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

Chapter 12

3 September 1938

Dear Druella,

I am aware that you are animating your body. That has been the only reasonable explanation for the fact that you are still alive since you were about four years old. I can only presume that none of the other healers you have visited have reached a similar conclusion because the idea of a four-year-old having the degree of control necessary to animate something as complex as a human body executing bipedal motion is somewhat absurd. That you are capable of writing is even more absurd. And of course a small child resorting to using magic to sustain herself so that she does not need to eat as much is indicative of a pathological degree of discomfort in her own body which they do not like to consider because they have no better solutions to offer than the one you have developed for yourself.

I received a somewhat hysterical letter from Kitty in the wake of that examination which consisted almost entirely of sympathetic horror for the misery of your existence, existential horror over the fact it is possible for a child to use magic in this way, insistence that you are almost certainly a seer, and recrimination for sending you out into the world rather than keeping you as isolated as possible. She all but demanded that I convince you to speak to the school's mind-healer to confirm that you are a seer, and strongly recommends that once it is confirmed, we make efforts to find an appropriate grounding potion for you.

Yes, one does generally have to be aware of one's Sight to be considered a seer, but as Kitty noted, the reason(s) you think it's "nice" in the Hospital Wing are almost certainly because she has made accommodations for herself (replacing the cotton sheets and draperies with linen; keeping everything as orderly as possible; regularly purging the local ambient magic of the impressions left by visitors; et cetera). Your dislike of food prepared by others is practically characteristic of seers, as is an obsessive need to control what elements of the world around you that you can, in order to minimise potentialities in the immediate future. She also suggested that you may be experiencing immediate potentialities (on the order of a few seconds) and simply be quick enough to keep up with them and their branching until they are out of your range.

Most seers wouldn't be able to, by any stretch of the imagination, but most people can't conceptualise complex conjurations thoroughly enough to come up with a conjuration model of dyed fabric embroidered with silver in an impromptu demonstration (Draco mentioned it to Sean; Sean was uncertain whether Draco was having fun with him), much less find it more convenient to conjure letters than to write them by hand. (I do hope you're writing your homework by hand, at least until you learn how long it takes your professors to mark it.) They certainly can't read through half of the wardcrafting books in the Family Library in a week and synthesise that information into a relatively sophisticated suite of wards designed from first principles within another week.

Of course, given your description of "sleeping", I would warrant that it is also possible that you are simply blocking out your awareness of any potentialities you may be experiencing using occlumency. (Oscar has asked me to relay that he supports the theory that you are something non-human possessing a human body.) Perhaps both, to some degree.

In light of your last letter and certain details therein — that you find it relaxing to be in the presence of a witch who is truly in tune with the world around herself, which is generally not something one can feel simply by existing in her presence; that you can cast zero-residual spells (I will confess, I was unaware of that fact; perfect and zero-residual spells are indistinguishable to my magesight); and most especially that the amulet didn't work — I am most strongly encouraging you to speak to the mind-healer. If you don't want to explore the option of a grounding potion, or if you believe the side-effects would be unbearable, you needn't do so. I believe you are perfectly capable of learning to exist in the world as you are, and will not pressure you to use a mind-altering potion you don't want to try. I do, however, suspect that such a potion might make your life considerably easier and more bearable, and even if you do not wish to pursue such an option, your efforts to compensate can only be helped by a more thorough understanding of what you are perceiving.

For the record, I did the same blood test (among others) when we were initially designing your nutrient potion. If you had asked, I could have told you that yes, you are biologically human. I was unaware that you considered it a legitimate possibility that you were not.

Have you considered casting an environmental spell to make it impossible for anyone within several yards of you to speak and/or be heard whenever Miss Laurent attempts to antagonise you? It would, of course, be considered an offensive use of force to silence her directly, but I doubt there is any rule against charming the air to neutralise all sound waves within a given area. Granted, I don't know of such a charm off the top of my head, but I'm sure you can come up with something.

While it does sound as if your first few days were a trial, it also sounds like you're holding your own there, despite everything. I am familiar with Albus Dumbledore's work in alchemy; we met at a conference once while he was apprenticed to Nicolas Flamel. His work was good, but I cannot say I was impressed by his personality. He thought it perfectly scandalous that a young noblewoman such as myself was attending conferences without an escort, and lost interest in speaking to me entirely when he realised that I am primarily a bioalchemist, and therefore obviously (⸮) evil. He certainly didn't strike me as the sort who would be good with children.

Granted, I hardly know him well, but I cannot see being a teacher or Head of a school House as a good fit for him. Deputy Head, perhaps, I'm not certain how much power the position truly holds or what his responsibilities are, but I'm not surprised that he is a petty tyrant in the classroom, or that he feels threatened by you. He did not respond well to post-presentation questions challenging his work, despite the work having the merit to withstand the challenges in question. My overwhelming impression was that he simply did not like even far more senior alchemists questioning his conclusions, and took it as a personal offence.

I'm glad to hear that you are making friends, among the staff if not among the students. Yes, I think you can safely count your Librarian as a social connection, especially if she has indicated a willingness to help you find a path for yourself beyond Hogwarts. If not, do not be disheartened, she has only known you for a week and may think it too forward to offer such advice at such an early juncture.

Regarding Professor William Marshall, this letter was somewhat delayed as I spent yesterday calling on several acquaintances making inquiries regarding the man. He hails from Maidstone. His parents are entirely unremarkable muggle-goods importers — possibly too unremarkable, but there is no obvious evidence of any shady business surrounding them, and no rumours surrounding their business practices. William was born in 1904. He has one elder brother and two younger sisters, all of whom seem to be as unremarkable as their parents. The eldest is involved in the family business, the elder daughter married into House McKinnon, and the youngest is currently pursuing a Healer Certification at Beauxbatons.

Marshall attended Durmstrang as a student from 1911 through 1918 (Durmstrang remained open during the Great War), taking his Proficiencies at the age of fourteen. I was unable to obtain his scores at short notice, but I would imagine they were excellent — one simply does not take one's qualification exams early unless one is confident in one's ability to do well. He transitioned directly into Mastery studies under Maximillian Chernov. He completed his thesis and was certified as a Master of Magical Theory in 1922.

My friends at Durmstrang remember him as a brilliant student — somewhat less than interested in the theoretical side of his studies, but incredibly talented, intuitive, and innovative in his use of complex charms. This makes it a matter of note that his Mastery under Chernov was in Theory. He seems to have been motivated by a desire to articulate a more intuitive understanding of the most fundamental aspects of wizardry than was commonly taught when he was a student. He adapted his thesis into an introductory-level textbook focusing on meditation and channelling practices for young wizards, which has been used in Durmstrang's Year Three, Four, and Five Introductory Wizardry courses since 1925.

He did not, however, teach any such courses himself. He seems to have vanished from Daneland shortly after his Mastery was conferred. The Durmstrangers seem to think he returned to Britain, but there is no record of him registering his Mastery in Britain until this past summer, so either he did not intend to seek work dependent on his Mastery in 1922, or he did not return and/or stay. The latter seems more likely. At the age of eighteen, when one has spent one's entire life studying, I can easily imagine that one might prefer to see more of the world, rather than immediately dive into an academic career.

One of my contacts suggested that Marshall seemed to be flirting with the Gemeenschoppists' movement in his last few years at Durmstrang, which would not be surprising, given that Chernov is known to be a former (and possibly current) associate of Gellert Grindelwald. He opposed Grindelwald's expulsion from the school, and they apparently remained in contact for some time afterward.

Marshall was indeed a duellist in Venice. Lucia Morosini informs me that he first appeared in an official competition as an amateur circa 1928. He won the competition with what was then the record for least residual-deductions over the course of a seven-level bracket, instantly making himself a person of interest throughout the scene — though he did not become a regular on the circuit, and instead took a position as a private tutor to the Loredans.

While there is no doubt that he acted as a general tutor to at least two dozen children of the House and their clients over the past ten years, it is entirely possible that he also held other roles within the House. He continued duelling sporadically over the course of his tenure with the Loredans, and became the subject of much gossip when he began attending major functions on the arm of Corinna Loredan — the eldest unmarried daughter of the House, who is widely known to be her grandfather's favourite and is poised to step in as his successor when he retires from his role as the leader of the House as a political entity. She currently acts as his right hand. Given that Marshall would certainly have been an inappropriate match for the lady in question, it seems obvious that he was there as a personal guard rather than a paramour, and indeed did foil two separate assassination attempts which are matters of public knowledge.

If he did serve as a body-man for the House, I suspect that the Loredans swore him to secrecy or he allowed his memories to be edited of any especially incriminating information before they parted ways, because Lucia claims that he left the House on good terms. If there had been even the slightest hint of friction, she is certain that the Venetian gossip network would have magnified it enough for her to have heard. This supposition is supported by Olivia Carmichael, who confirms that Corinna wrote him a glowing recommendation.

He did disappear from the public eye with some regularity, though that is not entirely unusual given that he does still have family in Maidstone. The magical enclave within the town is very tightly knit, however, and my friends in the area do not recall him visiting them at any point after he initially left for school. Rose McKinnon tells me that her sister-in-law has scarcely mentioned his existence, despite talking about her other family with some regularity, suggesting that they are in fact estranged, and that it was not they he visited on his absences from Venice over the past decade, but more likely friends made in the course of his post-school years.

This is pure speculation, but not perhaps as much of a stretch as it might be, given his relationship with Chernov: If he did become involved with one or more of the various anti-Statutarian and/or Gemeenschoppist groups in those years after leaving Durmstrang, taking a position in one of the most centrally-placed noble families in Venice would have put him in an excellent position to act as a spy within one of the strongest bastions of counter-Revolutionary sentiment — as would taking a position at Hogwarts, from whence he might sound out the various dispositions of Britain's nobility toward the Revolution. I have no doubt that his interest in you is genuine and has nothing to do with your political connections, but I will also not be surprised if he attempts to seek some hint from you regarding the sympathies of the House on the matter.

In case you are wondering, we do not actively support the Revolutionaries — but if the Revolution comes to Brittany, we have no interest in standing in its way, and we would welcome more collaboration between European and American educational institutions, which we suspect a Revolutionary administration might be more interested in promoting.

Regarding your suspicion that the Castle is attempting to communicate with you, it doesn't seem as mad as you seem to believe. Hogwarts Castle is commonly cited as an example of sentience arising from magical accretion. What might be wrong with it or why it would attempt to speak to you rather than Kitty or one of the other seers in the school (I presume there are several, if not any others with the degree of perspective Kitty suspects you might have), I couldn't possibly guess, but as a general hypothesis for the origin of your nightmares and inability to sleep, it seems sound to me.

I realise that it has been several days and you may already have thought of this, but the easiest way to test this hypothesis might be to speak to the Sorting Hat. I understand that it is integrated into the wards, and has certainly been present to observe the development of the Castle's sentience. It routinely refuses to speak to researchers seeking a deeper understanding of the nature of sentience and its development, but it very well might be more willing to speak to a student who is trying to help that sentience, in whatever way it requires.

As long as you remain mindful of your own health, I suppose I cannot object to you attempting to help a sentience no one else can, but I entreat you to in fact remain mindful, and not dismiss your own suffering as insignificant compared to that you are attempting to alleviate. I have also written a letter to Lady Margolotta asking her to keep an eye on you, since I imagine you spend more time in the Hogwarts Library than anywhere else, and she likely sees you more regularly than anyone else.

At the moment it seems there is little more I can do to help than to wish you Fortune's favour, but if you think of something, please do not hesitate to ask.

Always yours,

Caelia

3 September 1938

Dear Aunt Caelia,

Much has happened since last I wrote, which, as I begin this response, strikes me as rather odd. I am not accustomed to interacting with people and events outside of my studies, so having news to share is a rather novel experience.

I confess I am surprised to hear that Healer Turner was so terribly distressed in the wake of our meeting. She hid it well when we were speaking.

I must also confess that I was wrong. I am in fact a seer. I did not speak to the mind-healer, and I have no intention of pursuing a grounding potion, as it is my understanding such things invariably have side effects and must be taken continuously. While it is somewhat annoying to be aware of the next half-minute or so of potential interactions within the range of my physical senses at all times, it is only troublesome in crowds, and not debilitatingly so.

Perhaps if Healer Turner is so determined to help me that she felt it necessary to badger you over the matter, she can be convinced to write me a note exempting me from attending meals in the Great Hall. That alone would be a great improvement, both in terms of avoiding the misery which is hundreds of children congregating in a single room, and in terms of avoiding unwanted attention regarding my eating habits. I have been attempting to design an amulet to deflect attention from the fact that I normally do not eat at meals, while still allowing certain nosey persons to register my presence and therefore minimise concerns for my welfare, but I have been continually distracted by other matters and simply being excused would accomplish the same end.

I will ask her this afternoon — I am planning to apologise for doubting her expertise after my detention with Professor Dumbledore, not least because I suspect he will do his utmost to frustrate and annoy me and I expect that the atmosphere of the Hospital Wing will be a welcome respite.

I was writing my homework by hand, yes, but my friend Tom and I discovered yesterday that one can simply cast the Copyist's Friend charm on a page, then pour ink on it and, with sufficient clarity of intent, let the spell rearrange the ink into letters entirely autonomously.

Yes, you read that correctly: I have actually managed to befriend someone my own age, for the first time ever. Technically, I suppose, he is slightly older than I am — he is a second-year Slytherin — but not on the order of decades, at least.

His name is Tom Riddle. He is a muggleborn orphan from the East End of London. We met while he was in detention (replacing borrowing cards in the Library) for taking a trunk-load of books home for the summer in blatant defiance of school policy, which I believe was entirely justified given his circumstances. He is a legilimens and a parselmouth, which has led his yearmates to speculate that Tom is in fact a half-blood whose mother was callously used and abandoned by some wizard before he was born.

To be perfectly clear, this is not to say that they consider him to be a sympathetic character. He is rather despised by his classmates for being poor, common, muggleborn, and better than they are at magic. I expect you will receive a letter from Draco soon if you haven't already, warning you that I'm associating with a creepy, dark-minded legilimens. You may rest assured that I am quite capable of defending myself against him if he should attempt to use legilimency against me. He is, after all, entirely untrained. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why his yearmates find him creepy.

The fact that he has been understandably ruthless in staking a place for himself within Slytherin House and may have tendencies toward dark-mindedness matter far less to me than that he is obviously intelligent, talented, and determined to improve himself and his lot in life. He took firsts in every subject save Transfiguration last year. (The fact that he didn't top that subject as well is almost certainly down to the fact that he also has an antagonistic relationship with Professor Dumbledore. If I were to judge him by the quality of his enemies, that alone would be a sterling endorsement.) It is my understanding that he has been practising freeform magic for years, so he cannot be considered to have known nothing before beginning school, but he certainly had no formal training.

He is the person who convinced me that I must be a seer, testing whether my habitual, compulsive predictions of immediate events around myself was, as I have always assumed, based on logically extrapolating potential developments from what I already know about the situation and the individuals involved or legitimately precognitive, by legilimising me and proceeding to alter my expectations by intending to make nonsensical statements I could not possibly have logically predicted he would make.

He has also convinced me that I am most likely not metaphysically human, given that I do not sleep in the same way as humans — he says that my experience of "sleep" is more akin to projecting my consciousness elsewhere than dreaming as humans experience it, much less true unconsciousness — and humans categorically cannot process as much information as I do on a regular basis, much less absorb an entire magical language without trouble.

We presume that the reason the Beauxbatonnais evaluators suggested that I, as a potential omniglot, ought to be kept away from parselmouths is that a normal human would sustain some degree of mental trauma from getting caught in the feedback loop which is currently the most exhilarating thing I have ever experienced. (Though that does, of course, assume that omniglottalism as a talent manifests similarly in humans as it does for me. I confess I know practically nothing about the talent beyond that it is blood-mediated and difficult to isolate.) I might go so far as to describe it as transcendent.

Please keep it quiet that I am most likely not human. I don't know what I am, and I don't want Elladora to overreact in some way. Nor do I wish to give Draco and Felix the satisfaction of saying "I told you so," probably repeatedly.

He also proposed a very simple and obvious solution to my sleeping problem, which I had not considered simply because it is terribly unconventional. It simply hadn't occurred to me that I could sleep somewhere outside the Castle. It's hardly as though I don't know enough magic to render a makeshift shelter comfortable and ward off vermin and predators.

We spent last night out at a long-abandoned ritual circle in the forest. Tom joined me because he finds dreamwalking wards stifling, and also has been unable to properly ward his dorm room against his yearmates, several of whom regularly attack him — initially for refusing to give them the respect they feel they are owed as members of the nobility and retaliating against their mockery in much the same way he would have against would-be bullies at his muggle orphanage, though the conflict has since escalated significantly. That he apparently finds me fascinating and would prefer to spend every waking moment in my company if possible was probably also a contributing factor. I suspect that he's never met anyone else who is willing to let him openly legilimise them, much less communicate with him telepathically.

In any case, nothing untoward occurred, and I actually had a restful night's sleep(!), so all impropriety and unconventionality aside, I fully intend to continue sleeping out in the forest with him until I can find a way to communicate to the Castle that I'm trying to help, but I need it to stop drowning me. Possibly after as well, if the reason I'm unable to drift inside the Castle is due to wards preventing extraplanar entities crossing over within its walls.

The suggestion to use an environmental charm to foil Cosette and her coterie in their attempts to torment me is a good one, though redundant at the moment as I am currently planning to use unobtrusive charms whenever we are not actually in lessons, in order to accustom my yearmates to the idea that there is nothing unusual about me disappearing for long stretches of time when I leave the Castle to sleep. Well, nothing suspicious, at least.

I note you mentioned that seers tend to find food prepared by others to be disgusting, so I am planning on going foraging for apples and walnuts and so on later this afternoon to test whether wild, gathered food is less terrible, after speaking with Healer Turner.

Unfortunately, I've come to the realisation that the Mundane Realist perspective on conjuration may be accurate (albeit not in the way they argue) in the very specific case of maintaining and altering a conjuration which otherwise ought to have expired, as is apparently the case with the majority of the Castle's "physical" construction. As I will share this theory with Professor Dumbledore over my dead body and have yet to actually speak to any of the other transfiguration masters here, I would welcome any suggestions you might have regarding transfiguration masters who might be interested in writing a collaborative article, who would both take me seriously and not simply take the idea and publish it as their own.

Preferably not one of my cousins. I would like to avoid any appearances of having been handed an academic career by the House, and I suspect it would be all too easy for prospective colleagues to dismiss me if my early publications can be attributed to older, more experienced scholars with a familial incentive to wish to see me succeed.

Regarding the Castle, the problem, as best Tom and I can tell, is that over the centuries, people have used real materials to repair the structure or make additions to it, which the Castle cannot properly integrate. Solving the problem will almost certainly necessitate dissecting the wards and their operation in order to determine how one is meant to integrate new conjurations (which function must exist, I refuse to believe that the Founders failed to account for the possibility of damage when they designed the Castle, but which seems to have been lost or forgotten at some point in the past few centuries), do so, and vanish the physical materials. Given that I do not have the necessary access to make alterations to the wards and know very little about the history of wardcrafting, much less the particulars of the discipline in the Tenth Century, that is much more easily said than done.

Speaking to the Sorting Hat is an excellent suggestion; it certainly had not already occurred to me. Thank you.

Thank you for the brief on Professor Marshall as well. You needn't have gone to the trouble, especially to pull it together so quickly, undoubtedly at the expense of other plans for your time yesterday, but it is appreciated nevertheless.

If he is a spy for the Gemeenschoppists, do you think I ought to warn him that his motives are so easily deduced? I won't — I shouldn't like for him to think the House means to leverage the information to influence him in some way, and there is no proof in any case — but I do find it somewhat amusing that it took less than forty-eight hours and only a handful of meetings with various acquaintances for you to reach that conclusion, and rather desperately wish to know whether it is correct. Perhaps I shall attempt to sound him out on the matter.

It does not sound as though you have any intention of warning our allies among the British nobility that they ought to be suspicious of Professor Marshall. Why not? I was given to understand that one of the strongest reasons other Houses ally with us is that we share information and intelligence with them. If it is only that you do not have sufficient proof to warrant doing so, please tell me so that I can avoid telling you whether and what I manage to discover about his motives, thereby potentially placing you in a position wherein you are obligated to tell them, because I like him and do not want him to be removed from the school.

I realise that this is even more premature than hoping that Lady Margolotta will recommend me to the University — she has not mentioned the possibility yet, though she did warn me that they cannot accept students under the age of seventeen, suggesting that she would be willing to do so were I old enough: rest assured, I am not disheartened — but if Professor Marshall is ousted from his position here, I may have to join the Revolution in order to apply to be his apprentice. I haven't exactly committed to anything because I haven't yet found a way to communicate with the Castle, but I would prefer to finish helping it before abandoning it to conquer Europe. I imagine revolutions are one of those projects one begins with the expectation that there will someday be time to return to one's other projects, and then finds consuming one's entire life.

Having actually gotten some rest (finally), and with the project of helping the Castle to keep me busy (in lieu of lessons in which I might actually learn something), I think I can say with a degree of confidence approaching certainty that I will be able to make it through the term at the very least, barring unforeseen developments. I cannot, however, promise that I will at any point stop deflecting my classmates' attention from me the vast majority of the time. Children continue to be insufferable. (Except for Tom. He's acceptable. Though I suppose that it is debatable whether child legilimens ought to be considered children at all.)

I must put this letter to paper if I intend to send it off before my detention, so I suppose I will leave it at: Best wishes. I will let you know how speaking to the Hat goes, if I am indeed able to procure a meeting with it.

Your niece,

Druella

Notes:

Caelia's friends, whom she spent the day visiting to ask about Marshall include: several former colleagues in Durmstrang's Alchemy and Healing Departments; an apothecary in Maidstone who likes to gossip about his neighbours; Lucia Morosini, a Venetian noblewoman who is probably a cousin of someone who married into House Rosier or something; Olivia Carmichael, a cousin and one of her friends on the Hogwarts Board of Governors; and Rose McKinnon, Marshall's sister's sister-in-law, who is probably also related to the Rosiers in some way, because that's just how Magical Britain is.

None of them find it at all suspicious that Caelia is asking about Marshall. He is a new professor at Hogwarts, and it is not surprising that she might look into a professor whom a child of her house is so taken with after her first week of lessons, just to be certain that he's going to be a good influence on Dru (whom Caelia would describe as brilliant, but very sheltered and impressionable, as children who have never spent much time away from home do tend to be). This is a perfectly reasonable, non-suspicious reason to be asking about this guy which has nothing to do with politics whatsoever, and does not in any way suggest that she is suspicious of Marshall's political motives. No one is likely to think that the British nobility are on to him already and either warn him or try to oust him over the matter.

Tom and his history and potential relatives are somewhat more difficult to research, because Caelia may know someone everywhere, but no one knows a damn thing about this apparent muggleborn who was raised in a bloody orphanage. An apparent muggleborn, raised in a muggle orphanage, in a poor part of London, who also happens to be a mind-mage. The obvious question is, why the hell hasn't Tom been removed and fostered with a magical family, under these circumstances? (The obvious answer is general incompetence on the part of the Ministry or that someone has been bribed to leave the natural child of someone with money and power languishing in obscurity.)

Equally obviously, Caelia has no intention of forcing Tom to go back to a muggle orphanage, for the good of both Tom and the muggles it would be only too easy for him to manipulate and/or torture, and in the long run, other mages as well. Her professional training is as a forensic alchemist, but she has been managing House Rosier for decades, she knows enough about people in general and kids in particular to know that leaving a kid in a shitty situation like that, exiled from magic every summer as well as forced back into poverty and deprivation, when literally anyone could dramatically improve his life by taking the slightest bit of interest, will only encourage him to believe that the entire world is against him and come to resent and hate everything about Magical Britain. A resentful, hateful legilimens whom Druella thinks is intelligent and talented and Draco believes to be dark-minded and possibly sadistic, who was already practising freeform magic before he was invited to Hogwarts and is determined enough to learn and better his circumstances that he stole books to study over the summer, doesn't at all sound like he has the makings of a malicious sorcerer with a grudge against the society which failed him at every possible turn. (⸮)