Dean slipped his hand into the hidden pocket inside his windbreaker, checking for his wand. It was the fifth time he’d reached for it since leaving King’s Cross Station, an old nervous tick made that much more intense by the shocking events of the past few days. Dumbledore was dead, and Voldemort was creeping back into power. The last thing Dean needed was to drop his wand on the tube.
That wand was one of the first things his mother had purchased for him when they’d entered Diagon Alley six summers ago. Marjorie Thomas, who was rarely at a loss for words, was stunned into silence when she saw little silver sparks shoot from the end of the third wand her son tried.
“The wand chooses the wizard,” Ollivander had said with a smile. He explained that Dean’s wand was 11 inches, made of beech and with a single unicorn hair at its core.
“This is a wand for a wizard with promise. A kind wizard who will go on to do good things,” he said. Dean remembered his mother’s sigh of relief, the way the tension seemed to drain from her body if only just a bit. Just a few short weeks before, they’d both thought magic was the stuff of fairy tales, and now here they were standing in a wand shop, on a street hidden from non-magical eyes, preparing for Dean’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She could at least take solace in the idea that her oldest son was still the sweet boy she’d always known, regardless of his new-found abilities.
Dean smiled at the memory and gave his wand a grateful squeeze before his thoughts drifted back to the troubles that lay ahead of him. How would he explain any of this to his mother? Voldemort, the Death Eaters, Dumbledore’s murder? For the past few years – since Harry returned from the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament carrying Cedric Diggory’s lifeless body – he’d kept her in the dark about the troubles brewing in the Wizarding World, afraid that she would withdraw him from Hogwarts. Although he loved his family and understood the danger of Voldemort’s return, he couldn’t imagine attending a Muggle school when he knew a place like Hogwarts existed. How could he, when he’d spent years learning to cast spells and make potions? When he’d seen unicorns, hippogriffs, and dragons? How could he leave the place where he’d learned to fly?
Before Cedric’s death, the Wizarding World had felt like a dream. Paintings moved and ghosts existed. He could literally brew liquid luck if he wished. Returning to the Muggle world at the end of each term was bittersweet. He missed his family desperately when he was away, but he still found himself longing to wake up in his four-poster bed in the Gryffindor Tower, Seamus, Neville, Ron, and Harry snoring softly around him.
His mother was the only person from his non-magical life who knew the truth about Dean’s school. She’d told his family and friends, including his step-father and half-siblings, that Dean had been granted a scholarship at an impressive boarding school in Switzerland. His brothers and sisters spent a great deal of each school break teasing him about becoming posh. Dean pretended to be annoyed, when all he really wanted was to tell them the truth, Statute of Secrecy be damned.
Things would never be the same, he thought. For one, Dumbledore was dead, and although Dean had always known that he was quite old, Dean hadn’t imagined a time without him there to protect and guide Hogwarts. The first time Dean had seen Dumbledore with his long, sweeping hair and his colorful robes, he’d thought, “Now, that is what a proper wizard is supposed to look like.” Dumbledore, Hogwarts, the Hogwarts Express, all of it had made it clear: magic was real, and Dean was someone who could wield it. Dean Thomas was a wizard.
The safety that Dumbledore provided was also gone. It was common knowledge that Dumbledore was the only wizard Voldemort ever feared, and Dean could imagine why. He hadn’t had many interactions with the late headmaster, but he’d often felt that Albus Dumbledore could see right through him. If it weren’t for the kind twinkle in the elderly wizard’s eyes (or, the fact that Dean didn’t have much to hide, in general), Dean supposed he would have feared Dumbledore, as well.
What was to stop Voldemort from his mission to bring the Muggle world to its knees, now that Dumbledore was gone? Voldemort’s hatred of both Muggles and Muggle-borns was a known fact, and Dean was fairly certain that he came from a completely non-magical family. What would become of people like him? People whose blood was considered “dirty” by pureblood wizards who had been inbreeding since the time of Merlin?
Of course, he could never truly be certain of his family lineage. His father, Samuel Thomas, had disappeared when he was just a baby and had no other family to speak of. His mother always said that she was never sure she got to know the “real” Samuel, anyway.
“I supposed he showed me what I wanted, and I wanted to believe it was all true,” Marjorie Thomas would say, whenever Dean asked for her to talk about his dad. He did that less and less over the years, not wanting to drum up any painful memories. But to him, it sounded as if they’d had a perfect relationship before his dad disappeared. Marjorie often said that strange happenings tended to take place when Samuel was around. There was that time when Dean had almost fallen down the stairs, and somehow, had landed safely in his father’s waiting arms. Marjorie raved about Samuel’s cooking, but she always said that he seemed to make these amazing meals in no time at all. Then, there was the timing of his father’s disappearance.
For years, Dean had just believed that his father got tired of having a family and decided to skip out on them. Or, if he was feeling more generous, he spun himself wild stories about his father slipping on a patch of ice, banging his head, and waking up in a hospital with no memory of his life or his wife and child. But the more he learned about Wizarding history, the more he started to wonder. His father’s disappearance lined up almost perfectly with the first rise of the Death Eaters. Was it possible that he’d run afoul of them somehow? Or, worse, that he’d died while in their service?
When he’d tried to look up his father in the Wizarding family records Madam Pince kept in a dusty corner of the Hogwarts library, he’d come up empty. If his father was a wizard, there was no way to prove it. At one point, he had started to doubt whether or not “Samuel Thomas” was even his dad’s real name.
Dean shook his head, startling the older white woman who had sat down next to him on the tube. He’d been so deep inside his thoughts that he hadn’t even noticed her presence. He gave her an apologetic smile, but she frowned at him and moved her handbag to her other arm. Dean felt his anger flare. At Hogwarts, he’d had to worry about Slytherins stage-whispering “Mudblood” whenever they caught him alone. Out in the Muggle world, he was a Black teenager, growing into a Black man. He supposed both forms of hatred came from a place of fear, and he honestly wasn’t sure which one was more dangerous.
“Excuse me,” he muttered bitterly and moved to another seat on the other end of the train car. He had five more stops to go, and he wasn’t going to spend that time watching her clutch her handbag for dear life. He wanted so badly to be home already, to be back around people who loved him. It had been a rough few weeks, after all, he thought, as his mind drifted toward what felt like the most frustrating problem of all: Ginny.
He hated himself for thinking about a girl at a time like this – even if it was Ginny Weasley – when the entire Wizarding World seemed to be falling apart, and yet, he couldn’t help himself. Everything seemed to remind him of her. The red-headed woman who’d boarded the train a few stops ago. The Firebolt pin she’d given him to fasten to his school bag (it could hover a few feet off the ground if you unpinned it and said “Up”). Another teen couple who he’d seen cuddling on a bench at the train station, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a whole world existed outside of their embrace.
Ginny hadn’t been a perfect girlfriend, by any means. She had a habit of getting annoyed at all of his attempts at chivalry. He supposed that she was right. Some of the “polite” things he’d assumed she would find charming could be a bit much, but he hadn’t been trying to help her through the portrait hole the day they broke up. It wouldn’t have made sense, as she’d been climbing into the Gryffindor Common Room since long before they’d become an item. Then, there was the way she had looked at Harry, when she didn’t think Dean could see. At first, he just thought that she was intrigued by him like all of the Gryffindors seemed to be when Harry wasn’t being accused of being the Heir of Slytherin or being made out to be an attention-hungry prat in The Daily Prophet. But then, her brother, George, had made a joke about Ginny swooning over Harry every time he turned up at the Burrow, and Dean had felt a strong urge to punch Harry in the face.
Ginny was the first witch who seemed to notice that he existed, and he’d fallen for her harder than he’d expected. Occasionally, Muggle girls’ heads turned when he was back in his old neighborhood while on holiday, but at Hogwarts, he had often felt invisible. He wasn’t really sure if it was because he, like the rest of his roommates, so often fell into the shadow of the Famous Harry Potter, whose own popularity (or, more often, infamy) seemed to be a near-constant source of personal turmoil for him.
Other times, Dean wondered if it was simply because he was one of only about ten Black students in the entire school. It was something he’d wanted to talk about with the other boys in the Hogwarts’ Black Student Union, but it never felt as important as their talks about white European wizards’ disdain for African wizards and their wandless magic, or the discomfort that Blaise felt whenever his fellow Slytherins expected him to join in on their bigotry towards Muggle-borns. Frustrated and unsure, Dean had ruled out dating altogether, until Ginny.
And now, she had taken up with Harry Potter, of all people. Harry, who she’d told him not to worry about. Harry, who he’d caught shooting envious glances at he and Ginny whenever they were around. Harry, who he’d defended when Seamus accused him of lying about Voldemort’s return. Harry, who he’d remained loyal to, even when he had been suspected of being capable of pure evil.
Dean had tried and failed to hate Harry over the past couple of weeks. But now, in light of all that was happening, Dean knew that he would have to let it go. Harry was rumored to be the Chosen One, the one who would finally defeat He Who Must Not Be Named. Deep down, past the jealousy and betrayal he felt whenever he thought about Harry and Ginny kissing for the first time that day in the common room, Dean knew that it was his duty to support Harry. When the time came, he must be prepared to fight. Even as the train arrived at his stop, and he began to make the walk to his mother’s home, where he was sure there would be a delicious meal and several crushing hugs from his brothers awaiting him, he began to plan his escape back into the Wizarding World and into the war.