Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, and my interpretations are my own. Harry Potter belongs to JKR, though I am disregarding everything after PoA with the exception of some of the magic. PoA itself is going to be AU'd, though I have lifted sections directly from the text in some places, for verisimilitude (and obviously, don't own those sentences/sections). CS Lewis owns most everything else. I've never read The Last Battle, and will be AUing that as well. The only thing I lay claim to here is the plot, and my interpretation of the characters.
A/N: This story is going to be a notable deviance from my usual style. I'm attempting to improve, grow, learn, and all that jazz. For Robin4, whose Unbroken Universe gives me a reason to even care about HP anymore. And for Vathara, for your advice and sharing your talent so that others could learn from it – I couldn't do it without you.
They had woken that morning to find themselves thrown back in time, far beyond the game of cricket that had led them to the wardrobe. Back, into the murmurs of war on the radio and patter of water on leaded glass. Funnily enough, it was the future; the one they'd been most likely to predict that sunny day. Before.
"Oh! There you are! What were you all doing in the wardrobe?"
The wardrobe? But what -
A lifetime's worth of memories slid back into place.
And Peter couldn't hold back his smile. "You wouldn't believe us if we told you, sir."
A shaggy white brow hiked, mischief greeting the four children tumbled onto a dusty floor. The cricket ball arced between them. "Try me!"
They had, Peter recalled. Told a story so fantastic, it had to be true – and been met by one just as wondrous.
He leant his hand on his chin, staring out the window. More rain, again. Lucy and Edmund were just about climbing the walls, and even Susan's patient forbearance was strained.
"Turn that thing off, would you?"
The announcer's voice cut off in the middle of another report. Air attacks on London. Mum. They weren't there.
But not knowing about it doesn't mean it's not happening, he cautioned himself. It just means that Lu and Ed can sleep without nightmares. He'd take it, even so, and take care to listen when they weren't about. It's not like this is a war you can do anything about.
Narnia had been different that way, as well. There was little call for swordsmanship and armor now – not when there were more effective ways to dole out death.
But the tension slipped from eleven-year-old shoulders, and Ed visibly relaxed. Peter smiled to see it. Strange how easy it was to accept that they were children again, after having grown so much in Narnia. But it was only flesh, after all.
"Remember the rain at Cair Paravel?" Lucy asked. Of them all, the change from maiden to girl was most striking in her. Hair shorter than it had been in years – It's always been that way, Peter had to remind himself. Here. "Soft, and clean, even when it was driving down into the sea."
"Not like it is here," Ed agreed. In him as well Peter couldn't help but notice the differences. The build and muscle of his prime were only a promise, now, but dark eyes still held a surprising depth of understanding and compassion. "Positively dreary."
Susan shrugged. "It'll be gone soon enough."
"But we've nothing to do!" Lu pouted.
And all she had left were:
2) Three white buttons.
5) A silver apple.
8) A butter churn.
9) Something you have never seen.
Lucy recognized Susan's precise handwriting, and her little nose scrunched in confusion. The older girl was usually quite down to earth. Where in Aslan's name am I to find a silver apple?
Su had seen it somewhere, to have listed it. As for 'something you have never seen before' - there were quite a lot of those around. It was just a question of which one. . . .
Juggling a fork with a twisted handle and a copy of Great Expectations, Lucy reached for the doorknob, stealing one last look around the kitchen. It was so much bigger than the one at home. Cabinets, an electric stove, even -
She gaped at the mess of boy and objects scattered over the floor. "Edmund?"
"Lu." He rubbed his head and winced.
Heat crawled up her cheeks, and she knelt to help him. "I'm so sorry, Ed, I didn't hear you coming -"
"'S'Alright," he smiled at her, and she handed him a red pincushion.
"Whose list do you have?"
"Peter's." An irritated grunt, as Edmund scanned the floor. "Though where I'm to find a silver apple, I've no notion whatsoever."
Lucy's face fell.
"Aw, Lu, don't tell me . . ."
"Susan's," she said glumly, trading lists.
Edmund scanned the paper for a moment, and she saw a familiar gleam in his eye. "What say you we team up?"
"Can we?" she asked eagerly, instantly enamored of the plan.
Her brother grinned at her, and she could see remnants of the Just, plain as day, in his face. "I don't see why not. We can't both have the same object, and it's not fair that one of us should lose out 'cause of it."
"I don't think Peter and Susan had any idea that they would choose the same thing," Lucy defended her older siblings instantly.
After a short pause, scanning the hallways for any sign of the Macready, Edmund spoke. "No, it had to be coincidence." He looked over her list one last time. "Did you find the butter churn?"
"I thought for certain it would be in the kitchen."
He smiled at her sigh. "No worries, Lu, I'm sure we'll spot it."
"But what about the apple?" That one was hard. She'd been searching for ages, and the only apples she could find were sour green.
Edmund's brow wrinkled, dark eyes deep in thought.
Years of experience had taught her that it was best to let Edmund think in peace. While Peter was surprisingly insightful and attuned to the unsaid, Edmund was a logical thinker, relying more on outright actions and about as subtle as a knock to the head.But now dark eyes were thoughtful, and he began muttering lowly. "Neither you nor I have seen it, but both Susan and Peter have. Which means that they've been someplace in this mansion we haven't."
She shifted her load, frowning as the fork wobbled. Given that the likelihood of the siblings splitting up had dropped to almost zero in the past few days, that meant –
"It was before Narnia. But where have they been that we haven't?" Edmund chewed his lip, musing.
Unbidden, the memory came to her – wrapping arms around a red dressing-gown, burying tears against velvet softness. "The professor!" she blurted. He had wanted to see Susan and Peter in his office, after that awful night.
"The professor's study," Edmund agreed, brightening. He hesitated. "Do they really expect us to take something from his office?"
Lucy shook her head, though she felt twinges of her brother's uncertainty. They wouldn't possibly. "We're only to find the stuff on the lists," she pointed out. "I doubt I could carry a butter churn without help, anyway." It would be bigger than her, now.
"We have to put it all back, as well."
A laugh bubbled up. Trust Edmund to always be practical.
He grinned, one eye closing in a sly wink.
Susan peered at her list, doing her best to make out the scrawl Edmund called handwriting. Years of practiced calligraphy had been abandoned in excited haste. But if that was a d and that was an o and not an a . . . If she held it to her nose, and turned her head like this, and squinted just so . . . .
A red sock?
Yes, that must be it. She hoped.
Well, if there was any chance of finding it, it wouldn't be in the mansion's foyer entrance. Upstairs? Most likely in her brother's suitcase still, if she had any luck at all.
The artifacts bedecking the walls and corners ensnared her gaze, and Susan couldn't help but linger. Though if she didn't get moving, there would be no way she would beat Peter, or even Lucy.
Oh, look at that!
Fingers lifted to trace the sculpted nose, pulled back.
"No touchin' of the historical artifacts!"
Lips pursed at the memory of the Macready's scandalized gasp. She really should go . . .
Her hand froze on the door, foyer behind her. Blue eyes widened in delighted wonder. "Ohhhhh . . ."
"And one butter churn!"
A flash of humor from Peter, soothing as a spot of sunlight. His brother wasn't in the least surprised that he and Lu had joined forces – no more surprised than he had been to have to pry Susan out of the Professor's library.
As a result of spending the last hour nose-deep in word-dusted paper, his older sister had only found two of the ten items on her list. Su would be the one to lose herself in books. She'd never lost her love for it, even when duty grew grim and difficult.
Edmund spared a last glance for the brightly-painted churn. This place almost was a museum, wondrously exotic in the jumble of stuff crowded into every corner. Though no doubt the system made sense, somehow. If only to the Professor.
An internal rumble caught his attention. "What's for dinner, then?"
"Hungry again, Ed?"
He grinned at Lucy. "Always!"
"It's almost one," Susan observed, falling in behind the two youngsters. "The Macready'll be in the kitchen." Though they might tire of the unchanging soup and sandwiches before they left. However long they ended up staying.
But he didn't want to think about that. Narnia was close, here; always only a door away. Even if that door was closed. He was learning to live with and without it.
The professor hadn't tried to stop them from going back. It was just that every time they tried, they were met with solid oak paneling. And it had been only a week.
Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen.
He could hold to that, and his family, he knew. They're always there. And they always had been, and forever would be. He lived with his decisions, good and bad, and rarely now needed to visit old memories of their entrance to Narnia.
"Deep thoughts, Ed?"
Peter, dropping back to walk with him. Hands comfortably tucked into pockets, he looked strangely older than the thirteen-year-old Edmund remembered, despite rounded youthfulness in his features.
"Home," he managed a wry smile, and saw the High King understand.
"We'll get back."
His brother's confident promise kindled a brighter smile. "I know."
The Macready's call split the easy silence between them, and Ed couldn't help it. "Race you!"
Hands plied a wet cloth, before sinking into floury dough.
Well, the Professor was a kind soul, for sure and certain. Lord knows she couldn't have done it, were it her home. But there was enough room here to accommodate them, and the Professor wanted to do his duty to his country. There was nothing nobler, in God's sight, than caring for the weak.
But four of them?
Finola Macready kneaded, leaning her weight into the table. She had anticipated quite a few – they did have the room, after all. But these were such . . . odd children. English, through and through, but that didn't account for all of it.
She frowned, rubbing the pasty mixture. Too wet. A fistful of flour, then.
Betty and Margaret had taken care of the cleaning and rearranging, preparing space for the young ones to sleep. The professor was a kind soul, bless him, but the man's head was in the clouds more oft than not. He needed looking after; the servant-girls were handy enough at keeping the Mansion fit for the tour groups that still came round, war or no. But there was always something requiring her attention. And for the past few days, it had been . . . children.
After that one raucous night, they had calmed considerably. The eldest had finally stepped up to take his family in hand, and the younger siblings had accepted their new situation. It was a little strange, how quickly they had settled down, but she could only be grateful for it.
They were out today, as the sun was shining as it hadn't in days. Even she was tired of the dreary rain. Long past time for the sun to show his face again, all the brighter for the grayness of days past. She'd heard no shrieks or crashes all morning. Finola loosed a relieved sigh.
After one broken window, the children appeared to be taking care. But cabin fever had been weighing heavily on them. Yesterday, at lunch, she'd been sure the youngest girl would wriggle right out of her chair. A few words on her part had corrected the situation, though the constant fidgeting from all of them was enough to make her dizzy.
And then she'd found the tarnished, decorative fork with the twisted handle, in a pile of odds and ends that surely hadn't been lying along the hall floor that morning. She should've known that not hearing thumps and shouts didn't mean they weren't up to something. It was silver, and old – she'd been meaning to polish it for months, now, but what with everything, it had slipped her mind.
The eldest girl – Susan, her name was? Finola was never sure, though they had been here nigh on two weeks now. The boys were easier to tell apart; the eldest with his blond hair and blue eyes, the younger so solemn, dark of hair and eye and his skin so pale. Peter and Edmund. And the babe of the family was such a little girl. 'Loo', her family called her, though what sort of a name was that, Finola was certain she didn't know. It certainly didn't seem fitting.
The dough was rounded now, and needed only to rise. She smiled. Time in a bowl, a damp cloth draped over, and then to the oven. Bread was so much simpler than children. No matter how you might mold them, nothing ever went as expected in the baking. You could end up with something you barely recognized at the end.
But it was too new and beautiful a day for such old and harsh memories.
She settled the heavy porcelain bowl on the counter, pushing it far out of the way. It would be ready in a few hours' time, and fresh for dinner.
" – an' then Oi asked 'im 'ow long they was thinkin' to be out, an' he said all day! From the crack o'dawn! Can you ever imagine!"
Liverpool accent, high and loud. Margaret, a sweet lass. Orange curls peeped out from under her kerchief, as she giggled to Betty. Though a bit empty-headed. Her beau loved her, though, and Finola supposed that was what was important.
"What are they doing out there in the forest, then?" Betty was from Carlisle, much closer to the Mansion than her friend. She was darker in coloring and more serious in countenance as well, though both girls shared the same sturdy frame.
Finola herself had kin in Dunfries. The children were the furthest-traveled of them all. Though no one knew just where the Professor had gone in his many journeys. Goodness knew, the man had probably seen the world twice over.
The giggling girls noticed her at last, and bobbed in quick curtsies.
Margaret was the one to answer. "Yes'm. I asked Peter, the oldest, that I did. He was wanting a kip for midday meal."
"When was this?" Finola's mouth was a tight line. They certainly hadn't asked her for permission, thankful as she was to have them out from under her feet.
She saw Margaret blanch at the question. "This mornin', marm."
Finola suppressed a sigh – she needn't be so hard on the girl, she supposed. Margaret might not have the sense God gave a goose, but the lass's heart was in the right place.
"Thank you, Margaret. Back to your chores, girls." A murmur of "yes'm", a bob of kerchiefed heads, and the lasses were gone in a whirl of skirts.
Though the eldest should have waited and asked permission. There was nothing out there that wouldn't keep long enough for them to speak to her. They were past the age to begin taking responsibility for their actions. Green eyes narrowed behind thick lenses. She had a responsibility, after all.
The housekeeper nodded her head firmly. She would have to speak with them then, when they came back. But the midday meal wouldn't take half as long to prepare, now, with only the Professor to feed. Lord be praised for small blessings.
"Whose brilliant idea was this, anyway?"
"Oh, do stop moaning, Edmund!" Lucy stopped chiding her older brother long enough to slither past another patch of thick mud. It truly wasn't that wet out. Mostly. Oh, but she missed being tall!
"That would be the High King. And we all went along with it," Susan reminded him, stepping carefully around.
Lucy giggled. Edmund's grousing was just a show – no matter the weather, he always preferred outdoors to in. Unless they were at Cair Paravel. But there was so much more to do there . . .
She should be upset, she knew. But unlike Susan, Lucy didn't feel as if she'd lost anything. She would always carry Narnia with her, tucked away in the same place as the burning hope that they would get back one day. Until then, this was just another adventure.
"Yes, but honestly! Did we have to leave before daybreak?"
"If we wanted to get anywhere, yes," the High King himself answered blandly, a smirk begging to be released.
"But we don't even know where we're going!"
Lucy turned just in time to see her oldest brother's response to that protest. A gentle nudge at an unbalanced moment, and –
Dark strands caught the wind as Susan shook her head fondly. Peter grinned, laughing aloud. Edmund tried to snarl, but the effect was ruined by the smile pulling at his own features. Ankle-deep in mud, the eleven-year-old let a wicked grin have the rule of his face.
Lucy's eyes widened, hands coming up to cover her smile. Uh-oh . . .
"You know what this means, don't you?"
The blond boy reached out a hand to help Edmund loose of the thick stuff. "You'll be cleaning off your shoes for a week?"
The High King yelped as Edmund the Just dragged him into the pool of squishy black sludge. He stumbled, and Edmund dodged.
Lucy stared, as the loud sounds of surprise and chaos died into the forest. Giggles welled up, bursting free. She really couldn't help it. Oh, what a mess!
Peter rose carefully, rueful smile replacing the grin. Mud coated his left knee and the opposite hand, where he'd managed to catch himself from sprawling full-length in the stuff.
"D'you think you could hand me my shoe?" Ever polite, was Edmund. Particularly when he wanted something.
Peter snickered, dislodging the article in question from the sucking glop.
Susan huffed a sigh, moving to brace her younger brother. The eleven-year-old had managed to leap free of the mud entirely, and was balanced a surprising distance away.
"Thanks, Su." Wobbling crazily in an effort to keep his socked foot from the ground, Edmund leant gratefully on his older sister.
"D'you need any help, Peter?" Lucy stepped a little nearer.
"No, keep back, Lu. No sense in any more of us getting filthy." A few careful moments later, the eldest had freed himself. "That bad?" he asked wryly.
Lucy nodded, gasping for breath amid laughter. She slowly surveyed her oldest brother, and broke down once more. Mud not only thickly coated his shoes, smeared knee and hand, but had spattered across his trousers and shirt as well. I haven't seen Peter this disheveled since . . .
A day at Cair Paravel, at least a month ago. She'd decided that duty was light enough at the moment to persuade her family to cancel the court for a day, and declare holiday. They'd played along the seaside . . .
Not a month, she had to remind herself. Goodness, but it was tricky keeping it all straight! Time there was not time here. So perhaps she'd be better off thinking of it differently, as Narnia-time, instead. I wonder how much time has passed there, since we went through the wardrobe . . .
No use moaning over spilt milk, as her mother was fond of saying.
"All right there, Ed?" Peter finished wiping his hands in the wet grass, plucking handfuls to scrub the worst of the mud off his clothes and shoes.
"Yeah." Edmund had followed suit, and was a little cleaner than before. "But seriously, Peter, where are we going?"
"Lu, would you get the map out of my shirt pocket?" Peter held up damp and dirty hands.
She traded a surprised look with Susan – though why, she had no idea. Peter was usually the conscientious one. The map was carefully traced, showing the Mansion, the grounds, and the nearby forest – one of the few that was left from the country-wide logging of the Industrial Revolution. And it showed the nearby border to Scotland.
"Peter, are we in Scotland?"
Lucy glanced up, surprised at the tone of Susan's question. There was no need to be so aghast at the idea. They'd crossed borders before . . . in Narnia, she had to remind herself. Not the same.
Here, they were just children, and might actually get in trouble for it; no matter that there were no fences barring the way.
"I can't tell," her brother admitted. "I don't know exactly how far we've come." Lucy herself couldn't keep track; the measures she had used in Narnia were for an adult's stride – and Narnian figures didn't convert well besides. Susan always had the best head for math, anyway.
Lucy looked to older sister. "Don't be upset, Susan." Her sister's blue eyes – the one thing she and Peter shared – refused to meet her gaze. "It's not all that bad."
"We should go back." Susan was fretting again – she did it periodically. It had been the worst, the first time they had entered Narnia. Her siblings had endeavored to cure her of this habit, but even by the time the white stag had appeared, they hadn't fully succeeded.
"We don't even know if we've crossed the border or not," Edmund pointed out. Reason usually worked with Susan. "It's not yet mid-morning, even. Likely we haven't."
"Even so, we shouldn't be here."
Lucy leant against her sister's coat, gazing up at her. Why was Susan so afraid? It truly wasn't as if they were violating a law, or some such. Scotland had been a part of Great Britain for a long time. Most maps only showed the border as a mark of courtesy – much like the borders of the Lone Islands. They had been a territory of Narnia, though far outside its borders.
Peter's eyes narrowed, softened. "If you truly want to turn back, Susan, we will. If it upsets you this much . . . ."
Oh, no! But the look in Peter's eyes, as he gazed at the others, was decided. And they would follow him. How could they not?
"Please, Susan?" Lucy clasped the larger hand. "Please?"
Blue eyes met hers, and she smiled hopefully.
A long moment, as Susan looked at each of her siblings, and then sighed. Lucy felt the tension slide out of her, pressed as she was to her sister's side. "All right. But I don't think this is a good idea."
"Muggles? At Hogwarts? Surely you must be joking, Headmaster!"
"On the contrary," Dumbledore replied cheerfully. "I believe the students will benefit greatly from having them there."
One must make allowances for elders, of course. But the Headmaster is more than a little . . . eccentric.
"Harumph." Fudge cleared his throat, a little confused. "And how so, Headmaster? They can't possibly be expected to teach – in fact, the youngest children at Hogwarts would know more about our world than they do!"
A preposterous idea. The School Governors would never stand for it! How does Dumbledore think I'll ever allow this?
"Except in the Muggle Studies Program."
Fudge paused. "The what?"
"The Muggle Studies Program." Dumbledore smiled at him.
He frowned. "I don't recall there being a Muggle Studies Program when I attended Hogwarts."
"Oh, it's been in existence for quite some time. Unfortunately, it's sadly understaffed. Hogwarts has nothing to compare to Beauxbatons Academy or even Durmstrang Institute. And what with the current political climate, Muggle Studies is becoming even more important."
The 'current political climate'? "What's that supposed to mean?" Fudge asked gruffly. Old and strange, Dumbledore might be. But he had authority, and people liked him. If he should decide to run . . .
It would be a fight. One that Cornelius was not sure he would win.
"Only that in times of peace, witches and wizards should try to learn as much as we can about those others that inhabit this planet. Our spells keep us safe from prying Muggles, but should we not instead embrace the chance to learn more of them?"
That was an exceedingly good statement. Dumbledore could have no objection to his borrowing it in his next report on the state of the Ministry.
"Hmmm. Well. We can't allow Hogwarts to be remiss in any area of study. We wouldn't want to fall behind Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, after all. British witches and wizards want to send their children to the best possible school, not some foreign place, Dumbledore!"
"Of course, Minister."
"And you'll inform the Governors of my decision, yes?" After all, it wasn't the Minister's job to get involved with the running of Hogwarts. Best leave that to the Headmaster, and allow him to deal with the details.
"But of course, Minister."
Good, good. Can't have a British school falling behind some landlocked academy! Why, it would be a disgrace!
"All right, then, Albus. It's been good seeing you again. Mind you get them well settled in before the school year begins." He held out a hand.
Dumbledore gripped his fingers congenially. "Of course, Cornelius."
"Lean forward slightly, and touch back down!"
Good, now even the littlest girl was back on the grass. Another first lesson over with, and no broken bones this year. Not bad at all. Rolanda smiled, feeling the wind ruffle her hair.
"That's it for today!" she called, over the buzz of excited voices. One or two looked a little green, but that was only to be expected. "Anyone with any questions, or who wants extra tutoring, come and see me!"
And this was a beautiful day for flying, one of the nicest so far. She did so dislike having to teach beginning flyers in the rain. So much more to go wrong, with low visibility and cold fingers that couldn't grip polished wood. Add to that, she really must talk to Dumbledore about getting new brooms. Nothing spectacular. Perhaps some of the Nimbus line now that their prices were dropping, what with the new Firebolt coming out.
"Madam Hooch! Madam Hooch!"
One of the young Ravenclaws was pointing. She turned to look, and hawk eyes narrowed.
"Go to class, Bixby."
"But Madam Hooch, look at the -"
"Bixby! Class! I'm sure Professor Snape would like his students to be on time. All his students," she added. She understood Severus. He taught a class that could be just as dangerous as flying, in its own way. The children needed to learn care. But first, Bixby would learn punctuality.
The boy blanched, and ran after the rest of the first-years. Ravenclaws were generally a good bunch, but sometimes too smart for their own good. A challenge to teach, always asking questions. But at least her nerves were never as frazzled as when she had to instruct the Gryffindors. That lot were always much too daring, especially first time out.
She waited until all the students had disappeared back into Hogwarts, before mounting her own broom to investigate. Leaving twenty broomsticks unattended screamed against all her safety instincts, but –
As she approached the lake, the giant squid sank back down beneath its waters. Frightened away, most likely.
The three individuals who had been playing with it seemed unperturbed by her approach.
"May I ask who you are, and what you're doing here?" She kept one hand on her wand, just in case.
One of the two men stepped forward, holding out a letter. "We've received a message from Albus Dumbledore. We would like to speak with him."
It was the Headmaster's handwriting, and she recognized the green ink.
She eyed the blond man, but any expression hid behind a neat beard. The auburn-haired woman smiled at her, hands and arms still dripping from playing with the giant squid.
"You're Muggles?" They were dressed that way, not a wand or robes in sight. She was no willfully-ignorant pureblood, after all.
"We would like to speak with Professor Dumbledore, if you please," the second man broke in. He was slightly taller than the blond, dark eyes solemn. For the first time she noticed that both men had mud on their denim trousers and hiking boots.
He chewed thoughtfully on a lemon drop. "No need to be concerned, Rolanda. I asked them to arrive. The young lady will be of great help to Hagrid this year, I believe, and all are part of the expansion of the Muggle Studies program. As well as assisting in various other capacities at Hogwarts. I hadn't believed they would respond to my letter."
He traced a finger idly across the papers on his desk. "It is quite a shock, Rolanda, for the youngest of our students to go from living without magic to it being part of the very air they breathe. Pomfrey has mentioned occasionally needing someone to speak with them. One of those young men is a counselor for troubled teenagers in the Muggle world. He agreed to come work with some of our students."
"I see, Headmaster."
She didn't. But she would. The Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stretched. "Out by the lake, you say?"
"Yes. But Albus - "
He twinkled at her. "It will be quite fine, Rolanda. No need to be concerned. And I do believe that there are twenty or so broomsticks waiting on the lawn to be taken in." She never did let the students touch them outside of class, until they had reached second year. Training them to be responsible, and see the broomstick for what it was – a tool, but one as dangerous as any other if misused.
He was truly blessed in his staff. Not only were they all competent people, but the greater majority of them were good, as well.
They were waiting out by the lake, just as Rolanda had said. The young lady tickled one of the giant squid's tentacles. One of the men was speaking quietly to the other, picking at the lawn.
"Welcome, once more, to Hogwarts."
Three startled gazes snapped to his.
He laughed, fielding an armful of enthusiastic young lady. "Lucy, my dear. How are you?"
"Quite fine," she answered pertly. Stepping back, dark eyes looked him over. "You are not so well as I expected."
The headmaster managed a laugh, for all he was still surprised by how little she had changed. "Time may be kinder to wizards than Muggles, but we still age."
A bright peal of laughter. "An 'unexpected side-effect', according to someone I know."
The dark-haired man stood from his relaxed sprawl on the grass. "You're looking well."
A smile then, for this serious young man. "Thank you. And you?"
Edmund laughed. "Never better!"
And Albus could believe it. "Peter."
The blond shook his hand firmly, and Albus was surprised to note that his younger brother had passed him in height. "Thank you for your invitation."
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes. We have much to speak about." He surveyed the young ones before him, pulled his beard absently. Much, indeed. "More than I suspected, when I first set out to find you." He hesitated. "Susan?"
Sorrow, on all three faces.
"No." Peter, working past the grief to answer. Changed in face and form they might be, but these ones were so like the children – had they been that, even then? – he had met just over fifty years ago. "It's not what you think."
"Then I believe we all owe explanations."
A short while later, seated in his office, he offered them each a lemon-drop. Blue eyes scanned the changes in the room, and settled on him.
"He passed on a short time after you knew him," Dumbledore said softly. "I have been Headmaster here for thirty-eight years, now."
A moment of silence. The portraits on his walls were looking avidly on; at least, the ones that weren't snoring.
"Susan is in America," Lucy said brightly. "She's become a scientist, has her PhD in Biology. She's studying Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria."
"Oh?" He might be considered one of the most learned, and eclectic, individuals in the Wizarding World, but medical knowledge had never been his strongest suit. Especially Muggle medicine.
"Gerontology," Edmund cut in gently. "Premature senescence, to be precise."
"Ah." That explained . . . quite a lot. And you all miss her terribly, don't you?
"From what your letter said, I was under the impression that this Voldemort fellow was centered in Britain."
Albus looked to Peter. Fifty years had wrought invisible changes. You were always the most expressive. But then, I never saw you before your court. "Yes, for now. He has a following, and it is growing. But in America – yes, Susan should be safe."
"For now?" Edmund's concern was palpable, even through what wasn't being said. He could read the tension in them. One that came from more than physical distance. And perhaps that has more to do with her chosen career. Susan, Susan . . .
"Who is Voldemort?"
He met Peter's eyes, and bit back a smile. There was the familiar determination. "He is the scourge of our world, the Grindelwald of a new generation." How to explain the horror and pain? "He looks to control the Wizarding world through murder, and genocide of Muggle-borns such as yourself."
He saw darkness in their eyes at the word. Regrets were vain . . . but he could not help but regret that they had been dragged into a nightmare not of their world. Either of them.
"He will plunge the world into darkness, should he succeed."
"But who is he, Dumbledore?"
And at last, the Headmaster understood how a mere child had commanded legions, ruled as High King over his people, and cared for his family as well.
Dumbledore sighed. He truly did not want to do this. "When you knew him, he went by the name Tom Marvolo Riddle."
It was his curse to always see it, and never be able to affect or be affected by it. Sins of omission, after his one great sin of commission.
Edmund wondered why he wasn't surprised.
He looked over the room he had been given. The strange creatures called house-elves had come and gone, explaining how to set the password on the tower door, ensuring that none but the three Pevensies were granted access. The tower itself was sequestered in an area of the castle reserved for members of Hogwarts faculty and staff.
Meeting those men and women had been . . . interesting.
Flopped on his four-poster, Edmund absently wriggled free of confining laces. Muddied boots hit the floor with a thud.
By Aslan, if I ever grow stiff and sour as that Potions Master, I'll ask Peter to dump me in the lake. What was his name? Snip? Snipe? Oh, well. Lucy would probably remember. Peter definitely would, if it came down to that. Or the High King would watch his brother flounder about in negotiations – talks, with the man, and let him suffer for winning the now-traditional mud-fight.
Edmund twisted a little more, but the bed really was incredibly comfortable. And they had walked a fair distance, from the Mansion.
He had enjoyed going back, even with the changes. Professor Kirke had passed away many years ago, giving the Mansion, with its artifacts and happy history, into the care of the Pevensies. It had managed to shock them right out of their grief, for a time.
They went back only rarely. It was a sanctuary for all of them, even Susan. Edmund had half-expected her to disclaim all rights to her fourth of the Mansion's estate value. He still didn't know why she hadn't, but it gave him hope, treacherous as that was. But they couldn't be permanently connected with the place, what with having to change homes and jobs every decade or so. Staying long enough for anyone to realize that they weren't aging . . . didn't happen.
Though his brother was able to provide them a measure of security and protection, now. For all the government's security and background checks, they relied on the information in their computers and records. And who would notice the unobtrusive actions of one lowly criminal profiler?
Edmund chuckled, rolling to his stomach. The view out his window, though it wasn't the highest room in the tower, was still amazing. I would never credit Peter with such deviousness, he thought admiringly. Granted, not many people did – which was what made him such a brilliant tactician.
Another slight wiggle had him sinking into the luxurious mattress. His flat in London had nothing like it. He was . . . nearly . . . asleep . . .
Something shrieked at him, sending him scrabbling for the knife under his pillow. Dammit – he never slept without a blade close to hand – where was it! His whole body jounced as that same something landed on his bed.
Lucy giggled, swiping red locks out of her face. "Don't look so dazed, Ed! We do have to go to dinner in an hour or so." She made a face. "Dumbledore has to introduce us to the students."
"You frightened me out of ten years' growth!"
Oh. "Well, you damn near gave me a heart attack, Lu!"
"Then maybe you should answer when I knock."
He rolled off the bed, and rolled his eyes. "I was sleeping." Almost.
"Then it's a good thing I got you up before dinner. Wouldn't want to miss it."
A younger sibling's logic. "D'you like your room?" Better to retreat from the battles he couldn't win, with his dignity still intact.
"It's lovely! From the top of the tower – you can see everything, Edmund! Thank you, by the way."
He grunted, fiddling with the comb in front of the mirror. "It looks adorable, dear," it told him. "So ruffled and sweet. Have the ladies' hearts pounding!"
Edmund closed his mouth. "As the 'ladies' will be eleven to seventeen, I'd really rather avoid that," he told it dryly.
"Oh." It sounded distinctly disappointed. "Well, do keep on combing, then. It looks much worse already."
"Thank you." He didn't even try to keep the sarcasm from his voice. Lovely. I wonder if I can convince Peter to switch mirrors with me . . .
Humans, shouting, pointing.
The dog ducked under a wildly waving net. The human cursed, spittle flying. Dog Catcher, it heard. Animal Control.
Black fur slipped free of grasping hands, and disappeared among the shadows.
"I still can't believe we missed the Sorting," Hermione said quietly.
It had only been two days ago, but she was still upset. Harry didn't really care; he'd missed the Sorting last year as well.
But those - Dementors . . . He had to fight the urge to sock Malfoy one every time he passed the Slytherins and heard someone hiss 'fainted' and 'scared' and any of half a dozen more words that meant Malfoy wasn't going to let him forget the incident on the train. It wasn't his fault, according to Professor Lupin. The Slytherins weren't making it any easier to believe him.
And the screaming . . .
"Oh, come off it," Ron mumbled thickly, through a mouthful of chicken and rice. Hogwarts food was excellent – Harry felt like he was coming off a famine, loading his plate with food and then piling high when no more would fit. "S'not like you know any of the first-years, anyway."
"Well, it would have been nice to see."
Harry had to agree with that – he hadn't been to a Sorting since his own. "We'll make it next year," he said confidently.
The look Hermione shot him wasn't exactly reassured.
He turned back to his plate, looking over his schedule once more. He didn't want to admit it, but McGonagall's talk in Transfiguration had really soothed his nerves. Hermione's attitude toward the insect-like Divination Professor was also comforting.
"I think it's a load of hogwash," she'd said, as soon as they got out. "A Grim? Yes, it might have looked like a Grim – if your eyes were half-shut and you had the cup tilted at exactly seventeen degrees from the vertical. Because at eighteen degrees it was definitely a llama."
At least most of the class wasn't convinced now that he was going to drop dead on them in the next week. The more reasonable half of the class. He already had the sinking feeling that Lavender and Parvati weren't about to let go of the idea anytime soon.
They were about halfway through their meal, listening to Seamus' impression of Trelawny on one side and fourth-years enthusing about Lupin's first lecture on the other. "Can't believe Snape's already got it in for us," Dean moaned.
"I can," Ron muttered. "Slimy git's nose is always out of joint about something -"
"Harry, Ron, who are those people?"
"Who, Hermione?" Harry looked around the Great Hall, but he didn't see anything out of the norm.
"At the teachers' table. Look." She wouldn't point, but she did jerk her head towards the front of the hall. "Sitting on Lupin's other side."
"Those three?" Ron frowned.
Harry looked, forgetting his meal in his surprise. Where he'd noticed that wizards wore 'Muggle' clothes under their robes, which marked them out from the rest of the world, these people weren't wearing robes at all. If he didn't know better, he'd think –
"They're Muggles," Ron said, surprised. His fork, loaded with carrots, had halted halfway to his mouth.
"Don't be silly, Ron," Hermione scoffed. "When will you two read Hogwarts, A History? There's so many anti-Muggle and Muggle-repelling charms on Hogwarts that no Muggle should be able to get within ten miles of here. And even if they did, they wouldn't see anything. Muggles don't see magic, after all. They can't even see Dementors, and those can kill Muggles, too."
Harry suppressed a shiver. He'd decided that of all the things he'd seen in the magical world so far, he liked those the least. Even less than Professor Snape, if that were possible. "But what are they doing here?" he asked reasonably.
Harry shrugged. "And why haven't we noticed them before now?" It was . . . strange, seeing people in Muggle clothes conversing easily with the Wizards. There couldn't be a lot to talk about. I mean, how much does the average Muggle really know about the Wizarding World? Not a lot. Nothing at all, if the Ministry had their way. But that didn't really hold, because there were Muggle-borns out there whose families knew about wizards.
"I'd like to know how they got here," Hermione frowned. "They weren't on the train, or we would've heard. Or at least seen them before. And the Dementors are guarding the grounds, now . . ."
"Can we not talk about that?" Harry asked tightly.
Hermione and Ron stared. "Alright, Harry."
They looked back to the teachers' table, changing the subject by unspoken agreement.
"They look . . . weird," Ron said, after a moment.
"Oh, Ron!" Hermione huffed. "They're not weird. You've seen Muggles before."
"No, no," he said crossly. "I don't mean like that. Just – you'll see what I mean. Look at them."
"What are you looking at?" Fred put in, his twin peering over his shoulder.
"The teachers' table," Harry answered.
"What's at the -"
"Muggles?" George recovered his tongue before Fred. "Wait a minute . . ."
"You're right," Hermione said decisively. Harry's attention jerked from the gaping twins to his friend. And jerked right back again.
"Well, of course they're Muggles, Hermione. I'd'a thought you'd recognize 'em."
She scowled at George. "Not you. Ron. There's something different about them. I don't know that they're really Muggles at all."
Harry looked back to the table, concentrating for the first time. There were three of them, two men sitting on either side of the one woman, all in Muggle clothes without a wand in sight. They all seemed to be in their mid-twenties, but the blond man with the beard looked older than the rest. He was talking quietly to Professor Sprout on one side. The woman was slender, with had long, dark reddish hair, and was very pretty. The last man was on her other side, sitting next to Professor Snape with a completely blank expression under a well-combed head of brown hair. But there was something – in the air around them – something that wasn't -
"Feel sorry for him, sitting next to Snape. A Muggle and all," Ron muttered.
"Well, I bet dear Snape is just charmed to make his acquaintance," Fred drawled.
"So very pleased," George falsettoed, a hand to his heart. Harry snickered as he fluttered his eyes. Snape looks like someone's pushed one of Seamus' old socks under his nose.
It seemed that their distraction was enough to send more and more people's eyes toward the professor's table. The whispering started low, but was then hissing steadily under the noise of cutlery and conversation.
"Isn't he going to tell us anything?" Hermione demanded, looking at her watch. The meal was almost over. "Eat your vegetables, Ron."
The fork was still halfway to Ron's mouth, forgotten. "Yes, Mum," he muttered. As soon as Hermione looked impatiently back to the front of the hall, he dropped the cold food onto his plate in disgust, and threw a napkin over it.
Harry had finished eating quite some time ago, so it came as no surprise when the plates vanished. The Muggles seemed to be taking all the wonders of Hogwarts in stride, as well.
Clink, clink, clink.
"May I have your attention?" McGonagall, a slight smile on her face as the noise died down.
Dumbledore stood, his smile twinkling out at them. "Good evening. As I am sure many of you have noticed by now, we have a few guests here at Hogwarts. I am pleased to introduce to you Peter, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, formerly of Finchley."
As one, the three stood.
"They're related?" Hermione asked.
Harry was surprised as well. From here, they didn't look anything alike. Except, maybe, in the way they moved, and held themselves.
"As many of you have probably guessed, they are Muggles." At that, the whispering took on life of its own. The three exchanged somewhat wry and amused glances.
Dumbledore waited only a moment for the noise to die down. "As a part of a new initiative for our Muggle Studies program, they have been invited to Hogwarts this year to assist the faculty in various capacities. I shall expect," and here his voice grew stern, "that you will show them the same respect and courtesy you give to your professors. I would like to remind you that you represent not only your school, but your families and indeed your very world. I anticipate nothing but your best behavior, from all of you."
"Is he crazy?" Ron demanded. "The Slytherins'll hex them into next Monday!"
"They are very vulnerable," Fred frowned, unaccustomedly serious.
"Defenseless," George agreed, glimmer of a trick in his eye.
"Oh, you two can't possibly be thinking of pranking them!" Hermione was disgusted.
"What's the fun of baiting someone who can't fight back?" Harry added, a little uncomfortable with the idea himself. He didn't think the twins would be that cruel.
George was truly shocked. "Of course, not, Hermione! It'd be like hurting a little kid. No, Fred and I were just thinking -"
"- if there was some way we could -"
"- head the Slytherins off -"
"- before they make us all look bad."
"No kidding," Ron said quietly. "We can't always be around to look after them."
I guess they're 'ours' now, Harry thought wryly. But they seemed to be good people. They'd know more after they met them, of course. But to come to Hogwarts, and be amazed, rather than disgusted by what they saw – Better people than the Dursleys. Though that wasn't exactly hard.
"Like a preemptive strike?" Hermione was still skeptical.
"Of course not! We're not looking to start a prank war, here," Fred was offended.
"Fun as that might be," George added.
"Innocents in the crossfire is never fun," his twin corrected.
"Detention," they chorused. "With Filch."
Harry winced. The worst kind. Unless it was with Snape.
Desert had long since appeared and been eaten, almost thoughtlessly, in the buzz of startled conversation. Students left the Great Hall in drips and drabs, though the teachers remained.
Harry pushed aside his plate and stood, Ron and Hermione coming with him. They left Fred and George plotting, having drawn a good deal of the older Gryffindors into their plans. It wasn't comforting to see a similar council of war taking place at the Slytherin table, but it was enough to see the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs similarly huddled. They could count on support from those quarters, at least – even if it was silent.
"This isn't a war."
Harry didn't realize that he had spoken aloud until he found Ron and Hermione staring at him. He waved a vague hand back at the Great Hall. "This. It's not a war, between us and the Slytherins over the Muggles."
"No, it's not," Hermione agreed. A crowd of excited Ravenclaw first-years rushed past. One boy, in the middle of the crowd, was going on about the giant squid. "But just their being here is going to cause all sorts of problems. With the School Governors – Lucius Malfoy in particular."
The stairs began to shift, and with remembered ease they stood back, plotting their new path back to the dormitories. Some of the first-year Ravenclaws shrieked as stone grated under their feet. "The stairs like to change, remember?" one of them shrilled.
"And Draco, and every other pureblood or Muggle-hater in this school," Hermione continued. The first-years were fine, traipsing back down the stairs to regroup on the landing. "They can't even stand Muggle-borns, most of the time. And you saw Malfoy on the train – he's worse than ever, this year. It must have been difficult for Dumbledore to get permission to have them here."
Ron nodded. "Yeah. You two wouldn't know, but – even a lot of witches and wizards who don't hate Muggles are afraid of them. I know it's crap, but that's because of my dad. Muggles can be annoying sometimes, and Harry, your relatives are really horrible," Harry grinned, "but for the most part Muggles are harmless."
"Well, Fred and George seem to have it in hand," Hermione added. Marshalling the combined forces of all the fifth, sixth and seventh-year Gryffindors. If he didn't dislike them so much, Harry might feel sorry for the Slytherins.
"I thought you didn't trust them," Ron shot back, a little miffed. "Fortuna Major," he added, and the Fat Lady swung forward.
"Changed my mind. But what I really want to know is why they're here in the first place," Hermione persisted.
"Dumbledore said it was for Muggle Studies," Harry reminded her. The couch in front of the fire was deep red, and warm. He shifted further down into plush cushions.
Hermione frowned. "It's an awful lot of trouble to go to just to expose wizarding kids to Muggles. There's got to be more to it."
"Well, we'll probably find out soon enough. We've got bigger problems," Ron reminded her.
"Snape," they groaned. So much homework already! Two feet on some potion that they weren't even going to brew until almost the end of term. And another foot on specific potion-making techniques. And then there was some complicated-looking star chart they had to make for Trelawney, and McGonagall wanted a foot-long essay on Animagi. Even Lupin and Flitwick had assigned homework, though it was mostly reading.
And Hermione must have even more, with Arithmancy and Muggle Studies added to the list.
Harry pulled out Intermediate Tranfiguration. It dropped to the table with a depressing thud. Ron already had out Unfogging the Future and The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Three.
"In our first year, did we ever notice that while we didn't have homework, older students did?" Ron asked morosely.
Hermione sniffed. "You might not have, but I did."
"Thank you very much," Ron told her sourly.
Harry looked at the assignment for Snape and groaned. "Look, we have to reference this one book – it's in the library. And the assignment's due in two days. We'll never get it."
Hermione glanced over. She was tackling Transfiguration first. "Oh, I have that. It's up in the dorm. Want me to get it?"
"Please," Harry smiled. Yes! Count on Hermione to have the book already, and be planning on reading it.
"Just don't let that crazy cat out," Ron warned. "Scabbers may be up in the dorm, but I don't trust it. He's been traumatized enough."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Crookshanks isn't out to get Scabbers," she told him. "Cats chase rats. It's what they do."
And they were off again. Harry ignored the rest of the conversation, fixed on trying to figure out what in the world McGonagall was asking them to do. He thought he had it just about figured out –
Harry opened one eye carefully. It was large, furry and orange. It was sitting contentedly on the table in front of him, flexing claws deep into wood. Through the assignment on top of it. Which had been inked and furred in the chaos. Oh, no . . .