Tom stared up at the gates of the manor and felt a sudden flash of hatred. Why was everything so grand here when he had to starve at the Orphanage?
He buried it with practiced ease and opened the gate. There was no lawn, just a riot of a garden and a lot of animals, magical or otherwise. They raced past him but he could have sworn that one of them looked at him beadily.
A knock on the hardwood door and a girl opened it, barely past toddler-hood but eyes wise enough to be an old woman.
“Yeth?” she lisped.
Tom felt a bit wrong-footed but continued, “I was told this was a place…I can go to if I don’t want to go home?”
The girl blinked before turning around and yelling, “Papa Harry! You got ‘nuther one!”
“Marie! No yelling inside the house!” a young woman’s voice yelled back.
“You’re yelling thoo!” she muttered.
The girl frowned at whoever it was and glanced back at him. Tom didn’t – refused to fidget.
“Inside, or you’ll let the chicken’s in,” she said, pulling at his sleeves. “Ms. Daisy would have to chase it again, and she’s scary when she’s angry.”
Tom wondered who Ms. Daisy was but kept silent. The entire thing was starting to feel like a mistake. Maybe he shouldn’t have come in here?
But then a man came down the stairs, holding another baby and looking exasperated. The entire house had the background noise of bickering and laughter, a bit like the Orphanage, except this one was a bit…warmer.
“Oh, another boarder?” he was asked. “Would you like the Rose wing or the Lily wing?”
Tom’s bad temper might be excused for being exhausted. Mostly, he was tired of being so confused.
“I was told to come here by…a classmate. He said that you’d take anyone in,” Tom said, barely restraining his temper.
And the man looked at him properly, frowning a little. He handed the baby to the toddler and patted their heads. The children took it as a signal to continue moving. Tom found himself being led to a living room through a side door. He didn’t even notice it was there.
“My name is Harry,” the man said. “This is my house. I created this house because, after I was orphaned by my parents’ death, I found myself with my muggle relatives. So I thought, what would I do after school? I made this place, where anyone under seventeen can stay, so long as they abide by the rules.”
Tom found it reasonable, if a bit too perfect.
“What do you get out of this?” he demanded. He had to. Nothing this wonderful ever came for free.
Harry didn’t look away from his clasped hands. “Companionship, I suppose. It’s a terrible thing, to live alone Tom.”
Tom didn’t notice that he’d never told Harry his name. He was too busy wondering what the catch was.
“What are your rules?” he demanded.
“Well,” Harry said slowly. “To be clean, I suppose. No slobs. Nobody being too messy. It’s easier for those above eleven, because they can cast spells to clean up, but being clean is a must here. And someone has to cook. I’m afraid I can’t cook to save my life. I can take a turn for chasing after the animals for some poultry or meat, but I really can’t cook. The Laundry Room has instructions and you just have to leave the room as it was. No spellwork in the house, but you can do it in the backyard, just aim away from the fruit trees.”
It was simple. Basic decency plotted out in bullet points, but Tom committed them all to memory. You never knew if any of the rules would ever change and it was simply self-defense to know everything.
“So you’ll stay here?” Harry asked after Tom had been silent for too long.
Tom nodded. What choice did he have?
“Good. Ms. Daisy will take care of you.”
Ms. Daisy, it turned out, was a harried sixteen year old and one of the oldest of the boarders. Harried, because everyone seemed to delight in flocking to her and asking her questions.
“This is the Sanctuary,” Daisy said, looking a bit calmer now in the absence of the other children. “Everybody below seventeen can come here.”
“Why seventeen?” he had to ask.
“Wizards mature at seventeen. You can cast spells outside of school without the Ministry knowing,” she said. “And, Master Harry created this Sanctuary without the Ministry’s knowledge, so we have to be really careful.”
Now that was a surprise to Tom, given the number of children in the house, he’d have assumed the place was as warded as Hogwarts.
“What? Why?” he blurted out.
Daisy rolled her eyes. “Some stupid Pureblood thing about children belonging to their families. Most of us here are runaways from our Muggle relatives. The few purebloods…well, there’s a reason we have a medical wing. Not all wizards are nice.”
The implications chilled Tom. Not only was the idea of it frightening, but he was finally understanding some bits of Harry’s motivations.
“Who made that law?” he had to wonder. “You’d think some people would have common sense.”
Daisy smirked. “Master Harry’s favorite saying is that, “Magic apparently makes wizards act all wonky, forgetting there are easier ways to go about it.”
Tom had to laugh, remembering his first year in Hogwarts.
Daisy finally stopped in front of an innocuous door labeled ‘Pantry’. She twisted and wiggled the door knob and pushed. It opened into a wide, wide corridor that branched in two different directions. One was marked Rose and the other was marked Lily.
Tom’s eyes goggled. It defied the law of physics. He’d never seen any room in Hogwarts like that. The proportions to the room defied the dimensions inside it.
“Undetectable Extension Charm,” Daisy announced proudly. “Because we couldn’t fit in the guestrooms anymore and people kept coming, so Master Harry made this.”
Instead of being awe inspiring, it felt homey. The wooden floors were polished but a bit scuffed. The windows showed the backyard. No expensive vases sat anywhere, but there were drawers by every door to hold shoes and other things.
“You put your keys in here,” she explained. “People like their privacy, but some of us are rather young, so we keep it here so we don’t lose it. And the keys stay inside. Only Master Harry can open your room.”
He could understand why, given that all the occupants in the Sanctuary were underage.
At the end of the corridor, a massive bathroom was there, holding nearly fifteen shower stalls and one large pool. It steamed invitingly.
Tom had to hold back a whimper. Travelling for so long had left him sore and the very idea of all that enchanted hot water…
“Go on,” Daisy said. “We’ll do introductions later.”
Tom could remember undressing, but he doesn’t remember falling asleep in the water, or being picked up by an exasperated Harry, muttering under his breath about ‘adorable, teenage dark lords’.
Tom was a bit more coherent for the rest of the tour, the next day.
He was woken up by brisk knocking, a smile and a quick question of, “Coffee, tea or chocolate?” He didn’t know what he’d mumbled back, but he drank chocolate and the sugar was enough to wake him up.
He stumbled with the rest of the children down to the hall and into the main house, careful not to bump into anyone. The Grand Dining Hall somehow lost its grand-ness despite how large it was simply due to the sheer amount of children. Tom counted forty and he’s pretty sure that he lost count and miscounted somewhere. (There was a pair of twins, he was sure of it.)
“Gather round, Aggie cooked!” Master Harry said. He didn’t shout, but everyone perked up and sat properly.
Food was passed along, simple but filling. He supposed that with how everyone was too young, cooking complicated food must have been a risk.
“We’ve got a new arrival,” Master Harry continued, buttering his toast. “And I won’t ask you to be nice. I will ask you to be polite. Teach him the ropes here.”
“Yes, Master Harry,” they mumbled into the porridge. Tom wanted to sink into his chair but willed himself to stay upright. He wasn’t ashamed of anything!
A boy approached him at the end of it, tall enough to be seventeen but Tom knew him to be younger. Maybe fifteen.
“I’ll show you the main house,” he said. “Call me Jasper.”
Tom was led around to the Potion’s Laboratory, the Library, the Greenhouse and Master Harry’s Office. There was also the Laundry Room, the Kitchen and the real Pantry.
All the while, he was peppered with explanations.
“Most of us here have no money,” Jasper explained. “We grow everything and Master Harry tries to provide, but we’re a lot and he’s only one man. So we brew potions. The ones who can manage, anyway. There’s a shop in Knockturn who’s got a contract with us. He gets all our potions and he doesn’t have to brew anything himself. Of course, the more complicated ones go to Master Harry, but the simple ones we can manage.”
Tom wrinkled his nose at potions but kept silent.
“When we’re nearing our seventeenth birthday, Master Harry suddenly gets us an apprenticeship to wherever we want. It works okay so we don’t get lost outside.”
The very idea of losing oneself in the Sanctuary being a probability was understandable. It was a large house, not even counting the dorms. The Greenhouse, the Library and the Potions Laboratory were larger than Hogwarts’s own. The children were like a community of themselves.
“An apprenticeship?” he prodded, because that explanation was incomplete.
“He knows a lot of people, Master Harry does,” Jasper said. “And those people take us in as favors. Some save enough money just to get by so that they can work somewhere else. Others take their masters in that field.”
At Tom’s look of incomprehension, Jasper elaborated further. “There’s Medicine, Education, Alchemy, Potions, Runes, Astronomy and three more. Dumbledore’s got a mastery in Transfiguration. Someone named Scamander got titled Beast Master because he’s met every creature there is. They get paid really good to write things, or teach, or just lecture people.”
“Does Master Harry have a mastery at anything?” Tom had to ask.
Jasper smirked. “You have no idea how long we’ve been asking that question. Jenna even said that Master Harry likely has a mastery on that rumored tenth subject.”
The Sanctuary was a confusing mass of hidden doors and secret passage ways. It was as bad as Hogwarts. No, it was worse than Hogwarts. Tom never even knew that the rug under his room would lead straight to the bathroom and drop him in the middle of the pool.
It was impossible, it looped space and it gave him a headache. Some days, Tom hated the Sanctuary.
Some days, Tom loved it. Like when Master Harry found time and lectured in the library. There weren’t supposed to be enough chairs (fifty-two children, he counted!), but the room made do and everyone kept quiet to listen.
“All magic is a matter of will,” Master Harry lectured. “I know you’ll hear this in Hogwarts, or in Beauxbatons, that magic is a matter of power, but I know that all that matters is your will. Power comes from your spirit and your spirit comes from your will. The greatest magic I’ve ever found is a young one summoning their favorite toy. Simple enough, but once you think about it, children are the most magical things in the world. Never let anybody tell you different.”
Master Harry’s lectures often gave Tom headache’s too.
But he loved it. He had friends, he had squabbles that were just that and not mortal enemies. He didn’t go cold and wasn’t scolded for making a mess of the garden with the animals.
Tom got his Hogwarts letter for the second year and jolted a little. He had actually forgotten the world outside. The Sanctuary hadn’t made him forget about the outside world, but he’d been having too fun to remember Hogwarts.
Master Harry received the owl with a puzzled look.
“Do you like to go shopping with me then?” he inquired. “This is the earliest I’ve ever seen a letter, your birthday is rather early. You could have mentioned something. Either way, we could all go now and save us the hassle. Everyone will get theirs in due time, I have the list memorized. We can get the books later.”
It turned out, buying in Diagon Alley meant that Master Harry really had memorized their lists. Out of the fifty-two children, thirty-six were eligible for school. Almost half of that went to other schools. Only a handful went to Hogwarts.
For people with very little money, it was a juggle of Arithmancy and timing. Daisy almost seemed to have a preternatural ability to notice bargain sales and Jasper had the eyes of a cat for secondhand clothes that weren’t too embarrassing.
Tom prided himself on keeping up. He reminded the others about cauldrons, ingredients and wands. Everything was saved for the wands of the eleven year olds.
Tom noticed the pinched look on Harry’s face and vowed to help even more.
“We’re pretty good tailors,” Jenna said with a smile. “Bolts of cloth are cheaper in the muggle world and we do sell some of our produce there. We get higher yield or something. Once, someone even broke into that muggle….bloodbank? and sold it to the vampires. Master Harry scolded him for stealing, but not for the selling. We still leave that as a last resort.”
“That’s genius,” Tom muttered, mind working a mile a minute. “I mean, there’s a lot of homeless people in London, the younger street rats. We can pay them money in blood and sell it to the vampires for a higher amount. Disguise it as a blood donation.”
Jenna and the others squinted at him.
“Let’s ask Master Harry,” the younger boy-Balen volunteered. “Maybe he’d have something to add.”
Master Harry didn’t disagree, actually.
“You can run a bar, actually,” Master Harry said slowly. “But you’d have to be very careful. Vampires are a lot stronger than wizards. You’d have to set up careful wards for it. It will work. Do you want my help or do you want to do it by yourselves?”
They wanted his help. So Master Harry purchased property in Knockturn Alley, furnished it and had it warded. Meanwhile, they spread the news of a blood donation offering money to the street urchins, the homeless and the desperate.
Tom had to learn about blood transfusions and safe needles and all. He followed everything to the letter, but when the donation store front closed, he would transfer the blood in sterilized bottles of wine and label it with the blood type, age and the date it was extracted.
When they got to about fifty bottles, they opened the bar and set the older children to man it.
They got their first customer, who chortled at the menu.
“That’s rather cheap, little wizard,” the vampire said. “But who am I to complain. One bottle of a child’s blood please. Younger than five would be wonderful.”
Jasper complained at the creepy clientele but pressed on. Because for the first time in a while, the Sanctuary had enough funds to not buy secondhand clothes. Everybody agreed to keep on buying the secondhand books, but clothes were another issue.
And finally, they heard Master Harry laugh.
“That’s nice,” Daisy murmured to Jasper. “I’ve never heard Master Harry laugh before.”
“That’s coz he’s too busy to laugh, worrying about keeping us all fed,” Sophie, the solemn four year old stated. “Now that he’s got money, he can finally stop and laugh.”
Tom was transfixed, staring at him. The Master caught his eyes and green eyes sparkled with laughter. He refused to believe he was blushing.