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A Squib is someone who was born into a wizarding family but hasn’t got any magic powers. Kind of the opposite of Muggle-born wizards, but Squibs are quite unusual.

Ron Weasley,CoS, pp. 110-111

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Refutation

by Miles Flint

Marcus and I sat over the Quidditch simulator, but neither of us made a move. Twice I noticed that a miniature broomstick had dropped down to the table, and each time, I half-heartedly re-suspended it. But it didn’t really matter. We weren’t planning a game today.

“Miles, do you think your owl will come?” asked Marcus for the tenth time.

“Yes,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say. I considered asking, “Do you thinkyour owl will bring good news?” because I knew Marcus didn’t do well on written exams. I had surprised Madam Podmore, the teacher at the village school, by doing well on her tests; she hadn’t expected it from Marcus Flint’s brother. But Marcus had large feet and fists, so it wasn’t a good idea to antagonise him.

Something did seem to be flickering in the sky. Perhaps a cloud or a trick of the light? We stared with every muscle tensed. Yes! Somethingwas moving; some dark spot was coming closer. I held my breath, not daring to scare it out of existence until I could see for certain that the dark spot was an owl.

It was an owl and it was flying towards our house. I began to breathe again. I pushed at the drawing-room window, although it was already open, to give the owl an easy passage towards one of us. The large tawny flew straight past me and dropped a scroll with the Hogwarts seal next to Marcus.

A Hogwarts letter for Marcus! Now that was not what we had expected! I held out a Knut to the owl, who clawed it up and flew off without waiting for a reply. Marcus broke the seal and scanned his letter.

“It’s from Hooch,” he said. “I’m Quidditch captain.”

I pulled myself together and said, “Congratulations.” Marcus grinned, then crumpled the parchment. This was not the letter he had been expecting.

Soon we were staring at the sky again. It was a warm, bright summer day, but we did not dare go outside. We felt pinned to our watch-posts, silently pleading with the empty sky to open up and speak to us.

“You’ll be in Harry Potter’s class,” said Marcus, also for the tenth time.

“If they put him in Slytherin,” I said.

Marcus snorted. “Of course he’ll be in Slytherin. You must be careful to befriend him, Miles. Don’t waste your Hogwarts time on the likes of Longbottom or Cornfoot. Help Potter with his homework and share your sweets with him. If he’s at all sporty, I’ll try to bend the rules and put him on the Quidditch team immediately. And we must bring him to stay with us for the Christmas holidays.”

I thought Harry Potter might prefer to spend Christmas with his own family, but it was wiser to reply, “Perhaps.”

There was more silence. Marcus broke it with his old question: “Miles, are you expectinganything to come for you?”

I wanted to shout back, “Are you expecting any good news in the one that’s coming for you?” But today was a day when Marcus would care about his academic progress; if I humiliated him, he would repay me in bruises and hexes.

“You’re not!” crowed Marcus. “You don’t expect a letter at all!”

I wondered what he would say when my letter did come.

If it came.

Suddenly a starling on the horizon wasn’t a starling at all, but had morphed into a barn owl that was standing on our window sill, holding out a scroll in its talons. I recognised the Ministry of Magic seal even before Marcus snatched the letter away. This owl did not wait to be paid; it soared off again, leaving Marcus to unfurl his destiny.

His fingers were trembling. I reminded myself not to say anything, not even to look interested, until we both knew what was inside the letter. I held my breath again, hoping Marcus wasn’t in trouble. But after only two seconds, he grinned and passed the parchment to me.

ORDINARY WIZARDING LEVELS

MARCUS SALAZAR FLINT HAS ACHIEVED:

Ancient Runes Dreadful
Astronomy Poor
Care of Magical Creatures Acceptable
Charms Acceptable
Defence against the Dark Arts Poor
Herbology Acceptable
History of Magic Acceptable
Potions Dreadful
Transfiguration Poor

Signed on behalf of the Board

G. R. Marchbanks,Head of Board
Sapiens Tofty,Secretary to the Board


“So where’s your letter, then?” he sneered. He walked to the door and shouted, “Father! Mother! My O.W.L.s are here!”

It took both parents about thirty seconds to appear from wherever they had been and read Marcus’s letter.

“Congratulations, son!” said Father. “You’re qualified!”

Mother simpered and nodded. Nobody seemed at all upset that Marcus’s results were so ordinary. He had only passed four subjects, and Father and Mother were delighted anyway.

Perhaps they were much more reasonable than I’d assumed. Perhaps they really didn’t care about results so long as we did our best. After all, we all knew what Marcus’s future career would be. He would play a little professional Quidditch, then he would join Father in Flint & Sons, settling financial security on every solvent wizard in the British Isles.

“Mephisto,” said Mother, “I think this well and truly justifies all our hard work and sacrifice in putting a child through Hogwarts!”

It was odd to think of our parents as “sacrificing” for us. Father’s life-insurance business was quite successful; by working thirty or forty hours a week in a respectable Diagon Alley office, he had been able to pay off our comfortable house in Cambridge, subscribe to Quidditch and take us touring in Europe each summer. And Hogwarts tuition was free. Mother’s work consisted of organising the house-elf, fussing over our school supplies and bustling off to the Witches’ Institute for mysterious projects that “assisted the less fortunate of our community.” She kept busy, but I had never thought of her activities as a sacrifice.

However, they did like Marcus to have good-quality supplies, so his books and uniform were always brand new, and he owned a Nimbus 1700. And while Madam Podmore’s school in Hogsmeade wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t free either. I expect my parents did have to sacrifice some superannuation funds to make all that happen.

“I’m Quidditch captain too,” said Marcus.

“That’swonderful, Marcus!” exclaimed Mother.

“It will give you a marvellously well-rounded résumé,” said Father. “So you’ve decided to proceed to N.E.W.T.s. Have you chosen your subjects yet?”

“Herbology, Charms and Care of Magical Creatures,” he replied, as promptly as if he’d spent all summer considering it. “Possibly History of Magic too – but that depends on the demands of Quidditch.”

“I’m going to invite all the relatives for a special celebration dinner,” said Mother. She peered at the sky. “But perhaps not tonight; we’ll wait until Miles’s letter has arrived too. I suppose it hasn’t come yet, Miles?”

I shook my head and tried to quieten the churning in my stomach. My letter might not come today; today was only Tuesday. Yesterday, when Father had asked, “Shouldn’t we expect the boys’ letters around now?” had been the first day that the subject had even been mentioned. Mother had replied, “I’ll be surprised if anything comes on a Monday. The so-called workers don’t usually work all through the weekend.”

But the workers could easily work all through Monday. It was not at all surprising that Marcus’s letter had arrived today. If mine didn’t, it was almost certainly due tomorrow. If it still hadn’t arrived by the end of Thursday –

My stomach turned over again at the thought.I must not be sick in the drawing room, I reminded myself.My letter might arrive at any minute.

“I’m bored with hanging around indoors,” said Marcus. “I’m going to practise my feinting moves. Coming, Miles?”

“Not right now,” I said, choking bile back into my throat. I had a broom, a Comet Two-Sixty, but it usually stood untended in a lonely corner of my room because I had never managed to make it fly. A couple of times, it had lurched into the air with me holding onto it, but both times it had nearly thrown me off, and it had never responded to any of my coaxings or commands. I didn’t want to try it again without the assistance of a qualified instructor.

After Marcus had banged the drawing-room door behind him, I leaned against the architrave, staring up at the sky and wondering how much longer I would bother to stare. We were the only wizarding family on this side of Cambridge, so now that Marcus had his letter, any other owl that appeared in the sky would certainly be for me. And it was still possible, just barely possible, that my owl would come. But the real reason I was watching was that my family expected me to watch. There was no point in disillusioning them a minute before I had to. On this, the very last day of my childhood, I would be the son whom my parents expected me to be.

Mother had finished fussing with the centrepiece in the dining room and had moved off to the conservatory. I wished she would come and sit in the drawing room. She need not speak to me; if only she would bring her sewing, her flower-pressing, a book, anything that would give me one last hour of sitting near a normal mother.

A soft thump on the ceiling told me that Father was in the room above me, his study. I don’t know what he “studied” in there, since he didn’t bring work home with him and he never read for pleasure. Perhaps he organised his photographs or speculated on the Quidditch; but whatever it was, he didn’t think to do it in front of his family. So the last kind words I had ever heard my father speak had been addressed to Marcus.

I was on my own, my eyes turned towards the sky but my mind not noticing how empty it was, when I heard a sharp crackle behind me. I jumped away from the window to see that the hearth was full of green flames, and Draco Malfoy was grinning at me.

“I’ve got my letter!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “Is yours here yet?”

I managed to say, “Not yet.”

He waved a Hogwarts letter proudly. “I expect they sent mine out first. They wouldn’t want to annoy the Malfoys, would they? I don’t think Nott’s has arrived either; he went all snooty on me when I tried to Floo him. Listen, Flint, I want to know what you think of this. It’s here, at the bottom of the second page – ‘First-years are not allowed their own broomsticks.’ D’you think theymean it?”

“Umm... Well, there is a custom that first-years don’t play on the Quidditch team.”

“Are theyserious about that?”

“Don’t know. My brother is the new Quidditch captain, so perhaps he’ll make some changes.”

“Ah!” Malfoy relaxed again. “Thanks, Flint, you’ve been a great help to me. I’ll be in Diagon Alley next Tuesday – perhaps I’ll see you there? Bye!”

So that settled it. Today was the day when the Hogwarts letters were arriving. I wouldn’t watch the sky any more. I would watch the fire and wait for some owl to swoop past and address me. I watched for perhaps five minutes before the fire once again flared green, this time displaying the rabbitty face of Theodore Nott. I knew him quite well because Theo also attended Madam Podmore’s school (unlike Malfoy, who had a private tutor).

“Good afternoon, Miles,” he said. “Your Floo-line has been busy today. Draco Malfoy hasn’t been Flooing you, has he?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“He’s been Flooingeveryone. He told me he was busy ‘calling in favours’ so that he could have a good start at Hogwarts. His parents have been talking to that Potions teacher – is it Snap? Snipe? – about getting him special treatment in lessons, and he says he’ll ‘pull a few strings’ to put himself on the Quidditch team. I wondered ifyour brother was the string he was trying to pull there.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, I was just wondering why your Floo-line was busy. Malfoy was a real pain today. He talked on and on about connections and blood-influence and how he’s going to keep himself on the crest of events by becoming Harry Potter’s best friend. It never crossed his mind that all his fawning and flattery might make Potter vomit. Anyway, I acted stupid and pretended my letter hadn’t come yet. I wonder how long I can play that one out? The laugh would be on Malfoy if I could make him believe I was a Squib.”

Only after Theo had disappeared in a swirl of green flame did I realise that he hadn’t actually asked after my Hogwarts letter. He had simply assumed that I had one. He saw me every day and he was clever – hadn’t henoticed anything about me?

But Theo’s letter had come. If everyone else had a letter and I didn’t, there was only one possible explanation.

Another ten minutes passed, and there were more green flames in the hearth. This time I saw the round, comforting face of Neville Longbottom, who was my best friend at Madam Podmore’s.

“Hi, Miles!” Neville was bursting with excitement. “Has yours come yet? I’ve had mine for half an hour, but I’ve only just escaped from Gran. She’sexploding with pride because I’ve finally done something right. I say, Miles, which house do you think we’ll be in? Do you think we’re good enough for Gryffindor?”

You are, Neville,” I said earnestly. “You’re the most Gryffindor-ish person I’ve ever met. But I...”

“I expect you’ll be in Ravenclaw because you’re so clever. Or perhaps in Hufflepuff because you’re so hard-working and fair. Or... Miles, surely they wouldn’t put you in Slytherin just because your brother is?That wouldn’t be right at all. You couldask for Gryffindor... You never know...”

I took a deep breath. If I could practise saying this to Neville, perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so bad when I had to tell all my aunts, uncles and grandparents.

“Neville,” I said, “I’m not going to be in any Hogwarts house. They didn’t send me a Hogwarts letter.”

“What?” Neville’s face crumpled. “That can’t mean anything, Miles. They must have used a slow owl for yours. Or perhaps...”

“No.” I drew another steadying breath, waiting for my heart to slow down. “Neville, I’m a Squib. There isn’t going to be any Hogwarts letter for me.”

Neville’s smile faded. “But, Miles! You’re so clever!”

“Plenty of Muggles are clever. It isn’t the same thing as magical power. Neville, I don’thave any magical power. I can’t even use the Floo network!”

“Then how do you manage to arrive at school every morning?”

“I ask the house-elf to call directions for me, the same as adults do for little children. Muggles canuse the Floo but they can’tcommand it. I couldn’t call you today; I had to wait for you to call me.”

Now Neville was worried. “Magical power can be very deeply buried, Miles. I didn’t showany until three years ago. I still don’t show much. I’m sure someone like you – ”

The door was flung open behind me, and Mother’s coldest voice cut in. “Oh. It’s that Longbottom boy.” She did not approve of Neville, whose family, although pure-blooded, was penniless and had some unfortunate political opinions. Neville took the hint and disappeared out of the fireplace.

Father strode into the centre of the drawing room while Mother shrank back onto the sofa.

“So explain yourself, Miles!” Father announced. “What is going on down here?”

“Er... Neville just...”

“To Godric with the Longbottom brat! I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about Hogwarts. I’ve been speaking to Lucius on the private Floo line in my study, and he says that the Hogwarts letters arrived this morning. I didn’t say anything to his face. But I have yet to see any post for Miles. Your letter didn’t come, did it?”

“No, Father,” I whispered.

“No, it didn’t. I questioned the house-elf, thinking he might have put it aside for you. Then I Flooed Minerva to find out if there had been any trouble with delayed owls. Do you know what Minerva said, Miles?”

If “Minerva” was the person who dealt with Hogwarts admissions, I could imagine what she had had to say about me.

“Minerva said that there was no Miles Flint on the Hogwarts waiting list! She said there had never been a Flint on this year’s register. She had theaudacity to say that the charmed register doesn’t usually make a mistake, but we could always bring Miles in for testing if we were quite certain he was magical!”

I already knew what the tests would prove, but there was no point in saying so out loud.

“This is the boy who has never kept a broom in the air! The boy who has trouble maintaining suspension even with the Quidditch simulation toy! The boy who has never caused a magical accident even when his brother’s gang used him as a punching bag for half the day! Not even Madam Podmore had a good word for his magical talents – she was always on about his logic and his memory and how Miles would make a wonderfulaccountant!”

Madam Podmore had never spoken a bad word of me. She hadn’t spoken about my magical abilities at all. She must haveknown.

“Miles,” Father finished, “have you anything to say for yourself?”

I slowly raised my head, but long before I met his furious glower, I knew there was nothing to say.

He whipped out his wand and pointed it at me, but he did not cast a spell. “You are a Squib,” he stated, “and Squibs have no place in a pure-blood home. The Flints are an ancient and honourable line of wizards, and no more Flint money can be wasted on feeding a Squib. So you need to leave this house.”

I felt my mouth drop open.

“You are not sleeping another night under this roof. Make sure you are gone by bedtime.”

He turned on his heel and stalked out, without another word about where I should go or what he expected me to do. I stared at Mother, who stared helplessly back.

“Mother?” I couldn’t believe thatshe would turn me out of the house, just like that, with nowhere to go. “Do I really have to leave? Don’tyou want me?”

Mother wiped her eyes, tried to look stern, then threw her arms around me and sobbed again. “Miles, don’t you see that Ican’t keep you? If I say another word, your father will throw me out too! And he has control of all my money, so I couldn’t provide for you once we were both on the streets. It won’t help you or anyone else if I end up divorced, penniless and branded as the mother who passed the bad Squib blood down the Flint line. I’d lose Marcus and my place in society and...” The rest was incoherent.

I didn’t dare ask her again if she wanted me. Perhaps she did, in a way, but it wasn’t a way that counted. She had no plans to make a home for me, or even to find me a home elsewhere.

Nobody wanted a Squib.

I asked, “Where shall I go, then?” but I wasn’t surprised when Mother simply shook her head and fled from the room. She had no idea where I could go, and she didn’t want to add to her own problems by trying to think of a place.

I wasn’t able to feel angry or afraid or even sad. The vast emptiness spreading through the pit of my stomach was so strong that I couldn’t think clearly. The sight of the grate in the hearth reminded me that I should probably go to Neville’s house. Neville lived in a tiny two-up-and-two-down in Halifax, so I couldn’t stay there permanently; but his Gran might know where to send me next. I told myself I should look for the house-elf and ask him to call Neville’s address into the Floo. But it somehow felt like too much effort even to pick myself up and walk down to the kitchen.

While I was staring at the grate, it rattled again. There was more green fire, and this time the caller was a middle-aged, bespectacled lady in an old-fashioned mob cap. It was my teacher, Madam Podmore herself.

“There you are, Miles!” she said. “Can you let me into your house?”

“I’m afraid I can’t, Madam Podmore. The Floo network never obeys me.”

She peered at me through her spectacles and remarked, “So your parents took the news badly, did they? My granddaughter Mandy had her Hogwarts letter this morning, so I thought it was time for me to check that you were all right.”

“I’m fine,” I lied automatically; then I realised what I’d said. “No. I’m not. My parents have thrown me out. I’m supposed to leave their house immediately, but I don’t know where to go.”

“Then you’d better come through the Floo,” she replied briskly. “I’ll authorise you to enter my house.Licentio Milu, reverse charges!”

I stepped into the green fire and began to whirl around in the Floo network without another glance at my ancestral home.

I never said goodbye to Marcus at all.

The grate at which I landed was not the school in Hogsmeade, but Madam Podmore’s private residence, which was actually in Staffordshire. She helped me out into her kitchen, remarking that it was usually quite safe to reverse charges on the Floo network, but of course I must be suffering from some very unstable magical vibes.

I don’t remember what else she said. At that point I finally broke down and started crying. It was really true. I was a Squib. I was never going to have any magical powers or any place in the magical world. My own father and mother did not want me. I was eleven years old and I had no right to exist.

I cried through the next several days at Madam Podmore’s house, and she made no attempt to stop me crying. She was very kind, but I didn’t have the energy to notice it properly. I vaguely knew that I couldn’t stay at her house forever, but it was more than a week before I finally asked, “What is going tohappen to me?”

“It’s all under control,” she said. “You see, my father was a Squib, the son of a family even more ancient and pure-blooded than yours. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Blacks? His parents threw him out when he was eleven, and I later heard rumours that his niece even burned his name off the family tapestry.”

“So they wanted to pretend that he had never existed?” I was in despair. “Then that’s what my parents will do too. They’ll never have me back, will they?”

“We don’t know, but we have to plan for the worst. Papa discovered that thereis a rescue-network, and of course I grew up knowing everyone involved with it. It was very easy for us to arrange a new home for you. We’ve found a family who will take you in. They’re in Surrey, a long way from where the... more difficult wizards will think of looking for you.”

“What? Are there really people who’ll take in a stranger, just like that? Are they a magical family?”

“They are Muggles, but they understand about magic quite well because their grown-up son is a wizard. They have agreed to look after you and help you adjust to the Muggle world. I’ve told you, Miles, this isn’t the first time that we’ve had to make an arrangement like this. The Cresswells have already enrolled you in a Muggle school, and I think you’ll find you’re very well prepared in most subjects.”

It was only then that I foresaw a glimmer of hope. Madam Podmorehad taught me maths, English, geography and the rest, and I saw that I reallycould go to a Muggle school and learn a Muggle trade. If these new people were kind to me, perhaps I really would be all right, more or less.

“It’s lucky,” I commented, “that this Muggle school just happened to have a vacancy as late as August. What’s the school called?”

“Stonewall Comprehensive.”

* * * * * * *

Mr and Mrs Cresswell in Little Whinging, Surrey, were indeed kind people; they told curious strangers that I was their grandson and they kept the Muggle officials away by signing legal adoption papers.

It took me a long, long time to accept that it was all right to make a new family for myself. Year after year, I never gave up hope that my natural family would change their minds and take me back, but of course they never did.

I did well at Stonewall Comprehensive. While Neville and his new friends struggled over their O.W.L.s, I was sitting G.C.S.E.s, and I earned A (outstanding) or B (exceeds expectations) in ten subjects. Two years later, I passed five A levels, which are the Muggle version of N.E.W.T.s, and I was able to go to the Muggle university at Cambridge.

After seven years away, I didn’t recognise my home city. My parents had both been killed in the final war against Lord Voldemort, and our house had been blasted by Death Eaters. So I never had the chance to tell Father and Mother that I was all right and that the Muggle world wasn’t so terrifying if one knew how to handle it. Marcus had survived; I once passed him in the street, but I don’t think he recognised me, for he walked straight past. So the Cresswells are my only family now.

I read science at Cambridge and became interested in genetics. My postgraduate work is all about hereditary blindness, but I have a couple of unofficial projects on the side. I’ve discovered that heredity doesn’t work in the way wizards believe. It isn’t in the blood at all, but in the genes. I wish I could have reassured Mother that she wasn’t solely responsible for producing a Squib child. Since the bad gene is recessive, a Squib is only born ifboth parents carry it. I suspect that bad gene runs rampant through many of the old pure-blood families; they shouldn’t marry each other if they are serious about breeding magical offspring. Mother and Father, as a combination, always did have a one-in-four chance of producing a Squib.

Interestingly enough, the same principle is true of Muggle-born wizards: they inherit their magical talent fromboth parents. If two Muggles each happen to carry that recessive magical gene, then they too have that one-in-four chance of producing a wizard. A Muggle-born, by definition, inherits only healthy magical genes. Therefore a Muggle-born wizard can never, ever become the parent of a Squib.

Take that, Lucius Malfoy!

THE END

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