The next morning, it was a slightly apprehensive McGonagall who approached her newest student in the hospital wing. To the growing concern and, frankly, terror of their resident mediwitch, the last of Milo's injuries had vanished completely.
"So," he said brightly, "What's the plan, then? Travel by horseback, Teleport, Wind Walk, Phantom Steed, or something else?" The boy's rat was sitting on his shoulder, mimicking Milo's every hand gesture and expression in a most disconcerting way.
"We'll walk to the edge of Hogwarts grounds and Apparate there directly," she explained.
"Apparate, eh? What's that?" Milo asked. He was getting very concerned at the number of Knowledge (Arcana) checks he'd been failing recently. It was most unlike him.
"We will be transported directly to Diagon Alley in London," she explained. "From the point of view of those watching, we will appear to disappear."
"Oh, so we'll teleport?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
"Why can't we just do it from here?" Milo asked, gesturing around the hospital wing.
"You can't Apparate or Disapparate on the Hogwarts grounds," McGonagall explained.
"That really makes a lot of sense, actually. I can see how dark wizards teleporting—sorry, 'Apparating—'" he said with finger-quotes "—into your school would be a problem. Well, let's be off, then." Milo had woken up an hour early to memorize his spells for the day and as a result felt like he was practically buzzing with magic.
The castle, Milo decided, was pretty cool. There were moving staircases and talking portraits (he wasn't sure how they pulled that off, Animate Object was a Divine spell after all), suits of armour (the value of that many suits of full plate set Milo salivating again. He wondered if they'd notice if a few went "missing"), and the castle was, on the whole, apparently larger on the inside than the outside (what was it, an entire Castle of Holding? The cost of something like that would be astronomical, not to mention that it would drain enough XP to de-level an epic Wizard), they even had—
"Holycrapghost! Glitterdust!" Milo shouted, reaching for the only spell he thought would affect it.
"Mister Amastacia-Liadon!" Professor McGonagall barked, "At Hogwarts, we do not blind history teachers! I'm dreadfully sorry, Professor Binns."
"He…he… he's a teacher?" Milo asked, stunned. "Cool! So sorry about that, Professors. I was startled."
"No matter, no matter," Binns said distractedly, floating past them with a trail of golden dust falling off of him in his wake.
"It's considered impolite to draw attention to Professor Binns'… condition," McGonagall said quietly. She sighed. Milo had somehow, apparently, achieved an unusually high degree of control over his accidental magic (or so she thought). Hopefully, that should stop once they got him a proper wand and training.
As they walked out of the castle's huge front gates, Milo soaked in the castle's grounds. There was an evil forest. An animated tree (a disguised Treant, possibly?). A lake with mermaids.
"This place is awesome," he said. The amount of XP he could get just from random encounters in the school grounds alone… it suddenly made sense to him how such a school could be an effective way to gain power. This place was clearly, really, incredibly, obviously, brilliantly dangerous. With all the adventure and monster fighting that must be happening between classes, not to mention the magical brawls that naturally occur when you give an eleven-year-old untold arcane power in a practically unsupervised environment (it would take a staff of thousands to keep an eye on all of Hogwarts at once), these kids would be leveling up like crazy.
Milo grinned happily, thinking about all the XP he was about to gain.
McGonagall smiled, thinking about how happy Milo looked now that he had found a home.
"This should be far enough," McGonagall said. "Hold on closely, a Side-Along Apparition can be somewhat startling at first."
As it turned out, that was putting it rather lightly. It felt, roughly, like someone had buffed his Escape Artist bonus to +70 and forced him to crawl through a lengthy stretch of lead pipe, backwards.
"I think I failed a Fortitude save," Milo said somewhat queasily.
He looked around to find himself in a dark, somewhat shabby tavern. He felt, like all adventurers the world over (despite being under-age in all civilized nations) simultaneously at home and somewhat homesick. Everyone they passed gave McGonagall a respectful nod. Milo hadn't realized she was a retired adventurer, but it made sense. Who better to teach at a school for wizards?
"Good Lord," said the barman, peering at Milo. "Is this—can this be—"
"Tom, I thought I asked you to stop doing that to every student who passes through here?" McGonagall said sharply.
"Sorry, Professor," the barman mumbled, somewhat sheepishly.
"I remember you when you were this tall," she said, gesturing to about her waist. "A wide-eyed, innocent young Hufflepuff, not that that's anything to be ashamed of, in my Transfiguration class," (a-ha, thought Milo. She's a Transmuter; no wonder everyone respects her) "such promise. Such potential." She shook her head slowly. "And what do you do with it? Prank every little boy who comes your way into thinking they're secretly the Boy-Who-Lived. Honestly, I don't know how you sleep at night."
"It's a good thing for Hufflepuff House that you've already graduated, young man," (Milo noted that Tom already had graying hair. Just how old is McGonagall?) "or your antics would seriously handicap the students of that poor House (bless their little, hardworking, earnest hearts) in their chances at winning the Cup. If I ever hear of you pulling this on the actual Harry Potter, why… Well, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise by saying what I'll do." She led Milo off, making soft tut-tut sounds to herself. The barman, Milo noted, looked somewhat sick. Milo was impressed. He'd never met a Wizard (or witch, as the people here seemed to think that witch was the feminine form of Wizard, for some reason) who put cross-class ranks into Intimidate before.
"Merlin!" she said as they left the pub. "I've wanted to do that for years." She reached out and tapped a seemingly-innocuous brick wall, and a hole appeared in the wall which rapidly grew larger. In a manner of seconds, they were standing before an archway into a bustling alley.
"Cool, if somewhat showy," Milo said, gesturing to the wall. "Wouldn't keep anyone out who held the mysterious and cosmic power of a heavy sledge, though."
McGonagall was amazed by his blasé reaction. Milo seemed to be astonished by the most innocuous things, and completely shrugged off what most unfamiliar with the wizarding world practically fainted at. After the boy's reaction when they asked him about his parents, however, McGonagall decided to keep questions about his past to a minimum.
"Ah, it's just like home," he said as they walked past rows of magical shops. At that point, she had to ask.
"Where, exactly, was home for you?" McGonagall asked him.
"Myra, capital of the great Azel Empire!" he said proudly. "City of Light! City of Magic!" It was the city's motto, and the guards touted it endlessly. It was legally required to say it with exclamation marks and added emphasis on 'magic.' "A city where every tavern has an outlandishly-dressed man with a strange accent making mysterious requests, where the aging emperor's wicked, goatee-sporting advisor's power grows steadily every day, where the civic authorities are helplessly inept at dealing with local bandit problems yet still capable of preventing high-level Adventurers from robbing Magic Item stores at night, and where quest opportunities appear around every corner."
McGonagall looked at him somewhat askance. She was starting to grow concerned that the boy had been hit with a powerful Confundus charm at some point, and resolved to keep an eye out for any Missing Persons posters.
"I suppose," she said, "that we'll start with your uniform, then get your books, then drop by Ollivanders for your wand, leaving the cauldron for last."
"Works for me," he said as she steered him towards Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. He was somewhat disappointed to find that the uniforms were, in fact, merely mundane black robes. After everything else, he'd half-hoped that they were some kind of magical stat-boosting outfit.
Madam Malkin was a squat, smiling NPC dressed all in mauve. Milo's brain barely registered her existence.
"Another for Hogwarts?" she asked McGonagall. "Isn't he a little late? Most of the students came through here a month ago."
"He's…something of a special case, Madam. I'm afraid this is coming out of our, erm special fund," McGonagall said. The technical term was 'The Destitute Orphan Fund,' but she decided to avoid the term in front of the poor boy. "So we can't, unfortunately, stretch for a custom job."
"Ah," she said sadly. "But, no matter! I have just the thing! Some unfitted display models, which I was just putting into storage, now that the back-to-school-rush is over." She ruffled through a few boxes before finding what she was looking for. "Here you are! A very nearly perfect fit!"
Madam Malkin's idea of a 'very nearly' was, Milo thought, a little far from the mark. Despite this, he shrugged and accepted the much-too-large robes happily. His perfectly serviceable explorer's outfit was getting somewhat worn, anyways. Probably something to do with all the pointy sticks and serrated teeth he dealt with on a regular basis. Besides, it wasn't like he was paying for them, or that too-big robes gave him a circumstance penalty to anything.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said respectfully. "I can hardly even remember the last time I got new clothes."
McGonagall's heart broke very slightly when she saw how the boy's face lit up at receiving hand-me-down robes. She passed the witch a few bronze knuts from her small supply before they headed out for books.
They left the bookstore with a small pile of very, very well-used (the clerk had described them as 'well-loved') books. Milo could hardly keep his hands off of them — especially The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1). He figured Grade 1 was probably analogous to Level 1, in which case there was a book of first-level spells practically within his reach — nothing to be sneezed at. He resolved, however, to read it later and, in the meantime, pocketed it in his extradimensional Belt. He was a little apprehensive about Magical Drafts and Potions, however. There was no place for Item Creation in his build, especially not for anything as suboptimal as Brew Potion.
"Er, Professor," he asked cautiously. "Do I really have to take potions class?"
"Yes, it's mandatory until fifth year, and extremely practical, besides."
"It's just that I'm not sure I have enough experience for potions," he said. Making magic items permanently drained Experience Points, so he'd always stayed away from it.
"Oh, don't worry, Professor Snape teaches from a beginner level," she said reassuringly. "No experience is necessary."
"Huh. How did you manage that? In any case, I don't have the proper feat for it," he explained.
"It appears you have two solid ones, as does nearly every student attending our school," McGonagall said. "Though we would make arrangements for the handicapped, of course."
"Like those who take Run and Endurance?" Milo laughed. "'Handicapped' is a good word for them. Also, I realize Eschew Materials is sub-optimal, but it really is very convenient. So I would say that I have three solid feats, including Improved Initiative and Spell Focus (Conjuration). But to each his own. I don't have any to spare for Brew Potion, however."
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that," McGonagall said. "None of Snape's students have lost feet—or hands for that matter—in years."
Milo laughed at what he thought was a pun.
"Well, as long as I don't have to worry about the feat and experience, I'm in. Potions could be a lot of fun, actually." Never hurts to show a little enthusiasm around educators.
"I'm glad you feel that way," she said. Not a lot of students looked forward to spending time in the dungeon with Severus.
They then entered Ollivanders. Milo had never understood how the sale of magical items in large-scale could be economically viable. The experience cost alone would reduce any mighty spellcaster to a novice in a few years. Still, he was glad someone was willing to do it, or he wouldn't have anywhere to spend his gold.
"Good afternoon," said a soft voice, presumably Ollivander. "Ah, Professor McGonagall. Nine-and-a-half inches, made of fir. Stiff, with a dragon heartstring core. Excellent for advanced Transfigurations. Made by my father... of course."
Again with the dragons, Milo thought, feeling slightly intimidated. What, do they have a farm of them somewhere?
"Hm. Well, yes. We're here to get a, er, preferably discount wand for our latest student here," she said. Ollivander peered closely at Milo, who jumped backwards slightly. Their noses had practically touched, and Milo was sure he hadn't seen him move…
"Er, before we, uh, um, start choosing one," Milo stammered awkwardly. "There's something I've been, ah, meaning to ask of you, Mr. Ollivander."
"Yes?" he said softly. Gods, but this guy is weird.
"Your store name—I mean, Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC—well, it's just that, er…"
"Shouldn't—shouldn't Ollivanders have an apostrophe in it?" Milo said, and instantly regretted it.
Mr. Ollivander chuckled, slowly and irregularly. It was a disconcertingly unnatural sound.
"Not if it's plural," he said.
Milo swallowed nervously. Plural?
"Right, well," McGonagall, fortunately, interrupted their weird conversation. "While you find Milo here a wand, I'll go and fetch him his potions supplies."
"But of course. Right this way, Mr. Amastacia-Liadon." He led Milo through a row dusty aisles, each packed with small boxes. "Which is your wand arm?"
"My right," Milo said. Ollivander passed Milo a series of wands, each with more improbable ingredients than the last. Unicorn hair? Phoenix tail feathers? Dragon heartstring? Yeti fur? There were even some from creatures he'd never heard of, like Thestral tail. He waved them each about randomly in turn, with no effect.
"Look, I'm pretty sure this isn't how wands are supposed to work," he said to Ollivander, who was searching through a storeroom in the back. "I can't just wave them. I have to activate them. Very different thing."
"Oh? Young wizard, my family has been making wands since they were invented," said Ollivander, who had somehow gotten behind Milo. Right behind him.
"Gah!" he said, backing up into an aisle of wands, causing several to fall to the ground.
"I think we know a thing or two about how they are supposed to work," he said.
"Right, of course, sorry." Milo said, eager to do anything to get out of here. "So, what's supposed to happen when I wave my this stick around, assuming it's the, ah, right wand for me?"
"It varies. Sparks. Fire. Light. Once even a spurt of blood, cat's blood, I would say, judging by the distinct flavour."
"Oh, my gods." Milo had never been so scared in his life. "Detect Magic," he murmured quietly. Just like the broomstick earlier, there was no response. Either the wands were somehow hiding their magical auras, which was possible, or McGonagall had left him alone with a madman who could recognize the blood of kittens by taste and butchered dragons for their heartstrings. Maybe this was some sort of test, to see if he was worthy of their school? Milo frowned. Well, if it was a magical response Ollivander wanted, he'd bloody well get one.
Ollivander passed Milo another allegedly 'magic' wand, and as soon as Milo's hand touched it, he whispered "Silent Image." A swarm of illusory bats flew out of the wand, before bursting into varicoloured flames. As the flames began to disappear, the bat's skeletons continued flying, circling the interior of the store seven times each before assembling themselves into a floating, bony pentagram just below the ceiling. Upside-down, dark blue flames lit, one by one, at the vertices of the five-pointed star, and drops of water began to fall upwards from the floor to the ceiling. For added effect, hundreds of wholly imaginary insects crawled up the walls and cast themselves into the flames. Milo was sweating slightly, concentrating on the illusion, as he decided to go for the finish. The ceiling appeared to open up into a gateway to some unimaginable dimension in the dead-centre of the pentagram. The bony bats, still hovering in their star-pattern, flew as one into the gateway and vanished. Milo put out the fires and closed the imaginary portal, dispelling the illusion. Normally, the fact that a Silent Image can't create any noise was a handicap, but this time the dead silence actually added to the overall creepiness. All in all, Milo was rather proud of himself.
"My, my, my. That was… certainly something," Ollivander said softly in Milo's ear, somehow having managed to get behind him again. "It would appear that we have found the wand for you, my young wizard."
Milo almost hated to ask, but couldn't resist.
"What kind is it, exactly?"
"Thirteen inches, chestnut wood, dragon heartstring core. Good for… curses, Mr. Amastacia-Liadon."
"G-good length. Thirteen, that is. I… I'll just be leaving now."
Milo had already left the store before realizing that he'd never told the wizard his name.
"Oh, my gods," he whimpered. Mordy was quivering in fear, deep in the extradimensional reaches of Milo's Belt of Hidden Pouches.
McGonagall had decided that, in order to appear normal, Milo would stay at Hogwarts until the day of the sorting ceremony, and then they'd Apparate back to London and he'd take the Hogwarts Express with the other students. There was one part of this plan that confused Milo, however.
"Professor, what's a train?" Milo asked curiously.
"You've never heard of a train?" she asked incredulously. "It's a, well, it's a big metal contraption all with wheels and things. It travels along rails at high speeds."
"I hate railroad plots," Milo grumbled as McGonagall shook her head in amazement. How could someone have heard of a railroad, but not a train?
Milo spent the next day uneventfully wandering the halls of Hogwarts, engaging in conversation with the paintings. He used a little Craft (Sewing) to do the hems of his robes, so he could walk without them dragging along the ground quite so much. Later, maybe, he could tailor them properly. He was forced to admit that he didn't strike a very impressive image, with his sleeves rolled up four times and still hanging past his hands.
The next morning, McGonagall Side-Along Apparated him to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
"What is that?" he asked, shocked. He was pointing past the bustling students to the train itself.
"That's the Hogwarts Express," McGonagall explained. "The train."
"H-How does it move? Where are the horses?"
"There aren't any horses, it moves itself."
"What, by magic?"
"A little magic, but mainly Muggle know-how," McGonagall shrugged. "They can be quite ingenious at times."
Milo was floored. He couldn't believe that something so huge could be moved without… without anything, it sounded like.
"What's a Muggle?" he asked reverently. "They must be mighty creatures indeed."
"What, Muggles?" McGonagall exclaimed, laughing. "No, they're just like you or me, only without magic." Well, like me, anyway, McGonagall thought. We're not quite sure what you are.
"I, um, I suppose I'll get on board the horseless iron wagon now, shall I?" Milo asked nervously.
"Go on ahead, dear. I'll meet you at the castle," McGonagall said and teleported away. Disapparated. Whatever.
Somewhat apprehensively, Milo climbed one of the stairs. He'd arrived early, so most of the carriages were empty. Choosing a compartment at random, he sat down forcibly in one of the seats. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that there was no possible way to move this much iron all at once without either magic or a whole herd of horses. The crew of this vessel would be pretty embarrassed when they tried to get it moving.
After a few minutes, a round-faced boy popped his head through the door.
"Um, I don't suppose you've seen a toad anywhere?" he asked.
"Hmm. No, I can't say that I have, but my Spot score is lousy," Milo responded.
"Oh," the boy said, crestfallen. Milo began to feel sorry for him.
"Here, let me try something," he said. "Spontaneous Search," he cast spontaneously, using his Spontaneous Divination ability to replace Mirror Image. Spontaneously. Milo began to wonder if somebody was getting paid a silver piece every time he thought 'Spontaneous.' Milo became instantly aware of everything within twenty feet of him as if he'd carefully searched the contents of the carriage by hand. "He's three doors down, under the North-facing bench," Milo said.
"Blimey, that was impressive," the boy said. "I haven't been able to pull off even the simplest of charms, yet. I'm Neville, by the way."
"Milo. And don't worry, Neville. Everyone was first level once in their lives."
"Err, thanks, I think," Neville said as he went off to grab his toad. Solid choice for familiar, toads. Mordy, still sitting on his shoulder, playfully nipped him on the ear.
"Though I prefer rats, of course," he said aloud.
"Prefer rats to what?" asked a black-haired boy.
"Toads," Milo said, somewhat embarrassed. "Mordenkainen was feeling insecure."
"Oh," said the boy. "Mordenkainen… is that your pet's name?"
"Familiar. Mordenkainen doesn't take kindly to being called a pet, he thinks its de-humanizing."
"Oh. Er, sorry, Mordenkainen."
"His friends call him Mordy."
"His… his friends? Of course they do, don't they? You know, I'm starting to think that wizards are just weird for the sake of weird. Do you mind if I sit down? The other compartments are full," the boy asked.
"Sure. I'm Milo, by the way."
"Harry," the boy said, sitting down across from him. There was something unusual about him, but Milo couldn't place his finger on it. It wasn't the tussled hair, or the broken glasses, or even the lightning-bolt scar. It was… everything taken together. Like there was just more to him than the others Milo had met in this world.
"Oh my gods!" Milo shouted, delighted. "You're— "
"You've heard, too?" Harry said darkly. "I was hoping to meet somebody who didn't realize it immediately. The scar gave it away didn't it?"
"I'm so pleased to meet you!" Milo said.
"Yes, yes, can we please skip past this part?"
"Not much of a roleplayer, eh? Straight to the goblin-killing? I knew it! You're a PC!"
"Wait, what?" Harry asked. "What's a Peasea? Is that another weird wizarding word, like Muggle?"
"New to this? Ah, I remember my first adventure—I was nearly slain by a kobold. Very embarrassing, that. Ah, those were the days," Milo said dreamily. "No, PC is nothing like Muggle. It means Player Character. Basically, the universe will go out of its way to cast you into dangerous situations—but also makes sure, to a certain extent, that you get out of them as well. Usually. In short, if this were a book, you'd be the main character."
"I think you're mistaking me for somebody else; I'm not really much of anything," Harry said despondently.
"Are you kidding? You've got a scar shaped like a lightning bolt! Okay, stop me if I'm wrong: you've had a dark and troubled past." Harry nodded glumly. "Events seem to be moving so quickly that you can barely keep up with all of the foreshadowing and plots."
"Well, things have been happening pretty quickly," Harry confessed. "Just last month I found that, when I was a baby, an evil wizard tried to kill me but was somehow unable to, and died mysteriously because of it. Now, strange people are coming up to me to thank me for something I don't even remember."
"Ha ha! I knew it. Make sure to stay on your toes these next few days. The early days are key—everything anyone says is going to be a clue to events that will come up later. In fact, make a list. Here," Milo said, passing Harry a sheet of parchment and a quill from his belt. "write down everyone you've met who could be described with more than two adjectives, everything anyone said in a quiet voice that was cut off before they could finish, and every named character you've been introduced to, okay? It will be relevant. There may be an exam on it later, and it will probably be pass-or-die. Have you started gathering your party together yet?"
"My—my party?" Harry asked, while he started writing down a list of names.
"Oh, you know, a quirky bunch of allies. Friends to help you through dangerous times and adventures, that kind of thing."
"I—I can't say that I have."
"Okay. The next two to three people you meet will stick with you for life—unless they're future recurring villains, of course."
The door to the compartment slid open, and a lanky (one), red-headed (two) boy came in.
"Anyone sitting here?" he asked, pointing to the seat next to Milo. "Everywhere else is full."
The boy had a black mark on his nose (three! We have a winner) and seemed to be glancing nervously at Harry.
"Hey, Ron," Harry said.
A pair of identical (one), freckled (two), equally red-headed (three!) twins walked to the door.
"Listen," one of them said to Ron, "we're going to the middle of the train – Lee Jordan's got a giant tarantula down there."
"Right," mumbled Ron.
"Harry," said the other twin, "did we introduce ourselves? Fred and George Weasley. And this is Ron, our brother. See you later, then."
"Bye," said Harry and Ron. The twins slid the compartment door shut behind them.
"Are you really Harry Potter?" Ron blurted out.
Harry nodded. This was getting to be almost too much for Milo. Finally, the solo adventure was over, and there was someone else to soak up damage.
Harry pulled back a fringe of hair to show his lightning-bolt scar more clearly.
"So, that's where You-Know-Who...?"
"I, um, I do not know who," Milo said.
"Oh, blimey! You don't?" Ron paused. "I don't think we've met—I'm Ron, Ron Weasley."
"Milo Amastacia-Liadon, but please just call me Milo. Anyways, what's with this You-Know-Who character?"
"He was this dark, evil wizard who went on an unstoppable rampage of death and destruction. Well, that is until Harry Potter—I still can't believe you're actually him—proved to be too much for him and he died."
"What, just like that?" Milo asked.
"I wouldn't say it was 'just like that,'" Harry said. "He—he killed my parents."
"But he's gone, though," Ron said. "And good riddance, too."
"No, he's not," Milo sighed. "But you probably won't believe me. See, in my experience, when a Dark Wizard dies under mysterious causes, he'll come back ten to fifteen years later more powerful than before. And that's assuming he's not a lich."
"You talk a lot of nonsense, you know that?" Ron said. "Cool rat, though."
"Thanks," Milo shrugged. "His name's Mordy."
"Neat. I've got one too, he used to be my brother's." Ron pulled out a fat, grey rat, who appeared to be quite dead.
"Uh, I think what you have there is an ex-rat, actually," Milo said.
"Nah, he's alive. He's just useless. His name is Scabbers."
"That seems oddly appropriate," Milo said. "But, enough character development. Tell me more about this Dark Wizard."
"There's not that much more to it," Ron frowned. "What did you want to know?"
"Well, for starters, there's his name?" Milo said. "Because, really, I don't know who."
"Uh, they also call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but I always thought that was a bit of a mouthful," the redhead said, somewhat uncomfortably.
"Voldemort," said Harry, who had been silent. "He's called the Dark Lord Voldemort."
"What?" Harry asked.
"You said You-Know-Who's name!" said Ron, sounding both shocked and impressed. Milo tuned out as they continued chatting and comparing back stories and such. Ron came from a poor family with lots of kids, Harry was an orphan raised by Muggles, yadda yadda. Milo looked out the window for the first time since he'd seen Neville.
"Sweet, merciful, Pelor! We're moving!" Milo shrieked. "How? What? How? Why? How? When?"
Harry and Ron glanced at each other.
"Uh, you alright mate?" Harry asked.
"I—I've never been on a train before," Milo confessed. "I can't believe how fast we're moving."
"What? Who never heard of a train? Everybody knows about trains," Ron said. "They're just big metal things that move on rails, nothing to them."
"But it's moving so fast," Milo said in awe.
Shortly later, there was a loud clattering sound by the compartment door, and a trolley selling candy came by. Milo and Ron passed, not having any money to speak of, but Harry bought just about the entire cart. Harry shared his candy with them all (Neutral Good, eh? Milo could live with that) which seemed to be a big moment in his life for some reason. Milo never really paid much attention to food in the past; he'd spent his first 350 gp on Everlasting Rations and had more or less subsided off of that ever since. The savings over the years were astronomical. Milo started listening again when Harry opened his Chocolate Frog. In the package was a card containing a picture of Albus Dumbledore.
"Oh, hey, that guy with the beard," Milo said.
"You know him?" Harry asked.
"Oh course he does, everyone's heard of Dumbledore," said Ron.
Harry turned the card over and read the back. Then he passed it to Milo, who read:
Albus Dumbledore, currently Headmaster of Hogwarts.
considered by many the greatest wizard of modern
times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his
defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945,
for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon's
blood and for his work on alchemy with his partner,
Nicolas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys
chamber music and tenpin bowling.
Milo passed the card back.
"Dumbledore, the dark wizard Grindelwald, Nicolas Flamel, and the twelve uses of dragon's blood," Milo said, counting each on his finger. "Write all those down, they'll be important later."
"Important?" Ron asked. "Important for what?"
"For the adventure, obviously," Milo said.
"Um. Okay, pretend for one moment that we're all not as crazy as you," Ron said, "and elaborate?"
"Oh, another newbie." Milo said, briefly explaining the concept of a PC to the bewildered Ron.
As Ron was about to open his mouth to object, the compartment door slid open again, and Neville's round face appeared again.
"Oh, hey Neville," Milo said. "Neville, this is Harry and Ron."
"Hey, pleased to meet you. Um, so I lost my toad again, I was wondering if you could cast that spell again?" Neville asked.
"Sure," Milo said, but was getting concerned that he'd run out of magic before even reaching Hogwarts. "Spontaneous Search," he cast, this time giving up Mount for the day.
"Your toad's two compartments towards the rear of the cart, nobody ever taught Ron how to fold his clothes properly, and Scabbers is eating Harry's last Chocolate Frog," Milo said, as knowledge of the contents of the area flooded into his mind rapidly. It was dizzying, and he knew, instantly, far more about the contents of twenty-six students' luggage than he'd ever wanted to.
"Thanks!" Neville said, and scampered off.
"That was a mean trick," Ron accused. "Fooling Neville like that."
"What are you talking about? I helped him," Milo said.
"Please. You didn't even use your wand," he said.
"What, this old piece of junk?" Milo asked, pulling out the stick that demon of a man had sold him. Ron blushed slightly and mumbled something about his wand.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"I was just saying, I wish that I was rich enough to afford a brand-new wand and still consider it a piece of junk," Ron muttered angrily.
"Oh, I didn't buy it. Professor McGonagall bought it for me with Hogwarts' Destitute Orphan Fund."
"Oh. Sorry." Ron said, then went silent.
"You, too?" Harry asked.
"Uh, see, the thing about my parents is that… I don't think I'm an orphan. I just can't remember them." Milo said.
"That's terrible!" Harry said. "I'll help you find them, okay?"
"Oh, thanks, but don't worry. It's not important."
"Not important?" Ron asked, surprised. "How could parents possibly be unimportant?"
"Well, they just… I… my back story isn't working. I think it's because I'm cut off from my world," Milo said. Harry and Ron looked at him like he'd said he'd just gotten engaged to a goblin. He briefly explained what happened with the cultists.
"That's… you're a nutter, mate." Ron said.
"Says the person who thinks you need a wand to be a Wizard," Milo shot back. Mordy folded his arms and shook his little rat head at Ron and Scabbers, emphasizing his point.
"Whatever. Want to trade rats?" Ron asked hopefully.
"Not on your life, Weasley."
"Can you really do magic without a wand?" Harry asked. "I don't seem to know anything about anything, but I was led to believe that was practically impossible."
"Oh, sure. Here, take this," he said, passing his wand to Harry. He shook his hands free of his sleeves, to show he didn't have anything up them. "Okay, no wand, right? Dancing Lights."
Four glowing white lights appeared in front of his hands, then flew around the compartment briefly, as the compartment door slid open again.
"Neville said, and of course I didn't believe him, that someone in this compartment could perform magic without a wand," a girl said, then gasped as she saw the lights. She had a bossy sort of voice (one), lots of bushy brown hair (two)…
"And the buck teeth make a winner!" Milo shouted happily and dismissed the spell. "Come in! Who are you?"
"Hasn't anyone ever told you it's rude to comment on other people's appearance?" she asked angrily.
"What? Oh, I'm sorry. Where I'm from it's actually a compliment," he said.
"What, really?" she asked disbelievingly.
"Yeah. Dumping Charisma is a sign of great wisdom and foresight." Milo blushed slightly. He wasn't sure what he'd been thinking, all those years ago, when he'd decided his Charisma should be two points higher than his Constitution. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and now he was stuck with it.
The girl frowned, trying to figure out if she'd been insulted or not.
"Well, I'm Hermione Granger. I've tried a few simple spells for practice and it's all worked for me, but never without my wand. How did you do that?" she asked, sitting down next to Harry. Milo made frantic gestures to Harry to write her name down on the growing list.
"Well, I'm a Wizard, right? So I do what Wizards normally do. I learned the spell, wrote it down in my spellbook, and every morning I memorize it on an as-needed basis. Then I can cast it later, once."
"That… that doesn't sound like magic at all," Hermione said slowly. "At least, not like any magic I've read about. And believe me, I've read a lot."
"What, seriously?" Milo asked. "How do you do it, then?"
"Well, I learn the spell by reading how it's done. Then, after I practice enough to get the gestures and incantation just right, I just have to do it again and the spell gets cast."
"Huh," Milo said. "How many times can you do that? In a given day, I mean?"
"I've never noticed a limit," Hermione said. "I mean, it can be a little exhausting, depending on the spell. But there's no hard cap."
"What, seriously?" Milo asked again. "Well, that's hardly fair. How many spells can you learn?" They were starting to sound like Warlocks, who could cast an infinite number of spells per day but only learned a few different ones to choose from.
"Well, I can cast three, but nothing very impressive so far. But learning them isn't all that hard," she said.
"Not that hard, she says," Ron muttered. "Don't listen to her, mate; it's pretty hard."
Harry just shrugged.
"I mean, is there no limit?" Milo asked. "Or, if you worked hard enough and practiced enough, could you just… keep learning them?"
"Yes, that's right. With enough hard work and practice, there's no upper limits beyond the confines of normal human memory," Hermione said, as if reciting the line from memory. "I'll bet Dumbledore knows thousands of spells."
"That's so…so…so… broken!" Milo exclaimed. "That's so unfair! I can get eleven a day, and almost half of those are cantrips! And I've been doing this a lot longer than you!"
"What, you've already been using magic?" Ron asked. "That's illegal, that is."
"Psh, who's to stop me? Besides, I haven't set foot in this country till three days ago. I wasn't even on this plane before that."
"The word's train, mate," Harry said. "Planes fly up in the sky, though most wizards don't know much about them from what I've heard. It's an easy enough mistake to make, don't feel bad."
"No, a plane is a universe into its own, with its own rules and laws governing it," Milo said. He should know, had maximum ranks in Knowledge (the Planes), after all.
"Excuse me, to head off this discussion before it becomes any more unbearable," Hermione interrupted, "it's clear we're operating under different meanings of the same word. Harry is talking about an airplane, a Muggle form of transportation. Milo is talking about a plane of existence, a totally different concept with no known grounding in reality, forcing me to conclude that he is, in fact, quite insane."
"Gee, thanks," Milo muttered. He was about to come up with a snappy retort when the door slid open yet again.
"I'm sorry, I can't help you find your toad again today," Milo said irritably. While not strictly speaking true, any more and he'd be cutting into his emergency first-level spells. Milo never went anywhere without Feather Fall and Grease.
Unfortunately, it was not the good-natured Longbottom boy standing in the doorway. A pale (one) blond (two) boy entered imperiously (and three! We have a recurring character). After a brief moment of shock upon hearing Milo's words, he apparently decided to completely ignore the young Wizard's existence.
"Is it true?" the boy asked. "They're saying all down the train that Harry Potter is in this compartment. So it's you, is it?"
"Yes," said Harry. Flanking the sneering boy were a pair of mooks.
"Oh, this is Crabbe and this is Goyle," the boy said, although Milo wasn't sure why he bothered. Everything about them said mute NPC. "and my name's Malfoy, Draco Malfoy."
Ron sniggered slightly.
"Think my name's funny, do you? No need to ask who you are—" Draco paused, staring at Milo. The blood drained from his face, making him look, if it were possible, even paler.
"You! I would have thought you'd be in hiding down the deepest, darkest hole you could find, after showing your face at my father's mansion. Well, Potter, I can see you've chosen your side already—a Weasley, a mudblood, and a dead man. I'd be careful, if I were you, or you might just wind up going the way of your parents." With that, Malfoy spun about on his heel and started to leave. Harry and Ron stood up, their faces livid. Hermione had tears in her eyes—apparently mudblood was some kind of insult. Maybe her ancestors were part dwarf, or something?
"Either of you want to get him, or shall I?" Milo asked.
Ron smirked slightly, but his fists were still held, his knuckles turning white. "Be my guest," he said through clenched teeth.
"Grease," Milo muttered. The ground underneath Malfoy and his mooks became all-but frictionless. The results were fairly predictable, especially given that they were on a moving train.
"You! You! When Father hears about this," Malfoy said, trying (and failing, quite hilariously, in fact) "he'll, he'll—gah!" the Hogwarts Express lurched around a corner, sending causing Crabbe to fall onto Malfoy again. Unfortunately, the spell only lasted for eighteen seconds. "You haven't seen the last of me!" Draco shouted, then stormed off, furiously.
"Mate, forget everything I said about you being crazy. You are alright in my books," Ron said.
"Same goes for me," said Harry. "Let's all hope for Gryffindor together. Are you alright, Hermione?" Harry asked the crying girl.
"F-fine. I'm fine," she said.
"What was that he called you, anyway?" Harry asked, confused.
"Mudblood," Ron said. "It's a dire insult. It means someone whose parents weren't wizards. We'll get him back for that one."
"I rather think we did already get him back," Milo said smugly.
"Nah, that was just interest. We'll come and collect in full one day."
"Hermione, I wouldn't worry about it," Harry said. "Nobody here cares whether or not your parents were Muggles."
"Easy for you to say!" she shot back. "You're all, all purebloods!"
"Hey, take it back!" Milo said. "There's not a drop of magical blood in my family."
They all paused for a beat or three.
"And—you're proud of that?" Ron asked.
"Nine Hells, yeah. It means I'm a Wizard. I had to scrounge and work and fight tooth and nail for my magic. What do you take me for, a Sorcerer?" he asked. Hermione looked somewhat mollified (though confused), and gave him a brief, thankful look.
"What was that all about, anyway?" Hermione asked, her voice steady but her eyes still rimmed with red.
"Oh, he's some git I met at Madam Malkins," Harry explained.
"He comes from a big, rich family," Ron added. "They were among You-Know-Who's first supporters, and also the first to turn their backs on him—or so they say—after he fell. Malfoy's dad claims he was being controlled by magic, but my dad thinks he's full of it."
"Hmm," Hermione said. "Maybe you shouldn't have humiliated him like that. We could come to regret this, if his family's as powerful as all that."
Milo just grinned. Three CR ones defeated, split three ways, was 300 XP each. He lay back as the train reached its destination, enjoying his +1 Intelligence, +2 hp, +6 skill ranks, +1 1st level spell slot, +1 2nd level spell slot, +1 Will save bonus, and +3 friends.