless spells to minimize the harm they did but had to admit they really tried to hurt her badly. Most muggle girls would have been hospitalized at least once.

He had to laugh when that crow sent his own poop right in Megan’s face and how an Eagle Owl inflicted damage by grabbing onto her head and ear. He saw her extensively singing to her cat and Tom’s picture after she soundproofed her room. He saw her perfect mimicry, her intense, independent reading all kinds of books – some of which sounded vaguely familiar – and sending letters through Barn Owls who befriended her. He saw how she directed the cat where to leave its mice and saw Sydney ask her to write a letter ultimately brought to Professor Dumbledore. He replayed her release, her attendance at Live Aid and her encounters with the headmaster and her birthday party in Durham, featuring her newfound favorite type of cake. After saying goodbye to Tom, he got to revisit her sorting, her friends there and finally, he read her letter to Tom about himself. She remembered it all and seemed to catalog it all. She forgot nothing. Yet he also realized she already knew way more than she should, even if she did not know the details.

            She was right about how he would normally react to a student making those observations. He told himself he needed to brush up on his own skills so no one could ever write something like that about him again. If she could sense those things, he might jeopardize himself if anyone else could do that. Of course, he realized that she possessed uncommon skills, in part because she recognized that aspects of her own childhood related to his. He had to hope she would not figure out any more than that and no one else would even get that far into seeing him as he had been or how he now was. He realized how important her brother was to her, and that the lack of that kind of bond did lead him down a vastly different path than hers. Yet she did not judge him harshly for it. She made a very mature observation about herself, instead: without Tom’s loyalty, she would have become much more like him. Again, he had to remind himself that she remained 13-years-old. Her wisdom, her spirit and even generosity went well beyond that number, nonetheless. Maybe that 172 actually had underrated her, he pondered.

            When the headmaster returned, he told him about how being illegitimate made some people automatically suspect her credibility, and her sense of the injustice done to her motivated her to judge people based only on her own perception. He told the headmaster why she loved muggle music and books so much, given they with her cat were her only constant companions at that horrible place where she lived in London for nearly two years. Moreover, music formed a central part of the happiest memory in her life thus far. He also explained the source of her fearlessness. First, she had used a form of wandless magic to minimize the physical damage inflicted by those who assaulted her – and those attacks would have caused great harm had she not done this. Second, she found protection from various animals she could call silently to her aid. He even confessed that when he made her cry for this sample, a crow had tapped at his window to see if she was hurt or not. He also mentioned that seeing an Eagle Owl land on a young female bully amused him, since that girl got more than a taste of the damage she had tried to cause.

            “Livia was on the floor with footprints from kicking and stomping her, but this owl almost shredded that one girl’s head. The latter image will amuse me forever,” Professor Snape said.

            “We should all be so lucky as to have such loyalty from wild creatures, let alone pets,” Professor Dumbledore stated. “My Phoenix, Fawkes, is a great friend and great bird yet he’s mine.”

            “Yes,” Professor Snape assented. “That makes her fearless, I think, though she probably needs to know that they will not be around everywhere to help her. She could become reckless.”

            “Agreed,” the headmaster said. “Being too confident can prove fatal. We both know how and why, too. I can imagine Livia putting herself in danger and not even thinking twice about it, say if someone from our world tried to harm her brother. She would risk anything in that instance. We have to keep that in mind should we ever need to protect her.”

            “We both see it,” Professor Snape affirmed. “Does she know anything about our world regarding what has transpired and what likely will come?”

            “I doubt it,” Professor Dumbledore responded. “I will do what I can to tell her and caution her. What do you have planned for her tomorrow?”

            “She is going to demonstrate making the Forgetfulness Potion I usually ask my students to make as a final exam for their first year.”

            “Severus, we are still only in November. You want to embarrass her?”

            “That could happen. I will be allowing her to see the recipe, so it will not be as difficult as I could make it. Still, she could prove that she has what it takes already, if she does it correctly, and she can discuss it as she makes it. As I said, I will let you know.”

            They bid each other good night and Professor Snape left. Meanwhile, Livia did all she could to memorize the potion. She realized he would be pushing her to the limit. She thought perhaps he would demand that she do it from memory to make it particularly difficult. She took a mental picture of the directions and ingredients in her head. She knew she could recall the image in his class. She hoped that would suffice for whatever mischief he had planned. Finished with the rest of her work and feeling confident she could make the potion, she retired for the night.

            The next day at breakfast, the other students were all aflutter and aghast about what Professor Snape might do to her later that day. She exuded quiet confidence. “I believe that I will be ready when the time comes.” Shelley, Selene, Athena and Ted all looked at each other in astonishment. They found it impossible to decipher her calm. But they had their own issues, so they let the matter drop and said very little about it at lunchtime, other than to wish her good luck.

            She arrived in the basement classroom a few minutes early and Professor Snape already motioned for her to come forward next to him. Soon after the mischief began. “As you all know, yesterday, Miss Woodcock seemed to find our class funny, and I have decided to see just how much she has learned about potion making. So today Miss Woodcock will demonstrate a potion that in the past I have asked students to make from memory for their final exam. It is called the Forgetfulness Potion. I have left the instructions and the materials in front for her, this time. Miss Woodcock, your ability to complete this potion properly AND to discuss it as you make it will determine if I increase or decrease your detention time. You may begin.”

            Livia immediately cast her things aside except for her wand, which she used to conjure an academic robe for herself and then placed the wand on the demonstration table. She surveyed the ingredients and spotted the trouble. Two ingredients were missing. She pondered how to deal with this and decided to ask, “Professor Snape, is that a basement window?” she asked, pointing to a covered glass area near her and above her. He nodded.

            “Professor Snape has played a joke on me to see if I would notice and I have,” Livia announced in a clear voice, whilst waving the window open with her wand. “Two ingredients are not here and I will remedy this, shortly,” she stated whilst calling silently to her avian friends, “but first I want to stress to all of you the importance of having everything assembled beforehand. If ingredients are not added in good time and in the right order, you get a weak, if not ineffectual, potion and your effort will waste your resources as well as your time, at the very least.”          

            First, one crow then another entered the room and she silently asked each for two mistletoe berries. They paused, however.

            “Are local mistletoe berries sufficient for this potion, Professor Snape?” Livia asked.

            “Yes, especially if fresh,” he answered. “How did you come up with that question?”

            “I didn’t,” Livia answered. “The crow who entered first, Alastair, asked me, so he and Benedict, the other crow, know what I want exactly.”

            “I see,” he said, dryly. “Still, you know you are being the quite the show-off, between conjuring an academic robe and using these crows.”

            Livia told the crows fresh and local would suffice, she bowed and they left. Then a Barn Owl carefully fit through the window, and she told Sevy to get two Valerian sprigs from the garden that Hagrid keeps.

            “What was that for?” Professor Snape asked.

            “We also need two sprigs of Valerian, and I told Sevy to get them from Hagrid’s garden.”

            Some of the students snickered, which puzzled Livia.

            “What did you call that owl?” Professor Snape asked, quite disconcerted.

            “I called him what he told me he liked being called, Sevy. He chose his name. I do not understand why this is funny.”

            “Again, four o’clock, my office. You are not the instructor yet so you are quite out of your depth to think you can get away with being so cheeky,” Professor Snape said. Silently, he told her: Clearly, you do not know my first name and the Slytherin students here do, among others. They think you called him that intentionally, as I must as well.

            Within a few minutes, the crows and owl brought the ingredients into the room, Livia bowed to them and waved her wand, to reward them with food outside the window. They left and she continued with the potion. She artfully talked through everything she did, from cleaning her hands every time she handled a new ingredient, to how she broke up and added them and the temperature she had set during the entire process. She encouraged questions at any point, but no one said a word until she had completed the potion.

            At that point, students began asking things. She asked Professor Snape if she should try answering first, or if she should simply defer to him. He allowed her to attempt to address them all first. She did. He only would augment her statements to ensure they understood her comments or enhanced the subtle aspects she had only hinted upon. He never contradicted her answers.

            “Now, for the moment of truth,” Professor Snape said, walking forward and producing a litmus tape he said would measure the efficacy of her potion. “The color the litmus produces will tell us how well Miss Woodcock has made her potion. The lighter the color, the more effective it is. Anyone want to guess what color it will be?”

            One student jokingly said blue, another green, another said pale lavender.

            “Miss Woodcock, your assessment?” he asked.

            “I do not know what light color it is supposed to be,” Livia said. “Pale sunlight, maybe?”

            Professor Snape put the litmus into the copper caldron. It turned entirely white.

            “Is that good?” Livia asked.

            “It is,” Professor Snape said. “I will keep my word and subtract one week of detention. You still get a week – since I do not believe you regarding what you called that owl. You will explain that arrogant impudence to me later today, same as before. Do not keep me waiting, or I will restore the second week in its entirety. Any other questions? Anyone?”

            No one spoke thus Professor Snape dismissed the class.

            Shelley ran into Livia again before Livia headed to Professor Snape’s office. She said she heard of her potion-making success, but that she had run afoul of him again. “Why did you call in an owl you named Sevy?”

            “He showed up,” she stated. “He told me to use that name. What is going on here?”

            “You don’t know?” Shelley asked. When she saw Livia blank stare, she said: “His first name is Severus. Do you get it now?”

            “Oh,” Livia said. “I didn’t know. I am going to have to ask that owl about that, I guess.”

            Again, Livia arrived a few minutes early, though this time, Professor Snape showed up exactly on time. He looked very annoyed.

            They went inside and he began by asking about the owl, “What is the meaning of you calling that owl Sevy? Was that meant to be an opportunity for me to snap at you?”

            “No,” Livia answered. “I honestly did not know until Shelley Silver told me just minutes ago. Should I call this owl and inquire? Honestly, the owl must have a reason for his name. I do not know what it is.”

            “Okay,” Professor Snape agreed. “Let me open the window first.” After he did, he told her: “Call him now.”

            Within a minute or so, the Barn Owl Sevy was at the window and entered the room. Livia told him that she was confused about his name and that some students thought she was poking fun at Professor Snape by using his name. The owl had a different explanation.

            “The owl likes you, sir,” Livia asserted. Just then the owl went onto Professor Snape’s desk and approached him, making a friendly sort of sound. “He says you would make a very successful Barn Owl because you are tough and being they are not the largest owl, they have very rough lives and need to be very savvy and courageous to survive. He also says he likes how you fly. I don’t get that latter comment, sir.”

            “I can fly without a broom,” Professor Snape revealed. “That’s a long story and not all of it is good for me to relay to you. Nonetheless, you made the potion perfectly, and this owl gave me the ideal opportunity to rip into you, even if you did not deserve it. The others believe you did this intentionally, so that basically served both of us. Tell him he did well today, and I thank him for his compliments and service to you.”

            Livia relayed the message and bowed to him. The owl flew up to Professor Snape’s left shoulder, carefully keeping his claws from gripping too tightly and extended his right wing around the professor’s neck then took his leave out the window.

            “Well, that was unprecedented,” Professor Snape observed.

            “I hope you take it as a great compliment, sir,” Livia stated. “I would.”

            “Just do not say a word about it, Miss Woodcock. As you say, I have a persona to maintain.”

            “Of course, I won’t.”

            “I did use the pensieve,” he revealed. “Those girls sure got what was coming to them. That was at least one good laugh. How much did they hurt you?”

            “It looked worse than it was, as you may have guessed,” Livia replied. “I protected my body but allowed the school to see damage, usually to my face, so they could feel like they hurt me and that the school could have evidence as to whom the aggressors were.”

            “They could have killed you or put you in the hospital,” he asserted. “At least, I never had that kind of abuse inflicted upon me. Still, you must be more careful. I discussed this with the headmaster. Your belief in their abilities to aid you could make you overconfident and a truly powerful witch or wizard could take great advantage of you right now. You could make a fatal mistake, because taking on a foe here is not the same as protecting yourself from muggles.”

            “Thank you for your concern and the headmaster’s concern. I will remember.”

            “You must ask the headmaster to explain this concern in detail. There is a fairly recent history that lay behind it. Since you are only in the early stages of your education, you remain vulnerable should the darker forces in this world find reason to assault you. Much more experienced witches and wizards have been killed or driven insane by them. And they will return at some point. You must prepare for greater tests than even I can mete out here.”

            “I understand – should I report for detention now?” Livia asked.

            “Yes, that is a good idea. I will alert the monitor of how long you will require it.”

            “Good evening to you, sir,” Livia said, taking her leave.

            Professor Snape watched her as she headed down the corridor. He felt something he had not experienced in some five years. He found himself oddly worried about her. He wondered if she would heed the warnings well enough. She has to keep her head down and learn this before the Dark Lord returns. Skipping at least one grade might save her life, especially if Filius can teach her dueling skills that she will need, to build a better rapport with her wand. She probably can defend herself well for a time, but that likely will not matter enough.

            Livia reported to detention. Soon after she sat down a note came to the monitor. He came over to her. “Professor Snape first informed me you would be coming here for a full week. He has relented. He will release you from me after today, provided neither you nor I tell anyone about this. I suggest you make yourself scarce at this time for the next week, so no one knows.” Livia nodded and when the time ended, she collected her things and headed to the Great Hall for supper.

            Quite a buzz seemed to exist around the various tables for that meal and Livia quickly realized she had become the topic. It seemed her ability to make the potion correctly did not rate as significant versus the fact that she used two crows and an owl to fetch missing items. Still, the biggest aspect spoken about concerned the fact that Livia called the owl Sevy. The students barely even appreciated the role of any of the three birds compared to that. The name of the owl seemed to greatly shock many, especially that a first-year student had said such a thing in front of Professor Snape. “What was she thinking?” became a prominent refrain. Some could not account for how Livia wound up with only a week’s detention over that kind of disrespect. “Maybe he likes Barn Owls,” one student asserted. Another suggested: “Well, she did make the potion correctly, and had already given her two weeks, so he would have broken his word if he had not cut her at least some slack.” That idea drew a simple retort: “When has Professor Snape ever been fair to any non-Slytherin student?” Another had an idea: “Remember what the sorting hat said? What if her father had been a Slytherin, and Professor Snape actually knows who he is?”

            Ted overheard that assertion, and he directly asked Livia: “Livia, do you think your father was a Slytherin?”

            “It is very possible,” Livia answered. “Who exactly I have no idea.”

            “That could explain why Professor Snape did not become more exceedingly harsh with you,” Athena suggested. “An owl named Sevy? He HAD to be fuming over that.”

            “It seems so,” Livia responded. “He showed his annoyance, to be sure, but his fury seems so controlled – he contains it. Have any of you ever heard him yell?”

            “No,” Shelley answered. “I think that’s why so many of us find him scary. He does not have to yell to intimidate or belittle. You almost wonder what he is capable of doing if he ever got to that point, and no one wants to find out.”

            The fact that Livia called two crows and a Barn Owl to retrieve ingredients got almost totally lost somehow, even as the owl’s name kept coming up. It became a kind of cognitive dissonance that struck Livia as strange, but since it ultimately kept a decent lid on her being a “show-off,” she found it a good thing.

            Just before the term ended, some of the students participated in a grand event called the Winter Ball. First year students typically did not get invited or spend much time there, but Livia found in it a very useful activity. She found an area where some students and minor staff observed it. She started making wagers on who would have a row at the event, who would leave the floor in tears, what new couples might emerge. She made a number of wagers with people willing to bet her – none from Ravenclaw, of course – thinking they knew the students better than she did. Livia won every bet, having an inside advantage they did not realize that she had. The “double or nothing” types became a staple of her building money that as a penniless unknown she never would have had. By staying in the shadows, she amassed quite a bit of money and found a way to deposit it before the term ended. Since she came from nothing, her skills at reading teenagers became a financial bonanza. Even when it later became possible for her to participate more, she still could have her “sideline business” of taking money from unsuspecting students, if desired. Every year, she could find a fresh supply to pilfer – either first-year students or overconfident Slytherins who thought they should be more cunning than she. They never succeeded, however. Hearing that Livia had taken money from his own students, Professor Snape opted to ignore it and suggested to those students that it was a valuable lesson in terms of underestimating the abilities of others there. He told them that overconfidence against an opponent in a far more important setting could be fatal, reminding them that Professor Flitwick, in his prime, was the best duelist around, in terms of professional competitions. Rivals constantly underestimated him. Losing some money counted for nothing in the long run versus losing your life, he said. They had to admit that he was right.

            Professor Dumbledore took notice and told her he had seen it but would not step in to stop her, given the adage about separating fools from their money. He realized she had nothing of her own and having some money would help her, especially if the school ever stopped fully funding her education. He had suggested that, after she graduated, she might be able to reimburse the school by being a tutor or proctor. He informed her that he received a full report on her teaching lesson from Professor Snape: he rated the potion making and the teaching aspects as very promising, especially for a first-year student. Livia liked the idea of staying at the school and agreed to the concept of contributing to the education of others in situations like hers. She told the headmaster she would be honored by an opportunity to give back to the school that had given her a great deal already. She just hoped that whatever duties she received she could discharge capably.

            The break saw almost all the students leave. Livia really had nowhere to go even had she wanted to do so. Her brother had gone home and also would visit friends. She knew she had to take whatever extra time she had and dedicate it towards reading ahead and getting some grasp of what Shelley and the others confronted during their first term of year two. Fortunately, for Livia, she found ample information left behind and the few skeletal staff members made sure neither she nor Sarah starved or lacked for anything. Hagrid was there to visit as were the owls and crows and her music kept her company. She had missed the two prior Christmases, so she felt no great pain in missing another. She found a taste for Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms, which Tom had sent along with an album by an American artist he liked, Born in the U.S.A. She sometimes visited the staff to make it easier for them to feed her, though she could conjure her own snacks when necessary. The headmaster returned early in January 1986 and sent her a note to come see him.

            Professor Dumbledone essentially wanted an update on her progress but also wanted to warn her, as Professor Snape had, about the dark aspects of the world around Hogwarts. He gave a full account of a wizarding war and his belief that the chief force behind it would return because he had not been wholly destroyed. For the first time, she heard the term “Death Eater” and that a young boy survived an attempt by this Dark Wizard to kill him along with his parents. The mother somehow put herself in between him and the baby, ensuring the child’s survival but the act led to her own death. He reinforced that he did not merely impart a history lesson because “the boy who lived” ultimately would attend the school. Livia considered that a great responsibility sat on a young boy’s shoulders. She wondered what he knew and if expecting so much of him was fair. “To what end – do you know how this ends?” she asked.

            “Not exactly,” he replied. “Except that there will come a time when one will defeat the other. Beyond that, I cannot say with certainty. If Hogwarts will have a future, it will depend on not only who wins but who is left to continue it. I see a bright future for you if the boy defeats him and the school remains. That is, you may well be at least part of the future here, which is why I want you to become as powerful as you can be and want you to be extremely cautious so that you do survive whatever comes. Should the Death Eaters win, Hogwarts will need you to fight, though I will endeavor to ensure that by the time this boy grows up he will find a way to triumph. Regardless of who wins, there will be a great toll on many as there was the first time. Still, I think it is imperative that someone such as yourself survives.”

            “You want me to sit on the sidelines and do nothing?”

            “No,” the headmaster responded. “Do nothing that makes you vulnerable or draws attention to yourself. I think that your academic ambition keeping you here and only somewhat noticed actually will serve us the best in the long run. I know you will be powerful someday, but I saw great witches and wizards killed – the parents of the boy both died and they were members of an Order I created to fight these Death Eaters. Another boy – born at the same time – lost his parents, also members of the Order, because Death Eaters tortured them to the point of insanity. You might think in this world you have nothing to lose fighting for a cause or this school.”

            “That is true, headmaster,” Livia admitted. “Only a few muggles really would ever mourn my loss, such as my brother.”

            “Make your cause to leave no trace of yourself that draws attention – for this reason I will never invite you to join that Order if the time comes for me to recreate it,” he revealed. “I do not mean this as an insult. I want to intentionally hold you back. For now, work hard and become proficient in all facets of defense. Have you ever done any fighting – that is, dueling?”

            “Mostly wordlessly and defensively,” she answered. “Not dueling, I think.”

            “Since you know so little, Professor Flitwick will have to address this before you graduate,” Professor Dumbledore asserted. “I may have to play a role in this, too. One more thing…”

            “Yes?” Livia asked.

            “You have shown an admirable degree of restraint and discretion. I know you kept your word, and no one suspected that Professor Snape only gave you one day versus one week of detention. You must continue to remain quiet regarding anything unusual about Professor Snape. I cannot impress this upon you enough. Never attempt to defend him or anything he does to anyone, so long as you reside here. If you know anything different, keep whatever you learn to yourself.”

            “Does this have to do with –” Livia started.

            “Do not ask, you should never ask anything about this,” he demanded.

            “Is this an issue that I am too young to understand?” Livia asked.

            “Not quite,” the headmaster answered. “This goes way beyond the issue of maturity. I must leave it at that. The time may come when you do know more, but you also may understand why I need you to vow that you will remain silent. For now, you must say nothing and ask nothing. This is most important, Livia.”

            “I swear it,” Livia affirmed. “If it serves a greater good.”

            “It should, so long as you do as I say. If you want to impishly tease Professor Snape, just wish him a Happy Birthday if he is here around the 9th of January. I do something for it every year.” That comment made Livia smile just a bit.

            They exchanged their farewells and Livia returned to her studies at the Ravenclaw common room. Reviewing what the headmaster said to her, briefly, she knew he sincerely meant everything he said, even if she did not find her constant silence attractive. It seemed to her she had kept secrets her whole life and hoped that at some point she would become unburdened of them – even lessening the number that seemed just to grow would be nice. She put it out of her mind and took up her own notebook to put down the things she could not write in books that she did not own. She considered trying to purchase them so she could pass the second year final exams before her second year began. The headmaster eventually found her a means to acquire her own copies later.

            Livia felt fortunate to get a note from Tom, back in Framlingham briefly around 5 January saying he would return to Durham that Saturday, the eleventh. Sydney had developed a good rapport with him. Realizing her own situation, Livia only could spend a few days with him, given his own schedule as well as hers. She had to figure out how to get there and how to ensure Sarah’s wellbeing. Moreover, though she could ride a broom, what would she do with it once she got there? She figured she had to ask the first faculty member she spotted. On 8 January, she spotted Professor Snape walking around a courtyard corridor.

            “Hello there, sir,” Livia said.

            He eyed her strangely. Her politeness, if not friendliness, seemed to baffle, if not annoy, him. “Miss Woodcock, why are you here? Why are you not with your brother?”

            “I never left. I have much to learn, you know. And Tom visited family and friends. I might try to see him in Durham, but I am unsure how I should attempt to get there.”

            “Try flying,” he suggested.

            “But what do I do with the broom once I find a secluded place to land? Is it possible to hide or what other options do I have?”

            “I see,” he acknowledged. “Do you have a soft bag long enough to conceal it with whatever else you bring there?”

            “I doubt it, sir,” Livia answered. “I have not attempted to put one in the bag I have. Would I damage the broom if I tried to put in something barely long enough for it?”

            “Probably, unless you could shrink it,” he replied. “I know you can produce things for yourself, but can you send the broom somewhere, then retrieve it when you need it?”

            “I could practice sending and receiving or shrinking it since he will not return until Saturday,” Livia replied.

            “Ask the headmaster which is easier, since I am not certain.”

            “Okay, sir,” Livia confirmed. “Oh, and by the way, Happy Birthday tomorrow, professor, if I do not see you.”

            “Who told you that?” Professor Snape demanded.

            “The headmaster,” Livia stated. “Hope he gives you something nice.”

            “Why do you think he would bother?”

            “For the same reason he told me – he remembers.”

            “He should not have said anything,” Professor Snape asserted.

            “Well, he did,” she said simply. “Good day now – and then.”

            Livia walked away. He watched her walk away, puzzled and with a wry expression that betrayed very little.

            Livia practiced and found shrinking the broom was less risky. She found she could transport objects, but if anyone moved one even slightly, she would have great difficulty recalling the broom in good time. Her skills demanded a precise fix on the location of anything she wanted to bring to her. If a student came back or the house staff or her brother – anyone – even moved it slightly, she found retrieval frustrating and sometimes impossible.

            After securing the aid of a staff member in watching Sarah, she arrived in Durham on Saturday evening 11 January, just dark enough to not be seen when she landed by the Wear. Livia then shrank the broom and put both it and her wand in a zippered pocked inside a backpack she used as a weekend bag. From there, she found the stone bridge near the cathedral and entered the town, making her way to Tom’s residence close to the cathedral. She found only Tom and Alice there. They had been sitting on the couch, drinking some cocoa and watching a movie on something called a VCR, which Alice received for Christmas and made a gift to the household. Tom immediately had to get a copy of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” his favorite film. At some point during Livia’s stay, he made sure they watched all of it together, too, as the two sometimes viewed the troupe’s BBC programme in Framlingham.

            Livia greeted both warmly and they reciprocated. She asked where Jake and Audrey were, and Tom told her that the two were taking a holiday together. Tom also informed her that he believed Jake intended to propose during the trip because he had seen a ring Jake had bought in town. “How nice,” Livia said. “She will say ‘yes,’ right?”

            Both agreed that she would.

            “How shall we make the arrangements here?” Livia inquired.

            “I do not understand your question,” Tom answered.

            “I think Alice knows what I am asking,” Livia stated.

            Alice blushed. She had developed feelings for Tom, in part owing to how gently he treated and how consistently he defended Livia. She thought Cathy okay, she had little use for Lydia, but she saw what Tom did in Livia, which justified his unwavering support.

            “Your sister thinks the two of us are now a couple,” Alice said.

            “Are we, Alice?” Tom asked. “I have never been sure if you harbored any significant feelings towards me at all. You also come from a quite different background. Your family surely would not approve of us, would they?”

            “Thomas James Woodcock, you underestimate yourself,” Alice cried out. “You have excellent prospects should you qualify to train as a barrister. My family would have no objection, even if your father is a church rector and not an earl or knight or something posh. They will care more about who their sons marry – still. Me? Not nearly as much.”

            “Well, you can understand my concern,” Tom said. “I could easily be a college fling.”

            “You aren’t,” Alice reassured. “Livia, just take my room. Who knows? You might rub off some good luck into it. I do all right here but I wish for a little better.”

            Thus, no one but Livia would touch her own things for the few days she spent there. They went very pleasantly. It did seem that Tom felt freer to express warmth towards Alice in general, where he had guarded himself before. At one point, Alice confessed to Livia that his diligence regarding her and his loyalty opened her eyes and really melted her heart. As she put it, she knew then what a great father as well as great man he would become.

            Livia briefly saw Jake and Audrey just before she left. All had gone as predicted and Audrey wore her engagement ring proudly. They all enjoyed a brief celebratory cake with their local friends, including Gary, before Livia announced that she had to leave.

            “But it’s getting dark, Livia – why not wait until the morning?” Tom asked.

            “It has to be this way and I cannot really explain why presently. I will send an owl to you when I get back to where I presently belong. My classes begin a little sooner than yours, for one.”

            They all embraced and Livia departed, making her way back down to the Wear below the stone bridge separating the medieval part of Durham from the rest of the town. She waited there a short time until the night fully set in. Only then did she enlarge her broom and set off for Hogwarts.

            Tom found a letter from her as soon as he woke up the next morning. She had safely returned and wished everyone well – including those she had not seen during her brief stay, such as Adam and John. She told him that she had much to accomplish in the time left to be ready for what lay ahead. He sent back a quick note through Mel, expressing an understanding of that concept, given the path he had set for himself. It would demand a lot of effort, especially now that his “prospects” possessed a newfound purpose – that of securing the approval of Alice’s family, if the two of them would remain a couple.        


Chapter 8: Livia's Second Term Accelerates Her Push Foward
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            Livia began the second term more prepared than the first – and even ready for the rest of the year as well as the beginning of level two, which she would formally bypass if the faculty accepted her work when they reassembled for the fall. Her class schedule did not change at all – it essentially represented an extension or deepening in complexity of the things covered.

            Her written assignments continued to draw raves, enough so that Professor Flitwick no longer had to initiate discussing it. Livia’s moneymaking behavior drew some attention as well, with the headmaster specifically asking Professor Snape about it, since Livia seemed to do very well in taking money from his students.

            “Oh, I saw it and some of them complained about it, as if I was going to get them their money back,” he said. “It seems Miss Woodcock is sly in her own way, and they believed that only they possessed such a trait. Since Miss Woodcock has no income source and no known family here, I told them they were lucky that they did not underestimate another student with much more dire consequences than losing some money.”

            “Quite a statement for you not to champion your own students, Severus,” the headmaster responded. “I cannot remember you ever doing that before.”

            “Everyone here knows I admire cunning, and I cannot stand students whining, though I admit I have indulged my own students on this at times. Miss Woodcock found a way to use an advantage of hers to be able to accrue funds to buy something for herself here, maybe books or whatever. Children sometimes have to learn lessons they do not like and accept the consequences of their own behavior. As some of you have wondered, but never told me, rumors have gone around suggesting Miss Woodcock’s father was a Slytherin student.”

            “Was he really?” Professor McGonagall asked.

            “From what I know, I believe she is a Slytherin legacy, so I will not touch her ability to take their money,” Professor Snape revealed. “It’s the first time she’s shown a skill Slytherins should respect, even if they lose money to her because of it.”

            “Do you know who her father is?” Professor Flitwick inquired.

            “I do not,” Professor Snape answered. “It is probable that I met or know whoever fathered her, but I do not have the means or time at present to figure this out. Still, I am going to respect this legacy, at least somewhat – until she crosses me.”

            “We all know she has done that already,” Professor Flitwick stated. “I had no idea, Severus, that she called an owl ‘Sevy’.”

            “Would you believe me if I told you the owl named himself that?”

            “What?” several called out at the same time.

            “Neither did the students,” he recounted. “Do not attempt to persuade them otherwise. Miss Woodcock actually told me the truth, from how that owl behaved. I saw this myself. It was strange, though impressive, which I doubt any of you have ever heard me say – ever – even of a Slytherin student. Her ability to communicate with animals is almost unprecedented, I think. You can do this, though, Albus, right?”

            “Yes,” the headmaster affirmed. “Usually with pets, like Fawkes, my Phoenix. Still, I can manage a good rapport with other animals like owls, including those that followed Miss Woodcock here. Others have similar talents, but I think I underestimated the complexity of her discussions with local wildlife as well as other students’s pets. From what you and Filius have told me, it seems to me she speaks to them as easily as she speaks to any of us – all without making a sound.”

            “I told you about the other students’s pets,” Professor Flitwick clarified. “Frankly, I wonder if she prefers them on the whole to people.”

            “I do not think that,” the headmaster asserted. “She is following my recommendation after that incident to keep a low profile. That’s what I think you see. I am thinking about her future – and that of this school. Her relative obscurity actually is part of this, though it may also be part of her grounding in this world. She has kept quiet and held many secrets already in her life. Still, there is one person that she puts above everyone else – her brother.”

            “Isn’t he a muggle?” Professor Bends queried. “That seems strange.”

            “His family adopted her as a baby, and none of them know the extent of her abilities,” the headmaster revealed. “Her brother knows the most, and she has kept him in the dark even about where she is exactly and what she learns here. All he knows is that she sends him messages in muggle ink on muggle paper by some Barn Owls they know, and he writes her back the same way, with them usually staying by him until he replies. She likely will tell him at some point when she can show him what she can do.”

            “That-that sounds a lit-tle d-dangerous,” Professor Quirrell argued.

            “Which I think has prompted her to wait,” the headmaster responded. “She believes she can trust him. Since she knows him better than any of us do, we should probably let her decide when and how she tells him. I doubt she will tell anyone else, unless it happens to be whoever the brother ultimately marries.”

            They then turned to other students and their issues and retired for the evening. Each had their own way to prepare for the resumption of the school year, be it reviewing their notes or plans, reviewing the schedule or class rosters or just relaxing themselves with some tea and some sort of finger sandwiches, giving “High Tea” a whole host of implications for the demands of day-to-day teaching. One way or another, each became “on” his or her own high level of alert, intelligence and knowledge of their subjects and in the skills needed to convey those to their students. Teaching a bunch of budding witches and wizards required more attention than teaching unruly muggles, especially when it comes across as effortless. Because of this intense aptitude, calling a professor a master had more than one meaning – he or she had to master the material and master handling the most challenging group of students imaginable. Some had natural teaching abilities, but those only took an instructor so far. Without a command of a subject and command of a classroom, being good solely at teaching did not count for that much here.

            Livia continued to do as the headmaster urged and kept to herself in class, silently annotating things she had read with any further insights given through various lectures or demonstrations. Professor Snape almost completely ignored her, except on occasion when asking students to make a particular potion. Since he never had any real biting criticism of her, he might make a comment about furthering the subtlety of doing a certain potion, in order to enhance its potency. He rarely let anyone else hear what he said to her, though, and even at times he would tell her silently, knowing she could hear him direct thoughts to her. He had other students who required him to be as stern and as ruthlessly demanding as possible, at least according to him.

            Other than the conversations she had at meal time with Shelley, Athena, Selene and Ted, she had little to say, other than when she went out to visit Hagrid or play with the birds via her Walkman. The four did convince her to watch a Quidditch match, where she continually asked questions about strategy and specific moves the players made and if the players had set plays to put into motion for certain situations. They had little expertise, though Selene knew the most. None of them ever tried out for the team; Ted had considered it, since he knew a few players. Selene’s cousin was a standout already in his second year, but she knew no one else. Ted suggested Livia ask Professor Flitwick about how the Ravenclaw team operated and if strategy was used in specific situations. He thought that if anyone thought of the sport tactically, it would be a Ravenclaw.

            More importantly, Livia asked Professor Flitwick about dueling in terms of the potential she would need to fight someone who wished her harm. He seemed somewhat surprised that she asked so soon, though the idea had crossed his mind briefly. She told him that the headmaster seemed to think it necessary at some point, so she inquired as to the right time to start. She told him she had skills in defending herself, though without her wand. Professor Dumbledore seemed to think she needed to learn how to use her wand in battle. Professor Flitwick told her that if she made the successful leap to join the other level three students the following fall, he would fit something into her schedule to get her to learn the basics of using the wand for defense and offense.

            “I have never really attacked anyone – ever,” Livia revealed.

            “That will not suffice here, and I think that is why the headmaster wants me to help you,” Professor Flitwick responded. “He must think you are vulnerable and he wants to protect you.”

            “He told me about the wizarding war some years ago and those behind it would reassemble,” Livia stated.

            “I should ask him who he expects you to fight,” he asserted. “He might know already.”

            “Actually, he gave me the impression that he rather I did not have to do so, but I would be very vulnerable here so long I lacked these skills, given what may happen in the future.”

            “Yes,” he assented. “We are all vulnerable on that account – some of us more than others. He must have some plan in mind should events not go as he hopes they will. That would mean you and whoever is left would have to defend the school – our whole world even – against some very powerful dark forces and very dark days.”

            “You mean from Death Eaters?” Livia asked.

            “So he filled in some details – yes, them,” he replied. “Some are in a fortified prison, some probably escaped punishment, either by claiming undue influence or by turning in others. Still, just concentrate on skipping a grade. You need not worry about the Death Eaters yet. You will eventually but not now.”

            The winter months were often wet and curtailed Livia’s outside activities. She heard of a quiet room sometimes occupied by a ghost thought to be a former Ravenclaw student. One day, Livia found that location to be quiet and entered it to empty her emotional baggage when this diaphanous figure appeared and stopped just short of approaching her.

            Livia, startled to not be alone in the room, looked and clearly saw her, despite the fact that she no longer lived. “I think I know who you are,” Livia said. “Helena Ravenclaw?”

            The figure somewhat backed up, but she soon realized Livia was alone and meant no harm or disrespect. “Yes, that was my name,” she admitted. “How did you know?”

            “I have heard some things, but in seeing you, I just knew,” Livia said.

            “Why are you here?” Helena asked.

            “I had no intention of disturbing you,” Livia explained. “I actually needed a place to be alone. I pick up on feelings of students, especially, who have no skill at hiding their emotions. At times, I find what they think or feel unsettling and need time to unburden myself.”

            “Sometimes, they can be cruel to each other and other times they find life cruel to them,” Helena observed.

            “You have experienced much of the latter, I would think,” Livia theorized.

            “What do you know about that?” Helena demanded.

            “Not much, really,” Livia answered. “I feel a sadness about you here. I think you and I both have missed out perhaps on some measure of kindness. That parallel makes sense to me.”

            “Oh,” Helena replied. “You are not trying to get anything from me, then?”

            “No,” Livia responded. “Why should I?”

            “Others have tried and on at least one occasion I said too much to the wrong person. Someday I hope to rectify that.”

            “Can I try to shake your hand?” Livia asked.

            “No one has done anything like that in a very long time,” Helena said. “How can you? You still live.”

            “I would like to try because I might be able to do it. If I can feel your presence, I may have some tactile sensitivity, also.”

            Livia extended her hand and Helena reached out. The two did not initially connect until Livia brought in her second hand and both found a way to sense the field that held the spirit of Helena Ravenclaw as a physical-appearing entity. Ultimately, it worked and Livia held her hand within both of her own. It seemed a fairly weak connection but Livia had connected.

            “I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Ravenclaw,” Livia stated.

            “I do not know what to say because I am quite taken aback. I should leave –”

            “Please don’t go,” Livia begged, releasing her hand, sensing the contact created her panic.

            “Thank you for letting go,” Helena revealed. “I admit it scared me after all this time.”

            “I am sorry if I have bothered you,” Livia maintained. “If you want to go, fine, but come back and perhaps we can speak again, if nothing else.”

            Helena Ravenclaw seemed to slightly bow then disappear. Livia resumed with emptying her thoughts, then briefly checked on Sarah, who seemed somewhat fine, yet getting more tired or old and less energetic than she was even a few weeks beforehand. Livia asked Sarah if she needed help; Sarah weakly said yes. Just before returning to the common room, Livia decided to take a chance and wrote a quick note to Professor Snape and called Sevy to take it to him:

Dear Professor Snape,

  My cat Sarah seems especially tired tonight and I think her age is catching up to her. Is there a potion that might extend her life or give her better health for whatever time she has left? I know she would not want to die before saying goodbye to Sydney and Mel, at least (the Barn Owls Hagrid watches for me that followed me from London, if you recall). I do not wish to have to carry her there. They may take it badly, if not as much as me. Let me know if I can do anything for her.

Thank you, sir.

Sincerely,
Livia Woodcock

The note reached Professor Snape in his quarters, as he heard a tapping at what constituted his living room window. He recognized Sevy from a distinct color pattern on one wing and tan color around his neck. He presumed who had sent the note, though he found it rather strange that Miss Woodcock would bother him in the evening until he read the note. He paused to consider if or how to respond. Sevy made no move to leave, obviously expecting a reply. Professor Snape realized that Sevy would never go until he wrote back, which made his own decision rather straightforward.

            He wrote her back a quick note:

Dear Miss Woodcock,

This is an odd request, but I understand your distress. We may be able to help her some. Bring her to my potion-making room at four o’clock tomorrow and we will see if something can help her.

Sincerely,
Professor Snape

 Livia destroyed the note, carefully, to ensure no one could ever know it existed. She dutifully showed up at four holding Sarah, who seemed to enjoy the trip through the castle, given she had not done much travel through it herself, particularly over the last few months.

            “Miss Woodcock,” Professor Snape began, “I see you have brought your cat. This is a strange thing, but I know your animals mean a lot to you, and Sevy would not leave me alone until I replied, so I figured I would get a chance to see what you can do through this exercise. Helping your cat will mean much to you, though from my vantage point, it is only a bonus to seeing how well you respond to me guiding you through some challenging work.”

            Sarah jumped out of Livia’s arms and went up and rubbed Professor Snape’s leg. “Why do you talk to animals that like me?” he inquired. “Nobody really likes me, and I have gotten to the point that I am fine with that.”

            “I guess Sairy knows that you mean well by her, for one,” Livia explained. “Or she sees you differently. Maybe both, sir.”

            “Ask her if she is in pain or feels weak or what her physical or emotional problems are,” Professor Snape requested.

            After a moment, Livia had an answer. “She feels weak. The food I give her does not have the same effect on her. It is like she is fading away. It is not any particular disease.”

            “I have never tried this on a cat, but I can walk you through two potions, one of which may give her some relief – at least temporarily,” he offered. “The first is a strength potion, the other is an invigoration potion. They may be over your head, but I will walk you through each. I want you to do them yourself, so that if you find either useful, you can make them yourself in the future.”

            He was direct, exact and provided everything Livia needed for both. He lacked any of the harshness his students would expect from him, the cutting remarks that often made a student nervous. He had nothing to gain from this and knew he would not rattle her if he tried, anyway. She was content-focused and, to her, he seemed emotionless, just thinking and watching and directing. He wanted to see how well Livia followed directions and how skillful she was in doing something no one would expect such a young student to accomplish. She did both well, processing the information with ability and feeling. He realized her motivation for doing well had led her to stretch her capabilities beyond even what a third-year student could do. Livia loved her cat very much and the cat’s loyalty to Livia meant Livia would try anything to help Sarah.

            Professor Snape hardly needed to test either, since his observations confirmed that she had listened carefully and assiduously performed all that he asked of her. Nevertheless, he tested both and found each potent and well executed. “Try a small amount of the invigoration one first,” he suggested. “I cannot tell you how a cat will respond. This is new territory for me, frankly.”

            Livia took an eyedropper, put it in a small amount of water and placed it down for Sarah and asked Sarah to drink the water. Sarah complied. Livia asked the professor how long before she could know if it worked.

            “Actually, not long, if it does affect her positively,” he stated.

            Sarah did perk up and jumped in Livia’s arms first and purred quite happily. She then jumped down and rubbed Professor Snape again, still purring loudly. “I think she knew she should not try to do to you what she did to me,” Livia asserted.

            “Yes, that would not have been a good move,” he agreed. “No one would call me a ‘cat person’ – ever.”

            “Does this mean the other potion would work in the same fashion?” Livia asked.

            “I cannot be certain,” he replied. “You can try it when the other runs out and, if it is not successful, you can reserve the lab to yourself to make more of the first again.”

            “I am not sure if I can make it without you walking me through it,” Livia maintained. “Is there a written source that I can mentally capture in my mind?”

            “You take mental photographs of things?” he queried.

            “Yes,” Livia assented. “I was prepared to make the Forgetfulness Potion from memory. I thought that was what you were going to require of me.”

            “I will write it out for you,” he said. “Put it somewhere safe and do not show it to anyone or, if discovered, do not tell how you got it.”

            “I know,” Livia admitted. “If I was not a Slytherin legacy, you might have dismissed my request. I will not compromise your indulgence of me because Sairy’s life – or at least the quality of it – has depended on you making quite an exception for me. I will never betray you, sir. Professor Dumbledore has made me vow to it, already.”

            “Has he?” Professor Snape asked.

            “Yes,” she answered. “He asked I never attempt to defend you no matter what happens, what is said about you or what I think or feel about anything. I gave him my word, even though he never informed me as to why this matters so much, or how long I should keep quiet. That was hard to do but I sensed his intense feeling that I do so.”

            “The less you know, the better,” he observed. “That is all that needs saying at present.”

            Livia took the vials, wished Professor Snape a good evening and she and Sarah walked back to their Ravenclaw dorm room before Livia joined everyone for dinner.

            Shelley was the first to tell her that she was late and to inquire about where she was.

            “Sarah has been under the weather, and I was asking Hagrid about how I could help her,” Livia explained. No one questioned that explanation. No one knew more about animals – any animals, in fact – than Hagrid, they all agreed. “It worked. Sairy feels better – at least for now.”

            Meantime, Professor Snape had informed the headmaster of what had transpired and that his assistance of Miss Woodcock would remain unnoticed. She had taken her vow to him seriously and would never attempt to defend him regarding any issue or accusation. He also told the headmaster what he had asked her to prepare in her hope that it helped her cat. It worked, too.

            “Those are very good exercises, Severus,” Professor Dumbledore said. “She is proving herself, no doubt, to be talented and sensible. Now you know why I want to protect her.”

            “She is not part of the prophecy, though,” he stated. “So I do not entirely understand.”

            “True, she is not, but we cannot guarantee outcomes,” the headmaster explained. “And many have sacrificed already and many more will. If there will be a future for this school beyond what we know is coming, training someone like Miss Woodcock has a great deal of value for the future of Hogwarts. Neither I, nor Professor McGonagall nor Professor Flitwick – nor even you – can live forever, though some of us live a very long time.”

            “I will ensure she can perform whatever you may hope from her,” Professor Snape asserted.

            “Just keep it quiet, since this benefits both of you,” the headmaster maintained. “I want her to survive whatever comes and not have to fight hard to do it. I have no idea if she will become prepared sufficiently to kill even those who would threaten her. She would fight to the death for her brother, we already recognize. I do not know if she values her own life nearly as much.”

            “Yes,” Professor Snape agreed. “Self-preservation is supposed to be a very basic instinct, but it does not seem as powerful in her as the desire to protect others.”

            “That is why muggles would call her an empath,” the headmaster asserted. “We might call her a child or might call her incredibly brave. Nonetheless, she does not sense her own worth. I am not sure if it is an issue of self-esteem or based on the fact that she knows more about others’s feelings than her own, since hers were stunted by many factors in her past.”

            “I am the wrong person to figure this out,” Professor Snape maintained. “I think my feelings ceased to evolve some years ago. They stopped when my sole purpose became clear.”

            “Perhaps,” the headmaster said. “But one can change quite unexpectedly. You already did once, even if not entirely surprisingly. You may find you still can feel, even if you do not wish it to be so. As long as we live, we make choices that affect such things, even if we do not understand or desire how our choices affect us or change us. And we can still find solace somewhere if we are open to it. Miss Woodcock has done this in several ways already because her life depended upon it. If she can, why should you think yourself incapable of it?”

            “She is younger and more capable of growth. My path is fixed in this life, as you know, and being solitary provides both peace and solace,” he observed.         

            “You are not old, Severus, though. I have seen many more decades than you. Just remember what I said,” Professor Dumbledore stated. The two bid each other good night and parted ways.

            Livia walked out to visit Hagrid with Sarah trailing soon after to give Sydney and Mel a good visit, though she conveyed to them that Sarah’s life might not last much longer. She was supporting Sarah the best she could, but Sarah could not live indefinitely. That is, it may or may not be her last visit to them. They seemed happy together, playful and tightly bonded. Hagrid seemed transfixed by the interaction, telling Livia he believed that it possessed a magic all its own. “You are making me think Sydney and Mel came here to see Sairy, not me,” Livia said, though she acknowledged that was unlikely to be true.

Livia also realized she needed to give Tom and his flatmates another opportunity to see her and she arranged to spend part of her spring break in Durham with Sarah. It just so happened to overlap with trips Adam (from Norwich) and John (from London) had planned, also. It seemed that an encampment would take place in Durham. Adam and John actually brought sleeping bags, too. Of course, Sarah already had a bed. Livia made sure she packed what remained of her invigoration potion, which seemed to last quite a while, given Sarah had only a few drops a day. She had also modified her bag so Sarah could travel with her comfortably and safely.

The Friday evening she landed, shrank her broom and made her way to Tom’s flat gave Livia much anticipation of a good trip. Livia was delighted to see them all again and they said the same. Adam and John really fussed over her and both tried, in their own ways, to weasel out of her exactly where she was and what things she studied. Livia hated to lie to them, so she tried an artful dodge. She said she studied some botany, training and handling wildlife and assorted related tasks that a sanctuary or zoo would appreciate. “Will you become a doctor of veterinary medicine?” Adam asked.

“Not quite, but I am helping Sairy,” Livia answered. She tried to make it clear to all that Sarah had entered the twilight of her life, and she was administering some supportive supplementation to her water to keep her quality of life good as her body wound down.

“So this is a form of alternative medicine?” John inquired.

“Yes, though it is nutritional in nature,” Livia replied.

John and Adam were joined by Alice, Audrey, Jake and Gary in asking about an actual physical address that they could use to contact her. Tom eyed her quizzically. He did not dare ask her this, but he sure wanted to hear her answer. Livia had thought of an answer if cornered on this issue, but did not know if it would go over well with a group. She wished to herself she had some of that Forgetfulness Potion so she could tell them then erase it all.

“The school is in a very secluded, rural part of Scotland,” she began, “and since we deal with unusual plants and animals, it has to be so. The drawback is that the mail is exceedingly slow and thus using owls have become almost a tradition there – when they are obliging, as they often are. I’m not even sure how often we get Royal Mail.”

“That somewhat makes sense, but I have never heard of this before,” John asserted.

Alice was going to say something but stalled. Finally, she said: “I have family in various parts of Scotland. The mail service has gained this reputation in some parts, particularly, though I do not know that they have ever used owls for letters. Carrier pigeons are very old school.”

“It is not common, but since you see its utility and we work with animals, it became a natural outgrowth of our activities,” Livia stated. “Some even have pet owls, but I really cannot bring myself to try to domesticate them. It is an extension of falconry, to be sure, which is a perfectly respectable relationship to establish with any raptor, but I prefer to think of owls as free creatures that I reward for helping me. So I am a little unusual there for feeling this way.”

Livia found it interesting that Alice essentially helped her find a way to make a credible case for her situation and use of owls. She wondered if anyone in Alice’s family had inexplicable powers, trained or not. She made a note to ask the headmaster if any aristocratic Scottish or English families or their less-renown relations, like the Wests, had ever attended Hogwarts. If so, perhaps a continued relationship between Alice and Tom could help her in telling Tom about the school.

Alice and Audrey offered to take Sarah to a local vet, but Livia decided against it. “I do not think a vet could do anything more than I am right now,” Livia maintained. “She is tired and I give her aid in boosting her energy level. It helps her quality of life, but I do not think they can stop the inevitable. She does not have a disease they can treat. Her dental health and bodily functions are fine for her age, but she can only live so long.”

“I am so sorry,” Audrey said. “I think we both wish we could help you.”

“I wish I could help her more, too. But some things in life we are bound to accept, for we have no choice. I wish I could fight for her, but I have no idea of who or what to fight. She certainly doesn’t know. Feline father time?”

“I feel you are way too young to have to shoulder this burden alone,” Alice asserted. “Perhaps you should leave her with us, anyway. Even if we cannot stop the inevitable, it might spare you some to not have to witness this.”

“I am not entirely alone, there, but it is perhaps true that my friendships are not quite as strong as those here have become in such a short time,” Livia stated. “I am sure the headmaster or my head of house will help me deal with this – if not the groundskeeper who put up an owl box for Sydney and Mel. I just wanted to ensure you had the chance to see her again, given I am unsure of how long she has left. Could be weeks or months – I am not certain. I think Sairy will let me know when I should stop trying to improve her wellbeing and just let her go.”

The trip was not entirely downtrodden, despite Sarah’s situation. They had plenty of time for frivolous trips around the county and high tea at the Durham almshouse as well as a little shopping, since Audrey and Alice felt Livia needed some new clothes and shoes. Alice insisted on paying for everything, given that her father would never figure out if they were for her or not. “I get a generous stipend and I cannot think of a better way to spend some of it,” Alice said.

Adam and John left about a day before Livia did. The remaining people around the household, including Gary, had a nice dinner at a local Indian restaurant, but again, Livia insisted on leaving towards dusk, which Tom vigorously protested.

“Livia, you did this last time without incident – but why do this with Sarah?” he asked. “Wouldn’t early morning be better for her?”

“Someday I will tell you why, but I cannot at present. I doubt you would believe me. I still think you did not entirely digest the things my headmaster said to you months ago.”

“Guilty as charged,” Tom agreed. “Is the explanation worth waiting for?”

“I am not sure if I would phrase it that way,” Livia answered. “By then, it will make perfect sense, and you should be able to accept it. I need to get back and press ahead, anyway. One of my obliging owls will get a note to you fairly soon, so you need not worry there.”

            At least this time, Livia had an uneventful return trip to campus. This time, Mel quickly got Tom the confirmation he relied upon that Livia arrived safely and had resumed her studies.


Chapter 9: Helping a Friend and Helping Herself
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Spring compared to winter or fall academically seemed a breeze to Livia, given she was well into her readings and wand work to be ready for taking finals for her second year exams. She also got to resume going outside, whether it be a weekly trip to see Hagrid with Sarah accompanying her, or to resume her musical activities with her “band” of crows, songbirds and owls (they all liked her food, so the group grew since her fall forays away from the school). She still continued to do her own performances near Professor Snape’s window, sometimes conducting with her wand, other times dancing and singing. The man who never liked much from the muggle world found her performances had piqued his curiosity. Sometimes, he just allowed himself to hear her whilst he worked. Other times he made himself watch, depending on the song or artist.

The main issue for Livia that spring actually revolved around one of her friends, the shy Selene. Livia did not know what initially set off the older girl – Selene’s reddish hair or perhaps merely her vulnerability. A fourth-year student, 15-year-old Charlotte Stickler, overweight and freckled, reminded Livia both of the bully Megan and friend Patsy. Yet Charlotte’s ruse came from “accidents” like knocking over an inkwell all over a parchment Selene started using for an assignment. She tripped Selene, once shut a door on her robe and broke her glasses, among other incidents, which had accelerated to being unmistakable. Livia knew Charlotte intended to do all of it, but she had friends, including a fifth-year prefect named Stephanie Wayne and her younger sister, 14-year-old third-year student Rhonda. Athena and Shelley agreed that the situation had already began escalating, yet they didn’t know how to address it when a prefect vouched for Charlotte. Given Livia’s own past, she researched how she could take on the bullies herself.

After some intense reading, Livia got an idea. She needed help, however. Knowing the student leadership and thus head of house would not assist her, Livia found information on some advanced potions, particularly the Polyjuice Potion. She approached Professor Snape about the potential of giving her lab time, and she offered to pay for what she needed. Feeling it a matter of time before Charlotte and some friend(s) actually tried worse on Selene whilst most of the young girls slept, she wanted to impersonate her, along with a few other girls, likely Shelley and Athena. Livia already had begun work on impersonating Selene’s voice, if needed, since the potion sometimes did not facilitate an exact replication of that, though Livia presumed a strong potion should transfer that quality. Nonetheless, she wanted more time to ensure that she got it right, one way or another, when the potion she had in mind would mature.

Professor Snape did not want to participate, until Livia offered to pay for the materials that she used. He saw an advantage in seeing if she actually could correctly brew this potion, given its advanced stature. He also felt a little sorry for the shy girl with glasses, the red-haired Selene, despite himself – or perhaps because of himself. Livia proved herself again, when motivated for a cause, to capably perform. She and her friends would have their potion.

About a month later, after each girl acquired identical bedclothes, they went to a bathroom together and imbibed the potion with an added hair from Selene. Livia knew it was the right night. They had agreed that Livia would take Selene’s bed, Athena would take Livia’s, Shelley would take Athena’s and Selene would take Shelley’s. The geography of everyone’s bed positions put Shelley’s bed the furthest from Selene’s, which everyone thought would allow her the best – and safest – viewing spot. They also had found Livia’s vocal performance as Selene to be spot on perfect, if required. Whether Charlotte had noted the other three Selenes did not seem wholly clear, but Rhonda had left the door unsecured and, with two other friends, they roused Livia from Selene’s bed shortly after the girls all turned in.

Charlotte first doused Livia (as Selene) with a glass of water, then tried to blame “Selene” for this accident and started to push her around. Sarah possessed enough vigor to bite Charlotte hard, though Livia’s voice had convinced Charlotte and Rhonda that they had the right girl to torment. Charlotte’s piercing cry on being bitten woke everyone. They all saw Livia (as Selene) punch her in the face then sit on her. By then, she also had stupefied Rhonda, causing other girls to run for a student leader. Rhonda ran out as soon as she could get up, too. Shelley, Athena and the real Selene threw water in Charlotte’s face, whilst it dawned on Charlotte that Livia actually sat on her. Livia was not that much younger and somewhat tall for 13, anyway.

Livia hissed in her ear: “If you ever bother Selene again, I will have a murder of crows drop excrement on you every day for the rest of the year. You know they will – and that’s just the beginning. Sarah’s bite is child’s play in terms of what I can do to you. The last girl who messed with me needed over 20 stiches to close her head wounds from an Eagle Owl. You got me, or do you want to try me?”

Of course, Livia had to explain this to Professor Flitwick, including her potion use and Sarah’s bite. She did, too, quite unapologetically, by listing all the “accidents” that Charlotte intentionally inflicted, including being roused as Selene with a glass of water to the face, which she saw coming, as did Selene, Athena and Shelley. Charlotte got detention for the rest of the year. Stephanie Wayne had to either recant or face the same murder of crows and possibly resign. She took the easy way out and recanted. Rhonda Wayne earned time in detention, too. She filed away this incident in case she could strike against these girls later for humiliating her, her friend and her sister. When he heard about it, Selene’s cousin, the emerging second-year star on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, insisted that Selene get rehoused somehow so he could take charge of her wellbeing, quite an unusual request. Livia only spoke to this cousin, Don Stevens, a few times, but she liked how Selene’s relatives had closed ranks to protect her. Livia, Shelley and Athena would do the same, if he needed them somehow. Their guardians all consented to protecting Selene, too.

Livia felt quite proud that she had outmaneuvered some Ravenclaw bullies. She informed Professor Snape that she had succeeded, but she would not tell Professor Flitwick that he played any role in the incident. He thanked her for her circumspection, though he had to admit he liked having a role, however unbecoming for him it was to participate. He also found himself strangely interested when Livia celebrated that and the year’s end with something fun, a silly song (to him, anyway) called “Walk Like An Egyptian.”  The professor oddly smiled at the odd lyrics. She was more than ready for her exams, despite any diversionary issue. He also was glad she had not forced him to contemplate anything he rather remained buried in some deep cavern inside of him.

            Livia did find an odd moment to ask the headmaster if anyone named West had graduated from Hogwarts. He thought it possible but admitted not being certain. He did inquire about why she posed this question.

            “When I was last in Durham, several people inquired about me giving them my mailing address,” Livia said. “I told them that our remote location made regular mail unreliable and, since we worked with owls, it had become a tradition to use them for mail delivery.”

            “Credible attempt to dodge the issue,” he asserted.

            “There’s more,” she stated. “My brother’s girlfriend, named Alice West, has some very impressive aristocratic ancestors and they are, how they say, above my brother’s station. She did not seem concerned about that, though, perhaps owing to my brother’s prospects. In any case, she gave credence to what I said and it made me wonder –”

            “If her family has any witches or wizards in it who attended this school?”

            “Exactly, sir,” Livia affirmed. “If she has any understanding owing to a relative, this would make my ability to tell my brother easier, if they do stay together.”

            “I will look into this for you,” the headmaster offered. “Any other relatives I should know about specifically, given West is not a unique name, really?”

            “Well,” Livia answered, “it seems she is a distant cousin to Bertrand Russell and thus the Dukes of Bedford. I think there is some tie to at least one member of a group of friends who lived where I first met you – the Bloomsbury Group.”

            “That is helpful,” he responded. “It is likely someone in or around the family’s history intertwines with this school. Does she have family in Scotland itself, or are they all English?”

            “She said in her answer about the mail that she has family in Scotland. She even mentioned an ‘old school’ method of using carrier pigeons.”

            “I will confirm this, but I think your instincts have done you well,” he asserted. “This may not eliminate the risk involved, since your brother likely will become a barrister, if I understand correctly, but it could help. I may not get to examine this right away but I will look into it.”

            Professor Snape’s prediction to himself about Livia’s exams proved entirely correct. No one could find a single error or issue about anything she wrote or any task she performed. Whilst scoring perfectly did not surprise anyone nor did it constitute a totally unique accomplishment, everyone seemed satisfied that Livia had not let her ambitions to push through level two cloud her ability to master the material expected of students finishing their first year. As students began to disperse for the year, Livia remained behind to figure out when she could travel to Durham. It seemed Jake and Audrey spent some time away and there, owing to various efforts to arrange a wedding they would hold in the greater London area of Kew Gardens, though both hoped to settle closer to Sunderland, home of Jake’s favorite team and a town not far from Durham. Alice and Tom remained in Durham, with Tom working for a law firm and Alice preparing to undertake a fourth year at Durham to obtain a graduate degree in history.

            Before leaving in July, Livia first bid goodbye to her level two friends Shelley, Selene, Athena and Ted. She promised them she would join them next year and hoped she could be a good resource, if they ever needed it. Still, she frankly told them not to expect her to say much in any of her classes. She informed them that her relative invisibility was intentional and had little to do with her abilities, her preparation or her work ethic. “It’s how I learn, for one,” she claimed, holding back the headmaster’s insistence that she fly under the radar at Hogwarts as much as possible. “I need to listen as much as possible.”

Livia also said farewell to Helena Ravenclaw and, after a few other tries, finally got her to accept a handshake that final time without her needing to pull away. Helena actually found some pleasure in it, for once. She had come to trust Livia and told her a little about herself. Livia, in saying goodbye, told her she would see her again in the near future and they could talk more, if Helena felt like doing so. Livia also visited Hagrid, Sydney and Mel with Sarah. Sarah seemed still to be gaining a benefit from the potion she gave the cat, but Livia sensed the end would come sooner rather than later and made sure they all knew it, also. Sydney and Mel showed a great deal of affection to Sarah, and the trip seemed more sweet than bittersweet, perhaps because animals accept their mortality more easily than people do versus their dread of pain from illness or injury. Still, Livia brought both potions with her in her bag – not sure if she would need the strength more than Sarah, if Sarah passed in Durham.

As with spring break, Livia went through the same routine to get to Tom’s flat. She found Gary had moved in, given the sporadic use of the space by Jake and Audrey, as well as their intention to ultimately settle near Sunderland, where both were in the process of finding work. Audrey ultimately would teach at a local school for young children, and Jake actually found employment with the football club itself, doing various administrative tasks for the team’s executives. Jake actually would become a favorite person of players to go through to speak to upper management and the team would steadily reward him for his knowledge of the game and his ability to establish a strong bond with various players.

The first few days went very pleasantly, as Tom already had begun gaining confidence with his firm and that group also in him. Tom was in such a good mood he did not give much thought to the new housing scheme Livia agreed to join, in order to better protect Selene with her cousin Don, as radical as it seemed for children to do. Given Tom’s own situation, he had no huge basis to complain, especially given the fact that Livia never indicated he had to worry. Livia spent much of that first week with either Alice or Gary, either accompanying them on some errand or enjoying some sightseeing, like visiting some of Alice’s favorite spots, Crook Hall and Gardens, with its medieval original structure and Georgian additions or Durham’s Botanical Gardens. Livia still kept a close eye on Sarah, who initially seemed okay but by week’s end told Livia the time had come to stop trying to keep her in good health. Late Sunday night, Tom, Alice, Gary and Livia all had to bid Sarah a final goodbye. Cathy called that day and actually wanted to be there, also, but her own schedule and personal commitments made the trip impossible, especially given the fact that she did not have a car or a driver’s license. Tom called Jake and Audrey to talk to Livia in the hope that they might be able to lighten Livia’s burden. Sarah peacefully passed at 23:56 on Sunday. Gary asked Livia what she wanted to do with Sarah’s remains, given she had options.

“What do you mean?” Livia asked.

“A pet crematorium opened a few years ago in the area,” Gary replied. “If you want to keep her beside you in some way, you can. You do not have to bury her. I would be glad to drive you there tomorrow, if you want.” Tom offered to pay for whatever Livia wanted to do. Meantime, Livia’s premonition of needing the strength potion for herself had become all too real. She could not recall herself ever experiencing such overwhelming feelings before. Still, she was glad she had given chances for various people to see Sarah before her death and considered that maybe Sydney and Mel would want to recognize her passing by seeing a small box containing her cremains.

Gary quickly got a late Monday morning appointment, and he went with Alice and Livia to the pet crematorium. The staff handled it all with professionalism but also caring as they quickly realized who the principal bereaved of the group was. They all deferred to whatever Livia decided, with Alice helping by offering to get a copy of the collage picture of Sarah to put on the small box she chose so she could always have that memory of Sarah. They set up everything, including her return appointment to pick up Sarah’s remains. Livia believed nothing could compare to the dread she had of that day, though Gary and Alice did their best to console her, as did Tom. Indeed, Tom decided to ask for some time off to make that follow-up appointment, realizing how immiserating such an event would be. The firm consented, given they recognized that Tom’s charge needed everyone around her having to deal with such a loss whilst so young. Some had children and pets, also, and could not imagine a young girl having to cope without the sibling who cared for her the most. They knew something about what she had gone through previously as well.

Livia stayed another week or so to process what had happened, to visit the cathedral to try to draw some extra strength from it and spoke to Cathy on the phone. Cathy walked her through her experiences of people who lose pets for various reasons, stating that there is never a good way or a good age for them to leave. It was probably the most connected Livia felt to Cathy in maybe four years. Alice made another suggestion, though it probably served her as much as Livia. Alice had considered getting a cat for their flat – neither Tom nor Gary objected – but did not know how to choose one. She had heard stories of cats abandoning owners for other people or living outdoors or having behavior or health issues undiscovered until the pet came home. Livia consented to helping Alice pick out the right cat.

They found a no-kill shelter outside the city, a breezeblock structure where cats tended to live cage-free in rooms arranged for various issues related to health, temperament and age. They arrived courtesy of Gary agreeing to take them. Alice profusely expressed her gratitude, acknowledging that this cat did not replace Sarah, but Sarah might take comfort in knowing that Livia helped another of her kind find a home. Livia asked Alice what kind of qualities she wanted in a cat. Did she want a lap cat? A cat that played a lot? A mouser? Was age a factor or more the cat’s attachment to her?

Alice said that the ability to catch mice, if needed, would be nice, but she liked a lap cat, especially one that would be loyal and would not have huge health problems – at least not yet. That is, good health mattered more than age. Livia thought a somewhat older cat, one often passed over, might be eager to be the kind of companion Alice as well as Tom would like. She understood that two types of cats often had difficulty being placed and likely had matured because of this – black cats and torties (tortoiseshell-colored cats). Alice found that surprising, since she thought torties were often very pretty. Livia thus zeroed in on the torties they had, noting these cats often appeared stubborn or independent but also possessed a fierce loyalty to the person(s) they loved. Since the house already had everything a cat needed, Livia spoke to all the torties, telling them she wanted to find the right cat for her brother and the young woman with her, Alice. She explained that she had just lost her cat and her task was to help channel her own grief into saving one of them. A few were chosen to go into an adoption room, and Livia told them that it was Alice (and later her brother) they needed to win, not her. She was there to mediate and find the right match. She got health information, age, habits, food preferences, mousing or bug eating potential, lap cat potential and if the cat wanted to be the sole pet – everything Alice needed to know.

One somewhat older cat understood Livia completely and saw a great chance to find a comfortable home. She went right up to Alice and rubbed her leg. She told Livia they could call her Abby. She was five with no health issues, though not as active then as kittens or very young adults. She would be happy to catch any occasional mouse or bug, liked wet food twice a day and liked lounging by people. She would sleep with them, if allowed, but would not disturb them, because she liked the foot of a bed the best, or her own bed on a nightstand. Livia told Alice she thought this was her cat and her name was Abby, regardless of what the shelter called her. Livia repeated everything Abby told her, including that Abby was five, which suggested maturity, her health remained strong and she expected to live a very long life. She also would kill or eat bugs and mice, if needed, and preferred people to other cats. Alice liked everything Livia said.

“How do you do this?” she asked. “I always knew you could, but it totally escapes me as to what it takes to talk to an animal.”

            “I do not know how to answer that, honestly,” Livia responded. “I just found I could do it with all types of animals that I have come across so far. Maybe there is a trust or respect aspect to it, but I think it is a connection hard to describe. I am open to them and they are open to me. I started doing this at a time I lacked a lot of vocabulary to describe this. You can learn to read their body language – for example tail or ear position, the dilation of eye pupils or how Abby crouches or puffs her fur – all of those tell you a great deal. That is, you can know your cat by observing her. I just also happen to know what she thinks, too.”

            Abby thus found herself on her way to her forever home after Alice completed the paperwork and paid the adoption fee. Gary, who had hung around various parts of the shelter talking to people and checking out all the animals, was glad to see them with Alice holding a cardboard cat carrier with her new pet inside. “I see you got a cat,” Gary stated. “Congratulations.”

            “Thanks,” Alice said. “I hope you do not mind, Livia, that Tom and I will use things we had set aside for Sarah.”

            “No,” Livia remarked. “Sairy would like that. I have no reason to object, either. I just have to figure out what to do with Sarah’s things at my school. Maybe a new student will need them.”

            “You do not want another cat, Livia?” Gary asked.

            “No, not as a student,” Livia answered. “I am not sure when I will want that. Perhaps if I had started helping Sairy sooner, she would have lived longer. It might be selfish of me to get another cat especially right now if my studies require so much of my time.”

            “I doubt you could have done better,” Alice stated. “Sarah would have told you she needed help, no?”

            “I guess so – if she knew,” Livia responded. “Still, I think my studies will demand my time and burying myself in them might be what I should do. I still have to prepare and pass exams to skip a year and, oddly enough, Sairy may have done me a favor – I will not be worrying about her now. I will have to do this for her, instead. I think she would like that.”

            Livia returned to Hogwarts towards the end of July with a little box replacing her cat. Once again, she left after dark, to Tom’s dismay. She sent a note to him immediately upon returning and resumed her studies so that she would be ready to complete the year two finals in August. He sent a quick reply, noting that Abby was settling in nicely and seemed to enjoy being with them all.

            Livia made a point of bringing the box out to Hagrid, Sydney and Mel. Hagrid expressed surprise that the remains of her cat lay in it, but Sydney and Mel seemed to know it. Both landed on either side of the box and vocalized as well as seemed to nuzzle it a bit. Livia had to explain the muggle process of cremation to him, since he had only heard of using funeral pyres for such a thing. She told him that technological processes produced a high level of heat – either by gas or electricity whereas it first had come from coal furnaces – that reduced the remains to bones that crumbled into ash. She told him that although she could open the box and show him, she could not bring herself to do it. He understood and let it go.

            The house staff noted Livia’s return and also inquired about her cat and she also told them Sarah had passed in Durham and what remained of her lay in the box she had. They decided not to ask at all about it. Some faculty came in and out of the school during August and she scheduled her exams with each. The headmaster himself would handle her Defense Against the Dark Arts exam, since Professor Bends had taken ill, and he had not formalized fully who would succeed him. He saw her determination but realized something was “off” about her. She told him her cat had died the previous month and she only had a box and her picture by which to remember her. “I am very sorry, Livia,” he said gently. “Wrap yourself in your work. Dedicate it to her memory so she will be proud of you.”

            “Yes, I have thought of doing just that,” Livia acknowledged.

            Just after the middle of August she ran across Professor Snape, who had come to check on her progress and take inventory of his storage closet to see what might have gone bad or just needed reordering. Whilst she was polite as usual, he did take note that she seemed worn down some. “Don’t tell me you are not ready for your exams, yet, Miss Woodcock,” he stated.

            “No,” Livia responded. “Sarah died about a month ago and I have her in a box in my room. I am trying to work hard in her memory, but I confess I was not ready for her to be gone so soon.”

            “No one expects to lose someone that they love, no matter who or when or how,” he maintained, in a rare moment of honesty and sympathy. “It is a harsh blow even if one sees it coming. It is how you respond that marks your character, rather than just how you grieve. What did you do with her body that she’s in your room?”

            “A muggle company cremated her and gave me a box containing her ashes,” Livia replied.

            “Oh,” he reacted. “That will raise a few eyebrows here. You might want to conceal this.”

            “Can I help you with your inventory? Sounds like quite a task,” Livia offered.

            “You probably can. Some items might not be easy to reorder or obtain quickly.”

            “I can sure help you there – or some of my avian friends can.”

            That first time, the two spent nearly two hours going over the storage closet. Professor Snape made a list of things he knew he could get easily – whether Hagrid had access to them or an apothecary did – and a list of things he would have trouble getting quickly. The second list he gave to Livia. “See what you can do with these,” he recounted. “Domestic will do whilst I wait for reorders of the more distant items to arrive.”

            Livia called whatever available crows and owls could fetch some herbs for potion-making inventory for her. Several crows, led by Alastair and Benedict and all three Barn Owls entered the window Livia opened. She gave each a task and repeated the directions she had received. Some came back more quickly than others but within about 20 minutes, everything had arrived, placed in the containers Livia directed each to use. Livia bowed to each and made sure plenty of food existed outside the window for them to eat. Professor Snape knew Livia could do this yet the execution still amazed him.

            “It would take me days to do what you accomplished in like 20 minutes,” he expressed. “Not unexpected but still this is an enviable ability. I guess the headmaster was right in teasing me about you replacing me someday.”

            “But I have not passed my exam for you yet, sir,” Livia stated.

            “True,” he affirmed. “Do you really fear that?”

            “Not really,” Livia asserted. “I can’t say what I fear beyond not reaching my own expectations.”

            “Quite a statement. I have to leave again and I will return before the end of the month. Would you be averse to scheduling your exam on the 28th?” He knew he could not return before the night of the 27th and necessity really dictated the date, since the faculty would convene the following day and its meeting would include making a decision on her status.

            “That’s one way to spend my birthday.”

            “Oh, right,” he said. “I will make you a deal. I will ensure you get a nice treat before the exam from the staff and then we will proceed to the Potions room for the exam. Okay?”

            “Wait, you expect I will enjoy this ‘treat’ by myself?” Livia asked.

            “Well, that’s what I usually do,” he answered. “I guess that is not for everyone. Tell you what, I will come early and take part in some of it with you, okay? We are pressed for time and that is the best day to do it. I would rather not wait until a few hours before the faculty meeting.”

            “Okay, but don’t make me spend the entire time by myself staring at my cat’s picture, please,” Livia begged.

            She cornered him, he thought. She remained fragile, and he actually understood that better than he wanted her or anyone to know. Somewhat begrudgingly, he consented to come early, so she would not be stuck staring at her cat’s picture. Maybe he can toughen her up, since she will need to be tough, sooner or later, prophecy or not.

            Livia had completed all of her other second year final exams and had received word from Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall and Flitwick that her tests ranged between exceeds expectations and outstanding on those. The rest mostly rated as outstanding, she learned. The final test, however, belonged to Professor Snape, who as promised, returned on the evening of 27 August to assess her performance the following day. He had told her to be ready for any of the potions a second year student would have to create. What he did not tell her was that, if she had performed well, he would push her further, just to see if she possessed the subtlety to use similar ingredients for a different elixir.

            As promised, Professor Snape had the staff prepare a high tea that included the typical fare but also a small, special cake for her birthday. She noticed she received only one plate, cup and saucer, though, which made her suspect that he would not present himself terribly early to partake in much of anything, unless he grabbed a finger sandwich as they left. Livia remedied the “oversight” and duplicated each item, added some flatware, and placed a second chair on the small table that appeared in her room. She placed Sarah’s box on the chair and the rest of the dishes in front of the second place setting. She took her time making sure it all looked perfectly set and then poured herself the tea. That is, Livia wasted a good deal of time that Professor Snape presumed she would spend consuming the tea and the foods. After he knocked and she opened the door, he found himself rather surprised to see she had consumed so little when he showed up to take her to the Potions room. “I was just sitting here with Sarah, but you see she has not taken anything,” Livia stated. Internally, he said to himself: she sure knows how to make one feel guilty – her father or mother must have taught her that very well.

            She picked up Sarah’s box, poured him some tea and asked him to sit and drink it. Livia could feel his discomfort, which she oddly relished, since he often meted out at least as much to his students. Livia politely inquired if he enjoyed his time away, and if he found his inventory now suitable. He somewhat stiffly indicated that both were sufficient. Livia found him to be a brick wall when she asked the most innocuous of questions. Did he hate her, or did he just hate thinking of any student as actually being a human being? Maybe it was him and he rather forget he was one? Maybe she had broken some sort of code in fraternizing with a faculty member? Still, Livia got him to eat and have some tea and just let whatever bothered him go.

            “This looks like either a large cupcake or a small cake,” she observed. “Please split it with me, sir. I cannot eat it entirely.” She cut it in half and took half for herself and placed the remainder, still on its dish, on Professor Snape’s plate.

He remained stone-faced but said nothing and did in fact eat it. “Okay, you’re done,” he stated, finally. “Happy Birthday – time to get to work.”

            Livia followed him to his potion-making room and he gave her his task – a Sleeping Draught. He had placed a bunch of ingredients before her, some needed, some not. She had to decide what she needed and when. She worked very methodically yet not without a sensitivity to how the ingredients meshed to make the final product.  He watched her closely, silently. He tried to see if silent thoughts directed towards her had any effect in distracting her. “Oh, now you want to talk to me,” Livia said aloud. “How about if I fart in your general direction?” she asked in a distinctly French accent. “Or I shall taunt you a second time.”

            “What did you say to me?” he inquired, taken quite by surprise.

            “Let me guess, you have never seen a Monty Python film,” Livia replied. “You missed some good stuff, sir. Next time you enter the muggle world, try to see a film, if you own a video cassette recorder or VCR, called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You might actually laugh – and according to the muggle philosopher Goethe, ‘Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at’.” Despite talking, Livia remained entirely focused on her task. She finished within the time he allotted, and he gave the potion a few extra minutes to gauge it at its full potency.

            Before he even tested it, he knew – it was perfect. He did not tell her that, however. “Since you want to be cheeky with me, or think I should care what some muggle philosopher thinks, let me push you a little harder through this potion, which though similar to a degree, usually gets taught to third year students. See if you can understand the differences, subtle though they are.”

            “Okay, I will play your game,” Livia agreed. “But I will return the favor in my own time.”

            She had some idea of what the ingredients had to meld into to produce the right effect. She chose the proper ingredients, though reversed two in putting it together and stirred one too many times. The two errors almost, but not fully, cancelled each other out. The potion had the proper qualities but could not reach more than a middling level of efficacy.

            “For a first effort, that was credible, though not potent,” he summarized. “You gave me something to criticize, if unfairly. I wanted to see what kind of instinctual qualities you have.”

             “And?” Livia asked.

            “You chose the right ingredients but made two errors in putting them together, which weakened the end product. On one hand, you showed good instincts but not on the execution. That you will learn.”

            “Are we done, or do you have anything more you want to say?” Livia inquired.

            “No,” he answered. “You can return to your quarters. Good day, Miss Woodcock.”          

            Livia realized he would toy with her and make her wait as to whether or not he would approve her elevation to level three. It was his nature to do so. Yet she thought she could read him just well enough to guess that he found her first potion more than adequate. She thought it was good, and she often criticized herself as well as he could. Still, she had nothing to do but wait until after the faculty met and decided her fate.

            The faculty, complete with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, the thin, balding Simon Seward, met on Friday, 29 August at two o’clock. The headmaster introduced him and those assembled all welcomed him – even if Professor Snape felt he could teach the subject better. The group reviewed the various schedule or room changes and other staff appointments, along with the list of the new students. Then, he turned to the subject of Livia Woodcock, saying that, as the person who administered her D.A.D.A exam, he found it borderlining the assessment of outstanding, a grade he would be inclined to give, considering how she had essentially taught herself without faculty guidance over the summer. Professor Seward agreed, based on the information he reviewed, and if it were his vote he would agree to promote her to level three. Each professor in turn gave an assessment and vote. The rest of the ratings merited an Outstanding and every faculty member agreed to promote Livia. Then the headmaster turned to Professor Snape, who had only given her his exam the previous day. “It is now your call, Severus,” he said. “Everyone else has spoken in her favor.”

            “I gave her two tasks yesterday,” he began, “the first was actually what she needed to do to pass year two. The second to give me an idea of how she could cope with a third-year potion, just to see how she responded. I did not tell her the actual results.”

            “And?” Professor Dumbledore asked.

            “She made the second year potion perfectly,” he replied. “My only complaint is not being able to complain about it whatsoever.”

The headmaster briefly interrupted him. “Severus, maybe Livia Woodcock is your daughter, and you are not telling us!” He laughed heartily.

“As if I could father a child at age eleven,” he said dryly.

“I understand the muggle English poet Lord Byron may have engaged in such acts at a younger age than that, Severus,” the headmaster continued.

“Do I look like Lord Byron to you?” he asked in protest. No one dared comment on that, though a few found this exchange very entertaining. A few people had to bite their lips or put a hand over their face to avoid laughing. “In any case, the second task, a third-year potion with similar ingredients, was a credible effort, though somewhat mediocre in potency. Therefore, I have to agree with everyone else in promoting her from year two in favor of three.”

            Professor Dumbledore smiled. All had validated his faith in her; even Professor Snape could not find a reason not to promote her. That the headmaster got to tease him about her made it even better, since he typically found his impish side when speaking with Professor Snape. One would think their ages were reversed at times.

            “I do want to add one thing, though,” Professor Snape stated. “Since we have all agreed to promote Miss Woodcock, I think we owe it to her classmates and even to herself not to treat her any differently than any other third-year student. No favors or allowances – she should be able to do exactly as they do, without exception, or we are not being honest with our expectations.”

            “Agreed,” the headmaster concurred. “That is valid. If Miss Woodcock has truly earned this, she should capably perform as well as any other student at her level.”

            Later that evening, Professor Dumbledore called her into his office and told her to acquire the materials she would need for taking level three coursework, suggesting she ask Hagrid to accompany her to ensure she obtained everything she needed. He also inquired about her electives or extra activities, since she needed to decide on them quickly.

            Her first choice surprised him: Muggle Studies. She said it gave her justification for all the things she had that would otherwise raise eyebrows. She especially wanted to have better acceptance of the music she had and thought that, frankly, students should appreciate it, regardless of origin. Her brother had recently exposed her to American forms of music, one older called the Blues and another recent known as Rap, and she found both highly significant and artful, the former if emotion in music mattered, the latter if clever lyrics, rhyme and meaning caught the ear.

            “Sounds like you are on a mission to get Professor Quirrell and Professor Flitwick, um, ‘hip,’ as they say,” the headmaster asserted. “Some may object, but more information about the world around us I believe has a beneficial aspect. So you can tell them I do not reject any ideas or activities you might suggest. Frankly, I think you want to teach this course yourself.”

            “I don’t want the responsibility, especially to give assignments or grade students,” Livia responded. “I want people to broaden their appreciation and find enjoyment or understanding through it. Yet I wonder if some people here have ever heard even of Bach or Mozart.”

            “Mozart had to have wizardry skills,” the headmaster recounted. “I cannot see a muggle starting at such a young age with such talent. What would your second choice be?”

            “As much as I have premonition skills that would benefit from formal instruction through Runes or Divination courses, given the death of my cat, it has to be the Care of Magical Creatures. I want to know if they will talk like supposed ordinary species do with me.”

            “Fair – and again I am sorry about Sarah. I am interested to know what you discover. I must ask you – I understand you keep her remains with you. How?”

            “Muggles have developed a way of cremating bodily remains at a high temperature. Her ashes, that is, her desiccated bones, are what I possess. Muggles in this country now cremate human remains more often than they bury them, owing to facilities like the one I used.”

            “Is that so?” the headmaster asked, pondering. Then he changed the subject. “I have not forgotten your question about the West family, but I haven’t had the right opportunity. I lack a full answer at this time. I need to check with someone to confirm some information. One other thing, though: You must give Professor Flitwick time for you to develop dueling skills – and I don’t mean merely polite competition rules. I mean to defend your life or that of others. You need a much better rapport with your wand than you have shown thus far and this should help.”

            “Yes, sir,” Livia agreed. “Seems to me that takes up the spot an elective course might take.”

            “Indeed, but no one will notice,” he said. “Congratulations. I’m sure you will have a good night.” Livia smiled and bowed. Then they parted ways.

            Livia consulted the staff on Sarah’s things, and they agreed to store them in case another student needed them. Before retiring for the night she wrote a short letter to Tom:

Dear Tom,

I did it! The faculty approved me to be accelerated to third-year status. I am still perhaps a year behind, though many of these students will turn 14 before I become 15. Since the headmaster wants me to take on some additional tasks (including elective courses), I will not seek to skip another year. Besides, the only students I really talk to are going into their third year with me. Whilst I cannot say we all are extremely close as of yet, we dine together and I have shared living quarters with the girls.

My workload will likely not really slow down much. I hope you and all your friends are well. If they really want to write me, they should just send stuff to you, otherwise I would need a parliament of owls to keep up. I doubt I am that popular with the owls. I would have a better chance with crows, but they do not do mail.

Your loving sister,
Livia

 
Tom happily shared the news with everyone he knew, even Abby (though she could not understand what he told her, just his excited tone). He wished they would have an opportunity to celebrate, though he knew it would have to wait. He was preparing for exams himself and, if all went well, he would be heading to London for his barrister vocational course the following year. His mentor felt confident that Tom would succeed. Tom wondered about the timing, if he would need to relocate before or after Alice finished her studies. It seemed they could stay together, since those courses typically followed an academic schedule. His firm knew that was his desired schedule. It helped to recognize, also, that Alice did not need to find a job right away, given her family had the means to provide her with a generous amount of support. In fact, because she lived modestly – including the shared flat – she rarely spent anything close to her annual allowance.

            Tom sent back a longer letter:

 Dear Livia,

I am so happy for you – and glad you will keep busy. We must celebrate, though it likely needs to wait till winter break. My work goes well. I should sit for my exams sometime over the next months, depending on when I am deemed ready to do my best on them. Alice and I are hoping that if we need to relocate to London, for an Inns of Court course, we will go together. That I already have a mentor and an employer willing to promote my candidacy gives me an excellent chance of acceptance, if I score well enough. My degree ranking helps me qualify, also.
 
I am hoping John remains in London then, also. I think he is making good use of his father’s friends to find work around the music industry. Adam may or may not be nearby. He is looking at work in the arts/graphics field or perhaps doing cover art for a book publisher. He may be more inclined to freelance in such things if it gives him time to pursue his own ideas. Gary seems to have lined up a good job in Durham as a hotel assistant manager and may just take sole possession of this flat (with or without shared expenses) until he decides he can save enough for something more to his liking (as in a place that gives him his own parking space). We are all outgrowing living in an area typically inhabited by students.

I will tell Cathy and our father of your success. I still am not fully reconciled with my mother, and I don’t see that ever happening with Lydia, from what Cathy says.

Write again when you can. In the meantime, let me send you a few extra batteries and this tape from a band I don’t think you have heard – R.E.M. I think you will love the song “Cant Get There From Here.” I made a compilation via John of songs of theirs I thought you would like. They are for real and think when they put it all together they will be huge. U2 is supposed to be putting out a new album sometime next year. From what insiders say (via John), it will be a masterpiece and will change their place in music history forever. Yes, that grand.

Write when you can.

Your loving brother,
Tom

 Livia smiled. She had already thought of an idea to bring to Professor Quirrell or Flitwick – a dance party of some perhaps more informal kind towards the end of the year, but before preparations for finals got serious, featuring muggle music. She would just have to figure out how to get artists/records approved beforehand as well as devise a means of filling the Great Hall with enough sound to make such an event work. If she had to play DJ, she would. Taking money off of smug Slytherins (usually) was humorous and lucrative, and she would still do it when she could at the Winter Ball. Yet money could not replace how music spoke to her for so long. It essentially helped her through the darkest times of her life – still.

 

Author's Note:

The song "Walk Like An Egyptian" derives from the US pop group The Bangles. They released it first on their 1986 album "Different Light" before it became a successful single. Livia would have access to the album, released in the UK in March, even though the single was released in September there.

The Monty Python troupe, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam,  Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, released "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in 1975.  The dialogue mostly quoted comes from one of the most well-known scenes of a French guard taunting King Arthur and his knights.


Chapter 10: Finding Her Way, Creating a Dance
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            Livia found that she needed to move her belongings to a new room, which she would share with Shelley, Selene, Athena and Ted, as well as three additional male Ravenclaw third year students, Don Stevens, Terence Barrow and Barry Atkinson, all very athletic, tanned young men who played Quidditch for Ravenclaw. She only partly knew them and knew they had little knowledge of her, other than the infamous episode she had with Professor Snape the previous year and her defense of Selene, which prompted the unusual housing situation. The guardians of every resident agreed to it, to help Selene and Don come up with a situation everyone accepted. Some called it a pilot program, though others refused to see it as more than a one-off proposal solely to protect one resident in a fashion that maintained some aspect of discipline. It wound up being the latter, for good or ill. Nonetheless, both boys and girls involved handled it in a straightforward manner, conscious of its purpose and unwilling to expose Selene to additional problems by misbehaving. The boys would not disappoint star player Don, either. Livia’s protection seemed sufficient to many, but Selene’s family preferred the certainty that Don looked out for her. Later, it just became habit fueled in part by liking Livia’s mimicry and the congeniality of the group.

Hagrid, after ensuring Livia had acquired everything she needed for at least the first term, if not the entire year, made sure she had successfully relocated for the year. He also assured her that Sydney and Mel, as well as their Barn Owl friend (who he found odd to call Sevy), remained healthy and happy. Moreover, he expressed delight when she told him she would be taking an elective in the Care of Magical Creatures, stating how much he loved them all and how he hoped someday to be able to share his love with more students.

            “I opted to take this course to see how I would get on with them,” Livia said. “I do not know if they can or will want to speak to me. Typically, I can read animal behavior well, but since I am completely unfamiliar with these animals, I have few expectations of their gestures or the significance of them.”

            “Many are misunderstood and thus feared,” he stated. “Perhaps you will find the means to make them less so. I hope you can.”

            The train from London and transport from the depot prompted brought the students to Hogwarts at their expected time on Monday, 1 September. The returning students met first in a separate area before assembling in the Great Hall. Shelley and the others were happy to see her and, owing to Livia’s typical placid demeanor, could not tell if she had succeeded or not. The pixie blonde Athena reached her first and as everyone sat down, she asked Livia how her exams went and if the faculty had approved of her promotion to third year status.

            “Yes,” Livia affirmed. “I think the headmaster will say so, but he has already told me that the faculty unanimously voted for this.”

            Ted, hearing Livia’s answer, could not help himself, “How did you get by Professor Snape? I was sure he would make your test so difficult that he could find a reason to vote ‘no.’”

            “I did not give him much choice,” Livia replied. “I made the potion he requested and I doubt he could find much wrong with it. I guess I disappointed him in that regard.” Livia consciously chose not to mention anything else that happened, since she knew he had a reputation for treating only Slytherin students with even a smidgen of consideration.

            “Perhaps that supposed Slytherin tie kept him from trying to undermine your efforts,” Shelley suggested.

            “Maybe,” Livia responded. “Still, he did try to distract me, but he did not disrupt me. Instead, I turned his attempt to break my concentration into a joke. I may not be physically tough or remarkably strong with my wand work as of yet, but he knows he cannot upset me.”

            “I do not get that at all,” Selene added. “He scares me almost daily. How does he not intimidate you in the least?”

            “I guess I am just confident in myself and, since I had to deal with mean or unfeeling people who have seriously attempted to harm me, a tongue-lashing does not affect me as much. That does not mean he will not try, but given that I have survived the Snape Gape unscathed and choose not to speak much, he finds little reason to go after me.”

            “Oh yes,” Shelley recalled. “You survived the full stare. That is miraculous.” Everyone laughed loudly.

            Just then, the new students entered the room, led by Professor McGonagall towards the front where the chair and sorting hat awaited them. The headmaster welcomed them to the school and made several announcements before the sorting, including the introduction of Professor Seward and a few changes in staff and procedures, as well as his common availability on Friday afternoons to help students who sought him out. Lastly, he mentioned that Ravenclaw student Livia Woodcock, who had completed her first year last spring, had successfully passed her second year exams prior to start of the new term and, by unanimous consent from the faculty, would be promoted to level three. Livia’s friends at the Ravenclaw table led them in all vigorously applauding her accomplishment, with Shelley prompting her to acknowledge everyone. The other tables applauded some, with Reggie and Clara the most enthusiastic, though the majority merely did so politely. The faculty salute varied, with Professor Flitwick beaming and other faculty applauding. Professor Snape took the more polite route, which Livia totally expected. In fact, she sent him that message that she expected nothing more and asked him when he would screen that Monty Python film her brother loved. He told her he would see it someday, but she should watch her step with him, because she would get no special treatment in his class. She sent him another thought that no one heard them or would know, and she would maintain her vow, but that did not mean she would suppress herself entirely. He let the matter drop, hoping that this commentary constituted her response to what he had done a few days before.

            Then the sorting of the new students took place, and everyone assembled enjoyed their first meal before retiring to their respective quarters. Professor Flitwick and student leaders toured with the new Ravenclaw students, introducing them to various students in the rooms. One new girl, the modest, tiny, fragile-looking blonde Phoebe Allens, asked Livia about the headmaster’s announcement: did it mean she could help new students when they had problems with their work.

            Professor Flitwick heard and decided to answer first: “Yes, Miss Allens, Miss Woodcock completed the equivalent of two years of schoolwork in one calendar year. Besides specific classes, I would suggest to you and any other student having trouble doing written assignments to ask her about them. She writes extremely well. Few students here in any year could do better. If that ever became a subject here, she should teach it.”

            Livia simply shook the girl’s hand and said if she could help she would, though repeated what Professor Flitwick typically said – that Ravenclaw had tutors and many resources available for anyone seeking help, including himself. Still, she reinforced that writing assignments might be the area she could assist with the most and suggested she let the other students know that they could consult her if any had a problem with those.

            Before leaving with the first year students, Professor Flitwick gave the older students their schedules, with Livia’s including a weekly set time to meet with him for exercises in dueling. She nodded, pleased, though she was a little put out that her potions class took place early in the day, in that she might not get assistance from sleepy owls and hoped whatever crows she could assemble would prove sufficient, should Professor Snape endeavor to challenge her again. She realized she needed to maintain tight control over herself to avoid repeating last year’s incident, for that reason alone. Besides, the headmaster would want her to do so, anyway.

            The morning schedule went without incident, though the gauntlet had been laid down by several demanding instructors, including Professors Snape and McGonagall. Livia looked forward to her afternoon schedule more, since she had Muggle Studies and Care of Magical Creatures then. Before she headed to the latter, Professor Quirrell pulled Livia aside to ask about how her cat remained in her room in a box. She explained the muggle use of a technological form of high heat cremation and that the box she had contained what they called her ashes. He also indicated that he wanted to meet with her and Professor Flitwick about her muggle musical knowledge and experiences. He had already agreed to meet the next day at four o’clock, a time Livia found agreeable, also. She wanted to ask both about her idea of a muggle music event, already, which might intrigue them both. She knew there would be challenges – especially in playing the music and given the fact that she should never seek much credit for the event – but thought they both would find value in it. The timing might prove useful to students winding down from the term and beginning to prepare for exams. Organizing such a thing could become an assignment for students to find items they would accept.

            First, though, Livia would learn more about what the Care of Magical Creatures course would entail. She felt disappointed they had not gone outside immediately to meet any, though understood why students required preparation before such encounters took place. The range of these creatures seemed quite interesting, since Livia had never heard of the creatures she would soon meet. She also wished Hagrid was leading the class, given his enthusiasm towards animals, which the actual professor did not entirely share. Ultimately, Livia would seek out Hagrid for more information about them than anyone else. Since she got to see Sydney and Mel at the same time, it proved to be a most valuable use of her time. That she could return to the school after she spent maybe an hour with her Walkman outside, thoroughly enjoying the R.E.M. compilation John sent via Tom. Professor Snape, realizing Livia had gotten a new tape, decided to turn it up as he worked. He found “Cant Get There From Here” as catchy as she did, though the lyrics did not seem to him equally enticing. He did not know what exactly to make of them:

When the world is a monster bad to swallow you whole
Kick the clay that holds the teeth in, throw your trolls out the door
If you're needing inspiration, Philomath is where I go by dawn
Lawyer Jeff, he knows the lowdown, he's mighty bad to visit home

 He just let it go and returned to his work. Other songs, of course, drew him in, but he never told anyone he had even heard of David Bowie, U2 or anything she ever played. For the head of Slytherin house, it was a non-starter to ever even admit he heard anything. That a half-blood or pureblood witch liked any of this also would startle many, though he understood the origins and nature of her continued interest, thanks to the pensieve: her brother and her other unusual talents.  He had to admit she had decent taste, if a bit childish or silly.

            That night, Shelley seemed particularly excited that Livia’s schedule entirely matched hers, but finally understood how strange it was that Livia spent her time in class mostly passively and seriously. Shelley wanted to sit next to Livia and at times asked her things. Livia typically wrote something in Shelley’s book that both answered a question and kept Shelley in tune with the course material. Livia told her she would answer anything in their room or at the meal table but tried to focus entirely on the class activities, so nothing escaped her notice. She experimented in their room with sending her a message without speaking, simply asking if Shelley could hear her. Shelley did not respond at first, so Livia sent it more forcefully. Finally, Shelley heard her and it startled her. “How did you do that?” Shelley asked.

            “I am looking at you and you did not hear me the first time,” Livia said, softly. “I have to make the message stronger. For others, I do not need to concentrate as much. The question is: can you do it back to me?”

            Shelley tried or she said she did several times. Livia could read her but not hear her. So knowing what Shelley said was entirely because of Livia’s acuity, not Shelley’s. “I can understand you, but not because I hear you the way that, say, an owl can wordlessly speak to me,” Livia said. “I never want to be accused of disrupting a class again so get my attention another way and let me write you an answer. I need to be highly disciplined about this. I am not trying to be rude or unfriendly. So please do not think that.” Livia also made a note to herself: never try to do any thought sending to Shelley in Professor Snape’s class. He would surely hear it, because Livia had to try so hard to get Shelley to hear her.

            The next day, Livia got her chance to meet with Professors Quirrell and Flitwick and see what they wanted from her, as well as how receptive each would be to her idea. Professor Quirrell wanted to see the box that held her cat’s remains and she produced it without trouble. She begged him, however, not to open it so she could view the contents. He and Professor Flitwick wanted to open it, so Livia closed her eyes.

            “Tell me when it is closed,” she pleaded. “I am not ready to see it. I am not sure I ever want to be, frankly.”  They looked, locked the box, said she could open her eyes and returned it to her. She put it back in her room, which remained out of everyone’s sight. “I am guessing you want to know something else.”

            “Y-yes,” Professor Quirrell said. “I am n-not sure if it belongs in my class or in a M-muggle M-music after school club, but I-I think you need to r-recount your attendance at Live Aid. I-I learned a b-bit more about it d-during the summer and it-it seems like a re-remarkable sh-show.”

            “I can get copies of pictures taken at the event – muggle pictures, obviously,” Livia stated. “Would that be useful or is there a way I can project my own memories for the class to see?”

            “Do you ever take mental photographs?” Professor Flitwick asked.

            “All the time – that’s how I memorize things,” Livia answered.

            “That I think we can get you to project,” he said. “There is some advanced skills involved with this, but if you can store your own photographs, you are about half-way there. How about moving pictures, like a memory?”

            “Yes, I remember specific aspects of that show,” she said. “Though some of are very personal. Others less so. I also have an idea for the two of you to consider, and I think I should ask now as well as note that the headmaster would not necessarily object to my idea – only if I got too much attention from it.”

            “What do-do you h-have in m-mind?” Professor Quirrell asked.

            “Well, you both, to varying degrees, have an interest in my musical tastes, which may serve either of you. My idea for either a class or extra-curricular project would be for a group of students to help put together an end-of-classes event, before studying for finals gets serious, as a dance featuring muggle music. The students could propose or locate items and you could review and consent to who or what can be played.”

            “How would this work, from a practical standpoint?” Professor Flitwick asked.

            “Well, it would have to be in the Great Hall,” Livia said. “I have seen some form of phonographs and basically we would have to replicate some kind of speaker system to ensure whatever got played carried the room. I could volunteer to play DJ – the person who picks and plays the records – but I think that would be too showy of me. Perhaps an older student or a staff member could do that. As I think both of you know, I treasure much of the music I have listened to over the years, for very particular reasons. I would hope a sense of enjoyment or even frivolity could entice other students to shake off the end of the semester burdens and reinvigorate them to study for their exams.”

            “You-you know that Sl-slytherins w-would complain h-hugely about th-this,” Professor Quirrell said.

            “Indeed,” Professor Flitwick said. “And I can only imagine how Professor Snape will object. The headmaster will have a problem there.”

            “Let me take care of that,” Livia asserted.

            “What!?” they both exclaimed. Professor Flitwick continued: “From what I have gathered, he hates all things muggle-related AND he is not exactly your best friend.”

            “I know,” she admitted. “But he has pushed my buttons enough to know which ones he should never try to push. If you recall, he compelled me to make a potion in class and did not provide all the ingredients. Despite his annoyance towards how I fixed that, the potion was perfect. I guarantee you that, whilst Slytherins will stay away and he will say that he approves of their decision, he will not stop it, either.”

            “Do you know something we don’t?” Professor Flitwick asked.     

            “I think so, but the headmaster made me vow that I never say anything.” Livia opted to use an artful bluff. “Let me ask you: what if I could send a howler letter out to anyone and sound like him? I possibly could replicate his handwriting, too. Then there is the fact he acknowledges me as a Slytherin legacy. As much as students know not to cross him, he won’t do it to me, either. I don’t know if anyone has ever said that, but I have never feared him – and he knows it very well.”

            “I had no idea,” Professor Flitwick stated. “If you think this can happen, I will be glad for my club to sponsor it and host it, which I presume includes a lot of your students.”

            “Y-yes,” he agreed.

            “I will present the idea to the club and put together a group to organize it,” Professor Flitwick offered. “You have no objection if older students take the lead?”

            “Not at all. I just look forward to helping acquire whatever they want to use and helping in however they wish to proceed. Tell no one this is my idea. Those who know me will realize it. No one else needs to figure it out.”

            Livia left quite satisfied as to how the meeting went. She satisfyingly anticipated the first meeting of the Muggle Music Club, to see if enough students would like putting a dance together. Later, she told Shelley about the idea, but to not tell anyone it had come from her and not them. “I will help promote your role, should you want one, but I plan to merely support the project, not lead it in any way.”

            “Why are you so modest about something as innocuous as this?” Shelley asked.

            Silently, she forced her thoughts to Shelley: If I tell you the entire truth, you have to promise NEVER to tell anyone ever about this. Livia felt Shelley consented. So Livia continued: the headmaster has made me promise not to draw attention to myself. He has some sort of idea as to what he wants to do with me in the future, but it depends on me being quiet, in case any undesirable dark witch or wizard finds me too formidable and attempts to harm me before Professor Flitwick can prepare me to defend myself better. Shelley audibly gasped but indicated that she understood and would try to maintain Livia’s modest appearance.

            Shelley, however, was not perfect and a few days later tried to get Livia to explain something about one of Professor Snape’s demonstrations. Livia simply wrote in Shelley’s book, “Just ask P.S.” Shelley did not want to ask him, given that he often intimidated her, if not quite as much as Selene. She kept trying to draw Livia’s attention, and an exasperated Livia made the mistake of forcing herself to say silently I can’t answer you here.

            Just then, almost in mid-sentence, Professor Snape stopped and walked towards Shelley and Livia. “Just what is going on here?” he asked. “Miss Silver, I see you keep pestering Miss Woodcock over something. Miss Woodcock, what did you write – it says ‘Just ask P.S.’ – I presume you meant me?”

            “Yes, sir,” Livia affirmed.

            “That might be the most intelligent thing you have ever written. So, I take it your third year isn’t so easy, after all,” he asserted. “Perhaps I cast my vote for your promotion incorrectly. And you, Miss Silver, why are you bothering a promoted student in her second year, if at level three, regarding what I am doing?”

            “I’m sorry, Professor Snape, but Livia can explain things to me in a way I understand more readily – perhaps because she knows me better.”

            “So I take it you think she belongs here?” he asked. “How interesting. Do you think she can teach this class better than I can?”

            “I do think she belongs here,” Shelley answered very quietly. “She is gifted – you must know that. And to me, maybe she can teach me better because we spend a lot of time together.”

            “Don’t tell me what I should know, Miss Silver,” he snapped. “If you cannot learn sufficiently here, that is your issue, not mine. And I had no idea Miss Woodcock has to hold your hand, rather than the other way around. ”

            Livia sent him her thought: I gather you heard me try to shut her down. I’m sorry I had to do that. She does not hear me as well as you do. Please pick on me more, instead. I can take it better. You know that.

            “And I have not forgotten about you, Miss Woodcock. You may have proven yourself last year, but that counts for nothing now. You will get no special allowances from me. I have yet to see a shred of evidence that you belong here beyond your friend’s perhaps misguided belief. I will be deducting ten points from Ravenclaw and more if my potion does not turn out well.”

            Fortunately, it did go well and he seemed satisfied by the time he dismissed the class. Livia silently thanked him for listening to her and that, in the future, she would do her best to keep Shelley in check during his classes. Before he left, Professor Snape sent her a somewhat terse acknowledgement that she had done the right thing and needed to ensure her friend did the same.

            At lunch, everyone wanted to know about what happened in Professor Snape’s class. Athena, who sat towards the front with Ted and Selene, found it shocking that Shelley wound up getting his ire, though Ted thought it more bizarre that he picked on Livia so much, given that Livia really did nothing wrong.

            “He thinks one day he will push the right button with me,” Livia observed. “He knew Shelley already dreaded the incident, even if she didn’t exactly back down.”

            “You can say that again,” Shelley confirmed. “Why did he pick on you so much?”

            “Because he can or he likes to,” Livia answered. Silently, she said to Shelley: He heard me try to direct thoughts to you because I have to try so hard for you to hear them. He can hear everything. Later that night, Livia walked Shelley through his demonstration to her satisfaction.

            Livia also began engaging her new roommates on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team if they ever tried to outthink the opponent with set plays or strategies, say for isolating the snitch for the seeker. They had started to sit by Livia and her friends during meals, so this seemed a good opportunity to get to know them. Don Stevens had taken up the conversation first, though someone could mistake one of the three guys for the other, especially if not looking at their faces. All were tanned, rather tall for third-year students and had medium blond hair. Don asked Livia what she specifically meant.

            Livia drew up something on a napkin that just happened to be in their room. Don wondered how she got this idea, telling her it required very capable broom riding skills, given the way the snitch moved.

            “I saw a match and was asking about set plays and strategy, since I could not figure out the rationale for player movements,” Livia said.

            Don grabbed Livia’s scribbled diagram and showed it to Terence and Barry. “Did you come up with this?” Barry asked Don.

            “No, she did,” Don said, pointing at Livia.

            “It might work,” Terence asserted. “We would need to gain better broom skills, but I like the concept. We have to show this to the coach. Nice job, Livia. Are you sure you never played?”

            “I never have,” Livia replied. “Perhaps being able to ride a broom adequately is about as athletic as I will ever get. I dance better – I need my feet on the ground, I guess.”

            Livia’s first dueling lesson with Professor Flitwick had its high and low points. She picked up how to disarm fairly well, for a first lesson, but the true knockout blow she lacked entirely. Professor Flitwick tried to motivate her, that disarming alone would not suffice, especially against a determined or sadistic Death Eater, or several. She had to fight as if she was defending someone’s life – every time. Whilst they used practice wands and some protective gear, he urged her to find the venomous side of her, to imagine a great hatred for whomever she dueled as if that person had been the bane of her existence. “Can you think of someone you can hate enough for that?”

            “I think I can pull that out of myself,” Livia responded. “It would be my adopted sister, who bullied me for years and lied in order to get me sent to a juvenile prison for nearly two years.”

            “Yes,” he affirmed. “Imagine you have a chance to lash out like you never could in a muggle environment. Dish out your wrath. Just act it until you can feel it. And do it every time, using all that you remember – be they charms, hexes or whatever. Also, anticipate what your opponent will do to block his or her moves and act steps ahead of him or her.”

            Livia blocked very well, he thought. She had no problem predicting. He realized she potentially had great skills in penetrating the mind of an opponent. She just could not let up because that would be her downfall. Professor Flitwick duly informed the headmaster of what he found and discovered that Professor Dumbledore had figured this would be exactly how Livia behaved.

            “I have discussed this before – though not directly with you,” he stated. “She needs what they call a ‘killer instinct’ – even if not killing anyone – and I hope you can get through to her how vital it is that she have it, or she will not survive in this world for as long as I would like.”

            “I do not understand who you discussed this with, given that she is my student,” Professor Flitwick asserted.

            “Keep this to yourself, but I have discussed her abilities over a wide range of things, including this, with Severus,” the headmaster revealed. “She allowed him access to her memories through my pensieve as part of what happened last year. That is how he knows why she does not fear him. We both agreed that her fearlessness could be lethal to her someday. I also have suspected she does not value her own life enough versus that of, say, her brother. Use that – that if she attracted an enemy here, if she did not kill or fully disable that person, he or she would kill her brother. She needs that kind of motivation.”

            “So noted,” Professor Flitwick confirmed. “She also proposed a kind of muggle music-based dance at the end of regular classes, before final exams. Both I and Professor Quirrell thought Professor Snape would strongly object. I think I have a sense now as to why she thinks otherwise.”

            “As long as she does not lead the effort, I have no objection. Severus will probably make noise about it and discourage his students from attending, but I agree with her. You already know this: She is incredibly bright and talented. She just has to see her own value and become aggressive, when necessary. I fear for her if she cannot master that as well as her wand. You know why.”

            “Unfortunately, I do,” Professor Flitwick admitted. “I will do my best. Since you brought him up, I wonder if a younger sparring opponent, especially one like Severus, who has crossed swords figuratively with her, might drive that point home better. She probably could conjure up enough hate then and, as you say, a ‘killer instinct,’ against him better than with me.”

            “Maybe,” the headmaster mused. “I don’t think she hates him, though, but I cannot tell you how she feels about him. She tolerates him better than anyone not a Slytherin, and they do so because he treats them differently. She betrays her emotions very infrequently, like when her cat died. She speaks and behaves very differently than so many of our students typically do.”

            “I noticed,” Professor Flitwick said. “Her self-control is remarkable, especially given her ability to decipher the emotions of others. She is very sensitive and yet so disciplined. And I don’t mean ‘for a teenager,’ either. I mean this is extraordinary for anyone here, let alone a sensitive adult. I could not conduct myself the way she does. I have to find and harness her emotions for her to direct them outwardly and lash out, should she need to do it. I understand the challenge.”

            “I am glad you see the need and the challenge so well.” The two bid each other farewell for the night and Professor Flitwick departed for his quarters.

            Soon thereafter, Livia got to meet her first magical creature. She tried connecting to him. At first, she could not tell if the animal was reluctant, difficult or insensitive to her attempts to reach out. But when she saw Alastair fly by and greeted him and heard him return her call, the magical creature eyed her somewhat differently. He asked her if she spoke often to crows.

            Livia told him she could speak with crows, owls, various mammals – many creatures she had encountered thus far. What she did not know concerned him, what he liked, what he might want said to him or want to say in return. She wanted to give him her respect and allow him to decide if or how he wished to communicate, whereas her ability to speak to other animals just evolved on its own and seemed very straightforward.

            He indicated that he liked straightforward, honest and simple. He did not do tricks, but when treated with respect, if not caring, he responded to people, whether they could speak to him or not. When the instructor asked for a volunteer to greet the creature, Livia stepped forward, smiled, bowed and very carefully, methodically approached him. He said he appreciated her deliberateness as well as her nod and slow blink, and he liked when people made slow gestures or movements, as it kept him calm. She asked if she could gently touch him, just as a civil sort of goodwill gesture. He agreed and she gently patted him a few times, bowed and slowly retreated, moving backward for several feet before turning around to exit the pen.

            Several jaws – other than Shelley’s, of course – dropped. Even the instructor found this encounter quite unusual. Others tried to echo what Livia had done but with only a limited degree of success. The subsequent students often did not get Livia’s speed, subtlety or they did not read the animal’s outward behavior well, let alone have any idea what the creature could say. After the last student practically ran away from the creature, no one else dared to enter the pen. To the rest, she asked what they thought Livia had done differently.

            Shelley spoke. “Livia was very deliberate in her movements and seemed to gain the animal’s trust. She showed great respect and restraint in what she did.”

            The instructor agreed as did several other students, including those who had less successful meetings. She then turned to Livia and asked if the class had missed anything.

            “Not anything they can replicate,” Livia offered. “Shelley knows I can speak to domestic and non-magical wild animals of various types. I also, after several attempts, got this creature to talk to me. It was only after the crow I call Alastair flew by, though. He sensed that if a crow felt comfortable doing that, he also could trust me.”

            “You speak to animals?” a third year Gryffindor asked, quite surprised. Livia did not remember his name. She only realized his hair was a lighter shade than Selene’s.

            “Quite a lot, actually,” Livia answered. “Shelley and other Ravenclaw students know I do not own an owl yet send and receive mail from several Barn Owls routinely. I call for them – the ones outside. I know them by name, two of which joined me from London, and Hagrid takes care of them since I do not want to domesticate them. They have an owl box outside of his home.”

            “How did you know this creature would speak to you?” another asked.

            “I had no idea if it would happen, until it happened,” Livia replied.

            “Why did you volunteer to go first?” the instructor inquired.

            “By then, I got a fair sense of him,” Livia revealed. “I think animals also react to fear, and I have none. So I thought even if the creature would not tell me much, I could be slow and gentle enough to gain his trust. If I did that, all goes well.”

            The instructor asserted that Livia had given a great tip about approaching new animals, in terms of fear, action, intent and sensitivity, both in one’s touch and in one’s ability to judge how an animal behaves. Whilst she herself could not speak with an animal, that approach works on the whole and, if a rapport gets established, trust would create opportunities for other forms of contact that a creature would not reject.

            Soon after, about eighteen students who formed the Muggle Music Club me. Professor Flitwick discussed artists worth listening to and new trends in various styles of music in that world. Then he presented the idea of the group compiling a playlist for some kind of party at the end of the year but well before exams would take place, as a kind of mental break for the students who came. It might lessen their burdens temporarily.

            Various older students and those of the same age liked the idea a great deal – as a way to show they could contribute to the school and have an outlet before things got too burdensome for students. Discussions began about content, how to amplify the music to the Great Hall (presumed the best place for a dance) and who would take on what role.

            Professor Flitwick said he hoped the older students would take a leadership role in this. Still, he said once the group as a whole decided on content and its variety, they could ask Miss Woodcock for some ideas, since she tended to get new music sent to her from her brother, who had a friend in the muggle music industry. Then they could organize who would obtain what – as in the format and how it would be played.

            “Format?” The eldest male in the group asked. He had straight, somewhat long red hair, blue eyes and pale skin. Livia had never noticed him before but now looking at him thought him very handsome, though she usually did not think so of young men with auburn or red hair.

            “You better answer that, Livia – you told me, but I’m not sure I can recall all the details.”

            “Muggle music is issued in several ways,” Livia said. “We often see large records here played on turntables with horn-like amplifiers. Muggles call those vinyl records. They now make tape, smaller items that use something called a cassette. I’ll show you.” Livia closed her eyes and pointed with her wand. “See this? See the tape inside this plastic item? Now I understand there is another format just starting to become popular. They are disks but smaller than vinyl records but fit at least as much on them. They are made of a different material. They are called compact discs or CDs. I do not have any yet. The recordings on these are supposed to deliver a better sound quality. Though the discs are obtainable, the means to play them are still a bit scarce or expensive. Given our familiarity with vinyl records, I think we should acquire those and just play portions of them, to alter the artist or tempo or mood. Since the other formats may be displacing vinyl, the records may be unusual to get but inexpensive.”

            “How do you know so much?” This young man asked again.

            “My brother’s friend works in the muggle music industry, and I have benefited from this by getting a few things before the muggle public could even buy them. Also, when I was confined before I came here, I listened to a great deal of muggle music on a radio. From that, I got a sense about how one organizes content into a program that lasts a few hours.”

            “Maybe you should be running this,” the young man admitted.

            “I do not seek the credit, even if you rely on me more than some others. I want the event to be successful. I have no right to overstep your place, and I will not do so, under any circumstances. Make me your worker bee, and I will give you all I know and can do.”

            “Okay, I will handle organizing, but you must be my assistant overseeing the groups and the details,” he said. “We will need groups that will handle how the room will look, we will need those choosing content, which Professor Flitwick will need to approve, and that will include a playlist, right?” Livia nodded. “Then we will need to have a group dedicated to ensuring the sound quality is good and fills the room. Finally, we will need people to promote the event or suggest ways that other students, well, other than Slytherins of course, will want to attend. Did I cover everything?” Livia and the group nodded. “Do we need approval for this, Professor Flitwick?”

            “Already being handled by me, so not your concern,” the professor replied.

            This male student asked to speak to Livia alone while the rest wrestled with belonging to the group they felt best suited to join. “Forgive me, I have forgotten your name,” he stated.

            “Livia Woodcock, at your service,” she pronounced, extending her hand.

            “Bill Weasley, nice to meet you,” he responded, as they shook hands. “Was this your idea?”

            “More or less,” Livia replied. “I would rather that not be common knowledge, though – unless you need to blame me for something.”

            “Why?” he asked.

            “Long story, but my mission is to be unnoticed as much as possible,” Livia answered.

            “You did not do that last year, if I recall correctly. I have to admit, I laughed so much at that incident you had with Professor Snape. How did you survive that?”

            “My father, it seems, was a Slytherin – I am not sure of any other reason.”

            “Do you know who he is?” Bill asked.

            “Not a clue. The family who adopted me, especially my brother, got me interested in music. In fact, it was because of him as well as his friends that I got to see the London portion of Live Aid in 1985.”

            “Oh blimey, I heard of that,” he asserted. “Was it good?”

            “I consider it the best day of my life, so now you know why this event means a lot to me.”

            “From what I have heard, I totally get that,” he maintained. “What do you think is the most important thing as far as making this successful?”

            “Actually, it was everything you covered,” she responded. “They all matter. The right songs, a good mix, maybe some ability to take requests, if any of the students know enough to ask for something, the sound coverage and ambiance or room setup, the turnout – if one of those falters, it could be a fiasco. Students could not show, students could dislike what we have or the sound quality or anything else and opt to leave. So each deserves attention.”

            “We should test the Great Hall when empty to hear how sound travels in it, so we have an idea of what we will need to do to carry the room,” he asserted.

            “Yes,” Livia agreed. “Perhaps before the Winter Ball, the room will be empty and that could be done. You should ask Professor Flitwick to give us a time window to figure that out.”

            “Agreed,” Bill said. “I am very excited about this. More so than being a prefect, actually, but don’t tell my mother. I cannot believe you do not want credit for this, if we pull it off well.”

            Livia wanted to see if she could send thoughts to him. Bill, can you me hear though I am not verbalizing?

            Startled, he grew wide-eyed. “Are you kidding me?” he asked.

            “You try it,” Livia suggested.

            Bill collected his thoughts, slowly blinked, then looked at Livia. Livia, I heard you, but can you hear me?

            “Loud and clear,” she confirmed.  I have certain talents, but the headmaster does not want them widely known. He has his reasons, though I am not sure I understand them all. Nonetheless, taking any significant credit for this event may violate his request, so I aim to keep my head down and nose to the grindstone. He asked me this after my run-in with Professor Snape last year.

            “Okay,” he said. “You confiding this in me makes me feel better that I am not stealing something from you.”

            “Not at all,” she stated. “You are doing me a favor. The fact that so many students know you will boost the turnout, also.”

            Bill and Livia went over to each group, who each chose a committee leader. They each began brainstorming ideas. Shelley wound up heading the content/playlist committee, since she knew about the artists and songs in Livia’s collection. The list looked pretty good, especially for just getting started. Livia had one suggestion.

            “Shelley, we want this to be a fun dance, right? So I think from what you have done, the first song ought to be David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance.’ What do you all think?”

            Some did not know it, so Livia materialized her Walkman and a tape with song. Bill and each of the students there gave it a listen. They all thought it set the right tone.

            With everything off to a good start – and even Professor Flitwick liked “Let’s Dance” – they adjourned, which each committee vowing to talk amongst themselves before the next meeting. Meantime, Bill would find out when he and Livia could check out the acoustics of the Great Hall later in the term. Professor Flitwick said he would give them an answer and ensure the dance would be formally approved. Livia felt satisfied. She had found a way to contribute to the school.


Chapter 11: Off Balance: Dealing With a Weasley Crush, Finding and Defeating A Boggart
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            After the Muggle Music Club met, Livia returned to the Ravenclaw Common Room. By that time, Livia started getting asked many questions there about written assignments – and not just from Phoebe Allens. Livia emphasized structure and making a central point by which all the details would support – but made sure to mention that anything against one’s thesis should not be ignored. Ignoring information, rather than finding a rationale to minimize or dismiss its significance in detracting from your central point, will undermine a paper.

            Fortunately, the student questions did not take long and Livia found herself within her own reading and writing assignments. When she completed each to her own satisfaction, she retired for the night. She thought about the day she could tell brother about some of the things she had done so far at the school. She hoped he would be proud of her. That drove her more than anyone could ever do or say to her.

            The new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor Seward, started the next day discussing something he called a boggart, something Livia had only vaguely understood from the readings. She needed the demonstration badly. The instructor had students practice the charm he taught at a time. Livia had no idea what this thing would turn into for her. The only thing she feared was hypothetical – that someone would hurt her brother. She did not fear her cat’s ashes – she just dreaded seeing them. She had already held the cat’s corpse, if very sadly. She asked if a hypothetical event could be a boggart. Professor Seward did not think he had ever seen that. So when Livia’s turn came, she looked at the amusing thing the previous student, Ted, had conjured and waited. He had turned his father into a daisy, which remained. Nothing happened. In fact, the boggart then seemed to vanish or leave. Professor Seward asked Livia what she feared most and she said that, other than her brother being hurt, she could not think of anything. So he passed her over and after class told her not to leave.

            “This is most strange,” he asserted. “I have never heard of a student witch or wizard that did not have a boggart.”

            “I don’t know what to say,” Livia stated. “What should I be afraid of?”

            “Well, you saw some examples today, but I could think of others,” he asserted. “Werewolves, dementors, dragons, perhaps. I will ask the faculty what I should do, since we are meeting shortly.”

            “Excuse me, what are dementors?” Livia asked.

            “They guard the prison at Azkaban at the moment, but they have been known to roam, usually looking for escapees,” he answered.

            “If I do not plan on going there, why should I fear them?” Livia inquired.

            “First, they are foul, nearly non-sentient beings. They sometimes feed off people, which can include muggles, either from their excitement or their grief or some other strong emotional trauma. And if a person is even near someone they want, they do not care who else they harm in the process. Finally, they steal the souls of people they fully attack and it is supposed to be incredibly terrible to experience or even witness. Wizards and witches can ward them off, though. We will talk more after I am advised what I should do here – because you may not be ready to handle even a boggart dementor.”

            The faculty assembled as the students dined and they each reported on various issues and the progress of various students, with the new students getting the most initial attention. Each professor had the opportunity to talk about other issues. Professor Seward insisted on immediately speaking, because he had a huge problem he had never seen before.

            “What is it?” The headmaster asked.

            “Students today got to practice defending against boggarts, but one student could not turn a boggart into anything. She even asked me if a theoretical event could be a boggart, and I did not think so. So I almost think the boggart ran away.”

            “Let me guess,” Professor Dumbledore asserted. “This student – her name is Livia Woodcock. Am I right?”

            “How did you know that?” Professor Seward queried.

            The headmaster briefly looked at Professor Snape, who seemed expressionless, which suggested to the headmaster that he would have suggested the same thing.

            “She seems so utterly fearless at times,” he responded. “Honestly, Minerva, this easily could have been your student.”

            “Except I have never heard of a student without a boggart, either,” she revealed. “Even you have one, don’t you?”

            “Yes, sadly I do,” he admitted.

            “What do I do with her?” Professor Seward asked. “At the time, I could only suggest things she could fear – like werewolves, dragons. I even mentioned dementors, though the charm I demonstrated clearly does not work there.”

            “Well, I doubt she would fear dragons,” Professor Dumbledore maintained. “Any sentient animal she would try to befriend. Werewolves might work, since they would not respond to her, and she does not know that first hand. Dementors pose a real threat, and I think she is not aware of how much trouble they could create. I see the dilemma. I have no idea if she is ready to face a boggart dementor.”

            “I think it is worth trying,” Professor Snape asserted, which raised eyebrows that he would speak about her. “I have given her challenges over her head to see what she can do. She seems to thrive when pushed. I say you try it. If she will ever understand our world versus the muggle world, she needs to master this sooner or later, don’t you think, Filius?”

            “I agree with you about pushing her,” Professor Flitwick answered. “Many things come to her easily. She now tutors half the first-year Ravenclaw students about their written assignments. A few of the second year students also ask her to read their papers, too. Any of you notice?”

            “Your first year students do perform better than other first years regarding this task,” Professor McGonagall replied. “I just presumed it came from their own academic skills, not from Miss Woodcock. This makes sense, though. By now, she is likely the best writer among our entire student body. And she seems to keep improving, Filius. Apparently, tutoring does not distract her from her own assignments.”

            “I wish I could say she has made the same progress in her dueling skills,” he admitted. “So far, she is very good at defending herself. She anticipates acts against herself extremely well. She just will not show aggression similarly, even though it is not real. Maybe if she finds something to fear she can bring herself to this, too. For that reason, also, I agree with you, Severus.”

            “Tutor her, then, on dementors,” the headmaster directed at Professor Seward. “If you even set her up to fail once, she would experience the reality of the stakes here. That might help her in a host of ways we will all see.”

            “You want her to fail at first?” Professor Seward asked.

          “It might be the only way to get her attention,” he answered. “Short of introducing her to a certain dark wizard none of us really want to see, I think this is the way to go.”

            Professor Flitwick took this opportunity to discuss the idea of his Muggle Music Club having a dance before finals where students could blow off some steam and regroup for their exams. He said his club had already begun organizing itself to do this, including the practicalities, the content and even promoting the event. He said that the Gryffindor prefect Bill Weasley would be leading the group in putting the event together.

            “Bill Weasley?” Professor Snape asked. “Why do I think you dodge naming the actual person who has instigated this?”

            “Severus,” the headmaster called. “Don’t start this. Filius, I think it sounds like a fun and perhaps even eye-opening event. I, for one, look forward to seeing what Mr. Weasley pulls together, and I think we should let our students decide for themselves if they like it.”

            “If Mr. Weasley is on board organizing this,” Professor McGonagall began, “I have no objection. He is a fine student and takes his studies seriously. I am proud that he represents my house, and I will support him, if he seeks my help. He deserves no less.”

            Professor Snape seemed to mumble or grumble some, but no one could hear exactly what he said. Finally, he relented: “Do you what you want. But don’t expect that Slytherin students will attend at all.”

            “I did not expect that they would,” Professor Flitwick revealed. “And it is their loss.” To himself, he still wondered a bit how Livia Woodcock knew Professor Snape would make a show of protesting but not enough of one to nix the event. Could it really be about mimicry? Perhaps she knew the headmaster would like the event, instead, and his approval would suffice.

            Meantime, after their meal, Livia spent a short time greeting Helena Ravenclaw. She enjoyed those moments. She thought Helena was very misunderstood and once had her own problems being a shadow at Hogwarts versus having her own talents and dignity recognized. Livia understood that, though she fully recognized that Helena had no choice whereas Livia had volunteered to be marginalized, if for her own good, somehow. Still, it sometimes made being a teen a tough thing. She knew no one would ask her to the Winter Ball. She would put on a brave face and stick to making money off the stupidity of Slytherins who wagered against her. Other Slytherins – or Professor Snape himself – could have warned them, but those students usually felt too embarrassed to do so and they preferred to think about enjoying the ball, versus what some girl did in its shadows. Professor Snape preferred the tough love approach and let Livia make some money, since she had no other opportunities to do so.

            At least, before the Great Hall was decorated, Livia and Bill Weasley ran some experiments on how sound carried, either by voice (speaking or Livia singing) or by an old phonograph within Hogwarts. Livia even managed to produce and make a radio play, which offered an extra means of testing, since Livia divided its speaker or duplicated them and put them or sound echo dishes at different parts of the room. The testing, witnessed by members of the committee in charge of the logistics of making the music carry the room, took notes on everything and found Bill and Livia had provided all the information they needed. Bill then excused himself (with a handful of other students) to get ready for the ball, since he would attend it with another student his own age. On evenings like this, Livia found herself missing Sarah and thought of writing a long letter to her brother instead of being seen there. Hours of being all-but-invisible around Bill Weasley was no fun. She swallowed hard after he left, trying to avoid feeling anything. She also recognized that she would need the money sooner or later, so she prepared herself to pilfer those who had no idea what she could do. It was the one advantage she had for being so unnoticed, and her teen angst would not stop her, even if most of her own room had gotten invited by fourth-year students to the event. Shelley wondered later if 100 gold coins beat anything they could derive from a Winter Ball date. “I cannot tell you,” Livia said. “I have only done one of these things.”

            Later, Livia spent part of the break in Durham with Tom and Alice, who seemed quite happy together. They enjoyed a promised celebratory meal first. Tom told her that he had met Alice’s family, and they seemed content with the relationship. He had worried about that, but Alice had given him ideas of things to discuss with certain people. Ultimately, Tom relaxed more, as he saw that they cared for Alice’s happiness and that Tom had good prospects. He told her he would take exams around mid-January, so Livia planned to leave well in time to give him the opportunity to feel fully prepared. For old times’s sake, she drilled him some on the exam, and he seemed to have everything well in hand. The skills he had acquired whilst young still served him.

            Livia returned the night of Wednesday, 7 January. She was glad, because she had planned to give Professor Snape a little birthday surprise. From what he had said, he spent the day alone, and it seemed to her he did not take much pleasure in it. She decided she would pay him a visit and sing “Happy Birthday,” though she preferred to do it in a bunch of voices she could alternate using, either in speaking or singing. She knew he would be annoyed. She would call it “even,” which would also irritate him. Somehow, she thought even being cross would perversely please him, because whatever caused him to isolate himself did him no favors. She just knew it.

            She realized that she had to be extremely sly to even get access to where he would be. Her inner Slytherin came out again, and she got past the methods faculty employed to keep their own quarters off-limits at times to students. Livia buried her face in her hands to psyche herself up for however he might lash out for such impudence. She found a way to just not care and plowed ahead. She would enjoy this, even if it was just in witnessing his shock when he opened his door.

            She did so around noon, figuring he would be awake, alert and dressed. She knocked, confidently, though not harshly.

            “Go away, Albus,” she heard him say.

            She disguised her voice to be unrecognizable, “I am not named Albus.” She had no idea whose voice she had taken at first, then she realized that it belonged to Helena Ravenclaw. She figured he would not recognize Helena’s voice, but he did. “Helena?” he asked.

            He opened the door and was shocked to see this 14-year-old girl standing in front of it.

            “How did you get here?” he demanded.

            “I told you I would get you back in my own time, so here I am,” Livia stated. “Happy Birthday, sir.” He tried to shut the door, but her foot was too quick. “Nope, you are not weaseling out of this, not today. Not until we are ‘even’.” She entered the room and broke into happy birthday greetings and singing from as many voices as she could muster, even those of others at the school. Some of her comments as various faculty members actually were funny.

            Professor Snape buried his face, especially his mouth, in one hand. He did not know if he should laugh or scream. She has got to be insane. But she sure is one talented mimic.

            “Okay, you have shown your talents just to get here, let alone to speak or sing all that. What does your own singing voice sound like?”

            He found a way to put her on the spot. She almost never used her own voice. “Not as good, but if you want it, you got it. I will call it a gift, lousy though it may be.” She proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” as herself. She was not bad at all, he thought. Her voice was low-pitched for a female, but effective and had its own charm and sincerity. He wondered why she hid it.

            “You are way too humble,” he observed. “There is nothing wrong with your own voice. It is quite striking, actually. How is it you have hidden it from your own head of house?”

            “He does not need me. He is not yet even leading the school’s principal choir. So, how angry are you at me right now?” Livia asked.

            “I will not answer that, but you know better than to come here and do this,” he answered.

            “Maybe, but the way you acted on my birthday suggested to me why I should attempt it, anyway. You are way too young, still, sir, to be so alienated from people who have no agenda or ability to do anything harmful to you.”

            “Miss Woodcock, you forget yourself. This is none of your business.”

            “No, it is not,” she agreed. “But I find my silence and my promises burdensome. Your problems must be vastly greater, and I cannot begin to comprehend them. Yet you should not have them weighing on you every day of your life, sir. Think about them tomorrow, not today, for once.” Livia spotted an untouched cake and a bottle of something that looked like a strong liquor. The two did not strike Livia as a good combination, though she did not understand what it meant or why it did not seem right. She would not pity him, though. She knew how much he hated that.

            “I do not invite people here in general, nor do I want to see people in particular today,” he said. “You should know that and observe it.”

            “I am sorry that I cannot give you any cheer today,” Livia stated. “So I will leave and wish you the best, sir.” She withdrew and disappeared from the hallway to return to the students’s area.

            He had to admit he admired her nerve as well as her sneaky ability to reach his door. Her motive perplexed him. Was she taking glee in him being upset, or did she honestly want him to be happy to see her? Oddly enough, he thought she liked both possibilities and did not care which one she evoked. What a strange child.

            The following week, Professor Snape informed the headmaster of his encounter with Livia Woodcock. “She did THAT!?” the headmaster said with great surprise. “She sure is brave. I would not even disturb you then. Minerva’s house lost out on her. How did she get you to open the door?”

            “She disguised her voice,” he answered. “She sounded like Helena Ravenclaw.”

            “That is amazing,” Professor Dumbledore responded. “I had no idea she had even seen Helena Ravenclaw, let alone had spoken to her enough to mimic her voice. You may hate me for saying this, Severus, but I cannot help but marvel at some of her talents, which have nothing to do with her being here. Why did she go see you?”

            “That is a good question,” he answered. “Seems to me she told me she would pay me back for the way I handled her final exam on her own birthday, and she opted to do this.”

            “Reasonable, I guess,” the headmaster asserted. “Plucky to be sure but reasonable in itself. How goes her progress making potions?”

            “Very well,” he replied. “She seems to ensure Shelley Silver can pull her own weight, though one would have assumed a promoted student would have needed the third year student’s help. Not in this case. She could have pushed herself to skip another year, if she wanted to do it.”

            “I don’t think she needed to do that to show that she belongs. Besides, the students she seems to know are all third-year students. We have burdened her enough to deprive her of the few friends she has here.”

            “Agreed,” Professor Snape stated. “I have traveled that road.”

            “But you didn’t have a crush on Bill Weasley.”

            “What?” Professor Snape asked. “How do you know that?”

            “I saw how she looked at him whilst they were working on how the Great Hall acoustically carries sound,” the headmaster answered. “She has a huge crush on him and he has no idea, which is how she wants it because she has decided he would never notice her. One saying is, I believe, she thinks he is ‘out of her league’.”

            “He is not that much older than her,” Professor Snape assessed.

            “To a 16-year-old, he is. He may rethink that at a different age. For now, I think that is why he takes no notice of her, not that she is physically unattractive, as she might think.”

            “I am glad I am not her age,” Professor Snape observed. “For a girl, especially.”

            “And that is the cross I have made her bear, I’m afraid,” Professor Dumbledore admitted. “No one notices her, because I have asked her to play down what she can do. The penalty is that no young man will take notice of her, either, and she blames herself entirely for that.”

            “Some of it might be her fault, though,” Professor Snape stated.

            “What do you mean?”

            “She is so careful in hiding her emotions that she does not connect well with any young man who otherwise might take a fancy to her,” Professor Snape observed. “I wonder if she is only able to be an emotional brick wall, meaning she cannot modulate her emotional state enough to allow anyone to think of her as a warm person or a potential date or girlfriend.”

            “That is very insightful of you, Severus,” the headmaster responded. “You surprise me.”

            “It is not any great skill on my part,” he stated. “The pensieve and her subsequent behavior make this a pretty safe bet.” Professor Snape did not quite tell the truth. He had found he shared something else in common with Livia, other than the bullying she had endured and remained partly open to receiving, given how she conducted herself. Being “different” had its own price – he knew it very well because he had lived it.

            The semester went fairly well, Livia thought. No one found serious fault with her work and she still found some time to help some younger Ravenclaw students. Her written assignments remained the best any faculty member could remember reading, as she more or less topped herself as every month went by. The magical creatures had opened up to her and her instructor carefully documented her talents there, as well as those in every other class she took.

            The only troubles she had was dealing with the whole boggart issue and her dueling, though her initial setback in the first ultimately helped her see why she needed to improve in the second. Professor Seward had convinced her regarding the power of dementors. As suggested, he released a dementor boggart without telling her how to ward it off. She tried the taught charm, which had no effect. She could not reason with it or have any other resource to protect herself against it. She passed out and felt ill and dizzy after regaining her senses.

            “Now, do you see what they can do?” Professor Seward asked, helping her recover with a glass of water. “And that was a boggart, not the real thing, which would hurt you much worse. No form of self-protection works except a charm I will attempt to teach you.”

            She listened carefully to his instructions and fixed strongly on her happiest day at Live Aid with Tom and his friends. Releasing the boggart dementor, Livia spoke the charm. A white light emanated from her wand and the dementor was corralled and contained. Professor Steward explained to do execute the charm fully meant creating light to form a shape of a creature. He had her practice time after time without the boggart. It took many attempts but by the end of their session, she conjured a full bodied Patronus. But Professor Seward looked stumped.

            “What is that?” he asked. “Is that a lynx?”

            “It is a North American bobcat,” Livia replied. “I had one as a stuffed animal as a small child. They are spotted and have shorter ear tufts. It is perhaps the only thing native to my birth mother that I care to see. She abandoned me, and I have no desire to even meet her.”

            Professor Seward duly noted his success in following the headmaster’s recommendation and reported Miss Woodcock’s ultimate success in producing a Patronus that she said was a North American bobcat, which he had to take at her word, since he had no independent familiarity as to how it differed from the Eurasian Lynx.

            “What memory did she use for it?” the headmaster asked.

            “She said it had to do with her brother and some event I think she called Live Aid.”

            Professors Quirrell and Flitwick looked at each other. Neither were surprised. The two quietly spoke to each other about getting her to talk or project her experiences regarding that event for a class or at least the Muggle Music Club. Professor Snape felt no surprise, either, since he alone actually had viewed her memories of being at it. No one said a word to the group about this.

            “This does not surprise me at all, though it being rooted in her life as a muggle might not sit well with everyone,” the headmaster stated. “That she can perform the charm should be enough. Filius, use this breakthrough, especially concerning the potential for other dangers to reach her brother, to get her wand work in dueling improved. Still, keep this in mind: Only if she ever gets to be as good as I am should you be satisfied. We all know how important this is.”

            “Albus, I am not sure I understand that last comment,” Professor Flitwick admitted. “I thought I needed to get her to work with a wand. Are you training her to replace you someday?”

            “You have heard me precisely,” he replied. “When she is ready, I think she could run this school very well. I cannot do this forever. That is why I want to hide her talents and make her as powerful as she can be. I do not try to overly draw attention to her, should it attract malevolent interest. Her gifts belong here and would benefit generations of students if we do this right. That is also why I entirely agreed with Severus on being as tough on her as any other student at her level. He may be the toughest on her, but I think she enjoys a challenge.”

            “That I can affirm,” Professor Snape revealed. “The first day in my class, when I started picking on her for sitting in the back, as if hiding from me, she sent me a message.”

            “She did what!?” Several interrupted, incredulous at hearing of this. “What did she say?” Professor Flitwick asked.

            “Among other things, she said ‘bring it on’,” he answered.

            “Whoa, blimey” Professor Flitwick responded. “I had no idea she would say that.”

            “Neither did I,” Professor Snape agreed. “I think I knew right then that Albus was right about her. We cannot coddle her, but we can ensure that this school long survives us, if we challenge her enough and ensure that no harm comes to her.”

            “I will do everything I can to improve her dueling skills,” Professor Flitwick stated. “I’m glad you all have given me this additional insight. I will keep after her, though I know she would never grasp the huge ambitions you have for her, Albus – certainly not now. I hardly can myself.”

            After an exchange of letters via Mel, Livia returned to Durham during the spring recess. She already knew Tom had done well on his exams. He and Alice had begun planning to move to London that summer so Tom could begin concentrating on his coursework the first day. Alice also began cultivating some contacts to find herself something useful to do, so she did not have too much time to distract Tom. She knew that a student with an intense workload and a non-student could clash, if she did not find the right balance for them. She thought the best she could do was find ways to make the rest of his life easy, in terms of food, his wardrobe and keeping his study organized and well stocked. She told Livia she felt her family, whilst accepting Tom, might not feel the same way if he did not succeed, so she wanted to ensure she helped him do that. Keeping herself occupied would benefit them both, in the end. Livia told her she could foresee spending some time there and maybe, if she had some free time, they could do things that would enable Tom to settle in well, though she likely had to return to school before his term began.

            Besides ensuring her travel had gone unnoticed nor the means of her travel, she carried with her a list – which she rewrote in muggle fashion – of albums she should acquire, in keeping with the various tasks assigned to the Muggle Music Club. She made sure she got The Joshua Tree, having heard for herself on tape how great everything about it was. Not only did she buy the records, she surveyed some music equipment, particularly speaker systems, so that she could help replicate them at the end of the spring, should the committee looking into doing this not fully figure it out. She even had Gary Reading show her his hotel’s ballroom, so that she could survey how sound got distributed there, which had less acoustic capacity than the Great Hall. She took a few mental pictures of various things, shrunk the records she had bought and, again left around dusk.

            Spring term proved more of a breeze than the previous one, with her potions, her transfigurations meeting her own standards, except for one thing: she worked on but did not like her cat animagus. She started becoming a Pallas cat, which did not fit in Scotland. Still, she enjoyed her increased dueling practice with Professor Flitwick and the more intense undertakings to make the Muggle Music Dance successful. Before the event, she made a kind of presentation in Professor Quirrell’s class showing some of the highlights and a sense of the whole spectacle that was Live Aid. Students found it interesting, though Livia could not edit out  her clasp of her brother’s hand, nor of the four of them watching several women get rescued from the crush of spectators. The comments they heard explained what they saw, though she knew some had snickered about the stuff they all said. Perhaps the performances that appeared without commentary from anyone went best, like the show-stopping set from the group Queen. The effect of the presentation did provide what Livia wanted – it got students there who did not belong to the Muggle Music Club interested in the event planned to be held prior to the exams.

            Posters went up, other students made announcements in most classes (except Professor Snape’s, of course), and the decorations committee came up with some ingenious ways to decorate the Hall – such as using a disco ball and putting colored effects into or around various flame caldrons to make for a kind of night club atmosphere. They found a staff member able to work a turntable. With a little help from Livia, he became the night’s DJ, with his own podium and labeled storage shelving as well as set playlist cross-referenced with the location of each artist and song. During a sound check, Livia used her own insights into Gary’s hotel ballroom to make adjustments to the way the sound would reverberate in the room. Her insight into the equipment also proved useful. By the time Bill Weasley arrived to check everything out, he found it all impeccable. The group also consulted house elves to establish a back table with punch and a few snacks for refreshments, along with some seating and small tables for those sitting something out.

            “Livia, everything looks and sounds great,” Bill said. “Before the event formally begins, I should probably welcome everyone, right?”

            She agreed. If the Gryffindor students came, they did so because he had made sure to insist that everyone he knew come check it out. He guaranteed they would not be disappointed.

            “Livia, though my girlfriend is supposed to come, I really think it’s more fitting that I have the first dance with you, since you have done so much for this,” Bill stated.

            He told her as gently as Tom might have done. She could not refuse him, even though she still was not over her crush on him. But “little sister” was how he saw her, and she tried to force herself to accept it as that. She knew that he meant it that way, and she decided he would never think any differently. People started assembling at about 19:45 for an eight o’clock start. Students who had not seen the preparations found the Great Hall looking festive and some took seats waiting for the dance to formally begin. It looked like a good turnout, Livia thought, with at least 150 students assembling and a few curious faculty, along with Professor Flitwick ready to supervise.

            Promptly at eight, Bill Weasley’s voice clearly broke through the chatter. He thanked everyone for coming and hoped the Music Club would provide a fun night and a good break for everyone to regroup from a long term in anticipation of their exams. He made sure to thank each committee for their work in putting the event together, acknowledging each committee chair to waive to everyone as he singled them out. Then he made special mention of his assistant, Livia Woodcock, who helped make everything possible and said, out of his gratitude for her hard work, she had earned the first dance with him. “With that said, Let's Dance!

            Thus the staff DJ began playing the record and Bill went over to Livia and began spinning her around and thoroughly enjoying the song with her, as various couples or even groups began taking the floor to join in. Of course, the lyrics could have pained Livia if she thought too hard about them. She pushed them aside as best she could and smiled as broadly as possible. Bill had no idea. He had done nothing wrong. His attentiveness actually seemed rather sweet to everyone else, even if Livia had to brush away what she only dared to think about later. She still keenly felt the line, "For fear tonight is all" however. She easily could have "tremble[d] like a flower" if she hadn't briefly closed her eyes.  He was so good, Livia thought – who could not be charmed out of their shoes by him. Still, Livia held herself together, even as the song ended and he kissed her on the cheek, bowed to her and raised her hand with his.

            The rest of the evening Bill spent with his date, and Livia stopped looking at him. She had her moment with him. She wanted to forget, even during the Simple Minds record “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The rest of the night seemed like great fun as groups of people formed circles as anyone in the middle showed off how they danced to a range of groups and solo artists seemed danceable in some way or another. Livia took notice that a few Slytherin students actually walked by the Great Hall and should have been able to hear something, though they did so more out of curiosity and had no plans to enter the room. They were looking for ammunition against anyone disliked by whomever passed. Par for the course, Livia decided and dismissed them. Everyone else inside enjoyed the event. She could hear laughter over some dance move like the moonwalk (Livia showed it to Shelley) or something. It was all good. Most of those inside actually liked the event because the often-bothersome Slytherins stayed away. The punch, cookies and music just made that better and vice versa. Livia had a dance with Reggie – and promised him she would find a Bob Marley record if they did this event again – as well as danced with all her Ravenclaw roommates.

            Professor Dumbledore had found a way to monitor the event from afar, and found it quite entertaining, whilst the faculty present kept the event from breaking any rules. He, rather than they, however, realized how much Livia struggled to maintain her composure when Bill danced with her and kissed her cheek. She was human and not immune to the struggles of being a young, overlooked girl. He wondered if he had asked too much of her. Yet he knew all young girls had to deal with that, even without her having to limit the attention she received owing to his request. Genius or not, powerful or not, she had to go through adolescence like everyone else. She did recover from it, at least sufficiently to enjoy the rest of the evening, so he at least could feel she would get through it, one way or another. He found her moment of weakness touching and sad but knew he could not help her with it whatsoever.

            Unknown to Livia, another faculty member at least listened to what went on – Professor Snape. Knowing her musical tastes, he wanted to know how much she had influenced the playlist, even if it supposedly came from Shelley Silver. He heard Bill Weasley’s speech and the first song. Thanks to the headmaster’s observations, he had some idea what mixed emotions that moment must have created for her – he knew it only too well. He wondered how she got through it but figured that somehow she did. The rest of the night seemed to go well, from how the crowd applauded or chatted through it, meaning the majority had stayed and enjoyed themselves.

            Livia’s exams proceeded without any problems whatsoever. Professor Snape, perhaps to rattle her (in her mind), silently sent his congratulations for her dance event as she worked on her final exam potion for him. She kept working and reminded him that she merely assisted Bill Weasley, so he could not call it “her” event. He told her that she knew better than to try to convince him of that. That playlist came directly from you – that is the only reason why Shelley Silver knew about any of it. I could have written up most of that playlist from what I hear outside my own office window, throwing in a few items I got from the pensieve.

            Livia’s potion drew not a single criticism and indeed neither did any of her course exams. Only Professor Flitwick felt he needed more time to develop her dueling skills. Otherwise, she had performed perfectly. The grade of outstanding went across her entire formal schedule. This time she could leave Hogwarts on the train to London, though she disliked being away from her Barn Owl friends, especially, for too long. They all affirmed their good health and confidence in Hagrid to keep them – as well as Sydney and Mel’s growing owlets – in good shape. Sevy probably had his own mate to mind, though Hagrid supplemented what he could bring home, too.

            Just before she left, she received an unusual note from an owl she did not know, who only said: Don’t ask me anything, I just am delivering this. It said:

Dear Miss Woodcock,

Congratulations on your exams. I am wondering what potential there is that you can again help me with my potion inventory, as you so kindly did last year. Seeing how you opted to “pay me back” for last year, I will try not to push you to that.

You were, however, a great assistant, and I might  also need extra hands in making a few things before the fall term begins, so they mature in time for use.

Sincerely,
Professor Snape

Livia pondered this, in terms of if,  when and such. She realized she needed to bring a shrunken broom, just in case. She destroyed the note, as she had done before, and penned her own quick reply. There was certain things still unfamilar to her.

 Dear Professor Snape,

 Thank you. You have caught me quite off-guard, since I thought I would spend the entire summer in London. My brother has just moved there for a training course to become a barrister, beginning this fall. When did you have in mind?

 I am not sure where I am going, since my brother only told me he would pick me up at the station. And I do not know how I should contact you regarding my residence without my own owls. You may want to give me information at the station as the passengers disembark. I do not know what else to say. I will bring a broom with me in case a brief trip back to Hogwarts to do this works for both of us.

Enjoy your summer.

Sincerely,
Livia Woodcock

 She gave her note to the same owl and left to get transported to the train heading to London. She hoped he would find that note appropriate.

            Livia found it pleasant that she got to spend the trip home with Shelley, the rest of her Ravenclaw roommates as well as Reggie and Clara. Only then did she confess to Shelley about the muggle dance, though she made sure only Shelley heard it.

            Do you have any idea how tough the first part of that event was for me?  Shelley merely shook her head. All year I went through having this huge crush on Bill Weasley and if you recall he treated me like his little sister. “But you smiled brightly the whole time,” Shelley whispered. “I did not see any sign of any issue, nor did anyone else there or anyone we know.” Just don’t tell anyone, especially anyone in that club. Even if he could have seen it, there was nothing I could do about it, except make him or his girlfriend feel uncomfortable.

            “How do you know that he might not have changed his mind, if he knew?” Shelley whispered. “Don’t put yourself down, Livia.”

             First, I am not his type. Second, he is way too popular and too many prettier girls like him. Third, he has tended so far to date girls his own age. Fourth, I am beyond his notice because nothing about me stands out. Fifth, he has little insight into me and never showed interest in wanting much. I was simply his capable worker bee and a substitute for his little sister. Finally, I do not think he seeks a serious girlfriend at school, anyway.


Chapter 12: Summer in London (For the Most Part)
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            Livia enjoyed the train ride home, satisfied that she had her first real sizable break in a long time and that students on board felt elated to have the time off. The raucousness carried through the whole train during the entire trip. She would miss getting Hagrid’s assistance to gain everything she needed for the fall term but thought she could bring something to Diagon Alley to carry whatever she bought or could successfully shrink it so she could carry it without difficulty. She would also get to see what exactly existed in her vault, which she had not seen after setting it up nearly two years beforehand.

            She wondered if Professor Snape would contact her at King’s Cross before her brother found her, though an owl carrying a note for her likely would not upset him. She just did not know how she could explain the author, to anyone who saw it. She figured she would have to claim that it came from the headmaster, instead, though other students might find that implausible. She carefully preserved the list of things she obtained to know what to bring back to Hogwarts for the New Year. She had to hide it in her bag, given the writing and the parchment used. She wished she had gotten an answer to her question to Professor Dumbledore about the West family, since that might help her with her excuses to Tom – or maybe she had a relative that could accompany her.

            She collected contact information from her Ravenclaw friends, Reggie and Clara during the trip, also. It seemed that a number of them had to scatter fairly far away from where Livia might wind up. They told her, though, that owls figured out the location of people without a full address, especially if they had taken mail to someone already. Livia had no means to do that in London though, unless she befriended more of them. She still found herself quite reluctant to buy one, until it occurred to her she could ask each if any would prefer to live more freely than a pet would, with the occasional responsibility of carrying mail in exchange for food rewards.

            Finally, the train entered the station and Livia collected what she had and made a few trips to get everything, finding a trolley to load it all. As she started placing her things, she quickly said goodbye to as many people as she could, given so many others had family there to greet the students. She soon seemed almost entirely alone in the midst of such a bustling and buzzing scene. She got everything settled when she spotted a large owl swooping down towards her. This Great Grey Owl dropped a note at her feet. The owl retreated to a rooftop trestle, as if waiting for an answer. She figured Professor Snape had found the right carrier to meet the train. The note said:

Dear Miss Woodcock,
 
I have to put off doing the inventory and such until close to your birthday again. I established that as a typical pattern some years ago and cannot change it presently.
 
I will not return until 27 August. We would have to work soon after. If you cannot respond now, call this owl Ellen, and she will get a note to me.
                    
Your services do positively affect the school, even if it remains vital to us both that I never openly acknowledge this – nor you.

 I have access to a means to get you back to London instantly. Typically, an adult must supervise its use. I will show you.

Sincerely,
P.S.

Livia pondered the note. The fact that the author abbreviated his signature did not escape her notice. She figured he did it to somewhat disguise his identity. Whilst getting there might be quite a trip – if one that would give her a chance to improve her flying skills – the idea that he could return her to London instantly intrigued her. It made her wonder why anyone needed a broom ever. She would have to ask. She also figured Hagrid must have used this when he found her at King’s Cross yet seemed to return to Hogwarts so quickly.

            Livia decided to accept his invitation. She knew no one else would even consider it. Livia questioned her motivation beyond her curiosity as to this instant transportation method he mentioned. Still, he wrote a very civil letter. Maybe for once he could manage being more like that in person. He challenged her in so many ways, and given how she relished a challenge, she had to accept this. She wrote a quick reply after carefully destroying his note:

  Dear Professor Snape,

It sounds as if you are sensitive to my only issue about the timing. Therefore, I will be there no later than the 27th and will await you notifying me of your arrival. I will try to reclaim my room for that time.

See you then. Enjoy your time away.

Best,
Livia Woodcock

After writing it, Livia recognized that she had changed how she usually closed her notes to him, rather unthinkingly. She wondered what he would make of it, if anything. In any case, it seemed innocuous enough. Livia thus called to Ellen still perched above the platform and gave her the note, simply addressed to “Professor Snape.” Ellen thanked Livia for not making her wait long, took the note and flew off.

            With that task finished, she made her way to the muggle platform area and found a porter to ask him to direct her to the closest elevator. Shortly thereafter, Livia found herself on the street level pushing out her trolley and wondering how she would find Tom in the crowded station. She decided to make her way towards the area where they had shared their last meal before he departed for Durham. He must have thought of the same thing because she spotted him as soon as she got close to it. Tom was standing with Alice, John, Jake and Audrey. It looked as if he intended to split them up to cover more ground, but her arrival made doing that unnecessary. Livia had thought Tom would come alone, so seeing him with four other people surprised her.

            “Blimey, I did not expect a committee greeting me,” Livia said, as she started to embrace each in turn. “How is everyone?”

            All seemed to indicate contentment, if not better. They came to mark Tom’s 6 July birthday to be exact. Livia not spent his birthday with him in a few years, a situation she gladly would remedy in 1987, though it would take her a few days to get a decent present.

            “How’s the wedding planning, going?” She directed at Jake and Audrey as people took various things off her trolley, leaving only with her own backpack, where her most sensitive belongings lay.

            “It goes very well,” Audrey said. “You are more than welcome to come when we have the ceremony and such in a few weeks. The wedding will not be that grand, but my father went all out for the reception. I think he wants to impress some Americans he, Jake and John know.”

            As they reached the street and began looking for a taxi to fit all of them, Livia asked, “I would be going by myself, I guess?”

            “Why, do you have a boyfriend to invite?” Jake inquired.

            “No,” Livia answered. “An unrequited crush I had, that’s all. He was older and I doubt paid me much attention, as he finds attractive blondes to date. I do not intend to seek him out. I might be able to find a friend, though, if you felt it appropriate and could accommodate two more.”

            “I have no reason to object and I’m sure I can convince my father it is okay,” Audrey asserted. “So by all means try. We are holding it Friday, July 29. Your brother has the particulars.”

            “Where are we all going?” Livia asked Tom, as everything but Livia’s personal bag got put into the cargo area.

            “I finagled a space in Russell Square, close to the Chancery Lane area Tom will need to go,” Alice revealed. “It is close enough for him without having to continually have to be confined to where he needs to work. I wanted a little breathing room.”

            “So your family can keep an eye on us instead, eh?” Tom asked, somewhat sarcastically.

            “They will not bother you,” Alice responded. “But they may distract me enough to keep me from disrupting your studies. I thought that aspect had value.”

            “I know,” Tom admitted. “Very thoughtful and very impressive you could land such a nice space. Any student I come across certainly will envy me, just for that.”

            A catered, birthday dinner awaited them back in the flat Tom and Alice – and temporarily Livia – shared. All of her things got put into the room that would function ultimately as Tom’s study space, though it also included a single bed for Livia’s use whenever she needed it. During the meal, they all talked about many things, ranging from how John and Perita broke up (John entirely took the blame for it) to how Audrey’s father arranged for the couple to get some photos taken at the garden at Kew itself, though the reception would take place at a private club after a simple civil ceremony that both bride and groom wanted. In Audrey’s mind, the photos and reception offered plenty and civil ceremonies had become very popular.

            “Just don’t tell my Dad that,” Tom asserted. “He may have figured it out, but I doubt he wants anyone to say it to him. It’s a good thing he will not be there.”

            “My family would accept it, if forced to do it, but they would not like it, either,” Alice said. “My Dad would probably want to invite the queen herself, though I rate the probability of her attendance as .00000001 percent. I would consider it tremendously fortunate to get a card.”

            John got his turn to talk about new trends in the music industry and how much he enjoyed working for a record label, even if he did not necessarily send things from his own company. “We all know each other and all enjoy the stuff various people produce, so we non-executives share stuff freely, so long as no one upstairs knows about it. The bosses probably have a vague notion but do not get nosy about it because knowing what everyone releases gives us insight as to what new artists we should try to find. For example, I have contacts in America that tell me we should look to new artists emerging from the Seattle, Washington area – it is sorta punk and rock and the name associated with this is typically ‘grunge’. They just are waiting to see who really sets themselves apart to reach a large enough audience for us to get involved, even just as a distributor.”

            “I helped organize a dance featuring a lot of the music you have gotten to me via Tom,” Livia stated. “Right now, I must listen to The Joshua Tree about every day.”

            “I told you, Tom, that album would change everything for U2,” John said. “How did the event go, Livia?”

            “Pretty well,” she answered. “We held it at the end of the term but before exam studying really got intense. Well over 150 people came, which was a good turnout. Gary showed me how his hotel set up its sound system, which really provided me with insight as to how to carry a large room. We had a decent variety of music, too, in terms of tempo, artist and such.”

            “How come you never say much about your studies?” Audrey queried. “Given your brother takes them so seriously, I would think you would have a lot to say about them.”

            “I am pretty quiet in my classes and work hard,” Livia responded. “I have mentioned studying botany and working with various animals.”

            “That cannot be everything,” Jake suggested. “No boarding school would have such a limited number of subjects – I mean, how is that supposed to translate to attending a university?”

            “I may not need to go to one,” Livia stated. “If I read my headmaster correctly, I think he wants me to stay on and tutor students. The faculty, on the whole, seem to praise my written assignments the most – that is not something they formally teach, yet they do expect students to be able to write.”

            “That does not make sense to me, Livia,” Tom asserted. “If faculty expect students to master a skill, why would they not provide instruction in it?”

            “I do not know the answer,” Livia replied. “I can only tell you that my head of house – one of four they have – has told students that if they ever did offer a writing class, I should teach it.”

            “Now that is the Livia I know,” Tom observed. “The quiet part does not seem like my sister at all.”

            “I learn most by observation right now,” she said. “So I sit in the back and just take everything in as best I can.”

            “They challenge you well, then?” Tom asked.

            “Many of them do,” she answered. “Part of challenge comes with my lack of familiarity with some of the material they present. Other times particular instructors try to push me hard to see how well I can do.”

            “And you succeed,” Tom asserted. “Every. Single. Time. I have NO doubt.”

            “On most things,” Livia responded. “I cannot say I can master everything because some things take longer. I still have four years to get all of it. But I think I make good progress.”

            After John, Jake and Audrey left, Livia found a quiet moment to write a short letter to Ted, who she thought might be the closest distance-wise and the most available for Jake and Audrey’s reception. She made sure to use Tom’s pens and paper:

Dear Ted,

I know you just got home and forgive me for feeling I need to ask this right away. And I intentionally write this with Tom’s belongings – I hope you know why I do it.
 
Anyway, two of my brother’s friends are getting married on Friday, 29 July, and they invited me to the ceremony and the reception, the latter which I believe will take place at some private club near Kew Gardens, the wedding site. I wondered if you would be able to join me, since being by myself might draw the wrong kind of attention and my brother may be preoccupied (he and his girlfriend are official witnesses). If not, do not sweat it. I will ask another roommate we had this year.

My brother stays in a top floor flat in the south corner of Russell Square in London, mostly through the contacts of his girlfriend. If you cannot respond right away, I leave that information in case you need it to help find me.

Just let me know, so I still have lead time if I need it.

 All my best,
Livia

Livia thought that note served its purpose and appropriately acknowledged that Ted had barely settled in at home. She hoped that she did not have to search for weeks to find someone to say “yes.” She found a window she could open in the back of the room and after addressing the envelope silently called out for any available owl willing to deliver a letter in exchange for some food – before leaving and upon return if an answer came from it.

          She waited a few minutes before a marvelous-looking Long-eared Owl appeared at the window. Livia bowed and provided some snack food owls liked as an alternative to rodents now and again. After she asked the owl for its name and he said Sherlock, she presented the letter and told him where Sherlock could find her intended recipient. Sherlock ate the rest of the food fairly quickly, took the letter and flew off into the night. Livia found herself awed by Sherlock’s speed and agility and hoped the food provided him enough fuel for the whole trip, should he return. Livia had no idea how long the trip took, however. She hoped that she could gauge what he needed by his return, and he would not be too inconvenienced. She had to do right by him so that he would aid her, if needed. She hoped then that she never had to domesticate an owl to do work.

         Luckily for Livia, Ted had a few muggle relatives, including a grandparent, and he remembered enough about things she had said at the Ravenclaw table to know why attending a muggle wedding reception alone might give her cause for concern. They could not practice magic but the ban could make a young girl vulnerable, given she had no idea who all would attend. Livia constantly showed prudence, thoughtfulness and care because she typically had to do it. Frankly, Ted could not turn down a free meal, either. Even if he did not consistently like muggle food, he found catered receptions featured the best of what they could offer. He would do this, though he decided he would try to get Livia to do him a favor, also. He quickly wrote back:

Dear Livia,

I would be honored to do this with you. I understand your caution only too well. Oddly enough, however, I have never seen much of London beyond the Leaky Cauldron and King’s Cross Station.

If you can make arrangements for me to stay over, at least after the reception, where you currently reside, and take me around some places on the Saturday afterward, I will gladly meet you wherever seems appropriate for making the reception.

Just send me the particulars at your earliest convenience. If the logistics make more sense for me to attend the wedding (that is, come sooner), I will do that, too. I want to give you flexibility since some of the arrangements will be out of your hands, and you will need to observe those limits.

My family, my father at least, can bore if not annoy me pretty quickly, among other things, so this diversion works for me.

All my best.
Your friend,
Ted

Livia got the note the same night from Sherlock and inquired about what she could give him in gratitude for his service. He simply said he wanted a larger portion of what she had given him before. She gladly did so and asked if could come back and deliver a similar message to the same location in the near future. He assented, though indicted he wished that she had a rodent for him on the outgoing trip. They sustained him longer. She agreed and he left shortly after eating.

            Ted also took care to use muggle paper and a pen, so Livia could show Tom and Alice the note the next day. Tom asked her how she had done that so quickly. “I had his address and found an owl willing to take it,” Livia said. “Why is that so surprising?”

            “I got no reason,” he admitted. “I have grown so accustomed to you using them with me that I discounted recognizing that you easily could use them with a classmate, too.”

            “What’s the Leaky Cauldron?” Alice asked. “That name sounds oddly familiar to me.”

            “I believe it is a pub, though one that has seen its better days, perhaps when Ted was younger,” Livia answered. “I believe it sits on Charing Cross Road, though I am not sure how closely its location relates to the rail station.”

            “Maybe you can invite him to come sometime on Thursday and meet you there, if he knows it,” Alice suggested. “I’m sure we can find a way for him to sleep comfortably here. Is he really not your boyfriend, Livia?”

            “No, he isn’t,” Livia replied. “We did share a room together with three other girls and three other boys. You remember that issue with one girl and that her male cousin wanted to protect her personally. So if you want to know, yes, we have slept in the same room at the same time. But he was not the boy I had a crush on – and I would prefer if you do not mention that to him, since I believe he knows that particular lad. I do not want that information to become common knowledge. I have to go back, and that boy will still be there.”

            “I hear you,” Alice affirmed. “I remember that dilemma all too well. You like someone, and he does not notice and, as a girl, you are really not supposed to be the one to tell him. If you have to tell him, chances are he does not fancy you, anyway. You are stuck waiting for some piece of good luck or to get over the infatuation before someone can humiliate you about it.”

            “Exactly,” Livia agreed. “Ted may say too much to the wrong person, just because he has no idea how this feels.”

            “He will not hear it from me,” Alice asserted. “Tom?”

            “Nor I,” he affirmed. “Can you get a rollaway mattress from someone around here, Alice?”

            “Probably,” she replied. “I’ll ring a few people I know. Ask him if he would like me to get anything in particular, like a cereal or type of bread or tea, whatever. ”

            “Tell him we will set something up for him to come Thursday and meet you at this Leaky Cauldron – if that’s the best place to meet – at whatever time he prefers,” Tom said. “We will just take you with us and then he can leave on Saturday or Sunday – whichever he wants. I would like to meet someone from your school. You tell me so little, and he will be proof the place exists.”

            The three spent an agreeable summer day visiting places like Westminster Abbey and some open markets, including one near Covent Garden. Before retiring for the night Livia did a little hunting and was able to zero in on a recently deceased rodent. She might have caught one, but did not relish the little thing talking to her and begging for his or her life. A freshly dead one would do, once she determined it had not died of poisoning – since that would kill the owl who consumed it. No, a local cat had mortally wounded it, and the mouse escaped the cat only to die from its injuries. She clearly saw the puncture and claw marks similar to those she had seen Sarah make. Thus she set out to write Ted another letter just as she wrote the first:

Dear Ted,

Tom and Alice found what you wrote agreeable and Alice is hunting to borrow a portable bed that you can use here. They think that because you know the Leaky Cauldron (Alice thought she might have heard the name before) and a pub is smaller than a rail station, you should pick a time to meet me there on Thursday Then I can convey you to their flat, though we could stop somewhere along the way.

After the reception, each also said you could depart at whatever time on Saturday or Sunday that you wished. Alice also wanted to know if she could get you anything special to eat – like a cereal or type of bread or tea or whatever she could buy.

Let me know when you can. I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

All my best,
Livia

Livia called for Sherlock and he did not disappoint, showing up in less than two minutes. She told him of the mouse, who a local cat had mortally wounded but did not get a chance to eat. He accepted it gratefully, swallowed it whole and took the letter and headed out to Ted’s home.

            Ted answered very quickly and decisively. He must have, Livia thought, since Sherlock returned in just over an hour. He wrote:

Dear Livia,

Sounds great. Meet me at the Leaky Cauldron at 2 pm Thursday, 28 July. I can get there pretty easily. We should be able to enjoy a few things before we get to your brother’s flat. I need to warn you that I likely will not have much sterling currency on me, so you might have to ensure we have that covered. Or we will need to visit a particular bank first.

That might also determine when I should return home, since I hate to impose.

My tastes are simple, I think. Earl Grey tea, cinnamon bread buttered toast or plain white bread if that cannot be obtained. Cheddar cheese on plain toast works, too, as does common muesli. I am no fan of the typical cooked English breakfast.

See you in a few weeks! Looking forward to it. I can only tolerate my father in short doses, since I can never do anything right according to him.

All my best.
Your friend,
Ted

The message seemed perfect to Livia, and she made sure she handsomely rewarded Sherlock for his service, especially his quickness. She bowed to him, he said farewell after he ate and he flew again out the window into the darkness.

            The few weeks Livia had before 28 July often involved only her and Alice, as various errands often required Tom’s attention. They did all enjoy attending “The Phantom of the Opera,”* which had become a West End sensation and a tough ticket to get. Livia most often saw Tom at breakfast and dinner, given various people he had to contact, paperwork he had to complete and appointments his firm wanted him to make. Since they sponsored him, he meticulously attended to all their requests and whatever suggestions his mentor made. For Livia, the time with Alice gave her an opportunity to discover that they liked similar activities and shared musical tastes. She also asked Alice what she knew about the Leaky Cauldron, since it was not a prominent location for tourists or even locals. Alice could not remember, except that she thought that she heard an uncle or great uncle talk about it many years beforehand. She had never been there herself. From what Livia learned, she thought that Ted could simply walk there from the Charing Cross station, which connected London to many other points south, especially in Kent.

            Livia and Alice went to a market in Covent Garden that featured a palm reader. Alice decided both should get a session. Alice was told she would have two children, a long life and enjoy a happy marriage. She would also make her own mark outside of it and encouraged her to do more with her gifts. Then he saw Livia, who held some trepidation about what the reader would say about her. He said he saw her having two children and spending many years attached to a place she already knew. He said she kept a great number of secrets in her life, and if they did not grow, others would replace those she revealed. He saw her as capable, smart and powerful and recommended that she use her heart more, rather than less, to find balance and happiness in what would be a very long life. She felt greatly relieved he had not revealed anything harmful and figured that he referred to Hogwarts, given what the headmaster had said already. Unlike Alice, she asked no questions, in case they might provoke a comment she did not wish to hear.

            Finally, the day had come when Livia would meet Ted. Tom had given Livia £30 for the day, figuring it would tide them over for the afternoon, but unbeknownst to him, Alice had given her £50 to ensure they would not miss a meal or a museum because they lacked enough money. For a few hours, Livia had more than enough for two people.

            Livia took the Piccadilly Line and the Northern Line to get to Charing Cross and walked to the Leaky Cauldron. She thought she was close to being on time if not exactly on time, but Ted already was sitting at a table waiting for her when she walked inside. Each joyously greeted the other and Livia asked him if he wanted to see anything in particular – the Crown Jewels, Buckingham Palace, the National Portrait Gallery or something else.

            He asked her how she traveled around London and what would keep them on any particular schedule her brother had in mind. She suggested taking the London Underground (Tube) to Leicester Square and walking around toward Covent Garden, where they could later take a different line to close to her brother’s flat. He admitted having no experience with this form of transportation but found everything Livia showed him enjoyable, even the Actor’s Church. Ted also said he had no idea regarding any of the things she mentioned so anything she chose would please him. Since Livia loved the National Portrait Gallery, she suggested going there on Saturday. She found it interesting for its historical value and for the subtleties that the typical visitors missed. He totally figured out what she meant in terms of the word she had avoided using.

            At a little before six o’clock, Livia got back to Russell Square and gained access Tom’s building and used a spare key to enter the flat. Both Tom and Alice sat on the couch, hoping they would arrive sooner versus later, so they could enjoy a nice meal nearby. They both greeted Ted warmly and expressed happiness that they both had the opportunity to meet someone Livia knew from her school. Ted thought Tom was more anxious about meeting him but could not figure out why until they had a chance to be alone when Alice and Livia went to a lavatory together at dinner.

            “Livia tells me so little about her school,” Tom began. “Is she okay? Does she have friends? Do people like her? I am not used to these feelings as her guardian. I worry about her so, but I have no clue as to what to do about how I feel. I’m probably negligent here.”

            “She’s fine,” Ted answered. “All of us in her room this past year consider her a friend, though Shelley Silver is her best friend. If you are asking me about her popularity, I do not think enough people know her well. She does not actively alienate them, but you must know that she is so smart and so self-disciplined that people do not know what to make of her. Those who know her to any extent know she is gentle, thoughtful, cheerful and very placid. At times she has amazed me with some of the things she has done.”

            “What do you mean?” Tom asked.

            “Well, most of us students have a few professors that we find intimidating and one in particular exceeds all of them in cutting remarks or finding fault with students or their work,” Ted replied. “But Livia never lets anyone – including this professor – bother her in the least. I mean, if he stares at someone, they are shaking – or God forbid, he wants to see a student alone in his office. She has had a few exchanges with him, and went to his office during her first year. Yet he never gets under her skin. No one can fathom it. I think, as a result, she seems quite unreal.”

            “After what she dealt with – and I have read the medical reports of her years in a juvenile detention center where she never belonged – I can see her being totally unfazed about anything directed at her verbally,” Tom revealed. “If he cannot seriously hit her, he will not hurt her.”

            “No, he cannot strike her,” Ted affirmed. “Even if he wanted to.”

            “Why would he want to do that?” Tom asked.

            “Well, I understand she once laughed in his class whilst he was upbraiding some other student for poor work. I don’t think anyone has ever done that, and he was quite angry about it. That was last year, though. She had one scrape with him this year, but it was not her fault. Her friend Shelley was trying to get her to explain something, and Livia did not want to say anything during class. For whatever reason, he laced into both of them over the incident. I guess he does not like her, but truth be told, he seems only to favor students from his own house.”

            “His house?” Tom asked, not recalling Livia’s earlier reference to this.

            “Our school has four different residential areas named for each of the school’s four founders. I belong to the same house as Livia, which is in part how we got a space together. The professor I speak of heads another house.”

            “But she performs sufficiently in his class?” Tom queried.

            “Definitely. That must frustrate him. He would be overjoyed if she were his student, but since she belongs to another house and he cannot find fault with her work, he probably tries to invent reasons to disparage her or try to rattle her.”

            “Sounds like she handles adversity well. That does not surprise me.”

            Just then Livia and Alice returned and the meal continued pleasantly. Ted said he would give Livia money when they got back to campus, but neither Tom nor Alice would hear of it.

            “We are happy to have you here,” Alice stated. “Do not think about it. My parents have already given me more than enough money – for a lifetime, perhaps.”

            The rest of the weekend went extremely well. None of Tom’s family attended the wedding. Jake and Audrey’s relatives acted kindly to both Ted and Livia. Still, Livia profusely thanked Ted then for coming as they were dancing after the meal. She had no idea what to expect, and anyone who might have presented a problem to a young girl by herself never materialized because he was there. Ted and Livia did a lot of sightseeing on Saturday, so much so that he decided he should sleep there that night instead of go home. Livia accompanied Ted back to the Leaky Cauldron Sunday morning, before meeting up with Tom and Alice. Livia asked him why he wanted to return there, but he only said the Cauldron possessed a special means to get him home, without spelling it out, since his parents had to be involved. Livia could only wonder if this is what Professor Snape had meant. She figured it had to be, since Hagrid got back to Hogwarts so quickly. She had no access without a guardian, so apparently he would do that – quite an exceptional act.

            August passed very well, though Livia could tell Tom had started getting anxious about the legal course that awaited him. She did know how to tell him about her planned trip, but figured that she needed to enlist Shelley in the scheme. She got Shelock to deliver a letter to Shelley, telling her that she needed to take a short trip and wanted to use her as the excuse for it – that is, she would tell Tom that she would leave to visit her. She told her this just in case he ran into her at King’s Cross and he asked about Livia’s visit. She begged Shelley not to ask where Livia had to go or why – as it related to the headmaster’s edict to her and saying too much could cause problems. Shelley sent back a short note saying she would do as Livia asked and also inquired as to when Livia would go to shop at Diagon Alley, since it would be something they could do together. Livia replied suggesting the afternoon of 28 August would likely work, and she would alert Shelley when she got to the Leaky Cauldron.

            Livia told Tom she needed to leave on the 26th and would return late in the afternoon of the 28th. He need not cancel anything regarding her birthday, but she reminded him that perhaps a little space without her could help him prepare for his own work. Since she set off during the day, she had to figure out how she could do it. She opted to go to the hidden King’s Cross platform and take off on her broom. Before she set off, she put on her Walkman headphones and put the player in a slot in her backpack. Shrinking everything else made the bag easy to carry on her back.

            Following the tracks, even from fairly high in the sky went well. She felt confident enough to even try singing a U2 song in her own voice – which she practically never did. The trip gave her some practice to a voice she typically ignored. She could never perfect male falsetto yells or cries, so she did them at a lower octave, which seemed to work, as best as she could hear her own voice. She arrived at Hogwarts late that afternoon and told the staff she had only come for a few days to do a pre-arranged task that Professor Snape got her to agree to do in exchange for his assessment of her work as “Outstanding.” A few seemed to remember that she had done this the prior year owing to an exam. To themselves, they figured he had something on her, since they could not imagine anyone willingly helping him or spending time with him.

            He returned to campus early the evening of the 27th and sent notice to her that she could either start then or wait until early in the morning. Thinking of the crows and owls, early in the morning might work for more of them, depending on how early. She sent him that note and he responded that he would have breakfast waiting in the potion room for her and that she should also bring all her belongings because he would send her to London as soon as they finished.

            She found him already there about to begin his survey when she arrived at just about 06:30. This time Livia found a setup with two sets of cups and dishes as well as flatware and pot of tea. It looked like he had already had some tea.

            “Nice of you to join me, Miss Woodcock,” he said flatly. Livia had not thought that she had arrived late but perhaps he did.

            Livia put her stuff down, and walked over to him, now standing in his inventory closet. “What would you like me to do first?”

            “Are you ready to work?” he asked.

            “Yes,” she replied. “I may want a little tea, but it is a little early for me to think about food just yet.”

            “I thought the same thing,” he stated, still rather emotionless. “Set up two lists. One will include things I need to order, noting which I will obtain quickly and the second will list the items that will take longer to get that you will have to see if your avian friends can supply to fill the gap.”

            “Professor, why don’t you order those things when the prior term ends?” Livia asked. He glared at her. “Just curious, sir.”

            “Some of these items go bad, especially over the summer, despite all my preservation efforts. I have tried to do that before, and I wound up needing to reorder and had poor quality stock until the new things arrived. Fresh and local vastly exceeds distant and rancid.”

            He methodically called out items and which list or lists Livia needed to use. She carefully followed his orders. She thought to herself he was all business, which did not quite match the letter he had written. She guessed print versus in person meant two different things to him. Or maybe he could manage sounding polite when he wanted something. She dropped thinking about him, after hoping he would seem somewhat more human after she completed the inventory lists.

            Despite the economy of the setup, it still took over an hour to go through everything. At the end, she handed him his list of things he had to reorder with the notation beneath it of those he would reorder and wait some time to receive while she sought help with the other list. He began emptying jars of non-viable material and placed them on the table. Livia meantime had opened a window and called out to all crows and owls able to assist again in retrieving local materials for the potion inventory storage. “Taking a break now?” Professor Snape asked.

            “I may as well, since I cannot just snap my fingers and have a murder of crows in the room,” Livia answered. “Why don’t you sit as well?”

            “Okay,” he agreed. “By the way, Happy Birthday.”

            Livia could not pass up a chance to gently tease him. “Thank you. Do you have a present for me?” she inquired, trying to smile innocently.

            “I did not know we were going to start exchanging gifts,” he replied. Again, he used an almost spiritless, grim tone.

            She laughed. “Do you ever laugh, Professor Snape?”

            “There is nothing much to laugh about, from my vantage point.”

            “That is a shame,” Livia asserted. “Never mind what Goethe said, being able to laugh sometimes is the only thing one can do to prevent either crying or going barking mad.”

            “Well, I do neither of those,” he pointed out.

            Just then Alastair, Benedict and several of their friends along with both Sevy and Mel showed up. Mel said Sydney had just bid goodbye to the last of this season’s clutch and needed to sleep. Livia got up, addressed each creature and assigned a task, telling each which jar to place it in and if they were uncertain where anything went to just ask before dropping anything. She bowed to all and left a large amount of food for all outside the window to take as they needed nourishment. She then sat back down. Professor Snape had eyed her carefully but had not moved.

            “You can do something for me, if you would indulge me a wee bit today,” Livia began, “Tell me something that you do not share with others.”

            He eyed her somewhat suspiciously. “How about that I know about your crush all last year on Bill Weasley?”

            “Oh, that’s wicked, sir. Who told you that?” Livia shook her head and with it down rolled her eyes. He is one tough cookie, as some would say.

            “The headmaster. He said he could see it during your room check of the Great Hall before staff installed the Winter Ball decorations, much as you tried to hide it.”

            “Yes, I had to accept that and get through it,” Livia revealed. “I hope I have. But you clearly dodged my intent of getting you to tell me something about yourself, not about me.”

            He seemed to grit his teeth. “How about this – the letter you wrote to your brother about me was more accurate than I ever want anyone to know. It compelled me to rethink my own skills and figure out how best to improve them so that no one ever can write anything like that again.”

            “That’s better, thank you,” Livia observed. “Of course, I wondered if you lacked someone like my brother or you lost that person. Which is it?”

            “Lost,” he said dryly.

            “Is she still alive?” Livia asked, though realizing he never indicated a gender or the nature of the relationship. She had made that leap on her own.

            “No,” he answered. “Look, some of your avian friends are back.”

            Livia walk to the jars, ensured who had what and that each went into the correct container. The job, however, still required more things, the hardest being what she asked Mel and Sevy to bring. Neither had returned yet.

            “I am sorry you lost someone you cared about so much,” Livia said softly. “I think you must have loved her a great deal.”

            “I still do,” he said, looking very uncomfortably at her. What did I do to make this so apparent to her?

            That is so harsh. Livia felt like what he said had smacked across the face. He had set himself a very bitter road to travel. She realized his only outlet came at the expense of his students. “I wish I had the ability to say something profound, whereas I can only repeat the fact that I will never betray anything you have told me to anyone,” Livia said, sounding quite sad. “This burden makes having an unrequited crush on Bill Weasley seem like an utter joke.”

            He might have let her off the hook a little, be it so unlike him, considering all that played a role with him, but her apparent remorse ensured her silence, so he said nothing. Moreover, just then, they both noticed that more crows had entered the room. Livia again ensured each properly placed each item in its labeled container and bowed to them as they left. As soon as she finished with them, Mel and Sevy returned with their items and they also dropped them off appropriately and she bowed to both. Mel noted that the crows had eaten most of the food already and asked for more, which Livia provided. At that time, Sevy had made a respectful gesture to Professor Snape.

            “Your avian friends have come through again – completely,” Professor Snape stated. “But I still need your help making a few potions now, so they will be ready when I need them. Then I will get you back home.”

            He brought out some additional ingredients and gave her directions for her potion making whilst he got to work on his own. The both worked meticulously, with both artistry and skill. Livia had nearly finished adding all her ingredients when she noted that she needed to reach for a knife to chop up the last one. Professor Snape had just then reached for the same knife. Livia had not noticed because she was not looking, so she inadvertently placed her hand on top of the exposed part of his hand as he was about to grasp the handle.

            “Oh, pardon me, sir,” Livia said. “I am so sorry.”

            “You know, you should look at a sharp object before trying to pick it up,” he stated.

            By then, a searing sensation had started to travel up her arm. She completed the last part of her potion one-handed and with it completed, she sat down, beginning to breathe heavily, hyperventilating, as if struck by what some would call air hunger.

            “What are you doing?” Professor Snape asked. “Your first task is done, but I have one more for you to do.”

            “I-I-I can’t breathe,” Livia said. “Ohhh, the pain. Do you live with this every day?”

            “What?” he asked.

            “Your-your hand. I-I-I left myself too-too-too open. It’s like someone has my-my body in-in a vise. My-my-my ribs hurt, this-this-this squeezing.” Living kept exhaling, blowing air out of her body and trying to draw enough in. “I-I-I can’t go-go on-on like this. I-I have-have never felt so h-horrible.”

            “What’s wrong?” he asked.

            She kept trying to exhale, kept trying to rub parts of her midsection and raising her hands to try to relieve it. Nothing helped. “I-I feel it. Every-everything. Love. Guilt. Pain. I-I am-am nauseous. I-I feel-feel dizzy. I-I-I had no-no idea. I-I am-am so-so sorry.” She thought she might pass out.

            Was she sorry she had touched him or sorry for the torment that remained within him? Maybe both. He did not think a potion would help. It seemed to him, this was entirely something only she understood and only she could fix. But he fully recognized that it had come from him. Somehow she had removed a portion of all that oppressed him, but only a part of it. That much he felt. Still, he could not answer how he lived with all of it. “What do you need?” he asked.

          “I-I think I-I need to go-go outside with-with my-my Walkman, s-sir,” she said.

          “No, too risky and time consuming,” he said. “Can you do it here and now?”

         “But-but the sound, it-it travels,” she said.

         “I am better at that than you,” he said. He secured the room. He retrieved her Walkman. “Do it in your own voice. I doubt you can use another right now. It might help more, too.” He amplified the sound. Livia found the tape where she had a song she herself could sing, if occasionally at a lower octave at the end. Fittingly, it was U2's "With or Without You.” He hit play.

          Livia had to muster a lot of strength to begin, but at least the song began more meekly than it ended. She found about midway through it she could sing fully, if with more desperation than she herself ever had known.

My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose...*

  
The last chorus was strongly voiced, full throated yet desperate. Yet by the last lines, Livia had begun to steady herself on her chair. The vocal ended, however, with almost a moaning cry, and Livia tried to reach out to the table to give her better support. Instead, her hand slipped and, missing it entirely, she lost her balance and crashed onto the hard stone floor.

            Professor Snape had been mostly expressionless though he was hearing her exorcising part of his own inner turmoil. He kept his thoughts to himself. He betrayed far too much for one day. He contemplated using the Forgetfulness Potion on her, though he rejected the idea, ultimately, given that she might forget too much. If she did, she inadvertently could make him more vulnerable from whatever she might say than if she remembered and kept quiet. Seeing her fall so hard, he immediately rushed to her side. “Livia, can you hear me?” he asked. “Are you all right?”

            She sat up and coughed hard. “I will be okay. Let me get to the chair and give me a minute.” Only hours later in London would she realize that he had called her by her first name, which he never had done before.

            She drank some more tea and found something left over to eat. Slowly, she regained her own senses and control of her own body. She exhaled one final time and carefully stood up. “Thank you,” she stated. “I am ready to start the rest of the work.”

            He did not entirely believe her, after what he had just witnessed. Yet he saw she was feisty and determined. He had to admire that.

            “If you say so,” he asserted. “Here is what I want you to do.” He laid out the directions for her task as went about his own.

            She felt stronger as the work continued. By the end of the morning, they had completed multiple batches of all four potions he needed to store for later use. He evaluated her work on both potions as impeccable. That in itself held no great surprise, but seeing that the second proved every bit as potent as the first, she had shown how capable she could perform, on even her worst day.

            Both transferred the various ingredients into the inventory closet room. Then he carefully handed the maturing potions so that he could use them later. It was nearly noon when they cleared everything and the breakfast items got set back to the staff.  He asked her to gather her things and follow him to his head of Slytherin office.

            “Don’t worry, no one here will notice, and the headmaster has cleared this already,” Professor Snape told her.

            Livia entered an unfamiliar office, different than his faculty room and decorated with pictures of former heads of the house. She also took note of a fireplace in the room, something lacking in his faculty space and one without a shred of wood nearby. Only a burlap sack containing black powder sat adjacent to it.

            Seeing that the fireplace had gotten her attention, he inquired if she knew what it was. She told him that she did not. He told her this fireplace had a special purpose and would convey her to the Leaky Cauldron almost instantly. He demonstrated first without entering it, telling her what she needed to do, that she needed to speak clearly and use the powder to make her transportation take place. He warned her about the perils of not being clear and not doing this correctly.

            “Can you go with me?” Livia asked. “I have never done this.”

            “No, I cannot,” he replied. “If you were a baby, I could. But I can follow you to verify that you arrived safely. But typically only one person goes at a time.”

            “Please, sir, I do not wish to mess this up,” Livia said.

            “Somehow, I doubt you will, Miss Woodcock,” he asserted. “But I will verify it. The headmaster will appreciate that I do it, anyway.”

            Livia took a handful of the black powder, asked for the Leaky Cauldron and cast down the powder. The action was swift and felt like a great “woosh” of sound and wind had surrounded her. When she could see, the recognized the Leaky Cauldron. She stepped away from the fireplace and turned around. Within a few seconds, she saw Professor Snape had followed her and could say she had arrived safely.

            “Thank you, sir,” she said.

            He reached for another small handful of power and only told her, rather tersely, “See you next week.”  He asked to return to his house office and had gone in a puff of an odd fire and breeze.

           “Was that who I think it was?” a patron loudly asked from across the room.

            Not sure of the person who spoke to her, Livia turned and opted to inquire more from a man sitting across the room. “Who do you think you saw?”       

           “It looked like Severus Snape, though I have not seen him in a long time.”

            Livia found something unsavory about the person speaking to her. She made sure he could not detect anything but sincerity. “No, that was my uncle. I think a few people have said this to him before, and usually it bothers him.”

            He did try to verify what she had said, figuring a lie from an underage girl would be easy to detect. He believed that she was at least a half-blood witch and that what she said seemed to him entirely sincere. “Okay,” he acknowledged. “Thought I saw an old friend.”

            Livia did not buy this for a second. He knew Professor Snape, but he had an agenda that she did not find entirely friendly at all. They may have had a friendship before but not now. She had more insight into him than he knew about her, but Livia knew well enough to let it go.

            She inquired for the innkeeper and said she was supposed to meet Shelley Silver that afternoon. She asked if she had a way to tell Shelley that she had arrived. The innkeeper said he knew that family and would relay the message for her.

            About five minutes later, the innkeeper told Livia that the Silvers knew and Shelley would come fairly quickly and that, if she wished, she could have some soup whilst she waited. Livia informed the innkeeper that, at the moment, she only possessed cash in sterling and she would need money from the bank in Diagon Alley to pay for it.

            “That is okay, miss,”   he stated. “On occasion I need sterling – property taxes and such. The bank can change it, too. Just leave what you can that you think is fair.” He came back with the place’s signature soup, which Livia found hearty and helpful, after her early trials of the day. She had a £10 note and left it. The innkeeper spotted it and though that was too much.

            “You did me a favor,” she asserted. “The note is fair given that and the soup. I just hope I have not shortchanged you, sir.”

            “No, not at all, miss,” he responded.

            Livia did not have to wait long after finishing her soup to see Shelley arrive. After a few seconds, an older woman, presumably her mother, had come as well. Livia thought she had seen her once before. Shelley quickly spotted Livia and introduced her to her mother, a tall, medium color-skinned woman with slightly greying dark auburn hair who had become slightly matronly in her middle age. She quickly followed Shelley to the table where Livia sat. Livia stood up as Shelley introduced her mother, Sheila, to her. Mrs. Silver said she herself had attended Hogwarts and knew what they would need, though she looked at Livia’s list to ensure they matched. They did.

            The three proceeded to the entrance to Diagon Alley and Mrs. Silver opened it for the two girls to go through, then herself. Livia told them that she needed to obtain funds from the bank first. The school had deposited money, and Ted had sent money recently himself (his parents insisted, he told her, knowing that Tom and Alice would not exactly know how to help her). Livia also saw the fruits of her own ability to take money from others. All in all, it was a nice sum and Livia withdrew what she expected she would need for most of the year, figuring overconfident Slytherins could supply the rest – if not more than what she would need.

            She told the Silvers how much she had withdrawn and what remained. Shelley was impressed. “Your ability to take advantage of some overly confident students has given you a good base. If you worked at it just a little, you probably could pay for at least a few years at Hogwarts from the Slytherin house alone.” Shelley told her mother about Livia’s “side business.”

            “Serves ‘em right, I’d wager,” Mrs. Silver observed, laughing at her pun. “Them Slytherins usually ‘ave the ‘earts of thieves, anyway, so I find it quite fitting they lose some money to someone with superior skills. The school won’t stop you?”

            “Not yet,” Livia replied. “Seems it is not that widely known, since the Slytherins who lose to me are too embarrassed or preoccupied to warn younger ones not to bet against me on anything. The other houses have students who know better, and they tell the younger students quietly.”

            “What about the ‘ead of Slytherin?” Mrs. Silver asked. “’e is a piece of work, no?”

            “He sure is,” Shelley agreed. “He has found cause to insult both of us last year and he really verbally sparred with Livia the first year, too, from what I understand. It was quite the buzz.”

            “Professor Snape will not stop me,” Livia responded. “Call it benign neglect, or the fact that he believes my father was a Slytherin there, also.”

            “Who?” Mrs. Silver asked.

            “That remains a mystery because my birth mother neither told him nor made any attempt to keep me,” Livia revealed. “She abandoned me to a muggle very soon after giving birth. I have no desire to even meet her or know much about her. She cared nothing for me and, well, likewise.”

            “I see,” Mrs. Silver said. “Can’t say I blame ya. Probably a good attitude. Well, I’m glad I can assist you today, then, since you lack family support ‘ere.”

            Mrs. Silver produced a cart to carry around everything Shelley and Livia needed to buy, be they books, parchment, ink or new uniforms or other clothes. They also stopped for ice cream, where Shelley wished her a Happy Birthday. Her mother had no idea and wondered why she picked this day to do her shopping.

            “Just convenience,” Livia responded. “I had another errand and my brother has gotten busy getting everything in order for his own study in London. He is training to become a barrister.”

            “Interesting,” Mrs. Silver acknowledged. “Won’t that make trouble for you to tell ‘im – if ever you do – about yourself?”

            “Possibly,” Livia replied. “But his current girlfriend may have familial alumni of Hogwarts. I am not sure.”

            “What’s ‘er name?” Mrs. Silver inquired.

            “Alice West,” Livia answered. “She seems to have an interesting family tree that goes back to the Russell family and at least one Duke of Bedford. The headmaster told me he would look into this but has not confirmed anything. Probably not a big priority.”

            “Might be so,” Mrs. Silver asserted. “I’d be curious to find out. That would improve your situation, I would imagine.”

            “I think it is interesting,” Shelley observed. “Maybe if your brother has children with her, one of them will go to Hogwarts someday.”

            “That could give me a reason for why I wound up with that family,” Livia stated. “It would be nice to say my life had some purpose, given my mother did not supply even a hint of one.”

            They spent much of the afternoon together pleasantly enough until Shelley expressed interest in getting her own owl. Livia really disliked the thought of them as caged or treated like pets. Yet Shelley wanted Livia to pick her out an owl because she knew so much about them.

            “Livia can speak to animals and get wild ones to take mail for her. She never really has to use officially-trained owls,” Shelley told her mother.

            “Really?” Mrs. Silver asked. “That is quite an unusual gift in this world – and we all are supposed to be gifted.”

            “I confess I do not like them domesticated,” Livia explained. “It is my own quirk. But I will try to find one that wants to serve you, Shelley.”

            They entered the shop and Livia saw all the species available, including Barn, Screech, Brown and Tawny Owls. The shop owner said he did not have any other types presently. Livia looked at them and tried talking to them. She told them she herself used wild owls for the purposes of why they were sold there, and it frankly pained her to see them confined. She told them about the Barn Owl friends she had at Hogwarts, a mated pair Sydney and Mel and a local they knew named Sevy. She confessed she did not know if Sevy had a mate. She indicated her openness to find an owl that would carry messages for the girl next to her, named Shelley. She said she would likely be nearby and could help any owl, but she never wished to own one, despite the successes muggles have with falconry.

            The owls made many noises among themselves and Livia had trouble following it all. Finally, a young female Barn Owl introduced herself and expressed a willingness to serve and hope that Livia could introduce her to Livia’s owl friends. The owl told Livia to call her Brontë, as in the authors that Livia probably read. She also said she had only just reached maturity and felt healthy and strong.

            Livia motioned to Shelley that she should choose this young Barn Owl that wanted Shelley to call her Brontë. Shelley said that was not the name the shopkeeper used. He had named her Helga. Livia shrugged, saying you either believe me or you don’t. Shelley tried calling her Helga and the owl did nothing. When she used Brontë, the owl made some clicking sounds and jumped from her perch to get closer to the cage’s door. The owl settled the matter. Shelley would call her Brontë. “I’m sorry I doubted you,” Shelley began, “I thought the man running the store knew his owls. Obviously, you know them better, and they are more sentient than muggles or witches think.”

            Mrs. Silver paid for Brontë and put her on top of the cart they would take back to the Leaky Cauldron. Livia apologized for the small cage and told Brontë she would have a much better situation within the week. Brontë acknowledged that she knew how this situation went, and she would be patient until she had the chance to fly freely.

            When they returned to the Leaky Cauldron, Shelley carefully set Brontë aside so Livia and Shelley could divide their purchases. Mrs. Silver was impressed how Livia shrank most everything down to no bigger than a matchbook to fit everything in her backpack and kept it fairly light to carry. Shelley asked her mother how to do that because it looked so useful, especially if flying by broom. Mrs. Silver said that she thought it took lots of skill and practice, but Shelley could try it when they returned home. At street level, they said farewell, with Shelley reminding her where she would wait for Livia on the Hogwarts platform. Then Shelley and Mrs. Silver used the Leaky Cauldron’s fireplace to return home.

When Livia left the pub, she realized the afternoon had not completely gone, with the time not yet four o’clock. On her way back to Russell Square, she found a music stall selling vinyl records, among other formats, and listened to a few songs. She decided on a Bob Marley record of hits called “Legend” that included a song that could work for another Muggle Music Club party, entitled “Get Up, Stand Up.”* She also took a fancy to a song on Licensed to Ill by a group she did not know, the Beastie Boys. Once she heard the song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),”* she thought it funny enough to buy and hoped that Professor Flitwick would agree. She hid partly to shrink those in the bag after she left the store and put the bag in her backpack.

            She got to Tom and Alice’s flat not long after 16:30. Alice had stood up from the couch, thinking Tom had just arrived. “Livia, Tom will be so relieved to find you here,” she stated. “He seems a bit jumpy right now in general.”

            “I thought I would do him a favor by not being around the last few days,” Livia said.

            “He might have said that and even believed it, but he has not acted that way,” she revealed. “So how do you want to celebrate your birthday? I made the cake you like, but can that be enough?”

            “Whatever you want to do,” Livia offered. “Shelley’s mom bought me some ice cream. I have no particular wish.”

            Tom entered perhaps twenty to thirty minutes later. He felt very glad that Livia had returned already. “What are you up for?”

            “Whatever you are,” she answered. “I wonder if some people burden you already, and whether the remedy is something fun or just to sit at home with fish and chips and a movie.”

            “I am fine, but we can see a film after dinner, if you like,” Tom asserted. “What kind of food do you want?”

            “Is there any good pizza in this city?” Livia asked.

            Alice pondered. “I think I know who can tell me that.” She went to ring someone she knew. Within minutes, she had a recommendation – a restaurant within walking distance about two blocks away. “It may not be the best but very close to it, and easy to reach.”

            The place had everything one could expect for fine Italian dining – a wine list, antipasti, espresso, homemade pasta. So Tom and Alice could indulge on something more sophisticated whilst Livia enjoyed her pizza. She definitely would not get pizza like this at school. Alice whispered something to the waiter and they brought out some wonderful panna cotta for everyone, with Livia’s saying “Happy Birthday” on it, written in its drizzled chocolate topping. It even included a little candle on top.

            Afterward, they walked more towards Leicester Square to see what films they had at various theatres. Nothing really struck her fancy until she saw a held over British-made, Ken Russell directed film about Mary Shelley’s inspiration for “Frankenstein.” Alice and Tom thought the film Gothic might not suit a 15-year-old girl but relented. Tom did warn her, though. “Though you have read her book, you may find this film distasteful in a number of respects. From what I recall reading, Natasha Richardson carries the film, even though she looks young. Just root for her.”

            The aspects of darkness and light, or night versus day, and one’s own personal demons weighed much on her mind as Livia watched it. She thought back about what must torment Professor Snape so much that he has to channel his emotions by lashing out at his students. She considered what happened and how awful even a sliver of his state felt as well as what he said. Still, she thought he hid a great deal more and wondered why the headmaster seemed so keen on protecting him. She knew better than to ask the headmaster anything about him. As yet, she had experienced physical and verbal trauma in her past, but she remained untarnished by it. None of those people mattered to her, whereas he obviously carried his past with him like Jacob Marley dragged and carried his chains in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. She felt blessed to not have to shoulder such a burden as those carried by the characters in the film Gothic, too. She could only understand such things intellectually until she opened herself to her instinctive feelings or others’s feelings. She would endeavor never to open herself up to him like that again, especially in class. Still, she struggled to figure out how she could close herself in one sense yet be open enough to function as his student. Though being smart and highly sensitive did not intellectually connect, they did within her. She had to master how to think yet limit or target precisely what she could feel or not feel. She saw the challenge especially in dueling – to be able to anticipate an opponent completely yet remain totally invulnerable. This seemed mighty tricky. She had no model to follow, which made her resentment of her birth mother only deepen. She might have helped me if she had chosen it versus being a selfish parasite. Livia knew how harmful carrying such baggage could and did become – she did not need to see the film since she witnessed this firsthand.

            For a few days they enjoyed to a pleasant routine of simple enjoyments, even as the anxiety grew for Tom. Cathy had even rung up the flat and spoke to Livia for a few minutes, wishing her well and hoping she had enjoyed her birthday. She apologized for not calling sooner, but her work schedule had impeded that. Tom said that she phoned with some frequency and he had enjoyed a better relationship with her of late, now that she lived with her own flatmates. Rev. Woodcock called on Saturday, also – from his office. He still had to deal with Lydia and his wife, which still put him in a bind. As much as he had grown weary of Lydia’s demands – the latest being that her father pay for her to have her own place when she left school – he did not relish having zero children left under his roof. Whilst he found his relationship with his wife to be in a “better place,” he did not know if Lydia moving out would finally get her to open her eyes about all that had transpired, including her own role in creating a very spoiled, petulant daughter.

            Livia took some comfort in those conversations and minimized her own issues as Tom brooded over his. She preferred to think about the pleasant tasks like another year-end party and seeing people that she knew. She found pleasure in the idea of telling Reggie about the Bob Marley record she had purchased. Yet the ticket for the train that came for her and the calendar date Monday 31 August both gave her some pause. Those nine weeks off went too quickly for her. She also wondered if she had inadvertently given Professor Snape a weapon against her, should he choose to make a spectacle out of her in one of his classes. She could only hope that the headmaster’s desire to draw only a modest amount of attention to her also meant that he would not try it. She also considered that he would risk something of himself, too, given what she could say about him, and therefore he would think it too dangerous to try.

            Tom and Alice brought Livia to King’s Cross in good time to make her train. It seemed that they expected to accompany her to her platform. Fortunately, Livia ensured they came in good time to run into Shelley Silver and her family. Livia had lightened her luggage but did not want it to seem somehow lacking so she only shrunk a few items to keep them well protected in things like socks or other garments that Alice as well as Shelley and her mother had helped her buy. Shelley had a trolley to ensure Brontë would safely negotiate the station, and Livia carefully fit her things on it as she greeted the owl and promised her better days ahead. Fortunately, the Silvers took charge of seeing them off and Livia was able, with some apparent help from errands both Tom and Alice had that day, to say goodbye to them before taking the elevator downstairs and getting onto the platform set aside for the Hogwarts students.

            Soon, both girls had unloaded their things on the train and greeted other students they recognized as they did so. Waving goodbye to the Silvers and the rest of the onlookers, Livia settled into her seat with Shelley, Athena, Selene and Ted, along with their third year Quidditch-playing roommates, Don, Terence and Barry. Livia tried to ensure that she did not look for the Weasley family, but a family of redheads simply stood out, nonetheless. It also seemed that yet another son, later learning his name to be Percy, had joined his brothers Charlie and Bill, in boarding the train. Though in the same year with Charlie, Livia knew only a little about him. Then she remembered that he asked her that one day about her ability to speak to animals. She thought about if she should try to be friendlier with him to find out more about Bill, but rejected the notion as a lost cause. It could create an opportunity for someone to humiliate her rather than a chance to actually learn anything remotely useful. Livia opted to relax and let whatever happen just proceed without trying to force anything. The train already had left the station and Livia just stared out the window trying to ponder at least some of what would unfold that year.

 

* Author's Note

This production of Phantom of the Opera, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, became an international sensation.

"With of Without You" appears on the 1987 album The Joshua Tree by the band U2. Lyrics for all songs derive from lead vocalist Bono.

The compilation album Legend by Bob Marley and the Wailers first appeared in 1984. "Get Up, Stand Up" was penned by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

Adam Yauch, member of the group Beastie Boys, wrote "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" with friend Tom Cushman for the 1986 Beastie Boys's album Licensed to Ill.


Chapter 13: Did Livia Give Up Too Soon or Make a Wise Choice?
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           Livia’s travel to Hogwarts went well, having plenty to discuss with everyone in her compartment. Ted, though, narrated most of Audrey and Jake’s wedding, though it seemed centered mostly on food. Livia merely added that these two had lived with her brother during his university days, and she had sought Ted’s company to ensure her brother did not have to worry about her – or if anyone attending had taken excessive interest in her. He did say a lot more about the places they saw in London, admitting he had never travelled much in the city, so he appreciated having a comfortable situation as well as a tour guide. Livia made sure she found Reggie to tell him she had bought a Bob Marley album and, should the Music Club attempt another dance, she would propose that Shelley get a song of his on the playlist. She also found one other item but she thought it would either be thought of as daring or funny, so she would ask Professor Flitwick what he thought of it. Fortunately, for Livia, she did not have to test herself regarding any encounter with anyone named Weasley. It would happen in its own time. Shelley had tried to ask her about that, but Livia outwardly showed no concern. Shelley left it at that.

            The group buzzed over what topics appeared most challenging, though it seemed to go without saying who the most vexing professor would be. Livia just reminded Shelley to write down questions for her to answer after class. I cannot get on Professor Snape’s bad side again this year because I believe he might have found something he can exploit if he chooses. Shelley gasped and wondered what it possibly could be. It is up to me to protect myself and usually I can. I believe he has figured out how I make money off his students and may do something about it. Livia gave a somewhat plausible story, if one geared to get Shelley to not try to engage her during his class. Given some of the advanced things Livia could do, like conjuring a full Patronus, none of the topics they mentioned seemed terribly difficult. Dueling – particularly balancing her self-protection with the need to attack another – occupied more of her thoughts. She knew Professor Flitwick would again want to spend more time with her on this, but she did not think she could explain to him these two issues, though the concept of a “killer instinct” had begun to sink in more than it did when they started the prior year. She also thought of a plan should she inadvertently fall afoul of Professor Snape again, though one sure to send her to detention, at the very least – perfect mimicking HIS voice. She had boasted once that she could do it more as a phony story to justify her assertion about him, but she didn’t have it down totally. She would have to find time alone to practice, probably in the room Helena Ravenclaw sometimes occupied. If he knew her voice, perhaps she could recognize his, when Livia got it down correctly.

            Once again, the returning students had their luggage taken to their houses – or specific rooms if already determined. Since no one from her group of eight Ravenclaw students had sought to make a change, they got the same room again. Doing this had made other issues more convenient to address. They were led into the Great Hall again before the new students, with Livia getting her first real look at Bill Weasley in weeks. He looked the same, if not even better. She dampened down her response and merely smiled and nodded at him, which he returned. He was always polite, polished and she knew also a good person, above all. She decided whoever he ended up with would be most fortunate for so many reasons. She forced herself to accept that he would choose someone other than her. She still felt he possessed no particular urgency in finding a significant relationship, perhaps owing to the luxury of being confident and popular. He took pride in everything he did and wanted to set a good example for his siblings, even if some might care more about his prefect status than his Muggle Music Club participation.

            Livia, Selene and Athena had just started to discuss something about her cat animagus issue in Transfigurations when Professor McGonagall, as if on cue, entered the room leading the new students. Livia asked the group about the new Weasley boy. Ted knew his name was Percy and told the group that Hogwarts would see more Weasley children before they left school.

            “How many are there all together?” Shelley asked.

            “I think seven total,” Ted said. “It seems Mrs. Weasley persistently kept having children until she finally had a girl,” he said. “But the girl is way too young for any of us to know her whilst still a student. She is the youngest.”

            “How do you know all this?” Athena asked.

            “Either Bill or Charlie told me – maybe both,” Ted replied.

            “I thought you knew them but did not know for sure if or how well you knew Bill Weasley,” Livia stated.

            “Who doesn’t know him?” Ted posed. “You know him, Shelley knows him, you know him, Athena, don’t you – and none of you actively befriend lots of students.”

            “Well, I don’t know him,” Selene stated softy. “Does that count?”

            “Sorry, Selene,” Ted replied. “Of course, you count. Indeed, all of you girls should make yourselves a bit better known, especially Livia and Selene. Boys who don’t know of you truly don’t realize what they miss. Being a student here does not mean you must keep quiet all the time. I know us Ravenclaws can’t help it, but there is more to being here than studying.”

            Livia simply thought: How do I balance that with what the headmaster wants? Besides, Livia tried to take great care in class to ignore the cacophony of other student responses. Keeping quiet tended to help with her composure and her ability to learn. She remembered what the palm reader said about using her heart and thought how difficult a task that posed when so many conflicting emotions swirled about her. She did not typically have to touch anyone to feel these, owing to their utter transparency. Of course, nobody was like Professor Snape and, unless she was fully in control, she better ensure she did not touch him again – ever. She paid for that error, though she wondered what it had cost him or if it had benefited him in the slightest.

            The announcements included yet another introduction of a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor August Wicklewood. Professor Seward had to leave the country on a family emergency and became too ill himself to return. The sorting hat ceremony then commenced and the first banquet for everyone held. It had become a family routine for Livia from which she had detached herself mostly. Other than the idle curiosity of a new Weasley brother, the sorting did hold too much significance. She could applaud and welcome the new members of Ravenclaw and expressed friendliness towards them, but the ceremony no longer held personal importance for her – at least then. She wondered if the day would come when it held any interest. Maybe, just maybe. She did not try to think about the how or the when, beyond the idea that if she formally became a Ravenclaw tutor, she would care who she might need to help. She still had no idea that the headmaster thought that she should aim higher than that – a lot higher.

            Once again, Professor Flitwick accompanied his student leaders in showing his new students around. On occasion, some veterans accompanied them if they had family with the new group. Phoebe Allens actually had a sister very close in age and appearance, Starling (often just called “Birdie”), so she ensured her sister met Livia, telling her that no one in Ravenclaw knew more about writing a good paper than her. Professor Flitwick agreed, telling Birdie that Livia had tutored many students the previous year and, if she needed help, he knew of no better resource. Livia smiled slightly and bowed her head. She let Professor Flitwick describe everything else in the house and awaited receiving her schedule with the rest of those in her room. Again, Livia’s and Shelley’s schedules matched, with Shelley just having a different course when Livia practiced dueling.

            The three Quidditch players there tried to get the rest to promise to attend their games, especially if they could pull off Livia’s idea for a play to quickly end a match. Livia said she would go if the others did, because she did not know if she understood the game well enough to be a good fan. Don found that hard to believe, given what she had diagrammed on a napkin the previous year. Ted told Don that Livia often underestimated herself, but it was possible she did not fully appreciate the sport. She worked on rectifying that, though never felt comfortable enough to explain the game fully to students less exposed to it than she was.

            Even as tasks asked of fourth-year year students seemed to grow in difficulty, Livia never complained and rarely faltered – mostly because her skills at mimicry had taught her to listen carefully, her discipline retained directions and her sensitivity for nuance made her far from robotic in her executions. By level four, in class she had become the ideal student. No one even dared to say a bad word about her and, as such, even her instructors had few reasons to call attention to her beyond a version of the Talking Heads’s line “same as it ever was”* (despite the fact that only Professor Flitwick could even say he had ever heard that song). Professor Snape had nothing to say himself, except he asked Professor Flitwick occasionally how her dueling skills had advanced.

            “It goes slowly, but she does make progress,” he revealed. “I think she finally understands that she may need to do this for real and has to find that ‘killer instinct’ should someone’s life, such as her brother’s, depend on her. She has a better relationship with her wand, too.”

            “You would think that young man walked on water,” Professor Snape mused. “Albus, you met him – can you explain to me why a very talented witch feels so attached to a simple muggle?”

            “Severus,” the headmaster began, “he saved her life when she was a baby and several times since. He championed her like no one else. She thinks every ounce of kindness she has ever received directly traces back to him. If he had not gotten her out that place she was at, I would have had great difficulty doing it without it seeming like I had kidnapped her. Love and gratitude should explain it sufficiently. Do I really need to explain that further to you?”

            “No,” he answered. “That’ll do.”

            “I think her dueling dilemma relates to something idiosyncratic to herself,” Professor Flitwick added. “She has to simultaneously anticipate yet not tip off her own aggressive actions. I think this is why I find her so highly skilled at self-defense but less so in launching her own attacks. She knows what to say or do but to lash out somehow lowers her ability to defend herself.”

            “There is an emotive element to this, I think,” the headmaster agreed. ‘Multi-tasking like this does not come easily to her, not like understanding other people whilst being entirely passive. She has to add the aggression to any unfathomability to become as formidable as possible. If she can do it well, I cannot see any one witch or wizard who could defeat her. But dark forces do not play fair, as we know, and multiple attackers could take down many of us, even if we can whittle down the odds by dispatching a few.”

            “I will keep working on this,” Professor Flitwick stated. “At some point, I think she will make a breakthrough, but I have not identified what turning that corner will take.”

            “I think I can, if the new D.A.D.A. instructor does not mind,” Professor Snape said. The new instructor, Professor Wicklewood, did not object, since he had found her somewhat mysterious yet a very able student. “I think she has innate skills in both Legilimency and Occlumency, which started before she got her first wand, but, not being formally trained in either, she has not figured out how to do both simultaneously. This hinders her, particularly in dueling.”

            This idea drew a few shocked faces, but for the headmaster and Professor Flitwick it felt like a big “a-ha” moment. “Of course,” Professor Dumbledore acknowledged. “This makes perfect sense. Why did I not see it?”

            “Because no one would expect that an untrained, young witch would begin to develop such skills without a wand that we would recognize by those terms,” Professor Snape said. “Mind you, doing such things against muggles must have seemed incredibly easy to her, but it also became necessary for her. And, yes, we all know what this means –”

            “I think that would make her the most talented witch ever sorted into my house, frankly,” Professor Flitwick acknowledged. “Some may find this bizarre, but the headmaster told me why you, Severus, might know some things about her that I don’t, based on that incident during her first year. We are all here to help all of our students, though we easily forget that over the House Cup. However unusual this may appear to some of you, I am not offended, and in fact am grateful to you, Severus, for making me understand her challenges better – and how sophisticated they are. I have not forgotten what you said either, Albus, and I think this observation gives me better insight into what happens when I try to engage her. I see why, Albus, you insist so strenuously on her improvement, since everything else we ask of her seems almost easy to her.”

            “Yes,” the headmaster agreed. “Filius, if you find this too troublesome an obstacle, let me know how I can help, or if I need to take over this task.”

            “I am not giving up,” Professor Flitwick said. “You teaching her might draw too much attention to her. I feel I know what to ask her and gauge what she tells me, since she has never given me a clue regarding how advanced she has become with some things.”

            “She probably lacks the vocabulary to discuss it. In any case, we must protect her as long as she has issues with dueling,” the headmaster stated.

            “Won’t we need her, though, if we are to defeat who we know will come back?” Professor McGonagall asked.

            “Maybe we will, but I hope not,” the headmaster admitted. That answer puzzled some.

            More immediately pressing academic issues then came to the forefront, especially reviewing the status of the new students. Everyone felt good about how the year had progressed so far, and the adjourned for the evening. Professor Dumbledore made sure to get a private word in with Professor Flitwick because he still had Livia Woodcock on his mind.

            “If you want me to observe your work with Miss Woodcock or anything else, let me know, Filius,” he offered. “We can keep this amongst ourselves.”

            “Can we?” Professor Flitwick asked. “I think at times Severus knows her better than I do.”

            “Well, he might be interested because her father was a Slytherin and most likely Severus met whomever he is. She also remains an enigma to Severus, despite what he saw, and I doubt he has ever said that about a student. I think she is rather straightforward, if highly nuanced and gifted. He cannot intimidate her, and she has shown herself able to even stand up to him, though I have curbed her from doing so overtly. In any case, I think she drives him up a wall, and he would have preferred she had allowed herself to be sorted into Slytherin, instead. In his mind, perhaps she might be an incorrectly-sorted Slytherin.”

            “There is no way she would be appropriately sorted into Slytherin,” Professor Flitwick observed. “She is way too smart, fearless, kind, humble and academically motivated.”

            “I agree,” he asserted. “But there is more to her than that. She has a feisty and determined side. She has shown she can be sarcastic and sly, too. If the hat had a do-over, I have no idea where she would go. If it were up to the heads of houses, I think all of you would want her, even if most of the school could not guess as to why. The hat might choose Gryffindor by default with another chance just over her initial lack of a boggart. She chose Ravenclaw herself, essentially.”

            “And I am delighted that she did,” he proudly stated.

            As the two said good night, Livia and the other students had adjourned from their evening meal and began their preparations for the day. Livia had more Ravenclaw students than ever seek her out, either to help form a paper or to read over what they had written. Fortunately, Livia could read rather quickly (though not from the technique that muggles would call speed reading) and the assignments all remained quite familiar to her. Typically, she asked questions of the students lost on an assignment and helped them find their own point of view, rather than tell them anything. If they strayed too far from understanding a subject, she usually found a question that made a student re-think a position and to get them to refocus an assignment. Beyond that, she got them to think about the structure of what they wrote, as if their mind already knew where the paper should go before they wrote a word down. She often got them to mark up a book, an assignment or a draft to underscore its elements and use this as the basis for improvement. Even the most predictable paper that did everything asked acceptably well would receive a better grade than a flashy paper of random insights. She conveyed what the instructors looked to credit, as if she wrote the assignments herself or at least had internalized their criteria for what they wanted or did not want. For a full paper, she often would point out small errors, if she saw any, or if they had left something out. Never did she send a student away with no feedback regarding improvement. When one student, Ryan Matthews, thought better of his paper than she did, he smugly questioned if her standards exceeded those of a certain professor with that reputation. She told him simply, “Do you want me to say nothing and you turn in a substandard effort, or do you want me to make what you wrote better? If you want the latter, put your ego aside and listen to me.” He then outright suggested she was a fraud who knew nothing because she was just a silly girl.

            She figured that student might not ask again, but he would learn that 1) she was right, and 2) trying to annoy her did him no favors. Indeed, he asked male roommates to read his future papers, though if forced to admit it, he would say he knew what she said was correct. For the first time, she realized the whole episode had roots in the fact that he refused to believe that a girl could rightly have earned the praise of the head of house or her classmates. He wanted to impress her or prove his superiority, not have her find fault with his work. She gained an insight that helped her deal with her voluntary modesty better: if she had drawn more attention to her abilities, at least some boys would reject a female they could not outshine. Muggle boys had this weakness, and she discovered that any open acknowledgement of her talents would not prove to be much better in terms of having any boy like her than if she were nobody. The few times young men did notice her, being “different” in any way turned them off. Being extraordinary or being overlooked carried the exact same penalty. Ordinary and decorative usually beat either. Only if she possessed stunning beauty could she transcend this, and she would not flatter herself. She may not have been at all ugly, but her looks could not entirely carry her to stand out in general, let alone attract someone popular and handsome. The egotistical, second-year Ravenclaw boy brought this point home to her. She needed to do something to shake off this unwelcomed self-awareness.

            She withdrew to the room that Helena Ravenclaw often occupied. She told Helena what had happened and the unhappy conclusion she drew from it. Helena did not find the concept terribly surprising from a historical point of view, though she thought the wizarding world had become more tolerant towards not observing strict gender roles than the muggle world. Yet the wizarding world was not free of biases of various kinds, either, be they about blood purity or the differences between girls and boys. Helena knew all about the Winter Ball and the sense that the boy still had to be the assertive one, the leader, whilst the girl was the more pliable follower. This conformed to longstanding expectations of how girls and boys behaved. After watching this for so long, and given she died because a man disapproved of her behavior, Helena had little sympathy or patience for such traditions. She had sought in vain to distinguish herself, showing her own kind of rebellion against her mother, though it did not end well. But if an alternative had presented itself in playing a secondary role to a man, she refused, regardless of the consequences. She admitted that she did not ever become immune to the charms of young men, but over her long time there, she rethought the wisdom of this weakness. She did not view Livia as being terribly unfortunate, because any young man who did not really see her probably did not deserve her.

            Helena inquired if that issue prompted her visit. Livia said, “Not entirely.” Livia explained how she had somewhat pranked Professor Snape last year by mimicking her voice, and he had recognized it. Helena wanted to hear it. So Livia said a few random things in her voice. Helena said she was impressed. Livia apologized if she felt violated, but Helena did not mind, given the lack of intent to harm her. Livia wanted to do another voice, though. First, she asked if Helena could recognize Professor Snape’s voice. She said she had been around the school long enough to know it. Livia did not want a living soul to tell him that she planned to perfect his voice, so she wanted Helena’s feedback on it before she tried using it. So she tried and Helena thought it not bad but gave her tips on how to use vowels, how to pause in between words and how to stiffen her jaw more as she spoke. Livia attempted all of these and the vocal quality of her imitation improved. Helena asserted Livia still had a little work to do and that she should come back another day, after mulling over these things, and do it again. Livia visited several times that semester and each time the voice got better until Helena pronounced it indistinguishable from the person she mimicked.

            For the time being, Livia returned to the common room, finished her work and turned in for the night. Shelley had noticed that she had spent some time where no one knew of her location. Livia told her she went to visit Helena Ravenclaw to shake off an annoyance caused that night by a younger Ravenclaw student.

            “Whatever did he do?” Shelley asked. The rest of those in the room intently listened because they so rarely saw Livia upset by anything.

            “The twerp asked me to read his paper, and when I told him how I thought he could improve it, he rejected my advice,” she fumed. “It seems to me he wanted me to tell him how great a writer he was, as if he never needed to improve. I still try to improve every day, but he thought he could show off to me, because a mere girl cannot possibly know anything more about this or be better than him. Muggles can do this, too. This was the first time here I had to directly deal with someone who questioned me because I am a female. He should tell Professor Snape to push that button because I will go ballistic to be considered less talented or capable just because I’m a girl.”

            Ted and the other boys looked at each other. They had never challenged her. They knew better and, besides, no one took her freely-offered help lightly. As Ravenclaw students on the same level, they were all smart enough to appreciate her abilities and willingness to share her insights.

            “Who was this idiot?” Ted asked. “I would smack him good, though Professor Flitwick would probably dislike that in a big way.”

            “I think his name is Ryan Matthews.”

            “Let US have a little chat with him,” Terence declared, pointing at Don and Barry. “He surely will not bother you again, but I think he needs to get over himself. Snot-nosed git.”

            “Yeah, if he’s so great let us get him to try out for our team,” Don offered, looking at the other two players. “We will definitely take him down a few pegs – and since we have a few girls on the team already, we will tell them what we want to do and they will totally enjoy this.”

            “We got your back, Livia,” Barry added. “Our entire Quidditch team will, too. If he thinks he is so great as to think he can exceed any of our female players, we will set him straight. Not all boys here are so smug and stupid.”

            “I know,” Livia acknowledged. “I am grateful. I was rather shocked that some student two years behind me would alienate someone who could help him because it wounded his ego.”

            “That sort of malarkey belongs in Slytherin,” Shelley said.

            “I wish it were that simple,” Livia stated. “It seems to me Professor Snape is an equal opportunity insulter of all non-Slytherins. Should I do anything else about this?”

            “Nah,” Don replied. “We got this. Sometimes students need to deal with their own. When I tell the team captain, he will inform the prefects. No need to involve Professor Flitwick. Let the boy go whine to him, if he dares. If the prefects think we have a good cause, they will shut him down for insulting an upper class student trying to tutor him. I doubt Professor Flitwick will have much sympathy if we tell him who he pulled that on. We all know he likes you.” True to their word, by the end of the that week they had dished out their discipline on the slight Ryan Matthews and made it clear they would not tolerate a second year boy insulting an upper level student for any reason. The audacity of him doing it over someone trying to improve his work simply would not stand. He licked his wounds quietly, and Professor Flitwick never knew anything about it. New prefect Rhonda Wayne, who had once played Quidditch, considered opposing the move, but Don Stevens, who she liked, was way too popular and, moreover, she did not really like Ryan Matthews herself. So she did nothing.

            The other activity of the week went fairly routine, with the faculty laying out the materials they expected and what students should aim to accomplish. Livia had finally convinced Shelley to sit even further back than she had preferred the previous year in Professor Snape’s class. He considered saying something about it but decided against it, as both girls were quiet and attentive. He found better targets for various things. Livia passively observed but seemed to say nothing verbally or non-verbally. He would file it away, in case he found an opportunity to refer to it later.

            Livia looked forward to the first extracurricular meeting of the Muggle Music Club, led by Professor Flitwick. He first led off congratulating the members there who contributed to last year’s dance. The event had gone well from every perspective. He also introduced the new members, a few third year students and a few from Professor Quirrell’s class who attended the party and decided to check out the group. He then turned to Bill Weasley and asked him if he wanted to address the group.

            Bill thanked everyone who had made the event successful. Though he thought he might not have time to remain with the group past the current year, he said he was more than willing to lead the group again, should it decide it wanted to try to repeat what they had done last spring. He asked if any returning member had thoughts about improving what they had done.

            Livia Woodcock signaled that she had some thoughts and Bill immediately recognized her and informed the new members that, as his assistant, Livia had done remarkable work in overseeing the event and ensuring its success. She had made his position easy. Thanking him, Livia told the group that she had a few things in mind: first, she suggested alternating turntables so that whoever had one song playing would have another ready to go with very little time in between songs, though this would complicate the logistics a little. Second, an artist had been suggested to her by a Hufflepuff student, to offer additional variety, and she had found a record including a song that would make a good addition to a new playlist. Finally, she had heard a new form of music that involved more speaking than singing and she thought one song particularly hilarious, but it may or may not be seen as suitable by Professor Flitwick. She had each album in her possession and could play them for him or the group, whichever seemed the most appropriate place to start, if they all agreed to go ahead with another event.

            The 12 new members largely had joined because the event had spurred on their interest; they were ready to help. The returning members had no qualm about doing it again, since they had learned mostly everything they needed to do to pull it off. Shelley Silver definitely wanted to add a second turntable and expressed great curiosity in hearing whatever Livia had found. Professor Flitwick decided, since the group wanted to repeat the event, he would ask them again to divide into the committees that Bill Weasley had suggested the previous year: playlist; room ambiance and provisions; sound logistics and DJ setup; and event promotion. He again reserved Livia to once again be his assistant. “I could not pull this off without her as my second-in-command.”

            Each group had seven members as the group had grown to 30 total members. With that decided, Bill asked if Professor Flitwick could produce a record player and Livia could produce the records. Each did as asked, though in Livia’s case they had still been undersized. She restored them to their full size in front of everyone. “These albums are a little fragile so shrinking and packing them carefully ensured that they arrived safely. First Livia put on the Bob Marley song she chose from Legend, based on the suggestion of including his genre, which muggles called reggae. She told them the song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” simply made a plea for average people to seek basic rights from rulers who tended to crush their ability to live as they wished. The group though the sound had a great tempo and would offer a nice change of pace to other things they had played before and may or may not use again.

            Livia prepared the group for the next idea that she had, which could be controversial. It was a protest song, if rather wryly expressed, by a group called the Beastie Boys, an American group representing an emerging new genre, becoming known as rap. “I think the only reference Professor Flitwick may object to is that to a ‘porno mag.’ But it might go right past some people who don’t fully listen or understand.”

            “Excuse me, Miss Woodcock, but what is a porno mag?” Professor Flitwick asked.

            “Any boys here rather answer that?” Livia inquired, slightly blushing. No one volunteered. “Am I the only one who knows?” She paused. “I suspect a little reticence. Fine. A porno mag, is a shortened term for pornographic magazine. These would include pictures of naked women in various poses for a variety of men to, um, enjoy. They vary in terms of crudeness. One muggle national newspaper around here features a topless female every day, which makes the market for such magazines in this country not the same as it is in America, which has much stricter public attitudes regarding nudity – private notions not necessarily being the same. Muggles in this area care much more about violence than either nudity or profanity. Other countries have different standards in what is taboo or not – as well as when, in terms of the age legally one can do something. For example, muggles in this part of the world can consume alcohol a lot earlier – often 16 – than in United States of America, where muggles now cannot purchase or consumer alcohol until age 21. Yet for driving a car, the age issue is somewhat different – for Americans you can get a driver’s license at 17, but there are more categories and restrictions in this area. Many muggles around here do not drive whilst in America it is often a rite of passage.”

            “Since this line in the song will not be widely understood and I agree the record is rather fun in its own way, I am inclined to let it go – but I would ask all of you to back me up if anyone inquires. Just say I had no idea what the lyric said, and that you mistook it for something else.”

            No one objected. It was a kind of statement song that could make the crowd very festive. Bill Weasley enjoyed it more than he cared to say. Livia suspected he knew what a porno mag was, but he dared not admit it. Shelley Silver again would chair the playlist committee, and he asked what she and that group thought about playing it first or last. Shelley thought last was safer, and everyone seemed to agree.

            “We should have a different first song, though – any ideas?” Bill asked.

            “I have a couple of ideas,” Livia offered to the pondering group. “I got a compilation tape from my brother’s friend and there are a few good potential dance track on it.” Livia retrieved the tape and her player and amplified the headphones so they could hear “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys, then she moved the tape to play “What You Need” by INXS, though she mentioned she would play another song of theirs for Shelley that she could not play there, called “I Need You Tonight.” Both that she did play really seemed to blow some of the club members away. A few wanted clarification about the instruments used or various lyrics, points Livia knew everything about because these tapes were her lifeline, a continuation of the habits she developed at Colindale when Tom sent her a radio and cassettes.

            “Blimey, these are both great,” Bill said. “I’d include both, but where I’ll leave to your group, Shelley.”

            Bill took Livia aside. “Your musical knowledge is amazing. You tap into everything this group should promote. Yet I understand you may be either a half-blood or a pureblood witch. The combination should make people take more notice, but unfortunately some will never listen.”

            “I am just glad there are people like you here who can be open to this. Your whole family seems remarkably open-minded, from what I know. Frankly, I don’t know where I would be if my brother had never mailed me a radio and cassettes to where I was sent at about 11 years old.”

            “Do you mind if I asked what happened?” he queried. Livia could not remember him ever asking anything about her. “I don’t recall you telling me about anything other than Live Aid.”

            “No,” Livia replied. “I don’t mind your question, but it is not a pleasant tale. The shortest I can make this is that my adopted sister hated me for the longest time and bullied me horribly for years. When a prestigious local college in Framlingham admitted me to start at age 11, which would have meant attending with her brother, she decided to ensure that this did not happen. She made up a story of me deliberately trying to hurt her, despite the fact she had done far worse to me. She essentially blackmailed her sister to support her story and intimidated other children not to contradict her. A court determined we had to be separated and, given my unknown parentage, they believed her and sent me to a prison for juvenile females, essentially, where I endured physical and verbal assaults by three girls in particular. My brother pursued legal custody, graduated early and established an independent residence in Durham so he could get me out of that kiddie jail. The Live Aid concert took place less than a week after he got me out.”

            “That is some story,” he evaluated, stunned. “Where were the parents?”

            “My alleged mother favored the girl who bullied me so she willingly believed the made-up story. She only cared that her daughters never got caught doing anything that made the father, a minister, look bad. The father basically felt outnumbered and useless but quietly helped my brother put up a defense on my behalf. Several families even applied for custody, but the two older male judges denied them. The female judge thought this was not a judicial matter and did not believe my supposed sister. The others out-voted her, and they sent me away.”

“That’s rather horrid,” he concluded. “I’m sorry.”

            “Well, thank you, but she needs to apologize, not you. Still, that episode explains why I trust my own views of people, even when neither obvious nor popular. I do not judge books by their covers, and I do not accept what to others seems obvious until I verify something myself.”

            Bill nodded. Livia thought it strange that he asked her much of anything, but she took it in a straightforward manner, which she would have found very difficult to do the year before. She no longer entertained any notion that a conversation constituted more than a friendly inquiry, even though Shelley Silver asked her about it at dinner with great interest.

            “What were you talking about so long with Bill Weasley?” she asked. “It looked like he was very interested.”

            “In the story, perhaps,” Livia answered. “I accept who I am and who I am not.”

            “Wait, you were totally engaged with Bill Weasley, and that’s all you can say?” Ted inquired. “What girl would not hex a slew of other girls to get that chance?”

            “I know!” Shelley asserted emphatically. Athena and even Selene nodded.

            “I am simply his assistant, and I’ll be lucky if he even remembers who I am by the time he leaves this place,” Livia stated.   

            “Did you ever consider you’re giving up and that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy?” Ted posed.

            “No, I consider it reality,” Livia responded. She said to Shelley. Don’t say anything. I had to work through this on my own. Nothing has changed except that I no longer brood over the point. It is what it is – nothing more.

            The faculty met again and, among the topics covered, Professor Flitwick renewed the plan of his club to put on another dance at the end of spring term, given the credible work done by the participants last year. Indeed, he added, some new members joined, based on that event.

            “Who is organizing it?” the headmaster asked.

            “Bill Weasley has accepted the task again, though he may have to rely more on the rest of the group, since his more intense studies may make him less active a participant. It is therefore good that many of those who organized it last time will know exactly what to do this time, with perhaps a few tweaks here and there.”

            “So long as his advanced studies do not suffer, I do not object,” Professor McGonagall said. “Many of my house members did enjoy it, as Mr. Weasley promised them.”

            Since the project already had gone through once, no one could find a reason to revisit the issue of approval. Professor Snape had nothing to say. A few, like Professor Quirrell, asked about supervision, to which Professor Flitwick left entirely up to them. “I can handle the event myself. The students acted very responsibly, but I invite you all to come, as with last year, if you want.”

            The headmaster specifically asked about Livia Woodcock’s dueling lessons.

            “She still exceeds all expectations regarding self-defense,” Professor Flitwick answered. “That will forever be her strongest ability. There is little she cannot block. She has shown more aggressiveness, but for a brief moment when she strikes, she becomes vulnerable, though much less so if she wordlessly does anything. If she is assertive enough, this may not matter hugely. The time it takes her to switch between using her form of Legilimency and Occlumency has shortened, but I get the sense alternating is like a switch rather than a dial that modulates what level of each she needs when, so she does not leave herself exposed for even a split-second.”

            “I do not know if anyone can do both simultaneously – Severus?” the headmaster asked. “You probably know more about this than any of us.”

            “Extremely difficult,” he answered. “I cannot say I have mastered this consistently myself. There are exercises that help with it.”

            “Still, she makes progress, Filius,” the headmaster observed. “Keep going.”

            Livia had become beyond reproach in any of her classes. She did not require any tips, even, from Professor Snape, had he opted to send any to her. Some of the potions she had either done for him already, or they possessed enough similarity to things she had done that she had taken complete control. She also had mastered making silent gestures to Shelley that few other than he ever saw. The most he did fall term was slightly nod at her. He interacted with her more on paper when grading her assignments, drawing out inferences or more sophisticated ways of interpreting and applying what she wrote. He wrote more on her papers than anyone else’s – perhaps because it gave him a safe way of letting her know how distinguished her work had become and could go. He would not say so to anyone other than the headmaster, and he would never say anything about her work during class. Shelley thought he slighted her by not acknowledging her brilliance. Livia seemed not to care about it, since what he wrote more than made up for what he would not say.

Moreover, Livia maintained tight control over herself, whether it involved introducing Brontë to Sydney, Mel and Sevy, to having her first Sony Discman, thanks to her brother, to substitute for her Walkman. Given her old tapes, however, she did not discard it, but as she received newer items, like the new INXS record Kick, she would bring both out at times, just alternating which she held. Professor Snape oddly got used to her weekly performances as background music for his work, though he kept that to himself. Ultimately, she had Professors Flitwick and Quirrell examine the new device and format and Professor Flitwick enjoyed the sound quality greatly. She also continued her secret practice in perfecting Professor Snape’s voice, though found herself disappointed that she had not discovered an opportunity to use it on him. When Helena Ravenclaw pronounced it superb, Livia felt greatly satisfied, which took the sting out of yet another lack of a Winter Ball date better than she might have hoped. She sure was not inclined to ask anyone, though Shelley insisted she buy a nice dress for herself this time, versus the usual clothes she theretofore wore. Livia could not see the point. Don had asked Athena and Ted asked Selene, who he saw as the least likely to get asked. Shelley would go with another member of her committee, and the rest she knew had their own relationships. Livia alone had nothing to do beyond her “side business,” lucrative as it had become.

So whilst others would have deemed her status as sad, among other things, Livia, plowed ahead, with her beautiful shimmering golden and blue, cap sleeved flowing, mostly velvet gown with a blue velvet drawstring pouch that served as a pocketbook – or in Livia’s case, the place to keep her winnings. Her ample flowing hair had been pinned up and held up by several blue moon phlox pinned to the intricate upswept braiding, which Shelley and Athena and Selene insisted on giving her. If she was not going with a date, every boy there would wish that he had asked her. Every girl gave her special blessings and Athena lent her a gold linked choker centered by a beautiful square bright blue sapphire. Livia kindly appreciated the fuss they had all made over her as a kind of consolation to the dread each had of being in her shoes. They knew she had a way of dealing with the evening without needing to cry into her pillow, but each imagined that they would have done exactly that had they faced going there alone. Ted and the other roommates who saw her at her desk getting her hair pinned up by the other girls marveled at the transformation they saw. Each felt their own sense of shame that they had not found someone to accompany her.

Livia meekly entered the back of the hall where various people uninvolved in the dance witnessed it firsthand. This had been the only way students ineligible could see it. Sometimes, curious staff watched from the same area. Again, Livia started scanning the crowd and started making predictions and started taking bets on who would leave in tears, who quarreled with whom or anything else she felt confident predicting. Everything proceeded as it usually did. Livia put coin after coin in her bag and the double-or-nothing wages piled up. Livia could not quite identify one couple she anticipated for a great row on the floor but nonetheless saw it coming. The girl would become angry with something the boy casually said, and she would run away, with him only slowly following her out halfheartedly to see if he could find her.

“I was warned about you, but that will never happen!” one student shouted. “That’s my brother, and she arranged for him to get that formal attire. She has devoted herself to him.” Everyone else piled on betting against her. Slowly, Livia and turned to see who had spoken. It was Percy Weasley. Livia turned back to make out for sure. Yes, she had picked out Bill Weasley.

“I did not realize it was him, but I am sticking to my prediction,” Livia asserted.

About a minute later, Bill and his date stopped dancing. They were talking and she started gesticulating wildly and, indeed, just as Livia said, ran out of the room, with Bill slowly and deliberately walking behind her, as if wondering what to say if he had found her.

“Guess who was right, Percy?” Livia teased. “Pay up, the lot of you.” As each paid off their wager, Percy remained dumbfounded by what he had seen.

“No one – no one has ever done that to him,” Percy haltingly sputtered. “I do not know how you do this, but I learned my lesson.” It was easy, but she would not tell him that she could figure out overwrought teens, even budding witches or wizards, like reading a Dr. Seuss book.

Still, making money off Bill Weasley’s embarrassing episode, made her very concerned about him. She left the area – to the dismay of a few Slytherins who wanted a way to get their money back, as if possible – and went into the hallway to find him. He was sitting on a step of a stairway close to the Great Hall.

            “Bill, I am so sorry,” Livia offered. “Why did that happen?”

            “Oh, you saw, too,” he began, “My date thought our relationship had become far more serious than I did. I said something about possibly going to Egypt when I graduated, and she realized I meant going alone, since I had not asked her anything about it.”

            “I see,” Livia acknowledged. “I am sorry to say that I had made a prediction about what would happen before I knew I had seen you. In fact, the first person to wager against me was your brother, Percy, who thought I had made a big mistake. Should I give you his money?”

            “Nah, keep it,” he replied. “He had to learn. You must have made a small fortune.”

            “No one believed me, even those who should have known better, so yes, I did. Sorry. Believe me, I did not do anything to make that happen.”

            “I know you didn’t,” he answered. “Frankly, I honestly did not look for her too quickly because I did not expect that I would last much longer with her. She’s too possessive and not terribly talented. I started getting bored more quickly than I usually do.”

            “I guess I understand,” Livia responded. “Not from firsthand experience, mind you.”

            Just then he looked at Livia closely and took in all the care Shelley, Athena and Selene had taken in making her look great.

            “You look amazing,” he stated. “Who are you here with?”

            “Nobody,” Livia admitted. “My roommates Shelley, Athena and Selene wanted me to look reasonably nice for no reason I can fathom. They knew I would spend the whole night taking money off of over-confident Slytherins who never got told to not bet against me. You or your brother Charlie must have warned Percy, but he could not believe your date would leave you.”

            “Yes,” he answered. “And Percy knew that Emilia had arranged for my attire and fussed over me a great deal. Based on that, he would not have believed you. But here I am. Still, I can’t believe they put all that attention into your appearance for you to throw it away. What did they think they would accomplish by doing it?”

            “I think they made themselves feel better because they realized any of them could have been me tonight,” Livia responded. “But what choice did I have? It’s not like some random female is going to land a date for this function by asking. They rationalized it by asserting that if I looked nice, they would make someone wish he had asked me instead of whomever he brought.”

            “They did very well,” Bill observed. “So, we can continue to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can go back inside and enjoy the rest of the ball. Which do you choose?”

            “You’re asking me?” Livia queried, rather surprised.

            “Of course,” Bill said. “Emilia can go fly a kite. That I will dance with someone else in an outfit she got me will serve her right for setting herself up and walking out.”

            Bill stood up and extended the crook of his arm for Livia to grasp. She took it and stood up and both returned to the Great Hall together. Livia emptied her bag of all the money she had gained and transported it back to her room, beneath her pillow, where she would find it later. The rest of the night she merrily, without a trace of dread or aspiration for anything more, spent dancing with Bill. The fact that she no longer tortured herself about him made the event far more pleasant. She also noticed that she had attracted the attention of practically the entire school, something that only had happened that first year, when she sparred with Professor Snape. For once, she got to see how dancing with a hugely popular male student affected the responses of other people to her. At least some of the faculty noticed how she had blossomed and seemed so radiant dancing with the handsome and admired Gryffindor prefect. Livia also noted that Shelley, Athena and Selene had seen this and felt glad that their effort actually and tangibly accomplished more than they had thought possible.

Meantime, in the area well away from the dancers, Percy wondered if she could have caused her brother’s breakup for her own gain, but Bill later told him that she had not. He had thoughtlessly told Emilia about where his future might take him and did so without a thought about her playing a role in it. She realized he did not see them lasting beyond Hogwarts and took great offence that he did not feel the same way about her that she did for him.

*Author's Note

The phrase "same as it ever was" is taken from the Talking Heads's song "Once in a Lifetime" off the group's 1981 album Remain in Light. The lyrics were written by lead vocalist David Byrne, though all members receive credit for the music.


Chapter 14: Bill, a CD Player and Another Birthday Prank
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       Livia briefly considered what the Winter Ball might have felt like if she had danced with Bill at last year’s event. The “what if” aspect might have tormented someone else, but Livia recognized how happy she was as things stood. No anxiety. No expectations, good or bad. She risked nothing and therefore could really smile and bask in Bill’s full attention, even if only for part of an evening. He still had no idea, so he also enjoyed a stress-free night dancing with a girl he had never truly seen until her friends took the time to show how pretty she could look. He already knew her to be kind, modest and hugely talented. He had never thought about how she looked, but he did wonder then if Bill and Livia made a better-looking dancing couple than Bill and Emilia had.

            Livia only wondered about how the evening would end. She noted that he saw her somewhat differently than he had before but felt it would not translate into any sort of relationship. He had other plans to find his own way first after he graduated. That would not change, no matter what. She still had to work with him, in any case, so their friendship mattered above anything else. Yet at the end of the night, he walked with her outside briefly and wanted to ask her something as they stood alone on the bridge next to the courtyard, with him loaning her his jacket.  For some reason, she could not anticipate what he wanted to ask her.

            “Livia, have you ever kissed a boy?” he inquired.

            She had trouble accepting that he had caught her off-guard. “Um, no,” Livia answered.

            “I think it high time someone fixed that,” he said. He pulled her towards him and gently, tenderly kissed her. He almost pulled her off her feet, or she sure felt like she was floating.

            She could not prevent responding had she wanted to do so and had trouble pulling back. It may not have been the most passionate embrace, but if anyone had seen it, it definitely could not be called chaste or a peck, either. It lasted way too long for either of those two words to apply.

            He leveled with her. “I know you will not misunderstand me,” he began. “Some people meet future spouses here, but I never planned on doing that. Dating became a social hobby – I guess one I took for granted because I never had problems asking girls for dates. I know that does not describe your time here.”

            “True, it does not,” she admitted.

            “I wanted to do what I did, but we have to work together, at least to some degree,” he continued. “So I hope I do not insult you if I do not ask you out and we do not start dating.”

            “I understand,” Livia stated. “I basically thought I was the equivalent of your little sister.”

            “She is a lot younger than you are,” he revealed. “Still, I admit that your assessment has a lot of truth to it. I definitely do not want to hurt you, and if we did date, I think I would at some point do precisely that. You do not deserve that, and I doubt I will change soon – certainly I highly doubt anyone could change me. Young women sometimes think they can ‘fix’ a boyfriend, and they usually set themselves up for a lot of disappointment, instead, like Emilia.”

            “I agree,” Livia said. “I have witnessed fights over this very thing, including your own.”

            “Some young man who finds himself ready will be most lucky to win you fairly,” Bill observed. “Make sure you wait for the right one – no matter how long it takes or how unlikely it seems. I know I am willing to wait for the right time to find the right girl.”

            They walked back inside and he accompanied her as far as a Gryffindor student could go to the Ravenclaw rooms. He hugged her, and she welcomed and returned his embrace. He took his jacket back and kissed her hand. Then as he let go of her hand, they bid each other goodnight.

            Livia discovered that she had been the last one in the room to return from the Winter Ball. Everyone had seen her dancing with Bill Weasley and peppered her with questions like would they start dating, did he kiss her goodnight, what happened to his original date, did she hex his date and even did she make money off what happened to him, which no one had seen coming.

            “First, let me thank Shelley, Athena and Selene for helping me look decent tonight,” Livia acknowledged. “I never fully imagined it would matter in the slightest.”

            “Oh you tease!” Shelley squealed. “What happened?”

            “Well, as some of you suggested, I did make a wager on him,” Livia replied. “I did not see it was him until after I turned around to see that the first person to tell me I had to be wrong was his brother, Percy.”

            “Oh, he must have been shocked,” Athena mused.

            “He definitely was, but he and the rest all paid up,” Livia responded. “I got more money off that than I think any other prediction I ever made.” She lifted up her pillow and showed them all the money she had collected that night. “At least half of that came from that one wager.”

            “That is quite a haul,” Ted observed. “And you did nothing to Bill’s date?”

            “No,” Livia answered. “He told me the story, since I followed him outside the Hall when he walked out. He has no interest in finding a wife here, and his date had other ideas about their future. When he informed her casually of possible plans that did not include her, she got upset and left. We talked for some time when he suggested that, instead of sitting there, we could go back inside and enjoy the Winter Ball together.”

            “You sure did,” Shelley asserted. “I find it hard to believe you are not together now.”

            “We aren’t,” Livia admitted. “Bill explained himself quite well and said he was concerned that he would hurt me eventually if we dated because he had no intention of changing his view of his schooling. Then, there is the matter of us working together for the club dance.”

            “I don’t know if I would care about that, if I were you,” Athena stated.

            “Indeed,” Livia said. “Believe-you-me, if I thought there was a chance he would waver on that first point, I might have said something different. But he said it himself, girls make a grave mistake if they think they can change or fix their boyfriends. He needs to do what he needs to do, and I needed to let him go. So I did.”

            “I don’t know how he could walk away from you,” Ted wondered.

            “Well, he did not do so immediately, or I would have returned before the rest of you did.”

            “Are we getting to the juicy part, yet?” Don asked. Everyone seemed to be listening.

            “What do you consider juicy, Don?” Livia put to him.

            “It would start if he actually kissed you – more would be nice, too,” he responded. “Those girls worked hard. Tell them they did it for something.”

            “Okay,” Livia admitted. “He did.”

            “Did what?” Ted asked.

            “He kissed me on the bridge beyond the courtyard,” Livia revealed.

            You would have thought the Quidditch team had clinched the House Cup. Everyone seemed to be uproarious cheering. “Anything else?” Ted asked.

            “After he explained himself, he walked me back to the Ravenclaw dorm area and hugged the stuffing out of me and kissed my hand before he left.”

            “I mean the kiss,” Ted specified. “C’mon, spill girl. Everyone here wants to know. We won’t tattle on you.”

            “It was nice,” she answered. “It wasn’t really a peck or timid, but it wasn’t really sloppy or desperate or overly intense, either. I mean, he did not kiss his sister, but I would not call it a make-out session.”

            “Did it last more than five seconds?” Don inquired.

Livia could not understand how or why they wanted to dissect this. “I think so, but I may have lost track of time. I thought I was floating out of my shoes.”

            “Now that is what I wanted to hear,” Ted asserted. “That is a real kiss. I wouldn’t be walking away from a girl who felt like that. Why should you give up, either?”

            “He probably gets that all the time,” Don suggested. “He has never lacked for attention from girls. He probably charms his head of house enough to wish she were young enough for him.”

            “And he doesn’t even play Quidditch!” Barry added. Everyone laughed.

            The end of the term brought Livia back to London, where she could see that, despite the stress of his studies, Tom had made good progress and his firm and the course instructors seemed satisfied with his work. Alice kept him grounded as well as focused, a great feat for a young woman who had completed her own studies. She gave him space when he needed it and knew when he needed a break. She has an innate sensibility about him.

            Alice had not neglected herself either. She took up volunteering at the British Museum giving tours and talking about the historical context of various acquisitions. She also offered help to one of her more highly prominent relatives, helping him sort various family papers and arrange to turn them over to an archive attached to Trinity College, Cambridge University. Alice’s knowledge of history and growing skills in dealing with archives as well as her own family tree started giving her opportunities to have access to unpublished documents and the ability to judge what to do with them. As a dedicated student of history, the Victorian habit of destroying anything remotely unflattering never occurred to her. Understanding context and exhibiting a desire to handle material properly overruled any temptation to omit anything. Yet because she seemed evenhanded to the point of remaining true to a source, relatives made her a “go to” person within any part of her heritage to handle documents of potential historical value. Some relations urged her to seek a DPhil and become at least one family’s historian, though her background ran into several aristocratic families, who all vied for her attention and skills. She vowed never to go too far forward with such ideas until Tom’s career path became more stable.

            Thanks to her astonishing profits at the last Winter Ball, Livia deposited some funds and exchanged the rest for currency in sterling that she used for various gifts.  Tom and Alice found themselves quite surprised that she had managed to buy both of them a set of presents, along with their relocated cat Abby, who Gary finally let them regain. Tom had thought she would need money, so he wondered how she managed to buy clothes, music and some theatre tickets to Cats,* as a celebration of Abby’s arrival.

            Tom asked her how she bought these things. She confessed that she had done some chores helping faculty, but much it came from making wagers with students, mostly regarding their own personal affairs.

“As you know, Tom, I can often predict things well,” Livia began. “Every year when new students come, I find at least some not warned about wagering against me on anything. I had a particularly good term, though one of my prognostications involved someone I like very much and did not know it concerned him because I could not see his features well until after I made my pronouncement. His brother said my prediction was impossible, so the money poured in, as if I planted him to say that.”

            “I presume this was the older boy you told us about,” Tom suggested.

            “It was. I did. I forced myself to get over it, regardless of how much I still like him.”

            “Was he mad that you made money off his misfortune?” Tom asked.

            “No, actually,” Livia answered. “He did not even want me to return his brother’s wager. He seemed relieved since this girl thought they had a future together, and he inadvertently let her know he had been thinking about a future after graduation that did not include her.”

            “But you rushed to his side to cheer him up,” Tom stated.

            “I did.”

            “Then what happened?” Tom inquired.

            “He danced the rest of the night with me,” Livia replied.

            “Really? Are you two now an item?” Alice asked.

            “No,” she responded. “He made it clear that he would only hurt me if that happened because he was not interested in a lasting relationship. I let go, rather than try to change his mind.”

            “Sad but probably wise,” Tom observed. “He’s what – 17?”

            “I think so.”

            “Yeah, I can’t say a 17-year-old would be automatically reliable,” Tom mused. Hit and miss. Very self-aware and kind of him not to toy with you. He must actually respect you a lot to not try to take advantage of you.”

            “Now you know why I like him,” Livia offered.

“He may not be mature, but it takes character for him to pull back when he probably could have done something else,” Alice asserted.

            Christmas went very well. Livia actually received her own large CD player, too, though she internally felt uncertain about how to power it without electricity. She did find an old turntable at a market that felt more certain about using. Seeing Cats also offered a nice break for everyone. Whilst she did manage to speak to both her father and Cathy on the telephone, she remained ambivalent if they wanted to come for a visit, and worse when it seemed they could only do so as a family trip. Livia knew that would include her supposed mother and sister Lydia, and she had resolved not to see either. Instead, she opted to make an excuse to return to school on 7 January, 1988, deciding that scheming to pester Professor Snape totally beat having to deal with her sister. At least he had some respect for Livia and could show her an iota of consideration, though her stunt might change that. She wanted to figure out how to bother him before his birthday, since he especially seemed very put out by her disturbing him on his birthday. She shrunk everything carefully so she could carry it without difficulty and bid Tom, Alice and Abby goodbye. “Nothing personal, but I am not ready to deal with Lydia or your mother, Tom. My condolences to Alice and Abby. Silently, she warned Abby to hide from the sister Tom called Lydia because she had shown a propensity to being abusive to cats and, though Alice, Tom and Tom’s sister Cathy could try to stop her, they might intervene too late. Should anything happen to you, Tom’s rift with his family would become huge or something worse might happen. Abby said she understood.

            Livia, not old enough to use anything else but use a broom, got back to school early on the evening of Thursday, 7 January. She had brought her own food but the staff wanted to ensure they tended to her well. When asked why she came back so soon, she gave them an honest answer: “my adopted brother’s family wanted to visit him, and I am not ready to see all of them again, especially a so-called sister who mistreated me for years. I would rather take inventory for Professor Snape than see her.” Given that they presumed that doing anything for him had to be a most thankless task, they accepted that Livia wanted to avoid her sister. She would later enlist Hagrid – after visiting her Barn Owl friends – to help her acquire any materials she would need for the new term.

            The next day, though, revolved around finding her way into the faculty housing area of the castle and paying a visit to Professor Snape. Livia could not believe she had kept her mimicry of him under wraps for so long. She just had to try it out – though anything beat being in London and being forced to interact with Lydia Woodcock that weekend. She found that she did not need to do much different to get past the security set up to keep students out. Did Professor Snape not tell the building manager, Mr. Filch, to change everything to stop her? Did he forget?

            Once again, she confidently but not harshly knocked on his door. Of course, she had no idea for certain if he had returned. The staff response to her statement suggested to her – if she had understood them correctly – that he had. “Albus, I have no time for you today. I actually have several potions to make before the term starts.”

            In her best mimicry of Professor Snape, she answered in his voice, “If you do not open the door, I will tell Minerva of my secret crush on her this instant.”

            Professor Snape’s eyes widened. Could the headmaster impersonate him? He had to stop this, and if opening the door would do so, he better do it immediately. Then he saw her: a grinning, 15-year-old Livia Woodcock, who added in his voice “Will you let me in, wish you a Happy Birthday and explain why I am here, or do I have to talk to Minerva?”

            “You win, get inside before you get us both into a heap of trouble,” he responded, rather stone-faced and put out. “Start talking – in your own voice – and first tell me how you managed to start doing mine.”

            “I have practiced, sir,” Livia replied. “I thought if you decided to go after myself or Shelley again, I would use it. The detention would have been so worth it. Helena Ravenclaw helped me get it right. No one else really knows about it right now but you.”

            “Why did you start this?” he asked.

            “On the off-chance, you either tried to use what you found out last summer against me – or that a Ravenclaw student let my personal button to annoy me become known and you tried it.”

            “You have a button? I have tried for several years to upset you and a student did it. Tell me how, or I will make you sorry for this.”

            “This second-year boy asked me to read his paper, under the misguided assumption that I would fawn over it and tell him how great he was, rather than tell him how to improve it,” Livia stated. “When I made suggestions, he started telling me I could not possibly know what I was talking about because I was just a silly girl.”

            “Ohhhh, that old misogyny thing,” he stated, nodding. “So what happened?”

            “I told my roommates about it,” she responded. “They know I have helped them or other members in my house. The three Ravenclaw Quidditch players there decided they wanted to ‘have my back,’ and they told the whole team, including the female players, how to straighten him out, after conning him to try out for the team. Consequently, he kept his mouth shut and has never bothered me again.”

            “So no one told Professor Flitwick?” Professor Snape asked.

            “I did not and no one else did, to my knowledge,” Livia answered.

            “I think you know what my button is,” he observed.

            “You have not told me, but…” Livia paused for a few seconds, pondering, then gave an answer. “You hate if anyone calls you a coward. Who would do that?”

            “Correct,” he said. “It does not happen often but it has, and it will happen again.”

            “I don’t see it, sir,” Livia said, confused. “The fact that you live with so heavy a burden on you makes me think that highly implausible.”

            “So in addition to amusing yourself with my voice and wishing me a Happy Birthday, why are you here?”

            “I didn’t get to the birthday part, yet,” Livia stated. She sang Happy Birthday in his own voice as well as hers, which struck him as incredibly bizarre. “So why am I here? Two words – Lydia Woodcock.”

            “I don’t understand,” he admitted. “Isn’t she that horrible alleged sister of yours?”

            “She is,” Livia admitted. “Tom’s family wanted to make a trip to London around now, meaning her, also. I did not want to see her or the mother who thinks she is so great. I could not leave fast enough to avoid that possible fiasco for Tom. I just made sure to warn Alice’s cat to steer clear of Lydia, since she attempted to harm Sairy years ago.”

            “I actually understand this,” he said. “I often avoided my father. The two of them might be related. Well, since you insisted on being here, I may as well put you to work. I have a few things to do – all potion-making, not inventory. I have dealt with any minor issues involving that already. Usually, I have little to do during the winter, but it’s been unusually cold. Anyway, call this your gift to me.”

            “You got a deal,” she agreed. “As long as I am not in London right now, I am happy.”

            “Why didn’t you try to visit Bill Weasley instead?” Professor Snape asked. “His family would have been only too happy to meet you.”

            “What?” Livia put to him.

            “You dancing with him, after his girlfriend stormed out, was the story of the Winter Ball,” he said. “Did you not know that? Some believed you hexed his girlfriend, in fact, though that does not strike me as something you would do, despite what I already know.”

            “I am not dating Bill Weasley, sir,” Livia revealed. “In fact, he told me he was relieved she had left, which is why he went after her in such a slow, deliberate fashion. I think I enjoyed that time with him more because I had ceased to be fixated on the outcome versus the moment.”

            “I find your status with him very hard to believe, Miss Woodcock,” he observed. “Still, choosing to pester me over visiting him suggests that you are not lying.”

            “To be perfectly frank, he told me he has plans after graduation that do not involve marrying someone he meets at school. He told me that, if he did start dating me, he would just hurt me, eventually, because he did not see ever changing his mind. He felt that, all too often, girls mistakenly think they can change a boyfriend when they cannot.”

            “Nice of him to level with you,” he asserted. “But why did you just accept that? Almost every rule has an exception. Besides, spending over a year with him might be pleasant by itself, too. Did it ever occur to you that you gave up too soon or too easily?”

            “One of my roommates pretty much asked the same thing,” Livia stated. “I am still more a sister to him and his weakness happens to be blondes. I am obviously not blonde, sir.”

            “So, is your personal weakness tall, red-haired boys?”

            “Actually, no,” she admitted. “I never realized how attractive he was or how much I liked him until I spoke to him.”

            “Doesn’t that tell you something?” he asked. “Sometimes other factors can change how one thinks about ‘taste’ – though there is no accounting for that, anyway.”

            “I see what you mean, but I will not torture myself over what has already come and gone.”

            “Given the fact that you should not be here, I think we should get to the room another way. I usually cannot do this here, though. Take my arm sleeve.” Part of this was a test to see if apparating to the potion room would make her sick – potentially a punishment – whilst it could be said to benefit her also, since no one would know that she bypassed security keeping students from the faculty quarters during their down time. Livia did not seem sick at all, just shocked to be in a room she knew so well.

            “What just happened?” she asked. “I feel like that was some kind of gymnastics.”

            “It is a skill called apparition,” he explained. “I could only transport you if we had a physical connection. Most times, a young person first transported this way gets sick from it. I see you have not. A witch or wizard has to know his or her exact destination to do this – though faculty do not often show students this or do it on campus, so I would appreciate it if you do not mention it. During the term, I cannot really do it. Only the headmaster potentially can. To do this legally, you have to pass an exam and receive a license. You cannot get a license until you are at least 17 years old.”

            “I see,” Livia said. “So what can I do now?”

            Professor Snape already had begun to set aside ingredients they would need. “Carry these to where we can use them for potion making.” She made several trips to collect everything he put down and she rearranged them in alphabetical order as she placed them on the table in front of the room. When he had joined her, he found her arrangement useful. He pulled out a card from a drawer and placed it before her. “You can make this whilst I work on something else. But mind the tools this time.”

            Livia read through everything and assembled the ingredients in front of her cauldron, in the order listed on the card. This time, both worked seamlessly without crossing either’s use of anything. Every so often, he would look over at her working and, if expressionless, held some sort of admiration for how she worked so diligently yet effortlessly, so technically sound but also with sensitivity and subtlety. He thought about how his own Potions Master would have taken great pride in her, though he said far more to her on paper than he verbally showed anything close to approval. She must have read his comments rather carefully, though, based on what he saw.

            With a final few stirs, she had completed her task. Livia asked if he could show her how he preserved potions that took time to mature. He led her step-by-step through the process, storing first his, then hers. “We have two more to do,” he revealed. “Next time, show me that you learned how to store these properly.” He laid out a card for her next task as he began his own.

            If she felt any pressure from what he would ask of her later, she did not show it in the least. The second task went as well as the first, but because Professor Snape had a more challenging potion to make, he did not watch her as carefully. He had to test her potion when she finished. She looked at him quizzically. “I watched more of your work the first time, so I wanted to make sure the second came out as well,” he stated. “I know it seems unnecessary, but best I am sure now. Anyway, time to see if you paid attention to storing these. Both require the exact same procedure.”

            Livia’s skills at observation and listening came to the forefront. She very cautiously tended to each to ensure she did not lose anything nor made any missteps. He said nothing as she did one then the second until she finished. “You may have acted a little gingery, because you wanted to get everything right, but eventually you will handle this task more quickly as you feel more comfortable with it.”

            “Does speed matter a lot?” she asked.

            “Not greatly,” he answered. “For a few it would matter, but not for the two we just did, which is why I felt comfortable letting you try it.”

            “Thank you, sir,” Livia responded. “I hope you find something to smile about tomorrow – hard though I know it is. I will not attempt to compare my misadventures with yours but will wish you a good day.” Livia bowed slightly and retreated to her room, where she would try getting her CD player to work. Feeling a bit stymied, she thought she would ask the headmaster.

            Livia found him in his office, and he seemed quite surprised to see her. She explained why she had left London – she wanted to avoid seeing her adopted sister. He wondered why a boggart had not become her. Livia explained her dread did not exactly constitute fear. If she feared anything, it would be that she would feel compelled to hex Lydia or do something underage witches cannot legally do. She knew the girl could not really harm her, but she also knew full well that the girl only grew more petty and spoiled by the day. Livia might relish a little too much doing something that neither he nor the school would like, much less those who had made such laws.

            He then wanted to know if her sister had something to do with Livia’s visit. Livia shook her head and told him about the gift her brother gave her, which ran on electricity. “I do not know how to make it work here. And I want it to work. My battery-powered items usually work.”

            “Yes,” the headmaster said. “Small items powered with a small amount of energy often work. Indeed, you can use existing energy here to keep them running forever. A more sophisticated device has more difficulty owing to various aspects of electromagnetic interference. You have to isolate the device to protect it then harness energy into where it enters the device. Show me what you want to work.”

            Livia materialized the item and a disc for it. “Fascinating,” he observed. “This plays music?” Livia nodded. He manifested some kind of shield to fit around the device, leaving the end of the cord open. He conjured a small, rectangular box for it to plug into. Then the headmaster instructed her on how to gather energy to feed the box, whose composition he showed her. Since the device had its own speakers as part of it, music started coming out. “You do not need electricity. It is everywhere. You need to control it and direct it and protect things sensitive to it.”

            “Thank you,” Livia told him. “I will remember.”

            “Tell me before you go,” he began. “Do you think you are being challenged sufficiently?”

            “In many respects, yes,” Livia answered. “But at times I get restless. I do not forever want to be quiet and unnoticed. I try to think of that frustration, as well as my awful so-called sister, when I duel Professor Flitwick.”

            “I noticed that you seemed to enjoy the attention you got at the Winter Ball. It seems Mr. Weasley finally saw you, perhaps for the first time.”

            “Well, I put that behind me,” Livia admitted.

            “Why?”

            “Because he made it plain that he had no interest in a starting a serious relationship with anyone right now and did not want to hurt me.”

            “I see,” the headmaster said. “He already did that, though, did he not?”

            “Yes, you can say that,” Livia replied. “In truth, I hurt myself, and I decided to stop doing that and just enjoy what happened without disappointing myself.”

            “But what if you gave up too soon?” he inquired. “You may see it as self-protection, but if we never try, we only fail ourselves. You can live with that?”

            “You are not the first to ask me if I gave up too soon,” Livia answered. “I have to live with what seemed like the most rational thing I could do.”

            “Feeling something towards another person does not involve reason, or we would reject it every time, given any number of issues,” he told her gently. “Your heart and your brain seem estranged, even divided, and only you pay the price for that. Even your dueling skills could improve if you reconciled the two better. Love has its own magic that you should never dismiss. Whether you were right or wrong in this instance, I cannot say, however.”

            “Can I change the subject?” Livia asked, after returning her CD player to her room. “I did something amusing today. I probably should not tell you this, but…”

            “That sounds like you should tell me, especially if you tell a good story.”

            “I pranked Professor Snape again, since I know he has some strange way of marking his birthday. Since few are here, I figured it served as a good diversion for myself, too.”

            “Just what did you do?” the headmaster asked, impishly hoping he could laugh at whatever Livia had done.

            “He may tell you, but I will do so first,” Livia responded. “I knocked on his door and after he told me to go away, thinking I was you, I told him that – then she launched into her mimicry of him, slowing down her speech pattern to match his pace – if you do not open the door, I will tell Minerva about my secret crush on her.”

            The headmaster laughed hysterically. “Oh, that must have been grand. Remarkable work there. How fast did he open the door?”

            “Less than three seconds,” Livia said in her own voice.

            “How did you get to do his voice so well?”

            “I practiced with Helena Ravenclaw. Now only you, she and Professor Snape truly know.”

            “He will probably tell me by Monday,” the headmaster suggested. “You have quite a weapon against him now. Did he punish you harshly?”

            “Well, he put me to work,” Livia answered. “I guess you could call that punishment.”

            “Somehow, I doubt you saw it that way,” he observed. “He could have done much worse. I hope he found it flattering on some level, given all the other voices you can do.”

            “It was harder for me to speak someone’s voice than sing it, so it took me longer. I have not tried many speaking voices, so I cannot imitate your voice presently, for example.”

            “Might be for the best,” he remarked. They bid each other good night and Livia returned to her room and awaited the return of everyone else from their winter break.

 

* Author's Note

Andrew Lloyd Webber created the musical Cats based on the 1939 work by T.S. Eliot titled Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Director Trevor Nunn fashioned one Eliot poem into song lyrics for the production, also. The initial London production ran from 1981-2002.


Chapter 15: A Spring Too Hot to Handle, Including Shelley's Song Choice
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              On Monday, 11 January, Livia exchanged some quick notes back and forth from Tom. Given the long roundtrip, Sydney recommended a strong owl of a different species to take it to him, though she had given him advice on it. A Great Grey Owl named Geoffrey made the trip instead. Livia explained his presence to Tom and handsomely rewarded him for the trip out and back. Tom told her that the weekend went okay, probably because Abby hid under their bed most of the weekend. They had moved some food, water and litter close to her, so she could avoid Lydia as she desired. His father and sister Cathy acted graciously, mindful of Alice’s family connections. His mother had been cordial, likely made aware of the repercussions of doing anything else, though she did not exert any discipline whatsoever on Lydia, who remained bratty as usual. Whilst dining out, Alice encountered a somewhat distant, distinguished Russell-related cousin about her age named Robert Stanley, usually just called Bertie, who recognized her. He knew that she had briefly moved to London and had started working on family historical documents. They had a brief discussion about the papers, but Lydia practically pitched a fit about attention being diverted from her. Before the cousin left, Rev. Woodcock dragged Lydia to the coat-check area of the restaurant.
            “The world does not revolve around you, Lydia,” he told her. “If you so much as make another sound to offend your brother, Alice or any of Alice’s relatives, I will pull you out of here by your ear and throw you in the boot of my car. We stay at a hotel named for a part of her family tree. You have no business acting that way in front of ANYONE she knows. You want to try me?”

            “Mummy would never let you do that,” Lydia replied, very proud of herself.

            “Then my wife will join you in the car because I will not stand for this another second. This I vow to God. No more. You will mind your manners and treat Miss West with respect. People know her here, and your brother deserves nothing less from us.”

            All Tom could write was that whatever his father had said to Lydia after dragging her towards the coatroom had quieted her – finally. The rest of the weekend went fairly well after that, especially since his family stayed at the nearby Hotel Russell, and he did not have to deal with an overload of Lydia. That lot fell to Cathy, who told him she would rather have slept in Livia’s small bed in his study than share a room with Lydia. She would have settled for the floor, even. Yet she had not gotten the time off to travel herself; she would wait for a more opportune time to make her own trip. Cathy even told Tom she envied Livia’s ability to escape and return early to her school. Tom told Cathy that he had gotten the impression that Livia had pulled in a few favors from all the time she spent there. Indeed, the headmaster told the staff to welcome her whenever she came, owing to her circumstances when admitted and insight as to what Professor Snape reviewed.

            Livia’s Ravenclaw roommates expressed great surprise at finding her back before any of them had arrived. She explained that she had fled London to avoid a “family trip” there to visit her brother, which included the sister she could not stand. She did not want to get angry and do something that the Ministry of Magic considered illegal.

            “You did not have somewhere else to go?” Shelley asked. “I would have gotten my family to welcome you for a visit.”

            “I think most of us would have tried to help,” Athena offered. “I suppose Hogwarts beats London if you wanted to avoid your ‘sister,’ but why not ask us?”

            “It all came up very last minute, and I did not think I had much time to impose on anyone,” Livia explained. “I did have time to pull this off…” then Livia put in a CD to her larger player and sound started filling the room.

            “Blimey, you take this music seriously,” Don observed. “It is interesting. How did you get this thing to work? Muggle devices that large often do not function here.”

            “My small things could, but for this I needed advice from the headmaster, who gave it a short listen and let me set it up here.”

            “He liked it?” Ted asked.

            “Enough to help me get it to work and not object to me using it. I have to protect it. Muggles use something called electricity. We have a different means that provides plenty of power. I just have to focus it and protect the player from being overloaded.”

            “Does he not want this widely known?” Shelley inquired.

            “In general, I think that applies to everything I own. But let me play you all something I had suggested to Shelley for the dance next spring.” With that, she chose the song “Need You Tonight” by INXS. She had gotten their music in several formats.

            “Who is that voice?” Athena queried. “Is he as, umm, fine as he sounds?”

            “Oh yeah,” Livia admitted. “Here’s the cover art, though you only see half of his face.”

            “Blimey,” Athena said. “Have you seen the rest?”

            “Definitely,” Livia admitted. “Just as good.”

            “Who thinks I should get Livia to dance with Bill Weasley to this as the first song?” Shelley asked, polling the room.  Every hand but Livia's went up.

            “What are you trying to do?” Livia queried.

            “Get him to change his mind,” Shelley answered. “If it fails, don’t blame me.”

            “Suppose he brings someone else?” Livia inquired. “That would be awkward.”

            “I think the rest of us can do something about that,” Shelley mused. “Ted, can’t you help there? If I have to force you, Livia, you will not so easily give him up again. I get to make this call for the playlist. The other two were good, but this will push the two of you together.”

            “I told you how he feels,” Livia responded. “Is this really a good idea?”

“Who would you rather dance with to this song – Professor Flitwick?” Shelley asked.

            “No, make it Professor Snape!” Ted said. Everyone howled with laughter loudly.

            “Just great,” Livia stated. She could not help herself in the frivolity of the moment from doing Professor Snape: “I would rather be boiled in a potion cauldron than be seen at such a silly event dancing with one of you juvenile dunderheads.”

            They all laughed quite outrageously at first, but then the realization dawned on all of them that Livia could perfectly mimic the professor who had terrorized most of them at some point. “How on earth?” Shelley asked.

            “I should not have let that out, but the temptation proved a little too great,” Livia admitted.

            “When did you figure out you could do his voice?” Athena inquired.

            “A few months ago,” Livia answered. “Can we keep this in the room for now? If I ever need to do it, the element of surprise probably matters.” She convinced them Professor Snape had no clue.

            “You imagined you would need it?” Selene queried.

            “Yes,” Livia concurred. “After he went after Shelley and I last year, I thought about coming up with something if he tangled with us again. I worked on this, just in case, though I have not had to use it so far. I figured it would be worth the detention he would give me.”

            “It is the ultimate comeback, though,” Ted suggested. “But timing its use for maximum effect, I can see. I will not spoil it.”

            The rest of the room agreed, on the condition that they wanted to hear Professor Snape sing that song first. Livia expressed some doubt if she could do it but nonetheless pulled it off. She actually considered that Michael Hutchence’s plea of “I’m lonely!” might be more accurate than any of them imagined. So whilst everyone laughed hysterically to Professor Snape becoming the lead singer of INXS, Livia found it easy to maintain her deadpan composure in speak-singing as him, which of course she needed to do for the sake of accuracy, anyway. None of them suspected that she had an iota of sympathy for him, just that she knew how to perform as him accurately.

            Earlier that evening, Professor Snape also had revealed to the headmaster that his “pet project” had pulled another stunt on the former the day before his birthday. He suggested that maybe the headmaster’s directive on her had begun to stress her close to the point of insanity.

            “She’s not insane, she’s a mimic,” the headmaster reacted. “And a very good one. I must confess, Severus, her version of you was extremely accurate. I had to laugh at it myself, but you know I enjoy a good harmless prank.”

            “She told you? Hmm, just wait until she starts on you,” he observed.

            “You should be flattered,” the headmaster stated. “She said she finds singing voices easier to impersonate. She apparently put a lot of work into getting your voice down correctly.”

            “Will you feel that way if she does it in class?” he asked.

            “Don’t give her a reason, then. Goodnight, Severus.” Professor Snape returned the sentiment and the two parted.

            The term began well and Livia felt all of her classes well under her control. She enjoyed meeting new creatures and, once she told them she had spoken to one of the more reticent ones, they all felt comfortable with her. Outwardly, her technique appeared unchanged, but everything she did, she obtained consent to do, be it petting, bunting (like one would do to a cat) or some other friendly gesture the animal might even suggest. Her experiences with birds and cats helped her greatly, but Livia never took it for granted that another creature liked a particular behavior. Letting them dictate their terms showed respect and gave them the opportunity to feel they could trust her. The instructor usually just detailed the subtle things Livia did, though occasionally asked why she pet one animal and did something else with another. Livia usually tried to ground her answers with references to body gestures made by the creatures, or by approaching them by seeming smaller and giving them a height advantage or opportunity to flee, so not corned. Still, by then, most students realized she got permission from the creatures, too. At least Shelley never forgot. Charlie did not, either, and kept trying to understand the secret to communicating with them. Shelley told him she got nowhere asking this because Livia said she had this skill for as long as she could remember and had no idea how to articulate its development. She just suggested he watch her body language and that of the creatures very closely and pick up as much of the subtlety of it as he could. Ultimately, he did it extremely well, as if he could converse with them.

            Professor Snape mostly ignored Livia and Shelley, given that he could not risk what she might say or how she could say it. Both of those would, as she put it, compromise his performance. Shelley began to suspect that someone tipped him off to Livia’s mimicry, and he did not wish to spar with himself. Yet she had no idea who had told him, unless Professor Dumbledore somehow knew about it. Given the way Livia protected her CD player, Shelley highly doubted any other Ravenclaw student or Professor Flitwick knew. Other than the occasional nod she might notice him direct to Livia, Shelley saw no sign that they communicated at all.

             Yet Livia had begun a running correspondence with him via her paper assignments. Her writing as well as his comments began relating to things done previously, enhancing or clarifying aspects only they understood. That she balanced this and still entirely remained on point with the current assignment gave ample testimony to her writing skills. Though Livia did not see long enough samples of his writing to call it masterful, he wrote very well and made his assessments with both complexity regarding potion making and brevity in expression. If he ever felt pushed by her writing, he met the challenge and never held back anything that might further her progress. Livia had to read his commentary carefully, even multiple times, to extract everything he meant. If she took a good deal of time writing things for him, he spent a good deal of time responding. He also kept the headmaster fully informed, especially if he found anything unusually insightful. By the end of the year, it had seemed they had become “pen pals” (or quill palls). The only other thing he noticed was that, as the weather got nicer, she occasionally sang in his voice, to the most ridiculous things like the Beastie Boys fighting for their right to party, which she apparently got on a compilation tape. She knows that I hear her – she’s trying to make me laugh. She got only a slight smile and a slow head shake – better than nothing, though.

            Faculty meetings seemed to rarely mention her, except for the headmaster’s continuing request for a status update on Livia’s dueling skills. “She’s competent now and I would say she easily exceeds anyone at her level, but that I know is not the goal,” Professor Flitwick observed. “One on one she will not go down easily, especially given her defensive abilities.”

            “I think it may be time you do not hold back to make allowances for her age or level,” the headmaster stated. “Show her your best so she has a gauge of what I want out of her.”

            “That likely will overwhelm her, as least for a while,” Professor Flitwick responded.

            “She has to see this is not a game,” the headmaster said. “Since no one brings her up here, I think I can conclude that none of you have issues academically with her. Anyone disagree?” No one said a word and a few shook their heads that they would not disagree. “Something has to challenge her more, and perhaps this will provide the right incentive to get her attention.”

            The headmaster compelled Professor Flitwick to show his full mastery of dueling, and it did catch Livia flat-footed, even though he warned her. Her defenses held for a time, but she could not last too long. She needed the break time to ponder his assessment and process all that happened, so that she could improve. He knew exactly when she was weakest, which of course emerged from the practice, but, as he said, she could not count on a lack of familiarity with her to save her consistently. She finally saw how accomplished he was and that benchmark showed her a lot of ground lay before her if she ever would become truly proficient, rather than merely adequate.

            Her spring recess intersected in part with Tom’s break as well as overlapped in part with Cathy’s visit. Cathy had become even friendlier to her, in part because she saw similarities between Alice and Livia. Cathy wanted Alice to like her, beyond the potential for connections that might help a rescue charitable organization that would begin employing her by the end of the spring. Lydia had become rather insufferable, and Cathy started visiting her only within a group, either colleagues or flatmates or a boyfriend. Tom, and by extension Livia, had become the most reliable siblings, with the potential that she would consider Alice one, also. Whilst there, Cathy admitted to Livia that she was paying a price for helping Lydia. Livia said nothing. She really preferred not to think much about Lydia at all, unless it helped her concentrate on aggressive moves during a dueling session.  Once Cathy had returned to her own flat near Framlingham, Tom, Alice and Livia agreed that a night watching a film would work.

Since all agreed they needed a good laugh, Livia picked out th standup film Raw,* which somewhat conflicted Tom, given the fact that the language might cross a big line, since he could not imagine his father liking it. Alice took the more tolerant view, given the fact that other things seemed to her more offensive than a comic’s off-color language. They all enjoyed it. Actually, Livia studied it very closely. She loved the comic’s laugh, for one, and his use of child-like voices in his storytelling. That he more than dabbled in profanity did not bother her at all. She saw it as real, in terms of being descriptive, as well as a weapon when used appropriately. A few times in Colindale girls had given her an earful about her surname, though what they said had not always made sense to her, given her ignorance of some things less sheltered girls knew very well. Occasionally, the nurse Miss Scott explained a few things but not enough. So, if anyone tried this form of ridicule in the future, she had something to say. Also, it would give her an outlet more acceptable than hexing Lydia, at least, should she need to deal with her in the future.

            The break hardly seemed like one, compared to summer and winter. Livia found herself back on the train with a lot to think about, especially concerning dueling. She had time to master it, but for once she entertained at least some doubt as to how well she could adapt and improve. Shelley took her mind off the subject by asking her about what she would wear to their club dance.

            “I have not thought about it,” Livia stated. “It is not a formal event, after all.”

            “I still think you, I, Athena and Selene should shop for something good.”

            “If you say so,” Livia obliged. She resigned herself to whatever would come, knowing the dueling issue held far more importance, though Shelley might have disagreed, given her graduation remained years away whereas the dance took place in mere weeks.

            Livia did not let her dueling setback take over the rest of her academic work, be with Magical Creatures, Muggle Studies, Charms, Transfigurations (outside her cat issue), Defense Against the Dark Arts or Potions – or anything else thrown her way, like students wanting help with papers. She knew somewhere Ryan Matthews had to still be seething. Misogyny did not go away overnight, though the Ravenclaw Quidditch team and student leaders gave him a lesson he would not soon forget. He just kept his mouth shut, though eventually only events in his future forced him to reconsider his arrogance and his assumptions.

            Livia said little when the girls took a trip to a local dress shop to find something appropriate for their dance. It seemed each could pick out dresses that flattered the other girls better than they could figure out what to pick for themselves. Some things seemed easy enough – like a color or pattern that went well, but judging what looked best in terms of sleeve style or length of a dress came after much consultation with each other. They took turns in being the focus of what one girl should get, rather than several of them try on something at once. This probably made the search take longer, though it seemed more congenial to take turns. Sometimes, one girl would try something on and the group would set it aside for another to try instead. A pale green sheath dress was popular to try on but wound up with the pixie blonde Athena.

        Livia went last. Several items already had become “possible” choices, based on the other three saying they would look better on her. They all decided on something Livia would have never selected for herself – a thin, silk dress with a sweetheart neckline dominated by its flashy deep red wine hue and wide straps that crisscrossed in the back. They all thought she had toned arms and everything about the dress would draw attention and accentuate what they thought she should feature. It definitely ranked as the most assertive if not womanly dress of the four. Shelley had insisted Livia get a “statement” dress and the other two had collaborated on finding the best one. Livia would have some accessories with her dress, too, and the girls promised to do something simple but elegant with her hair, ultimately settling on using some tiny roses. It seemed to Livia they had all decided to go in on this together. Shelley just hoped Ted could do something to keep Bill Weasley from having a date, unsure of what he could say or do about it, though.

            As the day grew closer, Livia concerned herself with making the second turntable function by providing a means to switch which one the crowd would hear whilst a Ravenclaw tutor named Zach Hawthorne volunteered to learn how to use it from her. Given this addition, Shelley made the playlist longer. She had shown Bill the list, but he had not heard the first song, since Livia at first only played it for Shelley. Shelley promised him it would work wonderfully well. Bill noticed the title seemed a bit suggestive, but he had no idea what Shelley had planned. He did oddly find himself lacking a girlfriend at that moment, though he knew no female in the club would refuse him if he asked for a dance. He had noted the previous year how groups of people formed circles and danced in various types of groups, depending on the song, and had no qualm about doing that, either.

            Just before the dance took place, the faculty held a final meeting before exams and they paid close attention to the fifth-year students preparing for formal exams as well as the first year students heading into their first experience with finals. The headmaster asked if anyone wanted to bring up any other student in danger of doing poorly and a few names came up, though he made some suggestions to get them through their exams.

            Finally, he asked for another update from Professor Flitwick on Livia Woodcock. “Just as you predicted, she took a full assault and felt overwhelmed, though she defended herself admirably for a time. It seems she had to mentally process the experience a great deal, so the break offered a great opportunity to do that. She has recovered from it to a good degree and really has grown to hate losing, so I think her competitive nature has emerged. She cannot beat me as of yet, but I think in time she may figure out how to strategize better, in initial preparation and on-the-fly reactions.”

            “If she can beat you once a week, that would mark a great step forward,” the headmaster stated. “Tell me when she gets that far.”

            Meantime, Livia oversaw the work being done in the Great Hall for the dance until about a little less than an hour before it began. She understood Bill would handle the final touches as she got ready for it. It seems Shelley had thought that out, too – that she would not see him until almost the moment the event began. Shelley remained in the Great Hall and spoke with him in Livia’s place. Selene and Athena took charge of making sure Livia looked as perfect as possible. The guys in the room assented to their assertion that they had done well.

            So they all went downstairs and made Livia enter last, blocking Bill from seeing her. The crowd again had shaped up as a strong turnout, with even Bill’s brother Percy there somewhere, she learned. Bill broke through the crowd with another announcement welcoming everyone to the event and expressing his thanks to all the committee chairs, recognizing them one by one. Finally, he thanked his assistant, and though he had some suspicions, he again invited her to come forward, acknowledge everyone and have the first dance with him.

            Only then did those in front of her, like the very tall Ted, step aside so he could see her. He had thought she looked great at the Winter Ball, but this ensemble nearly made his jaw drop, and he had dated way too many girls to say that very often. She walked towards him and slightly bowed and he took her in his arms as the first song began, INXS’s “Need You Tonight.”

            He started talking to her silently. Did you set this up or did Shelley?

            Livia responded: It was Shelley’s idea, but everyone in my room agreed with her.

            What about you, Livia?

            Obviously, I did not stop her, though I did wonder if it was a good idea, given what you had said to me months ago.

            Why did she want to do this, Livia?

            Livia did not know how to answer. How honest an answer do you want?

            As much as you’ll tell me, Livia.

            I said something last year to Shelley that she has not forgotten.

            Which was?

            Livia exhaled. I told her then that I had developed a huge crush on you.

            Last year? You said nothing to me in the slightest then.

            Intentionally. I told her that you would forget my name when you graduated.

            Well, if she wants to play cupid, I am willing to oblige, at least for tonight.

            Just then the lyrics repeated the phrase already stated once before:

I need you tonight
'Cause I'm not sleeping
There's something about you girl
That makes me sweat*

 Shelley sure knew what she was doing, he thought. He marveled how funny it seemed that girls knew how to help their friends but rarely themselves. In his mind, Shelley did everything right.

            Shelley essentially giftwrapped Livia, hoping that Livia would benefit from it. He understood that Livia would never choose such a dress for herself, despite the fact that it probably looked the best on her of whatever they saw. This dress oozed a confidence and sophistication that a friend would notice more objectively versus the lens of a teen’s own insecurities. Given how many female students Bill had dated already, he thoroughly understood the insecurity. Livia probably had noticed that he tended to date blondes, often pretty and vapid ones. He decided he couldn’t refuse Livia tonight, even with all he had said and still believed. He would inadvertently hurt her, stoic though she had shown herself to be. He could think about the future tomorrow. Tonight would just involve fun.

            Whether in a larger group or by themselves, Bill did not leave her side, except to get her something to drink. Even when Percy wanted to talk to his brother, he held onto Livia. Bill basically told Percy to ask him later, like tomorrow. At some point, Reggie came by Livia smiling so happily that Bill wondered what that was about. She told him that he was the one who requested the Bob Marley song and felt very good about when it was played, as the list covered all sorts of tempos, voices, emotions and genres, even if much of it had a bright, danceable beat such as the slightly older American song, the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed.” He found Livia and Shelley had done a lot of research to put together a playlist.

            Professor Flitwick had figured out what seemed like a well-conceived plot by Shelley Silver to push Livia and Bill Weasley together. As long as they both seemed happy and broke no school rules, he had nothing to say. Remotely, Professor Dumbledore also saw the scene unfold and even thought of sending a note of congratulations to Shelley Silver for getting Livia to reconsider her decision not to pursue Bill Weasley. Or getting him to reconsider. He did not hear what they said to each other, so he could not judge how much one needed to do it versus the other.

            Unlike him, Professor Snape had nothing better to do and could listen to everything, so he took in the entire conversation that no one else heard. It made him curious to see how her roommates dressed her, so he figured out how to see it. He was impressed. That she carried off such an outfit with poise he also found noteworthy. The music Shelley Silver chose had an unmistakable significance as well. Her friends wanted him to take a fancy to her. He had not forgotten about such things but lacked friends who might try that. He actually thought: If Bill Weasley walks away from her again, he’s an idiot.

            Except for the second half of the previous Winter Ball, Livia could not remember being happier at school. She did not have huge expectations, given what she already knew. She enjoyed the entire event wholeheartedly and knew when that one song would start, the evening would soon end. She wished there was spell to stop time, just to extend the evening for as long as she could. Of course, the last song was so much fun, everyone shouted the chorus at maximum volume: “You gotta fight for your right to paaarrrrtay!” Even that time, Professor Snape could not help but smile a bit, remembering Livia singing/yelling it in his voice. Okay, he was amused now. No one would ever know.

            Even in the turned-up light of the Great Hall, Bill found his unplanned date (as far as he knew) still looked incredible. But what would he do with her? Once again, he found himself walking outside with her, this time also holding her hand. No, he would remember her name – just as she would obviously remember his. For the first time in years perhaps, he felt unsure – not about her – but about what he should or should not do. He did not want to break her heart, but he sure wanted to get his hands on her. He knew he needed to tell her something. He confessed that he would serve as Head Boy next year and would have a problem finding significant time for anyone. Moreover, he did not want to risk falling in love with her and yet…

            He started kissing her again and again on the bridge. This time he meant it with a lot more passionate intent than the first time. He then said, “I am torn about what I should do. I don’t want to toy with your heart, much less my own, but I want more.”

            “That is quite a conflict. I have no answer because I feel your conflict and it makes me feel the same way. I don’t want to fix or change you, but here we are, and I am not ready for this night to end yet.”

            “Neither am I,” he said, kissing her again and again.

            They obviously had two choices – well, Bill knew he did, anyway. Livia did not fully understand the significance if they crossed the bridge or turned back. Nothing would ever look the same if they went forward. Both choices had consequences, though. The fact that Bill realized that Livia did not understand enough about the consequences proved sobering. He did not know if he truly thought for both of them, only that he would not like himself very much if he went forward to any degree then opted to later jerk her straight backward at some point down the line. He had to be better than that. Something about being the first child kicked in or imagining someone pulling his sister then pushing her away. Livia was in over her head, and she did not recognize it. He doubted Shelley knew, either – what “changing his mind” might mean. This was not about having a few dates.

            Finally, after much time had elapsed, Bill stopped and spoke to her softly, “I think we have to stop before this gets too serious for either of us. I would hurt you way too much if I did anything else right now. Actually, I think I will hurt you whatever I do, but this I think is easier on you.”

            Livia wanted to speak but he put a finger over her mouth. “Tonight, this will hurt me to stop. But tomorrow or later you will hurt much more if I don’t. I don’t want to take responsibility for doing that. Wait for the right time and the right young man.” Still, he kissed her again and again, then took her hand and led her through the courtyard back inside. “Someday you will understand why I did this. I just hope right now that I have done the right thing for both of us.” Once again he hugged her tightly and only very slowly let her go back to the Ravenclaw rooms.

            With a heady mixture of feelings swirling around her head, she entered the room. “There you are!” Shelley cried. “I wondered if I needed to start a search for you. Where have you been all this time?”

            “With – with Bill,” Livia answered, still not totally coherent.

            “Ut oh,” Ted asserted. “You look dazed. The charms of Bill Weasley have struck again.”

            “Oh, more juicy stuff this time!” Don assessed. “You seem out of sorts but look perfectly fine. Anyone want to diagnose the patient?”

            “Where were you?” Athena asked.

            “On the bridge,” Livia replied. “Bill could not decide whether to cross it or turn back. We ultimately turned back.”

            The four boys looked at each other. Don, then the rest of them, understood something they did not wish to mention to these girls. They wondered if Livia knew what she was saying. They concluded that she did not, given the straightforward way she answered that question, which likely prompted Bill to turn back. She looked very mature in her dress but remained an innocent girl. He had seen this and did not want to challenge or change that. Once they had figured that part out, they stopped asking questions. None of them knew if they could pull back like that, considerate, noble and brave though it was for him to have done. They found a lot of new respect for him to not trifle with her, despite whatever temptations he felt at that moment.

            Livia would have slept through breakfast if Shelley had not ensured she got out of the room and eaten. The boys again said nothing about the previous night whilst the girls seemed not to have figured out that they had put Livia in a potentially life-changing situation that she did not know how to handle. A different boy would have overlooked her ignorance, exploited the situation and not cared about any repercussions. Livia seemed to be in her own world and barely kept her eyes open, though later in the day had recovered enough to resume working towards her final exams.

            Livia sought out Helena Ravenclaw. She needed someone who had so much accumulated knowledge from seeing so many situations for so long to get her head on straight. She sought her out and not long afterward had reduced herself to tears, given her inability to process what happened the way she usually had done.

            “These are your emotions,” Helena stated. “They must be new to you. If that boy could not make a commitment to you, he did the right thing bringing you back before doing anything else.”

            “I don’t understand,” Livia said.

            “I know you don’t and I presume he also figured that out,” she asserted. “I should not be the one to tell you. Your mother should have explained this.”

            “What mother?” Livia asked. “That woman who partly raised me never wanted to be my mother. I think she only agreed in principle because it made her husband look good, and he limited her inconvenience by making me wear everything her own daughter grew out of using.”

            “A school nurse?” Helena inquired.

            “Well she explained a few things to me, but nothing entirely helpful here.”

            “Don’t you have any older woman to speak with you?”

            “My brother has a girlfriend,” Livia responded. “They live together in London currently.”

            “Ask her. She will know what you do not understand. I doubt I can really help you, given my own limited experiences. And those experiences give me some bitterness that makes me the wrong person to consult. I think you innately know that. I lack anything personally helpful, and I do not wish that what happened to me determines how things turn out for you.”

            Livia tried to pull herself together, after another session outside, which began with as a festival of sad tunes,* with much of it in her own voice, as mushy as she had ever sounded. She was heard, as had happened before, but she felt totally oblivious and did not care about the possibility. She knew the words and felt the emotions, but clearly she still felt some detachment because she did not know enough about what a few lines in these songs personally or practically meant. He weaseled out somehow. He pulled back and she had no clue why he did it. She cannot process what happened and needs to refocus.

            She did manage some of that, in part because she had done such good work beforehand. She just had to reframe her mind to execute what she easily knew. She pulled it off, not perfectly, but extremely well, given the circumstances. During the last faculty meeting, her name came up only because of the slight discrepancy between her work all year and the previous year to her slightly under-performing.

            “It is not terribly significant, and hardly occurred in every exam – so maybe we bore her, but why do you think she showed just a little less than her typical performance, Filius?” the headmaster asked. “Do you think her dueling issues with you affected her finals a little?”

            “I cannot say for sure what happened between the end of classes and the final exams,” he replied. “She seemed her usual self the night of our dance, and actually I would say very happy.”

            “Anyone see her soon afterward?” the headmaster asked.

            “I saw her,” Professor Snape revealed. He lied. He heard her afterward but did not see her. “I think this is a personal issue related to what happened immediately after the dance. She looked rather unlike herself – more emotional than she ever displays.”

            “What happened, Filius?” the headmaster asked.

            “I cannot tell you,” he responded. “She spent basically the whole evening dancing with Bill Weasley. They seemed quite happy.”

            “How did he act, Minerva?” the headmaster inquired.

            “He did fine on his finals, nothing unusual at all, but he did seem preoccupied or distracted the last I spoke with him. His head definitely was somewhere else.”

            “Well, this may sound like a personal issue,” the headmaster surmised. “Something perhaps happened that did not sit well with either one. To be young and feel that keen sting called love. Who knows who stung the other first, but apparently they both felt it, probably she more, given their differences in age if not dating experience.”

            Livia carefully stored things that she could retrieve in the fall but need not take with her. It seemed their room would shift slightly, though none of them expressed an interest in changing it. The eight of them would remain housed together for the rest of their time at school. The gender divide occasionally involved a few awkward moments, but no one ever got offended. It seemed part of a learning experience, if they ever had to co-exist in any collective living situation. They moved some items to the new room that did not need to travel home. Livia had no reason to remove her large CD player, for one. She did take all her clothes, including the dress she wore to the music club dance. Livia hoped that maybe it might help Alice explain what happened, since she had no idea. She thought maybe she had said or done something wrong.

* Author's Note

The standup film Raw, starring Eddie Murphy and directed by Robert Townsend, was released in the UK in November 1987. It remains the largest  box office grossing film of its type.

The song "Need You Tonight," written by Andrew Fariss and Michael Hutchence, appears on the INXS 1987 album Kick and was released in multiple formats, including as a 1987 single.

Among the many sad items found in a 1980s music collection, many would derive from the duo of Bernie Taupin (lyrics) and Elton John (music) such as "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." The lyrics of particular song from 1983 were co-written by band member Davey Johnstone.


Chapter 16: "The Talk," a Move, Another Side Trip and Visiting a Friend
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            Before departing school for the summer, Livia again knew that her brother would spend much of the summer in London before transferring back to Durham, where colleagues would evaluate him on being accepted as a practicing barrister. Some thought him a future judge and believed he had shown every quality needed to succeed. He credited his early intense desire to free Livia and work with her solicitor in preparing him to become ready at a fairly early age. Livia recognized that moving back to Durham would make her return to school a bit difficult but thought she could use a trip to seeing Shelley, perhaps right after her birthday, as the means to make the outbound train and get everything she needed there before it departed. Since Brontë now knew her and accepted her, Shelley’s owl could make this arrangement work extremely well. Brontë expressed some misgivings about leaving her owl friends as well as whatever confinement they placed on her. Livia told her to not give them any cause to worry about her whereabouts and she would impress on Shelley that Brontë would not try escaping because she wanted to return to school in the fall. Brontë was a model pet, even quiet, much of the time away.


            Just as she contemplated if she would receive another request from Professor Snape, the owl Ellen tapped at the window and delivered a note. It read:

Dear Miss Woodcock,

Congratulations on surviving your exams another year, under what I understand were not ideal circumstances.
 
As you have come to recognize, I do value the services you have performed ably in the past and ask if I can receive them again this year. I will do whatever I can to make this situation convenient for you.
 
Sincerely,
Professor Snape
 
Livia contemplated the note. His offer might make her situation more convenient versus less, depending on how her birthday played out, which fell on a Sunday. She thought that might work in her favor if he did not do his inventory or potion making until 29 August. She sent back a quick letter to him, which Ellen again appreciated:

Dear Professor Snape,

Thank you, though, no, they were not ideal and the reasons are not well understood by me as of yet. Helena Ravenclaw suggested that I ask my mother. I obviously cannot do that, so I will ask Alice West, my brother’s girlfriend, to explain it.
 
Since the 28th of August falls on a Sunday, I could join you Monday on the 29th and you may be able to send me to Shelley Silver’s home after that. My brother is moving back to the Durham area towards summer’s end, so I need to put together something that works for him, but also includes shopping and thus making the Express.

Let me know if what I suggest fits.

Best,
Livia Woodcock

The train again seemed outrageously boisterous, a phenomenon which seemed to get bigger every year. Reggie made sure he found Livia to thank her again for including a Bob Marley song. He a few other proposals – first a rap group in the U.S. called Run-D.M.C. He suggested something called “It’s Tricky.” The second concerned an album that also formed the basis of a film: Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution. Livia said she would try to get both albums and check them out. She thanked him and wondered why, since he had good ideas, he did not join the club. He was not sure his suggestions would go over well, since it seemed the playlists tended to concentrate on a certain style, which he presumed Shelley chose. Livia apologized that they often played what she knew, but since she recognized how some resisted this stuff in general, she had no qualms about mixing up a playlist, even with older recordings of various genres, to improve the event – after all, they still used an older record format. He left, happy that she seemed open to his thoughts.

            “Maybe we should give you a mic, Livia,” Shelley suggested later, reviewing the dance. “Forget the muggles you can sing – if you just did songs as faculty members, it would be hilarious.”

            “Somehow I think that might cause an issue for Professor Flitwick,” Livia responded.

            “Not if you did him, too,” Shelley offered.

            “Seems a little off point and it would create too much attention towards me, even if it had nothing to do with my studies,” Livia asserted.

            “Eh, we should keep that to ourselves,” Athena suggested. “I want to hear another song in Professor Snape’s voice.”

            To the rest of the Ravenclaw roommates, Livia made a confession: “Professor Snape may have heard me do his voice. Since I didn’t use it on him all year, I opted to try to make him laugh.”

            “Why?” Ted asked. “What did you do?”

            “I was not far from his window before our club event doing him rapping that Beastie Boys’s song ‘Fight for Your Right (to Party)’,” she revealed.

            “That’s outrageously funny. Do you think he heard it?” Selene inquired.

            “He probably would never admit it,” Livia replied. “Yet his hearing is acute. That’s why people think he has eyes in the back of his head. My question is whether he thought it amusing.”

            “Would he know a joke if it bit him?” Ted queried. “I mean, it could antagonize him.”

            “From what I understand, the headmaster tries playfully teasing him now and again,” Livia revealed. “He must think it worthwhile to try. I thought it funny.”

            “I don’t understand your motive,” Shelley asserted. “Still, as long as it wasn’t that INXS song. I hate to see what he would have done over that. I found it priceless, though.”

            Since most there were as perplexed as Shelley, they all but forgot the question as to if Professor Snape heard Livia. Livia briefly wondered what Bill Weasley thought about during the trip, but given his responsibilities and two brothers on board, it likely did not concern her, so she dismissed it. He had thought about her, though, just wondering if he had done the right thing, a question he ultimately resolved only long after he graduated. Charlie only found her relationships with animals interesting. Percy still could not entirely accept that she did not hex Emilia, though he had to admit his brother’s response to her during that club dance was genuine. He questioned a little why nothing further happened afterward, but Bill took his exams so seriously that Percy did not feel the need to press him much. Bill never forgot or misplaced his priorities.

            Soon enough the train pulled into King’s Cross station and Livia made sure everyone else’s address had not changed. She told them hers would, but she did not know the details as to when and precisely where. She did tell Shelley that she would like to shop for the new school year again with her, as well as perhaps a visit, which Shelley enthusiastically encouraged. Livia indicated that she might come on 29 August and they could make the train together on 1 September. She just had to work out some details, which depended on what her brother did.

            Since Livia did not transfer everything, she did not fully fill up a cart. She still carted Sarah’s remains and her stuffed bobcat everywhere and did not see stopping that any time soon. Other students, anxious to meet their families, had more or less said quick goodbyes and moved onward while Livia slowly made her towards the main floor. She spotted Ellen again swooping down to leave her a note. Livia thought that Ellen must be the speediest owl she knew. It said:

Dear Miss Woodcock,
 
Your sense of timing makes sense. It would be best if you are ready to work early on the 29th. If your brother moves again northward, it should help your travel time to be able to do this.

I can arrange for you to travel directly to the Silver residence though it would best if they thought you came from somewhere else other than my Slytherin office. Since you can recall and send items, just put a note on my desk there that you arrived safely. The headmaster will appreciate seeing it.

Hope to see you then. Enjoy your break.

Sincerely,
P.S.

Everything seemed to line up well. He did seem warmer in print, she figured, which she never could explain to her own satisfaction. She later made sure to let Shelley know that she expected 29 August to work, probably in the afternoon. Meantime, she sent back a simple acknowledgement to Professor Snape agreeing to his timetable and figured, if she left the Durham area around sundown on the 28th, she would try to get a note to him saying she had arrived, so he could give her an exact time, rather than apparently scold her if he thought her late.

            She made her way once more to the main level refreshment area of the station. This time only Alice and Tom had come, with others making merry at their flat to celebrate his 6 July birthday. This time Livia had not come emptyhanded. She had to explain, however, that these cufflinks which she found handsome had come from an antique store, to explain what looked like old-fashioned craftsmanship. She hugged them both, but Tom thought she looked a little run down. She told him it was nothing significant. Her exams had gone pretty well, but she had a few things lingering on her mind that she hoped she could soon cast aside.

            All of Tom’s friends, including Audrey, Jake, John (with new girlfriend Lesley), Adam (with girlfriend Linda), and Gary (with his girlfriend Penny) had practically filled the flat, which if spacious by London standards did not rate as huge. Livia found she had plenty of new people to meet, but given that they knew a decent about her already, the gathering did not become intimidating. The three new women were easy to tell apart by hair length, color and height. Penny, the tallest, had deep auburn hair put into a simple, if long, ponytail. Lesley, the smallest of the three, had short, blonde hair, somewhat along the lines of certain pop stars with punky styles, and Linda, in between in height, had medium length brown hair swept to one side. They all seemed good natured and well attached to the young men they accompanied. Gary, in particular, looked mature with his short hair and professional attire. Abby hid from the noise of so many people but Livia found her and told her all was okay and carried her out so everyone assembled could fuss over her for a few minutes until she said she wanted to sleep on Livia’s bed, where she felt safe.

            It seemed all had a great deal to talk about so questions to Livia only came up sporadically. Jake asked about Livia’s friend Ted, saying he seemed like a nice enough bloke. Jake asked why Livia hadn’t snapped him up. Livia explained that he was her friend, and they lived in the same room with three other girls and three other guys. Tom had to inquire about the lad he and Alice swore not to mention to Ted. Everyone wanted to hear about that. Livia did not relish this.

            “I was right,” Livia admitted. “He did know the guy I spoke about. It was an interesting year as far as that went, but I am still trying to figure all that out, so I don’t know what to say.”

            “How about are you together with the boy or not?” Adam asked. “How about what does he look like or what is his name?”

            “His name is Bill, he is tall with longish straight red hair and blue eyes and no I am not with him.”

            “I never knew you liked redheads,” Gary stated. “Is his butt nicer than that guy you stared at during Live Aid?”

            “Who told you about that?” Livia demanded. John, Adam and Tom’s hands all went up. “Gee, thanks. Gary, I don’t know without them side-by-side. And I sure did not know about redheads, either. I just happened to like this one. I really never noticed him a great deal until I actually spoke to him. But I do not wish to say more right now. It’s rather pointless.”

            The group accepted her statement, being not terribly far removed from the many problems facing adolescents. The women in the room, especially, possessing varying degrees of affinity with adolescent problems girls face, willingly pushed the conversation to complimenting Livia on her present or other topics. One asked if or when Jake and Audrey wanted to start a family while another asked about Tom’s move or the status of his relationships with his family.

            Jake and Audrey had no immediate plans, given they did not have enough money for sufficient living space. Tom said he was in the midst of making arrangements for a three bedroom semi-detached house to rent north of the center of Durham not far from the River Wear, though he hoped at some point to be able to buy something close to an area called The Sands, an open space near the river that reminded him of days spent by the Framlingham Mere with Adam, John and Livia. The right house had not come on the market yet, but the agent arranging the rental knew what he wanted and would let him know as soon as he could find a seller.

            As for his parents, he got on better with his father, and Cathy had started to contact him frequently, but he had not patched up things with his mother, basically because she remained either blinded or unrepentant that she handled problems Lydia created with kid gloves and that Lydia had caused much more harm than Livia. As for Lydia, he basically had little contact with her. She showed no initiative, and he certainly would not prod her for any. The intervening years since she bamboozled those two court judges had only made her more petty, entitled and spoiled. He asserted that if his father caved on helping her move financially, he would do so to get her out of his house, in the hope that he could finally make his wife see the truth. Things started to improve with that impromptu trip his father and Cathy made to Durham on Livia’s actual birthday.

            “I’m just glad I don’t have to hide this, but I really do not like Lydia at all,” Alice stated. “I’ve met young women and girls with titles and all sorts of privileges far better grounded than she is. And some do feel entitled and privileged – rightly or wrongly – so this statement is significant. What really got under my skin was that show she put on for my cousin Bertie. I think he was shocked and I was embarrassed. Bertie is one of a very few that I feel inclined to impress.”

          “You weren’t the only one upset,” Tom revealed. “I was extremely uncomfortable, but my father took action. He couldn’t have dragged Lydia away from the table any quicker than he did. I’m still not sure what he said, but she seemed scared for the first time, ever. I hope whatever he did made a lasting impression.”

            Livia said nothing – at least at first. Internally, she thought Tom wished for a miracle. If Lydia could be bratty in front of people Alice knew, how would she act around Livia? “Frankly, I thought she might behave better if I left, but she didn’t. I cannot imagine how that weekend would have turned out had I stayed.”

            “I have thought of that, too, I confess,” Tom admitted. “But I doubt it made a difference.”

            “Then I guess the two of you will never marry,” Jake asserted. “With a father for a minister on one side and a father who would invite the queen herself on the other, I cannot see how you could ever pull that off.”

            “Sorry, Alice, but I have considered this, too,” Tom agreed. “I can imagine Lydia spoiling a wedding if she thought she got one iota of attention or some other reward out of it.”

           “At my expense, I’m sure,” Livia said. “Tom, if you did go ahead, would you take it badly if I just didn’t go, for this reason?”

         “Of course!” Tom and Alice said simultaneously. Alice added, “She can try whatever she wants, but if I have to do it, I would get her kicked out first – and I would tell your mother off, Tom, if she made a peep of protest about it, too. I would not stand for it, and I know plenty of people in my family who would be only-too-glad to do it to protect their relative who would also be the bride. So don’t think that way, Livia.”

            The rest of the night proceeded joyously without any serious issues coming up, certainly none directed at Livia. Given that she was almost 16, they let her participate in a proper toast of her brother. At some point, Tom took calls from his father, who made apologies for not coming, but he thought he could not do so without bringing his wife and Lydia, so he opted to call instead. Cathy called also, sounding a little down, owing to the death of a dumped cat who wound up testing positive for FIP – Feline Infectious Peritonitis, a death sentence for a cat. She felt the owners irresponsibly treated this cat and then abandoned her mercilessly. She took such cases hard. She hoped she offered the fragile cat a modicum of comfort, but the cruelty or thoughtlessness of people towards animals wound up being the biggest thing Cathy detested about Lydia. She had acted that way as a child, and she thought carelessly about any “dumb animal” that Cathy had treated with care. Her love of animals had always drawn her closer to Livia and, instead of doing something to recognize her own lack of sympathy as a problem, Lydia chose to blame Livia. Cathy saw that Lydia’s cruelty was solely Lydia’s own fault.

            Things fell into somewhat of a routine, though this time Tom had more time to spend doing things with Alice and Livia, though they knew the time to start packing soon would start very soon. Before that got intense, and with Tom had gone out on an errand, Livia thought she finally should try to figure out what happened. She started describing a dance held at the end of last term and all the care her friend Shelley had put into essentially pushing her together with Bill.  She showed her the outfit she wore and described what the other girls had done with her hair. Alice was curious and asked to see Livia in the dress. So she put it on. She described the first dance and played the song her friend arranged to use, knowing he would dance with Livia to it.

            Alice was mesmerized. She saw Shelley had more than dabbled in matchmaking and asked how it went. Livia told her Bill danced with her the whole night, essentially. Then she got to the part she did not understand. She told Alice how they had walked to the bridge, what Bill said and what he did and how they spent a good hour there or so, with him indecisive about crossing the bridge or going back inside the school. Alice asked about what was beyond the bridge and Livia told her simply a lot of grass, some trees and a wonderful view of the night sky. In the end, they went back inside, and she had not really seen him or spoken to him after that night. She mentioned that someone told her that she should have a talk with her mother, but obviously Livia couldn’t do that. So she told Alice what had happened to figure out what, if anything, she did wrong.

            Alice told her that she did nothing wrong. This boy made his reluctance to take her further from the school clear. Alice relayed to Livia that they had gone past the issue of dating. The issue for him was how entangled he wanted to become romantically with her.

            Livia revealed that was what she did not understand. She asked what that meant.

            Alice could not say how far this Bill felt tempted to go. She asked her how interested or aroused he was. Livia wondered if she meant breathing heavy or what. Only by the end of the day, did Livia realize that Alice meant much more.

            Alice figured it out that, being removed from her home at 11, and having few motherly figures in her life, Livia had nothing but complete ignorance about what could have happened that night. This Bill, sensing she had no idea, felt it best to not try to cajole her into doing anything she could later regret. Alice left Tom a note and, after Livia changed, took her to a zoo and tried to show her a few things about animals and thus, by association, human beings. Livia knew Sydney and Mel had owlets but needed to see what their “bonding” actually entailed. Rituals varied among various creatures, Alice told her, but human beings had their own. One could say both Barn Owls and people danced at least sometimes. She guessed that a young adult male saw Livia as attractive, which he interpreted differently than she did. If he had already been kissing her for some time, he very well thought of doing more than that, perhaps a lot more.

            Slowly, what Alice said and showed her began to make sense and fit into feelings she had that she could not either totally own or name. She knew lots of things but never put them together in a way that sufficiently told her what she needed to know, as far as it had applied to herself. She also found out why the boys in her room had stopped pestering her for details about what had happened with Bill, unlike after the Winter Ball, because they saw his dilemma better than she had, despite the fact she was there instead of them.

            Livia slowly came to terms with the fact that Bill had grasped her utter naivety and opted to preserve it rather than exploit it, since he felt it fair that he did so. The other boys apparently respected him for having chosen this path. Alice also gave him a lot of credit because he likely knew what could have happened had he wanted it to happen and, being only 17, he could not have done that easily. If he felt he had protected himself, he clearly thought he had protected her, too.

            Simply put, Livia came to make peace with what at the time felt like “the one who got away,” never appreciating that for at least a time he could have said the same thing. Time and distance would make him fully accept the fact that he had done the right thing; only after that could he find himself ready to meet the right woman at the right time, though he never did forget Livia. She would not forget, either, and the lesson she drew made her determined not to give up too soon, again, though she would wait, as Bill told her.

            Later that night, after what seemed to be a pleasant enough dinner and another film, Alice told Tom how unprepared Livia was to deal with relationships with boys. He admitted that to him she seemed to know so much that he had no idea she did not understand. Alice had to remind him that, whilst she could fathom the emotions of others, she had very little experience with her own. This had left her quite open to be an object of prey to a boy wishing to take advantage of her.

            Tom’s eyes widened and he felt overcome with dread, wanting to know if that was why she seemed so forlorn when they first saw her – that this young man had done exactly that. Alice shook her head. Whilst Livia thought she had done something wrong to push him away, this teen, the one who her friends wanted to see her date, feared he would fall in love with her. They had succeeded so well, it must have spooked him a little. He ultimately opted not to take advantage of her and break her heart. She took it as a rejection at least to some extent, though he wanted to not exploit her innocence, only to deeply hurt her later. Apparently, he had made himself clear that he did not want a serious relationship as a student, and her friends thought they could make him change his mind. He saw her differently but not exactly in the way that they wanted.

            Tom found himself relieved, though he accepted that the angst she probably suffered had to be quite real and, given her lack of her own experience, had to rattle her seriously. He admitted not knowing how he could have prepared her for that. Alice told him that, for a young girl, this sort of problem was universal and, though she could have been more aware of the ramifications for herself, she did not know if the outcome could have been better. Many, many girls had stories about a first love or a first crush that only made them feel diminished as people and even shut themselves down afterwards, if the experience had become particularly traumatic. Some girls get through this time more unscathed than others, Alice told him. Livia’s brush with it could have gone a lot worse and, perhaps because of it, she would become more successful the next time.           

            Not much more time went by till it they had to pack up everything to move back to Durham. Livia seemed very capable in assisting with organization and labeling, whilst her belongings had remained mostly packed, augmented by just a few items of hers that Tom and Alice had kept. They had started eating off disposable dishes if they did not eat out and Tom had made the arrangements for movers to show up on Thursday, 18 August. Tom rented a car to drive some personal belongings of his and Alice, Livia’s things and Abby with her things. They had a little going away party a few days before and most of their friends came, but Tom’s prospects made the move a happy occasion. Alice also anticipated the potential of further archival training to do work with various papers, though she had not rejected the possibility of pursuing a DPhil, given that she already possessed a Master’s degree. A DPhil might not take too long, given that status. Further, she had access to things few as of yet could read, as well as some stories passed down over generations which could have an impact on, say, the work of the first Earl Russell on the Reform Bill of 1832 or the Irish Potato Famine. Finding the right match with someone interested in a backstory of some great event could prove difficult, but some knew who tended to read family-related documents and it might not pose as great as issue as it would for someone lacking access to such information as well as the training to know what to do with it. Still, she would wait until everything came together to make the timing right.

            Livia almost forgot how long car rides took, since she had not traveled in one for many years. She understood the convenience for muggles, but she so looked forward to being able to learn apparition. Still, even broom riding seemed so much faster even if Alice considered Tom something of a lead foot, especially on a motorway. It did afford an interesting perspective on the landscape, at least. Tom intended to beat the movers to the new location and direct them when they arrived the next day to deliver their things. One they arrived, Livia got a chance to evaluate the space and thought it more than adequate, especially as a temporary convenience until Tom found what he wanted. Tom’s firm helped with the move back and seemed to have scheduled things to do by the end of the month, which made Livia’s departure appropriate. She knew they intended to have a bedroom for Livia, one for Tom to have an office/study space and a bedroom for Tom and Alice to share. Livia had known of their relationship for some time, so she recognized how weird it must have seemed that she knew certain things and even took them for granted yet it seemed so entirely different when she had to deal with such things herself. Her brain and her heart had not reconciled nearly enough – only that explained to Livia why she took the end of last term so hard.

            After Livia helped Tom and Alice set up the new residence, she got a chance to see why Tom wanted to live by The Sands. It made at least some sense, since the area near the castle on the other side of the Wear was not really feasible. Having an extra room required a few additions but the house came with some built-in shelving so it did not require many additional items. Livia did not want them to buy too much on her account, given she did not know how long they would stay there or how often she would come there. Still, it worked to split up some things into two rooms that had cluttered Tom’s office when it doubled as Livia’s sleeping area. She would even have a closet for her own things.

            Alice compelled Livia to wear the dress she wore to her end-of-term dance to the dinner for her 16th birthday party, which they held at the hotel where Gary had become a more valuable employee and Audrey and Jake, along with Penny, joined them. Tom found the dress eye-opening regarding his maturing sister, who seemed to resemble him more as time passed. He had to ask Alice where Livia had gotten it. When Alice explained that she had worn it to that dance at school, Tom almost snapped his neck back. So that is what that 17-year-old boy saw. Blimey, he resisted her wearing that. Amazing. The others had sent cards via Gary. Rev. Woodcock and Cathy had again made up a story to account for their absence from Framlingham. Both wanted to see Tom’s new residence, also. Everything went well and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening – Livia had made sure not to tell Tom exactly when she planned to leave. Fortunately, given the date, everyone had to scatter after a somewhat early dinner. Rev. Woodcock had even arranged for a guest minister and kept his wife and Lydia in the dark about it, saying Cathy needed his help that day. Since neither remembered Livia’s actual birthday was not 4 September, they suspected nothing.

            When Rev. Woodcook and Cathy left, Livia finally told Tom that she had to take her leave that evening to meet up with her friend Shelley, ultimately. Tom never got entirely used to her propensity for leaving near dusk, but given the fact she had sent him messages and never made a misstep in doing this, he kept his mouth shut, merely expressing his concern and confusion to Alice. Alice said simply that, whilst she did not understand it either, Livia had to have a reason for it and would tell them in her own time. As long as she continued to send notes saying she was fine and turned up when she said she would, they should trust her. They did before when it was even stranger and she was much younger. Now, it had become routine.

            Livia returned to school not long after dark. She had found a way to fly a little earlier and remained unseen, by changing her flightpath depending on the location. Her confidence had grown to such that somewhat populated areas did not keep her from using her headphones and her shrunken baggage all fit into what she could wear, including a few new albums she had bought in Durham and CDs she had received before her departure. She arrived at school shortly after 9 pm, settled into the new room and wrote a quick note for Sevy to deliver to Professor Snape, letting him know that she had arrived and asking him exactly when he expected her. As she waited for an answer, she wrote a note to send to her brother. She also decided to play something and sing, after putting that deep red silk dress away. She picked “What You Need” by INXS,* but she did not know anyone could hear her. She thought she had protected the room, even though she had turned up the volume whilst singing and dancing:

Don't you get sad and lonely
You need a change from what you do all day
Ain't no sense in all your crying
Pick it up and throw it into shape
 
Just then she heard a knock on her door, which really struck her as odd. Sevy would not and could not do that. After turning down the volume, she opened the door. And there he was in the flesh – a rather dour but befuddled Professor Snape.

            “You are not the only one who knows how to negotiate this place by yourself,” he stated.

            Livia realized he could do the “pay you back” thing, too. “Sir, I am confused. I thought Sevy would bring me a note.”

            “I wanted to see if you truly were in any shape to work,” he asserted. “You seemed somewhat out of sorts at the end of last term.”

            “Yes, I suppose so,” Livia admitted. “I have tried to make my peace with that. I will not bore you with the teenage drama details. I’m sure you have heard about enough of those.”

            “For your sake, for your birthday, I’ll say this,” he said. “Bill Weasley is an idiot.”

            “Thank you,” Livia said, giving him a thin smile. “Maybe he is, maybe not. I cannot say except to repeat what he told me, which took time for me to process.”

            “Why would you make excuses for someone who hurt you, obviously?” he asked.

            “He might have hurt me worse, though,” Livia answered. “I think I should shut up now.”

            “So now you are uncomfortable,” he observed. “Interesting. Since you take such glee in trying to annoy me, why should I stop pressing you to explain your excuses for him?”

            “Since you put it that way, don’t say I did not warn you,” Livia offered. “Bill Weasley told me he has plans beyond school that do not involve having a serious relationship here, with me or anyone else. We spent about an hour on the bridge by the courtyard and he could not decide whether to cross it with me or go back. We went back. Have I told you enough?”

            He remembered his own years as a student and what students did on various parts of the grounds over his many years there – she had told him plenty.

            “You have said enough,” he admitted. “I hope you do not mind if I still think he’s an idiot.”

            “Doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Livia asserted. “You might be more charitable if he belonged to your house.”

            “A member of my house, for good or ill, would never have done what he did. Ever.” He paused. “Does listening to this stuff really help you?”

            “It has for years,” Livia admitted. “I retain a connection to those I know and love with it. Would you give that up?” She had no idea how he took that question.

            “Probably not,” he said blankly. “Do you want to start the inventory now or tomorrow? I realize not all your avian friends are alert right now, though the owls should be. We could just set aside tasks for them now and ask the crows tomorrow.”

            “Okay, let me secure this machine first and grab the letter I just wrote to Tom,” Livia agreed.

            “Take my sleeve again when ready,” he directed her.

            Livia almost instantly found herself near the inventory closet and released Professor Snape’s sleeve. She found some parchment and ink. She knew the drill by now. She began keeping a re-ordering list, marking those that take longer to procure, and a second list for procuring locally. They worked well together, but the task still took about an hour. He cleaned out the non-viable materials and the two moved the jars of items on the second list to the front of the room. He looked at the list and saw three items in particular that Barn Owls would be more suitable to retrieve than crows. Livia divided those away from the rest, opened a window and called to see if Sevy, Sydney and Mel could come for a task.

            Professor Snape produced a pot of tea and two cups with saucers. Whilst they waited for the owls, he poured tea for both and they quietly drank it. He had reconsidered what he said about Bill Weasley, but would not tell her that. He could not say if she fared better for him going back or not. He had witnessed his share of overwrought girls from the years he had taught there. Perhaps Bill Weasley had considered her as much as himself, perhaps he thought only of feeling guilty had he taken advantage of her just to dismiss her later. Since Professor Snape had no experience with such a problem, his assessment of Slytherin students in his mind included himself, he thought.

            Just then, Sevy, Sydney and Mel entered the room one by one. Livia inquired as to how all fared and they affirmed their health and that Hagrid had taken good care of them. Livia gave each of them a task that they seemed best equipped to handle. Each understood their task and flew off. Livia ensured they saw food as they left, in case they needed it and ensured there would be enough upon their return as well.

            “I should be accustomed to this by now, but every time I see it, I find it fascinating to watch,” he observed. “Here, have more tea.”

            “Tell me one thing,” Livia requested. “Did you hear me doing that Beastie Boys’s song in your voice?”

            “I did,” he admitted. “You have a strange sense of humor. No wonder why the headmaster consistently inquires about you. I think you share this. I should have countered to suggest that you were his daughter when he joked with me that you could be my child.”

            “It wasn’t funny?”

            “It was highly ironic, that’s for sure,” he offered. “I am not the best judge of what is funny.”

            Livia thought he was being rather disingenuous but did not challenge him further. Mel had come back first and Livia directed him to where she wanted his catch. She bowed to him and asked him if he had enough food outside. He said he did. She asked him if he could deliver a letter to her brother in Durham, but, rather hungry, he deferred doing it to Sydney. Livia bowed and he left to peck at the food. Before Livia sat down again Sydney entered and deposited her material to the right jar. She said Mel was extra hungry so Livia added more food outside, and asked Sydney about a letter to her brother at his new residence in Durham, which Sydney accepted after she gave Sydney more details. Livia bowed to Sydney and she departed to join Mel, then fly off to Durham with the note. Sevy came several minutes later, after Livia had resumed drinking her tea. Sevy hardly needed to be told where to put his stuff, but Livia made sure. Sevy then flew to where Professor Snape sat, vocalized some whilst the professor seemed to nod a little, then as Livia bowed to him left to join the others.

            “What did he say?” Professor Snape asked.

            “That he was happy to be of service to you and wished you a good night,” Livia replied.

            “Well, I think we are done for now. What time do you want to resume?” he asked.

            “You’re asking me? Didn’t you consider me late before?”

            “I suppose,” he answered. “I just want to know how long you need to sleep.”

            “Is eight too late?” she inquired.

            “No, that is fine,” he agreed. “I will have breakfast here. Just bring yourself and whatever you intend to bring to the Silver residence for your trip.”

            Livia came promptly on time, despite taking a minute or so to read her brother’s reply, but the breakfast things already stood in the room. Professor Snape sat drinking some tea. He nodded to her and poured some tea. She took a few sips, re-opened the window and called out to Alastair, Benedict and whatever available friends they could assemble. “Have you sought out your friends yet?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Livia answered. “They should arrive shortly.” Meantime, she put some food on the ground outside the window and sat down again.

            “I could show you how to do this whole thing yourself, even though most faculty should arrive before the term starts,” he asserted. “It seems to me I am becoming redundant. By the time you graduate, you may know as much as I do.”

            “Sorry, sir, but I find that a rather silly notion coming from you,” Livia replied. “You are either flattering me or denigrating yourself and, based on what I know, I would guess the latter.”

            “Or maybe I would rather just sleep longer,” he stated.

            “You had weeks to sleep, if you needed it,” Livia said. “I’m not buying this. Something else bothers you, and you will not name it.”

            “If so, I will not name it,” he admitted. He said nothing else then.

            About half a dozen crows came one by one through the open window, led by Alastair and Benedict. Livia gave them each a task, reminded them of what lay outside already and bowed to all of them. They each briefly vocalized their consent and set off.

            “You could have quite a career just showing off what you can do with birds,” he observed.

            “I would waste a lot of other things, though,” Livia asserted. “Besides, I cannot consider myself accomplished until I get you to laugh – don’t tell me how badly I failed last year.”

            “Okay, I won’t tell you,” he said flatly. “I could say that you should stop trying, but I know I would not succeed. You seem very determined to find a way for me to laugh.”

            “Somewhere, your sense of humor cannot have died completely, sir,” Livia theorized. “The headmaster must think it exists, at least.”

            “You draw your inspiration from him, I see,” he concluded. “He’s not perfect, you know.”

            “I think he has perfected what he does,” she declared. “If his skills match his wisdom, I cannot imagine a more impressive wizard.”

            Just then, the first of the crows returned and Livia directed him to the right container and thanked him for his diligence. The rest returned nearly one after the other, with Alastair and Benedict returning last, given they had the two tasks the furthest away. She thanked them all and ensured enough food lay outside for them all. Just then she saw Professor Snape bring up a few additional ingredients, gave her a task that she could do from memory and set about doing his own, once Livia rearranged everything in alphabetical order.

            Livia took everything she needed out of each container and laid it out next to her cauldron to complete her first task, ensuring she stayed out of his way. He seemed to be doing something very complicated. She finished before he did and watched him finish as she had some breakfast and more tea. When he turned around, she started asking him questions about what he had done, with a specificity he would have thought a graduate might not notice or ponder. It seemed that she sought a theoretical as well as practical understanding of his work, so he carefully addressed both issues. No, she would waste a good part of herself if she only worked with birds.

            “Do you remember how to store these correctly?” he asked. “These are the same as last time, but you should put mine away first.”

            She went through the steps meticulously but more quickly than before, as she did retain the procedure perfectly well, handling both adroitly and putting them in their proper position in his inventory closet.

            “There are two more tasks, but they require a slightly different storage procedure, given the delicacy of some ingredients,” he revealed. “I will show you, since some speed is ideal.”

            They again worked on two potions, same as before, though each possessed a rather equal amount of difficulty. Livia memorized the instructions and laid everything out as before. After several years and only one mishap, they respected each other’s space yet seemed to simultaneously inhabit it. One could say from a distance that they took little notice of the other but each felt fully aware, which made the process go so smoothly. They finished at about the same time. Livia backed away so she could closely watch how he stored these potions. He seemed only to make subtle adjustments, intended to better preserve unstable mixtures that needed time to settle together as well as mature. She did not miss anything, but she refrained from asking him a question until the last item went into the closet and he closed it.

            They had a brief conversation about the adjustments he had made and the reasons behind them as they finished the remaining food and tea. He seemed so at ease answering questions about his work yet so much the opposite about anything else. The incongruity struck her as odd, given he had to speak to various people every day. Yet she supposed those topics never concerned himself. She wondered if he ever spoke to anyone about that, something she could not imagine, though it would explain what she had felt. She did learn over time that some things existed that one can never say or should never say because they upset people. Others found sharing to be burdensome to hear, whether this marked an issue of self-preservation or pure selfishness. A person swamped in their own turmoil often found himself or herself unable to find an ear, with no other choice than to swallow it all and perhaps try to forget. He could not forget, though she had no idea why. He was stuck. She knew about some of that, albeit for a lot less time in Colindale.

            With their breakfast done, he asked her again to follow him to his Slytherin office. He asked her to send something to Shelley to warn her of her arrival. She found she could get a fix on her and sent her a note saying she would be arriving momentarily. Sensing her own success, she bid farewell to Professor Snape, who nodded at her. He told her how to call out for Shelley’s residence. She repeated it exactly, in his voice, smiling before she cast down the black powder. Scamp, he thought, shaking his head. Almost instantly, she found herself at the Silver residence.

            Shelley had just finished telling her parents about her imminent arrival when she showed up. “That was fast,” she asserted. “Your note must have taken time to get here. Where were you?”

            “Long story and it involves the headmaster, so I really do not want to say too much,” Livia answered. “If you have some paper, I need to send him a brief note confirming my arrival.” She wrote it quickly and used only her initials. She then held it and thought of sending it to Professor Snape’s desk. He saw it only a few minutes later. Livia then more fully greeted Shelley, greeted her mother and met Shelley’s father, Marcus, a rather tall, silver-haired man who remained rather fit for his mid-40s.  He seemed oddly the most enthusiastic about Livia’s arrival, since he felt he had missed out on spending time with her previously, whilst his daughter and wife had done so.

            She found him to be rather jovial, though strictly protective of his wife and daughter. Livia got the impression that the very conflict that caused the Hogwarts headmaster to seek the great improvement of her skills, had produced in him the opposite idea. He preferred to flee the minute the dark forces re-emerged. Indeed, the family home in West Sussex, a grand, impressive yet comfortable manor, did not exist far from the muggle’s Gatwick Airport, expanding the outlets to leave fast should it become necessary. Marcus Silver only hoped his daughter would graduate before that day came. It seemed a lot of people his age, having felt lucky to miss the first war basically, would go out of their way to avoid a new one. Just a sense of what the family had and what they seemed to store, as well as the fact that Shelley knew nothing about the past – as did most of her classmates – meant they would scatter and hide until a victor emerged.

            Perhaps this approach typified those sorted into Ravenclaw. Livia saw herself more like a Bedlington Terrier – sensitive and lamb-like in appearance but very stubborn, loyal and feisty, when needed. That is, the exterior did not match the temperament and many could misjudge her, to their own peril. Perhaps some Slytherin cleverness existed but at heart lay the Gryffindor lion. Livia finally saw why the sorting hat paused in placing her. She remained studious but, if pushed, she would never back down. She just to keep that tenacity going when dueling.

            They all spent the rest of the day in good spirits, since all remained well. Brontë also seemed happy to see her, expressing that, though she missed the other owls, the Silver family had treated her well and gave her some opportunity to enjoy some freedom, confident she would return thanks to her comportment all summer. Sheila really knew how to spoil children with food and took pride in ensuring Livia as well as Shelley ate well. Both Sheila and Marcus expressed curiosity about the headmaster’s interest in her. She told them it extended from him finding her and admitting her as an older student. Shelley asserted something different.

            “He knows she is a genius, no doubt,” Shelley revealed. “I think he grooms her for something, but she will not say what it is.”

            “I honestly do not know what he wants, other than me to be able to duel well.”

            “Duel?” Marcus asked. “That is not a separate subject now, is it?”

            “No,” Livia answered. “I have been working with Professor Flitwick for some time. I have only a slight idea who he expects me to have to fight. But he wanted me comfortable with a wand, since I started late with one, as well as for me to become potentially lethal.”

            “Oh,” Marcus said. He had some idea. The headmaster had identified her talent and wanted her for an inevitable future that Marcus would flee rather than face. The headmaster thought so far ahead that Marcus had no doubt where that would go. Marcus Silver would only add “Professor Flitwick was a champion duelist. If you can beat him that says something.”

            “Now that he has shown me his full talents, I cannot as of yet,” Livia stated. “I have to rethink how to attack him and keep my ability to protect myself high. It’s a balancing act for me.”

            Livia and Shelley shared Shelley’s room that night, and Shelley refused to go to sleep until Livia told her more clearly what had happened with Bill Weasley. Livia did not feel she should say too much. “Bill essentially repeated what he had said at the Winter Ball, and, given his added responsibilities this year in becoming Head Boy, I think the last thing he wanted was a significant relationship. When I tried to get a better understanding of the situation, Helena Ravenclaw told me to ask my mother, as if I could. Instead, I asked my brother’s girlfriend to explain it.”

            “She did?” Shelley asked. “Blimey. He did not change his mind? I was sure he would.”

            “He may have altered how he saw me, but not how he saw his own future. Call that a partial success. When he is ready, he will meet a blonde who actually for once will deserve him.”

            “What is it with the blonde fixation?” asked Shelley, apparently tugging one of the medium-dark brown ringlets of hair. “Makes me want to buy a wig or something.”

            “Beats me,” Livia admitted. “Seems to be a common thing with some boys – the blonder, the better. My brother’s girlfriend is blonde. Yet I cannot say I had a thing for redheads myself. Darl-haired men like those singers from U2 or INXS are more to my taste, I think – though I am not sure how tall either is. I prefer some height, but I cannot say how much. Taller than me, I suppose. Sorry, Professor Flitwick.” They laughed.

            “Well, I still don’t get it. At any rate, you have to do a new song when we go back. Just Professor Snape doing the Beastie Boys, though, would work. That had to be great. He probably missed it, but he doesn't seem like the type to find it funny.”

            “We should sleep if we are going shopping tomorrow,” Livia asserted. “Yes, I’ll do another song, but only if everyone keeps it a secret. It probably should not become commonly known.”

            The next day the whole family went to Diagon Alley, stopping first at the bank so Livia could make a withdrawal and see what her balance looked like. That bet on Bill Weasley’s breakup did more than pay for that dance dress she got, so she felt satisfied. All enjoyed a satisfying day out and Mr. Silver kept hold of the basket collecting the things both girls needed. On the way back to the Leaky Cauldron, Livia asked if the innkeeper would mail a conventional letter she had addressed to her brother, already stamped and ready for the post. He expressed surprise that a possibly full-blooded witch knew how to address and apply the proper postage. She told him that she had spent long enough in that world to know how to live there and do what they saw as normal things. The letter simply said she was visiting her school friend and they would travel to school together shortly and that she would send him a follow up note her usual way to let him know she returned to school.

            They all got to the station promptly to make the train out on Thursday, 1 September. Livia liked that she did not find herself alone amongst the milieu of students heading back to Hogwarts. Even if she had gone onto the platform alone, she would have found her roommates on the train, sure, but it was nice to actually wave at people who traveled with her there and see them also waving at her, too, along with their daughter. It also meant she did not have to stare at the Weasley family saying goodbye to their eldest sons whilst the rest remained behind.

 

*Author's Note

The song "What You Need" appears on the album Listen Like Thieves, which also was released as a single in 1986. Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence collaborated on the track.


Chapter 17: The Legend of Livia is Born
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           The train had not even departed when the faculty had convened to discuss the new students and issues carrying over from the previous year. Towards the end of the meeting, Professor Flitwick said he had something on his mind he had to discuss because he did not like the current situation. The topic concerned Livia Woodcock.

            “I know what you said, headmaster, that no one should try to draw too much attention to her,” he began. “That is why I did not tell her in the spring of any plan to make her a prefect. In fact, I stalled over elevating any female owing to this problem.”

            “What is the problem, Filius?” the headmaster asked. “Don’t tell me that you cannot find anyone to fill the position.”

            “The problem to me is simple,” Professor Flitwick answered. “Most of the Ravenclaws know I work with her and like her. Not naming her a prefect will draw more attention – as in ‘How could I overlook her?’ – than naming her one. She would accept it, but I think I could not justify it well to anyone who asks me about it, like any of her roommates.”

            “I see what you mean. That would make for a difficult explanation. Not naming her Head Girl could be justified from whatever outside lessons she would receive beyond Fifth Year, but there does not seem any reason regarding prefect that you could name. I mean, that title would not alter her situation regarding those seeking her help with written assignments, would it?”

            “No,” he replied. “She has never compromised her own work owing to that, perhaps because she does not plan on sitting for 12 exams this year. I think she wants to do nine, though I think the ninth one comes entirely from zero class time. She felt no need to attend a single one of Sybill’s classes, yet thinks she can pass the test.”

            “Really?” several asked at once.

            “Well, if her ability to take money off first-year students is any indication, I would not put this past her,” the headmaster observed. “She taught herself second year D.A.DA. skills, after all, and a previous instructor of that got her to conjure a full Patronus during his first hour teaching her at age 14. If you think, there will be more buzz about her lack of elevation than doing this, do it, Filius. Just don’t make her Head Girl, if you can help it. Name her friend instead.”

            “Out of curiosity, just what is her Patronus?” Henry Jones, the new D.A.D.A. instructor, asked.

            “From what I understand, it is a North American bobcat,” the headmaster responded.

            “Very unusual,” Professor Jones stated. “Her choice?”

            “I would think so,” Professor Snape offered. “She was given a toy stuffed animal bobcat when very young. Maybe six. She may still have it.”

            “How do you know that?” Professor Jones asked.

            “Infamous episode during her first year here,” Professor Snape answered. “To settle it with me, she allowed me to view her memories – some good, a lot not so much, to say the least. I think her past makes her unusual, though she hides it well. Prior experience also forced that upon her.”

            “I feel it necessary to continue essentially hiding her,” the headmaster asserted. “But point taken, Filius. Passing her over, given what her own house knows, would provoke only questions.”

            “I will inform them after the feast,” Professor Flitwick said. “Thank you.”

            The trip passed fairly well, though for all the students entering the Fifth Year or Fifth Level, concern had creeped in for some because this year ended with formal exams that determined much of what a student would continue doing afterward. No one knew for sure if it represented an accumulation of skill or emphasized mostly that pivotal year. Though Livia expected the formal exams offered a novel form of stress, she did not feel terribly concerned, given how she felt about her classes on the whole. Even her teaching herself whatever she would need to show ability in her self-teaching did not trouble her much. Only dueling bothered her. She had still not beaten Professor Flitwick, and she considered several different approaches that would give her more unpredictability, which she must use against him. She also held some curiosity over how the music club would continue without Bill Weasley. Could they sustain the event without him? She did not need to revisit what happened last time, but she did want another event to take place, rather than that bittersweet night be her last memory of it. She would find out how well she had recovered when she saw him in the Great Hall. She could pull off stoic, but would she feel that way?

           All too quickly, the moment of truth had arrived. Their belongings taken to their rooms, the returning students took their places in the Great Hall. She saw him, with his new pin on, she blinked then politely smiled and nodded at him. He smiled and nodded back. It happened very quickly, and Livia felt glad it had come and gone with little fuss or emotion on her part. She did not want to know how he felt. She had to close that book versus dwell on it. She took her seat with the other Fifth Year students she knew and they busily continued earlier discussions of their summers and their expectations for the year. Livia followed in general, but did not say much. Dueling continued to occupy her thoughts.

            Professor Dumbledore welcomed everyone back and made a few pithy comments no one knew how to take. After Professor McGonagall led in the new students, he made sure to introduce the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor and mentioned any other changes of note. After the sorting took place, everyone enjoyed their first meal and retired to their houses. Professor Flitwick ensured no one had gone to their rooms before telling all that, though an unusual situation had delayed his appointment of all the prefects for the year, he had added Livia Woodcock and Shelley Silver to round out the list. He recommended that they catch up to the others by arranging a meeting with the Head Girl, the blonde, studious Rosalee Richmond, as soon as they could. With that announcement, he allowed most of the returning students to retire to their rooms.

               Rhonda Wayne, still a prefect as was her sister before her, was not happy to hear the news, though at least she did not have to attend a meeting with them right away. Their elevation might complicate her desired revenge; she would bide her time. Shelley seemed elated and surprised that Livia did not share her emotion. Livia did not know what really would change. Shelley thought about the school pool privileges and being taken seriously by younger students. The rest of their room’s residents congratulated both, though a few privately said they thought Professor Flitwick had named both to obscure Livia some, though they did not understand why he would do that.

            Professor Flitwick then came around with the new students and introduced them to the existing residents and, as he had done previously, suggested Livia was the person to consult regarding any issue concerning a written assignment. He also gave Livia and Shelley their pins as well as their schedules, which once again matched entirely, except for the time Livia would continue to practice dueling. Every year that seemed to increase. Livia thought he was giving her ample opportunities to try new things to finally win. It had increased to four sessions a week, though how many battles they had each time could vary, depending currently, on how long Livia could defend herself. The amount of time outside would get cut some, even if the sessions did not take up her entire free time. Livia and Shelley ultimately joined the rest of the student leaders.

            The first classes proceeded fairly well, with the exception of the first Potions class. Whilst in the process of laying out the coursework for the year, Professor Snape spotted Livia and Shelley wearing their new Ravenclaw prefect pins and decided to draw notice to how he expected neither to do very well, given the responsibilities of prefects drained from the preparation time necessary for formal exams. He seemed to want his confrontation to escalate, Livia thought. Shelley, sitting in the back, could not figure out how he saw the pins. Her jaw dropped and she was about to sink into her chair. Livia steadied Shelley: she took the bait, thinking he had to have a reason for this. In her best impersonation of Professor Snape, she announced forcefully: “I am feeling rather peeved today because Professor Slughorn never chose me to be a Slytherin prefect.” Some students laughed whilst some were simply stunned at both the voice as well as what Livia Woodcock said.

            He walked right up to her, perhaps centimeters from her face. “What is the meaning of this insolence, Miss Woodcock?”

            She did not flinch and gave him the same stare, contorting her face to resemble his scowl. She matched his cadence, too. “I could ask the same, if you wish to keep arguing with me.” 

            “Hmph. Two weeks detention, 10 points off Ravenclaw and four o’clock my office – you know the drill. I will add a week for every minute I wait.”

            “If you say so, sir,” Livia said as herself, though not breaking her gaze.

            He continued the class as if nothing happened. Actually, Livia did not seem rattled even slightly, either. Shelley and at least a few other students found the whole exchange surreal; others could not fathom Livia’s mimicry or her attitude, much less why they had drawn Professor Snape’s ire for pins they wondered how he even could see.

            After class, Shelley worried about the repercussions and Livia reassured her. “Don’t worry. Unless he hits me, he cannot hurt me.”

            Livia showed up a few minutes early, sat on the floor, materializing her Walkman and listened to something she found enjoyable. Professor Snape showed up exactly at four, looking very put out. “Take off those silly headphones,” he said. “Inside. Now.”

            Livia sent the Walkman back to her room and shut the door. “I gathered that was a show, and you have something to tell me,” she stated.

            “You are scary, sometimes,” he asserted. “Can’t believe I said that to a 16-year-old girl.” 

            “Not really,” she responded. “I logically deduced that you would not pick a fight with me unless you had something important to say and thought this was simply the means to that end. Since we don’t have written assignments immediately, you could either tell the headmaster or inform me directly. I think the second is faster.”

            “True enough, but you actually tried to resemble me,” he observed. “Rather unsettling.”

            “You didn’t expect me to back down, did you?” she asked.

            “No,” he answered. “But that was a better version of me than I expected.”

            “Practice makes perfect. So what do you want to tell me, sir?”

            “It’s about your dueling. I wanted to suggest something. Can you enable someone to perceive a lie as truth? Moreover, can you fake your intent but do something entirely different?”

            “I have faked sincerity a few times, with one incident concerning you, actually.”

            “Really? What happened?”

            “That time you sent me to the Leaky Cauldron and followed me. A patron there said he thought he recognized you. Something about him did not seem right. I asked him who he thought he saw and he gave your full name, not including your title here. I told him he was mistaken, that you were my uncle, who often gets told he resembles you and that it bothers him. I know he tried to penetrate my mind, and I ensured he got nothing but sincerity from me. He presumed I, as a child, had to be telling the truth. He apologized and said he thought he saw an ‘old friend’ but, frankly, sir, I did not believe him, so I said nothing else.”

            “Did you get his name?” he inquired.

            “No,” Livia replied. “I considered that question too risky in terms of him doubting me.”

            “You are cautious. I must admit your discretion regarding me is admirable. If you can fake your next move or moves, you might throw Professor Flitwick off and, if you can still perceive his, you can pull off beating him. This may not pay off immediately. You will need to practice to shorten up the time you switch from what he believes will come and what you do, as if working in tandem. I also suggest you do not tip him off about this until you feel you can do it well.”

            “Makes a lot of sense,” Livia stated. “Thank you, sir. How should I practice?”

            “Maybe a mirror would help,” he suggested. “I would trespass too far on him if you tried to practice this with me. It would also cause a lot of talk here. At some point, though, I might be able to impart some information that you find helpful in many respects, but I doubt I could propose it until after your exams. I also need to know a little more about some of your nascent skills.”

            “So I should go to detention now?” Livia queried.

            “Yes,” he affirmed. “By the way, arguing with myself was rather interesting. You really have done a lot of study. I oddly enjoyed that ‘show,’ as you put it.”

            “You do seem to take more joy over being annoyed than finding anything to laugh about, sir,” Livia asserted. “Can’t say I will ever understand that, though it must provide some kind of exorcism. If it did, I take my detention gladly. Good day, sir.”

            He watched her walk away. You definitely understand it, perhaps said better than I can. That’s also why you’re so scary. Albus and I can make you even better, though.

            Livia served her time just thinking about how to execute Professor Snape’s suggestion. It was like having her mind go one way and the heart go another or working two things in her brain at once. The mirror was a good idea, so she could see if she tipped off what she did or merely what she wanted Professor Flitwick to anticipate. She could see how she could incorporate this with shifting her style, perhaps several times during a single fight or single session. He gave her plenty of food for thought, though for the time being she wanted to limit her style changes until she could master this concept and add it to things Professor Flitwick would not have previously seen. She opted to keep her own best ideas hidden until the right moment came, to maximize his surprise.

            At dinner, everyone buzzed about her Professor Snape voice. Some had heard that she mimicked voices but had never heard her do any, let alone do an impersonation of him to him. A few people she did not know well asked her to say something in his voice. She gently said “Maybe later,” owing to the fact that whoever asked usually interrupted someone else talking at her table in her vicinity. After she dropped a hint as to not being a dance monkey, the requests stopped coming, though the buzz about it went on and on.

            Shelley finally said: “Well, the cat is out of the bag now, Livia. Is the detention worth it?”

            “Definitely,” Livia replied. “I told you it would be. To me, that was fun.” She did not wish to give the entire story.

            “I cannot believe you actually twisted your face like his and stared him down like he does,” Shelley observed as others nodded in agreement. “You must have ice water running in your veins.”

            “Now we get it to see if Professor Snape dies from his own stare!” Ted exclaimed. Everyone laughed.

            “You just have to do another song,” Athena claimed. “I think the whole house would want to hear it, now.”

            “This will die down eventually and become yesterday’s news,” Livia suggested.

            “No, it will become a legend,” Ted asserted. The others nodded.

            The faculty had their own uproar over that incident, with the bulk unaware that Livia Woodcock could impersonate Professor Snape in his own class. Professor Flitwick offered his apologies and asked if he should do anything as punishment.

            “Already done, not to worry, Filius,” he acknowledged. “It will not happen again.”

            “Very unlike you not to hold a big grudge here, and I want to soften this for her, if I can.”

            “It’s over,” Professor Snape responded. “She will do her time. You need not strip her of her position or anything. I picked a fight with her and she did not back down. Sounds to me like she will be a handful to duel in the near future. Better you than me.”

            “Since when do you admit to starting a fight, Severus?” the headmaster asked.

            “I had my reasons,” he replied. When everyone else left, he was a little more truthful. “I had something to say to Miss Woodcock, and the quickest way to do it was to stage a fight. Okay?”

            “I hope it was worth it,” the headmaster told him.

            “That is up to Miss Woodcock. Goodnight, Albus.”

            At least the first Muggle Music Club meeting went agreeably well. Somehow Bill had convinced Percy to join, though he had not gotten to the level where he could take Muggle Studies. Professor Flitwick joyously welcomed another Weasley. Reggie had shown up, too. The group stood, even with the loss of Bill, at 34 members. He had an organizational dilemma, since Bill no longer would chair the event. He did not want to put Livia in the role, since she caused enough of a dust up already. He opted to put Shelley in charge, who decided she wanted her prior Winter Ball date, a tall, dirty blond, blue-eyed curly-haired Gryffindor student named Liam O’Neill, to serve as her assistant. Livia would head the playlist committee, which pleased Reggie, given that he knew she would listen to things he suggested. Since Shelley had played Livia’s role partly before the previous year’s event, they would have little problem swapping. Livia just had to know what kind of song she wanted first, since she had no idea where Shelley stood with Liam or wanted to stand with him. Given all of Livia’s access to equipment, she just had to know if the committee wanted recent songs or how far back should she go – they decided to stick with living musicians but to cover entire careers, even if they went back 15-20 years. So a funky 70s song by David Bowie had the same footing as Run-D.M.C. or Prince. This gave everyone in her committee the ability to go album hunting over the break for potential candidates.

            The rest of the semester proceeded uneventfully in terms of academics. Livia had everything well in hand whilst she worked on putting Professor Snape’s ideas with her own into practice. She used a mirror and asked Helena Ravenclaw to assess as to whether she tipped off her intent. Helena loved being helpful. Only when the calendar turned to November did Livia pronounce herself ready to try out her new approach. She did catch Professor Flitwick off-guard and, finding himself less able to read her intentions, she finally got him – and more than once that day. He was shocked. He had never seen these tactics and her ability to cover her true intentions with false moves or thoughts. He just had to know what changed her approach.

            “I don’t know how you came up with this,” he began. “I like it! But how did this happen?”

            “Don’t make this common knowledge,” Livia stated. “Remember that fight I had with Professor Snape?” He nodded. “Well, it was ruse because he wanted to talk to me and he gave me an idea for part of what I did today. He told me to fake my intentions and practice by a mirror and not try this until I thought I had it. Other aspects of changing my style I considered over the summer. I just put those ideas together and held off showing any of it till I could do all of it.”

            “I don’t know what to say,” he responded. “Why would he do that?”

            “I think we have very similar skill sets so he figured a good part of this out,” Livia replied. “Why is a good question. He could have a number of reasons – I will not hazard a guess.”

            Professor Flitwick immediately set off for the headmaster’s office. When he entered, he reported that Livia had finally figured out how to beat him in a duel, having done it twice in a single session. “She developed some tactics in private that she never showed me until now. She may not have them down as fully as she can get, but they certainly did the job today.”

            “Twice in one day, impressive,” the headmaster acknowledged. “So you credit her entirely with this and not yourself, whether you suggested anything or even lost a step?”

            “Actually, I think Severus deserves a lot more credit than I do.”

            “Really?” the headmaster inquired. “How is that possible?”

            “Apparently, he baited Miss Woodcock into their spat in class and suggested something to her regarding faking her intentions that she developed on her own.”

            “Oh,” the headmaster recounted. “Now I understand what he said to me about having a go at her. Keep it up. She will need to continue developing as you react to what she now can do.”

            Professor Snape later was summoned to Professor Dumbledore’s office. “You wished to see me, headmaster?” he asked.

            “Yes, Severus,” the headmaster affirmed. “Today, Professor Flitwick has informed me that Livia Woodcock defeated him twice in a single session. I understand that credit for this feat belongs to you, though.”

            “Not entirely,” he answered. “She had some of her own ideas and just ran with something I suggested. I never directly assisted her, just gave her an idea. She did all the work.”

            “What exactly did you suggest, if you don’t mind me asking?”

            “I asked her how she did at lying or faking things to people,” Professor Snape disclosed. “I suggested she try sending out clues to actions he would anticipate but she never intended to take, thereby disguising what move or sequence of moves she wanted to use.”

            “Now if she can add more aggression to her misdirections, she probably could match up one-on-one against…”

            “I doubt she is ready for that,” Professor Snape observed.

            “Well, just in case, I want her prepared for anyone,” the headmaster said. “If she had to fight anyone, I would expect it to be –”

            “But she’s in prison at Azkaban,” Professor Snape stated.

            “When the dark forces arise again, she will not remain there,” the headmaster asserted. “We both know it.”

            Livia had no clue then about such things, only that the headmaster had made her dueling skills imperative. Initially, she found herself taken off-guard when a tall Fifth Year, dark haired lanky Slytherin with light brown eyes named Thor Thornton asked her to the Winter Ball, claiming that he found anyone feisty enough to spar with Professor Snape worth asking.

            The hairs on the back of Livia’s neck told her something else had prompted this.

            “You lie to me,” Livia said. “I don’t like flattery. What’s the real story?”

            He stammered. “I-I guess that’s a ‘no’ then?” Thor asked.

            “Why can’t you tell me the truth and start from there?” Livia insisted. There was something he concealed, but he had an honorable goal. It just had nothing to do with her.

            “I am not trying to disrespect you…” he began.

            “But you won’t be honest with me, will you?” she inquired.

            He broke, seeing that she wanted the truth. “Okay,” he responded. “A couple of housemates put me in a bind. They said they would give me my money back if you accepted my offer and they would pay me an additional sum if I danced with you for an hour. If I got the money, I could buy something for my little sister, Tessa, something I know she would like.” Tessa started school in France, he explained, and he wanted to give her something to remind her of home.

            “Who are these boys?” Livia demanded.

            “Their names are Loki Loth and Tim Yew.”

            “I think I know who they are. Bullies and thieves both, underweight and undersized one and the other is a huge oaf. Both scared to do their own dirty work, I would imagine. They probably scammed you for this very reason. Why do you consider them your friends?”

            “Believe it or not, they are the most innocuous Slytherins right now.”

            “Give me your hands,” Livia demanded.

            She wanted to confirm his role in the scam. She did not put anything past Slytherins having an ability to lie to her. She verified his desperation and that he had he had told her the truth.

            “Okay,” she acknowledged. “Unless you are a master at lying, I have verified your story. I do not need or want any of the money. How long do I have to be there?”

            “If we start dancing fairly quickly, shouldn’t be much more than an hour.”

            “I will do it on one condition. If your head of house asks later, tell him the whole story and that you told me the truth and I agreed. If he ever felt like punishing you for this stunt, that will guarantee that he will not do it.”

            “He doesn’t punish Slytherins,” Thor asserted.

            “And he generally recognizes that I am a Slytherin legacy,” she responded. “Did you not know that? He very likely attended school with my father.”

            “No, I did not,” he admitted. “That explains your lack of fear of him, though – even if he punishes you for it.”

            “Do not say anything about our conversation beforehand, should those two idiots hear of it and cancel their agreement.”

            The rest of the room was excited for Livia to have a Winter Ball date, though not necessarily thrilled that it came from a Slytherin. Livia opted for something nice but not terribly flashy. They all had their own dates to worry about. She told them simply that her situation was not all it appeared to be. She walked into it with her eyes open but asked them not to say anything about it until afterward.

            “Why Livia?” Shelley asked. “Is something wrong?”

            “No, more like ‘not right’, but it is not a big deal. I will tell you all later.”

            Livia lived up to her end of the bargain. Thor looked like he took the event seriously. Livia wore something appropriate, if on the sedate side. She made small talk and told him to keep his chin up and look like he enjoyed the evening. Only a very few realized Livia was acting, if they looked nice together. When she knew she had passed the hour, she finished the current dance, then bowed to Thor and left the room, telling him to go fetch his winnings just as she left. She returned straight to her room, changed her clothes, put on her headphones and wrote a letter to her brother, making arrangements to return to Durham for the upcoming break. Mel came and, upon him telling Livia he had been fed well that night and felt strong took off with the letter.

            Livia kept her headphones on till everyone returned. Only then did she turn off her music, and addressed them all.

            “That was a fake date for me,” Livia stated. “I know two Slytherins, Loki Loth and Tim Yew, will say otherwise, either now or after break, but Thor Thornton only asked me to get money back from those supposed friends of his. I helped him because they had cheated him, I believe, and they actually offered him more money than he lost if he succeeded. I knew this from the day he asked, which is why I never got very excited about the event. It was staged and I participated.”

            The others in the room were shocked, but they knew Livia could detect liars. Her behavior made sense, and the others all expressed their regret that she had missed out on perhaps landing an actual date because she had accepted Thor’s offer.

            “It hardly matters to me,” Livia said. “I have yet to come across anyone other than Bill here that I have ever taken an interest in. Of course, I don’t really try much. Hey, how about I sing as Professor Snape again?”

            They were all enthused. In fact, they had no idea how fitting singing Prince could be.  Reggie had gotten Livia interested. She loved how many new things he had added to her collection:

I never wanted to be your weekend lover
I only wanted to be some kind of friend
Baby, I could never steal you from another
It's such a shame our friendship had to end*

 
Fortunately, the term ended before too much gossip about Thor and his “date” made the rounds, though Livia had figured out that Thor did get his money, as promised. What she did not know concerned the fact that Thor felt rather guilt-ridden as the story started to spread around Slytherin and that he had gone to Professor Snape and confessed to the whole thing. His head of house told him to keep the money. Livia was a big girl who did not yet know about what Loki and Tim had started saying, and the issue probably would straighten itself out next term. Still, he felt like he should warn her, so he wrote her a note, telling her that he needed to speak to her and requested she return to campus the evening of Sunday, 8 January and let him know when she had returned.


            Livia found the note odd, given he practically opened himself up to another practical joke by her. She could not imagine his reason. Apparently, some members of Ravenclaw had sheltered her from the initial rumors floating around about her “date” with Thor Thornton or flat out denied that fooling her could have taken place.

            Despite the fact that Livia had not exploited the Winter Ball for her financial gain, she had spent her money wisely and had sufficient funds to buy a few presents. Not old enough to apparate to Durham, she had to land by The Sands and walk to Tom’s new home with Alice and their cat, Abby. It wasn’t too far and shrinking Livia’s things made the trip fairly easy. She did not even need a full tape to fly there. Livia found the open parts outside town very inviting, though wanted to visit certain High Street or Silver Street town stores as well as indulge her love of music.

              Tom wondered why she looked for things on vinyl as much as CDs, since to his knowledge she did not own a means to play that older format. She explained its use with old turntables the school owned for their dance. He remembered teachers holding onto the use of film strips or overhead projectors when newer devices had started becoming popular. Most people in his profession still used a pad and paper and had used nothing more sophisticated than either a photocopier or carbon paper. He heard about many more things to come and could not wait to see when he could dump his typewriter. So if Livia wanted Run-D.M.C. on vinyl and looked for other artists there, also, he did get it, though he wondered why she could not make her stuff work. Livia explained the room size and acoustics made using her device difficult and, moreover, open to theft if it would become commonly known that she had such things. Still, she knew his point had merit and started pondering if somehow they could use it in the future.

            Alice had begun researching where she might qualify for advanced training or advanced study. It depended upon whether she saw herself more as an archivist or a historian. She liked the former but really wanted the latter, which took more to achieve. She made inquiries at Durham University and got some contacts in both Manchester and Newcastle to check out. The latter would work much better logistically, though her relatives wanted her to explore more prestigious options. First, though, came Tom settling in fully, which seemed to be going well.

            Christmas Eve included a nice get together featuring many of the couples Tom and Alice knew – Audrey and Jake, Gary and Penny, Adam and Linda, John and Lesley. Tom’s father called and Cathy showed up with a new vet at her rescue, who Gary liked to call Doc Dick (a play on his name being Richard, a suggestion he did not seem to mind). Since both Doc and Gary liked Abby a great deal, they had developed a mutual respect that produced a lot of humor at each other’s expense. Alice even asserted to Doc and Cathy that she thought Gary visited more owing to Abby. That is, the cat nobody had wanted became the cat everyone wanted. Abby, in turn, had begun to feel more relaxed in her home with a lot of people. It did not hurt that Livia had her own room and Abby could escape there whenever she preferred a nap to a boisterous mass of people.

            Sometimes, at events liked this, Livia wondered what it would be like to have someone with her – boyfriend or not. She knew she would never be like them fully and never even hinted that she would have liked if they brought someone to meet her. It seemed a non-starter, since she had never been wholly authentic there. She mostly was, but she lived two lives in two worlds. She belonged more in one, but lacked a real family there. Where she seemed to have some family, she never could entirely belong. Yet she hoped she could share both with someone, still.

            The New Year’s celebration went pretty much the same way, though Tom had vowed to her that, given his recent accomplishments with Fitzer, Robinson and Hubbard, he would be scheduling a formal hearing before the Framlingham Town Council during her spring break to finally get that formal apology from them. Cathy even updated her own affidavit regarding the matter, testifying to her own profound remorse at participating on what became a complete miscarriage of justice. She planned on attending, too, even if she had to change her work schedule to do it. With any luck, the rest of her family would not really know. Rev. Woodcock’s job was to ensure his wife’s ignorance of it as well as Lydia’s.

            The holiday had passed well and Livia almost did not want to leave, but she knew better than to question whatever Professor Snape had on his mind. Inviting her was way too unlike him, knowing what she had done in the past. Given what his sparring with her actually had involved, she had to trust that he had something important to discuss.

            So she made her excuses, shrank her other belongings and re-sized her broom once she got to The Sands. She left late on Sunday afternoon, 8 January, telling Tom something pressing had come up and she did not know the details, only that the headmaster requested that he see her. She knew he basically liked the mysterious older man, so using him as a blanket story made sense.

            She got back around eight herself, composed a note and called for Sevy to take a note to Professor Snape (which she knew Sevy would only be too happy to deliver). She went back to “Purple Rain” and attempted to try Prince’s voice, which over recent weeks had grown on her. This time, with no headphones needed, she totally lost herself in the song when she thought she missed the first knocking at her door. The rapping started anew, she thought, so she turned down the sound and opened the door to find Professor Snape again standing outside of it. “Sorry, sir, I guess I did not hear you at first, as I got wrapped up,” she apologized.

            “Who is that?” he asked.

            “His full name is Prince Rogers Nelson but he goes by Prince. The Hufflepuff student Reggie really got me hooked into listening to him.”

            “I need to tell you something, but I prefer it not to be here. Take my sleeve.”

            Slowly, Livia recognized the room. It was his. “Gee, I do not know if I am ready for a singing birthday card yet. I don’t have my music with me.”

            “Save it – I have something serious on my mind,” he stated. “That Winter Ball date you had...”

            “Bogus, it was,” she admitted.

            “I know,” he acknowledged. “Thor Thornton suddenly had an attack of a guilty conscience, as un-Slytherin-like that it is. He told me the whole story. Why did you agree to it?”

            “He finally told me the truth about his so-called friends taking his money and having only one means to get it back and extract something from the two who set him up. I verified his story, so I played along. It meant buying a gift for his sister who’s at another school versus being broke.”

            “Kind of you, but this is not over,” Professor Snape recounted.

            “What do you mean?” Livia asked.

            “Those two have already spread it in Slytherin how they bamboozled you, and I am sure they intend on trying to make you the laughingstock of the whole school next term,” he answered. “Do you want me to punish them?”

            “You never punish your own,” Livia asserted. “How is that supposed to work?”

            “Well, the headmaster could do it,” he suggested.

            “Nah, that likely won’t work. They’d wonder how he found out. Let me take care of it. I dare those two to say anything to my face. You will probably consider reprimanding me when I get through with them. I do not suffer fools lightly and, frankly, I might relish the opportunity more than you might suspect. You can warn them after that: 1) you know the whole story; and 2) they should not mess with a Slytherin legacy whose powers they have grossly misjudged.”

            “You have something in mind, I take it?”

            “Something I wish I had done to Lydia years ago, if I could have gotten away with it.” She paused. “Thank you for telling me so I can be in full control when I pull this off. I have to look up a few things and maybe practice, but I’ll be ready. If you happen to see me, you will think I am not in control – and that will be quite intentional.” She paused again but once more he said nothing. “So how should I wish you a Happy Birthday this year, sir? You get your last year of being in your twenties.”

            “I rather you did not remind me,” he observed.

            “One of these days, I’m going to get you to laugh,” she said. She realized no sound carried in his room, she materialized a tape and her Walkman and amplified the volume. “How ‘bout this?” She started dancing and singing around him shamelessly, trying to get even get a toe tap from him to Devo’s “Whip It.” “C’mon sir, it’s fun,” she urged.

            If Albus only saw this. He would know why I think she’s got a screw loose. He said nothing and did not move, though he followed her with his eyes.

          “I thought you would at least like the idea of whipping students you don’t like,” she added. “Can’t seem to find the right thing, but I will keep trying.” She sent the tape player and tape back to her room. “Try to be good to yourself tomorrow. Happy birthday and goodnight, sir.”

            “Just take my sleeve again, in case Mr. Filch is around,” he stated. Once returned to her room, he only said “Goodnight, Miss Woodcock” in his usual deadpan voice. When he returned, he wryly smiled. It was a good try.


* Author's Note

"Purple Rain" is the title track song from the 1984 released album that served as the soundtrack to the 1984 film. The group recorded the song, written by Prince and produced by the ensemble, live at a concert in Minneapolis, MN, at the First Avenue nightclub that served as the film's setting.


Chapter 18: Wrath and Surprise
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Note: this is a chapter containing some profane language.    

       Within a few days, Livia had gotten word to her brother and obtained additional supplies. She had also spent time in the library. Her friends also found their way back to the room and again expressed surprise to see her. She explained that she knew what was going around Slytherin about her and wondered if they had heard of it. A few had. She told them she would take care of this.

            “Shouldn’t that be the headmaster’s job?” Athena asked.

            “Really, it should be Professor Snape’s job, but he won’t do anything,” Ted replied.

            “I won’t let them off the hook and no one will, um, mess with me again,” Livia stated. Most of the others knew she wanted to say something else and realized she would deal harshly with those students if she ran across those two spreading that story about the Winter Ball, even though no Ravenclaw student believed it.

            The faculty came to know about it, but the consensus that emerged was to let Miss Woodcock deal with the issue herself, for the time being, unless she did anything too outrageous. Professor Snape frankly stated he wanted to see how she handled the matter, given it provided her with a unique challenge – and they would see how she responded. Meantime, the term began and each laid out their plans and ensured the classes had ample information to get started well.

            Oddly enough, Livia received a note from Bill Weasley, the Head Boy of Gryffindor. He said he heard the story some Slytherins were spreading and asked if she was all right. He asked her if she needed his help to shut down the two responsible for it, though secretly he chastised himself for letting her go and exposing her to this incident. She wrote him back and thanked him for his concern, but if Professor Snape did not intimidate her, neither would Loki nor Tim. She basically told him “I got this,” which made him happy to read. He hoped that she meant it.

            Towards the end of January, a notable thaw had occurred, a brief respite when the weather became unseasonably temperate.  Livia had exited a side door looking to head away towards the grounds. Loki and Tim followed her, taking this as their opportunity to gloat and try to get Livia Woodcock’s goat, essentially taunt her on how they put one over on her with Thor’s fake date.

            “Funny, since the only ones who lost money in the deal were you,” she noted, locating her wand. “Never occurred to you dopes that nothing pleased me more than you having to fork over your money to Thor – more than even you took from him.” She made a silent command.

            “Nice try, but the only fool is you,” Tim asserted. “You fell for a lie. We set you up.”

            “Listen, you rat-faced, flea-bitten dumbasses, even Professor Snape knows what you did, and I knew way before him,” she stated very forcefully. “Ask Thornton yourselves the next time you actually can speak, you putrid, filthy creatures. And if you bother me again, I will turn you permanently into the little turds that you are, you miserable –”

            Just then Professor Snape approached the scene. Though Livia had hardly moved her wand, he saw two donkeys with rat heads scratching from fleas though still wearing Slytherin gowns.

            “Miss Woodcock, watch your language.” He had some idea where she would go with the end of that statement. He surveyed his two students. “Looks like revenge sure is a cold dish,” he remarked. “I think you two better try to clean yourselves of your fleas and hope that the rest of you comes back.” The two galloped back inside the school to find a means to bathe.

            “You are aware that you skirted a fine line already,” he maintained, after they fled.

            “You mean cursing them dumbasses?” she asked.

            “Since they likely lacked a voice and most of them looked like robed donkeys, they could be called dumb asses, but that was not quite your entire intent, was it?”

            “If I had five more minutes, I would have ripped the –”

            “Language, Miss Woodcock,” he repeated. “I have not seen this side of you before.”

            “Sometimes, I think I should call ‘em as I see ‘em,” she said. “Do you really think with a name like Woodcock, I should remain completely unable to know how to do that?”

            “Hmm – fair point,” he noted. “I barely saw you move your wand. How long will they remain rat-faced, flea-bitten dumb asses?”

            “Rest of the day, sir. They might have to try to sleep that way, but they should return to their normal, snotty selves the next day.”

            “I will see them then. So you plan on them going to dinner that way?”

            “If they want to eat,” Livia assented.

            The whole school saw them at dinner, eating but unable to speak, scratching themselves and unable to sit like other students, given their hind ends and hooves. They needed others to help them eat, given their inability to hold any kind of utensil. Everyone had a good laugh about it, even other Slytherins. Thor had told them to be quiet, not realizing Livia would force it on them. Every table seemed to know that she cursed them out and turned them into “rat-faced, flea-bitten dumbasses.” Bill got her attention and raised his cup as a toast to her, which his brothers and few other Gryffindor students joined him in doing. Various members of Hufflepuff also congratulated her, including Reggie, Clara and a few of their friends she did not fully know then.

            Those seated by Livia at the Ravenclaw table barely could stop laughing enough to eat adequately. They all congratulated her and said, even if punished, having done that more than compensated for whatever came her way. Shelley confessed to never having seen anything like it in her life but expressed concern over what Professor Snape would do to her.

            “Give me detention perhaps,” she asserted. “Who cares? They learned their lesson.”

            The faculty had diverging views on the subject, given that they had let Miss Woodcock deal with the issue themselves. “Since Thor confessed the whole story to me, I am taking the ‘tough love’ approach – don’t expect me to do anything,” Professor Snape stated. Some expressed surprise.  “Since I did not punish them, she did. She could easily complain that my lack of attention and the fact that they goaded her caused her to act. You talk to her, Albus, if you want to reprimand her. I wish I had done that when I was her age. She barely moved her wand and focused her anger well. They had no idea what she could do, and I will tell both of them that tomorrow.”

            “I will talk to her, but I do not know if I will punish her much,” the headmaster admitted.

            Livia found herself called to the headmaster’s office sometime after dinner. She had no clue what he would say. She had defended herself and felt unrepentant about it. If she had to fight for respect, she would. She would never apologize for any of it, not even for calling them “dumbasses.” She had experienced enough abuse and bullying to last a lifetime – never again.

            She entered and was asked to sit down. Livia told him that she knew why she was there and professed to not care about the repercussions. They got what they deserved, and no one would ever torment her again. She had expected to find Professor Flitwick there, that they might have decided her actions unbecoming to her role as a prefect or something. Yet other Ravenclaw prefects, outside of Rhonda Wayne, plus the Head Boy and Head Girl all spoke and wrote in her favor. In fact, a few said they would resign if he severely punished her for defending herself, including Rosalee, the Head Girl. Bill Weasley, Head Boy of Gryffindor and his brother, Charlie, a prefect, expressed similar views to their head of house and the headmaster. They all asserted that, if they had her talent and needed to defend themselves against two bullies, Loki and Tim would also have earned a similar embarrassment. They also argued that she should not have had to deal with that, but the lack of action against them by their own head of house had compelled her to act.

            “It seems you have some friends here, after all, and that my directive to you to keep a low profile did not eliminate that.”

            “What do you mean, sir?” Livia asked. “Aren’t I here for you to punish me?”

            “Only for failing to heed my directive by making those two Slytherin boys the laughingstock of the school,” he replied. “I must caution you severely to lower your profile here. As far as the incident goes, several other Ravenclaw prefects, Head Boy and Head Girl told Professor Flitwick not to punish you – with some threatening to resign if he did so.”

            “Really?” Livia inquired.

            “And both Bill and Charlie Weasley, as Gryffindor Head Boy and prefect, wrote letters of support to their head of house and myself. Seems all the student leaders I mentioned think Professor Snape’s inaction forced your hand, and those boys got their comeuppance.”

            “I told Professor Snape not to punish them,” Livia revealed. “It would be out of character for him and, if you also recall, you asked me to vow to protect his reputation. No one would understand how he could punish two of his own after we have sparred in his class.”

            “I see you identified conflicting promises,” he acknowledged. “Either you expose him or yourself. Given that, you made the right choice. And you must continue to keep your word there. I cannot tell you why it matters, but you will understand one day. You will be tempted to question him or me but think of a greater good, even though it may take a very long time to materialize. Even if other members of the faculty ever press you, say nothing about him – no matter what. Until you understand why I have asked this of you, continue this way whilst being true to yourself.”

            She was about to leave and stood up, assenting to his demand.

            “Just between you and me, I want to know how you did that,” he requested. “I found it very amusing – and complicated – but I dare not say so directly to Severus or the other faculty.”

            “Mental focus and a silent command started it, which really required little more than touching my wand,” she disclosed. “I was warned they would try that so I made myself ready.”

            “Who warned you? Someone in Ravenclaw?” he asked.

            “No,” Livia answered. “Professor Snape did. Again, no one else knows.”

            “I wonder if he suspects who your father is,” the headmaster mused.

            “If he has identified any candidate, he has not shared it,” Livia responded. “Speaking of relations, any information about Alice West’s family?”

            “Yes, I located a relative,” the headmaster replied. “He is a great uncle and rarely has he visited family, owing to him living in our world. He has a nice property outside Hogsmeade, on Meade Meadow Lane. He used to disguise mail through owls dropping off items in their postal system at night or using it himself. He has been reclusive since the recent death of his wife. If or when you think introductions should take place, Professor Flitwick can arrange this.”

            The two bid each other farewell and parted ways. The headmaster pondered her situation greatly. He could not easily see who she resembled among his former Slytherin students. He rarely saw anything in her that indicated a Slytherin legacy. He never saw her speak to snakes and she never mentioned any great ambition, despite being clever and resourceful. Her ideas about self-preservation seemed uneven. Her courage, fairness, individuality and intelligence placed her elsewhere, as did her loyalty and kindness. She would have succeeded in any house, though only one ideally suited her to skip a year to get close to her age group.

            The next day, Loki and Tim had indeed returned to their own bodies and Professor Snape called them along with Thor Thornton into his office. First he asked Thor to describe, honestly, what Miss Woodcock said to him the day he asked her to the Winter Ball. Thor, remembering Livia’s request, repeated it all, including that she would not cease until she got the truth out of him and said she verified it by holding both his hands. Loki and Tim seemed totally shocked. Professor Snape thus concluded that Miss Woodcock had not erred in rendering them into dumb asses and warned all three that, not only did Miss Woodcock have a Slytherin father, she happened to be a very impressive witch already and took a particularly dim view of attempts to taunt her. In short, he told them they were lucky to have escaped relatively unscathed. He could not guarantee their safety if they attempted another stunt against her, given how easily she had made Loki and Tim “rat-faced, flea-bitten dumbasses.” Next time, he said, a murder of crows or parliament of owls, all wild, might defecate on them or peck their eyes out, since they protected her.

            “Then why do you bother her?” Tim asked.

            “I am older, stronger and wiser than you,” Professor Snape answered. “Yet she does not fear me, which should tell you something about who she is or what she may become.”

            The rest of the term proceeded uneventfully for the most part. Her dueling with Professor Flitwick had uneven results, depending on her mood and focus – or his. She easily exceeded the headmaster’s goal of beating him once a week, but they did go through quite a lot of rounds. Sometimes, she still enlisted Helena Ravenclaw regarding being a better duelist, particularly asking Helena to tell her if she tips anything off visually. Helena usually liked discussing more academic subjects, which they did, but because Livia seemed so at ease with these, she assisted where Livia most needed to improve. She also had more of an idea than Livia did about what the headmaster expected of her. Helena could live through Livia’s triumphs and liked thinking that she could help Livia become a professor if not headmistress. Livia thought Helena has such a thirst for knowledge and so much stored that, in a way, she became the type of mentor a female wanted from another female. Livia could confide in Helena, too, and Helena maintained that confidence because it made her feel more alive. Helena liked having a purpose, too.

            The playlist for the Muggle Music Club began to take great shape as the potential playlist expanded in various ways. Increased comfort with the dual turntables enhanced the need to have more songs. Shelley, though, still had not given Livia a straight answer about the first song. Candidates included “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones, “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin and even the Run-D.M.C/Aerosmith version of “Walk This Way,” or “Fame” by David Bowie. Shelley decided to be less obvious and go with “Walk This Way,” making Reggie very happy. Livia decided to follow it up with U2’s blues-influenced “When Love Comes to Town,” then Prince’s “Purple Rain.” then a ballad. Livia originally preferred “Little Red Corvette,” but Reggie talked her out of using it, letting her know metaphorically its meaning would create more problems than a mere “porno mag” reference, an education that Alice later affirmed. The playlist was coming together. Livia just had to make sure the records would be stored and coded properly. She realized that they did not have enough on vinyl, so she assigned buying a few records to another member of the committee, who subsequently forgot which record to buy and subsequently bought an entire back catalog over spring break, figure one had to be correct. Livia got the Bowie record and Dire Straits on vinyl herself, since she wanted “Sultans of Swing” somewhere, though she though Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” would end the night.

            Everything seemed well in hand for Livia’s spring break and she returned to Durham promptly. Tom, Alice and Abby all were glad to see her and over the course of her time there, various people they all knew dropped by for dinner or to hang out or to do some tours around the area. Everyone enjoyed walking the grounds on the Wear near the castle and cathedral as the water rushed around the old part of the city. Gary had taken on extra responsibilities at one the city’s best hotels and, as he considered a switch to a rival, he wound up with a promotion instead. Like Tom, he also contemplated buying a small property, with the goal that it would be close to his job and to wherever Tom settled. Tom’s career had taken shape, giving Alice the chance to explore her options. Contacts in Durham had arranged for Alice to meet some people at Newcastle University, given where she was and what they might offer. Because they did not quite have the traditional standing of Oxford and Cambridge, they might jump at the chance to work with her, especially if she took a social or cultural look at materials she could access. They could make truly more of a family historian, based on that. Still, any applications would wait till much later that year, if she could find the right advisor interested in what she could offer as well as do.

            Tom told Livia that he drew closer to getting an actual home to buy, perhaps not exactly where he wanted, but the size and features made it so nice that he wanted Alice to consider it seriously. He thought if they settled upon a house, at that point she could consider her own future, including theirs together. He took Livia to a jewelry shop to show her a ring he considered buying and wanted her opinion. It was an emerald-cut diamond with several baguettes and had a matching band set. Though the diamond was not particularly huge, the quality seemed quite high and all of the bands platinum. Livia thought Tom must be doing very well, but she asked him if this and a house would be too much to get at once, given that they had only recently obtained their own car. He said the rings could have their own payment schedule in terms of buying – and he need not get all three at once. Moreover, he knew Alice’s father would throw a lavish wedding, and he had to get something that they would accept as fitting, with the stone’s quality more than compensating for its somewhat modest size whilst the composition of the band would satisfy them.

            He did not know the exact timing but he guessed maybe it would come together in 2-3 years, if the current trajectory continued. Livia asked if she could give him any money, which he thought most bizarre, given her age and status. She explained it may only be £500-£1,000 but if it helped she could probably pull it off. He thanked her for such an extraordinary offer, but he felt that if he could not manage it himself, he had no business proposing to her. Besides, he was not ready yet. He had to see what a house might cost, what kind of down payment he might collect and if he could expect any raise or bonus from Fitzer, Robinson and Hubbard.

            Soon after, the day for the hearing before the Framlingham Town Council took place. Tom had supplied them with additional information, including an explanation of his father’s absence (to keep Lydia and their mother away). Tom, Alice and Livia made the trip. Cathy showed up as well as Livia’s original solicitor Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Harrison from her old school. Livia’s case got a significant boost in the fact that the dissenting judge, the well-respected Martha McDonald, now stood as a valued member of the council. She remembered Livia’s case and had maintained her suspicions about Lydia’s story. Tom presented his credentials from his Durham firm and reminded everyone of the information he had supplied. One council member confirmed that he has spoken to Rev. Woodcock on the phone, who confirmed what he opted to do instead of attending. Another councilor, also a member of St. Michael’s congregation, confirmed this account. Alice asked to make her own remarks, after briefly outlining exactly who she was and the role she had played in the last years of Livia’s life.

            The council seemed very interested to talk to Cathy, who read a prepared statement that included what she currently did, and how she attempted then to minimize her role in what happened to Livia. She told them that indiscretions as a teen had given Lydia the means to compel her to support Lydia’s account, though she intentionally tried to say so little about it that she had thought someone in addition to one judge, the present Hon. Councilwoman McDonald, would not find her support credible. She further stated that others who could have supported Livia’s account got bullied into silence, which in part explained why the Hibbert family moved. She had said she had apologized to Livia some years ago and their shared compassion for animals helped them to repair their relationship, which had dwindled to nothing whilst Livia resided at Colindale.

            Another council member took the statement and recollections of Mrs. Harrison and compared it with other inquiries of Lydia Woodcock’s career at school, noting that these all matched. Tom had additionally submitted documents from former residents in town, his now adult-aged friends Adam and John, as well as several other friends, who all testified to Livia’s caring nature, solid relationship with her brother and other upstanding qualities. Tom then requested that the town formally apologize for having wrongfully sent her to Colindale and referred to copies of medical reports also submitted as proof of the harm she had suffered there. They did not seek damages, merely a formal apology, and assurance that the case no longer existed.

            The council retired to consider the matter. Tom’s current standing held a lot of sway and they recognized his legal career emerged from this matter, so at least something positive occurred owing to the incident. Livia’s medical records from the first and last attacks, proved eye opening, especially the last with the footprints on her nightgown speaking to a very vicious assault. They returned to say that, though they would send formal letters to Mr. Wilson and Mr. Woodcock, they could say that these should resolve the matter fully in favor of Miss Livia Woodcock. Thus, they all left the hearing and Livia hugged everyone who came. They all enjoyed a nice dinner with some catching up, joy and toasts of congratulations at a nearby tavern. Shortly afterward, Cathy’s boyfriend Doc, after meeting them all there, took Cathy home and Tom, Alice and Livia returned to Durham. When he got home, Tom rang his father to say simply “Mission Accomplished,” in case anyone else overheard the conversation. Alice had made and stored a red velvet cake for the occasion, too. Though tired, everyone enjoyed their sleep that night, expecting a letter from the town. The notice took several weeks and Livia had already returned to school by then, but Tom informed her that the case finally and formally had ended.

            The spring terms seemed to go very quickly, as Livia had her eye on the formal exams and made sure she had prepared well for each, including the Divinations test no one expected her to pass. Still, the headmaster suspected she would do well, since Livia made herself a good student, if she never gave it the time she had devoted to dueling. There she made strides in varying tactics and countering Professor Flitwick’s efforts to catch her misdirections. She varied by sometimes tips being accurate and sometimes not, making anticipation very random. She often did better with sequences of unanticipated moves, however. They resembled set plays with occasional variations. She had become competitive with him and the headmaster considered if he should take turns with Professor Flitwick, so he could judge her progress for himself, as well as change the nature of who she faced. Some powerful duelists just reacted and he wanted to gauge her on that ability.

            With only days before the end of the term, he and Professor Snape began discussing how she should begin formal training on her nascent Occlumency and Legilimency skills. To the headmaster’s relief, he did not object to tutoring her, but he said he did not really know where to begin because he had only a limited idea about her skills. He did not want to waste his time or hers relaying technical aspects of things she already could do. The headmaster agreed but wondered how he could discover her level of sophistication in this regard. Professor Snape had an idea, but to do it, he wanted the headmaster’s complete permission to do it. Professor Dumbledore found himself oddly taken aback, if intrigued, at his proposal. Yet he realized that, if Miss Woodcock had the powers Professor Snape suspected, the lessons might benefit both of them, as the abilities of the latter required mastery and vigilance to maintain. Because the action had obvious pitfalls, too, he made Professor Snape swear that he would tell her what she needed to know afterwards, though they agreed not to tell her until after she took her exams. After they bid each other farewell and left, the headmaster wondered how this subterfuge would work out and made sure he would check to made sure Livia knew everything about it before she left for the summer.

            Only too quickly the night of the music club dance took place, with an obliging staff member thoroughly ready to retrieve anything on the playlist or even requested, if they had it. Bill Weasley had sent a good luck note to Shelley and stopped by beforehand to briefly look everything over and speak for a few minutes with Livia, a gesture she appreciated. She considered that she might not ever see him again and wanted to remember everything about their conversation before she hugged him and said farewell. He then left to continue studying to facilitate his own graduation. Livia left to change into something more suitable, though not better than the dress she wore the prior year. It was black, lacy and clung to her tightly, with one arm and much of the opposite leg of a more transparent lace backed by a netting, not a jersey fabric like the rest. Her hair featured a large, silver butterfly-shaped marcasite clip with a tiny black and white diamond inlaid pattern.

            Promptly at eight o’clock, Shelley got everyone quiet and welcomed them to the event, their third. The attendance looked similar, probably more. She expressed the hope that her event would turn out as well as those organized by Bill Weasley and acknowledged her committee chairs, including Livia. With that, she invited her assistant Liam to the floor and the song “Walk This Way” began. When Livia took the floor, she first danced with Reggie, who thanked her for working in his suggestions and making the mix strong, educational and, above all, danceable. He just had gone to find someone else when a young man Livia did not think she had ever seen approached her. He seemed about a head taller than her, with dark hair that framed his face in waves, with the back pulled into a single band. He had dark eyes and also wearing a dark, fitted waistcoat. He addressed her by name and asked for the next dance, to which she agreed. She thought he looked familiar but considered the subdued lighting in the room might have distorted her view.

            She confessed to not knowing his name, and she could not pick up anything about him that gave her a clue as to his identity. He told her that his name was Christopher and that he was related to someone at the school. She felt intrigued, though perhaps it had something to do with the U2/B.B. King record. She could not detect a resemblance to any of the students. He explained the reason for that – he had no tie to any of the students. Now Livia felt totally baffled. He told her he had come in part to judge her guardedness, fairly high at school in general, which upon being told that, spiked even higher. Silently, he continued to speak. He gave me a specific task to do and already you have shown part of it – I feel that you have heightened your guard against me, which seems high, anyway. He wanted me to determine how much control you have over your emotions, how you control them and how well you can perceive things about me.

            She read little about him other than being able to sense that he said nothing entirely false. She briefly looked over towards the door and saw what looked like Professor Snape saying something to Professor Flitwick about minding his nephew for the night, then left the Hall. Livia then realized who this Christopher had for a relative, a point he confirmed. He continued speaking to Livia. You always seem on guard, anyway. Do you ever lower it much? How much control do you have over regulating it? Are there levels below what you first showed, or does it just shut off?

            Livia did not know what to say. Personally, she felt like completely shutting down or that she already had, because he knew a lot and she knew nearly nothing. I cannot read you at all and this concerns me. How is it that I draw a blank regarding anything about yourself?

            He saw that she had considered moving away from him, and he slightly tightened his grip. Don’t try to run. There are reasons why you cannot penetrate me. I am focused entirely on answering his questions right now. Frankly, the sooner I understand the answers, the sooner we can just enjoy the rest of the evening, if that suits you. I did not know what to expect when I accepted this task, and I would rather just dance with you than upset you. Okay?

            Livia answered his questions regarding her general state of alert and a higher form she takes when feeling threatened but admitted that it seemed after that she only could turn it off. A large gap existed between “off” and “on.”  Under specific circumstances, she found a higher threshold against perceived problems or anything remotely stressful, though she often found reading the intentions of people could get her to turn it off in specific situations.  He asked her to lower her guard, to see what he might read from her. For good or ill, he found that she thought him attractive and intriguing, two things that might create issues later, though he had to admit his opinion matched hers entirely, which made him want to cast aside these questions quickly. He wanted to know how quickly she raised her guard, as well, and he could verify what she said by what he felt. He felt she had answered everything to his satisfaction. He gave her a few tips or exercises for better modulating her emotional control, like dials on one of her musical devices.

            Just before “Purple Rain” fully began, he had walked over to the DJ and said something to him. He walked back and told her that his uncle had said that, when he had completed his task, to do something pleasant and suggested a song to request. The only question he had concerned if the