A/N: I'm back! NaNoWriMo was a success. I wrote 84k words spread over three projects during the month of November. It was crazy but in a good way. A good chunk of this book got written but it's currently a big mess. But it's all good mess. We've got dragons, Quidditch action, everyone's training new powers, and in the meantime, something strange is happening with Hogwarts castle.
Cool trivia. Tomorrow will mark an anniversary of when the first chapter of Book 1 was published. As of right now, it's nearly 20,000 views. That's crazy.
Beta read, anyone? I'm mostly looking for feedback on the plot, continuity, pacing, etc. Requirement: you should have read book 1 in full so you'd know what's going on. I would like someone who can keep up and would stick around till the book is finished. As of now, I have about 50k written which should be ready for a beta read within the next few weeks. I'm estimating this book to be at least 150k words long. If you're interested, send me a PM.
Chapter 2: The rumors
Steam hissed from between the wheels of the train, blowing right into Jack's face. He spat out the warm air and tried to force his way through the thick crowd but instead of getting on the train, people lingered around and talked.
"Why am I even here?"
He didn't have to take the train. He could've gotten to Hogwarts through Hogsmeade, the little village right next to the castle. McGonagall's house was close enough for them to apparate there. He would've made it in already instead of dealing with this crowd and the long train ride.
"Riding the Hogwarts Express is an important experience," she insisted. "Besides, I think you'll like the reunion."
She looked at him as if she meant something more by it but refused to answer any questions.
Sure, he was looking forward to seeing his friends but he would catch up with them at the dorm anyway. There was no need to put up with this.
"Look what we got here," a familiar voice said but Jack didn't even turn around, deciding to ignore it.
"Is it true that you're a homeless runaway?"
Jack wished people would get a move on so he could get inside.
"Nah, I believe the other theory. That you were kicked out."
"He's such a freak, his parents didn't want him," a deeper voice said and cackled.
Jack was stuck as a group of older students blocked his escape route so he turned around to face them.
Draco Malfoy stood there in his preppy clothes and shined shoes. He was framed by Crabbe and Goyle as usual, boys so large, they looked much older than thirteen.
"Malfoy, Grab and Coil," Jack said with a smirk. "Fancy seeing you here."
"It's Crabbe!" the goonie barked back, his flat face developing red blotches.
"I thought you would've learned your lesson by now," Jack continued, addressing the sneering pale-head in the middle. "Unless you can't wait to get suspended even before school starts."
Malfoy's lips pulled up in an angry grimace when he remembered the last time he tried to pick on Jack and got in trouble.
"You think I'm afraid of a worthless street rat?"
Jack sighed in an exaggerated way. "I really don't care what you think, Malfoy."
Malfoy made a step forward, his goonies followed. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack noticed a space small enough for him to squeeze through so he covered his mouth and pretended to cough.
"Feall," he cast the spell and the fully-stacked luggage cart behind Malfoy spilled on top of his annoying blond head.
Using the distraction, Jack snuck onto the train while Malfoy yelled at his goonies, "Where did he go? Did you see?"
The whole summer, Jack had been practicing the few Old Religion spells Merlin taught him last school year. Since they didn't require a wand, he could cast them unsuspected. He couldn't wait to start using them in school and already had a long list of prank ideas he wanted to try out.
But the joy of getting a head start on this year's pranking was short-lived. The narrow corridor did not provide enough space to avoid people's stares. He hoped that what happened last year would be old news by now, but they all remembered the rumors. He tried to ignore their whispers and find a quiet place to sit out this long ride but each compartment he lurked into already had students in it. He could imagine the awkward silence he would cause if he stepped inside and so he continued looking.
One compartment held an adult he didn't know who was getting comfortable as if he wanted to take a nap. Jack slid the door open.
"May I join you?"
The wizard smiled gently and gestured at the seat across from him.
The man stared like everyone did when they first met him. Oh, if only they knew that Jack's white hair was the least of his otherness, would they chase him with pitchforks or lock him up in a lab? In fact, he didn't know the extent of his roots either. While he finally knew what his father was, his mother's origins were still a mystery.
"I'm Jack Nix." He sat by the window, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling of being analyzed.
"Remus Lupin," the wizard said, his wispy mustache turning up into a little smile. "I hope you won't mind that I won't be much company. I'm awfully tired."
Jack shook his head, he preferred silence anyway and looked out the window at the crowd outside. The gathered students were laughing, hugging each other, exchanging stories of holiday fun. He was looking forward to seeing his friends as well, it was a boring summer, but coming back to Hogwarts held a promise of more uncomfortable stares and whispers. He avoided answering any questions last year but he wouldn't be able to get away forever.
Only McGonagall knew the truth of what happened to Elsa though she assumed his mother was a witch. She knew he was still hiding something and he felt guilty for holding the truth back but didn't know if it was safe to admit to it. Even if she accepted that he wasn't human, she was the Deputy Headmaster, she would be required to uphold the school rules: only humans were admitted and only humans were allowed to possess wands. If he was kicked out of Hogwarts, he would be back on the streets and this time he would be all alone. No, he had to hold onto the lie for as long as he could.
All students passed their compartment upon seeing him inside. No one wanted to sit next to the freak. Good. It was better that way.
He pulled out his favorite book, something he found in a dusty corner of the bookshop McGonagall took him to. He asked for help in learning Old English runes over the summer and made so much progress that he hid it, afraid she would ask why he knew that dead language already. He surprised himself. It was like his brain was hard-wired to read runes. Maybe he was better at it than Elsa.
He had a sliver of hope that McGonagall was hinting that his twin sister would be on the train. Was she somewhere there on the platform? He scanned the crowd for her distinctive white braid but only saw a sea of ordinary human heads. He hesitated before, fearing disappointment, but finally gave in to hope and sent her a signal, using that special magical bond they had to find each other from a distance.
She didn't respond. She wasn't close enough to feel it. Of course, she wasn't on the train. Mother wouldn't let her come back to school as he feared. Why would she prefer that cursed underground life to living at Hogwarts with him?
No. He would not think about his sister at all. He shoved that thought deep inside his mind, locked it up in a chest and covered it with a heavy cloak so it wouldn't try to leak out. He no longer had a twin. It was time he got used to it.
He got back to reading his book. It was actually a very interesting retelling of adventures of a demon hunter, Everard Indomitable. It spoke of ancient rituals and monstrous creatures: a perfect world to get lost in. It was better than any reality he knew.
He leaned his head on the window and his eyes travelled to the sleeping wizard across from him. He was a man probably in his thirties, but the gray streaking his light-brown hair and the sunken look to his features made him look older than that. Even though his face was partially covered by his cloak, the deep scars running across his cheek, chin, and forehead were well visible. Only now Jack realized that he had never seen scars on any wizard. They probably had spells that could fix them. Why didn't this guy fix his ugly scar?
The compartment door slid open and four sets of eyes looked between him and Mr. Lupin.
"Jack," Merlin Ealdor came forward and gave him a quick one-arm hug. "It's great to see you."
Jack was glad to see his friend but he was also very aware of Harry Potter's gang who still hung back, reluctant to come in.
"Everywhere else is full," Merlin said and claimed a spot next to Jack.
Hermione Granger sighed, "It's going to be tight but we'll fit. Hi, Jack. Did you have a nice summer?"
She sat down next to Merlin and put her weird-looking cat on her lap while Harry Potter and Ron Weasley sat next to the adult, keeping a slight distance from him.
"Who's that?" Potter asked.
"Mr. Remus Lupin," Jack answered.
"Professor Lupin," Hermione corrected, looking up at the tag on the man's luggage.
Potter's dark messy hair was slightly parted to the side, revealing the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. His scar also couldn't be healed by magic. What could it have in common with Mr. Lupin's scars?
Potter noticed him staring and locked eyes with him. Jack refused to be the one who looked away. Potter narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. He was stubborn. So was Jack.
This year was going to be different. This year, he wouldn't let the Wonderboy overshadow everything he did and steal his friends. He tried to convey with his eyes that Potter was no competition. He wouldn't let himself be beaten.
"Will the two of you cut it out?" Merlin interrupted and Potter glanced at him, losing the staring match.
Jack smirked in satisfaction and got back to his book. One:Zero.
The train had already started moving and Jack was vaguely aware of the conversation happening in the compartment. They were talking about Potter, of course, and this guy, Sirius Black, that escaped from Azkaban prison just to hunt him down.
Jack didn't even try to hide his smirk as he drew a parallel between the demon hunter he was reading about and this Sirius character. So was the Scarhead a demon in this case? He wished he was as cool as the creatures in this book.
Merlin snuck a look at what he was reading. "Runes?"
Jack shrugged and tried to sound like it was no big deal. "I've been learning this summer."
Merlin grinned at him. Jack could bet that Potter did not try to learn Old English like Merlin recommended last year. Two:Zero.
Hermione gasped. "You're already reading books?" She sounded like his progress was her personal failure. "I know the runic alphabet and some words but I'm still so far from being fluent."
"Don't compare yourself to him, Hermione," Merlin tried to make her feel better. "Jack had a head-start."
Sure, he did. He overheard his mother speak in Old English throughout his childhood but she never taught them the language. His thoughts came very close to his sister so he put a stop to them, ignoring the cloak-covered chest in his mind, and went back to reading about a water demon Everard was researching.
"So is it true?" Weasley said but Jack refused to lift his eyes. "Are you really a runaway?"
The compartment was quiet but for the steady rhythm of the train as they all waited for Jack to answer but he wouldn't even acknowledge it. He didn't care how curious they were.
"He's a stinking liar, that's what he is," Potter said and Jack couldn't ignore that.
Keep calling me that and you'll see what will happen, Jack thought at him.
Potter crossed his arms and gave him the death-stare. He was terrible at telepathy. Merlin taught them the skill last year and Potter was the worst at it of the whole group.
"And a coward," Potter continued, not intimidated by the threat.
Did the pursuit of a life free of his heartless mother make him a coward? He didn't think so.
Jack said out loud, "You hate the Muggles you live with but lack the spine to leave them. Who's the coward here?"
Potter clenched his fists on his lap and answered with restraint. "I left this summer."
Jack cocked an eyebrow at him. He didn't think Potter had the guts.
"Good for you," he said and got back to his book.
Potter mumbled, "Unfortunately, I'll have to go back after the school year ends. We can't all be runaways."
Jack resisted an urge to throw his book at Potter but it would be a waste of a perfectly good story. Besides, he was determined not to give in to the taunt. He was going to win this round as well.
"I still can't believe you blew up your aunt," Merlin said. "I wish I had seen that."
"I don't know how I did it," Potter said eagerly, "but it was brilliant."
Did Potter have some unstable explosive affinity? Jack found it disturbing that they spoke of the aunt being blown up as if it was a joke and not a horrific magical accident. Jack was curious if she had survived but did not want to add to the sensation with more questions. Potter was getting enough attention as it was.
The atmosphere in the compartment lightened up as they asked the Wonderboy about his summer adventures on his own. And by on his own, they meant that for a few weeks, he lived in a comfy inn, had plenty of money to spend, and wizards protecting him. Potter knew nothing of what it was like to be homeless!
Jack tried his hardest not to listen in but then Potter addressed him directly, "Where's your sister, Nix?"
The cloak fell off as the forbidden chest in his mind jumped up for attention. A mist of sadness started leaking out of it and Jack clamped it closed and buried it even deeper.
"Do you charge your fans for autographs?" he asked, feigning real interest.
Potter clenched fists on his knees. "I don't give out autographs."
"You could make a living by selling Pottergraphs on the streets the next time you want a break from your awful Muggles," he said the last part with a tone of obvious fake sympathy and Potter looked like he was going to explode.
"Shut your mouth, Nix!"
"I'm surprised you didn't write an autobiography yet."
"Stop it!" Merlin interrupted again. "Can you at least try to be civil?"
Jack thought he finished what Potter started in a very civil way. He did not lose his cool and did not blow up anyone - not that he would ever lose control of his magic that way. He was the winner of this round. Three:Zero.
What's gotten into you? Merlin thought at him.
He started it.
He asked about your sister because he's surprised she's not sitting with you. There was nothing else to it.
Jack ignored him and tried to get back to his book, determined to keep the forbidden chest from opening again. He considered pulling a cloak over himself and try to sleep like Mr. Lupin but doubted they would be quiet enough to allow him. He definitely couldn't sleep to the sound of Potter's voice. He was concentrating on the book so much that the runes started to swim in front of his eyes and he leaned his forehead against the cool window to give his sight a break.
Dark clouds moved in and rain started beating on the glass, obscuring his view of the countryside. He watched the train's tears for hours, tracking the path each drop took, trying to predict which way it would slide. They followed a pattern but from time to time, a rebellious drop carved a new way for others to follow.
His eyes fell on the sleeping wizard again. Those scars looked like they were made by some monster. He tried to remember if any of the creatures in the old book were described with claws that would leave scratches like these. He winced as he imagined how much it must have hurt. How did he get attacked? How did he survive? Was he a monster hunter? That would be so cool!
He might have imagined it, but he thought that the wizard flinched every time the Potter Fun Club mentioned Sirius Black. Was he only pretending to sleep so he could listen in? Sneakiness would be a useful skill for someone in monster-hunting trade.
Out of nowhere, Hermione's cat lunged at Ron, creating a comical commotion in the small space. After the cat finally calmed down, he jumped onto Jack's lap, where he looked up with big yellow eyes, his gaze more intelligent than what he'd expect from a simple feline.
Jack reached out to pet him and a tingle of magic tickled his fingertips. He wasn't just a cat.
"He's magical," he whispered in wonder.
"Crookshanks is half-Kneazle," Hermione clarified.
You're a halfling like me, Jack thought at the cat.
Crookshanks rubbed his face on Jack's fingers and slowly blinked at him. Jack returned the blink and it felt as if he had just had an entire conversation with the creature. He wasn't sure what he had just agreed to but the cat interpreted it as an invitation, walked in a tight circle and settled himself on Jack's knees.
"He likes you," Hermione said with a smile.
"He can stay there," Ron said grumpily, petting a lump in his pocket. "As far away from Scabbers as possible."
"What are Scabbers?"
"Ron's rat," Hermione answered with a sigh and looked apologetically at the redhead. "He's a cat. It's his nature to hunt rodents."
While Jack wasn't friends with Ron Weasley, he appreciated the fun name he gave his pet. If he had a rat, he'd call it something ridiculous like that as well.
The train stopped abruptly, lurching him forward and Crookshanks dug his nails in. The lights flickered and went out, submerging them all in near-darkness.
"D'you think we've broken down?" Potter asked.
Hermione's cat growled while a shadow passed by their window. As some strong magic got closer, the window started frosting over and Jack leaned away.
"I didn't do that," he whispered to Merlin and they both watched the frost tendrils thicken on the glass until it was completely covered.
Merlin's breath came out visible as the temperature inside dropped.
"What magic is this?" Jack's voice became higher pitch against his will.
He knew cold magic - his own, his sister's, his mother's, and the natural magic of winter, but this didn't feel like nature's work. It was different, sinister, wrong. For the first time in his life, he shivered from the cold.
Their compartment door slid open on its own. Merlin got up and looked outside both ways.
He turned back, a shadow of worry on his face, but when he tried to get back to his seat, he tripped over someone's feet in the dark. He landed among their feet with a groan, and normally, it would've been funny, Merlin was always so clumsy, but somehow, Jack couldn't find any humor in himself as if it was a candle he couldn't light.
While Merlin scrambled on the ground, struggling to get up in the small space, above him, long fingers dressed in gray, decaying flesh grabbed the sliding door and a tall dark figure pulled itself inside.
Jack secured the growling cat in his arms and backed up into the corner as far as he could when he recognized that the cold magic originated from the floating creature. It felt like the exact opposite of every good emotion he'd ever experienced. He couldn't let it approach him. He didn't know what type of being it was but was sure that being touched by it would be worse than death. He was glad that the cloak made of shifting shadows obscured its face, he didn't want to see what was under the hood but he couldn't block the rattling noise its breath made and it reverberated inside him, making him tremble.
The creature looked between them and Jack wished he could become invisible like his father.
'Not me,' he begged wordlessly and hugged Crookshanks tighter, wishing the cat's magic could hide him. 'Not me.'
The dark figure took only a few seconds to choose its target, and then it descended.
A/N: Who do you think was attacked?
A big shout out to SwaggerDownTheStreet. Did you recognize the paragraph you inspired?