The Sugar Quill
Author: Yolanda (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Conversation with Albus Dumbledore  Chapter: Chapter One: Suspending Disbelief
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Hogwarts and its inhabitants belong to J.K. Rowling.

Thanks to Zsenya for her great ideas.

Chapter One: Suspending Disbelief

 

I should never be allowed to drive alone, that's all I can say. Well, that's not quite all I can say. I should really never be allowed to drive in a foreign country alone, but that's exactly what I did a few weeks ago. I was in Scotland on vacation with a group of girlfriends, and I decided to rent a car and just go off on my own. I thought, what's the worst that can happen? I get lost and I drive a little longer. To a Texan, even an eight-hour drive is short, and Scotland isn't that big.

I was on a small winding road coming away from a deserted little village when I spotted an old castle. It used to be a castle anyway. I pulled over and started to walk around. I don't know what drew me to this particular ruin covered in ivy, and surrounded by overgrowth, but it seemed worth exploring. There was a sign warning of danger, so I walked all around the ruin, being careful not to step into any big cracks in the ground.

I got out my camera and looked for the right angle to photograph the ruin. The sun was behind the best side, so I didn't think the picture would be worth much, but as I snapped it, I thought I saw the outline of a larger castle. I shook my head and wondered what was in the tea I had had with lunch. Then, I heard a voice behind me.

"Excuse me, I was wondering if you were lost." I turned around and there was the strangest looking man I'd ever seen. He was tall and thin, with long white hair and a long beard. The clothes he had on were pretty over the top. He was wearing a pointed hat and long purple - I guess you'd call them robes. I didn't want to stare, so I pretended to be looking for something in my bag.

"Oh, hi," I said. "I hope it's OK for me to take a picture. I was just out exploring, that's all." Normally, I would have just said I was fine and left without another word, but there was something so friendly and inviting in this person's blue eyes that I didn't feel a bit threatened.

"By all means. You may take as many pictures as you like, Miss -"

"Mrs. Johnson, Yolanda Johnson." I said holding out my hand.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Mrs. Johnson. My name is Albus Dumbledore." He shook my hand. "You sound as if you are far away from home."

"I guess my accent gives me away. I'm from a city in Texas just right north of Dallas. I'm here on vacation." I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew his name from somewhere. "You know, your name sounds familiar. Have you written a book or something?" I asked him.

"No, but I did recently write introductions to two books that were sold to support a charity called Comic Relief, U.K."

"That's it. My husband bought those books for me in March, when I was recovering from surgery. You wrote the forwards to the books about the fictional sport and the magical creatures."

"That's correct, Mrs. Johnson. I hope you are well now."

"Oh, sure. My idea of recovering from surgery was to go hiking in Big Bend National Park during my son's spring holiday two weeks after the operation. It wasn't anything serious. I guess you've never been to Texas, or have you?"

"I'm afraid I haven't been in the United States in many years."

"Oh, you need to come back soon, then." I was getting a little worried about what I was seeing behind him. "Mr. Dumbledore, I keep seeing flashes of the outline of a large castle. Is there something going on here that I should be worried about?"

"No, not all. I take it as a good sign that you can see a large castle in the background, because Mrs. Johnson, there is a large castle in the background."

"OK, now you're freaking me out. Maybe I should leave-"

"Mrs. Johnson, you are the first Muggle to ever stop here to look at the ruin. I have certainly never heard of any of your kind being able to see the outline of the castle. Clearly there is some reason for you to be here. We have simply not discovered it yet. Follow me."

"Oh, man. I'm beginning to feel like I'm a sandwich short of a picnic, but all right." What was that he called me? I wondered.

He chuckled - at my expression, I think, and then he beckoned me forward. I followed him through part of what used to be a wrought-iron gate. As soon as I had crossed to the other side, a large stone castle with lots of towers and windows appeared on top of a mountain. In front of the castle was a lake. I could swear I saw something with tentacles floating near the surface.

"Dorothy, you ain't in Kansas anymore," I said in an awe-filled voice. "Where the heck am I? Did I die in a car wreck all alone in the middle of nowhere or have I finally gone psychotic?"

"Neither, Mrs. Johnson. You are at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

"Wait a minute. Didn't one of books have a Hogwarts library stamp on it or something?"

"That's correct. Would you like to see the building?"

"But I thought this place really didn't exist. I thought it was all part of the marketing of the books. Hogwarts is supposed to be a magical place and magic isn't real. I mean, I'd like it to be real. But I've never been able to work any magic myself, unless you count sneaking five new pairs of shoes into my closet unnoticed."

He smiled at me. "You'll see, Mrs. Johnson. It is a real building. You just have to be willing to accept that it is real." We started walking toward the front steps. It almost seemed like we got there faster than I would have expected, but at that point who knew what to expect!

"You might as well call me Yolanda, since you seem to be taking me on a trip to the Land of Oz."

"Very well, Yolanda, but tell me, where is Oz?"

"It's a fictional place in a book by L. Frank Baum. The book is about a hundred years old -" I stopped short at the top of the front steps of the castle. "What beautiful doors!" I heard myself say as he opened an enormous carved oak door. Then I saw a large entryway with a magnificent marble staircase at one end. To the left was a huge room with rows of tables.

"This is amazing," I said, looking into the large room. The ceiling looked just like the sky outside.

"Yes, the Great Hall is where we take our meals. During the school year, it would be full of students."

"The ceiling seems to look like the sky outside. Is that a magical weather forecast?" I asked.

"The ceiling is enchanted to show the current conditions outdoors. Why don't I take you to my office, Yolanda. I have a feeling we might discover why you are here if we look in a certain book."

"Sure," I said, thinking, What the heck, I might as well. "If you don't mind me asking, Mr. Dumbledore, what do you do? Are you a teacher?"

"As a matter of fact, Yolanda, I am the Headmaster of this school. I used to teach Transfiguration many years ago, but now I simply see that things un-fold as they should for the students here." He gave me a funny look, I guess because he saw the gears turning in my brain.

"Transfiguration is the art of changing one object or person into something different," he said. "We begin here with simple exercises, such as turning a match into a needle, and then move forward to human transfiguration."

"As in, 'She turned me into a newt. I got better?'" I asked, immediately realizing that I'd blurted out something quite politically incorrect. I mean, there's not much chance he'd seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail and if he had, wouldn't it be offensive to him?

"I'm afraid I don't understand," he said, and his eyes seemed to twinkle.

"Oh, it's a line from a very silly film. It's not important."

"Ah, yes, the cinema. I'm afraid I haven't seen a film in many years, perhaps even as long ago as 1957," he said, with a faraway look on his face. Does he know that was the year I was born? I wondered.

He led me through several corridors. I had to stop a few times because I thought I was seeing things. The people in the paintings seemed to be moving. Not only did they move within each painting, but they also moved from frame to frame. A couple of them even talked to me. I guess they weren't used to seeing one of my kind.

"Oh, Mr. Dumbledore, this place is wonderful. I just can't believe it! I have so many questions to ask you. Do you use wands to cast spells? Can some of you work magic by just blinking or twitching your noses? Where do you keep the imps and the unicorns?"

He chuckled again and said, "For most ordinary spells and charms, we use wands. Some can be done without a wand. As for blinking and twitching one's nose, I cannot imagine where you got that idea."

"I'm ashamed to admit that there was a television program in the '60's called Bewitched. That's where the blinking and the nose twitching idea came from."

"Now that you mention it, the Ministry of Magic was not at all pleased when this program was imported from your country. As for Unicorns, they live in the Forbidden Forest, which I can show you later. Not all the creatures you read about in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them live on the school grounds, though. Our Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Rubeus Hagrid, at times imports different creatures to use in his class."

"Wow! It's all so incredible."

He smiled in an almost paternal manner. Those twinkling eyes of his were very engaging. He just made you feel like you were instantly his good friend. He led me to the end of a corridor where a large and very ugly stone gargoyle stood in front of a wall. He walked up to it and said, "Chocolate Frog." The wall behind the gargoyle opened up and I could see a spiral staircase.

"Wow! This is way cooler than a metal detector. That's what I have to go through to get to my office." He smiled again. Just as we were about to get onto the moving spiral staircase, I heard a voice from behind me.

"Professor Dumbledore, sir. I need to speak to you about Peeves. He's really done it now. It's urgent." I turned and saw a very sour-looking man. He wasn't really tall, nor was he especially short. He looked like someone who liked to snoop around. His eyes narrowed suspiciously as he looked me over. His robes looked a bit more functional than those of Professor Dumbledore. I thought maybe he was a custodian. Behind him was an ugly, stringy looking cat.

"If you don't mind, Yolanda, I will leave you in my office while I address this problem. Mr. Filch, if you will allow me to take our guest up to my office, I'll be right back."

"Of course, Professor Dumbledore."

Professor Dumbledore and I got on the moving spiral staircase. I'd never been on a spiral escalator before. He opened the door at the top and pointed to a nice leather chair. Then, he shut the door behind him. I sat there, looking around and wondering if I was totally out of my mind, when I saw the most beautiful bird I'd ever seen.

Let me just say, I don't own a bird. I'm strictly a dog person. This bird, however, was spectacular. But what wasn't spectacular in this place? The bird was about the size of a swan and a deep red in color. Its tail was gold, and was as long as a peacock's tail. He looked at me and cocked his head. Then, he began to sing a very strange and unearthly song. For some reason, the sounds comforted me. I wasn't exactly on the verge of an anxiety attack, but I was close, until I heard the bird sing.

Just then there was a knock at the door and a man walked in. He had a big fish tank in his arms and said, "Professor Dumbledore-"

"He's not here right now, but he'll be back. He's with a man called, I believe, Mr. Filch."

The youngish man looked astonished. I guess these people don't get out much, because I seemed to be exotic to all of them. I couldn't help staring back a little, and let me apologize to my husband in advance. This guy was pretty nice looking. He was a little younger than me. He looked somewhat tired and his hair was prematurely gray, but he had very pretty eyes and an open, kind face.

"Hi! I'm Yolanda Johnson," I said to him, standing up and holding out my hand. "I just stumbled onto this place and Professor Dumbledore brought me up here to look in some sort of book. He said it should explain why I can see everything here."

"It's very nice to meet you, Miss Johnson," he said, putting the tank down on the floor and shaking my hand. "I'm Remus Lupin. I'm going to be teaching here again at the fall term. I must say, I'm very surprised that a Muggle, what we call a non-magic person, can see Hogwarts."

"Why does everyone assume I'm a Muggle? Is that the word? I know the clothes give me away a little, but is there a way to tell if a person is non-magic?" I almost told him that I was Mrs. Johnson, but I decided to let that go for now. I was trying to act cool, whatever that meant in their world.

"I must confess, it is your clothes that gave you away. We are not as fashionable, I'm afraid."

"I don't know if fashion is quite the word for it. Anyway, I get the idea that I'm really foreign here, as in not just from the United States."

"You are, but only because we try to keep our world secret and apart from yours," he said in a gentle voice.

"But why, Mr. Lupin? I know that historically we wouldn't have welcomed people who could work magic, but come on, haven't any of you ever heard of the Psychic Hotline?"

He laughed. "I do believe I've seen an article about fraudulent divination in the Muggle world. Think of it this way. Can you imagine what people on the outside would do to us if they thought we could give them everything they wanted?"

"Oh, you're right. I hadn't thought of it that way. I feel as if I'm not thinking straight at all right now. I do have loads of questions, though. Is Quidditch real? Do you have a school team? Do you go everywhere on a broom? What about appearing and disappearing, can you do that?" I was pacing around the room and talking with my hands.

I turned back to look at him. His light brown eyes were wide with amusement. "Yes, I can see that this is quite a change from your ordinary world."

Ouch! Does that mean he thinks I'm not sophisticated? "I'm sorry I'm being such a goober. I mean, I'm sorry I'm being so effusive. I always pride myself on presenting an image quite the opposite of the average American tourist. See, I'm not wearing white shoes or loud clothing. I don't have to have ice in all my drinks, and I do love to walk."

He laughed, "That isn't at all what I meant, Miss Johnson. I just think that someone who is transported from the non-magic world to ours in such a sudden manner would have a lot to digest." I sat back down and it was his turn to pace around a little.

"Let me start with this. Quidditch is indeed a real sport, and it is played in the air on broomsticks. There are actually four teams at Hogwarts, one for each of the four houses, or groupings of students. There are professional teams as well, local and national. I think you must have read about them in Quidditch Through the Ages."

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did read that book this past spring." I told him, holding my head up.

He paced around a little more and then continued, "As for your other questions, I personally don't like brooms that much as a mode of travel, but I do use them. I can Apparate and Disapparate, meaning appear and disappear. We take an examination to obtain a license for Apparating. No one can do so, however, within the grounds of the school."

I thought about it for a moment and said, "That must be a security measure."

"Right," he said.

I really appreciated how easy he was to talk to, but for a moment we were both quiet. Then, I asked, "Do you have any idea why I'm here, Mr. Lupin? I have absolutely no magical ability at all."

"No, I'm afraid I don't know. I guess you'll have to wait for Professor Dumbledore to return. I suppose I can come back later."

"Sure, you must be busy getting ready for school to start. My son will be starting the fifth grade this year. He's ten," I said to him.

"Oh, you have a family, but they are not with you."

"I'm an evil woman, Mr. Lupin. I left my husband and son at home in Texas and I'm with a group of middle-aged women running around loose in Scotland. I left the group today to go exploring and ended up here."

He laughed again. "Your family must miss you, Mrs. Johnson. You are very amusing."

"The last refuge of the middle-aged mom, being funny. I suspect they miss me because they can't find their clean clothes without me."

Just then, the door opened and Professor Dumbledore came back in carrying a large book. "I see you've met one of our teachers. Remus, perhaps we can solve the mystery of why Mrs. Johnson can see Hogwarts."

I swallowed hard as he opened the book.

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