Changeling in Exile or, Being Human is Awful, and Hogwarts is Worse

Chapter 10

1 September 1938

Dear Druella,

I trust that this letter finds you well, or at least no worse off than you were when you last wrote. You needn't thank me for asking Kitty to treat you with a minimal degree of respect. It's literally no trouble, given that if you are empowered to authorise your own treatment, I will doubtless receive fewer floo-calls asking me to do so. Moreover, going away to school requires a certain degree of responsibility for oneself which being a child in one's parents' household does not. As such, it would be counterintuitive to expect you to be given less responsibility for your person and wellbeing at Hogwarts than you are afforded at home.

I know it must grate to be suddenly treated like a child; I am only sorry that I did not think to send a letter assuring your bodily autonomy before I was specifically asked to do so. My only excuse is that it simply didn't occur to me that anyone, having met you, might have the temerity to insist that you are less responsible or capable of comprehending the consequences of your decisions than the average seventeen-year-old. Unfortunately, outside of the House, people do tend to insist that all young persons are invariably incompetent, and that we are somehow negligent in our child-rearing if we begin acknowledging and respecting children too soon.

They seem to think it might give you ideas, such as that you are in fact a person, with all the rights and responsibility sapience entails. The horror!⸮

Yes, I have also written to Sean, clarifying that I meant for him to help you find compromises to integrate yourself into the school, specifically to advise you on social norms as questions arise and to shield you to a reasonable degree from the harassment of your so-called peers, not to simply berate you for not succeeding in acting perfectly normal and gaining instant acceptance among your age-cohort. His letter on the matter reached me before yours, in fact. Please try not to be too wroth with him, he really is trying to help you, even when his advice and attempts to assist you are, from your perspective, "worse than useless."

I find it concerning in the extreme that you are unable to sleep in the Castle. I find it intriguing (and somewhat concerning) that you are still capable of rational thought having been conscious or at least semi-conscious for nearly one-hundred hours. That, in case you were wondering, is not normal. Many would say impossible. I can only presume that you are holding up comparatively well because you are still able to "organise [your] thoughts and experiences and weed out the unnecessary memories" even if you aren't enjoying the benefits of "actually sleeping."

You may infer from my quotations there that I have no idea what you are talking about. Nor does Luc. Oscar suggests that you may be consciously performing the association of memories and experiences which most people perform un-consciously as they dream via some occlumency technique or other, which is, in his words, "bloody fascinating" and also "incredibly weird, I'll have to see if I can find any references to similar techniques; I've never heard of one, but it's the only thing that makes any degree of sense."

If that is what you are doing, Oscar says that, based on his understanding, you can probably continue to do so indefinitely without suffering the negative effects one would expect to see in an insomniac, and it is obviously not hurting you if it is a technique you were already using for however long before your sleep problems began. Your body does, however, still need rest, so it would be advisable for you to meditate as deeply as possible without straying into nightmare territory for at least six hours a day.

It was fairly obvious from your letter that you have been doing so, and still find the experience lacking in some way compared to actual sleep; most likely the opportunity to fully relax your mind, as you are consciously maintaining some degree of mental order even in the deepest meditative state. This, Oscar says, will likely take a toll on your psychological wellbeing, but he has no idea how long you may have before the strain of maintaining some degree of alertness at all times becomes unbearable.

I can only ask that you will tell me and allow me to remove you from the situation before it reaches that point.

It is also somewhat concerning that there is an external mental influence working on you at all, and that no one else seems to notice its presence. I have included the amulet you requested, but I must warn you, if you are a Seer (which is not so impossible as you seem to think), it probably won't work.

Not only would the influence not truly be external (it may seem so, but the nightmares would be a product of your own soul experiencing the echoes of the experience of the Other in a way which only feels external because you know that it is not your own), but the nature of a Seer's soul, existing somewhat out of synchronicity with our plane, makes it impossible to limit the Sight with wards which are necessarily anchored in this plane. That is why the Sight can be so absolutely debilitating for those with the greatest degree of perspective; even the wards used to contain dreamwalkers are ineffective. In the words of Perenelle Flamel, "Using a ward to limit the Sight is akin to using a fence to contain a bird."

By all means, try the amulet. I sincerely hope that it works. I simply do not wish to raise your hopes, only to have them painfully dashed if the amulet doesn't work, especially as I am inclined to suspect that it will not. The Sight does run in House Farley, fairly strongly at that; it would explain rather a lot of your stranger quirks if you were a Seer; and it would explain why no one else seems to notice this influence if it is beyond the perception of most people.

Please keep me apprised of any major developments, both with the sleeping problem and with any social successes or failures you wish to share. I welcome your letters, regardless of the topic. I love you, and I am very proud of you for giving this attempt to push you out into the public sphere your best effort, little though I know you wish to do so.

Always yours,

Caelia

1 September 1938

Dear Aunt Caelia,

Since last I wrote, I have decided that I like Healer Turner. She seems to have taken your letter to heart, and is now officially the first healer who has ever actually listened to me in a consultation. In the course of the analysis of my physical health required to officially order me to continue taking my potions, we discovered that the deficit between my energy intake and expenditure is made up for by animating my body, which is fascinating, if not actually particularly significant. Miss Jenkins, who is Healer Turner's apprentice, was absolutely horrified and insisted that this is entirely unnatural and therefore problematic, but Healer Turner admitted that it is clearly working and sustainable, and therefore not problematic.

She also conducted a blood test to confirm that I am in fact human, which is welcome given that Father has apparently been assuring me since the age of five that I am human based only on the fact that Elladora bore me, and I'm really not so peculiar compared to the rest of the House. Draco is a cad, and insists that this is not conclusive, because I could still be a non-human entity of some kind possessing this body. That would admittedly explain why it seems perfectly natural to me to animate it with magic, but until I receive definitive proof to the contrary, I have decided to believe that I am human. (Probably.) He can go hang.

Cosette Laurent, who is Elladora's aunt Gertrude's daughter, has been entertaining herself by making my life a misery, and to be perfectly honest, I have no idea what to do about it. I know that it would be entirely inappropriate to resort to violence, but I do not know how to verbally cut down a child with no ambitions to foil or accomplishments to mock. Simply telling her to stop makes no difference whatsoever, and in fact only seems to encourage her.

I have taken to hiding in the Library to avoid her, because the librarian, Lady Margolotta, has banned her and her new friend for driving me entirely beyond reason with illogical questions and mispronunciation of French. I am ashamed to say I hexed them. I am not, however, in trouble for it, because Lady M— is aware that they were deliberately antagonising me and I tried to tell them to leave me alone, but they refused. I spent most of Wednesday evening in Lady M—'s office talking to her. She offered illusory tea and a sympathetic ear, which by that point I desperately needed.

I do not know whether Sean or anyone else has kept you apprised of the events of my first few days here, but Tuesday was particularly bad: My Potions professor vanished my underclothes in an effort to prove that I was lying about not using cosmetic glamours; I missed my first Defence lesson (though Professor Marshall was very understanding about that); and one of my roommates and another girl from my section attempted to break into my trunk and landed in hospital for their efforts (someone seems to have found them stunned and panicked, I didn't actually electrocute them badly enough to render them unconscious), which resulted in me being called up to the Headmaster's office to prove that the trunk was not malfunctioning and I wasn't hiding anything anathema in it.

While there, I was drawn into an argument with my Transfiguration professor, one Albus Dumbledore, who happens to also be the Deputy Headmaster and Head of Gryffindor House, to which Snoop #2 belongs. I managed to convince him that I ought to be excused from transfiguring any more matchsticks into needles, but also infuriated him by insisting that he is in fact a petty tyrant for taking and burning the sketches I was making in his lesson (very unobtrusively, he wouldn't have noticed if Cosette hadn't alerted him) rather than simply ask me to desist, and also for giving me a detention in an attempt to silence me on the matter of Mundane Realist versus Parmenidean conceptualisations of the theoretical basis of conjuration. (Rather than admit that he is wrong.) All of which resulted in his insistence that I not be allowed to take my potions unsupervised (all while insisting that he is not a petty tyrant, of course).

Everything is, at the moment, under control, but on Wednesday, after all the drama of Tuesday and spending all of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in hospital (though the Hogwarts Hospital Wing is not nearly as awful as other healers' offices, for what reason I don't know), followed by Cosette's attempt to commit suicide by aggravating me until I literally strangle her, I was very much out of sorts.

Lady M— also has fascinating stories of travels all over the world, because she spent a significant proportion of her life as an Acquisitions Agent for the University Library. I'm sure you can imagine why she might have any interest in taking a position at the Hogwarts library. Does this count as "making social connections which might stand one in good stead outside of school"?

I attended my first Defence lesson directly before collecting your letter, and I have to say, Professor Marshall may be my favourite teacher — not just at Hogwarts, but ever.

Professor Weatherwax, who teaches Herbology, is also high on the list. She is very calming to be near, in the way traditional witches tend to be, and while she did initially assume that I'm not human, she was thoughtful enough to address the question in private. I doubt she would have bothered if not for the practical considerations of potential accommodations to avoid a non-human student coming to harm in her lessons, since it doesn't seem to bother her that she did not manage to positively identify my species, only that I was unlikely to have a negative reaction to any materials in her lessons, and am not a corruptive entity posing a danger to the other students.

(Lady M— is also convinced that I am not human, regardless of any blood tests to the contrary, but she looks forward to being surprised by the answer to what I actually am when I go through my "awakening", which is apparently a sort of coming of age period for changelings. I remain sceptical.)

But Professor Marshall is wonderful.

He studied under Master Chernov at Durmstrang, and may or may not have been a Venetian body-man before coming here to teach (this is his first year, too). He was almost certainly a professional or semi-professional duellist there, though possibly not under the same name, if he really is a retired body-man. He implied that he isn't, or at least that the job isn't quite as dangerous as it seems in stories, but he later called me out for being evasive, so it's entirely possible that he was implying an untruth himself, there. I would certainly believe that he was. I asked him what he did to my Potions professor to motivate him to apologise for his careless vanishment of my underthings, and he made the room go dark and scary in much the same way one might expect the magical atmosphere to unconsciously reflect the emotions of a displeased sorcerer, and said that he implied that his previous line of employment isn't as exaggerated in stories as one might imagine.

It was very intimidating, but I am (mostly) convinced that it was an act. He apologised for scaring me as soon as he realised that he had. I don't think he's accustomed to dealing with children or normal people in general. Apparently I might be the least-threatening potentially-dangerous person he's ever met, which does imply certain things about the company he usually keeps. Not that I think I'm particularly threatening, but to evaluate how threatening and potentially dangerous even schoolchildren might be is definitely a mark in the "retired body-man" column, I think.

Also, apparently I am intimidating (to people other than Prof. M—, including Prof. D— and the Headmaster) and everyone else is appallingly bad at magic. Yes, I was already aware of that to some degree, but other people, even adults, don't learn to cast spells correctly because they can't? I thought they thought it simply wasn't worth the effort, given that they have the channelling capacity that they don't need to! He said that I should cast a magesight charm on myself if I want to really understand how sloppy other people's spells are, even when they're cast "well", but I'm not certain I want to know. That may be the first time I have ever expressed such a sentiment, but it might be more maddening to realise exactly how much incompetence I am surrounded by at all times than to simply understand on an intellectual level that I am better at magic than most people.

He's having us students teach each other useful little jinxes and hexes because the curriculum does not allow him to do so. I am to go first, two weeks from today, with the Trigger-Drop Jinx. I stayed after the lesson to ask him which spell I ought to do, because I'm certainly not qualified to choose a general-purpose defensive charm that first-year students can cast, which was the context of our conversation. He explained how incantations are supposed to work for other people and taught me the jinx I'm to teach them. I managed to surprise him by replicating it after only two demonstrations. He said that I'd exceeded his expectations for me, but didn't act altogether impressed. He just said it was a good first try and gave me advice on how to do it better next time. (Like Madame, in a way, except it's simply impossible to exceed her expectations in the first place.)

I honestly cannot express how much I appreciate that reaction, both the lack of unearned praise and the acknowledgment that of course I can do better, it was only my first attempt. Not to mention that he actually seems to hold reasonable expectations for me. Except, perhaps, insofar as he seems to think I am capable of being patient enough to teach my classmates a spell. That might be unreasonable. I will try, of course, I would hate to disappoint him, but I will not be surprised if I fail.

To be perfectly honest, I don't really understand how Prof. M— has the patience to teach normal people anything, either. He might be the first teacher I've ever had who is better at magic than I am, so I can't imagine that he finds the other first-years' attempts to cast a Candle Lighting Charm, for example, anything other than absolutely pitiable. I certainly did.

He said he didn't think I was trying to show off casting everything perfectly because he remembered being my age and realised that I probably don't have the channelling capacity to cast most intermediate and advanced spells if I don't do them perfectly — he used to do the same thing, but now he only bothers casting perfectly if he's showing off, like in a Venetian duel. The Headmaster called him up after my placement test (after I agreed that it would probably be for the best if I stay in first-year lessons, if only for social reasons), to confirm that it is possible for an eleven-year-old to conjure true silver and alter ongoing spells. He says that he could have done so, and very clearly doesn't find me disturbing simply for being an outlier, given that he too is an absurdly talented prodigy.

Yes, I realise that I have gone on at unseemly length over him, but I like him, and he may now be the largest factor encouraging me to try to stick it out here, regardless of the fact that, yes, you and Healer Turner were correct, I probably do have some small degree of the Sight, because no, the amulet did not work. I still don't think I could possibly be an actual seer. I certainly don't feel as though I have some extra-temporal perception. Though Prof. M— did suggest that some degree of prescience might be necessary to cast zero-residual spells, so perhaps I do, and I'm simply not conscious of it? Though again, it is my understanding that one has to be aware of one's extra-temporal perception to be a seer, otherwise it's just considered intuition.

In any case, the amulet didn't work. Unfortunately. I really did want to get a good night's sleep.

It does help to know, though, that Cousin Oscar doesn't think that I'm likely to do myself any harm relying on meditation to rest rather than actually sleeping, or at least not physical and mental harm. My temper and patience are growing somewhat short, and I am a little more fatigued every day, though I cannot say how much of that is due to the lack of proper sleep, and how much is due to simply being surrounded by children all the time. The fatigue, at least, will vanish for short periods, when I find something or someone sufficiently engaging to focus on, or something new to learn.

Please tell Cousin Oscar for me that I cannot comprehend the idea of organising one's thoughts un-consciously. Or at least, I cannot comprehend considering any "organisation" which might result from letting your mind unconsciously associate thoughts and memories with no curation to speak of deserving of the term. I think everyone else might be doing it wrong. No wonder legilimency is so difficult, if everyone else's minds are tangled, jumbled messes. (⸮)

(I did actually know that my mind is more organised than most, Healer Turner let me read my file, including the reports of the mind-healers Ella dragged me to. They reached a consensus on the opinion that my mind is disturbing at least in part due to the fact that it is well-organised.)

Regarding what I meant about organising my thoughts versus actually sleeping, when I sleep, I relive the events of the day, dismissing the unimportant details and keeping new facts and significant experiences. I note and categorise less significant experiences before dismissing them. The memories I decide to keep, I place within my existing memory-structure, categorising and cross-referencing them by the subject(s) and topic(s) involved, setting, and other shared details, as well as temporally. Then I analyse the shape of my memory structure, looking for any new inferences which can be made from newly acquired experiences or information and check their consistency against my understanding of the rest of the world. If they don't conflict with my current understanding of the world, I leave them. If they do, I keep them, but categorise them with "ideas" instead of "facts", to be re-evaluated if I later find evidence that the established facts and my current understanding are inaccurate. After that, I go through the list of ideas, culling the ones which newly acquired facts or experiences categorically refute and re-prioritising the ones I now have enough context to consciously evaluate without spending more than a few hours actively researching. Then I actually sleep, letting my mind relax and sort of drift for a few hours.

Except here, I can't drift — I feel trapped somehow — and as soon as I relax beyond a certain point, the nightmares start. I realise that it sounds insane, but I think the Castle might be attempting to communicate with me. It's miserable and in pain, there's something wrong with it and it wants me to fix it, but it's not really capable of explaining what's wrong. Also, I'm not sure, but I don't think Headmaster Dippet is going to give a first-year student full access to the wards to try to figure it out for myself, even if that first-year is me.

If it is the Castle (which I have no actual evidence of beyond my interpretation of its pain, but I find myself believing anyway), and not a problem with me, giving up and going home should allow me to sleep properly again. I have, however, decided that I don't want to give up and go home. For all of its shortcomings, I've found people I like here, and if the nightmares are a problem with the Castle, I rather feel like I ought to stay and at least try to fix it.

Given its desperation, I don't think it has been able to communicate with anyone else, so I might be the only person who is aware that anything is wrong at all. It is, however, a conscious thing, and I can't ignore the fact that I know it's in pain, especially when I'm fairly certain no one else is in a position to help it.

If it comes to the point that I simply cannot manage without proper sleep and I am unable to find a way to communicate my distress to the Castle and convince it to let me do so here, so that I am able to stay and try to fix whatever is wrong, I will, of course, come home. I know that I cannot help others to the detriment of my own health. But for now, I'm going to stay.

I love you, too, and I appreciate your support more than words can express. Though it is insufficient: Thank you.

Your niece,

Druella

The backward-question-mark symbol denotes sarcasm/irony. This is actually a thing, and has been since the 1800s. Caelia's letter is a response to the letter Dru wrote from the Hospital Wing.