Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe and everything that is canonically in it belongs exclusively to J. K. Rowling. I have no plans to make any money from this work and hope that my writing of it is not disrespectful in any way. I also use and will acknowledge my use of a short section from Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie. Again, I make no claims on it and mean no disrespect.
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who helped me with the research for this fic. I'm not sure who most of you are, so I can't thank you by name, but you should know that I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. Special thanks must go to M. J. Innes and the great E. M. Pink, who have both supplied me with a great deal of valuable information and support. My beta-reader Nymphaea is doing a fantastic job, and deserves a special mention all to herself – which I, being grateful, will now give her.
Any feedback or thoughts you may have concerning this fic are very much appreciated.Chapter One
It was dark, and the floor was cold. The shelter smelt of people, soggy cardboard and (rather improbably) cold tea. The siren was still wailing. They listened to the bombs whistle as they fell, and there was just enough light to see Mrs Fraser flinching at the rumble they made as they hit. She never made a sound, but she would clutch at the big wooden chest in the corner and press her lips together until they went white. Every so often, one would land near enough to make the walls tremble. They all flinched when that happened. Poor Mrs Fraser flinched every time, then busied herself with little things while she was waiting for the next one.
Mrs Fraser's little boy whimpered and burrowed further against her side. Anna Bates would have found this much easier if her mother had let her do the same. She was, however, eleven years old – the oldest child here. Three straight nights in the cramped shelter were more than enough for her, but, as she reminded herself for the fourth time that night, they were hard on everyone. She could at least try to be brave. Since she wasn't at all certain she could really ignore the bombs currently dropping out of the sky, she decided to pretend that she could.
Peter Fraser appeared from somewhere behind his mother, revealing a pale face (just a little tear-streaked, though he would never admit it) and a tousled crop of brown curls. He blinked at her for a moment, then scrambled over his mother's legs and crouched in front of her like a dog. She studied him for a moment and considered what she was going to do with him now that he was here. He needed a distraction even more than she did.
Pale and thin, like everyone else she knew was rapidly becoming, Peter was dressed in striped pyjamas that were far too large for him, with the cord from his father's old dressing gown knotted tightly around his middle to hold his trousers up. He was only six, small for his age, and it appeared that his clothes were intended for a considerably bigger and older boy. He looked ridiculous. He blinked at her owlishly again. "What're we doin', Anna?"
"We're waiting for the raid to stop. It won't be long." She wrapped her arms around her knees and tried to make herself more comfortable.
"Do we have t' stay here?" He sneezed and scrubbed at his nose with an oversized sleeve. "It's all dusty, an' I don't like it." The dust was now smeared over most of his face. "I want t' go home."
She had to admit that he might have had a point. His home was only just over the back fence – hardly further away than hers was – and it would have been nice to be there instead of here. It would have been nice to be just about anywhere but here. "We can't go home yet, Peter." She closed her eyes, tried to ignore the sirens. They sounded like they were screaming. She didn't like the sirens. "Soon."
"Can we go home, Mummy, please?" Peter had given up on believing her for the moment. He fidgeted and squirmed. "I don't like it here."
Mrs Fraser had her eyes shut tight. Her jaw tightened at the sound of yet another roar, and she swallowed nervously as glass audibly shattered somewhere nearby. She shook her head. "No Peter. Be patient. We'll be home soon, I promise."
"But I don't like it…" He began to sniffle again. "I want t' go home." He sniffed back an enormous gob of unspeakable green slime with a loud snort.
Anna began to feel a little bit sorry for him. He was frightened, after all, and hadn't yet learnt that an air raid frightened everyone. "Here Peter. Sit by me." She fished a handkerchief from the pocket of her jumper and gave it to him. When he returned it after blowing his nose, the hanky was snotty and crumpled. She decided not to put it back in her pocket just yet. She had to find a distraction.
"Do we have a light, Mum?" Anna suddenly recalled putting a book down here. It wasn't much, and Peter probably wouldn't like it nearly as much as one of his own, but it might keep him occupied for a little while. "I've found something for us to do."
Mary Bates opened the big wooden chest and felt around inside it to see what was there. She pulled out a plain candle, and then a tin cup – a gift from Anna's father on his last shore leave, it had the name of his ship stamped on its rim in square, black letters at least an inch high. "We've got a candle. Move to the corner, both of you. Anna, you're to sit in front of it and block the light from the door, understand?"
Anna understood. The door was only a black curtain pulled over the entrance. They couldn't risk any light getting past that. A blackout was still a blackout even from the inside of a bomb shelter in the back garden. Until the bombers went away, that was how it would have to be. She moved along the bench and shepherded Peter into the corner. "I'll tell you a story until the aeroplanes go away. How does that sound?"
Peter nodded. "What kind of a story?"
"How about Peter Pan? Do you know that one?" Her old copy of Peter Pan, much thumbed and much loved as it was, had been slipped beneath the pillow of one of the bunks.
Peter shook his head. He'd never been to London to see the Christmas pantomime, and he didn't own the book. She'd never seen London either, except as blurry photographs in the newspapers, but had felt a brief stab of sadness when she'd heard that last Christmas, there had been no Christmas panto at all. The bombs had been falling all over Merseyside, but the thought that there was no Christmas play for the children in London gave her no way to leave the shelter even in her mind. If there was no panto in Kensington Gardens, the bombs were falling there too. "Will I like it?"
Anna smiled slightly. "I think so. It has pirates in it, and mermaids, and Red Indians, and a little bit of magic as well. What do you think - do you want to hear it?"
Peter's eyes had been getting bigger and rounder with every word she said. By the time she had finished the sentence, he was hanging on tenterhooks to hear the real thing. "Read it! Read it! Anna, please!"
"All right. If you sit still, I'll read it." She balanced the candle in the tin mug and lit it. Being very careful to turn her back to the door, she opened the book, balanced it on her knees and (in her best story-telling voice, which she knew wasn't very good) began to read.
"All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked a flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, 'Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!' This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end…"
She read slowly – the light was poor, and it flickered across the page at inconvenient times – and by the time Peter Pan had taught Wendy, John and Michael how to fly without banging their heads on the nursery ceiling, Peter Fraser was leaning his head on her shoulder, about a minute away from being fast asleep.
Her mother smiled at her. "Well done, love." She cocked her head to the side, listening. "It won't be long now. Pinch the candle out for me, there's a good girl."
Anna blew the candle out, trying not to dislodge Peter's head from her shoulder. Mrs Fraser wouldn't be very pleased if her son cracked his head open on the floor of the shelter. She had more than enough on her mind.
Mrs Fraser had fallen asleep. She still looked pinched and white (truth be told, she looked ill), but at least the bombs didn't frighten her any more. They were still falling, and every so often there would be the sound of shattering glass, groaning wood splintering, tiles and masonry falling from the roofs of the houses, rattling on chicken coops and garden sheds. Once or twice, a great echoing boom as a bomb missed the docks and landed in the harbour.
They sat in the darkness and waited. Anna began to think that perhaps they shouldn't have brought her home from Cheshire after all. Over their heads, the bombs were still falling.