Chapter 7: Confidence
"And the ogre says, I was here first!" Flitwick finished and everyone at the staff table laughed. Well, everyone except for Snape. Did he ever laugh at all?
Tonight, Snape was eyeing Remus a lot, and so did McGonagall, though with her it seemed involuntary. Remus sighed, his eyes automatically looking up to the ceiling, but it was ordinary, boring even. Instead of reflecting the evening sky, the light of the floating candles danced on the stone surface. No one knew what happened to it, why the illusion stopped working, and Professor Dumbledore had not cracked its mystery yet.
Remus excused himself from the evening feast early, knowing that he had to get ready. Tonight was the night. But he was hopeful. For the past week, he had been taking the Wolfsbane Potion that Snape grudgingly brewed for him and could feel its effects immediately. The days before the transformation, he was always weak and sickly, but now, he couldn't remember the last time he felt this well. The Potion was working and he trusted it but he would take precautions anyway.
A loud sound like the crack of a whip sounded behind him, followed by a high-pitched, "Master Lupin."
Remus turned to greet his visitor, wrinkle-skinned House-Elf dressed in a tea cozy that had a Hogwarts insignia on it. The small creature bowed low while holding out a plate in front of him.
"Great timing. Thank you."
"The instructions called for one generous portion of raw steak and a large bone. Did you mean uncooked steak, Master?"
Remus took the plate. "That's exactly what I need. Thank you."
"It was my pleasure." The Elf bowed deeply and with a crack, disapparated.
With a spell, Remus emptied everything out of his office storage cupboard until the small room was stripped to bare stone. He put the plate next to a blanket he set down, feeling sorry for planning such a tight trap for his wolf, hoping the steak might console him. He really did not want to wake up to a destroyed office. Even if the Potion worked, his wolf might wreck the place out of boredom.
And if the Potion didn't work, or his wolf broke out of the cupboard, he had a precaution built for that. Remus locked the main door and put his trusty enchanted chains on it as an absolute unbreakable barrier as well as sound-muting charms so no one would hear him or the wolf.
The familiar crawling under his skin warned him that the time was drawing near. He stripped out of his clothes and locked himself in the cupboard. Blanket provided him warmth for now. The wolf wouldn't need it in the same way, but he would appreciate not having to lay down on bare stone.
It was dark in there, the only light came through the crack under the door. He was contemplating what he might do in the future, what light source he could develop that the wolf wouldn't destroy, and it began.
Instead of the usual bone-breaking agony, the transformation came over him smoothly and in no time he was no longer in control.
The wolf opened his eyes, feeling strangely droopy. He shook his fur and stretched his legs while looking around the new surroundings. The dark space was cramped and smelled of musty stone and… The wolf sniffed around to locate the aroma that was making him salivate until he found the plate. He swallowed the meat chunk in one go, it wasn't as tasty as a fresh kill but it would do. There was also a bone there. Was this what his human thought he wanted? He wished he could talk some sense into him. He wanted more meat, not bones!
He explored the small space some more, looking for a way out, tried the door again and again, but it wouldn't budge. Normally, he would have gotten angry at it but for some reason, he just didn't feel like trying to take it apart. He sat down and whined. He would love some company, it was so boring here on his own. He howled to the moon he couldn't see, hoping other wolves heard him but no one responded to his call, not even an echo.
He eyed the bone on the floor, the only entertainment his human left him. This ridiculous bribe did not make up for such a boring cell but he had nothing else to do and was too tired to attempt to break out. He grabbed the bone with teeth and laid down on the blanket, where he gnawed it, holding it with his front paws. Oh, what a boring human he had.
As the weather turned cooler, everyone started to light their fireplaces, and Jack had to get in the habit of planning where to sit so he wouldn't be trapped too close to it. But his roommates were the opposite, and this morning, they sat in the Great Hall with their backs facing the giant fireplace in which logs roared with a never-ending searing blaze. Jack sat opposite them and winced when he could still feel the heat.
He rushed through the breakfast, determined to leave as soon as possible and caught Colin staring at him. He was already jittery, excited for the tryouts today, wondering if he had what it took to make the team, and knowing he was being watched made him want to hide under the table.
"Would you stop?"
"Sorry." Colin sighed. "I hate my skin. What do you use to make your skin so flawless?"
Colin lifted his mousy-blond bangs to reveal a red-speckled forehead. "Both Merlin and I have to deal with acne but your skin is perfect."
Merlin's spoon slipped out of his hand and landed in his porridge with a splash. "I have acne now?"
Colin pointed. "Your nose."
Merlin inspected his nose and groaned when he found the big red culprit. "It hurts too."
Jack looked between them but stayed quiet, unsure of what the appropriate reaction was.
"I know a reliable recipe," Merlin said, inspecting the rest of his face. "I'll cook it up for us during the next Potions. For now," he barely moved his hand and the pimple vanished, "this will do but it's only temporary."
He did the same favor to Colin who jumped from joy. "You're the best, Merlin. I owe you BIG time."
Jack ate a solid meal, knowing he would need his energy. It was a big day. He left his friends before the heat fatigued him into sleepiness, and they promised they would catch up with him at the pitch.
Outside, refreshing cool autumn breeze awaited. Orange leaves blew around his feet like dry flames, and he waved his hand, trying to control them. It took him a few tries before he succeeded. It wasn't as easy to control the wind as his father made it look, but he was confident that he would learn it eventually.
Having the wind whip his robes about was starting to restore his confidence and by the time he arrived at the pitch, he proudly marched onto the yellowing grass, holding school broom by his side. Since he was the first one there, he took a moment to appreciate the sheer size of the pitch. He had fantasized about this moment every time he watched a game of Quidditch last year, waiting for his chance to play.
"What are you doing here?"
Jack turned around to smirk at Potter who walked in with the Weasley twins. Jack kicked his broom nonchalantly, it landed on his shoulders, and he supported his arms on it as he waited to see what Potter would do.
Oliver Wood came up behind them and didn't waste time. "Jack, you're here. Excellent, we can get started."
"Get started with what?" Potter asked.
"Training. What else, Harry?"
The three Chasers, Katie, Angelina, and Alicia came out and Oliver rubbed his hands together. "Everyone's here. Ladies, Jack will be trying out for a reserve Chaser today so he'll be working with you."
The girls looked him over and Jack nodded to them in greeting.
Alicia smiled at him. "I was a reserve at first as well and I made the team the next year.
"You didn't tell us we're having tryouts," Potter complained. "Where are the others?"
"If Jack proves to us that he can play, we won't need others. Here's the plan," Oliver got straight to the point while Potter pouted. "We'll play a Chaser war. Jack, pair up with Angelina, Katie - with Alicia, work as teams and try to get as many shots past me as you can - if you can - while avoiding the bludgers Fred and George will keep sending at you. You can handle it, Jack, right?"
The twins stood on Jack's sides. "We'll go easy on you at first."
"But stay aware of your surroundings."
"A bludger to the head is…"
Jack grinned at one, then the other. "I'm ready."
He feared that the tryouts would be some boring repetitive exercise but this sounded almost like a real match. He couldn't wait to get started.
"Harry, you know what to do."
Oliver opened the wooden box where the balls were strapped in like rabid animals, struggling to get free. While he worked on freeing them without releasing them, Angelina, a tall, dark-skinned girl with a black braid as long as Elsa's, put a hand on Jack's shoulder and frowned while looking at his broom.
"It's a shame you don't have better equipment."
Jack caressed his broom. "This gal's got character." He pointed at the many scratches covering the handle. "I bet there's a story behind each of these battle scars."
The crease between her eyebrows proved that she didn't quite buy into his love-thy-broom style but when Oliver released the balls and they all took to the air, she exchanged an open-mouthed expression with the other girls. By the end of the game, he would show them what real flying looked like.
Playing proved to be harder than flying alone. He had to remember what his position was, look out for the Weasley twins as they liked to sneak up on him and always kept him on guard. Once they learned that "going easy on him" was too easy as Jack could maneuver out of the way effortlessly, with matching evil smirks, they started showing their real skill, determined to get him.
Despite their best efforts, Jack wasn't hit even once and intercepted the ball Katie passed to Alicia with ease and snuck it past Oliver. He still wasn't sure how to take the ball from them when they clung to it tightly. He'd seen during matches the opposing team physically engage a Chaser but it felt wrong to just attack one of them.
So he continued stalking Katie, waiting for her to drop the ball. He chased her so far to the other side of the pitch that she thought it would be best to pass the ball to Alicia but she underestimated Jack's speed. He made a sharp turn, grabbed the ball while making a corkscrew spiral sideways and raced back to the hoops with the two girls pursuing him. He snuck the Quaffle past Oliver and laughed out loud. He was too good.
"Don't forget that you're not playing alone," Oliver reminded. "Pass to Angelina."
Jack wasn't sure if that was really the best course of action. He was faster than her. Should he miss a score just to play nice?
He continued the tactic that worked for him earlier, much to Angelina's and Oliver's grumblings until Katie and Alicia cornered him. Angelina was right behind them, in a prime position to score the goal but he feared that the girls would snatch the ball if he threw it. A brilliant idea formed in his head. He took a swing, feigned throwing the ball, and dropped a few feet in the air, making the girls and Oliver gasp, and from that position, he passed the ball to Angelina who caught it perfectly and immediately scored.
The girls cheered while Oliver watched the Quaffle fall to the ground.
Angelina flew over and patted Jack on the back. "For a moment there, I thought you forgot about me."
"They thought they knew my style already and when I did something unexpected, they didn't know what to do." Jack grinned at her, feeling that it was a very clever way to cover up that he doubted her skill.
"That was really spiffing, Jack," Fred called over, his brother cheering.
Oliver retrieved the ball and came back, holding it under his arm. "If you did something like this during the game, you would take everyone by stupendous surprise. They'd never see it coming. Do you have more tricks like that up your sleeve?"
Jack smirked. "I'm the king of tricks."
"That's beautiful!" Sue Li exclaimed, eyeing Elsa's headband with envy. "What type of crystal is it? I can't even see the metal that's holding it together."
Elsa slowly glanced at her roommate. It was time to see how well witches would handle the truth. "It's made entirely of ice crystals. The different shades come from a variance in ice density."
Sue Li gaped. "Where did you buy it?"
"Buy?" Elsa chuckled and finalized her hair bun and noted how the headband made her look a little taller. She liked that. "You can't buy magic like this, Sue. I created it."
The girl bit her bottom lip. "Can you make me one?"
"Oh, sweetie. It would melt on you."
Elsa put her combs away and left the room without further comment. She had an appointment with McGonagall to get to and didn't want to make a wrong impression by being late.
The reason for the unexpected invite became apparent when she walked in. Jack sat on the couch and groaned when he saw her.
"Don't give me that attitude, young man," McGonagall scolded him while carrying a tray of teacups and biscuits. "Come in, Elsa."
When Elsa sat next to him, he leaned away but she tried to not let it bother her. He was acting so childish. One of them had to be the adult for a change.
McGonagall handed them each a cup and sat in the armchair, holding hers with two hands. "It hasn't escaped my attention that there is a lot of tension between you two."
Elsa sipped her tea and admired the pretty hand-painted blue snowflakes on the white ceramic. She wondered if McGonagall bought it just for the occasion of sitting with the two of them for tea.
"Exquisite artwork on these cups," Elsa tried a polite icebreaker.
"I'm glad you like them," the witch smiled lightly and sighed, looking at Jack. "Why won't the two of you just discuss what's bothering you?"
Elsa sipped her tea, unsure of how to start.
McGonagall's smile vanished. "Starting with you, Jack. Tell Elsa what bothers you."
"I already told you what I think," Jack grumbled, not looking at either of them. "You made the wrong choice, Elsa."
She put the cup down and faced him. "And I told you that you're mistaken. I made the best choice for me."
He scooted further away on the couch.
McGonagall sighed. "This is a good start. Keep talking."
The wooden grandfather clock in the corner ticked away in a steady rhythm, widening the space between them. It didn't feel like a good start. Why did he have to be so stubborn? It was clear that he was the immature problem here.
"I would have never had it in me to leave you," Jack said quietly. "It bothers me how quickly you decided - like it was an easy decision."
"If you stopped being so selfish and thought about more than yourself for a moment, then maybe you'd understand."
Jack turned to her and whispered, "Selfish? Loving you was selfish?" Frost started building under his hand where he held the couch and he took his hand away, his eyes turning cold. "Then, It's good I don't anymore." He turned to McGonagall with a bored expression. "Can I leave now?"
The witch looked between them, exasperated while Elsa set the cup in her lap. Mother warned her that Jack would try to pull her back into his drama. All of these emotional hurdles were a pain. He was always holding her back. She agreed that she was better off without him, but then, why did she feel a sting at his words?
"Not yet" McGonagall offered him the plate of biscuits with a look that said that eating them was mandatory. "Let Elsa respond."
Jack took a couple of biscuits, stacked them together and bit into both while glaring at Elsa, sending crumbs flying around. Elsa tasted one to allow herself more time. As the buttery flavors melted on her tongue she considered what she really wanted. Did she want her troublesome twin back or was she content on her own?
"Why are you really here at Hogwarts?" Jack took another bite and spoke with a full mouth, "I'm surprised Mother allowed you to come back. Why?"
Elsa smiled, glad that he reminded her of what really mattered more than anything. "To study. Hogwarts gives me access to more types of magic. I want it all."
Jack rolled his eyes, muttered, "You and your books," and popped the last of the biscuits in his mouth. He leaned back on the couch and crossed his arms. She took a sip of tea while he observed each of her moves. "You're not going to apologize, are you."
"I have nothing to apologize for, but I also do not want a war between us. I don't turn my back on family."
He scoffed and looked away, "Yeah, right."
"I think it's a good start," McGonagall chimed in, putting her teacup down. "I think what you two need is more time together. Maybe a project?"
"A little more to the side. No, left. The other left. Too much - a bit to the right."
"Do you mean left?"
"Yeah, the other right. Perfect!"
Elsa put her wand down. She never would have thought that moving something with magic was going to be this exhausting. Or maybe it wasn't the effort that tired her but her company. Jack squinted with a tilted head while looking at the giant pumpkin that she placed on a large platform built just for this occasion.
"I think a bit more to the right."
Elsa stood next to him and appraised the position. He was right, it was off and it bothered her but she wouldn't give him that satisfaction. "You need to have your eyes checked. It's perfectly centered."
He waved his hand. "Whatever. Good enough. What's next?"
"The floating streamers." She pointed at several boxes stacked to the side. "We're supposed to make them float."
He groaned and walked over to the box. While he wasn't looking, she centered the pumpkin.
They found that they couldn't control too many ribbons at the same time so cooperation was the only way to complete this task. Jack used a hovering charm to position a handful of ribbons right beneath the bats he had conjured earlier, and Elsa used a suspension charm so they would stay there.
"It's so boring with the ceiling illusion still broken," he said while hovering the ribbons. "My huggers are definitely an improvement. Do you think I can keep them there past Halloween?"
There were thrice as many bats than what the wizards had conjured last year, and now, Jack sent them all to the ceiling where they settled on the arches, turning the Great Hall into a giant bat cave.
She cast the hovering charm on his ribbons. "Do they know what happened to end the illusion?"
"Merlin thinks it wore out. I'm just surprised they haven't cast a new one yet."
"Maybe these wizards are not as skilled as they claim. I wonder if I can learn illusions."
"We could ask Merlin to show us."
Elsa sighed. This was the fifth time Jack has mentioned him today. She had to admit that they were learning a lot from him but Jack was treating him like an idol.
"What was this that you wanted to tell me about what we are?" he asked, grabbing more ribbons.
She smirked in satisfaction. She knew he would be curious. "I know what type of being Mother is and what that makes us."
He frowned. "Is it really that important to put a label on ourselves?"
"Knowing helps me understand. It answers the millions of questions I had but also presents a host of many possibilities. It puts everything in a new perspective."
Jack floated some more streamers and she suspended them. Then he glared at her. "So, are you going to say it or you're waiting for some dramatic moment to make your reveal?"
She looked around them to confirm that they were alone and whispered. "Mother is a goddess."
Jack scratched his head. "No, she isn't."
"Yes, she is."
"We've met Triple Goddess last year. Remember how powerful she felt? Mother is nowhere close to godly powers."
Elsa frowned, still as outraged as the first time she heard the tale. "Her powers were stolen from her."
"Who can steal powers from a goddess? Another goddess?"
"It was a group of overpowered mortals who abused her good will," Elsa shook her head. "Can you imagine the shock of having to learn how to live like a mortal after eons of being a deity?"
Jack was frowning but didn't comment, grabbed a handful of streamers and continued their work.
"So now, you know."
Elsa performed the spell and waited for his reaction but it didn't come. Was he thinking? A contemplative Jack was not something she was used to.
After they had emptied all the boxes, she reached out. "Do you understand now what we are?"
He shrugged, looking at the floor. "Not really. What are the children of a former goddess and a Sylph called? I don't imagine this has ever happened before so why would there be a name for us?"
She put a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, and at least once, he didn't shrug her off. "She might have lost her godly powers but it does not take away what she is. She is still a goddess which makes us godlings."
Jack frowned. "Godlings. Never heard that before."
"Godlings are children of a god and a mortal. Half-mortals."
He scratched the back of his neck, mulling that over. "You make it sound like we're these powerful beings but I don't feel all that special."
"That's because you're still learning how to use those powers. Jack, have you ever wondered WHY we have a such strong connection to magic and can produce it without using spells? How do we draw power from the Earth?" She put a hand over his heart. "It comes from within us because our mother is a nature deity. She created the mountains that surround us right now! When we feel the Earth's magic, we feel Mother's magic!" She laughed, still having a hard time wrapping her mind around how amazing her mother was. "We've always known that we're magical twins, Jack. This mystic bond that we were born with is divine."
"Divine. Right." He snorted. "Why did she lie to us about what she is?"
Elsa sighed. "Imagine being a mere shadow of what you were. It's a painful topic for her so she doesn't admit it. Besides, humans have come to call her the Spirit of Winter so it's not a total lie."
Jack did not look completely convinced. Why didn't he understand how big of a deal this was? Maybe the implications of the truth needed time before they sunk in.
"Mother taught me a new skill. Once I master it, I might become the most powerful being in this castle. You can do it too, Jack. You've been using it unknowingly - I've seen it. Join me. I'll teach you how to control it."
The corner of his mouth lifted. "You're getting a big head, Elsa. Do you really think that you're more powerful than our teachers? Dumbledore? The entire wizarding community reveres him. They say that he's the only wizard the big bad Voldemort fears. Can you take on Dumbledore?"
Elsa straightened up and lifted her chin. "You'd be surprised what true power is, Jack. Have you ever wondered why hags never ganged up on Mother, why they accept their life of servitude with no complaint? Why do they listen to her?"
"Imagine," she pointed her wand at the orange sea of streamers overhead, "if one could control wizards the way Mother controls hags. How powerful would that someone be?"
Jack huffed. "You can't be serious. Dumbledore is not a mere hag!"
"He is but a human." She patted his shoulder while he stared at her open-mouthed. "True power lies in control."
He shrugged her off, not looking as excited at this revelation as she thought he ought to be. "Is this why you came back?"
"I came back for a lot of reasons."
"What's next? Are you going to start small or go straight for the kill?"
"The kill? Jack, I have a feeling you're misunderstanding this."
"Oh, I understand perfectly. To master a skill like that, you'll start from someone weaker. Are you testing this on Luna already? Is she your slave?"
Elsa blinked, surprised at his hostility. "What? No…"
"After you're done with the small fish, you'll go after our more powerful friends." The corner of his mouth lifted. "I'd like to see you try to control Merlin. I bet he could flatten your ego in five seconds."
"Give me a few weeks and I can take him on."
He huffed and crossed his arms. "I was only joking and here you are, showing your real colors. You'd really go after our friends? Is nothing off-limits with you?"
"Be careful with those 'friends,' Jack. Have you ever considered what type of being Merlin is?"
"He's not human."
"Now, you're ridiculous."
"I can prove it to you." She smirked at him. "Remember that second sight that Peeves taught us? Try it on him."
Their conversation was disrupted by Luna who stared at the decorated Great Hall with awe. "I like the contrast of the orange streamers on black bat-background." It was hard to tell if she was surprised. Her eyes were usually this wide no matter the circumstance. "Elsa, have you seen Sue Li?"
"Not since this morning. What's wrong?"
"We were supposed to study together but she didn't show. I'll keep looking." And she skipped away, humming to herself.
Elsa turned back to her brother but found that he was no longer there. She didn't mind though. She gave him a lot to think about and hoped that he would soon see things her way. She grinned, imagining his reaction when he saw what Merlin looked like when viewed with the second sight. Elsa wouldn't have bothered to notice if not for a comment her mother made once.
"Why is Merlin at that school of yours?" Beira asked her daughter.
"I didn't know you had a chance to meet him," Elsa replied, surprised that her mother mentioned an insignificant student.
"Triple Goddess has always been such a meddler. I wonder what she sent him there for." Beira shot her daughter a scornful look. "She was one of the deities that refused my plea for immortality - just because she couldn't see how it would affect the timeline." Beira rolled her eyes and sighed. "Always so obsessed with her timelines. Watch out for him. Anyone who isn't on our side could attempt to stop you."
"I'll be ready for him."