Disclaimer in previous chapters.
A/N: For those of you who read my Kneazle-story - fear not! I shall update within a fortnight. I have just recently had my first computer access in about two weeks, HUGE family reunion! Met people I didn't even know I was related to... Anyways, thank you to Drix and all you lovely people who review - you know who you are!▬▬♦▬▬
She slept deeply, the sleep of the exhausted, and she was. The day's emotional and physical toll had been telling, not to mention the weeks of insomnia leading up to the revelation. So when she woke, looked at the clock, and read 10:30 instead of two or three or four, she grinned fit to break her face.
Sarah went through her morning ablutions quietly, not quite ready to alert the rest of the household to her state of consciousness and FAR from prepared to face her father. He would KNOW, and there was no way that so many shocking truths could be unsaid. In spite of Karen's reassurances there was some part of Sarah - the same part that still cried over Linda's absence - that feared his disgust, his rejection.
11:30 found the teenager washed, dressed, and pacing her bedroom irritably. She knew that Karen would leave her alone until she was ready to come out, a fact that she both appreciated and despaired of. On this morning of all morning she desperately needed an extra kick to get out of this blue funk.
Suddenly exhausted she slid onto the edge of her bed, unconsciously leaning against the same post that Jareth had so casually utilized. An abominable cocktail of nerves/anticipation/fear/anger/worry pumped through her veins, making her twitch with the urge to move. Her eyes flickered around her room: too pumped to read, too old to play, what to do... what to do?
Her lips formed the words before her brain could even transmit the request, it was instinctual: "Hoggle? I need you."
There was a soft shimming in the air before the dwarf, fox, dog, and beast fell into her room with an inaudible thump
. They reorganized themselves quickly - Didymus and Hoggle fixing rumpled clothing - before fixing her with disturbingly identical concerned expressions.
"He's told you, ain't he?"
Sarah's eyes widened then narrowed angrily on Hoggle's sad countenance, "You mean you KNEW, and you didn't tell me?"
"My lady we could not, our liege forbade it," Didymus informed her sadly.
"All this time you've been keeping this secret, why? WHY?"
"If we told he weren't gonna let us visit no more," the dwarf begged her to understand, turning her friendship bracelet around his wrist nervously, "We didn't wanna leave you 'lone when you found out."
The fox-knight chimed in, "It was the lesser of two dire evils."
The teenager mustered up a small - and terribly false - smile for her furry friend, "Yes Ludo, Sarah sad... and mad... and horribly confused." Her face crumpled, "What's happening to me? Can you tell me THAT? What's going to happen?"
The group surrounded her: Ludo lifting her gently into his lap, Didymus climbing up as well, while Hoggle patted her arm anxiously. Her senses filled with the smell of magic, dog, and something incredibly earthy that reminded her of oubliettes and fireys.
"We are allowed to tell you some things," the fox-knight began hesitantly. Seeing the hopeful look in Sarah's tear-bright eyes had him shaking his head, "No milady, we cannot tell you everything." He exchanged a frustrated glance with Hoggle, "We are... bound."
"What do you mean? You helped me when I went through the Labyrinth," her voice was scratchy with tears, but the question and slight accusation was still quite clear.
"We weren't much help, though," Hoggle muttered, "We weren't allowed to be. We did what we could when we could, but the King always had final say."
"So he WANTED me to succeed?" Sarah grimaced, "That doesn't make any sense."
The look that passed between the two more sentient denizens of the Labyrinth was oddly reminiscent of a glance often seen on the faces of the girls with whom Sarah went to school. She was still so young, and oddly naive for all her experiences in the Goblin Realm.
"He didn't want you to win, exactly," the dwarf began slowly, "But he wanted you to feel as if you'd had a good try, we weren't supposed to like you as much as we did."
Sarah blushed, "I was such a brat back then."
"A bit," Didymus allowed, "But charming for all that, your true colors showed through no matter how much you tried to disguise them."
"Thank you, Sir Didymus."
Ludo broke in, his smile vaguely troubled, "Sawah fawee?"
Hoggle snorted, "Big lug doesn't really get it yet."
"It's not his fault," Sarah admonished him her face softening a little as she looked into those huge, concerned, brown eyes, "It's not as if I get it yet either." She turned to face Hoggle and Didymus, scooting back further into Ludo's protective embrace, "How can I be turning into a Sidhe?" She gave a half-hearted growl, her tone turning petulant and almost whiny, "It doesn't make any sense!"
The dwarf eyed her askance for a moment before mouthing the words, "'It's not fair!'
The teenager blushed again, "I was regressing a bit, huh?"
Hoggle and Didymus nodded solemnly.
"It's just hard to take in, I'm turning into a fairy. In one year I'll be a Sidhe -"
"Milady," Didymus broke in, "Who told you that it would take a year?"
"Ja - HE did." She glanced at him in some surprise, "He lied?" Thinking back on his exact words caused a fierce scowl to take shape on her face, "Ok, he didn't LIE exactly, but he omitted a helluva lot."
"Sidhe rarely lie, it dilutes their magic," came a voice from the doorway. Sarah stood abruptly at the sight of her stepmother's pale face. "When were you going to tell me about this
?" The blonde gestured expansively to include the three obvious non-humans and the dog all lounging casually about the bedroom.
"It, um, slipped my mind?"
Mrs. Williams rolled her eyes heavenward and then closed them as if in extreme pain, "I'm going to give you ten minutes to get your butt downstairs, your father and I need to speak with you." She turned to go, then paused as her inner need to hostess reared it's obsessive head, "Would any of you like some cookies?"
"Right, right, I'll just be going," she headed down the stairs, muttering under her breath all the way.
There was a short pause, and then:
"She's correct," Didymus turned to Sarah, his ears twitching sporadically, "You ARE going to give her gray hairs before her time. You did not tell us that your stepmother was a witch!"
"I didn't know until YESTERDAY," she informed him pointedly, absurdly gratified to see his whiskers droop and Hoggle's swarthy complexion darken in embarrassment.
"We'd best be going now missy, your folks want to speak with you," Hoggle called up a smile for her before shimmering out.
Didymus favored her with a small hug before he too left, taking Ludo and Ambrosius with him. She sat on the floor in the middle of her room for a moment before slowly rising and heading towards the door.
"Time to face the music."▬▬♦▬▬
As a general rule Albus Dumbledore received anywhere from thirty to three hundred owls in the course of a day. Unlike many of his counterparts in the various magical schools that dotted the globe, he answered each and every correspondence personally. In his long life - he was currently nearing his 110th birthday, but who was counting? - he had never received a letter with a higher potential for disturbing his school.Dear Headmaster Dumbledore,
I have never had the opportunity to meet with you, nor would I likely have ever had cause to write to you were it not for a rather unfortunate incident which has recently altered the fate of my teenage stepdaughter.
Sarah has recently returned from a trip to the Labyrinth. Unfortunately as a muggle, she was unaware of the numerous strictures and rules governing trips to the Sidhe realms. She was there for nearly a full day and in the course of her stay was given a peach - though indirectly - by a Sidhe Lord.
My stepdaughter is currently suffering the results of her jaunt in the form of the 'Fae's Blessing.' As you may no doubt guess, this is quite disturbing to both her father and myself. We do not have the power to enforce the treaties that bind our realms, nor do we wish to relinquish our daughter into the guardianship of an unknown. Sarah is still a minor, by any culture's reckoning, and we wish her to complete her schooling.
Here is where your assistance is required: magical schooling would be preferred, as the Lord in question has promised her one year's grace. Untrained there is every chance she may go mad, break the statute, or do harm to herself and others through her lack of understanding. Hogwarts, as the oldest of magical establishments, has the best chance of giving her both the training she requires, and the protection we feel she needs.
Awaiting your reply,
Karen Irene Williams
Dumbledore's blue eyes twinkled mischievously as he pondered the various repercussions of teaching a budding Sidhe how to control her abilities. Putting the proverbial cat amongst the hens was a mild understatement of the commotion it would cause. Yes indeed, having Sarah Williams attend Hogwarts could only bring him long nights of work and even longer days of appeasing trustees.
With that in mind he quickly penned his reply:My dear Mrs. Williams,
I would be delighted to meet you and your daughter to discuss her future at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please forward an appropriate time and address.
Albus Wulfric Dumbledore▬▬♦▬▬
Karen smoothed down the cushion-covers of the loveseat for the third time, barely looking up as she repeated, "The Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, is coming over for tea today."
Sarah stared at her stepmother, jaw gaping open and closed like a fish, "And you didn't think to tell me this until NOW? Less than an hour before he arrives?"
At that the blonde looked up, "I didn't want you to worry or fuss, this way you can't get yourself worked up beforehand."
Part of Sarah, the bratty teenager bit, wanted to take that statement as a challenge. The rest of her - a portion that had been steadily growing since the Labyrinth - appreciated the older woman's foresight and knowledge of the inner workings of the young mind.
She watched while Karen fussed over the living room, fixing various things that really were almost too
perfect to begin with. Left to her own devices it was the blonde who would work herself into a coma 'preparing' for their illustrious guest.
"Need some help?"
"What?" The witch was startled for a moment, then smiled, "Why, yes actually, that would be nice. Could you go make sure that your father hasn't eaten any of the tea-sandwiches?" She shook her head exasperatedly, "Honestly that man..."
"Sure, Karen," Sarah laughed a little as she headed to the kitchen. Her father had taken the news that his only daughter was turning into a magical creature rather well. The fact that she had broken curfew and been unsupervised in the company of a suspicious male character had NOT gone down nearly so agreeably, and the idea of his baby girl going to a boarding school in SCOTLAND of all places... well, suffice to say that while his priorities might be considered a bit odd, he was still just as concerned for his daughter as any father.
Sure enough, when Sarah entered the kitchen she found her father leaning over the plate, just about to remove the saran-wrap and dig in.
He jumped guiltily, "What?"
"Those are for tea."
Robert rolled his baby-blue eyes expressively and gestured to the plate which was nearly overflowing with tiny tea-sandwiches, "Is this Dumbo-door man really going to eat all these snacks?"
Privately Sarah doubted it, Karen had prepared enough food to feed a family of ten. "You never know," she stated seriously, "He might have the appetite of a horse."
The brunette smiled sweetly at her grumbling father, playing her trump-card with pleasure, "Karen said no, why don't you take it up with your wife?"
"You don't fight fair."
"Fair?" An odd look came into her green-gray eyes and for a moment she looked right through him, a wry little smile hovering about her lips. "Who said anything about being fair?"
Robert frowned and snapped his fingers before her face, "Are you alright? Feeling ok?"
She pushed his arm aside, coming back to herself with an almost audible snap, "I'm fine, just a little... I dunno." The corners of her mouth quirked a little, "Big changes, dad."
"No matter what, you'll always be my little girl," he said gravely, opening his arms and enfolding her in a massive bear-hug.
"I know, daddy. I know." She snuggled into the hug and relaxed for the first time in days.
Suddenly soft snuffling noises filled the room, piped in through the baby monitors, one of which was installed in every room of the house. "Toby's up," Robert eyed his daughter hopefully, she no longer considered her baby brother a chore and...
"I'll get him, dad."
... anything that got him out of Toby's midday poopy-diaper change was a blessed relief.▬▬♦▬▬
"Have a nice nap, Tobe?"
The toddler quieted instantly at the sound of his sister's voice, grinning up at her with his baby teeth. Rolling over, he rose to his feet and stood against the bars of his crib, watching while she got out diapers and wipes.
"The Dumbledore guy is coming today, TODAY! Karen didn't tell me 'cause she didn't want me to get all worked up over a little tea... with my future Headmaster... who teaches at a magical school..." Sarah slumped down against the chest that sat at the foot of the crib, "This is all so STRANGE, Toby! Two months ago I was a nice, normal teenage girl and now I'm... ugh."
She glanced up to find him watching her solemnly. Sarah's look turned sheepish, "I'm rambling again, aren't I?"
Toby cocked his head to the side and lifted his shoulders in a gallic shrug.
Anyone else would have been disturbed at the sight of an eighteen-month-old giving what could be considered an appropriate response. To Sarah it was one more thing that was not-quite-normal in her day. Toby had been more adult-like, more mature since his own little visit with Jareth in the Labyrinth.
He was no more your average toddler than she was an average teenager.
Sometimes she felt guilty for what she had done, how much he had changed. But some secret little selfish part, one of the bits that had shrunk a little in her time in the Sidhe maze, was glad that someone else had gone there. Her experiences set her apart, but Toby was just as odd as she was.
Part of her was comforted by that.
"So Tobe, have good dreams?" She busied herself in grabbing some cute clothing out for him, Karen would be dressing him up anyways so she might as well make sure the blonde didn't have to do this as well.
His little blonde head bobbed up and down in a strong affirmative.
Sarah frowned at him, "About HIM again?"
She sighed gustily. Toby had dreamt of Jareth at least once a week since meeting the Sidhe Lord. Before Jareth's visit it had not concerned her - she had merely thought it was some remnant of the toddler's own time with the king, but since then... well, she was glad of Dumbledore's visit for more than just her own sake.
"Maybe I should ask Hoggle about it," she muttered to herself as she swiftly changed the stinky diaper. Toby didn't giggle or wriggle during this daily ritual, something that pleased Sarah to no end. Changing a diaper was never a pleasure, but at least with her brother it wasn't an awful chore.
Setting him gently back on his feet she inspected him from head to toe. Nice jeans - from the Baby Gap - and a cute little blue button-up shirt, he was set. Standing, she started to head out of the room expecting him to follow her when he gave a little gurgle, stopping her in her tracks.
"What is it?"
He held up his arms in the universal child-gesture of 'pick me up.' Sarah regarded him in some surprise. He usually ENJOYED his new-found ability to run and walk as he pleased, disdaining to be held. Ah well, she shrugged, she liked holding him.
Scooping the little blonde up, the dark-haired girl headed down the stairs. Listening to Karen's last-minute adjustments and her father's quiet mutters about 'snacks before teatime.'
Seconds later her not-so-wicked stepmother came into view, dust rag in hand. "Oh, Sarah you got Toby up? Thanks so much," Karen smiled in relieved appreciation.
"No problem, do you want us to wait in the living room?"
"Oh yes, that would be perfect, we're not hooked up to the Floo so he's coming in by port-key," all this was mumbled very fast and under the blonde's breath as her mind was clearly on other things.
Sarah frowned, "What are you talking about?"
"What? Oh, different methods of transportation, dear."
"You mean you don't all fly around on broomsticks all the time?" Sarah asked with a joking smile - which was quickly wiped off her face at Karen's next words.
"No dear, brooms are more for short journeys, not trans-Atlantic trips!"
For the second time that day the teenager was left gaping by something her stepmother had said. Any further questions were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. Instantly all four occupants of the house halted and turned towards the sound.
"That must be..."
"Right, so we should..."
"Oh for pete's sake!" Karen eyed her husband and stepdaughter in exasperation, "Robert, you get the door and show him in while I go get the sandwiches. Sarah, take Toby into the living room and sit down, alright?"
"Right," Robert shook himself, "Right I'll just go and let in..." He frowned helplessly, "What was his name again?"
"Albus Dumbledore," the blonde hissed, shoving her husband towards the door, "Scoot!"
Sarah headed to the living room and sat on the couch. The instant she was down, Toby was wriggling to be free, he slid from her arms and into the seat next to her, swinging his legs idly and absentmindedly patting her arm.
She watched him for a moment, amused yet still oddly comforted by the gesture. Her knuckles turned white as she heard her father greeting their guest, her nails bit into her palms when Karen joined them as well. By the time the three adults had made their way into the room Sarah was just shy of drawing blood and Toby was eyeing her worriedly at the audible grinding of her teeth within her clenched jaw.
"Hello, Ms. Williams," the old man beamed at her and Sarah felt distinctly lightheaded. THIS man was the Headmaster of a magical boarding school? Were wizards colorblind?!
He wore a long set of flowing robes in a violent shade of purple, an electric blue scarf wrapped around his neck and a stereotypical wizard's hat echoing the blue and purple, with a dash of lime just to make it truly eye-popping.
Remembering her manners, Sarah rose to shake his hand, "Hello, Mr. Dumbledore."
His blue eyes twinkled at her from behind half-moon spectacles, "Please, call me 'Albus.' You're not enrolled yet!"
"Won't you sit down?" Karen gestured towards a chair and settled herself on the couch beside Toby, Richard on her other side in a sign of familial solidarity.
"Ah, yes, thank you." He sat and studied Sarah and Toby for a moment, his eyes flicking between the two and towards the parents for a moment, "Fascinating, utterly fascinating."
"What's fascinating?" Sarah asked, her hands clenching into fists all over again.
"Well my dear, the last recorded case of Fae Blessing was approximately six hundred years ago. I never thought to see it happen in my lifetime," he smiled with the air of a child on Christmas morning. Becoming serious once more he leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingertips as he inspected them once more, "Now, why don't you tell me the whole story, start to finish, from the time you entered the Labyrinth."
So she did, and found it was much easier to explain to him, a relative stranger, than it had been to tell the story to either her stepmother or her father. It helped that he interrupted from time to time to ask intelligent questions, queries that forced her to pause and reevaluate, occasionally even jogging her memory for more details about the Labyrinth.
By the time she was done half the sandwiches were gone from the tray and Karen had had to make three trips to the kitchen for more tea.
"Amazing," Albus muttered, "Simply amazing, he visited you after you had returned from your date?"
"Yes," Sarah smiled, enough time had passed for her to find the whole thing rather funny, "It wasn't much of a date, to be honest."
"Well, that may not be entirely the fault of chance, my dear," the silver-haired man informed her gently. "Sidhe can be capricious and odd, possessive of their mates and subjects in ways that no mortal ruler is."
"You mean..." The teenager's eyes widened in angry shock, "He sabotaged my date?!"
"More or less," Dumbledore nodded, taking yet another cup of tea from Karen with an appreciative smile.
Sarah's eyes seemed to light from within, causing the green-gray color to flicker and glow. Her hair rustled about her shoulders in an unseen wind as her anger rose, "That interfering, smug little Sidhe BASTARD!" She jumped to her feet and began to pace around the room, either unconscious of or ignoring the way the flowers and other light objects were being tossed about in her wake.
A light tugging on her pant-leg drew her attention down to where Toby was sucking on his thumb in an irritated manner and frowning at her, "What?"
He gestured with his free hand to encompass the room and Sarah's eyes widened as she saw the mess. The light went out of her eyes and her hair settled down as she turned to Karen with shock and apology written all over her face, "Sorry!"
"Hm," Dumbledore looked on speculatively, "It might be best if you came in for some summer-school before the regular term starts. You won't be able to take all the classes that the regular students take, and you'll be taking some additional courses to help you cope..." He trailed off into bureaucratic mutters while Karen, Sarah, and Richard started to clean up the minor mess.
"So does this mean she can attend?" The blonde witch asked. Nothing was settled until he said it outright, to her way of thinking.
"Oh yes, of course, where else would she go? No, no, it's best for her to come to Hogwarts." He turned to Sarah with a small smile, "My school is a sort of an embassy. Near the time of it's founding it was agreed that it would be a neutral zone. Occasionally treaties are drawn there, let me think, the last one was..." He paused to think it over, "Two hundred odd years ago, I believe."
"Neutral, so does that mean that no-one has authority?"
"Except for the Headmaster and to a lesser extent the teachers, yes that is exactly what it means."
Sarah's eyes brightened, "Jareth will have no power over me!"
The lights in the room flickered briefly, but the Williams attributed it to the teenager's excitement. Nobody seemed to detect the soft fluttering sound of a bird flying away from the window. Toby shivered slightly - to him it felt as if the room's temperature had dropped ten degrees - and moved closer to his sister, his reaction unnoticed in the general happiness that Sarah's exclamation had preceded.
The girl in question was lighthearted: she was going to Hogwarts, she would learn to control her magics and what she was becoming - but best of all, Jareth would have no power over her.
An echo of a whisper of a thought flickered through the brunette's mind - the tone more amused than bothered - though it would trouble the teenager's sleep that night and for many nights to come:
"You say that so often, Sarah... Do you really know what it means?"▬▬♦▬▬