“Jesus! Jesus!” Breathless and starry-eyed, the tousle-haired boy raced toward his cousin. “Look!” He thrust the parchment at the other boy and grinned expectantly.
“You know I can't read that,” said Jesus, not putting down his hammer. He did stop pounding, though, and scrutinized John's face. Written characters may have been chicken-scratchings to Jesus' eyes, but human faces and bodies sang to him more clearly than the temple cantor. He knew John's next words even before John had drawn breath to say:
“I got in! It's my acceptance letter.”
Jesus positioned the nail with painstaking precision, and struck it one sharp blow with the hammer. Only then was he able to look up again, a warm smile of genuine pleasure beaming forth from his face, and say, “That's great, John. I'm really happy for you.”
John beamed back, and for a moment the two boys dwelt on the shared understanding. Then the grin faded from John's face, and gravity entered his eyes. Jesus hastily turned back to his work, pounding nails into the smoothly sanded wood.
“You, uh...?” John asked awkwardly, over the pounding. Jesus shook his head without looking up. He had had a long time to get used to the idea that this day would come eventually. His mother was a muggle, and he could hardly have been unaware of the cloud of rumors that had been swirling around his patrilineal parentage since his conception. As his childhood progressed, and he had witnessed the little outbursts of uncontrolled magic from his cousin, while himself consistently failing to produce anything at all unusual, he gradually came to reconcile himself to the self-evident facts.
John was a wizard. Jesus was a muggle. That was just the way it was.
He had known that, rationally, for many years now; and yet a part of him, he now realized, had never stopped hoping deep down that perhaps the letter from Jerusalem would arrive after all, that perhaps he was a late bloomer, that perhaps he and his best friend wouldn't have to be separated, even before the age of manhood, by miles and ability and social standing. Today that fragile hope was entirely quenched.
He drove the nails into the wood, trying to quell the tightness in his chest. “You'll be a great wizard, John,” he said firmly. “The greatest.”
Twenty Years Later
The Chief Wizard gazed down on the rooftops of Jerusalem. “The trouble began,” he murmured, “with John, and I had hoped it might end with him.”
The members of the Wizards' Council exchanged glances, but no one dared speak.
“You have all, I think, heard the rumors. A muggle who can do magic – a plebe, a Galilean – stealing magic from pureblood wizards and giving it to lepers. Running around the country with his merry band of muggles, squibs, and fisherfolk, walking on water and curing blindness, and filling their simple minds with all manner of seditious mendacity. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Fishermen are better than priests. Muggles are better than wizards.”
The Chief Wizard whirled around to face the Council, fury contorting his features.
“Filthy lies! The man couldn't cast a Wand-Lighting Charm if his life depended on it. He's nothing more than a cheap trickster, preying on the weak-minded with his pathetic illusions and his disgusting lies. Demagoguery, sleight of hand, and a credulous populace are his only magic.”
He glared around at the Council, as if daring them to contradict him; but still nobody spoke. Presently the Chief Wizard continued, in a more level tone:
“In isolation, he would perhaps be no more than a mild nuisance. However, in the wake of that unfortunate nonsense with John, I am forced to conclude that the Galilean is a threat to the very fabric of society. Those who were fool enough to believe that a sane man would willingly and knowingly reject his magical heritage, in order to voluntarily live the pitiful half-life of a squib – the followers of one dangerous lunatic have simply pledged their allegiance to another. The muggle leaders report talk of revolution. This man is a danger not only to the general order of society, but to the delicate coexistence of the wizarding and muggle worlds.”
At last the oldest member of the Council, wizened, white-haired, and sunken-faced, cleared his throat. “You wish to have him dealt with.”
“No,” said the Chief Wizard. “Not in the usual fashion. That would accomplish nothing, except to create a void for the next silver-tongued malcontent to fill in turn. The Galilean must be made an example of. Publicly.”
“Ah,” said the old man. “I see. Discourage imitation. And if he is a wizard, he will save himself, no harm done.”
“He won't,” the Chief Wizard said coldly. “He's not a wizard. He's the biggest muggle I ever saw.”