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Magic Kingdom - A Disney/Hogwarts Crossover

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MAGIC KINGDOM

a Disney/Hogwarts Crossover Fic

 

 

  1. HAPPY THOUGHTS

 

Wendy ignored the stinging in her eyes and forced herself to take calm, measured breaths. After reassuring her family she could handle something as simple as getting on a train by herself, she didn't want to have a nervous breakdown here in the station. You're being quite ridiculous, she scolded herself. You've been going to boarding schools since you were Michael's age, and this is no different.

                Except, it was different. This new school was something quite outside her previous experience, and merely getting there was proving difficult. Impossible, even, one might say. In fact, if it hadn't been for the amount of paperwork and other necessary miscellany the transfer had required, she'd think she had been the target of an elaborate ruse.

                Clearly, she was misreading all the signs. That was it; faulty communication on the part of British Rail. She swallowed down the hard lump in her throat and looked around at the signs. If Platform Nine was here, and Platform Ten was here, then--

                "Oops!"

                Wendy blinked and turned, stopping just before colliding with someone. "Goodness, I'm sorry," Wendy said. "I should have been paying attention."

                "That's quite all right," the girl said. "No harm done." A black ribbon held back her blonde hair, and she looked to be about the same age as Wendy. Like Wendy, she wore a blue dress, but with a white cardigan and black-and-white-striped stockings.

                The girl was by herself and seemed to be carrying an equal amount of luggage as Wendy. "I don't suppose you know where I might find--"

                "Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters?" the girl finished for her. "I was looking for it, myself." She held out a hand. "I'm Alice," she said.

                Wendy shook the offered hand. "Wendy. Nice to meet you." She looked around. "I'm beginning to think we shan't find our platform simply by looking."

                Alice looked around, her large blue eyes seeming to lose focus. "I'm not so sure," she said, voice going soft and dreamy. She gestured to the wall between the ninth and tenth platforms. "There's something... It's larger than it really is, and...open, on the inside."

                Wendy's eyebrows raised, briefly, though she quickly pulled them into place again. She didn't know what was happening to Alice, but she knew she shouldn't behave as if anything the blonde girl was doing was strange. It wasn't polite. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand," Wendy said.

                Alice blinked, and her expression returned to normal. "Hm? Oh. Perhaps we should ask someone."

                "Yes," Wendy said, "perhaps."

                Wendy looked around and spotted a pair of older boys, each toting trolleys laden with luggage. They were chatting amiably with each other, walking in the general direction of Wendy and Alice. They both smiled pleasantly at the girls as they passed, and kept walking. Wendy drew a breath to warn them that they were about to crash into the barrier between platforms--when they simply vanished.

                Wendy gaped. "What-- Did you--"

                "I saw it," Alice said, rather calmly, given that they had just witnessed two boys disappear. "It actually makes perfect sense, now."

                Wendy turned to Alice. "How so?"

                "Where does one find nine and three quarters?" Alice asked her. "Between nine and ten," she said, before Wendy could answer.

                Wendy considered that. "So...we simply walk towards the wall, and don't stop?"

                Alice gave a little shrug. "It certainly seems that way," she said.

                Wendy walked over to the wall and ran a hand over it. It certainly felt solid. When she pushed against it, nothing gave. She even slapped it, to no avail. "I don't suppose you heard them speak any magic words, or anything?"

                Alice shook her head, then gasped, jerking Wendy off to the side. Wendy spluttered, looking around for an incoming hazard. Seeing nothing, Wendy turned to look at Alice, whose eyes were wide with confused panic. Wendy did her best to keep her expression and tone neutral, and asked, "What was the purpose of that?"

                Alice frowned, pain adding to the mix of emotions on the blonde girl's face. "I--I'm sorry--I didn't--"

                Wendy wasn't sure how to respond. She opened her mouth to speak, when she heard someone shout, "Look out below!" Wendy turned and saw a luggage trolley barreling in their direction. It was laden with cases and trunks, and riding on top was a young boy, crowing with pure glee. Wendy only caught a glimpse of auburn hair and a wide grin before the trolley and its passenger vanished into the wall.

                Wendy stared for a moment, then began rearranging herself, after the wind of the boy's passage mussed her carefully curled hair. She glanced at Alice, who was looking much more relaxed and calm--relieved, even--as she tidied the bow holding back her blonde tresses. "Yes, well," Wendy said, "clearly, there's less finesse involved than one would expect."

                Alice nodded and the pair of them gathered their luggage trolleys. Almost in unison, the two girls took a breath and began striding purposefully towards the wall. Think of Christmas, Wendy told herself as she drew closer to the wall. Think of snow. Think of sleigh bells. Here we--

 

*~*~*

 

"Oh."

                Wendy gaped at spectacle before her. A gleaming, scarlet steam engine waited at the platform, as people bustled around in purposeful chaos. Porters handled trunks and cases and cages holding a menagerie of creatures. Many of the people were wearing perfectly ordinary clothing, while others were dressed more like they'd escaped from some kind of artist's commune. She even saw a few who would have looked more at home at some sort of historical reenactment.

                "Oh, indeed," Alice agreed.

                "I suppose there's nothing to do but carry on," Wendy said.

                "Oh, there are many things one could do," Alice said. "But the huge majority of them are neither sensible nor helpful."

                Wendy glanced over at her. "Quite."

                The two of them went forwards with purpose, spines straight and faces intent. Wendy couldn't speak for Alice, but she certainly wasn't going to let anyone know how utterly terrified she was. When they drew nearer the train, a pair of porters approached and relieved them of their trolleys. Alice and Wendy each took bags from their respective trolleys, containing things they'd want or need with them on the train journey.

                The girls took a deep breath and boarded the Hogwarts Express.

 

*~*~*

 

Normally, Wendy would have said that no one was more surprised than she when the letter arrived. After all, it isn't every day one receives a letter announcing one's acceptance into a school for witchcraft and wizardry, even if it isn't delivered by an owl. But upon reading the mysterious missive, connections began to be made in Wendy's mind. She'd always felt a little bit different from other children, like there was something else there, just outside her reach. Incidents she'd dismissed as pure coincidence suddenly had a new context, and it felt right. All of those strange occurrences were suddenly explained with a single word: magic.

                So, in a way, she wasn't surprised at all. Her parents, however...

                Her mother was hesitant, if one were to be charitable. After all, to the majority of humanity, magic was the stuff of fiction and superstition. It simply didn't exist. A school claiming to teach it was deluded, at best. But, after a visit from one of the school's staff, who performed acts of magic far too blatant to be sleight of hand or stage illusion, Wendy's mother was forced to accept this new truth. Yet, even in the face of the sheep--formerly one of the sitting room end tables--Wendy's father could not accept said truth.

                His denial went so far and so deep he convinced himself his eldest child and only daughter was off at a completely mundane boarding school, which taught nothing more arcane than oil painting and Latin. When Wendy and her mother were led to a place called Diagon Alley by the Hogwarts teacher who'd visited earlier, in order to purchase the many strange things required for her coming school year, Wendy's father remained at home, believing the ladies of the house were out on an ordinary shopping trip, and wondered why the sitting room smelled faintly of farmyard.

                That brief excursion into Diagon Alley had not been unlike being dropped onto an alien planet for an afternoon, but it had, in a way, been a boon in acclimating to the world of magic. Strange and chaotic as it might be, the Hogwarts Express was nothing compared to the sheer otherness of Diagon Alley. At least Wendy had been on busy trains before, and knew how to navigate the all-too-narrow corridors and find an empty compartment for herself and Alice. Naturally, most of the students on board the Express were older and returning for another year. Wendy and Alice passed reuniting friends and cliques drawing towards each other by some internal magnetism. There was something decidedly odd about the girl, but Wendy was glad to accept Alice as a sort of friend-by-default.

                Wendy pulled Alice into the first empty compartment she could find, but frowned upon seeing the baggage left in the seats essentially claiming them. Wendy frowned and turned to leave, almost bumping into a third girl, entering behind them.

                "Gosh, I'm sorry," the girl said in a sweet, flute-like voice. "Did I startle you?"

                Wendy was about to say "no", but indeed, found herself struck by the girl's appearance. She was a little older, a little taller, a little more developed, and, yes, startlingly pretty. She had chin-length, raven-black hair, large, amber-brown eyes, and full, blood-red lips. Setting off all those colors was skin as flawless and white as a porcelain doll. She wouldn't have looked out of place in a vampire movie, but she managed to project a genuine warmth and gentleness which was almost palpable.

                "No, no," Wendy said, "I'm sorry. We didn't see you had claimed the compartment already. We'll get out of your way."

                "Don't be silly," the older girl said, smiling wide. "There's plenty of room, and all the other compartments will have at least a few people inside."

                "Well," Wendy said, exchanging a glance with Alice, who seemed amenable. "If you're sure?"

                "Make yourselves at home," the girl said, and set about rearranging the bags set on the seats. "There's only a couple of other girls sharing the compartment, so we won't be crowded." She looked up and her expression brightened further. "Oh, there they are. We have company!" she sang as the new arrivals walked in.

                The new arrivals both blinked at finding Wendy and Alice in their compartment, but smiled at them. The taller of the two had her ginger-blonde hair bound up in a bun, and the other wore her tumble of coppery curls loose around her shoulders, decorated with flower barrettes. Both girls carried armloads of packaged treats.

                The younger girl with the curly hair beamed at Wendy and Alice. "Oh, hi! You two must be first-years," she said. She moved to extend a hand, but then remembered she was carrying thing, and quickly stumbled, trying not to drop anything. The dark-haired girl jumped over and helped her out, dumping some of her burden on the seats.

                The older girl with the bun rolled her eyes and set down her own armload. She turn and extended a hand to Alice. "Ella," she said. "Ella Glasheim."

                "Alice Carroll," Alice replied, shaking the offered hand.

                Ella turned to Wendy, and the two shook hands. "Wendy Darling," Wendy said. She couldn't help but notice how rough and calloused the girl's hand was, and how strong her grip.

                The girl with the curls kicked her shoes off and curled bare feet under her as she perched on the seat. "I'm Giselle," she said. "Giselle Dubois."

                A shell-pink blush appeared on the pale girl's cheeks as she said, a bit sheepishly, "My name is Snow White."

                Once again, Wendy found herself reining in her eyebrows, hiding her disbelief that someone's name and appearance could match like that. "Delighted," she said.

                When groups of strangers come together in close quarters for the first time, a bit of uncomfortable silence is natural. However, in the cozy little train compartment, it didn't last long. Snow let out sigh, like a contented bluebird and chirped, "This is nice, isn't it?"

                "Actually, I'm more than a little nervous," Alice said, though her tone was more curious than anything else.

                "I confess a little trepidation, myself," Wendy replied.

                Giselle opened up a bottle of some kind of fizzy drink with a label Wendy didn't recognize. "Perfectly understandable," she said.

                Ella smirked. "Oh, please," she said. "You hugged everyone you met as soon as you stepped on the platform. You actually burst into song."

                Wendy and Alice Both looked to Giselle, who lifted her chin in dignity. "It was a momentous occasion," she said.

                Snow burst into musical giggles, followed by Ella, and then Giselle. With Giselle laughing at herself, Wendy and Alice felt comfortable to join in. Snow examined the treats the other girls had brought with them and looked up at the two new girls. "There's a snack trolley which comes by after we get out of the city," she said, "but we thought it would be a good idea to hunt it down before we left so we could get first pick."

                "You won't see an ounce of chocolate once it passes the Agnarsdottr sisters," Ella said. "You can feel free to share."

                "That's very kind of you," Wendy said, and meant it. Her family was not of restricted means, but after buying school supplies, there was very little left of the money she'd had exchanged for wizard currency. "But I insist on contributing when the trolley makes it rounds."

                Alice nodded. "Me, too," she said.

                Snow nodded and smiled. "Well, we're happy to share," she said, "but if that makes you feel more comfortable, that's fine. I like anything apple-flavored."

 

*~*~*

 

Soon, the train was in motion, and much of Wendy's nervousness had been replaced with elation. It was actually happening. There was no turning back now. The five girls started chatting amiably. Giselle doodled in a little sketchbook as they talked, while Ella seemed to busy herself with some knitting. Wendy wanted desperately to grill the three returning students on every aspect of the school, but didn't want to be pushy. Alice had no such compunction. With wide-eyed curiosity, she drank in every story the older girls told, asking questions every time they paused for breath.

                Snow, Ella and Giselle all belonged to Hufflepuff House, though Snow and Ella were a couple of years ahead. This, naturally, elicited a flurry of questions from Alice about the nature of the Houses. To hear them explain it, the Houses were sort of like internal communities within the school. The Houses weren't just dormitories, but competed with each other in things like sports and academic achievement. They wouldn't elaborate, exactly, on how the students were placed in each House, claiming it was worth the surprise.

                There was also a general discussion on what to expect from classes, about the teachers, and the school in general. Wendy was about to ask what exactly they meant by "ghosts" when there was a knock on the door, and a pair of heads poked in.

                "Ladies!" one of them said. "Good to see you made it through the summer!"

                Wendy recognized them as the two boys she and Alice had seen first vanishing through the platform wall at the train station. At first, she thought they were twins. Both were tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and rather good-looking. Both were also dressed in button-down shirts, black slacks, grey vests, and blue ties striped with brown. But closer inspection showed that one was a bit taller and a bit leaner, while the other was built more squarely and solidly. Fraternal twins, then? Brothers, at least, surely.

                "Hi, Henry! Hi, Florian!" Giselle called to the boys.

                "Glad you decided to come back, Miss Sunshine," the taller boy said. "We're looking forward to this season's performances."

                Ella eyed him. "Henry, be nice," she said.

                Henry put a hand to his chest. "I'm always nice," he said, in mock-indignation. "Ask anyone."

                Ella rolled her eyes. "Wendy, Alice, meet Henry Charmant and Florian Reizvoll," she said, and the two boys bowed their heads towards the new girls.

                "Charmed," they said in unison.

                Ella shook a finger at the pair. "Wendy and Alice are incoming first-years," she said. "Don't scare them."

                Henry puffed his chest, feigning insult. "As if we would!" He held out an elbow to Florian. "Come, Florian, my good man. We shall away from these libelous females."

                "Indeed, good sir," Florian said, hooking his elbow around Henry's. "We shall not suffer such assaults against our dignity." The two turned and left the compartment, but not before Florian looked over his shoulder and called, "Hi, Snow!" which got a giggle from the pale girl.

                Ella sighed and rolled her eyes. "You'd never guess they were Ravenclaws," she said, closing the compartment door.

                "Are they related?" Alice asked. "If it weren't for the names, I would have assumed they were brothers."

                "They get that a lot," Giselle replied. "They probably are related, way up the line. The wizarding families tend to marry each other."

                The five chatted some more, pausing when the snacks trolley made an appearance. Giselle and Snow explained what some of the strange treats were, and Wendy and Alice each bought a few things to add to their communal meal. True to their word, Alice and Wendy made sure to buy some apple cider and apple cookies for Snow. By this point they were all quite hungry, and they tore into their feast. Ella, being very sensible, had made sure they all had actual food, like sandwiches and packaged vegetables, and not just sugary snacks.

                One of the candies the older girls had encouraged them to buy was a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. "And they mean every flavor," Giselle said.

                "They're not something I'd recommend on a regular basis," Snow said. "But they're fun on occasion."

                Wendy looked at the box and drew out a pink candy. "I do like strawberry," she said, and began chewing. Suddenly, she halted, and forced it down. "Not strawberry," she said, grimacing. "Salmon. I see what you mean."

                Alice reached for a purple candy, hesitated, and selected a murky brown one instead. She chewed thoughtfully. "Tea." This began a round of trying out jelly beans and seeing who got which flavor. Wendy noticed Alice managed to luck into select the most inoffensive flavors, like toast, custard and cucumber. The other four girls, however, had to dive into the peppermint humbugs to cleanse their palettes.

                "You know, we really ought to get changed into our uniforms," Snow said, glancing out the window. Wendy presumed she could tell by the surroundings how long they had until they arrived at the school. Snow and Alice decided to brave the line to the ladies' room, while the others would take turns changing in the compartment, guarded by the two not changing.

                Wendy soon had her blue dress and jacket swapped for the white shirt, black skirt and grey vest all the girls wore at Hogwarts. Not having been assigned to a House, she didn't have a House tie, yet. She stepped out and allowed Giselle the next turn to change clothes. She and Ella stood outside the door, and Wendy tried not to imitate the serious, forbidding stance Ella took. Soon, it was Ella's turn to change clothes, Giselle having traded her purple sweater and leggings for her uniform and Hufflepuff tie.

                As Ella changed clothes, a brawny older boy approached. He was handsome, in a classical sort of way, with a square jaw, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and a shirt which seemed almost purposefully too small for his powerful build. His red and gold tie hung jauntily loose around his strong neck. "Well, what do we have here?" he said, nearing the two girls. "I recognize the songbird, but who's this little thing?" He leaned against the doorframe, giving a smile he probably thought was meant to be charming.

                Wendy drew herself up. Little thing, indeed. "Wendy Darling," she replied, tone frosty. The boy's face and form were pleasant enough, but she did not care for the person operating them.

                "Darling? A pet name already?" the boy said. "And we just met."

                "Gaston," Giselle sighed, "I'm sure you have better places to be."

                "Where I am is the better place," he said, flashing a very white grin. He looked over the pair of them and door. "You two look like you're on sentry duty." He leaned in and peered at the door. "What's going on in here?"

                He reached for the door handle and managed to place a hand on it, only to have Giselle smack his knuckles with her small, hardcover sketchbook. He snatched his hand away, firing a glare at Giselle. The little redhead glared right back up him. "If you don't mind, Gaston," she said, "privacy is meant to be respected."

                Gaston arched an eyebrow. "Privacy? Someone changing in there?" His handsome face twisted into a sneer. "Or have the Charming Twins stopped by for a...visit?"

                The meaning behind his question was evident, even to young Wendy, who drew in an offended breath. She could practically feel the angry reply coiling on her tongue like a cobra ready to strike. Giselle, however, either had no idea what Gaston was implying, or she was far better than Wendy at controlling her reaction.

                "They are charming, aren't they?" Giselle said. "I all but remarked as such to young Wendy here when they stopped by, earlier, presumably making their rounds of the train, saying 'hello' to all their returning classmates, even those not in their House, which not a lot of people do, I've noticed, as they'd rather just sort of catch up as they encounter them throughout their day-to-day comings and goings, but those two really have a way of going out of their way to pay attention to people, even if its just for a moment, even new students like Wendy and Alice, who, of course, you haven't met, yourself, as she and Snow are currently joining the many, many other girls choosing to change into their school uniforms in the ladies' room, which strikes me as a dangerous adventure given how much traffic a ladies' room sees on an ordinary day, let alone when people are putting it to purposes other than those intended, which is why Ella, Wendy and myself chose to change clothes here in our compartment, hence the drawn blinds and the pair of us on sentry duty, as you so quaintly phrased it, if quaint is, indeed the right word, which reminds me--did you have a pleasant summer?"

                Wendy gaped at Giselle. The girl had managed what Wendy ventured was a rather profound run-on sentence in a single breath, and showed no signs of being winded. Gaston gaped, as well. The arrogance had been drained from his posture by the onslaught of weaponized jibber-jabber the tiny redhead had unleashed. It was rather comical.

                Gaston blinked. "Uh, yes," he said at last. "It was, um, quite nice." Giselle nodded and opened her mouth to speak. Gaston straightened and quickly said, "If you'll excuse me, I have somewhere to be," and he hurriedly shouldered past the pair of girls.

                When he was gone, Giselle turned and gave Wendy an innocent smile. Wendy narrowed her eyes at Giselle and grinned. "That was remarkably clever," Wendy said.

                Giselle tilted her head to one side. "Whatever do you mean?"

                The compartment door opened and Ella regarded the two of them. "Was that you I heard, jabbering like a monkey?" she asked Giselle.

                Giselle shrugged. "Just shooting the breeze," she said.

                Ella raised an eyebrow. "Right."

 

*~*~*

 

Wendy opened her eyes. She saw Snow’s smiling face looking down at her as the older girl gently shook her shoulder. “There you are,” she said. “We’re almost there. I didn’t think you’d want to walk in sleepy-headed.”

                Wendy straightened and blinked, stretching. “Uh, yes, thank you,” she said. “That was quite considerate.” Snow giggled and shrugged, and Wendy couldn’t help but smile back. She looked out the window and saw that the sun was sinking below the horizon. The scenery was wild and rugged, a far cry from London. In fact, if it weren’t for the railway itself, Wendy would have guessed humans had never set foot in this part of the country. “Are you sure we’re close?” she asked. “I don’t see anything up ahead.”

                Alice joined her at the window. “Really? There’s something up there,” she said. “I’ve no idea what, though.”

                Wendy frowned and squinted, but she couldn’t see anything up ahead except wilderness. “If you say so,” she said.

                “There’s a spell over the school,” Ella said. “It hides it from muggles and muggle technology. Even most wizards can’t see it until they’re within the boundaries of the spell.”

                And Alice picked it up, Wendy thought to herself.

                “Unfortunately, we won’t be going with you into the school,” Ella continued, which caused Alice and Wendy to give her looks of confusion.

                “When we reach the station, they’ll separate the first-years and have the rest of the students go on ahead,” Giselle said.

                “It’s a whole dramatic reveal thing,” Ella said. “They want to make an impression on the new students.”

                “But that’s all we’re going to tell you,” Snow said, eyes twinkling. “We don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

 

*~*~*

 

True to the older girls’ word, Wendy, Alice and all the other first-years were herded off of the train once it pulled into the little station, while the older students headed off in another direction. There was man waiting for the first-years on the platform. He was an older man, slim, and very genial-looking, with his mop of white hair, bushy moustache, and old-fashioned clothes.

                “All new students gather over here,” he called out over the din in a heavy Italian accent. “Don’t worry about your luggage; it will be seen to.”

                He led them off of the train platform and down a little trail to a rather large lake. There were rows of little boats moored to wooden piers. By now, the sun had set, and the Italian gentleman was holding a lantern high above his head to light their way. He directed the students to get into the boats. Wendy realized, as she stepped carefully down into the vessel, that the boats were equipped with neither oars nor motor. In fact, they weren’t even tied to the docks, yet none of the boats were drifting away from their positions, no matter how clumsily they were being boarded. Wendy and Alice were joined by a nervous-looking blonde boy, and a dark-haired girl who practically vibrated with excitement.

                The old gentleman made sure all the students were safely aboard the boats before getting into one himself. He hung the lantern on a tall post on the boat’s prow, and Wendy could just make out him drawing out a wand from an inner pocket of his waistcoat. He tapped the boat with his wand and it began to smoothly sail forward over the lake. One by one, the other boats began to follow, until they were all moving forward in formation.

                Wendy frowned, wondering exactly where they were going. True, the light was poor, but she felt she should see something silhouetted against the starry sky on the far shore of the lake. Then, Alice gasped and grabbed her arm. Before Wendy could ask what the problem was, she found herself gasping. There was a sort of glimmering in the air, like the stars were dancing in the sky. She heard a faint noise, not unlike a brief musical phrase, and a streak of light arced through the air, from one end of the far shore to the other, like a shooting star trying to get back into the sky. As the arc of light reached its peak, a huge castle faded into existence, its myriad windows shining with warm light.

                “I’m glad Snow kept this a secret,” Alice breathed, eyes wide with wonder. “This is a lovely surprise.”

                Wendy could only nod in agreement. The blonde boy gaped at the spectacle, while the dark-haired girl in their boat hooted with glee. “That’s so cool!”

 

*~*~*

 

When the last of the students stepped off of the boats onto the school’s torch-lit dock, the old man picked up his lantern and walked away, a sly smile on his face. The students stood in awkward silence, wondering what they were supposed to do. The flickering torches in their sconces cast an orange glow which did little to dispel the gloom which pressed in on the group, gathered in the little alcove. The tension was nearly palpable, when there was a resonant clank, and a pair of heavy wooden doors opened. All eyes turned to the opening doors.

                Warm light spilled out of the doors as a woman strode through them. She was a small, elderly black woman dressed all in white robes, with a white headscarf, heavy gold jewelry, and black glasses. She walked with the aid of a cane, and had a large snake draped over her bony shoulders. “All right, y’all,” she said, creaky voice carrying out over the crowd of students. “Hush up. And welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

 

Chapter Text

MAGIC KINGDOM

a Disney/Hogwarts Crossover Fic

 

  1. BE OUR GUEST

 

Belle blinked and looked up from her book. "Pardon?"

                A pair of near-identical grins were aimed at her from across the table. "Trust you to smuggle a book into the Sorting Ceremony," Henry said.

                Belle Eglantier shrugged. "It isn't as if there's anything going on, yet," she said. "Professor Maeblieghe is probably only now meeting them on the dock."

                Henry and Florian rolled their eyes in unison. "There's a comfort in your regularity, I suppose," Florian said.

                Belle narrowed her eyes at him. "I'll thank you not to discuss my regularity," she replied, which got a round of laughter from both boys. She found herself smiling, too. It was easy to see how Henry Charmant and Florian Reizvoll had earned the nickname of "The Charming Twins" or "The Two Prince Charmings." They were virtually impossible to dislike, they were always in each other's company, and they were remarkably similar. Both belonged to old, old wizarding families--high nobility, really--and likely shared common ancestors. In fact, when the two first arrived at Hogwarts as eleven-year-olds, they were virtually identical. Of course, as puberty set them on their respective paths to adulthood, they became less and less outwardly similar, but could still pass for brothers.

                Belle looked back down at her book as the boys chattered away with each other and the other Ravenclaws. She was rather glad the Ravenclaw table was positioned where it was, between the Hufflepuff and Slytherin tables. Though neither House was quite as reserved as Ravenclaws generally were, they weren't nearly as boisterous as the Gryffindors. It would be very difficult to concentrate on her reading if the noise were any nearer.

                Of course, it wasn't just the noise.

                The Hufflepuff table was a pleasant buffer between her and Gaston LeGume. The handsome sixth-year seemed intent on charming his way through the female student body, and Belle was apparently high on his list. In fact, every time she resisted his advances, she seemed to climb even higher. It wasn't that Gaston wasn't a good-looking young man; he certainly was. But his aggressive arrogance and narcissism overwhelmed whatever attraction he might have otherwise possessed. If he somehow managed to undergo a complete personality overhaul, Belle might've found herself very tempted. Sadly, this didn't seem to be in the cards.

                Belle just knew that if her House's table was next to his, he'd have even more opportunities to make passes at her. Why he bothered with her when the Bontemps triplets practically draped themselves over him at every chance, she couldn't fathom.

                Belle was distantly aware that the background noise in the Great Hall was shifting, and she dragged her attention away from the book. The huge doors at the end of the Hall were opening, and Professor Maeblieghe was leading in the new students, cane clicking on the stone floors. Belle couldn't stop her spreading smile as she looked at the awestruck faces of the incoming first-years. She remembered her own first day at Hogwarts: the beautiful, sweeping architecture, the animated portraits, the floating candlesticks, the ceiling enchanted to look like the open sky--she'd felt like her eyes would explode, trying to take it all in.

                Professor Maeblieghe halted the troop of new students in the center of the Great Hall, the House tables flanking them on either side. The teachers all sat at a table on a raised platform at the end of the room, and in front of that was a shorter dais. Upon that dais was a stool, upon which was a pointed wizard's hat. It looked a bit rumpled, a bit tatty, and faded into an indeterminate mud color. Professor Maeblieghe made her way up to the shorter dais, and made a show of surveying the crowd with her sightless eyes.

                "Now, before y'all can join your classmates, you have to be Sorted into your Houses," she said, and began a brief explanation of the whole House system. Belle had heard it all before, so she began to tune out again. She tuned back in, though, when Professor Maeblieghe gestured to the hat on the stool. This was always worth paying attention to.

                The rumpled hat stirred. It straightened up. The wrinkles and patches and stitches suddenly gave the impression of a face. A rip opened near the brim, and a croaky voice sang out,

"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,

But there's more than meets the eye!

I'll eat myself if you can find

A smarter hat than I!

A millennia or more ago,

When I was newly sewn,

There lived four wizards of renown

Whose names are still well known.

They shared a wish, a hope, a dream,

They hatched a daring plan

To educate young sorcerers.

Thus Hogwarts School began!

While still alive they did divide

Their favorites from the throng.

Yet how to pick the worthy ones

When they were dead and gone?

'Twas Gryffindor who found the way.

He whipped me off his head,

The founders put some brains in me

So I could choose instead!

There's nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can't see,

So try me on and I will you

Where you ought to be!

You might belong in Gryffindor,

Where dwell the brave at heart.

Their daring, nerve and chivalry,

Set Gryffindors apart.

You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are loyal, kind and just.

Hard-working Hufflepuffs are true,

And worthy of your trust.

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

If you've a ready mind,

Where those of wit and learning

Will always find their kind.

Or Slytherin, perhaps, is where

Your dreams will be made real,

If you've cunning, guile and vision,

And nerves of purest steel.

A final word, before we start--

When darkness hides the light,

Ignore all separation,

Stand together and unite!"

 

                There was a round of applause for the Sorting Hat's song, though Belle's smile faded a little. Something about the Hat's final quatrain left her feeling like she'd swallowed a little ball of cold steel. She gave herself a mental shake, assuring herself that the Hat's efforts to compose a new song every year undoubtedly made the occasionally grim lyric unavoidable. But that cold little knot in her stomach didn't fade entirely.

                Belle didn't really have time to check her fellow students for signs that they'd had the same reaction, because Professor Fairchild had joined Professor Maeblieghe on the dais, on the other side of the stool. She held a scroll which bore the names of all the incoming students. Able as she was to navigate her surroundings, it would perhaps be too much to ask of Professor Maeblieghe to read from the roster. No one was really sure if it was her precognitive prowess which allowed her to know where things were, or if she saw through the eyes of Juju, the python forever draped over her shoulders like a stole.

                As usual, the names were read off the list in reverse alphabetical order, starting with "Zaki, Minty," and Belle remembered her own Sorting. It had been an odd experience. It was like the feeling one gets when someone walks into the room, only, instead of a room, it was her own head. The presence wasn't intrusive, by any means, but it had been a bit of a shock. Belle remembered the gentle voice of the Hat whispering in her ear, but only she could hear. "Kind and compassionate," it had said. "A good heart, not afraid of hard work. An eager desire for something more. Courage to stand up for your convictions. But that thirst for knowledge, the need to learn, to see, to understand.... Truly, you belong in--" And then, aloud, the Hat had cried out, "RAVENCLAW!"

                There simply weren't as many surnames, Belle had noticed, at that end of the alphabet, and soon, the roster had moved on to "Yagoobian, Michael," who was placed in Hufflepuff. It wasn't until after "Von Schweetz, Vanellope"--GRYFFINDOR!--that progress began to slow. Belle turned her attention back to her book, joining in the polite applause out of reflex as each first-year was Sorted, though she was more enthusiastic when students like "Stacy, Penny" or "Robinson, Lewis" were placed in Ravenclaw.

                However, like many of the other students, she sat up and took a little more notice when the name "Pendragon, Arthur" was called out. The skinny, sandy-haired boy seemed to feel the eyes on him as a physical pressure as he made his way to the dais. The Pendragons were one of the most prominent families in the wizarding world, and not unheard-of even among muggles. If Henry and Florian's families were nobility, the Pendragons were wizarding royalty. Belle's curiosity was replaced with sympathy for the poor kid. A legacy like his was a tough thing for a kid to carry. The way all those expectations had piled up on some of her classmates made her glad to be a muggle-born.

                The Hat squirmed a bit on the boy's head as it considered his personality like a gourmet assessing a fine wine. Then, it cried out, "RAVENCLAW!" The applause was a bit more emphatic as the boy hurried over to the House table, seeming eager to vanish into the crowd.

                Belle's attention began to waver again as the tide of names washed over her. "Pan, Peter"--SLYTHERIN!--"Nagai, Russell"--GRYFFINDOR!--"Marshall, Pete"--SLYTHERIN!--"Hamada, Hiro"--RAVENCLAW! At that, the typical Ravenclaw restraint was broken, as seventh-year Tadashi Hamada practically leapt onto the table in celebration. He'd been bragging about his brilliant little brother for years, and Belle wondered how he would have reacted if Hiro had been placed in another House.

                The teachers all leveled stern gazes at Tadashi, though Belle could imagine much of the staff being amused. After that, it was a more sedate progression of names, finally finishing with "Appleseed, Jonathan"--HUFFLEPUFF!

                There was much cheering and excited chatter as the first-years settled in with their new Housemates. Belle tucked her book back into her robes and noticed she was now sitting next to a little blonde girl with big, blue eyes. "I'm sorry to invade your space," the first-year said, "but there weren't many available seats."

                Belle chuckled. "No problem," she said, and extended a hand. "Belle Eglantier, fifth-year."

                "Alice Carroll," the girl replied, shaking the offered hand. "It's probably obvious I'm a first-year."

                Belle grinned and gestured to the boys sitting across from her. "This is Henry Charmant and Florian Reizvoll," she said.

                The Two Prince Charmings beamed at the girl. "We met on the train," Henry said.

                "And the pleasure has only been redoubled," Florian said.

                Henry looked around. "I'm sure people would be happy to shift around if your friend would care to join us," he said.

                Alice tilted her head. "Friend? Oh--Wendy. She was Sorted into Hufflepuff."

                "Well, don't worry," Belle said. "The Houses aren't so separated that you won't be able spend time together." She smiled. "Otherwise, these two would die of despair."

                Henry and Florian crossed their arms in unison. "And what do you mean by that?" Florian asked.

                "Oh, nothing," Belle replied. "Only that there is a certain pair of Hufflepuff girls from whom you two seem unable to separate yourselves."

                "Snow and Ella?" Alice asked.

                The boys' stunned expressions set Belle laughing so hard she thought she might fall from her seat. As Belle guffawed, the boys turned red, and Alice blinked in puzzlement, the chiming of a goblet being struck rang out across the room. Belle managed to compose herself as the chatter in the room died away and all eyes turned towards the teachers' table.

                "Who's that?" Alice murmured, nodding towards the man standing and surveying the Hall. If it weren't for the deep purple robe he wore over his old-fashioned suit, he'd be entirely unremarkable. He was passing from "middle-aged" to "mature", had brown hair, and a medium build. Overall, he was pleasant-looking, but ordinary.

                "That's Professor Robin, the Headmaster," Belle quietly replied.

                Alice nodded. "Hm. I was expecting someone more..."

                "Beardy-weirdy?" Henry offered.

                Alice nodded. "Quite."

                "Welcome, students, new and returning, to another year at Hogwarts," Professor Robin said. "I would just like to say: let's eat." And with that, he clapped his hands and the empty dishes on the tables filled with food. There was another round of applause as the room full of hungry teenagers were presented with a meal.

                As dishes were passed around and plates filled, Alice asked, "Who were the two women who saw to the Sorting?"

                "The younger one was Professor Fairchild," Belle answered. "She's the Head of Ravenclaw House--a sort of faculty advisor to the Ravenclaw students. She's also the Astronomy teacher."

                "She's a bit airy-fairy," Henry said.

                "But a surprisingly good advisor," Florian added.

                "There are a few people who don't like her, though," Belle said. "They don't think it's fair that she should be that pretty and be able to calculate a star's mass."

                "Ah," Alice replied, glancing up at the teacher's table. Professor Fairchild was, indeed, quite lovely, with her shining blonde hair, youthful features and shimmering blue gown. She held her fork in one hand, while the other was scribbling something on a napkin. Belle imagined she was working out some astrophysics problem while half-listening to whatever Professor Glauben was telling her. "So long as she's a good teacher," Alice said, returning her attention to her food.

                Belle smiled. "The other teacher was Professor Maeblieghe," she said. "She's Hufflepuff's Head of House, and teaches Dark Defense."

                Alice wrinkled her nose. "Dark Defense?"

                "It used to be called 'Defense Against the Dark Arts," Belle said, "but they changed it shortly before our first year."

                "They thought it was too much of a mouthful," Florian said. As if to illustrate his point, he took a sizable bite of some sort of chicken casserole.

                Alice nodded, but seemed unsure. Belle pursed her lips a moment, not sure if she should ask Alice if she was all right. "Anyway, you'll like her," she said. "It can be a little unnerving, how she knows where everything is, despite being blind, and her snake takes some getting used to, and, of course, she won't hesitate to point out your mistakes--" Belle halted, knowing she wasn't really making the lady sound all that likeable.

                "But it's all done very constructively," Henry added. "She's also just as likely to take notice of your successes."

                "Who are the Heads of the other Houses?" Alice asked.

                Florian pointed with his fork towards one end of the teachers' table. "See the man on the end? With the hair and the tattoos?"

                Alice nodded. He was hard to miss. A slim, elderly man with a wild fringe of white hair sat at the end of the table, heartily digging into a plate piled with fruits and vegetables. His skin was the rich, deep brown of antique wood, which made the red and blue markings on his long face seem all the brighter.

                "That's Professor Rafiki," Florian said. "He's the Head of Gryffindor House. He teaches Magical Creatures."

                "You won't have him until your third year, when you can choose electives," Henry added.

                "Let's see," Florian continued. "The couple next to him are the two Professor Dearlys. They teach Art and Music, respectively. Then, Professor Nova, Muggle Studies; Professor Gusteau, Potions; Professor Callaghan, Technomancy--"

                "What's Technomancy?" Alice asked.

                "Creating magical objects and devices," Belle explained. "You can use charms to enchant something, but those spells have a pretty limited shelf-life. Magical devices made through technomancy can keep running almost indefinitely. It's actually pretty fascinating. Everything from your wand to the Hogwarts Express was built using technomancy."

                "Then, of course, you have Doctor Poppins, who runs the infirmary and teaches Medical Sorcery," Florian continued. "Next to her is Coach Ryen. He's the sports master, and will give all you first-years flying lessons. Then, Professor Robin and Professor Maeblieghe, of course. Professor Toombs, Divination; Professor Glauben, Transfiguration; Professor Fairchild, obviously; Professor Mim, Arithmancy--"

                "Though, of course, she wants Glauben's job," Henry interjected.

                "Arithmancy isn't a popular subject," Belle said.

                "Hooray, calculus," Henry deadpanned.

                "Anyway," Florian said, narrowing his eyes at his "twin." "Next to her is Professor Crane, who teaches Literature and runs the library; Professor Hatter, History; Professor Price, Herbology, and then, there at the end is Professor Cecily, who teaches Charms, and is the Slytherin Head of House," he said, indicating the heavyset woman with the high, silver pompadour and heavy makeup.

                Belle patted Alice's hand. "Don't worry if you can't remember them all," she reassured the girl. "Half of those courses are electives for third-years and up."

                Alice smiled back, and returned her attention to her meal. They chatted about trivialities, the three third-years kindly including the new girl in the conversation. Like Belle, Alice was a muggle-born, so there was, at least, some common ground. Pureblood families were becoming increasingly familiar with the muggle world, but both Prince Charmings were left baffled more than once by things the two girls discussed. Pop culture, technology and muggle politics were all a bit foreign, even to the likes of the Charmings.

                Belle liked Alice; she was a sweet kid--a little odd, but sweet. Sometimes, she seemed strangely perceptive, and other times, innocently oblivious. Belle hoped she would get on well with the other students. Belle, herself, had often been viewed as a funny girl--always reading, hungry for knowledge, dissatisfied with the prospect of a dull, provincial life--and knew how that loneliness could make you ache. But that was before she came to Hogwarts. Here, she found people who understood how she felt. She hoped Alice would find the same amongst those her own age group.

                At one point, during the deserts course, the school's ghosts introduced themselves. Some, like Sad Sally Stitch or Dancing Jack, were creepy but benign--Jack, especially, could be rather charming. The Cat took delight in getting students lost, but was otherwise harmless. Chained Jacob's miserable moans could be annoying when one was trying to study. Others, however---

                There was a cackle of malicious glee, and a custard pie and a large sundae suddenly rose up from the Ravenclaw table. The image of a young, round-faced boy shimmered into being, holding the deserts. An entirely-too-wide grin spread over his circular face as he sought a potential target.

                A girl with platinum-blonde hair and a silver badge on her robe shot to her feet and glared at the spectral boy. "Don't even think about it, Barrel!" she said with the air of a royal decree.

                "Oh, but I wanna share some desert with the new kids," he wheedled in fake innocence. "Or would the Ice Queen prefer some ice cream?"

                A male ghost, elegantly attired but skeletally thin, appeared not far away. "Barrel..." he growled in the low tones of an angry parent.

                Barrel barked out a laugh and flew away, pie and ice cream in hand. The skeletal figure shook his head, turned, gave a flourishing bow to the blonde girl, and faded.

                Alice turned wide eyes to Belle. "Wha--?"

                "We have ghosts," Henry said simply.

                "The tall, bony fellow is Dancing Jack," Belle said. "Rather likeable, really. The boy is known only as Barrel. He's not a ghost, exactly, but a poltergeist." Belle looked at the doors through which Barrel had vanished, and frowned.

                "What is it?" Florian asked.

                "There was only Barrel," she said. "Normally, Lock and Shock are with him, as well."

                "Lock and Shock?" Alice asked.

                "There's three poltergeists at Hogwarts," Henry said. "They're almost always together."

                Belle didn't like the notion of Barrel being out by himself--not because Barrel might get hurt, but because Lock, and especially Shock, seemed to be the brains of the outfit. Therefore, while Barrel was causing problems in one location by himself, the smarter members of the trio were doing something elsewhere.

                "I wouldn't worry about it," Florian said, as if reading Belle's mind. "Dancing Jack can keep them in line, most of the time, and Professor Maeblieghe scares the ectoplasm out of them."

                "That's true," Belle said, and returned her attention to her shortcake. Still, her curiosity niggled at the back of her mind.

                "Why did he call that girl the Ice Queen?" Alice asked.

                Belle and the boys exchanged glances. "Her name's Elsa Agnarsdottr," Henry said. "Seventh-year. She's the Ravenclaw Head Girl."

                "And among other things," Florian said, in the tones of someone trying to be delicate, "she's not known for her open warmth."

                Alice looked down the table. Elsa Agnarsdottr was beautifully pale, her platinum hair bound up in a complexly braided bun. Her posture was ramrod-straight, and she seemed to be staring down at her plate, gloved hands flat on the table. Alice tilted her head to the side, trying to read the older girl's expression. It almost seemed like she was meditating, taking slow, even breaths. Alice wanted to know why she was wearing gloves, why she seemed so intent on calming herself, and what the "other things" were Florian mentioned. Alice looked back to Belle, ready to unleash her unasked questions, but there was something in Belle's expression which told her there would be a better time for such questions.

                Soon, the deserts were cleared away, and Professor Robin called for the attention of the gathered students. "Now that the banquet has been concluded," he said, "there are a few issues to address. The Forbidden Forest, is, as the name would suggest, off limits unless either in the presence of a teacher, or bearing the express written permission of same. Our caretaker, Signore Intagliatore, would like to remind all students that there is no magic is to be used outside of the classrooms." Here, he paused to look over at the Slytherin table, and Alice heard a pair of boys snickering. "All classes previously held in the third floor of the west wing have been relocated to the second floor of the east wing, until gravity can be properly reinstated. For those of you wishing to try out for Quidditch, Coach Ryen will be posting schedules at the Quidditch field next week. Professor Dearly will also be posting tryout schedules for the orchestra and choir outside his office." He smiled out over the group. "Now that we've gone through all of that, and we've enjoyed a rather spectacular meal, I believe it time for us all to retire to our beds for the evenings."

                Elsa Agnarsdottr and a rather handsome blonde boy, who also bore a silver badge, stood and began directing the Ravenclaw students to gather round. A handful of other students, wearing similar badges, rounded their classmates up with neat efficiency. Similar gatherings were happening at the other House tables, though the Gryffindors seemed to regard shouting as the best way to get things done.

                Elsa led the Ravenclaws out of the Great Hall, and along the corridors. Alice, like all of the first-years, watched the shifting staircases and moving artwork goggle-eyed. Elsa led them all higher and higher, while her counterpart--Belle identified him as John Smith, the seventh-year Head Boy--brought up the rear. The prefects--the other badge-wearing students--were spaced evenly among the procession. At one point, they passed a "Wet Floor" sign, and Alice guessed the fate of one of the stolen deserts.

                Soon, they arrived at spiral staircase, discreetly tucked away at the end of a hallway. Elsa explained to the gathered first-years how, at the top of the spiral staircase, was the door to the Ravenclaw dormitories. To open the door, students would have to answer a riddle. Logic and reason, Else said, had little to do with magic, so most wizards balked when they had to apply their brains to a problem instead of their magic.

                In groups, the first-years climbed the staircase and stood before the eagle. When it was Alice's turn, she was accompanied by Arthur Pendragon, Hiro Hamada, Lewis Robinson, and Penny Stacy.

                The metal raptor peered at them from its perch on the door. "What walks on four legs in the morning," it intoned, "two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?"

                Hiro rolled his eyes. "Oh, please," he muttered. "Everyone knows this one."

                "A performing dog," Alice replied.

                Hiro, Penny, Arthur, Elsa, and even the eagle looked at her.

                Alice blinked at them. "The dog walks on four legs in the morning, its two hind legs in the afternoon performance, but it hurt its paw doing a somersault through a hoop, so it's limping about on three legs in the evening." Alice frowned. "Poor Pongo."

                The students stared at her, then turned to the eagle. After a moment, door swung open, the eagle doorknocker looking a bit sullen. Alice took no notice of Hiro's dumbstruck expression, or the sly little smile on Elsa's face. She was too busy gazing at her surroundings.

                The Ravenclaw common room was huge and airy, with windows sure to let in a flood of sunlight, come morning. The other walls were covered with bookshelves. In fact, virtually everything in the common room stored books, scrolls and boxes of unbound texts. There were even shelves and cabinets built into every piece of furniture. A piano sat in one corner of the room, along with other musical paraphernalia. Near the huge windows stood a cluster of stools and collapsed easels. Everything was done in shades of blue, indigo and silver, with woodwork polished and stained a rich bronze, like the metalwork. It was perfectly beautiful.

                Alice joined the other first-years in exploring the common room. They marveled at bookcases, which rolled away, revealing yet more shelves in seemingly endless layers. Elsa explained how the books were there for the use of all the Ravenclaws, but could never be removed from the common room, and there were penalties for damaging any of the collection. However, there was a process for annotating texts, should some new insight be discovered. Also, Ravenclaw students were expected to contribute a volume to the Ravenclaw library upon graduation.

                Belle smiled at the wide-eyed first-years and crossed to the room she had shared with Arista Del Mar since her own first year at Hogwarts. Belle and Arista got along, though their friendship was based more on proximity than anything else. If they'd been placed in different Houses, the two would probably have had no interaction whatsoever. They did, at least share an interest in reading--not exactly noteworthy, for Ravenclaws--though Arista's passions seemed to lie more in music, than anything else.

                Belle had planned on doing some reading before turning out the light, but almost as soon as she climbed under the sheets, her eyelids turned to lead. It seemed Arista was experiencing the same sensation, and they bid each other goodnight.

                As Belle sank into sleep, the words of the Sorting Hat replayed in her mind.

                ...When darkness hides the light...

 

*~*~*

 

Glass clinked faintly against glass. There was next to no illumination within the boughs of the trees, but there didn't really need to be. The stepladder creaked as it was dragged into position. Hands worked with surety and efficiency, getting a good, solid knot. At the sound of footsteps through the grass and leaves, a triangular head raised up and a forked tongue tasted the air.

                Without turning around, the figure on the stepladder said, "Evenin', Professor. Slytherins all tucked in?"

                Professor Cecily paused, but only for a fraction of a second. Professor Maeblieghe' awareness of her surroundings could even unnerve long-time colleagues on occasion. "Odie, what on Earth are you doing out here?" Cecily asked, holding her lit wand aloft. The soft glow shown off the myriad bottles hanging from the tree branches.

                "Just a little pet project of mine," she said, making her creaky way down the steps. "Ain't nuthin' to worry about."

                "Hm," Cecily said. "Yes, well, it's getting quite late, and we do have rather a big day, tomorrow."

                "Honey, when you get my age, jus' you see what kinda hours you keep," Professor Maeblieghe replied.

                Professor Cecily arched a painted eyebrow. How anyone could reach her age, she had no idea. "Odie, dear, if you're quite finished with your...art project--"

                "Funny thing, doncha think?" Maeblieghe interrupted, climbing the ladder again with the last of her bottles.

                Cecily frowned. "What's that?"

                "The Sortin' Hat," she replied, bony fingers working at the knot. "Changed its tune this year."

                Cecily shrugged, though the gesture would be unnoticed by her colleague--probably. "The old thing comes up with a new song every year," she said. "Or tries to. Frankly, I think it could use a rhyming dictionary. I know I've heard some of those lines before."

                Odie Maeblieghe gave a raspy chuckle. "You right about that," she said. "But y'all's missing somethin'."

                Professor Cecily stopped herself from sighing. Professor Maeblieghe was old, even by wizard standards, and her train of thought was easily derailed. It was a wonder she was still teaching.

                "Time's a-comin'," Maeblieghe continued, "when folks gonna have to make a choice."

                "Pronouncements, Odie?" Cecily remarked. "Isn't that Leota's territory?"

                Maeblieghe chuckled as she folded up the stepladder and tossed it into the wheelbarrow. Cecily moved to help her and the old woman waved her away. "Honey, this ain't no vision," she said. "This is just fact. Things is movin'. Things is gonna happen. We's all gonna have to make a choice on where we stand." Professor Maeblieghe tottered by with the wheelbarrow as Professor Cecily watched in silence. Cecily looked and regarded the line of bottles, hanging from the trees. She moved her wand, trying to shift the light. She couldn't see all the way down the edge of the Forbidden Forest, but could see the gleam of colored glass as far as her witchlight could reach. How many of those had the woman hung? And so quickly?

                "Come on, honey," Professor Maeblieghe called. "Big day tomorrow."

                Ursula Cecily turned and followed her to the castle. A big day, indeed.

Chapter Text

MAGIC KINGDOM

a Disney/Hogwarts Crossover Fic

 

  1. YOU CAN FLY

 

The start of any school year is always a bit hectic, particularly when one is a new student. Wendy found herself lost on more than one occasion. One of the Hufflepuff prefects, an athletic sixth-year named Hercules Iroikos, had advised that the first-years go everywhere in groups, until they really had the layout of the school memorized. It was good advice, but even remaining in the company of her roommate, Jenny Foxworth, the pair still ended up in the wrong place. They even stumbled into the third floor corridor of the west wing, and it took twenty minutes for Signore Intagliatore to get them back to the ground.

                Thankfully, that was the only major embarrassment that week. At least, for Wendy. In Charms class, Mike Yagoobian--or "Goob," as he was called by his friends--managed to embed a goose feather into the wall, instead of simply levitating it. He'd also fallen asleep during their first Astronomy lesson, but Professor Fairchild didn't make much of it. After all, it was the only class which took place in the middle of the night. Thankfully, it was also the only class which happened only once a week. After a stern look and a warning for the rest of the class not to let it happen again, she continued with the lesson.

                When Vanellope Von Schweetz misread a recipe in Potions class, they had to evacuate and fumigate the corridor. Taffyta Muttonfudge, a snide Slytherin first-year, seemed to delight in teasing Vanellope about it, and it was only the intervention of her Housemates which kept Vanellope from punching the girl. During Herbology, Professor Price had to rescue Alice from a carnivorous rosebush when she opened the wrong greenhouse door, and rush her to the infirmary.

                Some of the new students found themselves embarrassed not by their own mistakes, but by to whom they were related. Though all the older students were familiar with Tadashi Hamada's frequent boasts about his younger brother, this would be the first year Hiro had to witness it all first-hand. Chip Potts, whose mother was in charge of the Hogwarts kitchens, often found himself wishing he could crawl into a hole and die. Madame Potts was adored by students and staff alike, but it's another thing entirely to have one's own mother work at one's school.

                And, of course, Arthur Pendragon was constantly under scrutiny. Everything he did seemed to garner some sort of criticism. Half of the people expected him to be a prodigy, only be disappointed when his work was merely acceptable. The other half expected him to be completely unworthy of his family's fame and to fail miserably, only to deride him with accusations of favoritism when he managed to pass. When their first flying lesson came along, most of the first-years were ready for what sounded like a fun afternoon.

 

*~*~*

 

Coach Ryen, the sportsmaster and flying instructor, was a young, athletic man with a baked-in tan, sun-bleached hair, and bright green eyes. Add in his thick Australian accent, and schoolgirl crushes blossomed around him like dandelions.

                A long row of brooms were lined up on the ground, and Coach Ryen had the first-years take up position alongside them. "Right, everyone," he called out to the group. "Everyone got a broom? No--don't pick them up. Very good." He strode along the line, green eyes taking them in. "Now, I'm sure you all think we're moments away from soaring through the clouds as the landscape rolls by underneath. Believe me, I'm sorry to disabuse you of that notion."

                There were more than a few resigned sighs and groans of disappointment. "Yeah, yeah, I know, I know," Ryen said. "But why don't we start with actually making the thing work? Can't chase the wind if you can't get off the ground." The sportsmaster then instructed them to hold their hand out above their broom and command the broom to rise into their hand. Most of the students only got their broom to sort of twitch and hop a few inches off the ground. Wendy's reached about knee-level before dropping down again, and Alice's seemed to try and crawl away. Arthur Pendragon's broom drifted almost reluctantly up into his hand, and Lewis Robinson's scythed his feet out from under him.

                A handful, though got their brooms to snap smartly into their hands with little problem. Vanellope let out a squeal of joy as the broom leapt into her hand, as if eager to play. Her happiness deflated slightly when she saw Taffyta achieve similar results. The only other student to successfully summon their broom to their hand on the first go was a Slytherin boy named Peter. The sound of his pleased laughter was familiar, and Wendy realized he was the boy who'd almost mowed her and Alice over at King's Cross.

                Coach Ryen walked up and down the line, offering helpful criticism to students who couldn't quite get their brooms to respond favorably. It took a while, but eventually, everyone managed to call their broom to their hand, though Wendy suspected more than one surreptitiously picked theirs up by hand when Ryen wasn't looking. He then instructed the students on mounting the brooms and hovering in place. Many of the students wobbled a little, Chip Potts nearly dropping to the ground.

                Wendy was concentrating on keeping her broom steady, when she heard Alice gasp. She looked up, but before she could ask her what the problem was, Mike Yagoobian sneezed, and his broom shot backwards and tossed him like a rodeo bull. Coach Ryen let out an Australian swear word and ran towards the fallen Hufflepuff.

                Ryen shooed away the students who clustered around, and bent to check on Goob, who was biting his lip to hold back a whimper. Ryen touched Goob's arm, and the boy bit back a sound of pain. "Looks like you cracked your wrist, mate," Ryen said. "Right, let's get you to Doc Poppins." He helped Goob up to his feet and began walking the boy towards the castle proper. He paused and turned to glare at the class. "Any brooms leave the ground, you're bunyip bait, understand?" He nodded, taking the class' silence as an affirmative, and led Mike back to the castle.

                The gathered students took this as an opportunity to unwind and chat. Wendy walked up to Alice and pulled her aside. "Alice," she murmured, "when Mike was hurt, you gasped."

                Alice nodded. "Well, it was quite an injury," she said.

                Wendy shook her head. "You gasped before it happened."

                Alice blinked. "I--I don't--"

                There was sudden a commotion, and the two girls turned to look.

                Taffyta and Minty Zaki, another Slytherin girl, seemed to be playing keepaway with something Wendy couldn't see from where she was. Lewis Robinson and Chip Potts were trying to get something back from the two of them. Alice and Wendy exchanged glances and approached the crowd. Wendy walked up to Jenny Foxworth and asked her what was going on.

                "Taffyta found something of Goob's on the ground," she said. "I think it's a medal, or something. Lewis says it's important--the two of them were friends before they came to Hogwarts."

                Wendy frowned. "And why are they tossing it around?"

                "They have personality defects," Alice answered simply.

                The keepaway had turned into shouting, and Taffyta had a mean little smirk on her face. She snatched up her broom. "If you want it so bad, come and get it," she taunted. Then she swung a leg over her broomstick and kicked off the ground. She rose smoothly through the air, the medal--Wendy could see it was indeed a medal, now--in her hand. The rest of the students gaped at her, not only bewildered by the ease with which she flew, but also by the flagrant disobedience to Coach Ryen's orders, even if he wasn't present.

                Lewis frowned, clearly conflicted, but Chip scrabbled for a broom. Before he could even straddle his broom, Vanellope shot up after Taffyta. "Stop it, Taffyta! Give it back!"

                "Whatever, freak," Taffyta sneered, and flew away. Vanellope growled and gave chase. The pair of them zigged and zagged through the air, though it was clear Taffyta had more experience than Vanellope. Wendy had heard some new students bragging about having their own broom and flying before school had started, and it seemed like it was true for Taffyta. However, Vanellope seemed like a fast study, and was gaining on her. Wendy wasn't sure what Vanellope would actually do if she caught Taffyta.

                Vanellope did manage to get Taffyta cornered near the stone wall. "Will you stop being such a jerk, T-Taffyta?" she demanded.

                Taffyta snorted. "What's that, Vuh-Vuh-Vanellope?" she asked with a fake stutter. "I duh-didn't cuh-catch that."

                "S-stop it!"

                "Wah-wah-what?"

                Vanellope's face turned red. "I s-said--"

                Fzzt!

                Everyone blinked, not quite understanding what they were seeing. Or, rather, what they weren't seeing. Vanellope had simply vanished. Her broom tumbled to the ground as everyone watched in silence. Then, Alice clapped her hands to her mouth, eyes wide, looking up. Wendy followed her gaze, and saw a flicker of light, and Vanellope suddenly appeared--many, many feet above the ground, without a broom.

                Wendy kicked off the ground, astride her broom, headed towards the plummeting, screaming Gryffindor. She hadn't even realized she had done it until she was in the air. And did she really think she'd be able to catch the girl? What was she thinking?

                She had to try, though. Vanellope was falling from too high to survive, and they hadn't learned any spells to stop her fall and there weren't any teachers around and she was getting close now and Wendy had her arm stretched out, and surely she could time this right and she was so close, and--

                She missed.

                Vanellope slipped right past her, and Wendy didn't even get a hand on the girl's robes.

                Wendy's heart stopped, and she was screaming, too, now, and everyone was shouting from below, and--

                Vanellope stopped falling.

                Wendy blinked, again, trying to process what she was seeing. Someone actually caught Vanellope. Wendy drifted down, mouth hanging open. It was Peter, the auburn-haired Slytherin boy. He was holding Vanellope in his arms, and he....

                He wasn't on a broom.

                Wendy gaped at him. "How..?"

                Peter shrugged and gave a little grin. "Magic?"

                "EVERYONE ON THE GROUND, RIGHT BLOODY NOW!"

 

*~*~*

 

When it was all over, Wendy, Taffyta, Peter and Vanellope all had detention. As Taffyta was really the only one who had done anything wrong, Wendy expected she and the others had gotten in trouble on principle. She didn't really know all the details, but both Vanellope and Peter were taken aside after Coach Ryen lit into them. She assumed Vanellope was being checked out by Doctor Poppins in the infirmary. Apparation, as Wendy learned it would be called later, is something she shouldn't have been able to do until she was at least a fifth-year. However, it seemed to happen uncontrollably, and Vanellope looked sort of shell-shocked afterwards. And Peter...

                She didn't know what was going on there.

                It wasn't the only thing which puzzled Wendy. Taffyta and Minty were being awful, and Taffyta escalated the awfulness. Vanellope shouldn't have responded, risen to the bait, but she was standing up to the class' self-designated bully. Then, when she was falling, Wendy and Peter were trying to save her life.

                It was remarkably unfair.

                The only bright spot was that none of the Houses lost points for the episode. Angry as he was over the whole mess, Coach Ryen couldn't very well deduct points from Hufflepuff for Wendy's attempt to save Vanellope, or from Gryffindor, given the fragile state Vanellope was in. And, any points Taffyta's behavior would have deducted from Slytherin, Peter earned back by saving Vanellope.

                Perhaps that wasn't the only bright spot.

                Though all four were given detention, they weren't given the same detention. At first, Wendy was incensed. Taffyta took no time in rubbing in the fact that her detention was going to be served with the notoriously pleasant Professor Glauben. Peter's was to be served with Coach Ryen, Vanellope's with Professor Maeblieghe, and Wendy's with Professor Mrs. Dearly--and though all three were well-liked, all three were known to be tough, as well.

                Then, of course, the detentions actually happened. Professor Mrs. Dearly had Wendy clean paintbrushes and tidy up the student gallery. It wasn't too bad, especially since there were older art students helping, too. They chatted with Wendy as if she was a peer, instead of a student being punished. It actually felt more like Wendy was being included in something she wouldn't have been invited to, otherwise.

                Later, Wendy found out from Vanellope that Professor Maeblieghe had her read to her. Vanellope couldn't very well complain about helping out the blind, elderly woman--at least out loud. But, as Vanellope read the books on monsters, demons and sorcerous combat aloud, Vanellope was so engrossed, she was more than a little disappointed when Maeblieghe declared an end to the detention.

                Peter never really told Wendy what Coach Ryen had him do, not exactly. He certainly seemed exhausted the next day, but not unhappy. Wendy imagined the flight instructor put the boy through some kind of aerial obstacle course, testing his talent to fly unaided. It would certainly understand why Peter had such a smile on his face. It struck Wendy as unlikely he'd ever had such an opportunity before.

                Then, of course, there was Taffyta. Professor Glauben was, indeed, a very sweet woman, known for never losing her temper, no matter how abominable her students' behavior. As such, Professor Glauben very sweetly had Taffyta assist the Hogwarts house elves in harvesting pumpkins.

                It was a happy thought, indeed.

 

*~*~*

 

"Business or pleasure?"

                The man looked up from the conveyor belt carrying his luggage. "I beg your pardon, son?"

                The man behind the counter smiled as he tapped away at his computer. "I was just asking about your trip," he said. "Business or pleasure?"

                The other man smiled, violet eyes twinkling. "Son, if a man can't make room for the latter while dealing with the former, he ain't livin' right."

                That got a chuckle from the airline employee. "Go to England often?"

                "Every so often," the man said. "I'm takin' some historical artifacts to be studied at Oxford." The man's violet eyes flicked back to the cases, being scanned by the security staff. "If you gotta take a look, I hope you wear gloves," he called to the agent. "Old books are awful fragile."

                The security agent didn't seem like he really cared, but as the contents of the cases didn't set off any alarms, he didn't rummage about inside. The little beagle tasked with sniffing out dangerous compounds stirred a little, but didn't give any sign there were any explosives or drugs in the cases. The boxes were soon locked back up and sent along with the other items of luggage.

                The employee behind the counter finished typing and handed a boarding pass to the traveler. "There we are, Doctor," he said with a smile. "Everything's all ready to go. I hope you have a pleasant flight and enjoy your time in England."

                "I intend to," the doctor said with a smile, and prepared to take flight across the ocean. He did, after all, have friends on the other side.

Chapter Text

MAGIC KINGDOM

a Disney/Hogwarts Crossover Fic

 

4. WHAT'S THIS?

 

The back-to-school rush was over, and Garrick Ollivander finally had an opportunity to do a proper inventory. Of course, accidents will happen--particularly when some folks seemed intent on making them happen--so people still came to him all year with wands needing repair or replacement. But, his busiest time of year was in the late summer, when new students were getting ready for their first year at Hogwarts. It always put a smile in his heart to see the wide-eyed wonder on the faces of those fledgling witches and wizards when they were chosen by their wand.

                It made the rest of the year bearable, in fact--especially if those children were from Muggle families. Children raised in an environment of magic were slightly desensitized to the wonder and mystery which surrounded them, whereas Muggle-born children were experiencing the wizarding world for the first time. Everything was new and marvelous and alive--truly magical. That wasn't, however, to say that wizard-born children were bored by it all. Even they vibrated with excitement at the thought of receiving a wand of their own. Truly, if the children were all he had to deal with, he would be a much happier man.

                Sadly, he had to deal with their parents, too. Oh, the Muggle parents were fine--they just stared in numb shock at everything around them, their children or representative from Hogwarts leading them around by the hand. But many of the wizard parents had ideas. Even growing up, as they did, in the wizarding world, they couldn't fathom that the wand chose the wizard, not the other way around. If he'd had a Galleon for every time he'd heard someone say something to the effect of, "Oh, no, my daughter could never use a wand with a dragon core," or, "No son of mine would have a lemon wood wand," he'd be a rich man, indeed.

                Even when purchasing wands for themselves, some demanded exotic components, believing rare woods or cores would take the place of talent or hard work, and wouldn't be swayed if he tried to convince them something else might be more suitable. Then, they became irate when their spells proved ineffectual, blaming his craftsmanship, rather than the incompatibility of their pigheaded choice or their own lack of ability.

                However, he was in for a quiet spell--haha--now that the school year was underway. Even the majority of adults were using this time to take a bit of a breather after a summer spent with their children at home all day, so they were less likely to damage their wands. And Ollivander found something soothing in doing inventory. The counting and tabulating was an exercise in order which calmed his nerves and allowed his mind to relax.

                As he counted through what he'd sold and what had remained, he noticed he'd have to restock on unicorn hair. It was funny how things like that went in waves. Every so often, the balance seemed to tilt more towards one sort of core than the others. The last few years seemed to be phoenix-feather years, and dragon-heartstring for a few years before that. Of course, there were also periods where the balance was relatively even. To someone like Ollivander, it was fascinating.

                As he worked his way down the list, he also noted that some of the more exotic wands had found their owners. Ollivander typically only worked with woods readily available in the British Isles, with some occasionally imported from across the Channel. It was the same with the cores. Unicorn hair, phoenix feather, and dragon's heartstrings were all proven to provide long-lasting, reliable power. Ollivander did, however, keep a few bits and bobs on hand for those patrons who demanded particular components in their wands, or for those rare occasions when a wizard would truly be better suited for something a little out of the ordinary.

                In fact, one of this year's batch of new students proved to be an excellent fit for a sandalwood-and-roc-feather wand. Ollivander had almost forgotten that he'd even had the wand in stock, as it had been crafted for a wizard with a thirst for novelty some years ago. Sadly, that desire for the unusual had led to the customer's unfortunate demise as he tried for fly a broom in a hurricane before he could collect his custom-made article. Sandalwood could be tricky to work with, as it had a lofty, spiritual attitude with little patience for crude frivolity. And to combine it with the ferocity of a roc-feather core meant the wand would never have responded favorably to a thrill-seeking adventurer obsessed with novelty. The lad the wand had chosen, though, seemed to have a kind, gentle nature, observant and eager to learn. Sometimes ancestry can effect compatibility, but Ollivander suspected the wand's choice had less to do with their shared homeland and more to do with the fact that the boy had been raised by wolves. To bond so instantly and completely with animals was a sign of great spiritual potential, which the wand appreciated.

                Ollivander continued to check his stock against the inventory list and sales books, making notes here and there when he discovered a resource running low. He heard the bell over the shop door jangle, snapping him out of his reverie of tallies and figures. He set his ledgers aside and strode out into the front room of the shop. Standing by the door was an exceptionally elderly witch, stooped and crooked with age. She wore a black, hooded cloak, supported herself with a cane, and carried a little handbasket over one arm.

                "I do beg your pardon, madam," the wand-maker said, giving his best retail smile. "I'm sorry I wasn't here to greet you, but I was just doing some stock-taking."

                "That's quite all right, young man," the witch said in a voice like a rusty gate. "It wasn't as if I was waiting long."

                As Ollivander drew closer, he could see her features clearly, and he winced internally. Age had not been kind to this woman. Whatever beauty she'd had in her youth, time had not only robbed from her, but it had mugged, ransacked and pillaged, and set fire to the barn on the way out. Not that he let any such appraisal show. "And how may I be of service to you, today, madam? Would you care to take a seat?"

                "That's very sweet of you," she said, accepting his offer. Ollivander produced a chair, and she sat, joints creaking audibly. "So nice to meet a lad with good manners."

                Ollivander chuckled at that. Lad--it had been a long time since he'd heard that. "My pleasure, madam," he said. "What brings you to my little shop?"

                The witch smiled, and at least one could say her teeth weren't crowded. "As a matter of fact, I need a wand made," she said. "And everybody knows Ollivander's is the place to go." She chuckled. "A name to conjure with, you could say."

                That brought a smile to Ollivander's face. "I can remember my father telling that very joke."

                "Ha! So can I," she said.

                She may not have been a beauty queen, but the woman was certainly charming. "And what sort of wand did you require, madam?"

                The witch sighed. "It's my niece," she said. "She's some sort of experimental witch, I don't really follow all the details, and there was an accident with her wand."

                Ollivander tutted in sympathy. "An unfortunate hazard, madam," he said. "She wasn't hurt, was she?"

                "Nothing nature can't mend," she said. "The wand took the brunt."

                "Well, if you have the pieces, I can attempt a repair--"

                The witch held out a gnarled hand. "Ashes," she said, expression grim. "All that was left was ashes."

                Ollivander blinked his big, moony eyes. "Good heavens," he said. "The energies required to reduce a wand to ashes--"

                "We keep telling her the Ministry ought to pay her more," the witch said. "But..." She held up her hands in submission.

                "Yes, well, of course," he said, taking note of the word "Ministry". "We have quite a selection of wands for her to choose from."

                The witch shook her head. "No, she'd like one made from scratch," she said. "Besides, she's not really mobile at the moment," she added with significant look.

                Ollivander nodded. "Ah. Well, of course, I'd be happy--"

                "Excellent!" the old lady exclaimed, and began rummaging in her handbasket. "Here are the measurements," she said, handing him a folded piece of paper.

                "Well, even built to the same specifications, one can't ensure the same results," Ollivander said, looking over the very thorough list of measurements.

                The witch gave a little cackle of glee. "Ah, we thought of that," she said, drawing two large parcels from the basket. "Wood from the same tree, and heartstrings from the same dragon."

                Ollivander gaped, accepting the parcels. "My word," he said, regaining his composure. "Truly, the same?"

                The witch nodded, looking smug. "The tree belonged to the family, and your father wasn't the only one to collect from that dragon."

                Ollivander cleared his throat. "In that case, madam, I think I may be able to give your niece what she wants."

                The witch chuckled. "If anyone can," she said.

                The witch arranged to collect the wand when it was complete, paying in advance, and went on her tottering way.

                When she'd gone, the wand-maker examined the parcels she'd left him. The dragon's heartstrings were perfectly preserved, from what he could see. If he were to wager a guess, they looked to be from either a Hebridean Black, or, perhaps, a Pyrenees Screamer--excellent quality. Unwrapping the length of wood, he found a block of nicely grained, healthy blackthorn. The limb must have come off during a storm, particularly if the same tree had provided wood for a wand before. Traditional wandlore dictated acquiring most woods in such a fashion. To forcibly remove a branch--or, especially, to cut the tree down--was believed to taint the wood, somehow.

                "Blackthorn and dragon heartstring," Ollivander mused aloud. No one was listening, except the wands, who ignored him, more often than not. "Very powerful combination." He felt as if he should be remembering something, but it was stuck on the tip of his brain. "The young lady was lucky not to be killed, attempting experimental magic with such a wand." Still, he'd been paid and contracted. He had to put aside his misgivings. "Very powerful, indeed."

Chapter Text

  1. SPOONFUL OF SUGAR

 

Shiny black shoes strode through the undergrowth, their owner paying no heed to how said undergrowth might damage said shine. Leaves clung to the hem of his purple robe, and again, the man didn't care. His younger years had been spent tromping through acres upon acres of woodland at a time. Besides, if the house elves didn't have to clean up after him, they sulked.

                He knocked on the cottage door and heard the approaching thumps of large feet. The door opened and a large man peered down, his broad frame filling the doorway. He was a huge man with wild brown hair, large hands, and vaguely prehistoric silhouette. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could address the man at his door, a dog poked his head out from between his legs and barked. The large man stumbled back, gripping the doorframe to keep his balance. "Gah! Pluto! Back!"

                The hound wuffed and withdrew, and the large man stepped aside. "Please, come in, Headmaster."

                Professor Robin smiled up at the man. "Thank you, Ralph."

                Pluto bounded up to the Headmaster as soon as he was across the threshold, and began licking his face. Professor Robin laughed as Ralph told the dog to get down. Eventually, the hound acquiesced, trotting to his place in front of the fireplace. The embarrassed Ralph offered the Headmaster a tea towel, but the Headmaster tidied himself with a flick of his wand. "Sorry about that, Professor," the large man said.

                The Headmaster waved it away. "Not at all," he chuckled. "Frankly, it's nice to have someone so happy to see me."

                Ralph cleared a stack of newspaper off of the sofa. "Have a seat, sir," he said.

                The Headmaster gladly dropped down onto the slightly saggy, floral-print sofa. "Thank you, Ralph."

                "Can I get you anything?"

                "You needn't go to any trouble on my account."

                "Oh, it's no trouble, really," Ralph said, and began busying himself with the kettle. He returned shortly with a pair of mugs and a platter of misshapen cookies.

                "Lovely," Robin said, biting into a cookie. "Mrs. Potts' recipe?"

                Ralph nodded.

                "Excellent. I love the ones with raisins."

                Ralph took a sip from his mug of tea. The mugs had been made by students of Professor Mrs. Dearly's , but had been left behind unclaimed. Rather than discard them, Ralph took them off Professor Dearly's hands. They were huge, heavy, lumpy things, but perfectly serviceable. Professor Robin could just make both hands fit around his mug, while its sibling looked delicate in Ralph's broad mitt. "You're not just here for tea, are you?" Ralph asked.

                Professor Robin considered the question. "Well, it's not the main reason," he admitted, "but a nice visit is always enjoyable."

                The corner of Ralph's mouth quirked in a little bit of a smile. He had a great deal of respect for the Headmaster. He was one of the few people who didn't look down on Ralph, or condescend to him. "So, you're here about the, uh..."

                "The errand I sent you on, yes," Robin said. "And thank you, again, for that. Much appreciated. Yes, I am here about the errand."

                Ralph nodded. "What about it?"

                "Were there any difficulties?"

                Ralph shook his head. "No, the Gringott's goblins were very helpful," he said. "I handed them your card and the instructions for what you wanted withdrawn, and then they brought out the little package."

                Professor Robin nodded. "Excellent. You, ah, didn't tell anyone else about what you were doing, did you?"

                "Of course not," Ralph said. "Not that I really had any idea what you were sending me for, anyway." Ralph raised a heavy eyebrow. "What did you send me for?"

                Robin munched a cookie. "Something I'm hoping will be unnecessary," he said, "but better safe than sorry."

                "And what does that mean?"

                Robin sipped his tea, regarding Ralph. The Hogwarts groundskeeper was a steady, entirely trustworthy fellow. He was also a great deal more intelligent than most people would believe. His gaze turned to the stack of newspapers, bound up with twine, ready for the compost heap. "The Daily Prophet has a very good crossword, don't you think?"

                Ralph blinked. "Uh, yeah, I guess..."

                "Very good with their research," Robin continued. "So many sensationalist journalists like to publish stories without concrete facts." He sipped his tea. "I'm sure you've heard a few stories from less than reliable sources, haven't you? People gossiping in the shops, the pubs, that sort of thing?"

                Ralph narrowed his eyes at the Headmaster, who looked back with benign politeness. Something clicked into place, and Ralph nodded. "Yeah, one or two things," he said. "Now that you mention it."

                Robin tapped his fingers on the mug. "Do you happen to remember the secret phrase from last week's word jumble?"

                Ralph glanced over at the stack of newspapers. "The word jumble?"

                Robin nodded. "Something about a pound of cure?"

                "'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'?" Ralph suggested.

                "That's it," the Headmaster replied brightly. "It was on the tip of my tongue." He smiled at the groundskeeper and selected another cookie. "Are these cranberries?"

 

*~*~*

 

"Vanellope, lovely to see you. Please, come with me into my office, where we can chat."

                The girl gave a nervous half-smile and stepped into Doctor Poppins' office. The school doctor's office, like the infirmary, was an odd blend of what Vanellope had come to think of as "muggle" and "wizard." Amid the filing cabinets, informative posters and other apparatus she associated with doctors' offices, there were diagrams listing the symptoms of pixie pox, jars and bottles of mysterious potions, and a teaching skeleton wearing an old-fashioned nurse's uniform.

                Vanellope was at least 82% sure the uniform was a joke.

                "Is there something wrong?" the girl asked.

                "Goodness, no, of course not" Doctor Poppins replied. She pursed her lips for a moment. "Though, I would like to discuss the...possibility."

                Vanellope's eyes widened. "W-what?"

                The doctor held up hands in a calming gesture. "No, no, that's not what I mean at all," she hurried to say. "Please, have a seat. No, what I mean to say is, you have a rather unique talent, Vanellope. It takes years of study to learn to apparate properly--even many adult wizards can't do it."

                Vanellope hugged her arms to herself. "Yeah, it's pretty great," she grumbled.

                Doctor Poppins regarded her with sympathy in her bright, blue eyes. "I know it doesn't feel like it right now," she said, "but you'll come to appreciate it for the gift it is."

                Vanellope scowled. "You mean like when it almost kills me?"

                Poppins shrugged. "I didn't say it would always fell that way. Anyway, that brings me to the reason why I called you here."

                The girl eyed Doctor Poppins. "What do you mean?"

                "Well, I've discussed the situation with Professor Rafiki and with the Headmaster," Doctor Poppins said. "Do you know what an Inhibitor is?"

                Vanellope shook her head.

                "They were first developed to control dangerous criminals," Poppins explained. "We thought they might help here."

                Vanellope's eyes bugged open. "What!? But I-- I'm n-not--"

                "No, no, that's not what I meant, either," Poppins interrupted. "Oh, dear. No, an Inhibitor is a device which allows a wizard to... put a leash on their abilities."

                Vanellope frowned. "A leash?"

                There was a knock at the door. Poppins sighed. "Perhaps that isn't the best analogy," she said, standing to answer the door. "Ah, you're here," she said to whomever it was on the other side. "Please, come in."

                She held the door open to admit a student, a tall, athletic-looking, Hufflepuff boy with wavy ginger hair and blue eyes. "Sorry I'm late Doctor," he said, stepping past her. He spotted Vanellope and smiled at her, and moved to shake her hand. In the process, though, he caught his foot on the corner of the Doctor's desk, tripped, stumbled, and fell head-first into the wall, before dropping to the floor.

                Vanellope watched in wide-eyed horror, expecting to be shoved out the door as the Doctor tended to a medical emergency.

                "Good heavens," Poppins gasped, rushing over. Instead of checking on the boy trying to push himself to his feet, she examined the rather large chunk of masonry he'd knocked out of the wall with his head. "Well, Signore Intagliatore can get that fixed in a trice." She looked down at the boy. "All right?"

                The boy stood and shook the dust and gravel from his hair. "All good," he replied.

                Vanellope was still wide-eyed, but now it was from total bafflement. "You-- he-- uh--"

                "Of course," Poppins said, "where are my manners? Vanellope von Schweetz, I'd like you to meet Hercules Iroikos."

                The boy gave a sheepish grin and sat in the other available chair. "Nice to meet you."

                Vanellope blinked. "Uh, it, meet you," she replied.

                "I was just beginning to explain the concept of Inhibitors to Vanellope," the Doctor said. "Perhaps you could shed a little light on the subject."

                "Sure thing, Doctor," Hercules said. He unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves, exposing his sinewy forearms. On his wrists were what Vanellope first took to be cuff bracelets, until she saw that they had no visible clasp and were far to snug to fit over his hands.

                "What...are those?" she asked.

                Hercules grinned, turning his wrists, causing the bracelets to catch the light with an almost metallic gleam. "Inhibitors," he said. "As you may have noticed, I'm not like a lot of wizards."

                Vanellope glanced over at the divot he'd knocked out of the wall. "No, I get that."

                "Like you, I have a built-in magical talent which has nothing to do with wands or spells," he said. "A lot of wizards do. Some can turn into animals, or see the future, or fly. You can apparate. I'm, like, crazy strong. And thankfully, really hard to hurt."

                "That's pretty cool, actually," Vanellope said. "Way better than just disappearing and reappearing places without wanting to."

                Hercules nodded slowly. "It probably seems that way, yeah," he said. "But that--" he pointed to the damaged masonry, "--is nothing compared to some of the damage I've done before. Imagine breaking everything you touch. I couldn't open doors without crushing the handles; not that it mattered, because I ended up ripping the doors off their hinges, anyway. I could hardly dress myself without ripping my clothes to shreds. And, I was less coordinated when I was your age than I am now, if you can believe it." He shook his head, expression clouding over. "I could hardly control the movement of my own body. I couldn't leave the house. I was a hazard to everyone around me. I felt like--"

                "Like a freak," Vanellope said in a small voice.

                Hercules nodded. "Exactly. But, then, our family doctor put these on me," he said, holding up his wrists. "It basically put a stopper on my magic. I've never been so happy to put on pants."

                That got a snort of laughter from Vanellope, which, in turn, got a bright smile from Hercules.

                "A lot of people freak out about the concept of Inhibitors," Hercules said. "I guess the fact that they're used on wizard criminals kinda gives them a bad name. But they helped me live a relatively normal life."

                "But, don't you have the same problem when you take them off?" Vanellope asked. "Or do you have to wear them forever?"

                "I would have the same problem, yes, and I would have to have to wear them forever, yes," Hercules answered, "if I wasn't working to learn how to control my talent. The Inhibitors allow me to learn how to use my powers on my terms. Eventually, I will take them off for good, and I won't have to worry about my powers using me."

                "Pretty lame at the end there, but I think I get it," Vanellope replied. She looked over at Doctor Poppins. "So, you're going to put some of those magic handcuffs on me?"

                "Well, in a manner of speaking," the Doctor answered. "The Inhibitor will be keyed to you and your specific talent. It will prevent you from apparating uncontrollably, but leave you access to your wizardry. Eventually, you'll be able to apparate only when and where you choose."

                Vanellope looked over at Hercules. "And you're really okay with this?"

                He nodded. "More than okay. I don't have to worry about destroying everything, and it lets me play Quidditch for my House without anyone accusing me of having an unfair advantage. As far as the game is concerned, my talent just stops it from hurting too badly when I take a bludger to the head, and you can't really call that cheating. In fact, I'm not the only Quidditch player at Hogwarts who has to wear Inhibitors."

                Vanellope considered this. The notion of not having to worry about blinking out existence was a tempting one, indeed. At the same time, it felt like being punished for something she couldn't control.

                "Ultimately, it's your choice," Doctor Poppins said. "We won't force you. It's just an option."

                Vanellope fingered the hem of her sleeve in thought.   "Do they have to look like those?" she asked.

Chapter Text

  1. A GREAT TYPHOON

 

"At least they got rid of that smell."

                Pocahontas Matoaka took a deep breath. "They did, actually," she said. "What was that smell, anyway?"

                The boy's changing-room door swung open and Gaston LeGume entered. "Ladies," he said, pearly grin flashing, "good to see you back."

                "That," Mulan Fa said to Pocahontas, who nodded in understanding. "Hi, Gaston."

                Gaston leaned against the wall near where his teammates sat. He'd replaced the standard school-issued t-shirt and track pants with a suit of scarlet, skin-tight, workout gear, the better to show off his genuinely impressive musculature. He'd at least added a pair of gold basketball shorts as a token show of modesty. The effect was like a particularly vain superhero. "You girls looking forward to another year?"

                "Well, optimism outweighs common sense," Pocahontas replied. She glanced over his too-close torso. "Is the body spray a new tactic? Chemical warfare's sort of unfair."

                Gaston chuckled. "I missed that warrior spirit," he said. Pocahontas managed not to gag.

                The door on the opposite side of the little room opened, and the youngest member of the team entered. "Oh, thank God," Merida Dunbroch said. "I almost wore my golden panties, and wouldn't that have been awkward."

                Gaston merely grinned. "Hey, if you got it, flaunt it," he said, striking a pose.

                Merida took out a hair tie and began trying to wrestle her mass of red curls into submission. She looked him over. "So, this is fancy dress, then?"

                The older girls snickered and Gaston frowned. Pocahontas was a little worried she'd have to insert herself between Gaston and Merida, but the changing room doors opened again and they were joined by the rest of the team, distracting Gaston. He ignored Philip and James, firing a smile at Elizabeth.

                "Where's Shang?" Philip asked, tightening his sneaker laces.

                "Wasn't he in there?" Elizabeth replied, pointing to the boy's changing room.

                "Not that we saw," James answered. He regarded Gaston, arched an eyebrow, and nodded. "All right, mate," he said, giving the burly sixth-year a punch on the shoulder. "Nothing says Gryffindor bravery like that outfit."

                Any potential retort was cut off by the arrival of the captain of Gryffindor's Quidditch team. Shang Li strode in from the outside door, posture straight and gaze fierce. His hair was tied up in a topknot, his strong arms bare. Unlike Gaston's shameless display of physicality, though, Shang's sleevelessness seemed merely practical. A pair of younger students stood by his side; a boy with shaggy, auburn hair, and a sharp-eyed girl with raven hair pulled back in a ponytail. The boy, in particular, grabbed Merida's attention, while Elizabeth was a little surprised to see the girl.

                "Go ahead and take a seat," Shang said to the students, who took a seat between Elizabeth and Mulan. Shang looked out over the assembled team. "All right, team, as I'm sure you can tell, we have a couple of new faces. I want you to welcome Taran Dallben and Vidia Black to the team. They're going to be our new Backups."

                Merida looked up, frowning. "Hang on," she said. "We're Backup--me and Thwaites and Swann. We can only have three."

                Shang smiled. "As a matter of fact, Dunbroch, you're not," he said. "You're the new Seeker."

                Merida's jaw dropped. "Wha? Me? Seeker?"

                "After Crockett graduated last year, you were the obvious replacement," the captain said. He turned to Elizabeth. "I considered you, Swann, but--"

                Elizabeth held up a hand. "No, you made the right choice," she said. "Besides, I like being versatile, and Gaston, I swear I'll slug you, and you, too, Hook."

                Gaston pouted, but James grinned at that.

                Philip raised a hand. "And me?"

                "You're moved to Beater," Li replied.

                Gaston gave a laugh and punched Philip on the shoulder.  

                Shang shook his head. "Anyway, Swann, I'm going to be looking to you to help train the rookies. Both are good flyers with a lot of potential, but they're new."

                Elizabeth smiled at Taran. "Don't worry, kiddo, I'll show you the ropes," she said. She looked over at Vidia, who only rolled her eyes.

                "She helped teach me, too, when I joined in my first year," Merida added.

                "Well, I'll be having you running special Seeker drills," Shang said. "You'll need a lot more focus, now."

                Merida sighed. "Aye."

                "Isn't it 'aye, captain'?" James said.

                "Hook," Shang warned. He looked to the new players and began pointing at the team members. "Hook is our Keeper. Fa, Matoaka and myself are the Chasers, and LeGume is--"

                "Our mascot," James interrupted. Shang and Gaston glared at him. He held up his hands. "Sorry, mate. Couldn't resist."

                "LeGume is our other Beater," Shang continued. "Now. I assume you have an idea what you'll be expected to do on the team?" Taran and Vidia nodded. Shang dropped a whistle around his neck and picked up a broom. "Right, then. Let's get down to business...."

 

*~*~*

 

Shang was merciless in drilling the team. He was, at least, more egalitarian in his motivational shouting, no longer asking if he'd been sent daughters when he asked for sons. Pocahontas and Mulan had both long established that that sort of thing would only motivate them to pummel him.

                Taran, for his part, seemed to be proving worthy of Shang's assessment of him. He was game for all the exercises Shang put him through, even if it more than he was used to. He found himself wondering if he'd ever catch his breath, and told Elizabeth to say goodbye to those who knew him. But, as Shang said, time was, after all, racing towards them till the Slytherins arrived. And, if he heeded his every order, he might survive.

                Vidia seemed to relish the intensity of the practice. She was a naturally fast flyer--really fast. In fact, more than once, Shang actually had to direct her to slow down, because she was overshooting targets and it was messing up plays. When that happened, she found herself checking the little chain bound around her ankle. The Inhibitor had kept her from moving at subsonic speeds on foot, but it might need some adjustments for flight.

                Merida proved to be a natural Seeker. She had an excellent eye for finding the tiny golden snitch amid the chaos of the Quidditch field. The only thing she had trouble with was awareness of the field as a whole. In diving for the snitch, she ended up interrupting plays and almost got concussed by a bludger twice. Thankfully, Philip was there to save her from a trip to Doc Poppins'. In fact, Philip was proving to be an excellent complement to Gaston. While Gaston was all aggressive offense, Philip was always on the lookout for incoming threats, ready to defend his teammates.

 

*~*~*

 

Not that he'd admit it, but Taran's limbs felt like liquid lead as he followed the others back to the changing rooms. True, it wasn't as if he'd been running around on the ground, as with Muggle sports, but flight was like any form of magic in that it had to be powered by something, and the brooms drew, in part, from their riders' own physical energy reserves. Technomancers were always trying to improve the energy efficiency of brooms, but physical endurance still as important for Quidditch as for football or rugby.

                James Hook smiled at him as he spotted Taran dragging his feet. "Don't worry, mate," he said, "you'll get used it before long."

                Taran straightened his back and ran a hand through his messy hair. "I don't know what you mean," he said, which got a snort from Hook.

                "I like your style, mate," he said, throwing an arm around the second-year's shoulders.

                Taran liked Hook. He seemed funny, easy-going, and when he acted all flirty with the girls, it was more like an entertaining affectation than anything else. Philip, too, was a pretty nice guy, courteous to everyone. Taran was surprised by how easily he was accepted by all his teammates, in fact--even Gaston. Taran certainly wasn't coddled, and Li called him on every mistake, but he wasn't harassed or humiliated by any means. It was also nice being on a team with his classmate Merida, who'd been one of his best friends since they arrived at Hogwarts. He expected Vidia felt the same about Elizabeth

 

*~*~*

 

Having to play with Swann was the only downside to joining the team. They'd known each other since their first day, two years ago, and Swann had witnessed every blunder and stumble since then. She had no problem with Shang or Pocahontas, who were both overly starched in Vidia's opinion, and Gaston was kind of a jerk, but at least it was a general, nonspecific jerkiness. But, with the exception of Swann, the rest of the team were relative strangers, belonging to different years. The classes rarely interacted, so they didn't know her, only knew of her.

                In the girls' locker room, after they'd showered and changed, Pocahontas was waving her wand over the other girls' hair. The seventh-year had a knack for weather-related magic, and was drawing the water from their damp hair as a cloud of mist. "What do you think of your first day on the team?"  

                "I have no complaints," Vidia replied coolly, fussing with her tie.

                "You did well," Elizabeth told her. Vidia managed not to roll her eyes.

                "And, barring incident, Shang won't put you out on the field in the first game," Mulan said. "So you'll have a little more time to iron out any bumps before you're put out there in front of everybody."

                Vidia pursed her lips, silently daring them to mention the Inhibitor on her ankle.

                "I wish I'd had that luxury," Merida remarked, trying to wrangle her riot of curls into a semblance of order.

                Vidia chuckled. "Oh, yeah," she said. "I remember that game. First match of the year against Slytherin, wasn't it? Shan-Yu Shonkhor kicked Dave Crockett in the head, and Kay Kyner was knocked off his broom by a bludger. You and Swann got called in." She smirked. "Good to see you two weren't discouraged by it."

                Merida narrowed her eyes. "And what do you mean by that?"

                Vidia gave her a blank look and shrugged. "Nothing. It was rough going, but you stuck with it. You clearly have the makings of a good Seeker. What else could it mean?"

                "Shan-Yu was pretty heavily penalized for that," Pocahontas said, interrupting the argument. "Not that it stopped their team didn't try anything else less than honorable. But at least we're wise to them this time around." The Gryffindor Head Girl allowed herself a smile. "Frankly, I think we're in for a great season."

 

*~*~*

 

"I still think Kyner would have been better," Gaston said.

                Hook put the last stud back in his ear. "Really? You'd give up your position as the team musclehead?"

                Gaston sneered, crossing bulging arms over his broad chest. His easy mass was something Gaston liked to rub in the faces of his fellow male students. "Jealous?"

                At seventeen, Hook was the oldest guy the Gryffindor team, but also the most slim, excluding twelve-year-old Taran. He looked positively scrawny in his school uniform, and most assumed he was too slender to be an effective Keeper. Even Philip Thwaites, who was almost two years younger, was broader in the shoulders, even if he wasn't as bulky as Gaston or Shang. But, Hook had more than proven himself, time and time again. He looked Gaston over and smirked. "Not of what you got, mate. Or haven't, rather."

                Gaston glared, and Philip coughed to suppress a laugh. Taran was frozen during this exchange, aware he was partially the subject of the discussion.

                "Kay would be welcome if he decided to rejoin the team," Shang said, cutting off any potential conflict escalation. "We are allowed more reserve players. But his father got that internship for him with the Aurors after graduation. If he was spending his time practicing instead of studying, he wouldn't be able to maintain the grades they require. If the new kids don't pan out, there are still other options." He looked over at Taran. "For what it's worth, I think they have what it takes."

                Taran found himself blushing. "Thanks," he said. "I hope I didn't screw up too badly."

                "You did fine," Philip said. "Nothing a little practice won't cure."

                Gaston fired another glare at Hook. "Yeah, well, at least Hook has someone else to share makeup tips with."

                "Aye," Hook said, unfazed. "This new eyeliner runs like a bastard."

                Gaston snorted, flicked his wand at his locker, enchanting it shut, and stomped out, muttering under his breath.

                Shang looked disapprovingly at the Keeper. "Hook, you need to stop needling Gaston."

                Hook shrugged. "He can take it. He's a big boy, as he so enjoys telling people."

                "To be fair, he is a pretty easy target," Philip said, which got a laugh out of Hook.  

                "Not the point," Shang said. "A team needs to be united, not squabbling with each other."

                Hook frowned. "Big man's not exactly blameless, mate."

                "I'm aware of how...difficult he is," Shang said, which got a snort from Hook. "But there's no reason to make things worse."

                Hook sighed. "Alright, mate, fine. You get tall, dark and juiced to dial back on the arrogance, and I'll spare his frail, precious ego."

                "That's all I'm asking," Shang said. "Believe me, I don't want to have to cut anyone from the team for something stupid, like not getting along." Shang turned and gave Philip a meaningful look, too. "Which happens to go for everyone, let it be known."

                Philip and Hook both agreed, Taran nodding vehemently--though it had nothing to do with him--and the three of them departed for their respective classes. Alone in the locker room, Shang tidied the last of the equipment and smirked. Heh. "Tall, dark and juiced."

 

*~*~*

 

"There you are."

                Merida and Taran turned and saw a boy jogging up to meet them. "Hey, Jim," Merida said.

                "So, so," the boy said, catching up with them. The trio crossed the courtyard to the west wing. Jim threw his arms around their shoulders and grinned at Taran. "Tell me everything. Was it as awful as Merida makes out, or was she sugar-coating it?"

                Almost in unison, Taran and Merida rolled their eyes. The pair of them had been friends with Jim Hawkins since the train ride to Hogwarts, but his eccentricities could be tiring. "I don't make anything out," Merida said, slapping at Jim's hand. She looked over at Taran. "Go on, tell him--it wasn't bad at all, was it?"

                "It wasn't all that bad, really," Taran said. "More tiring than I expected, but nothing I won't get used to."

                Jim narrowed his eyes at his friend, studying him. Suddenly, Jim spun Taran to face him. "They got to you, didn't they? You've been brainwashed by their cult!" He grabbed the sides of Taran's face. "ARE YOU IN THERE, TA-RAN?" he asked, speaking slowly and loudly.

                "Jim? You're hurting me," Taran said through smushed cheeks.

                "YES, TA-RAN," Jim said, nodding Taran's head. "YOU RE-MEM-BER ME. JIIIIIM.   VE-RY GOOD!"

                Taran slapped at Jim's hands and pushed him away. "Okay, that's enough," he said, rubbing his sore face.

                "I still don't know why you didn't try out for the team," Merida said. "You're probably the best flyer in our year."

                "Thank you, but no thank you," Jim said, and gave a shudder. "Organized sports are the root of all evil. The best way to ruin something fun, like flying, is to turn it into a competition." Taran shrugged. He obviously didn't agree with Jim's philosophy, but he could understand it. Merida, for her part, rolled her eyes and sighed.

                "So?" Jim asked. "Who's the other new recruit?"

                Merida raised an eyebrow. "You mean you actually knew we were filling two slots on the team?"

                Jim scoffed. "How could I not, the way you carried on?" He put on a falsetto voice and a phony accent and began to wail, "'Och, Jim, me lad! Wha' am I ginna doo? Crockett's graduated and Kay's quit tae focus on his laerrrnin'! Bless me haggis, I dinna ken how we can fill twoo positions!'"

                Merida glared at Jim while Taran grabbed onto Jim's shoulder so as not to fall over from laughter. "I do not sound like that," she growled.

                "Whatever ye say, lassie," Jim replied, which earned him a punch in the shoulder from Merida. He held up his hands in submission. "Okay, for real, who's the other newbie?"

                "Vidia Black," Merida replied.

                "I detect a tone," Jim said.

                "Well, I don't know what it is, but she does seem to have an attitude problem," Taran said.

                "Especially where Elizabeth is concerned," Merida added. Abruptly, she turned to Jim. "Stop that."

                Jim blinked. "What?"

                Merida scowled. "You grabbed me, and I don't like it."

                Jim shook his head. "I didn't lay a hand on you," he said. To illustrate, he showed her his hands; one held his Herbology book, the other was still around Taran's shoulder.

                Merida frowned. "Then, who...?"

                Taran held up his own hands, shaking his head in the negative.

                There was a sudden gale of shrieking laughter, and wind swirled around the trio. The forms two young boys and a girl coalesced out of the wind, cackling madly. It was the poltergeists, Lock, Shock and Barrel. They plucked at the students' hair and clothes as they buzzed in circles around them. The students shouted and swore and flailed at the poltergeists, all to no avail. Before the students realized it, the three spirits of chaos had seized their bags and were flying away with them.

                Merida was the first to chase after them, anger ratcheting her Scots accent into something unintelligible as she screamed for them to return her possessions. Taran and Jim were close on her heels, though, and they pounded up the stairs after the poltergeists. Taran wondered, though, what the plan would be when they actually caught them.

                As they rounded a corner, they thought the poltergeists had evaded them. Then, Merida spotted the narrow face of Lock leering at them from the door he was partially phased through, and she shouted something at the spirit. Her accent must've been reaching critical mass in her fury, because the boys had no idea what a "badgering cork-magnet" was. Even Lock looked slightly puzzled before disappearing though the door.

                The students gave chase, but it wasn't until they'd burst through the door that Taran realized where they were: the third-floor corridor of the west wing.

                The three of them began tumbling through the air, no longer bound by gravity. Taran flailed, trying in vain to get to the ground, and ended up colliding with Merida, who was swearing up a storm--presumably. Jim seemed to have it figured out, making use of the antigravity to bound from wall to wall, launching himself down the corridor towards the poltergeists. Taran and Merida disentangled themselves and followed suit.

                Jim was closing in on the spirits, when, suddenly, they flew through a closed door, and Jim overshot. Jim managed to get himself turned around in time to see them fly back through the door and through the opposite wall. Taran and Merida arrived soon after.

                "Hellfire," Taran growled. "How are we supposed to follow them now?"

                "We don't need to," Merida seethed. Her voice still vibrated with anger, but she could at least be understood, now. "They didn'a have the bags with 'em."

                "Must've ditched them in that room," Jim said, gesturing to the door. He frowned. "I don't think I've ever been in this room before. Have either of you?"

                They shook their heads. "I always assumed it was for one of the older students' classes," Taran said.

                Jim hooked his fingers into the brickwork and scooted himself close enough to reach the doorknob. Pulling himself even closer, he turned the knob.

                Or, tried to, anyway.

                "Locked," he grumbled, rattling the knob.

                Taran pointed his wand at the door. "Swing yourself out of the way," he said. Jim did, and Taran said, "Alohamora."

                The locked clicked, and Jim tried it again. This time, the knob turned. Jim pushed away from the wall opening the door with him as he drifted. Making sure he was holding firmly to the door, Merida grabbed Jim's arm and pulled. Taran, holding on to her robes, went with her. As soon as they crossed the threshold into the darkened classroom, though, they crashed to the floor in a heap.

                Jim was able to ease himself into the room a little more carefully, as Taran and the vehemently swearing Merida disentangled themselves. "Weird how this one room still has gravity," Jim said. "I wonder why that is."

                "Doesn't matter," Merida replied, smoothing out her robes. "There's our stuff," she said, pointing to the pile of their belongings, dumped in a corner by the poltergeists.

                As Jim and Merida walked over to collect their things, Taran paused, frowning. "Hang on a minute," he said in a low voice.

                Merida looked up. "What?"

                "Do you hear that?"

                Jim and Merida stopped and listened. "No," Jim answered, and bent to pick up his bag.

                Merida held up a head. "No, he's right," she said, pushing her hair out of the way. "There is a weird sound in here. Is that a machine? I don't think we're near the Technomancy workshop. Maybe this is a boiler room?"

                Taran held his wand up and murmured, "Lumos." Cool, wan light glowed from the tip of his wand, though it didn't do a whole lot to illuminate the room. He moved the wand about, accepting his bag from Jim. Mostly, he saw more darkness. He angled the light over to where the strange, rumbling, whooshing noise seemed to be coming from. There was something there, a large shape in the gloom. Curious, he stepped towards the thing.

                Suddenly, something moved. The light from his wand gleamed off of a round surface a few feet away. He wasn't sure what he was looking at, at first, but as his instincts told him to start backing away, his brain realized that he was looking at an eye.

                "Um," he said, drawing near the others.

                They followed his line of sight, their breath catching. The large, gleaming, red eye was joined by another, and then another, and another, until their were six in all, moving up through the gloom to stare down at them. The rumbling, whooshing noise solidified into the steady pumping of huge lungs. Merida lit her own wand, and the murky shape defined itself into a massive, three-headed dog. Lips curled back from three sets of fangs, each as long as a man's leg, gleaming in the witchlight. The room started to vibrate, and Taran realized the thing was growling.

                "You guys got our stuff?" Taran sqeaked.

                Jim grunted in the affirmative.

                "Then, I think we ought to leave," Taran replied. "Quickly."

                They started to back towards the door, and the seismic growling intensified. The massive dog shifted, its nearest head drawing back. "Hide your eyes," Merida told them, then shouted, "Lux Fulguris!" A ball of light rocketed from the end of her wand and exploded in blinding flash.

                The huge beast thrashed and bellowed, it's dark-attuned eyes dazzled by the sudden, intense light. Taran felt a hand close on his collar, and Merida flung him into the weightless corridor. Jim had already leapt through the door, and Merida followed, yanking the door shut behind her. They bounced off the opposite wall and kicked and flailed their way down the hallway towards the main corridor.

                When they returned to normal gravity, they barely managed to not fall in a pile. Still, they sat on the floor for a moment as their heartbeats returned to normal and their higher brain function returned.

                "What was that?" Jim asked.

                Taran shook his head. "My question is why it was there in the first place. It can't be for one of Professor Rafiki's lessons."

                "You didn'a see it, did ye?" Merida asked.

                "The big-ass dog with three heads?" Jim said. "Yeah, I noticed it."

                Merida shook her head. "Not that. When it stood up. It was blocking a door."

                "So, what?" Taran said. "That was a guard dog?"

                Merida shrugged. "Would be my guess."

                They got to their feet and started off towards Gryfffindor Tower. "Of course, now I want to know what it was guarding," Jim said.

                Taran frowned. "You don't think...?"

                Merida arched an eyebrow. "What?"

                "Nothing," Taran said. "Just... What if the whole anti-gravity thing wasn't some sort of mishap? What if it was to keep people out of that hallway?"

                They considered that. It made sense--and yet, it didn't. What could possibly be so important to require such security?

                "Wouldn't do any good asking the teachers about it," Merida said. "They'd only get angry because we were there to begin with."

                The boys nodded. "I guess that means we'll just have to find out some other way," Jim said, grinning at the notion of a mystery to solve. Suddenly, he stopped, turned to Merida, and gasped.

                "What?" Merida asked.

                "Oh, nothing," Jim sighed, hand to his chest. "I saw your hair and thought the gravity had turned off out here, too."

                He was still laughing when Merida punched him in the shoulder.

Chapter Text

MAGIC KINGDOM
a Disney/Hogwarts Crossover Fic

 

7. A LEGEND IS SUNG

"She's mad," Penny Stacy said. "Mad, mad, mad."
Lewis Robinson looked up. "Who?"
"Professor Mim," Penny answered. She turned her Arithmancy book and tapped the problem with her pencil. "It can't be done. It simply can't be done."
Lewis looked over from his own homework and considered the problem. He picked up Penny's paper and looked at the work she'd done. "See this here? You're trying to factor in the square root of Pi."
Penny frowned. "Yeah...?"
"This isn't a geometric proof," he said. "It's selenometric. You need to use the triangular root of Pi."
Penny stared at him. "That's not a thing."
"Not in the real world," Hiro Hamada said. "But it is here."
Penny bundled up her robes, covered her face with them, and let out a muffled scream. The rest of the little study group regarded her with raised eyebrows. Except, that is, for Alice Carroll, who was busy trying to pin down the equations crawling over the pages of her textbook. After a few moments' muffled panting, Penny dropped the robes from her face and took a deep breath. "I'm better now."
Alice blinked and looked up. "What happened?"
"Triangular roots," Arthur Pendragon explained, and the blonde nodded knowingly.
The six first-years sat on the floor around a little table in the Ravenclaw common room. Mike Yagoobian frequently found himself staring around at his surroundings, as the only outsider in the little study group. The Gryffindors, and especially the Slytherins, tended to be pretty territorial about their dorm commons. The Hufflepuffs, however, were known for their hospitality, and the Ravenclaws were known for not really caring. The Ravenclaw tower was the only dorm not requiring a password to gain entry, and the thinking was that anyone with the brain power to solve the riddle would be welcome.
Even if there had been some kind of rule about keeping other students out of Ravenclaw tower, they'd have found some way to include Goob. Lewis and Goob had been best friends for as long as they could remember, having grown up in the same muggle orphanage. They weren't going to let something like being Sorted into different Houses get in the way. They hadn't thought to ask other friends join the little study group, like Wendy Darling or Chip Potts. Penny made a mental note to ask their other first-year friends to join them next time.
Right now, the little study group was clawing their way through Arithmancy, as it was the most frustratingly complex. True, much of it was exactly like ordinary algebra and geometry, but some problems required you to factor in the phase of the moon, the direction of the wind, and the color of the ink used to write it down. Hiro and Lewis were sort of carrying the others, being mathematically inclined. If Professor Mim was at all able to evaluate hundreds of such assignments, Penny's assessment of her sanity was probably spot on.
As they wrestled with numbers, Alice stood and walked towards the huge wall of windows. Goob noticed and watched her fiddle with the latch on one of the windows. She pushed it open, letting in a cool, early autumn breeze into the already drafty common room. Without a word, she walked back to her spot at the table and resumed her work, tucking her robes around her. Nose wrinkled in confusion, Goob asked her, "Uh, were you hot, or something?"
Large blue eyes looked up at him. "What do you mean?"
He gestured towards the window she'd opened. "The window?"
Alice looked where he pointed. "It's open," she said.
Brow furrowed, Goob said, "Well, yeah, you just--" Lewis nudged him and gave a little shake of the head, cutting him off. Goob shrugged and let it drop.
Moments later, there was a fluttering sound, and a small, brown owl flew in through the open window and landed in the middle of the table, startling the students. "Archimedes?" Arthur stammered.
The owl fluffed its feathers and hooted at him.
"I take it you know this owl?" Penny asked, picking up her scattered school supplies.
Arthur nodded. "Archimedes is the family owl," he said. The bird kicked its leg towards Arthur, as if eager for the small parcel tied to it to be removed. Arthur scooped up the owl and untied the bundle. "Thanks, Archimedes," he said, giving the bird a good scratch under the chin. "Why don't you go on to the aerie--they've got lots of good food for you there."
The owl made pleased noises and hopped out of his arms, then took off through the open window. Goob shot a questioning look at Alice, who was busy straightening her hair.
"You got a letter from home?" Lewis asked.
Arthur opened the little parcel and scanned the scroll. He sighed and read, "'Wart-- Make sure Kay gets this. It's very important. --Ector.'"
"Don't go on," Hiro deadpanned. "My heart can't take all that sentiment."
Arthur wadded up the note and regarded the envelope included. "My cousin is interning with the Aurors after graduation," he said. "They've always got some kind of form to fill out. Government stuff."
Alice tilted her head. "What's an Auror?"
Arthur gave her a confused look, then remembered that she was muggle-born. "The Aurors are sort of like wizard police," he explained. "They investigate magical crimes, fend off monsters, and even protect muggles from dark wizards. Kay's been set on becoming one ever since--" He hesitated and continued, "ever since he was a little kid." He set his things aside and stood.
"You're going now?" Hiro asked.
"This is important," Arthur said, as if it were obvious.
"So is your homework," Penny said.
Arthur frowned, then shook his head. "No, I have to go," he said.
Alice closed her books and stood, too. "I'll go with you," she said.
Arthur blinked at her. "Why?"
Alice shrugged and began walking. "Why not?" When she got to the door, she looked back at Arthur. "Aren't you coming?"

*~*~*

Arthur finally stopped at the landing to Gryffindor Tower and turned to face Alice. "Okay, what is it?"
"What do you mean?" Alice asked.
"You've been staring at me the whole way here," he said. His cheeks warmed a little and he looked away from her bright, blue gaze. "I want to know why."
"I've been trying to figure it out," she said.
"Figure what out?"
"The reason you paused," she said. "You hesitated when you were talking about your cousin wanting to become an Auror. You said he'd wanted it since he was little, but you started to say something else."
Arthur's whole body twitched with sudden tension. He quickly forced himself to adopt a more relaxed posture, but it was a bit late for that. "I don't know what you mean," he lied.
Alice continued to stare at him, saying nothing, smiling politely.
Arthur's narrow shoulders drooped, and he sighed. He took a breath and said, "Kay had wanted to be an Auror since our parents were killed."
The smile vanished from Alice's face, and her mouth dropped open. "Oh," she said at last in a small voice. "I... I'm very sorry."
Arthur rolled a bony shoulder in a shrug. "Thanks," he said. "They were...killed...when I was a baby. It's why I live with my uncle."
Alice frowned and sat on a stair. Arthur sat down next to her. They were quiet. Alice knew, intellectually, that many of her classmates had lost family members. But, to hear someone say so from their own lips was another matter entirely. It made it much more real. After a moment, she looked to him. "And Kay..?"
"His mother," Arthur replied. "It happened to all three of them at the same time."
Alice felt her eyes prickling in sympathy for Arthur. "Was... Was it an accident?" she asked.
Arthur shook his head. "It was on purpose," he said.
Alice frowned at that. "I don't--" She paused as realization dawned. "Oh."
Arthur nodded. "Right at the end of the Dark Times," he said. "My parents and Kay's mom... They were some of the last victims of the Death Eaters."
Alice chewed her lip, completely at a loss to say anything. She had so many questions, but kept silent. Instead, she handed him a handkerchief. He accepted, silently, and dabbed at his eyes, which glittered with barely restrained tears.
After a moment, Alice brushed her robes and smiled. "Well, your cousin will be wanting his letter," she said brightly.
Arthur cleared his throat and agreed. The two of them climbed to the landing in front of the portrait guarding the entrance to Gryffindor tower. Arthur wasn't sure if he should knock on the frame or ask the woman in the portrait if he could come in. He was about to reach out, when the portrait swung out, revealing a doorway behind.
A burly redhead stepped through, followed by a boy who looked about the same age. "Wart?" the redhead asked, spotting Arthur. "What're you doing here?"
Arthur held out the envelope. "Uncle Ector," Arthur replied, "he sent this for you."
Kay frowned and snatched the envelope from Arthur's hand. "Didn't open it, did you, Wart?"
Arthur shook his head. "No, Kay, of course not."
Alice looked between Arthur and Kay. She couldn't really see any family resemblance. While Arthur was slight and blonde with pointed features, Kay was broad, blocky and ginger. And it wasn't that Kay was ugly, but he seemed to have an unappealing scowl permanently built into his featurest, compared to Arthur's expression of helpful insecurity.
Kay tore his eyes away from the letter, noticing Alice's eyes upon him. "Who's that, Wart? Your girlfriend?"
Arthur's face turned red, and he spluttered a bit, but Alice cut him off. "I suppose so. I am a girl. I am his friend. The word does technically apply." She looked to the dark-haired boy behind Kay. He was watching the exchange with mild amusement, as Kay stared, blinking at Alice. The other boy was much slimmer, and better-looking than Kay, even though she didn't care for piercings and eyeliner. "Is he your boyfriend?"
Arthur's face paled in open mortification, and the dark-haired boy howled with laughter. Kay scowled at Alice, practically growling. The dark-haired boy draped an arm over Kay's shoulders. "Got you there, mate," he said.
Kay shook him off. "Shut it, Hook."
"That's no way to talk to your boyfriend," Hook replied. He gave Kay a swat on the posterior and bolted down the stairs, hooting with laughter. Kay charged after him, shouting threats, Arthur and Alice forgotten.
Alice watched them go, then turned to Arthur still gaping her. "We ought to get going as well," she said. "We still have all that homework."

*~*~*

Alice was a bit lost in thought as she made her way to class. No one really took any notice, as this seemed to be her default state. She took her seat in History, considering a lot of things she'd learned in the few weeks she'd arrived at Hogwarts. Not magic, though. She wasn't thinking about spells or potions or with whom the centuars sided in the War of the Roses. She was thinking about her classmates.
Arthur Pendragon and Kay Kyner.
Hiro and Tadashi Hamada.
Lewis Robinson, Penny Stacy, Mike Yagoobian and so many others.
They had all lost at least one parent.
Alice raised her hand.
Professor Hatter paused in his lecture on the Tudor wizards. "Yes, Alice?"
"What were the Dark Times?" she asked.
Professor Hatter flinched, so strongly his ever-present emerald green topper seemed to hop off his head. "Uh--it--buh--wha--I beg your pardon?" he manages to stammer out.
"The Dark Times," Alice said. "I've heard people mention it, but no one seems to actually talk about it. What happened?"
Dozens of young eyes fix on Professor Hatter. An onlooker might almost feel sorry for the funny little man in the purple robes, mustard-colored suit and bright green top hat. An almost clownish figure, he was liked, if not completely respected by most of the Hogwarts students. He didn't inspire fear or awe, and his classes were possibly the least magical of all the Hogwarts curriculum. Even the troublemakers were likely to dismiss him as inconsequential and not worth the effort. But right now, every student in his class was pinning him in place with their gaze, like scientists with an interesting specimen. He stammered a moment, fidgeting with his chalk, then sighed.
"Well," he said. "I hadn't planned on discussing this. But...it is my duty to educate you. And I realize, of course, that many of you were not raised in the wizarding world and simply don't know." He squared his shoulders and adopted his lecturing pose.
"As long as humanity has existed, there have been those who would abuse their power to get what they want," he said. "Greed, cruelty and apathy afflict muggle and wizard alike, and because the potential for damage is so much greater, we wizards must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Unfortunately, we wizards are still human, and many fall woefully below those standards. Dark sorcery," he intoned, "has existed since the birth of magic. And there have been many willing to wield it.
"Over twenty years ago--none truly know when events were set in motion," he continued, "a wizard rose to power. There are a great many rumors as to this wizard's origin, but nothing has ever been confirmed. What is known is that this wizard gathered followers. Some were entranced by promises of mere material gain, while others had visions of a new world order."
Hatter shook his head in disgust. "There are some in the wizarding world who believe wizards are superior beings to muggles," he said. "That wizards are more worthy of rights and privileges than muggles. Even muggle-born and those of mixed blood are 'inferior.' The Dark One--for that is what the wizard leading this movement was called--organized attacks on various institutions, both wizard and muggle, all to destabilize the government, create panic and chaos, and pave the way for the Dark One and the Death Eaters to seize power.
"These were the Dark Times," he continued, tone turning dour. "For years, people lived in fear. That fear was... justified. Lives were lost. Many lives. Government officials, civilians, muggles--no one was safe. Though the muggle press pinned acts on terrorism or organized crime, many suspectrd something else working in the shadows, something they could almost perceive but not fully accept. Then, an elite group of Aurors managed to catch the Dark One unawares, and seemingly ended the struggle right then. It happened so suddenly, few believed it. But, irrefutable evidence was put forth, proving that the Dark One had been vanquished. The Death Eaters still continued their foul work, but without their leader, they were disheartened, disorganized, and after a few more years of struggle, their evil flame was finally snuffed out.
"The Dark Times were at an end," Hatter said. "And now, the wizarding world gets to enjoy a moment of peace and heal the wounds of the last few decades." Professor Hatter surveyed the class, who had been listening with more attention than ever. "Any other questions?"
"What was the Dark One's name?" Alice asked.
Hatter's mouth compressed in a thin line, and his Adam's apple bobbed as he seemed to consider the question. "During the Dark Times, few dared to speak the name aloud," he said. "People feared speaking it would summon the Dark One and the Death Eaters."
"And now that the Dark One's dead?" Alice asked.
Hatter nodded, once. The girl was, of course, correct. "There is even less reason to fear the name now," he said, half to himself. "The Dark One's name... was Maleficent."

*~*~*

There was a knock at the door of the little cottage. The man who'd rented it switched off the gramophone, silencing the jazz music spilling from the horn. In a few long strides, he crossed the hall and looked through the peephole on the door. Smiling, he opened the door wide and gave a smile.
"Come on in, honey," he said in his liquid baritone.
The exceedingly elderly woman on the porch looks up at him. "Shouldn't you be a little more careful about strangers?"
The man chuckled. "I don't have to worry about strangers at my door," he said. "I always know when I have friends on the other side."
The woman huffed and hobbled, practically bent double, over the threshold of the rental cottage. She looked around and sniffed. "Pokey little place."
"Good enough for our purposes," he replied. "Besides, flashy joints attract attention." The old woman huffed again in response and hobbled into the parlor. "Can I take your wrap?"
The old woman dropped into a chair and handed him her hooded shawl. He hung it on the hatrack, next to his own tall, black topper. The man then produced a tray of tea things and poured a cup for her. She settled back into the chair with her tea and biscuit. The man smirked as his lean form languidly reclined on the sofa. "Honey, wouldn't you like to be more comfortable?"
The old woman chuckled. "One gets forgetful at my age," she said, and she changed. Her form straightened. Skin smoothed. Hair turned midnight black. Decades of wear and tear evaporated, leaving behind a ravishing, fair-skinned beauty.
The man on the sofa regarded the stunning woman, an appreciative smile on his face. "My, my, my. I knew tea was beneficial, but, heavens."
The woman smiled and tossed her glossy black hair. "You do have a way with words, don't you, Doctor?"
He returned the smile. "I have a way with all kinds of things, Grimhilde," he said, and she chuckled. They enjoyed their tea for a moment, while the Doctor enjoyed the sight before him, even with the shabby old clothes she wore.
"Not that this isn't entertaining, Facilier," Grimhilde said, "but we do have business to conclude."
"Business before pleasure?" Facilier asked.
"We'll see," she replied. Setting her tea down, she stood and looked around the room. "Where are you keeping it?"
The Doctor's grin widened, and she sighed. "Business, remember?"
Chuckling, Facilier stood and beckoned. Grimhilde followed him to the kitchen and looked around. "Well?" Facilier spun on his heel and gestured to the microwave with theatrical flourish. "You've kept it in the... muggle cooking thing?"
"Microwave," he corrected, and she shrugged, not caring. The names muggles gave their devices didn't matter to her. Though she walked through the muggle world, she preferred to remain separate from it.
Facilier pushed a button on the device and the door opened with a hard, mechanical noise. "Even if anybody gets passed the protective spells on this place," he said, reaching inside, "no one would think to look in here. Folk's more likely to look behind the walls than in the microwave."
Grimhilde didn't respond, gaze fixed on what the Doctor was holding. Her green eyes widened and a shiver of excitement ran through her. "Samuel? Is it truly..?"
Facilier nodded and smiled. "The Sanderson Book," he said.
Mottled, brownish leather covered the book, heavy black stitches running over the surface. The leather looked a much poorer quality than what was typically used for books, but then, it wasn't cowhide. Grimhilde drew a breath and reached for the tome--but couldn't. Her fingers just couldn't quite make contact with the book, as if the air around it were a rubbery cocoon.
Grimhilde fired a glare at Facilier, who regarded the witch with mild amusement. "What have you done?" she hissed.
"Darlin', I know better than to outlive my usefulness," the Doctor said. "Ain't nobody usin' this book without me."
Grimhilde narrowed her eyes at the Doctor, but her expression melted into an amused smile of her own. "Very, clever, Samuel," she said.
"I do what I can, darlin'," he said, touching his forelock.
Grimhilde folded her arms over her chest and considered the Doctor. "I'll keep that in mind."
Facilier chuckled and replaced the book in the microwave, and the pair returned to the parlor. Grimhilde fetched her shawl and draped it over her shoulders. "Well, now," she said. "It's been lovely, Doctor, but I really must be going." Her form shivered, and was replaced by that of the hunched old crone. She peered up at Facilier and gave a rusty chuckle. "Just don't forget to be there," she said, and hobbled out of the cottage.
Facilier watched her go, and closed the door. He set the gramophone playing again, and as jazz filled the cottage again, he smiled to himself. Things were coming together nicely.

Chapter Text

 

8. LITTLE TOWN

 

On the morning of the last Saturday of the month, the whole school was abuzz.  Most of the school, anyway. 

                "Well, I think it sucks," Vanellope said. 

                "I'd like to go, too," said Wendy.  "But, it is rather common, I'm afraid." 

                "Sucks," Vanellope replied. 

                Alice looked up from her book.  "What's common?" 

                "In virtually any school, the older students get little privileges not afforded to the younger," Wendy answered. 

                "SUUUCKS," Vanellope intoned. 

                "It's not all bad," Jenny Foxworth said.  "At least, with the older students out at Hogsmeade, it's almost like having the place to ourselves." 

                Vanellope put her hands to her mouth and blew a truly impressive raspberry. 

                "And on that note..." Wendy deadpanned.  "There.  How's that?" 

                Vanellope held up the little mirror and examined her hair.  "I guess you did a good job," she said, causing Wendy to roll her eyes.  Vanellope wasn't the best when it came to "girly" things like braiding her hair, and Wendy had something of a talent for it.  Wendy also knew Vanellope would never let on she cared about her appearance, and that was as effusive as she would get. 

                "Even without the older students," Wendy said, "it isn't as if we could just go haring off, doing whatever we wanted.  If one were so inclined," she added, as if such behavior was quite the furthest from her mind. 

                "Were you always like this?" Vanellope asked. 

                Wendy turned a sharp glance to her.  "What do you mean?" 

                Vanellope made a vague gesture with her hand.  "You know--a grownup." 

                Wendy pursed her lips, feeling her cheeks warm.  "I'm sure I don't know what you mean." 

                "You are very proper," Alice said. 

                "Buzzkill," Vanellope corrected. 

                Wendy's blue eyes flashed and she drew herself up.  "I beg your pardon?" 

                Jenny scowled at Vanellope.  "I think what Vanellope means," she said sternly, "is that you are practical and level-headed." 

                Wendy deflated a little, and began sorting out Alice's hair for braiding.  "Well, I suppose it becomes habit," she said.  "I've two younger brothers who are absolute hellions, and our parents' idea of childcare is a St. Bernard." 

                "That sounds awesome," Vanellope replied. 

                Wendy gave a little smile.  "Until there's any sort of problem," she said.  "Nana is surprisingly competent for a dog, but the lack of thumbs or vocal chords were a hindrance.  Mother and Father were each so busy, I sort of...fell into the role."  Jenny and Vanellope exchanged a look.  There was something in Wendy's voice which made Vanellope feel a little bad for her comments.  Alice seemed more interested in a caterpillar who had chosen to crawl across her book.  "Still," Wendy said, putting a smile back on her face, "no business complaining.  Things could always be worse." 

                The girls let the subject lie, and Jenny began talking about what she'd do if they were allowed to go to Hogsmeade.  Wendy contributed to the conversation, but as she wove Alice's hair into a complicated braid, she thought about what Vanellope had said, and her gaze followed Peter, dashing across the school lawns, followed by his gang of first-year boys.  Had she become too grown up?  Her mother had said girls simply matured faster than boys, but Vanellope, Jenny and Alice had no problem allowing themselves to be silly and childish.  And, over there, running about with Peter and the boys, was Aurelia Bell, who was by no means a tomboy. 

                Had she simply forgotten how to have fun?

 

*~*~*

 

Some of the students drew up itineraries before Hogsmeade trips.  They planned out each shop or attraction they'd visit, eager to make strategic use of their monthly day of freedom.  Others merely embraced the independence and followed their feet. 

                Belle Eglantier was squarely amongst the former.  Unsurprisingly, she had planned to spend most of the day at the local book shop, with a little time for shopping for clothes and visiting Madame Puddifoot's Tea Shop.  She would also have to make an appearance at the Three Broomsticks, as Arista Del Mar and the Two Princes had made her promise to socialize.  After pointing out that Madame Puddifoot's was very social, they, in turn, pointed out that average age of the Tea Shop's clientele was greater than that of their parents. 

                Summer was still clinging on by a fingernail, so Belle opted for a simple blue sundress and a white cardigan.  The weather was that perfect blend of warm sun and cool breeze.  Hogsmeade was quite nice for what it was.  Though it was much like her own hometown, which she had longed to leave behind for new horizons, she could see the charm in a quiet village, where every day was like the one before.  Wizardry aside, it was a nice little town, full of little people.  

                In her mind, she could superimpose her hometown over Hogsmeade.  Over there would go the baker with his tray like always, with all his bread and rolls to sell.  Over there, a housewife haggling over fresh eggs.  The greengrocer, the cheese shop, the fish market.  Belle wondered if the similarities were limited to English villages, or if small towns the world over were built along the same lines. 

                "Hello, Belle." 

                A sudden shadow fell over her, and Belle turned.  Gaston loomed over her, smiling wide.  A sleeveless red shirt stretched over his impressive form.  "Oh, hello, Gaston." 

                "That's a great dress, Belle," he said. 

                "Oh, thank you," she said, glancing down at herself.  She looked up at Gaston and searched for something to say in return.  "Red suits you." 

                His grin widened and he gave a little shrug, being ever so humble, while also causing his torso to ripple interestingly.  "Why don't I show you around town, Belle?" 

                Belle gave a little chuckle.  "I know my way around Hogsmeade by now, Gaston," she replied. 

                He rolled his eyes.  "You know your way to the book shop," he said, and seized her hands.  "Come on, don't you want to explore, maybe see something outside a book?"  Gaston gazed down at her, eyes impossibly blue.

                Belle cleared her throat.  Gaston may have had a point, but he also had her hands, which she didn't appreciate.  "That's very sweet of you Gaston, but--" 

                "Gasto-on!"

                Belle and Gaston both turned to the sound.  Three figures approached, moving in perfect unison.  Laurette, Claudette, and Paulette Bontemps sashayed towards them.  All three had shiny blonde hair, flawless makeup, and figures no teenager should possess.  Other than slight variations in how they wore their bangs, and the color schemes of their outfits, they were indistinguishable from each other.  They even moved as if expertly choreographed. 

                Gaston smiled at the triplets.  "Girls," he said in greeting. 

                "Hello, Gaston," they chorused, even giggling in unison. 

                "You're looking well," the red-clad Claudette said, sidling up on his left. 

                "It's so good to see you," Laurette said, coming up on his right, dressed in gold. 

                "Especially out of school robes," finished the green-clad Paulette, moving to stand in front of him. 

                Gaston grinned.  "Likewise," he said.  Belle thought this would be a good opportunity for her to leave, but before she could, Gaston placed a hand on her shoulder.  She frowned at the hand, but he took no notice.  "I was just about to give Belle a proper tour of the town," he said.  "Show her what's worth seeing." 

                Six green eyes turned to Belle, and she suddenly felt like something small and furry which had blundered into a nest of vipers.  "Belle has such quiet tastes," Claudette said. 

                "She wouldn't know what to do with herself," Laurette added. 

                "Not with what you'd show her," Paulette finished. 

                Gaston chuckled.  He clearly enjoyed the triplets' attentions, but his hand never moved from Belle's shoulder.  "Don't be silly," he said.  "Of course she--" 

                "Gaston, it is so sweet of you to offer to show me around," Belle interrupted, lifting his hand away by the wrist.  "But, really, I've made plans with someone."  She spotted a boy from the school and hurried to his side, looping her arm through his, ignoring his bafflement.  "But you know what?" she said, before Gaston could voice a protest.  "I'm sure the girls would be more than happy to pal around with you.  So you four go and enjoy this lovely day we're having."  She started walking, towing the other boy along.  "Come on, we have a lot to do." 

                She could hear Gaston calling after her, but kept walking at a brisk pace, her conscripted friend trying to keep up.  She pulled him around the corner of a building and ducked into a side door, just to get that much further out of Gaston's line of sight.  She leaned back against the door as it clicked shut, and let out a breath. 

                "Feel free to return my arm whenever you like," said a voice from somewhere above her. 

                Belle jerked and looked up.  She'd forgotten all about the boy she'd dragooned into providing a getaway.  She was about to apologize when things finally registered.  The boy was older, at least a head taller, with wavy, strawberry-blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes, and was as coldly handsome as a classical statue.  She felt herself tense up all over again as recognition clicked into place. 

                It was Adam DuRose. 

                He stared down at her, blue eyes flat and unyielding.  The seventh-year Slytherin Chaser was known for being a beast on the Quidditch field, and not much better elsewhere.  Belle found herself rather intimidated.  When she gave no reply, he said, "With all your jibber-jabber, did you use up your daily allotment of speech?" 

                Belle withdrew her arm from his and glared up at him, intimidation evaporating.  "I beg your pardon?" 

                He arched an elegant, copper-colored brow.  "You grab me and drag me in here, and it's you who's offended?" 

                Belle pursed her lips but gave the slightest inclination of her head.  "I suppose I should apologize for that," she said. 

                Adam gave a nod.  "Yes," he said simply. 

                Belle narrowed her eyes.  "Maybe I was better off with Gaston," she said, barely restraining a snarl. 

                Adam sneered.  "No one is better off with Gaston." 

                "That's true enough," Belle said. 

                "Aren't you two dating?" Adam asked. 

                Belle managed not to shudder.  "God, no," she replied. 

                "Not what he thinks," he said. 

                "Yes, well, Gaston shouldn't think without supervision," she replied.  She glanced around, realizing they were in the bakery.  "You're free to go whenever you like," she said. 

                "Oh, am I?" Adam asked.  "Well, that's lovely, isn't it?"

                She gave a forced little smile.  "I'm sure you have lots of places to be," Belle said.  "Don't let me detain you." 

                "As desperate as I am for your company," Adam deadpanned, "I think I will break away." 

                "Charmed, I'm sure," Belle deadpanned in response, then turned on her heel and strode away.  As she left, she thought to herself, This is why I drink tea with old people.   She couldn't have cared less about the cold blue eyes of Adam DuRose watching her leave. 

 

*~*~*

 

"Do you have to?" 

                Anita Dearly made sure the clasp was done on her earring.  "Of course I do, Roger," she said.  "She's one of my oldest friends." 

                Roger Dearly snorted and idly tapped a few keys on the piano, checking the tuning.  Many of the Hogwarts teachers had small suites at the school, while others, like the Dearlys, made their homes in the nearby Hogsmeade village.  The Dearlys had a very nice little cottage near the outskirts.  Their garden was small, and more unkempt than the archetypical English country garden, but in a village full of wizards, no one took any notice. 

                "With friends like her, who needs dysentery?" Roger grumbled. 

                Anita turned to look at her husband, fists on hips.  "Roger, she is not that bad," she said. 

                "She bloody is," Roger replied.  "But you Slytherin girls are simply too bloody loyal." 

                She leaned in, eyes narrowed.  "And since when did you ever disapprove of Slytherin girls?" 

                His lips twitched as a smile threatened to push through his scowl.  "I admit, you have your merits." 

                She arched an eyebrow and gave him a light shove to the head.  "She's always been very good to me," Anita said.  "Besides, she came all the way out here, just to visit--and you know how much she hates leaving London.  Doesn't that show what a good friend she is?  Honestly, you act as if she were some puppy-slaying lunatic." 

                Roger merely snorted and began playing a jazzy little tune on the piano.  "Well, if any household pets, small children or livestock go missing," he said, over the sound of the music. 

                Anita rolled her eyes, gathered her purse and kissed her husband.  "I'll see you later, darling," she said. 

                As she left the house, she could hear he husband's smooth baritone singing with the piano: "Cruella DeVil; Cruella DeVil; If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will..." 

 

*~*~*

 

"Elsa!"  

                Elsa Agnarsdottr sighed, and turned, just in time to almost be knocked to the ground in a combination hug and tackle.  "Oof!  Anna!"  Elsa found herself laughing as she struggled to disentangle herself from her sister. 

                Anna Agnarsdotter took Elsa's gloved hands and hopped in place, red braids bouncing.  "Oh, I'm so glad to finally get some time to hang out with you," she gushed.  "It's like we never get a chance at school.  Oh!  Did you hear?  I made the Hufflepuff Quidditch team!" 

                Elsa managed to get her hands onto her sister's shoulders, keeping her from finally lifting off.  "Yes, Anna, I did hear," she said.  "Congratulations." 

                "Thanks!" Anna replied, beaming.  "I hope you'll be cheering us on.  I mean, of course, I don't expect you to cheer for us when we're against Ravenclaw, you are Head Girl, after all, that would be silly.  But when we're against Gryffindor or Slytherin, I hope you'll be cheering for us.  I'll be cheering for Ravenclaw when you guys are against them, too, I mean, I know you're not on the team, yourself, but it does only seem right--" 

                "Anna?" 

                "Yeah?" 

                "Breathe." 

                Anna paused and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.  "Sorry," she giggled.  "I got carried away.  I just feel like I don't see you anymore." 

                Elsa gave a little smile.  "Well, we are both very busy," she said.  Elsa brushed the single lock of pale hair out of Anna's face, and fought to maintain her smile.  "I suppose some things are easier to forget than others." 

                Anna raised an eyebrow.  "Okay," she said.  "Well, anyway, we're here now, and we can spend the day together!" 

                Elsa hugged her arms to herself.  "You wouldn't rather spend the day with your friends?"

                Anna rolled her eyes.  "You're my best friend," she said. 

                Elsa's found her smile reaffirming itself.  "Well, then, what should we do today?" 

                Anna opened her mouth, then paused.  She took a deep whiff of the air, and Elsa did the same.  In unison, they swiveled their heads towards the bakery.  "Chocolate," they intoned. 

 

*~*~*

 

Anita had just sat down when there was a thunderous roar outside.  Most of Madame Puddifoot's patrons turned to look at the large window, many uttering exclamations of surprise or indignation.  Anita merely sighed. 

                Moments later, the doors to the tea shop were thrown open, revealing a slender figure, silhouetted against the light.  The figure sauntered in, silently casting her gaze over the shop interior.  She was dressed like a film noir femme fatale, from her wide-brimmed hat, down to her sharp-toed stiletto heels.  She threw her arms wide and called out, "Anita, darling!" then strode across the room to Anita's table. 

                The two women exchanged air-kisses.  "It's good to see you, Cruella," Anita said. 

                "Not so loud, dear," said the other woman, without really lowering her voice, and dropped into the chair opposite Anita's.  "I'm traveling incognito." 

                Anita took in Cruella's outfit.  "So I see," she said.  "They won't hear it from me." 

                Cruella smiled and removed her glasses.  "Thank you, darling," she said, and heaved a sigh.  The waitress appeared take their orders.  "Vodka martini," Cruella said, barely sparing the waitress a glance. 

                "Cruella, it's a tea shop," Anita said. 

                Cruella smirked.  "A G&T, then?" 

                Anita ordered a pot of tea and a tray of sandwiches and cakes.  Cruella took out her long, ebony cigarette holder, and was about to light what looked like a thin, black cigarillo, when the waitress cleared her throat.  Cruella arched a painted brow at the woman, when Anita said, "There's no smoking here, dear." 

                Cruella heaved a sigh and put the offending objects away, and the waitress went to fetch their order.  "Oh, darling, I despair to see you wasting away in this godforsaken wilderness.  When are you coming back to London." 

                "No time soon," Anita said, with the patience of someone who'd had this discussion many times before.  "And it isn't as if I'm in some Antarctic outpost." 

                "Are you sure about that, darling?" Cruella asked, removing her hat, freeing her bicolored hair.  Anita always wondered about that.  Even when they'd met on the train to Hogwarts, half of the hair on Cruella's head was inky black, the other snowy white.  As far as Anita could tell, it grew that way naturally.  "There's no Harvey Nichols," Cruella said, "no Selfridges; not even a Grace Brothers.  Trees are allowed to roam about unsupervised."  She shuddered.  "Tell me, do they still eat raw meat out here?" 

                "Cruella!" Anita chided her, a smile playing at her lips.  "It isn't nearly as bad as all that.  You've just been in the city too long." 

                Cruella snorted.  "Darling, you're sounding like my doctors.  They're always telling me I should get fresh country air." 

                "They're not wrong," Anita said, and smiled at the waitress when she brought the tea, sandwiches and cakes.  Anita began pouring out the tea.  "And while I'm happy you're here, I'm surprised you didn't go to Hell Hall." 

                Cruella scoffed and withdrew a silver flask from her purse.  "The family pile?" she asked, dribbling what Anita suspected was gin into her tea.  "I should say not, darling.  It's full of family."  She shuddered and offered the flask to Anita, who politely declined.  "Speaking of which, how is Roderick?" 

                "Roger," Anita corrected her, as if this weren't the first time.  "As well you know." 

                "Oh, yes," Cruella said, "dear Roger.  How is he?" 

                "Very well," Anita answered, selecting a watercress sandwich.  "We're both looking forward this school year.  I've got some very promising students, and Roger says the choir and orchestra both are shaping up to be among the best." 

                "So, you're set on this teaching thing, then?" Cruella asked. 

                "Cruella," Anita began. 

                Cruella met her friend's eyes.  "Darling, those who can't, teach.  And you very much can.  I still have some of your designs hanging in my office, and buyers frequently asking why they can't have those designs." 

                "Cruella..." 

                "Please, dear, come and work at my design house."  In a less dignified person, her tone might have been called wheedling.  "With the DeVil label, your designs could be gracing every cover and catwalk on the planet." 

                "Cruella," Anita sighed in response, "I like teaching.  I enjoy opening young minds to art.  I find genuine satisfaction in my work."  Anita smiled up at her old school friend.  "Can you understand that?" 

                Cruella sat back, slightly deflated.  "I theory, I suppose," she begrudgingly replied. 

                "It isn't that I wouldn't enjoy working with you again, or that I'm done with creating my own art," Anita continued.  "But I'm happy here.  I have a chance to build a life with Roger here." 

                Cruella raised her gloved hands in defeat.  "Well, I'm not going to stand in your way.  If you want to teach toddlers how to fingerpaint--" 

                Anita rolled her eyes.  "I work with teenagers, not toddlers." 

                Cruella made a face.  "I'm not sure if that's better or worse." 

                The subject dropped, the pair chatted about other things, like the latest gossip on their former classmates, or the exploits of Cruella's London peers.  The little bell above the door jingled, and Anita glanced up.  A man entered, purposefully striding towards their table.  Cruella noticed and turned to look, herself.  She looked back to Anita and gave a mischievous chuckle.  "This one is mine," she said. 

                When the man drew near, Cruella gestured to him.  "Anita, darling, I'd like you to meet William Clayton," she said.  "William, this is my oldest and dearest friend, Anita Dearly." 

                The man took Anita's hand and bowed over it, smiling.  "Charmed, Professor Dearly," he said. 

                "Likewise, Mr. Clayton," Anita replied, blinking.  "You knew I was a teacher?" 

                "It was a minor logical gamble," Clayton replied.  "I knew there were two instructors named Dearly at Hogwarts, and given this charming village's proximity, it seemed a safe presumption."

                The man was tall, with the sort of features which would have made him a Hollywood heartthrob in the early days of cinema.  Anita's extensive study in anatomy and life drawing also told her the man was impressively solid beneath his conservative tweed suit.  "Well, you were right," Anita said.

                "William is my valet," Cruella said, eyes sliding up and down his form.  "His service is invaluable." 

                "Madam is too kind," Clayton replied.  The twinkle in his eye was distinctly at odds with his properly starched demeanor. 

                Anita merely drank her tea, not commenting. 

                "I hope Madam will excuse the intrusion," he said, "but I wished to inquire if I should take Madam's luggage to the cottage now?" 

                "That would be lovely, William," Cruella said.  The manservant inclined his head to the pair of them and left the tea shop, Cruella openly eyeing him as he walked away.  When he was gone, Cruella gave Anita a mischievous smile and sipped her tea.  "Invaluable service," she said, quirking an eyebrow. 

                Anita shook her head, though she found herself smiling. 

 

*~*~*

 

"So, where are we off to next?" 

                "You're not my chauffeur," Ariel said.  "We can go wherever you want." 

                "I know," Aladdin replied.  "I just have no particular destination in mind.  How about you, Miz Del Mar?" 

                Ariel rolled her eyes and sighed.  Aladdin Ababwa had been her best friend since they started going to Hogwarts.  Her sisters hadn't been too thrilled about Ariel making friends with a boy who'd lived on the streets before coming to Hogwarts--especially one who'd received his Hogwarts acceptance letter in a holding cell after being caught shoplifting--though they'd mostly warmed him.  Of course, none of them dared tell their father all the details about the baby of the family's new chum.  Triton Del Mar would likely turn him into actual chum

                Ariel suggested they check out Honeyduke's Sweet Shop.  Aladdin agreed and angled her wheelchair towards the confectioner's.  As they went, Ariel glanced up at Aladdin.  Despite the August warmth, he wore a purple hoodie over his tee shirt, as well as the red beanie he wore whenever he wasn't in class.  "Aren't you hot?" 

                "That's what they tell me," he said, and Ariel rolled her eyes.  She couldn't see his face, but she could hear the grin in his voice. 

                "I'm just surprised you still haven't adjusted to English weather after all these years," Ariel said. 

                "Trust me, I wish I could," he said.  "How do you feel about Hawaii?  Or would you prefer we run off to Tahiti?" 

                "Tough call," Ariel said, joining in on the old game they'd played for years.  "Tahiti isn't as touristy." 

                "True," Aladdin replied.  "But Hawaii has the surfing." 

                Ariel raised a red eyebrow, though Aladdin couldn't see it.  "Surfing?  Really?" 

                "Oh yeah," Aladdin said.  "When we run away from all this and settle down in our tropical getaway, I'll be the dashing surf stud, setting all the beach babes atwitter.  You can watch me perform astounding feats on the waves from your vantage point on the shore, while hosts of suntanned hunks wait on you hand and foot." 

                Ariel giggled.  "Except you can't surf." 

                "How do you know?" Aladdin asked.  "I've never tried.  I could be amazing." 

                Ariel's laughter sort of dwindled after a moment, causing Aladdin to frown.  He opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong, but then he followed her gaze, and understood.  There, walking out of Gladrag's Wizardwear, were a small group of Hogwarts students, including David Kawena, Zarina Sand, and a boy with wavy black hair, a wide smile and blue eyes. 

                "You could just talk to him, you know," Aladdin said. 

                Ariel jerked, snapped out of her reverie.  She didn't turn in her chair, but Aladdin could easily imagine her cheeks turning as red as her hair.  "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. 

                "Hm," Aladdin said.  "So, you weren't gazing at Eric Somand, then?"

                "Let's just go to Honeyduke's shall we?" Ariel said. 

                Aladdin shook his head, but complied, continuing on towards the confectioner's.  Aladdin couldn't quite understand why Ariel changed so much where Eric was concerned.  She was always so bright and cheerful and fearless.  Why the sight of Eric Somand would turn her into this cold, voiceless fish, Aladdin couldn't figure out. 

                Aladdin glanced back at the group near Gladrag's, and had a brief brain-hiccup of his own.  A group of girls were headed towards the shop, including Nani Pelakai, Allison Shaw--and Jasmine Namurr.  He couldn't understand why Ariel couldn't speak to Eric, but Aladdin had very good reasons why he couldn't bring himself to Jasmine.  Chief among those was the fact that she was the daughter of a foreign diplomat, and he was an orphaned criminal.  He couldn't just--

                "Aladdin, look out--" 

                Aladdin jerked his head around and saw he was wheeling Ariel directly towards a bystander.  He turned the chair aside at the last moment, but still managed to clip the man who'd been standing with his back to them.  The man stumbled and swore, and when he spun to face them, Aladdin saw that it was Gaston LeGume. 

                Gaston glared at them, red-faced, ready to let Aladdin have it, but then he glanced at the Bontemps triplets draped over him.  His expression softened--slightly--and said, "Watch where you're going, street rat."  And then the smiling, handsome mask slid back into place and he led the giggling triplets away. 

                Aladdin was glad Ariel couldn't see his face.  "Are you okay?" he asked her. 

                "I'm fine," she said.  "I want to know if you're okay." 

                Aladdin sighed and resumed pushing Ariel's chair.  "Yeah, I'm fine." 

                "I can't believe that jerk," Ariel growled, slamming her fist down on the armrest of her chair.  "Where does he get off with that?  I mean, sure you did kind of run into him, but to call you--ergh.  Jerk."  Ariel looked over her shoulder at Aladdin, curious look on her face.  "Why did you crash into him?" 

                Aladdin rolled a shoulder.  "I guess I was just distracted," he said, while thinking, Oh, God, I hope Jasmine didn't see that! 

                Ariel narrowed her eyes.  "Hmm."  She returned her attention to the front. 

                "Anyway, pick out whatever you want at Honeyduke's," Aladdin said.  "My treat."  Ariel looked back, ready to protest, but Aladdin interrupted.  "Hey, let me apologize for almost crashing you into Captain Creatine, okay?" 

                Ariel sighed.  "Well...  Alright..." 

                Aladdin didn't tell her that it wouldn't be entirely his treat.  Given Gaston's behavior, Aladdin was glad his old reflexes had kicked in and he'd picked Gaston's pocket. 

 

*~*~*

 

Jasmine Namurr hadn't witnessed the little encounter between Aladdin, Ariel and Gaston.  She and the other girls were busy talking and laughing. 

                But James Hook saw the whole thing.  He'd seen Aladdin get distracted by the cute Gryffindor girl from Agrabah.  He'd seen him accidentally steer the youngest Del Mar girl's wheelchair into the burly upperclassman.  He'd seen Gaston stop himself from going roid-rage at the two younger Slytherins.  And he'd seen--just barely--the boy's hand pass over Gaston's pocket and come away with the Gryffindor Beater's wallet, which vanished into Aladdin's own pocket.  And neither Gaston, nor Ariel, nor the very gorgeous triplets had noticed a single thing. 

                Hook blinked, almost wondering if he'd seen it himself.  Then, a slow grin spread across his face. 

 

*~*~*

 

Anita and Cruella walked out of Madam Puddifoot's, laughing.  "Oh, darling, I am glad I took this little trip," Cruella said.  "Promise me you're not going to let yourself get too wrapped up in the school, won't you, dear?  I wouldn't be able to face this wilderness alone." 

                Anita chuckled.  "Of course, Cruella," she said.  "I can't promise there won't be emergencies, but I will make time to visit you while you're staying here, all right?" 

                "Marvelous," Cruella said, taking out her cigarette holder and lighting up the thin, black cigarillo.  She inhaled deeply and breathed out a stream of green-tinged smoke.  "Oh, that's much better," she said.  The threads of green smoke drifting from her mouth gave her a demonic appearance. 

                "Aren't you supposed to be down here for your health?" Anita asked, wrinkling her nose. 

                Cruella made a vague gesture with her hand, painting lines of green smoke  in the air.  "They're all natural, darling, don't worry." 

                Anita said nothing, knowing nothing would scare Cruella from her chosen vices.  They walked towards her car, a huge, but elegant machine, like a cathedral on wheels.  There were several people standing, not exactly near the car, but close enough to appreciate the vehicle.  Even Anita, who couldn't tell an Audi from an armadillo, could see it was a beauty of a machine.  The only admirers who dared to examine it up close were Hogwarts students.  It was no surprise to Anita that Audrey Ramirez and Gogo Tomago, as Technomancy students, were gushing over the car, but Anita hadn't expected to see Gaston LeGume and the Bontemps triplets--though she expected the triplets were only there because they insisted upon inserting themselves into Gaston's orbit. 

                "Pardon me, my dear girl," Cruella said, waving away Gogo.  She and Audrey stepped away from the vehicle, but remained close enough to look. 

                "I don't see Mr. Clayton anywhere," Anita said. 

                "Of course not, darling, he's at the cottage," Cruella replied, as if Anita were being silly. 

                Anita's eyebrows went up.  "You mean he took you luggage but left the car?"  Anita knew how much Cruella brought with her on even a weekend jaunt. 

                Cruella smiled at her.  "He's ever so capable."  She turned and opened her mouth to shoo away Gaston, as well, but paused.  She took in the brawny sixth-year and chuckled.  "It's a marvelous machine, isn't it?" she cooed. 

                "It sure is," he said, barely glancing at the woman. 

                "Yes," she said.  "Lovely lines, and very...powerful.

                Anita narrowed her eyes.  "Cruella..." 

                Cruella leaned against the car.  "If you're ever interested," she said, and Gaston couldn't help but notice how well her dress fit, "I'd love to take you for a spin." 

                "Cruella.

                Cruella looked over at her friend and sighed.  "Perhaps another time," she said to Gaston.  She handed him a card and winked. 

                Anita drew herself up and urged the students on their way before spinning to face her school chum.  "Cruella!" she hissed.  "What are you doing?" 

                Cruella opened the door and climbed into the car.  "Just appreciating the entertainments the countryside has to offer." 

                "He's a student, Cruella," Anita scolded. 

                Cruella smirked and keyed the ignition, eliciting a leonine roar from the engine.  "Then perhaps you picked the right career, after all.  Ta-ta, darling!" Cruella put her foot down and the car thundered away before Anita could respond. 

 

*~*~*

 

One way or another, most of the visiting Hogwarts students ended up at the Three Broomsticks.  It was one reason why James Hook went to the Hog's Head instead. 

                The clientele left each other alone, largely because they wanted to be left alone.  The pub had earned itself a less than stellar reputation, but it was quiet and it served good beer.  Sure, Hook still had a few months before he turned 18, but he never overdid it, he always paid for his drinks, and he never bothered anyone. 

                Besides, you couldn't call yourself a disreputable establishment unless you were willing to fudge birthday math a little. 

                Hook sat at the bar, enjoying the murky calm and the half-pint of bitter.  It was one of those rare occasions when he allowed himself to drop the cheeky bravado he maintained at Hogwarts.  No one here cared enough to question his behavior.  Of course, in his experience, most people only questioned things like silence or tears or fits of rage because it was the Expected Thing.  The only social pretense maintained at the Hog's Head was simply I'm Not Here And Neither Are You.

                Hook's eyes happened to land on a little man walking to the men's room, and Hook realized it was time for him to pay a visit himself.  He tossed back the last of his bitter, left a tip on the bar and made his way to the loo. 

                The men's room was as awful as expected, and Hook was glad he could pee standing up.  He went to the urinal at the opposite end of the line from the little man who'd arrived before, and allowed nature to happen.  The other man finished his business, washed, and left.  When Hook had completed things, he, too, washed and left, but not before tucking the little envelope left on the sink into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. 

 

*~*~*

 

One way or another, most of the visiting Hogwarts students ended up at the Three Broomsticks.  This included Belle, though it was under protest.  It wasn't calm and quiet, like Madam Puddifoot's, but at least it wasn't the Hog's Head.  She knew some students talked about going there, trying to be all edgy and daring and defying the "mainstream".  Possibly Shanyu Shonkhor or Sid Philips actually would; for everyone else it would just be talk.  Belle had to admit, though, that it was nice to get away from Hogwarts for a little while and focus on something other than studies. 

                That was due largely to the Two Prince Charmings.  Henry and Florian took every opportunity to turn things into a party, and they did the same here.  Music was playing, and they's convinced Madam Van Tassel, the proprietress, to let them move some tables and dance.  It didn't hurt that they urged Professor Crane to dance with her.  Soon, there were more people whirling across the floor than not.  Though some stuck with particular partners, most simply flung themselves around, thrilling to the simple joy of movement and music.  Ella danced with Henry.  Florian danced with Snow.  Philip Thwaites and Briar Rose.  Ella and Florian.  Snow and Philip.  Eric Somand and Jasmine Namurr.  Mulan Fa and David Kawena.  Henry and Florian. 

                At one point, Snow grabbed Belle and pulled her onto the floor.  Laughter almost obliterating her sense of rhythm, Belle and the pale Hufflepuff spun, hand-in-hand, across the floor.  It was likely the last chance she'd have to really cut loose before studies set in in earnest, so she allowed herself to be swept up in the gaiety. 

                After a moment, Snow passed Belle off to Eric Somand, who managed a complicated jig-step without stepping on a single toe.  He was easily the best dancer among the boys, and it came as quite a shock when Belle found herself colliding with another boy, who stood stone-still.  For a heartbeat, Belle was aware of only height and firm muscles, and was worried she had been flung into the arms of Gaston.  Instead, when she looked up, she saw the icy blue eyes of Adam DuRose. 

                "I didn't expect to see you here," she said to him, her mirth starting to drain away. 

                He regarded her, Renaissance face devoid of emotion.  "And where would you expect to find me?" 

                Haunting a crumbling castle? she thought.  But she said, "I've never thought about it." 

                Adam nodded.  "Figures."  And before she could respond, he pushed her back out into swirl of dancers. 

                Many of the girls seemed eager to dance with Eric Somand, even if only for a little while.  Philip and the Charmings were decent enough dancers, and game enough not to care if they looked silly--especially the Charmings.  But when he danced with Briar--who was even more poised and graceful--it was almost impossible not to watch. 

                It was especially impossible for Ariel Del Mar. 

                Aladdin had convinced her to come and join the convivial atmosphere at the Three Broomsticks.  And she was enjoying herself until the dancing started.  That was something she'd never be able to join in.  Aladdin offered to wheel her out there and show her a good time, but she passed.  She didn't feel like being "inspiring" to those who could move unaided.  Instead, she urged Aladdin to get out there and enjoy himself.  Aladdin didn't feel right about leaving Ariel by herself, but the look on her face clearly told him she would not appreciate him hanging around by her side.  So, he made his reluctant way into the throng, buoyed by the scant possibility he'd have a few minutes to dance with Jasmine Namurr. 

                Ariel watched her schoolmates out on the floor, dancing and laughing.  Even gawky Professor Crane was out there, being flung around by the lovely Madam Van Tassel.  Eric looked so happy, glowing with the sheer joy of movement.  And Briar Rose, tall, elegant and radiant, was pure poetry in motion. 

                It gave Ariel a sick, leaden ache in her chest. 

                She left a tip on the table and wheeled herself out the door, hoping Aladdin wouldn't see her leave.  He'd be all comforting and sympathetic and encouraging, and she was in no mood to be cared at.  Aladdin was her best friend, but his kind words couldn't fix this.  Better to sneak off to her room and not face anybody until tomorrow.  Luckily, she was able to slip out of the Three Broomsticks without him noticing. 

                But Professor Cecily had seen it all. 

Chapter Text

 
9. STRANGERS LIKE ME

 

There was a knock on the door, and a raspy voice said, "Come in." 

                The door opened, and a wiry Indian boy with shaggy hair and a Gryffindor tie stuck his head in.  "Professor Rafiki?  You wanted to see me?" 

                The Magical Creatures instructor beamed, teeth white against his umber skin.  "Ah, Mowgli, please, come in." 

                It was the first time the young first-year had been in his Head of House's office.  It was larger and airier than he expected.  Shelves were crammed with books and scrolls, and magizoological diagrams hung on the wall along with Swahili art and artifacts the Professor had brought with him from his homeland.  Against one wall stood a large cage housing small birds with metal feathers.  Mowgli was so fascinated, he almost didn't notice the upperclassman sitting across from the Professor. 

                Professor Rafiki gestured to the other open chair with a long-fingered hand.  "Please, Mowgli, have a seat.  Do you know Tarzan?"

                Mowgli looked up at the older boy, who regarded him with intense blue eyes.  "No," he said.  He hadn't met the boy, but there was something very familiar about him. 

                Rafiki smiled, causing the blue and scarlet lines on his face to shift interestingly.  Mowgli had asked a couple of older students, but nobody seemed to know if they were tattoos, face paint, or something else entirely.  "In that case, Mowgli Seoni, I'd like you to meet Tarzan Kerchak." 

                The older boy nodded to Mowgli, then, as if remembering, held out his hand.  It took half a beat for Mowgli to remember to do the same.  Tarzan's hand was big with leathery palms and swollen-looking knuckles.  He was also perched in his seat, instead of sitting on his backside.  He had long hair which seemed to coil itself into something like dreadlocks, was obviously well-muscled, and would probably have been pretty tall if he stood up straight.  He'd left off the black Hogwarts student robe, and his Ravenclaw tie was as loosely knotted as possible. 

                "I thought it would be good for the two of you to meet," Rafiki said to Mowgli.  "I know that it hasn't been easy for you to settle in here."  Mowgli opened his mouth to protest, but the Professor held up a hand.  "I may be old, but I'm not senile yet.  I know, first-hand, how hard it can be to fit in, when you are a stranger, even amongst the strange.  How hard it is, to feel understood, when you barely understand yourself.  I even know what it is like to not be sure what species you are." 

                Mowgli blinked at the Professor.  "Species?" 

                Professor Rafiki smiled.  There was a strange, organic sound as the Professor's form melted into that of a mandrill.  Mowgli stared, slack-jawed, at the ape now sitting in the Professor's chair.  Tarzan smiled, perfectly at ease.  When Mowgli regained use of his mouth, he stammered, "You--it--wha--?" 

                The mandrill shivered and was replaced by the elderly Professor.  "I am an Animagus," he said.  "Many wizards have talents beyond casting spells.  For me, it is turning into an animal.  Try waking up as an ape, having no wizards around to teach you what is happening to you."  He gave wry chuckle.  "It wasn't until a priestess from the next village found me that I could feel like a human being.  Even then, I was treated like a monster until she convinced my parents to let me study wizardry."

                Mowgli said nothing.  No one had actually gone so far as to bully him, or anything, but he caught their sideways glances and was aware of their stiff behavior around him.  He didn't know who told them, but he knew his classmates had somehow found out about his early years.  It wasn't that he was ashamed--far from it--but it felt somehow wrong that his story should be told without his permission. 

                "They treat you differently." 

                Mowgli blinked and looked over at Tarzan, staring down at him with those intense eyes.  The older boy's voice was rough, and he spoke very clearly, as if taking care with each syllable. 

                "I'm sorry?" Mowgli said.  His own speech was delivered with careful patience. 

                "They treat you differently," Tarzan repeated.  "Different from how they treat each other.  They are...careful around you.  Watchful.  Like you are a puzzle to solve.  Or a dangerous animal." 

                Mowgli felt his mouth go dry.  "How--?" 

                "It is how people treated me," Tarzan replied, and he glanced at Professor Rafiki, who nodded.  With the Professor's assistance, Tarzan told Mowgli how he'd lost his parents as a baby while the family was on a trip through Africa.  He'd been discovered and adopted by a gorilla who'd lost her child.  Somehow, his latent magic had allowed him to bond with his gorilla family and communicate with other animals.  A zoologist had discovered him as a teenager, and--at the urging of his gorilla mother--helped to reacquaint him with his human heritage.  It didn't hurt that the zoologist's young daughter had recognized him as a wizard.  

                "It was wolves for me," Mowgli said, when Tarzan finished his story.  "And a panther.  And a bear." 

                Mowgli shared his own story--what he knew of it anyway.  He barely remembered his own parents--his human parents, anyway.  But the animals who took him in and cared for him, he remembered clearly and missed dearly.  Mowgli's story was remarkably similar to Tarzan's, save that he was younger when he'd rejoined the human race.  In that, at least, he supposed he was luckier.  It wasn't quite so hard to relearn human speech, and at least he didn't have to see Dr. Poppins every so often because he kept trying to walk on his knuckles. 

                "Nobody lives the same life, Mowgli," Professor Rafiki said.  "But sometimes, you might find someone whose experience is close enough to understand.  When things get hard, and you need someone to talk to--"  He paused and looked at Tarzan.  "Or, someone to merely be silent with--you can come talk to us." 

                "Having friends helps," Tarzan said. 

                Mowgli, for the first time in a long time, smiled. 

 

*~*~*

 

Jane Porter carefully shaded in her drawing, creating depth in the image of the bowtruckle.  She'd been observing it for a while, there in the castle gardens, and had brought out her pencil and sketchbook without realizing it.  The little creature had been patient as she drew it, as if it knew what she was up to.  But, after a while, the creature scurried away.  Jane didn't mind; she could fill in the details from memory. 

                "Hello, Tarzan," she said. 

                There was a spluttering sound, and Jane looked behind her.  Tarzan was hanging from a branch, and clearly had screeched to a halt in the process of trying to surprise her with some kind of animal sound.  He'd been trying to pull that trick since they'd met in the jungles years ago. 

                It was annoying--but cute. 

                "How did it go with Professor Rafiki?" she asked, returning to her drawing.   

                Tarzan dropped out of the tree and landed next to her.  He made a conscious effort not to crouch on his haunches, but to actually sit.  It was getting easier, training his body to move as evolution had intended, but a lifetime of moving like an ape was hard to change.  He still felt slightly strangled by all of the clothing he was expected to wear, but Jane had impressed upon him that that point was non-negotiable. 

                "It went well," he said. 

                "Good," Jane said.  "What exactly did he want?" 

                Tarzan hesitated.  It didn't feel entirely right to talk about someone else's troubles.  "You have heard about Mowgli Seoni?" 

                Jane closed her sketchbook.  "Ah."  She had heard about the boy.  Most of the school likely had.  "And Professor Rafiki thought you'd have some insights to share?" 

                Tarzan nodded.  "I don't think he will have the struggles I had," he said.  "He is young, and at least had a chance to know his human family."  He looked over at her.  She was watching him with obvious concern.  He brushed the hair from her face.  "But I had the best teacher." 

                Jane felt her cheeks warm a little.  Maybe Tarzan wasn't Shakespeare, but he still said the right thing.  In fact, as she laced her fingers with his, not minding the roughness of his skin, she remembered what it was like when she and her father had found him.  Although, one might say he found them.  She'd never seen someone pick up a language as fast as he had, like there was a vacuum inside of him, waiting to be filled with ideas. 

                Once he'd learned how, he begged them to show him more, eager to find out about these strangers like him.  Whatever they did, he'd do it, too.  He'd wanted them to show him everything and tell him how.  He could see there was so much to learn; it was all so close and yet so far.  He just knew there was something bigger out there. 

                Of course, when Jane had gone with him to see his world--where there was beauty beyond her dreams--she was very tempted to beg her father to stay in the jungle with the gorillas forever.  Her father was no doubt tempted, too.  But it wasn't meant to be.  Even Tarzan's mother--his gorilla mother--urged him to go with the Porters.  There was a world he needed to know. 

                "I think," Jane said, looking up at Tarzan, who looked down at her, smiling, "that the Professor has had an excellent idea." 

               

*~*~*

 

Ariel positioned her wheelchair near the staircase banister.  A section of the floor right there was a slightly different color from the surrounding flagstone.  Ariel withdrew her wand and tapped the armrest of her chair.  Lines and circles and symbols flickered briefly over the surface of the chair and the discolored section of flagstone, and Ariel held on tight.  Loops of stone sprouted from the surface of the flagstone and curled around the wheels of Ariel's chair.  There was a clicking of gears, and the entire panel of flagstone moved, lifting Ariel.  Slowly, the section of floor, anchored to a the banister, began to carry Ariel up the flight of stairs. 

                Once upon a time, Ariel had heard, students who were denied the use of their legs would be carried up the stairs by teams of House Elves specifically employed for the purpose.  Ariel was incredibly thankful technomancy had advanced since then and had started to catch up with muggle innovation.  It was bad enough, having to make use of things like this just to function like her classmates, but the thought of actually being carried around by Elves like a rolled up carpet made her sick. 

                The lift deposited her at the top of the stairs, released her chair, and she continued towards the Library.  It may have been a pain to have to go back and forth from the dungeons every day, but at least she wasn't in Ravenclaw, having to go up to the second tallest tower in the castle and back.  Objectively, she knew she was being silly, but, for some reason, she just couldn't--

                "Miss Del Mar?" 

                Ariel blinked and turned towards the husky voice.  "I'm sorry?" 

                Professor Cecily was standing in the doorway to her office, watching her.  Professor Cecily could be difficult to get used to, depending on what one expected from a Charms instructor.  She wasn't a whimsical, airy-fairy sort with fluttery speech and a sparkly gown.  She was heavyset, and not the least bit ashamed of her figure.  In fact, she usually wore dark, form-hugging dresses, displaying roughly an acre of cleavage.  Her age was indeterminate, her silver hair was styled in a high pompadour, she had a bawdy sense of humor, and her makeup was almost an act of aggression.  There was almost always an amused smirk on her scarlet-painted lips. 

                But now, she looked decidedly worried. 

                "Miss Del Mar, might I have a word?" 

                "Yes, ma'am," Ariel replied, and wheeled herself into the office.  The Professor closed the door behind her. 

                Professor Cecily's office was as surprising as the woman herself.  The first time she'd been there, Ariel had expected it to look like it to be all polished chrome and geometric art deco furniture.  Instead, the furnishings were rococo and the decor was mostly nautical antiques.  The paintings on the wall weren't just seascapes, but underseascapes.  It was as if there were dozens of rectangular portholes in a submarine, through which sea creatures magical and mundane could be seen.  In fact, on one occasion, Ariel had seen every painting go dark at once, and what looked like a huge, yellow eye passed by. 

                "Is there something wrong, Professor?" Ariel asked. 

                "As a matter of fact," Cecily said, sitting behind her desk, "that's what I was going to ask you." 

                Ariel frowned.  "What do you mean?" 

                "I went to Hogsmeade the other day," Cecily said.  "I rounded off the evening with a trip to the Three Broomsticks." 

                "All right," Ariel said, not sure where this was going. 

                "It was a very convivial evening," the Professor said.  "Especially the little impromptu dance party." 

                Ariel tried not to squirm in her seat.  "Yes, I suppose so..." 

                The Professor sighed.  "Ariel, dear, shall we not?  I saw you there, watching the dancing." 

                Ariel tensed, her face turning almost as red as her hair. 

                "And I saw your face as you left, alone." 

                Ariel opened her mouth to speak, but found no words. 

                "Ariel, dear, I'm not just your Charms teacher," Cecily said.  "I'm here as an advisor and counselor.  If there's something troubling you, I want you to know you can come to me.  If you have problems or questions, or if you just need to someone to listen without judging, my door is always open."  Cecily offered a little smile.  "All right, dear?" 

                Ariel swallowed, and nodded.  "Thank you, Professor," she said, in a small voice. 

                "Aladdin is a fine young man, and no doubt, a marvelous friend," the Professor said, "but there are probably things you might not feel comfortable sharing even with him."  She tilted her head, watching Ariel.  "Am I right?" 

                After a moment, Ariel nodded, not trusting her voice. 

                Professor Cecily regarded her student a moment, then asked, "Let's be frank, shall we?  Just talk girl-to-girl?" 

                Ariel frowned, but said, "Okay, I guess." 

                "I've seen how you look at that Gryffindor boy, Eric," Cecily said, and her expression turned mischievous.  "Of course, I can't really comment on a student, but when I was your age, a boy like that would have turned my head, for sure." 

                A giggle escaped Ariel's mouth before she could stifle it, and the Professor chuckled.  Her expression softened as she said, "And, as I said, I saw your face when he was dancing with all those other girls.  Poppet, it was heartbreaking." 

                Ariel bit her lip, eyes stinging.  "I--" 

                The Professor clucked her tongue and handed Ariel a handkerchief.  "There, there, dear," Cecily cooed.  "I know it can't be easy.  Strike that--I can't know, I can only imagine." 

                Ariel sniffled and dabbed at the tears spilling down her cheeks.  "Thank you, Professor.  I appreciate that." 

                "That I can only imagine what you're going through?" 

                Ariel nodded.  "Everyone keeps talking like it's something they understand, or that it doesn't matter," she said.  "They just...don't get it." 

                "The best anyone can really do is empathize," the Professor said.  She pursed her scarlet lips for a moment, then said, "Cerebral palsy, isn't it?" 

                Ariel nodded.  "Healers and doctors all say it's just... one of those things that happens," she said, in a small voice.  "I try to remember that there are worse things than not being able to use my legs, but it can be...exhausting, you know?"  And Ariel was glad that everything else functioned properly.  She had full use of her arms and hands, could see and hear and speak without impairment, and had total control of her bodily functions. 

                Cecily tutted and shook her head.  "It's a shame they can't do anything for you," she said. 

                "Medical sorcery can't fix it when your own body turns against you," Ariel replied.  "And as for muggle medicine..." 

                "They try," Cecily said.  "I expect your father has done everything he could think of to help.  Probably everything short of--"  The Professor halted, then shook her head.  "No, not that." 

                Ariel frowned.  "What?" 

                The Professor waved her hand.  "No, it's not worth mentioning." 

                Ariel gripped her armrests, eyes fixed on her Charms instructor.  "Professor..?" 

                Professor Cecily drummed her garnet-polished nails on her desk.  Then she sank back in her chair.  "Oh, I suppose you'd learn about it, anyway," she sighed.  "I suppose you've already learned about our illustrious founders?" 

                "Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin," Ariel recited. 

                Cecily nodded.  "And I'm sure Professor Hatter told you that they founded this school so young wizards would have a place to learn, here, in this citadel of academia."  Ariel nodded, and the Professor continued.  "But do you know why they taught what they did?" 

                "What do you mean?" Ariel asked. 

                Cecily leaned forward.  A shark crossed the surface of the paintings on the wall behind her.  "Academic wizardry as we know it is the breed of magic taught over most of the world," she said.  "It can be learned by anyone with magic in them.  It's simple.  It's safe.  It's...tame.  But before modern wizardry was established, there was something else." 

                "What?" Ariel asked, leaning forward herself. 

                "Old Magic," Cecily said.  "Real witchcraft.  Magic of the Earth, and the sea, and the blood and the bone.  It was messy.  Wild.  Powerful.  Modern wizardry requires only an investment of the wizard's personal energy, amplified by the wizard's wand and shaped by a spell's words.  But the price of Old Magic was determined to be too great.  The academic wizards were afraid of it.  They couldn't actually fight it, so they tried to get people to forget it." 

                Ariel's mouth worked for a moment before she spoke.  "Could....could Old Magic help?" 

                Cecily looked away.  "Possibly," she said at last.  "If anything could." 

                Ariel never looked away from her teacher.  "And... do you know about Old Magic?  How to use it, I mean?  Could you find an answer?" 

                Cecily bit her lip.  "If only I hadn't said anything," she muttered to herself.  Then she looked up at Ariel.  "I do have...resources at my disposal," she said.  "I can't promise anything, but...I'll try."  She sat up straighter and squared her shoulders.  "Even if such things have been forbidden, I'll do what I can to help." 

                Tears spilled out of Ariel's eyes, but not of sadness this time.  "You would do that for me?" 

                Professor Cecily reached across her desk and took Ariel's hand.  "My dear, sweet child," she said, "it's what I do.  It's what I live for.