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

Chapter 19

10 September 1938

Dear Druella,

You may not be altogether in a rush to have answers to your questions, but I find I simply must ask a few of my own. This note will, however, be brief, because I still have not caught up. If Jo wouldn't let me answer my post, one would think that she might have thought to address the more pressing, less delicate matters herself! (I also do not truly have time to waste complaining, but sometimes one simply cannot help oneself. That girl, honestly.)

Creating self-replicating curses is still highly inadvisable, even if it is done with the goal of eliminating the common cold and thus arguably a service to humanity the likes of which the world has never known. (Do not write a self-replicating curse targeting the common cold for me. I know it sounds as though I want one, and I actually rather do, but releasing another self-replicating curse into the world is never a good idea. Ever.)

I find it somewhat reassuring that the idea of tampering with someone's ability to cast magic is an uncomfortable one which you do not care to so much as think about. I find it less reassuring that you think you could, though I am not truly surprised. I love you, and I trust that you would never intentionally hurt someone for your own gain. But some of the things you theoretically might be able to do absolutely terrify me. (I am suddenly reminded of something Josephine mentioned that you had asked her about perhaps three years ago, regarding Gamp's Fifth Exception. How theoretical was that idea?)

Least reassuring of all is the phrase: "[...] especially with Tom's mind magic [...]." What exactly did you mean by that?

This "dreamer" — is it an independent consciousness influencing your own? Should I be concerned that you are becoming something like an avatar of an alien consciousness? Regardless of whether I should be, I am. I have already written to Ruby and Erik, because despite your sanguine attitude, this does seem like a matter of some urgency to me! Truth be told, it is rather upsetting to learn. I find myself wondering, entirely against my will, whether you will continue to feel the same reluctance to alter the world around yourself in ways humans cannot as you continue to grow and develop on a trajectory which I imagine will only carry you farther from the experience of we mundane mortals.

I have taken some time away from this letter to regain a calmer, more rational state of mind, and upon revision I have decided to leave the latter half of the previous paragraph in. It is one thing to speculate in the abstract on whether you might be possessed by a passenger demon. It struck me quite differently to see you so casually confirm the fact. I owe it to you to be honest in my reactions, rather than hiding my unease behind the distance of letters, and I do not wish to give you the mistaken impression that others will accept you being "an interdimensional jellyfish" as easily and with as little apprehension as you and Mister Riddle seem to have done.

Please keep this revelation to yourself to the greatest reasonable extent. I truly do not wish to see you come to harm at the hands of frightened idiots who consider anyone too unlike themselves to be inherently dangerous.

Olivia is currently put out with me for having "snubbed" her by refusing to attend a semi-formal event to which she invited Luc and myself with only two days' notice, but the event which truly precipitated our falling-out is that I married her baby brother. It's been forty years now, and she still thinks he could have done better.

Reifying a spell is akin to teaching Magic something new, ingraining a pattern into the fabric of the universe, like a river carving its channel into the Earth. It isn't immutable, and must be reinforced over time to gain a degree of permanence. Reifying a conjured object is taking magic — a magical construct which only temporarily appears to be a physical object — and changing its nature to truly be that of physical matter, not unlike permanently transfiguring an object, or making a permanent change to a person's fundamental identity. Conceptually speaking, they are very different actions.

Regarding your unwritten rules, are there consequences for breaking these rules? Beyond you feeling guilty about having done so, of course.

Perhaps whoever wrote the play didn't like to portray Aradia as flawed and human. Her narrative arc was one of ascension to godhood. Using soulfire to keep a child alive for years on end speaks to a degree of desperation which simply wouldn't have fit the story as the playwright clearly wished to tell it. And in all honesty, it likely would have put most audiences off her character. I am not surprised that the Chronicler considered allowing their son to die to be a mercy. The idea of keeping a child alive with soulfire strikes me, at least, as deeply disturbing and terribly unnatural. Does it not you?

I can only imagine you're being facetious about invoking Aradia, given that last I knew you 'didn't hold with' gods any more than you do with Fate and Fortune, but on the off chance that you are not, yes, I imagine Elladora would object to you practising high ritual, whether in her home or anywhere else.

The core of a mind mage's aura is visible to me the same as anyone else's. I tend not to notice when they extend their awareness beyond their "own" mind-space, but my mage-sight is not especially sensitive. I would not be surprised if someone with hypersensitive mage-sight or an elemental affinity for ambient magic were normally aware of the movement of peripheral extensions of mind-mages' awareness through the magic around themselves.

Can you not tell yourself? I would have expected that you could, if such a thing is possible. The bleed-off from a perfect spell is theoretically less disruptive to ambient magic than a mind-mage extending their aura through it. If you can tell the difference between perfect and zero-residual spells, I would expect you to recognise practically any other magic active around you.

Yours always,

Caelia

10 September 1938

Dear Aunt Caelia,

Forgive me for replying to your points out of order, but this seems to me to be the most important point in need of an immediate response:

The symbiote is not an independent consciousness. Yes, the Hat referred to it as a consciousness native to the Void, but it also calls it a "dreamer" because it bonds with a dreamer (a spirit-walker who steps into the Void) and develops with them, and time is meaningless Outside, so the pre-conscious, independent symbiote is in a way also already the conscious co-dependent dreamer-and-symbiote entity it will eventually become. I am not certain whether that makes sense to you, or if one has to experience the Void in order to understand it. In any case, my understanding is that the symbiote gains consciousness through its host. I do undoubtedly have a different perspective on life and magic than a purely mundane creature (or even other seers), but it is not as though the symbiote thinks and feels independently of my human self, and is somehow influencing me to become less human over time.

In truth, however, I am not certain whether I have a human self.

It is possible that my experience is also significantly different from most other dreamers, because I was so very young myself when I encountered it. Obviously most spirit-walkers already have fully-developed personalities of their own by the time they encounter the immature symbiote in the Void. I would not be surprised if their experience is more like the revelation and awakening that Lady Aradia supposedly experienced, and thereafter become noticeably less human in their outlook. (I do wish she had written about it herself. Yes, the Chronicler knew her well, even before she "awakened", but he didn't actually experience it.) I, on the other hand, have never had a properly human perspective on life, humans, or this plane in general, because the symbiote has always been there. "We" are a single entity. I'm not an avatar of an alien consciousness, I simply am an alien consciousness, albeit one who was raised in this plane as a human (more or less).

It is possible that I will grow into a greater degree of comfort with my ability to redefine the world and come to do so with more confidence, but I cannot imagine that I will ever be one to enact large-scale changes without thoroughly considering the consequences of doing so. Nor do I imagine that I will forget that mundane mortals are in fact persons, whose autonomy absolutely must be respected.

Regarding keeping this quiet: Do you mean to suggest that people who already find me intimidating or a threat to their sense of purpose or superiority (or whatever it is which makes Professor Dumbledore hate me so), mightn't react kindly to learning that not only am I cleverer and better at magic than they, but also literally an alien, whom they therefore needn't treat as a person, should they like to justify their persecution of me to themselves⸮

I am not offended or upset that you were uncertain and fearful on realising the potential implications of my being influenced by an alien consciousness grafted onto my soul. It seems clear from your phrasing that you were misconceptualising the nature of my "relationship" with the symbiote and its influence on me, and that you are not afraid of me, but of something you thought I might have the potential to become.

I am somewhat disappointed that you apparently have so little faith in me as to believe that simply coming to identify with humanity even less than I do now would substantially compromise my principles and moral standards, and that this would result in my becoming a danger to others. (That, at least, was how I interpreted your concern about whether I might lose my reluctance to alter the world around myself — to alter it in ways which are harmful to others.) I do, however, think that you may be overestimating how much I have ever identified with humans.

It is easy for me to accept that I am not human because despite having called myself such for the past eight years, I have never properly felt myself to be one of them. Even among those who actually believed me to be human, I have always been at best considered exceedingly peculiar, and far more often characterised as a freak. I respect humans in much the same way that I respect upyri, goblins, and veela — not because I consider them to be my people, but simply as thinking, feeling beings (theoretically) capable of intelligent communication, and therefore worthy of being treated as equals whose thoughts and feelings matter, rather than entirely disregarded.

Now, with that out of the way:

Theoretically, I do not think a self-replicating curse affecting only cold contagions would spread indefinitely. After it had affected all of the contagions within an infected human, it would burn out naturally, so I shouldn't think it would count as being released into the world in the same way as the Werewolf Curse, for example. But as I said, I have far too many other projects to work on at the moment, anyway.

Regarding disproving the Fifth Exception, I haven't done it, because it would be terribly irresponsible to prove the concept, but I'm confident enough that I could that I don't truly feel a need to test it.

I am choosing to interpret your question about the phrase "especially with Tom's mind magic" as asking how I might be able to use Tom's magic at all, rather than to what end I might use it and why it would make it easier to tamper with a person's ability to cast magic, because I do not want to think about the latter.

(Please do not mention the latter again. When people ask questions, I reflexively try to answer them. Even when I catch myself and make myself stop, I still get a bit closer to an answer every time I am reminded of the question and the fact that I haven't answered it yet, and I don't want to know the answer to this one because I have a suspicion that it would be easy, and some of the things I might theoretically be able to do terrify me, too. Please don't make me see myself as a potential monster.)

As you might suspect from repeated references to him in my letters, Tom and I have spent most of the past week together. We have, of course, still been attending our separate lessons, and take an hour or so in the mornings and evenings to return to our dormitories and make a point of being seen there, as well as to fetch clean clothing and in Tom's case, to make an appearance at meals. Most of our free time, however, is spent together, whether in the Library or my study (so far as I can tell, no one is using that room — so far no one has objected to my adding a simple ward to keep other students out) or out on the grounds.

As Tom prefers to remain in mental contact in order to eavesdrop on my senses and experience of the world (the ridiculous boy insists that it is more comfortable spreading himself across two bodies, as though one isn't more than enough, honestly!) and I have quickly come to appreciate the advantages of communicating telepathically (namely, that it is impossible to misunderstand each other's intent, and I needn't explain background information at length in order to make a given point, because it is all connected in my mind, but attempting to condense it into something linear and articulate it for others is rather like attempting to draw the Castle in two dimensions), you might imagine that we have spent quite a large proportion of that time in direct mental contact.

I expect it is some combination of the symbiote giving me more perspective and omniglottalism inclining me to invade others' unconscious referential knowledge in order to contextualise their words rather than a latent talent for legilimency, but it feels only natural for me to mimic Tom's legilimency to reciprocate mental contact. I cannot speak to others' experience of reciprocal legilimency, but for us it is not unlike I understand the experience of bonded twins to be.

We can each access the other's memories as though they are our own. I still have not become entirely accustomed to Tom's more naturalistic system of "organisation". He is one of those annoying people who insists that he knows exactly where everything is and doesn't care whether anyone else can find anything, and doesn't want me to re-organise his memory structure into something worthy of the term 'organised' because then he wouldn't be able to find anything. (This is a lie. He's perfectly capable of finding specific memories and information in my mind, and obviously I would use the same system for his. He just likes being untidy. I'm told it goes with the territory of being a twelve-year-old boy.)

We can also eavesdrop on each other's senses, both physical and magical. It is functionally impossible to tell which passing thoughts are generated by whom with our immediate awareness merged — we both react to them as though they are our own — but we retain separate loci of consciousness, enough that the idea of directing the other's attention to a specific thought or memory still has some meaning, and we are capable of disagreeing with each other. We generally each retain control of our usual bodies as well as our own magic, but we can "step aside" to let the other take control, and I suspect there is an element of mutual consent to all actions taken by either of us in either body. I accepted an oath for both of us while speaking to Professor Marshall last Thursday. (No forfeit, just an awareness-of-violation of mutual secrecy.)

I'm fairly certain that if Tom were to legilimise someone else while we were also legilimising each other, I would be able to follow him and control the magic to manipulate the target directly. We haven't tried it as of yet, largely because we don't have anyone to use as a testing-kneazle. (Obviously I would prefer a willing testing-kneazle, for ethical reasons.)

Aunt Olivia is categorically wrong. Uncle Luc could not have done better, because there simply is no one better. Certainly not to play the role of Lady Rosier, and quite possibly in general. (Even if you do think I'm a potentially terrifying alien consciousness. (⸮))

If reifying a spell and reifying an object are conceptually very different, you're conceptualising them wrong. If reifying a spell is like digging a canal (rivers do not create their beds with intention), reifying an object is like compressing coal into a diamond. It's still carbon, the structure is just different. Giving it an identity (or altering the identity of an object or (theoretically) a person) is simply defining its new structure, impressing a new pattern on that piece of magic-as-matter, in very much the same way as impressing a new pattern into the landscape of spell realisation.

Regarding the rules, I don't know of any particular consequences for breaking them, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. The rules are the way magic works in this plane. The absolute worst-case scenario would be that flouting them too blatantly and/or too often might somehow destabilise the plane or the nature of magic here. I don't think reifying the occasional small conjuration is exactly likely to break the mundane universe, though, so as far as I know, no. It just feels like I'm being a bad guest, deliberately disobeying the tacitly understood rules of the household, and expecting to get away with doing so because I'm a guest. I still don't like to.

Does keeping a child alive by feeding them soulfire rather than mundane food seem disturbing and unnatural to me? Is that a joke? Obviously it would be wrong to teach someone to steal and subsume souls to sustain themself, but if the soul-energy were freely given by someone the child loves and trusts, I would absolutely consider it a reasonable alternative. I cannot imagine a purer expression of love than to give of your own soul to sustain someone else's life. When I read the story, it struck me as sweet and beautiful, and absolutely tragic that in the end, his mother's love wasn't enough to convince him to stay in this world. I wasn't surprised, but an inevitable tragedy is still a tragedy.

I think that if I were in her position, I would rather have awakened his talent for spirit-walking early and taught him to subsume energy from the Beyond than force him to depend on me, because it seems cruel to raise a child who will never be capable of becoming truly independent of oneself. But then, I don't think she understood what she was well enough to do so. The Chronicler claimed that she believed it would be an abuse of magic to cripple his Sight, so she must have at least considered altering him in some way, and can't have objected to the idea of any alteration on principle. If she did not understand the nature of the Beyond or how she reached it, however, the idea of teaching her son to do so must have seemed impossible, and I don't think she did. Not at that point in her life, at least. She was only in her twenties when he was born. His death was the impetus for her and the Chronicler to begin travelling.

But in short, no, the idea of raising a child on soulfire is not at all disturbing to me, and seems far more natural and appealing than actually eating food. I'm not planning on deliberately pursuing metaphagy myself, but as long as no one is harmed in the process, I really don't see the problem.

I was actually only partially being facetious about the idea of invoking Lady Aradia. I still think the concept of aspects is silly, but Tom is a ritualist, insofar as a muggleborn can be a ritualist — he has managed to attract enough attention to draw a spontaneous manifestation (expressed through glamourie or soul-resonance, I expect, because surely the authorities would have intervened if he were invoking gods in a more detectable way) on multiple occasions, but he obviously hasn't performed any formal rituals. He thinks that simply speaking with her is the most reasonable course of action to acquire further information, and I am inclined to agree. At the very least, it is incredibly frustrating that she never wrote about her own experience, and I would like to know more about her.

On the other hand, however, if she truly was not an aspect, but a timeless creature of the Void, there is no guarantee that she is still a coherent entity — she may have already become one with the Void again — or that we would be able to contact her if she is. Yes, time is meaningless from the Outside, it doesn't really matter if she is no longer a coherent entity, she could easily come visit us in the here and now before decohering, regardless of when that might happen from our perspective, but we would still have to catch her attention and convince her to do so, and it seems rather unlikely that we will be able to do so. She never did respond to her followers' entreaties and prayers after taking her leave — that's the largest reason that her cult contracted so dramatically after her death.

Most of the occasions on which I have been in the presence of mind-mages, they were attempting to legilimise me, which of course I was aware of, and I have no way to know whether they were simply keeping themselves politely contained on the few other occasions I have encountered them. I cannot tell if Tom is using legilimency on someone else near me, either, but that doesn't really provide any new information. Perhaps I will ask Cousin Oscar to help us experiment over Yule.

I love you, too, you know. Knowing now that I am in fact an alien, rather than simply an exceedingly peculiar human, doesn't change that, or anything else, really.

Your niece,

Druella

Post-script:

Dear Lady Rosier,

Dru thinks it's a good idea to tell you about the legilimency thing we've been doing, despite both Marshall and Turner being decidedly uncomfortable about it. Mostly because she's just plain bad at keeping secrets, but also because she thinks you'll be less concerned if we don't try to hide it. I'm not saying we should have lied or anything, just maybe not have laid out all the details so soon. As Marshall said, other people are going to think this is maybe a little fast.

She trusts that you won't try to separate us, because you took the news of her being an interdimensional jellyfish well enough, and that's much weirder, really, but I don't think "I had to take a break to regain my composure" exactly says "that's nice, dear, in other news..." if you get me, no matter how you phrased your letter.

Maybe she's right and I don't need to say it, but don't break that trust.

She plays it cold, but "I am not offended or upset" doesn't exactly say "I wasn't upset" either. She was. She's annoyed with me for telling you, because she doesn't want to make a fuss because feelings are involuntary and irrational and shouldn't be important, and she doesn't think this is necessary, and she thinks that it's insulting to doubt that you would do the right thing. She doesn't want to imply that she believes that you would ever intentionally do anything to hurt her. And she really doesn't.

To be honest, I don't really think you would, either. Not just to see her hurt. But because you think you're protecting her, or because she plays it too damn cold so's you don't know it's going to hurt her, sure. She thinks that it should be clear as day that allowing us to stay together is in her best interests, and can't imagine you might see different, much less that you might tear us apart because you think that would be better for her in the long term. (She's made a friend, how could anyone possibly object to that? Isn't this why she was sent here in the first place?) She didn't even wonder if it's maybe going to be a little concerning to assure you that she's not being possessed and influenced by a demon, she just sort of is one, but to tell you ten seconds later that she sort of is being possessed and influenced by me, or that we're certainly not less dangerous and potentially terrifying together than she was before she met me.

We aren't hurting each other or anyone else, and we're both happier together. I know from her letters it probably seems like I need her a hell of a lot more than she needs me, but I don't think you can possibly understand how lonely she's been. She doesn't entirely understand how lonely she's been, just that using legilimency to communicate as we've been doing eases a weight she didn't realise was there until it was gone, and it's such an agonising relief as makes her want to cry. She thinks it's cruel that normal people expect me to keep to myself all the time, but she doesn't seem to see that it's just as awful for an omniglot to be so bounden by her own queer obsessions that she can't bloody well talk to people, when communication's their whole thing. Worse, even, because it's her own mind making her miserable.

She says I don't know you, it will be fine, I'm being ridiculous, but I know people, and I don't want you to "disappoint" her again. She wouldn't rather you'd lied about being upset about the jellyfish thing, and she knows feelings are a reaction, not a choice, but it still felt like a betrayal, like finding out you'd been lying to her, realising that no matter how much you say you love and trust her, that trust is not absolute. Separating us, on the other hand, absolutely would be a choice, and one which would entirely break her faith in your love for and understanding of her. And that might just break her.

She has dozens of relatives, but you're the only one she truly believes supports her and wants her to be happy, and the only one she holds a familial degree of affection for. She rationalised your gut reaction to the Hat confirming she's not human as understandable based on a potential misconception, but she won't be able to forgive you if you take her away from me. If you truly do value her happiness and your relationship with her, you'll trust her judgement and let her stay here.

That's all I wanted to say, even if it is maybe a bad first impression.

Sincerely,

Tom Riddle

Post- Post-Script:

As I said, all twelve-year-old boys are clearly absurdly overly protective. I don't believe that addendum was necessary, but to be clear, I would indeed prefer to stay here, both for Tom and for the Castle, which I promised to try to help and cannot in good conscience abandon.

Dru

12 September 1938

Dear Druella and Tom,

If we're now putting the most urgent points at the top, I presume the one causing you the most anxiety at the moment is whether I have any intention of attempting to separate you. I don't imagine you would have included that post-script if it were not both true and more of a concern to Druella than she attempted to pretend, as well as to Tom.

I do not.

I was not aware of how emotionally invested Druella has already become in your relationship, but it was fairly obvious in the first letter in which Tom was mentioned that this is the direction in which said relationship would inevitably develop. I cannot deny that going from strangers to soulmates within a week does seem unnervingly fast to me, and the idea of willingly merging my consciousness with a legilimens to the extent you describe makes me inherently uncomfortable, but I am well-accustomed to the idea that one's own perceptions, priorities, and expectations cannot always be applied to the decisions and relationships of others, and I am not a mind-mage. If you are capable of reciprocal legilimency, I imagine that you are equally capable of affecting each other's minds, whereas I would be at a decided disadvantage in such a mind-merge.

"I had to take a break to regain my composure" doesn't say "I wasn't upset," it says "I've considered the matter and the reasons it elicited such a strong emotional response from me, examined those reasons, come to realise that I was making unwarranted assumptions based on a worst-case scenario, and am attempting to suspend judgement until I have gathered more information and more fully understand the situation." It also says, "You know I love you and that I know you far better than nearly anyone else, and this was my first reaction. Consider that before revealing this to anyone who has no particular attachment to you and does not have reason to believe that you do not pose an inherent danger to them."

I will not pretend that my initial reaction to the news (from Draco) that Druella had befriended an extremely talented, extremely intelligent, potentially dark-minded legilimens was not one of concern, nor that her cheerful admission that the two of you were already experimenting with the potential applications of combining your various magical talents and that you had decided to move out of the Castle together within a few hours of your first meeting was terribly comforting. Between her letters and certain comments from Lady Margolotta, however, it seemed clear that your association was mutually beneficial, and I truly am pleased that she has managed to form a social connection with one of her peers. I can hardly complain that that connection is somewhat more thorough than anyone expected when the decision was made to send her out into the world to practise interacting with her age cohort. (I sincerely hope that the two of you are not emulating a twin bond for the express purpose of horrifying Elladora⸮)

In any case, I suspect that if I intended to separate you, the opportune moment to do so would have been immediately upon receiving the letter alerting me to the fact that you had decided to move out to the forest together. Obviously attempting to do so now would do more harm than good. The details of your situation made that more than clear, even without Tom's additional clarification. I do appreciate that Dru decided to reveal those details, rather than hide them, as the latter would have implied whenever I eventually learned of the extent of your relationship — at Yule, I expect — that you had been doing something of which Druella suspected I would disapprove.

That would most certainly have made a worse first impression than making an ultimately unnecessary attempt to protect Druella, which I suspect Tom well knew would actually form a relatively good first impression, even if his primary motivation was defensive self-interest in preventing the House making any efforts to come between the two of you. Though I suppose at a certain point there is very little difference between self-interest and shared interest, no?

By the by, Tom, your warning was actually very well-executed. I was not aware of how acutely lonely and isolated Druella feels, or how important our relationship is to her, though perhaps I should have been. I certainly cannot think of anyone else in our House whom I might expect her to rely on for emotional support. I am absolutely certain that she would not have allowed you to append that post-script if it were not entirely true and accurate, and I am honestly uncertain even now whether "she won't be able to forgive you if you take her away from me" is meant to suggest that you would somehow ensure that she could not, as punishment for taking her from you, or if it was simply a factual observation of the likely emotional consequences of such an action, described in terms predicated on the fact that were I to intervene, I would naturally take her away from Hogwarts, while leaving you behind. Please allow me to reiterate exactly how much I look forward to making your acquaintance in person.

You needn't fear that I will attempt to separate you. I actually expect that Tom will be a humanising influence on Druella, and House Rosier can always use more individuals with a talent for interacting with other people. Especially if they're clever enough to keep up, which it sounds as though Tom is. I will, however, also reiterate: Do try not to break each other, please.

Now, with that out of the way:

It is a relief to hear that the symbiote is not an independent mind influencing yours. It is somewhat less of a relief to see you so easily decide to identify as non-human, though I suppose I cannot blame you for doing so, given the lack of acceptance shown toward you from practically every corner, and it is reassuring to know that you still consider mundane mortals to be persons, regardless of whether you consider yourself one of us.

You are correct that I was conceiving of the symbiote as some sort of alien consciousness overtaking your soul, rather than an intrinsic part of your soul which is fully integrated into your person and has been developing with you for years, and that I was concerned about what its hypothetical motives might be and the degree of hypothetical influence it might hold over you, both now and going forward. As noted above, I left in my initial reaction simply to illustrate that even those who know and love and trust you best in the world are not likely to react positively to such an unexpected revelation.

Well, I suppose Madeleine Blanchet would probably only ask whether being an alien affects your ability to do a pirouette en pointe, and then as it does not, why you even bothered to bring it up when you could be practising said pirouettes. Anyone else, however, would likely have a stronger, more negative reaction.

As it seems I was not clear: I was not so much concerned that coming to identify with humanity less would compromise your principles and moral standards, but that an external consciousness with entirely alien motives might influence you to begin acting in ways which might seem natural and harmless to you under its influence, but which might have negative peripheral effects on those around you, simply due to the consequences of widespread use of magics which are not intrinsic to this plane.

Theoretically, the danger of such a self-replicating curse being released lies in the strengthening of the contagion population, should the chosen mechanism of destruction not affect all of them for one reason or another; the possibility of the curse having peripheral effects on the infected human; and the possibility of the instabilities inherent in a self-replicating curse resulting in target- or effect-shifts, including affecting more complex organisms and inversions making the target contagion stronger and more virulent. The Werewolf Curse is actually one of the more stable self-replicating curses, given the soul-magic element.

Regarding the Fifth Exception, I did expect that to be your answer, though that you are certain enough of your ability to disprove it that you do not feel a need to do so is perhaps more concerning than anything else you've told me in the past week.

Given my familiarity with your standards of organisation and tidiness, I'm quite certain that if you are willing to explore his mind at all and not entirely horrified by the state of its organisation, Tom's mind is actually exceptionally tidy compared to the vast majority of other individuals — as one might expect of a mind-mage. My understanding is that they tend to have more self-awareness than non-legilimens when it comes to the organisational structure of their own memories and so on.

Your reification metaphor breaks down because you are equating a physical change with an alchemical change. Not the coal to a diamond, I understand the "compression" parallel, from the standard conjuration model, but because permanently investing an object with an identity where it had none is directly analogous to altering the identity of an object, which might be the relative orientation of the carbon atoms, but might just as easily be the type of atoms, say changing a quartz crystal into a diamond. Changing the identity of a thing is by definition alchemical.

Unless, I suppose, you meant to imply that you consider changing the way the magic is "arranged" to form the physical particles within an atom and the alchemical properties between them to be no different from changing the physical arrangement of the atoms or the metaphysical impressing of channelling pathways, in which case I have nothing to add aside from, those are very different by the laws of mundane metaphysics. Which, I suppose, would be why it feels like "breaking the rules".

Attempting to wrap my mind around this is giving me a headache. If you haven't found a testing-kneazle by then, you can legilimise me and explain it over Yule.

I suppose it truly shouldn't surprise me that you find the idea of supporting yourself with metaphagy to be more appealing than supporting yourself by eating food. I suspect that I might regret suggesting this, but it also seems better to get out in front of it before the two of you discover it on your own and do something terminally ill-considered: If Tom can follow you out into the Void consciously using legilimency, he might very well be able to subsume magic directly from the Beyond and share it with you as soulfire.

Legilimency is, after all, considered a sub-discipline of Subsumption for a reason. I am not telling you this as encouragement to try it, I am in fact telling you this because I believe it reasonably likely that you might come across the idea yourselves in relatively short order, and because I want to warn you that you absolutely should NOT try it before you realise the possibility and attempt it without any further consideration.

Attempting to subsume and integrate too much external magic too quickly can have catastrophic effects on one's fundamental identity, and it is a notoriously addictive discipline. Free subsumption in particular is highly intuitive and reputedly very tricky to learn, even with a teacher. It is also an anathema discipline. You absolutely should not attempt to figure it out through trial and error based on whatever vague mentions have made it into any books you might find on mind magic or soul magic, and especially not before fully coming into your power.

Which aspect(s) precisely has(/have) taken an active interest in Tom? And what on Earth was he doing to attract their attention in a muggle orphanage?

No, knowing that Druella is preternatural doesn't change much of anything, really, once the shock of learning the fact has passed. Also, it is one's choices which make one a hero or a monster, not one's potential. There is no one I would better trust to hold the potential that Druella does, and I can only hope that Tom knows people well enough to catch and counter any attempts others might make to manipulate you into using that potential to their ends, as they come to realise exactly how dangerous and potentially terrifying the two of you are.

Yours always,

Caelia

Post-Script:

The annual conference on law-enforcement and forensic magic is being held in Cairo this year, so I am leaving tomorrow morning and will be in Egypt through next Tuesday or Wednesday. Josephine has been instructed to forward anything urgent, but she is also aware that I prefer she not read my personal correspondence, so if you require a prompt response, please note that it is urgent on the outside of the letter.

14 September 1938

Dear Aunt Caelia,

Thank you for your reassurances. I did not think it likely that you would object to our friendship at this juncture, legilimency or no, but explicit confirmation is appreciated.

Please do not feel too badly over not having noticed that I was lonely at home. I would not have said that I was before coming here and meeting Tom, and suddenly not being lonely.

Tom says that you were meant not to be able to tell if that was a threat. It was, but he didn't believe when he made it that he would ever have had to fulfil it because he knows that I would never forgive you all on my own if you were to try to withdraw me to separate us. In all honesty, however, I would probably refuse to leave the Castle, too.

Tom would like me to ask what exactly you meant by, "House Rosier can always use more individuals with a talent for interacting with other people."

I have already told him that it almost certainly means that we will be declaring him a ward of the House at Yule, but he doesn't believe me, because it would be insane for you to offer to practically adopt some random muggleborn sight unseen, less than two weeks after he and I met. He knows that it used to be relatively commonplace to offer patronage or adopt muggleborns, especially clever, talented muggleborns, but he simply doesn't believe that could be what you meant, because he's a creepy lunatic to whom good things don't simply happen.

I'm glad we have all that sorted out, then, about the symbiote.

That in fact sounds exactly like a way in which Madame might announce that she believes I am ready to move up to pointe. Louis will probably simply say he knew it all along, because he likes me far too much for me to have ever been human.

I shall hold you to that offer to be a testing-kneazle, even if we do find another volunteer before Yule. One can never have too many test-cases, after all.

Regarding subsumption, Tom asks how different it could possibly be to subsume magic from the Beyond as compared to subsuming emotions off of people or drawing in and integrating ambient magic, because he's been doing the former for years, and the latter since last summer (albeit unintentionally — the magical atmosphere is thinner in London than here in the Valley; he was attempting to simply draw more magic to himself, only to discover that if he holds onto it for too long, it will become indistinguishable from his own magic).

I've spoken to Hecate and Melinoë, who might also be Hecate, kind of? I don't know, she is and she isn't. If you know anything about her, you can probably guess I was having fun with a couple of the other orphans. Drake told you I'm an evil demon-child, right? Hecate, I was sort of doing a thing a few years back — a ritual I made up, I guess you'd call it — trying to make it easier to do not-accidental magic, before I knew that wands existed, and I guess she noticed and thought it was worth it to come show me a couple of things. It wasn't a real go*, even if Dru thinks the traditionalist blokes would get a rat over it.**

Aye, Dru will keep me on the straight and narrow, and I'll keep her away from Horace Slughorn. Easy enough, as she's spent about half her free hours lately in a room no one else can get in.

The wardstone chamber really is amazing. Well, eavesdropping on Dru anywhere in the Castle is pretty amazing — not quite like seeing magic, but more sort of feeling it moving around her — but there especially, because the patterns in the aether are like the land breathing and the Castle's heartbeat, and it's beautiful. Words can't really show you, so let us know if this works:

[Touch here]

(We don't actually need a response, we just wanted to make sure Josephine would forward this letter so you could test the memory thing before the magic leached out of the reservoir rune — I've got to do something to entertain myself while Dru's downstairs.)

Also let us know how your presentation goes, and everything new and exciting in spell reconstruction. I have to teach my section how to do the Trigger-Drop Jinx tomorrow, but I'll save the story of the debacle (which I am quite certain it will be, it is inevitable) for when you get back.

Your niece,

Druella (and Tom)

* terribly important and/or impressive

** lose their composure and act a bit mad about it

^ Dru doesn't want you to be confused about my muggle gutter-rat slang, so she has included a glossary. Also, she is so very certain that you're going to adopt me that she has simply declared me to be your niece as well. That is what the farewell seems to imply, isn't it? Though, truth to tell, I think I'd rather stay an orphan than have to call Elladora 'Mum'.