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PRO 22:6 Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.
A wandering tune drifted from an almost empty compartment on the Hogwarts Express, the pure notes of a flute cascading merrily like clear waters down a rocky stream, then chasing each other like kittens playing with colourful strings.
The melody was never rushed or forced: it was lively and playful, with an undercurrent of excitement and expectations and just a hint of nervousness, but mostly full of lighthearted joy and the serene confidence of someone who is simply happy.
Prince Leo of Narnia was going to Hogwarts.
And he felt like he was, all things considered, the luckiest boy in any world: a belief that trickled in every note his nimble fingers coaxed from the wooden pipe.
It was not music common humans would be likely to hear often: the instrument was made by the fauns and the young player's skill and innate power were such that not only was he creating exquisite sounds, but also evoking colours, shapes and emotions in his listeners' minds.
It was compelling.
So much so that a heterogeneous group of teenagers was gathered outside the compartment door, enraptured, and be it the magic of the music or whatnot, people who would normally never stand the sight of each other and could not be in the same room without vicious fights, verbal or worse, were now standing side by side contentedly, peacefully listening, united in the silence the moving tune was sculpting into wondrous fantasies.
The wandering tune wound to a close, flickering a last ornamentation at the close, a twining of notes that was almost the laugh after a good joke and moved everybody's lips in an involuntary curl upwards.
Then, there was silence, suddenly and annoyingly invaded by all the little common noises – the roar of the air rushing past the train window, the squeal of the wheels on the rails, the indistinct chatting from compartments further away.
Leo blinked in surprise when, after a moment's hesitation, there was a knock on the glass door of his compartment.
"Come on in!" he exclaimed graciously, waving welcomingly to the almost embarrassed teens hovering just outside.
A few excused themselves hurriedly and went off, looking almost ashamed for no reason that he could guess, but the others entered, with small bashful smiles and bright, if hesitant, eyes. A tall, black boy looking about fifteen in jeans and a West Ham t-shirt, a bushy haired girl Leo's age, a couple of older girls already in uniform, wearing blue and bronze colours, two boys in black robes who looked like they were brothers.
"That was beautiful!" one of the older girls sighed eventually, breaking the silence. Her raven-black curls were tied up in a haphazard low bun and she was holding some books loosely in her crossed arms.
Other, eager voices quickly echoed her, variations on the same comment - "It was fabulous!" - "Lovely!" - "Never heard anything like that, I swear." - "You are so good, it was like you were playing emotions instead of music..." - "It was like magic!"
Leo laughed lightly at the last one: "It is magic!" he admitted easily. "Fauns use their music to all sorts of ends."
"Are you trying to make a joke?" asked the youngest of the two blond-haired brothers coolly, slipping in the seat in front of Leo. He was quickly joined by his brother and both looked at the young prince intently with identical light blue eyes.
"Wait, wait!" exclaimed the bushy haired girl excitedly, sitting down beside Leo. "So fauns are real? Like, actual creatures with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a goat and they exist? That's amazing! But then everything is, starting with the idea that magic is real, don't you think so? Nobody in my family's magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it's the very best school of witchcraft there is, I've heard — I've learned all our course books by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough — I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?"
Leo looked at her amused, her excitement was contagious.
The eldest blond didn't seem impressed, however. "Muggleborn, I should have known," he sniffed disparagingly. "No manners at all."
"Hey!" exclaimed the tall black boy indignantly, "There's no need for any of that pureblood crap, kid!"
And just like that, there were two fronts: the compartment was cut through by an invisible, very real line – us here, you there. Anyone who'd grown up dealing with politics every other day like Leo had could feel the two sides taking shape and squaring off against each other – in the straightening of shoulders, the firming of lips, the slight, almost unnoticeable shifting towards or away from the others – even if at a surface glance it would be missed.
The blond shot his opponent a disgusted look: "First of all, I'm only a year behind you, you idiotic Hufflepuff, so I'm no kid..."
"Watch what you say about my House, you slimy snake!" came the indignant grumble.
Leo frowned, uneasy, wondering if they would demand he take sides and how to avoid it.
The blond boy, however, went on haughtily ignoring the other: "...and secondly, it's not nonsense. You Muggleborns are simply not suited to attending Hogwarts, you've never been brought up to know our ways. Morgana's pets, most of you have never even heard of the school until you get the letter! It's obvious they should keep it in the old wizarding families and..."
The chatty girl - Hermione – frowned as well, displeased, but didn't dare say anything, clearly uncertain; one of the girls in blue and bronze however had no qualms cutting the blond's speech off: "Yes, yes, Arthur, we've heard it all before," she said, tossing her shoulder-length chestnut braid impatiently. "Please spare us. It's not like it isn't a load of bullshit," she told him bluntly.
Then she turned to Hermione Granger and Leo: "I'm Alina Cornfoot, by the way, of Ravenclaw House: pleasure to meet you all. You're first years, right? My brother Stephen is starting this year too, I hope he'll be a Raven as well..." she took a seat next to the younger girl and dragged her black-haired friend down with her. "I'm in the same year as Mark Johnson, there, though he's in Hufflepuff. And this is my best friend, Seanate Levine, Ravenclaw like me, and Muggleborn," she concluded, gesturing to the other girl but with a pointed glare at the blond across her.
Leo sighed as the girl's words, though more friendly than Arthur's, did nothing to dissipate the separation that had materialized among them and, instead, created yet more dividing lines – Ravenclaws here, Hufflepuffs there, the somewhat dismissing tone of her voice making it clear that Ravenclaw was better...
Arthur and his brother snorted in unison: "Best friend! That's rich. You really should know better, Cornfoot. A family as old as yours shouldn't associate with the lesser..."
"Oh, stuff a sock in it, Blishwick," she retorted, annoyed.
Leo grimaced. He'd been warned of the possibility of prejudice, but he hadn't expected it to be so blatant.
He opened his mouth to intervene and hesitated, suddenly realizing that the questions forming in his brain were jumping right into court speech, which wouldn't do at all in his current company. He'd clearly spent too much time with Lord Chamberlain Giles as of late: no matter what his father said ("It is part of your duty to Our country to learn good form, etiquette and protocol! The Royal Household is what sets the standard in matters of courtesy and decorum and you, my son, are a part of it!"), he knew it was bad for his health.
Dismissing the irreverent thought, he hastily translated what he wanted to say to common everyday English: "Does it really matter?" he asked a bit hesitantly. He wasn't sure that he truly wanted the answer, but it was best to know the full extent of what he was facing. Especially if he wanted to try and reduce the divisions somewhat. Supposing he could. "Is it really so important whether you've grown up in this world or not?"
"No!" came a chorus from the three eldest students, barely overpowering the shouted "Yes!" from the two blonds.
Leo sighed, feeling the impalpable dividing line thicken into almost a wall. His good mood was rapidly evaporating.
The younger brother snapped: "It matters because if you're Muggleborn you know next to nothing about how our world works! For example, if she weren't Muggleborn she wouldn't have believed your stupid joke about fauns!"
"Leave, Claudius, it's useless," muttered his brother.
"What joke?" asked Leo, confused.
"But Artie!" protested Claudius, frowning at his brother.
"Oh, so fauns don't exist after all?" interjected Hermione disappointed.
"Sure they do!" replied Leo at the exact same time everybody else answered sympathetically: "Afraid not..."
They blinked at each other.
"Well, they're real enough in Narnia," said Leo crossing his arms. "But then, my country is rather special..."
"Narnia?" it was almost a shout, and suddenly everyone was looking at him with huge, bulging eyes. "You come from Narnia?"
"...Yes?" answered Leo, though it came out like more of a question than a statement.
"Oh Merlin!" they cried, eyes lighting up with excitement. "I can't believe it!" - "Narnia!..." - "Stuff of legends, that is...!"
The raven-haired girl – Seanate – was almost bouncing in her seat, blabbing about a paper she did on the topic for extra credit: "...but the source materials are so scarce, oh, I've got so many questions for you!"
The tall black boy – Mark – kept repeating: "Cool! That's, like, cool! How's it like? Bet it's cool to live there..."
Alina clapped her hands and squealed: "Tell us! Tell us! Is it true that all sorts of magical creatures are allowed to live side by side with humans there? Well? Well?"
Her eager questions were counterpointed by the Blishwick brothers' snotty comments: "Our father says it's utterly impossible for a country like that to exist, that no self-respecting wizard would stoop so low..."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" cried Leo laughing, and he raised both hands to stem their enthusiasm a little. At least, he thought, the fracturing of the compartment in factions seemed to have momentarily disappeared in the face of a common interest...
They all quieted, but kept staring at him in various degrees of eagerness and impatience.
Leo took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts and discarding any wording too pompous for his tastes that might slip through.
"Alright. Let's see: yes, Narnia does exist and yes, that's my home country. Seanate, I'll gladly answer all your questions, but maybe we can do it a little at a time, over the year? Mark, Narnia is the best place ever, I'll tell you all about it if you want, but again, some other time, ok? Alina, it's actually more that humans are allowed to live side by side with magical creatures. Narnia is, after all, the Land of Narnians and that means Talking Beasts, Naiads and Dryads, Dwarves and Fauns – and Humans, yes, us too, but there aren't all that many of us. Arthur, Claudius, I don't really understand what you're talking about, but I assure you that Narnia is real, and wonderful, and frankly you sound like ignorant Calormen fishers who've never left their village with all this prejudice you spout, you might want to work on that, you know, broaden your horizons a little. Just saying. And anyway, Fauns are so totally real!"
He stopped to draw a deep breath under everybody's disbelieving stare.
It was Hermione, who so far had been surprisingly quiet, to break the silence: "Excuse me, but... are you perhaps... talking about the Narnia in E. Scrubb's books? Are you saying that the place is actual? I've read them all and they're wonderful and I never imagined it could be all true, but then I never imagined magic would be true either, but..."
"Oh, you've read Eustace's books?" asked Leo delightedly. "They're fairly accurate I'm told – then again, he's actually been to Narnia and has met and interviewed most of the people he mentions..."
"Seriously?" squealed Seanate, stars in her eyes.
"Eustace? You know the author?" Hermione sighed wistfully: "I wish I knew a writer...!"
Mark's impressed comment: "He's been to Narnia? I thought reaching the place was nigh impossible!" overlapped with Seanate's eager: "Does that mean the adventures he narrates have truly happened?"
"That's right," smiled Leo. "And, Hermione, I think I can get him to meet you if you want, he's written about coming to visit me now that I'm in England, he doesn't travel a lot now because he says age is catching up to him, but he'll probably make an effort around Christmas."
"You really think so?"
"Well, he's family after all. Dad and he are cousins..."
"Cousins... wait a second. If the books are accurate like you say, than Mr. Scrubb's cousins are... the Four Monarchs!" Hermione goggled at him.
Leo nodded a bit more reluctantly this time, dreading where this was heading.
"Ooh..." said Seanate, then: "Wait- But... does that mean... are you a Prince?"
A babble of comments erupted at Leo's confirmation: "Wow, a Prince! Like, an actual one! It's stuff from fairy tales!"
The gushing nonsense they were suddenly all squealing almost made him groan, if it weren't for the memory of Nanny Melli scolding him ("Lords and Princes don't groan or whine or make odd noises in public! Courteous words or else hard blows, thus is the speech of a true Knight!"); Leo couldn't say he hadn't expected the reaction, he'd seen it before after all, but that didn't prevent him from being perplexed by it, and maybe a little bit irritated.
Sure, he was a prince. Sure, he would generally be addressed as 'Your Highness' by anyone except family and very close friends and be treated with deference by his subjects (though since most had known him from birth, it was always mixed with a lot of fond affection and sometimes a good dash of exasperation). Sure, in formal settings he would receive bows and the likes and be expected to dress appropriately and behave all stiff and proper and remember the precedences (especially if there were foreign dignitaries about, lest it resulted in an international incident), and always, always find a gracious and polite word for everyone who was presented to him.
It was a matter of traditions being upheld: at a social gathering where the Royal Family was in attendance, there were a whole host of dos and don'ts that needed to be respected, and while they rarely bothered when it was just family, Leo knew the protocol inside out and was usually at ease with his part in it.
But... but... but.
They weren't in Narnia, for one, nor were they travelling as any sort of official delegation. These children weren't his father's and uncle's and aunt's subjects, they were under no obligation to show deference outside of official settings – far from it! Technically, they were his schoolmates and, while he wore the uniform of a student, his peers. His title wouldn't matter in class, after all.
Did they really have to make a big deal of his station? Bibi, Jill and Ertie had never made such a fuss... they'd never been shy of making eye contact or smiling or teasing him or making him the butt of a joke; he couldn't even remember if Ertie and Bibi had ever bowed or curtsied to him (Jill loved to do it, but he had a strong suspicion that it had more to do with the way her gowns flowed gracefully around her than anything); they certainly didn't have a problem calling him by his first name, or even a nickname!
Seeing the awestricken and nervous looks pointed at him, Leo could only hope that it would be a passing fancy – the excitement of something new and unexpected. Maybe it was his father's teachings about respect meaning little if it wasn't earned, but he wasn't very pleased at their attitude and he prayed it would fade soon and that the rest of the school would not single him out like they were doing.
Besides, he had never truly understood most non-Narnians' take on his status. Being a prince wasn't all that significant. Kings and Queens, yes, they were special: they were blessed by Aslan Himself and they were the ones who led and protected the people; but a prince like him was just someone who had the potential of becoming a King one day, or the advisor of a King (like his friend Prince Corin was for his brother, King Cor of Archenland).
Should he have concealed his identity? But that was almost like lying and lying was dishonourable.
Even if their gleeful awe was just temporary, however, it was making him distinctly uncomfortable the way they had subtly moved to isolate and separate him. Out of respect, quite clearly, rather than dislike, but it hurt a little nonetheless, not to mention that the shift was creating yet another division. Upset, Leo reflected darkly that before today he would never have guessed that seven people could be fractured into so many different sub-groups.
One way or another, their reaction was all too in line with what he'd observed so far: the wizarding world was obsessed with divisions.
Leo had noticed it from the first moment he'd stepped foot in Diagon Alley for his school shopping and this train ride was just confirming his direst perceptions of the problem.
Everyone was forever on one side or the other of any given issue; everything was made into a line drawn into metaphorical sand, which instantly became an insurmountable frontier, impossible to pass without momentous consequences.
Wizard raised versus muggle raised – the former despising the latter's ignorance of traditions and customs, the latter mocking the former's backward attitude to progress.
Supporters of the 'subtler magic' versus those who privileged wand-based magic, or seeing it the other way round, those who despised 'foolish wand-waving' versus those who considered most forms of wandless magic, like rituals, as evil.
Quidditch fanatics versus Quidditch haters - as if it wasn't possible to enjoy a game without dreaming to be a pro! Leo had been fascinated by the description of the sport, but he had no inclination to try himself; apparently though, you either wanted to live on a broom, or openly despised the whole concept, no in-betweens.
Everything was a division and what wasn't, would be made into one. Mostly in a completely arbitrary way, such as declaring that if you loved 'brainy sweets' like sugar quills you couldn't enjoy the more hazardous Every Flavour Beans: something he'd been assured of with a ridiculous air of utmost authority by the snotty shop boy at Sugarplum's Sweet Shop.
It made Leo distinctly ill at ease.
They were doing it with the topic of Narnia too. First it had been about believing or not believing, then, when he'd confirmed the land was real and given them a reason to reconcile their differences, it had been subtly but surely shifted to what was known about the fabled country and whether the way Narnians did things was right or wrong – which was bringing his discomfort level up with every other sentence, because this was his home they were criticising and they didn't even have the decency to ask him for truthful notions: they seemed to prefer berating each other for credulity while supporting unfounded beliefs themselves.
"Of course it is true!" claimed Seanate authoritatively at one point. "All the books confirm it! Four Thrones – that's what every source says."
"Well I don't believe it," retorted Mark. "Not four kings on the same level - I mean, how would that even work?"
Seanate straightened in her seat, voice and posture going in lecture-mode: "Simple. Each monarch has an area of special interest, the northern, southern, eastern and western quadrants of their kingdom. In a way they are like governors of states, each state having sovereignty over its local affairs."
Vaguely exasperated with her self-importance, Leo tried to point out: "That's not how it works... Besides the Gentle Queen has married... elsewhere; so only three thrones are occupied at the moment..."
Seanate ignored him and went on: "Matters of national import fell under the purview of the High King, who makes all final decisions. The technical term for their arrangement is 'tetrarchy'. It's common knowledge." The Ravenclaw's tone had grown more and more pedantic and it was really starting to grate on Leo's nerves.
"It's not true," he reiterated. "High King Peter might hold a position of seniority over all the Kings of Narnia by the grace of the Lion, but that just means that on the rare occasions when the Monarchs are in disagreement and can't come to a good compromise, he has the final word. Believe me, it doesn't happen often. Normally they cooperate for the best of the country..."
Seanate sniffed a little, but seemed to think better of it when she opened her mouth to contradict him.
"So it's not a tetrarchy?" asked Claudius frowning in confusion.
"Of course not, if it were, then they would have four kings, which is ridiculous," replied his brother dismissively.
"Two kings and two queens," specified Alina.
"Two Kings and one Queen, at the moment..." sighed Leo.
"Even more ridiculous," snapped back Arthur.
"But true!" insisted Seanate. "Though I don't understand why they don't crown someone else if what you say is true..." she turned to Leo.
The Narnian prince gave her a blank stare. Just... crown someone at random? That was not how it worked! Once a King or Queen or Narnia, always a King or Queen – which meant, of course, that it took the blessing of Aslan to create one!
"That is odd," was Claudius' simple comment. "Why would they choose such a form of government? It doesn't seem very practical!"
"I bet it isn't really like that at all," interjected Mark dismissively. "I bet it's all for show and in reality, just the High King has any kind of power, the rest just have pretty titles to settle them and avoid succession struggles among siblings! Am I right or am I right?" he asked Leo smugly.
Unwilling to be dragged in the debate but unable to let the slur to his father and aunt pass, Leo snapped: "No, you're wrong! They have equal responsibilities towards their people! The cooperation among more Royals is about the fact that no-one should have too much power, and at the same time, no-one should bear the weight of an entire Kingdom on their own!"
"Weight? You talk as if power was a burden!" Arthur stared at him disbelievingly.
Leo just shot him a dirty look.
Anyone who'd known his father before the return of his beloved siblings could attest to how exhausting it was for a single, lone ruler to keep the land safe and happy and prosper – but that wasn't something Leo would ever discuss with virtual strangers whose manners left a lot to be desired.
But his lack of answer went overlooked in the babble of raising voices. Apparently it was suddenly essential to determine whether his father's kingdom was truly a tetrarchy or not, and if it was, why exactly the power was divided among the four monarchs. And once more, quarrelling about it seemed more important than finding out a straight answer!
"There are several theories," declared Seanate smugly. "Some scholars believe that the country came to exist as the result of four smaller and weaker nations joining forces."
"Where did they get that idea?" protested Leo. "Narnia's been Narnia since the times of King Frank and Queen Helen, at the beginning of the world!"
"Oh, come on, Your Highness," mocked the girl gently. "Since the beginning of the world...! I know that it is a pretty common occurrence for royal families to claim descendancy from mythical or even divine figures, but we're all educated enough to know it's just good politics. No, it is much more rational to deduce the formation of a country from four smaller ones, especially since the theory is supported by the traditional Crowning Ceremony script."
"That so?" said Leo, rather irritated. "Funny, that. I wasn't even aware there was a Crowning Ceremony script!" The matter was, after all, entirely in the Great Lion's paws. Not that these children seemed to even know of His existence...
"Very funny," Seanate scowled at him. "There is no need to be so despondent. And the transcript I found in one of my reference books presents to the populace of Narnia, a Queen from the Glittering Eastern Sea, a King from the Deep Western Woods, a Queen from the Warm Southern Sun and a King from the Clear Northern Skies."
"..." Leo gave her a flat look. "Ever thought of checking those references?" He did not remember any such presentation and he did know his history, Vitalius, his preceptor, had made sure of it.
"It seems pretty dull, though," said Alina nonchalantly. "I prefer the other interpretation."
"There's another interpretation?" asked Leo disbelievingly.
"Oh, yes!" Alina smiled brightly: "One that roots the custom in a division of tasks, so to speak: a King for Wartime, who heads the army and leads his people into battle, First Defender of Narnia, and a King for Peacetime, who deals with diplomacy and the law, High Judge of Narnia; similarly, a Healer Queen and an Administrator Queen. This seemed to be born out in the monarchs' titles: the Magnificent King and Valiant Queen on one side, the Just King and the Gentle Queen on the other."
"...That's the first I hear of this," was Leo's only comment, "and those titles only belong to the current monarchs. And, even if they might prefer one strategy over the other, all of Their Majesties can handle everything the country might need them to, in peace- or war-time!"
"It is also possible that both explanations hold elements of truth as they are not incompatible: if, for instance, the northern kingdom was more militarily structured than the southern one..." was Arthur's surprising comment.
Leo gave up.
Inwardly he was scowling at himself: here he was, the son of one of the greatest diplomats ever – everybody recognized the talent of the Just King in that field, even enemies! - and he couldn't even make himself heard on the matter of his own country!
He was clearly going about this the wrong way; they weren't truly interested in his words and all he was doing was fuelling their confrontational attitudes.
Though Leo thought with a sigh that if it weren't Narnia, it would be something else. You simply had to belong to one side of an issue, therefore issues were needed. There was no other way to exist in this society, not that they knew of or understood.
No wonder they were plagued by civil wars as often as his Mentor had warned him...
To someone raised in the peaceful, agreeable society of Narnia, where people who lived close by were 'good cousins' and foreigners were 'neighbours', the concept was both disconcerting and a little irritating. Could they truly not find some common ground to get along?
From what he could gather, though, it was a very deeply rooted way of viewing the world here: a huge example being the very structure of Hogwarts School.
As soon as he got a chance – seizing an insult to Arthur and Claudius' House as the opportunity to derail the ongoing argument – he quickly started asking questions about the House system and life in Hogwarts in general, playing the 'eager first-year' card. There, at least, he managed to steer the conversation properly, as he'd observed his father do countless times, and he soon got a fairly comprehensive description of how the school worked. The picture his new acquaintances painted in enthusiastic tones however was not a pretty one in his eyes.
The four Houses the school was divided into were constantly at odds with each other, on every issue. Inter-house friendships were almost actively discouraged. The separation was near complete – 'common' rooms were, in fact, restricted to the member of one House and there were no places for the students to meet freely except for a few clubs, which apparently were very House oriented (almost all the members of the Charms Club were Ravencalws, for instance, while the Wizarding Chess Club seldom admitted anyone who wasn't a Slytherin and so on). Even the teachers held fast to the House they'd been in when students and played favourites rather shamelessly.
Leo wondered if it was the same for other adults too, if the stigma of belonging to the House of Braves rather than the House of Smarts or whatnot would haunt someone well into their old age.
Of course, all this knowledge came at a price: namely, the repeated and insistent demands that Leo declare his House affiliation. It didn't even work to point out that he hadn't been Sorted yet: "Oh, but you must have a preference! Come on, tell us! Where would you go, if you could choose?"
As a matter of fact, Leo didn't have a preference.
He'd given the matter a cursory thought – the House of Lions, of course, would be awesome (who doesn't value chivalry and courage?); studying and learning was the entire point of attending a school, so the House of Ravens would be great; ambition, cunning and even ruthlessness were all qualities that a ruler needed in order to protect his people and their best interests, as both his father and his aunt and uncle had showed him day after day, though they also taught him that such qualities should always be tempered by wisdom and mercy (plus, he was curious about 'Snakes', as there were no such creatures in Narnia, Talking ones or not); and if there was one thing he was sure of, it was that no Creature was more loyal, more steadfast, more trustworthy or more kind than a Badger (and that Nanny Melli would walk on clouds if he could tell her that he was living in a 'Sett').
So no, he didn't have a preference.
Unfortunately, the others were incredulous of this and a bit indignant that he wouldn't express a predilection and when he tried to point out that he hadn't grown up with any expectations of House affiliation the way they had, it backfired, as that was turned into yet another argument: was it truly possible not to be biased towards or against at least one of the Houses?
But soon after that they reverted to the original Narnia debate, when Alina muttered that "maybe Narnians were so used to the tetrarchy system that they didn't register the obvious hierarchy among the Houses".
Leo did groan this time, knightly manners be damned, but it's not like anybody paid him any mind. Which, considering he was the only Narnian there, was really rather silly. Did they truly enjoy squaring off over an issue so much that they wilfully disdained any source that could settle the matter easily? Silly question – the answer was before his very eyes.
At least the newly arrived into this fractured society weren't beyond hope: Hermione, who'd tried a few times to express her opinion but had been condescendingly ignored by the older students, finally raised her voice to interject very sensibly: "Why don't you just listen to Prince Leo here? He's lived there, after all!"
They all had the decency to look a little sheepish at that, but Leo was not impressed.
"Yeah, about that..." said Mark pensively from the seat nearest the window, where he'd managed to sprawl despite the lack of space in the cramped compartment. "How come you're coming to Hogwarts, anyway? I don't think there's been another Narnian here, like, ever..."
"Or any royalty either," specified Claudius, who seemed rather stuck on the point.
"It's tradition for our family to attend a boarding school for a few years," explained Leo patiently, the way his father had explained it to him – several times, before he'd come to accept it, truth be told, because even if he was happy now, at first the idea of leaving his friends behind hadn't pleased him in the least. "My Dad and his Royal siblings all did, and all in England too, though they chose muggle schools..."
Wrong thing to say: the most deeply rooted division was suddenly brought back to the forefront of everybody's minds. The muggle-raised all made interested and pleased noises, while Claudius gasped in outrage and Arthur snarled: "And why in Morgana's hell?"
Leo blinked, cautious in the face of such hostility. "Err..." Truthfully, he didn't know. "I guess, because magical schools can only be attended upon invitation... You can't just show up and expect to be accepted, after all. Right? Since we're not, in fact, British, we're not on their enrolment lists, are we? As it is, I'm being accepted at Hogwarts only because my Mentor is an old friend of Headmaster Dumbledore."
It hadn't been easy either, to get notice of Leo's existence to the wizarding school. After all, they didn't know of any 'passages' between worlds – Their Majesties had all confirmed that it had always happened unexpectedly to them; Coriakin had firmly refused to risk building a Portal – playing with interdimensional Rituals was, apparently, too dangerous a business to ever consider; and of course, no-one in Narnia besides the Fallen Star and the Monarchs themselves had any experience of crossing worlds.
In the end, it had been a young, strong-willed Falcon, Nawan, the son of the Head of Diplomacy Rowan, who had volunteered to carry the message, in his own words "trusting Aslan to show him a way". He had flown off towards the East, his flight bright on the empty sky, and he'd come back to narrate excitedly that he'd simply crossed an unseen boundary at one point, barely noticing if not for the fact that the air suddenly had tasted differently.
Nawan had regaled Leo with the first description of the great lake and fancy castle surrounded by a majestic forest, where he was supposed to spend the next seven years of his life. It comforted the little prince somewhat, that the adventurous Falcon had thought the Hogwarts grounds to have a lot in common with the area of Lantern Waste in Narnia: maybe he wouldn't feel too homesick then.
Thinking of that, Leo found himself wondering once more how the aged Headmaster had received the petition they'd sent. It wasn't everyday you were contacted by someone who you'd met decades earlier in another world, asking you to train a young prince from said other world in the ways of magic!
Unfortunately, Leo hadn't been allowed to attend the debriefing upon Nawan's return, as it was restricted to Their Majesties and the Council, seeing as they needed to discuss the arrangements for Leo's security the school had and hadn't accepted before confirming or not whether he could go.
Oh, his friends and he had tried to eavesdrop, of course, but sneaking into the High King's private study tends to be pretty hard when you need to fool a Wolf's and a Leopard's noses... They'd been caught in less than no time.
Then they'd had to endure several lectures – from Lady Sigra, about behaviour appropriate to cubs ("There is a reason why silly puppies shouldn't join the Hunt until they're old enough to be responsible!"); from Leo's father, about dishonourable actions and the duties of a Just Knight ("Breaking and entering! Spying on your Liege! I am so ashamed..."); from Nanny Melli, about not trusting those who loved them ("You could have just asked His Majesty! You know he's only thinking of your wellbeing!"); from the High King himself, about the proper way of doing things ("You're not supposed to let them catch you!").
So he'd missed the full recounting and when he'd asked Nawan afterwards, the Falcon had pompously stated that he couldn't tell him anything because "it would not do to ridicule the good Professor in front of you, Your Highness, now that he is, to all intents and purposes, your revered Headmaster."
Naturally, this had just fuelled Leo's curiosity, but he'd had to resign himself to just imagining the picture in Hogwarts, A History with a dumbfounded expression. Maybe his eyebrows had risen all the way up his forehead...?
"Hey, Mister Prince?" called out Mark waving a hand in front of Leo's face, jolting him out of his musings. Realizing this wasn't the time for getting sidetracked, he shook himself and quickly concluded: "Well, anyway, my Mentor, my father and my uncle the High King wrote letters to Professor Dumbledore requesting permission for me to attend, and here I am."
Arthur's scoffing comments about the Headmaster being a barmy old fool and no worth knowing provoked indignant retorts in Mark and Seanate. Yet another front line appeared: pro or against the wise old wizard... Leo's sigh was overshadowed by Hermione's curious: "Leo? Did you say Mentor? Does that mean you've already started studying magic?"
"Well, of course!" exclaimed Leo, surprised. Coriakin had delighted in teaching him and he now had a good grounding in most of the Arts, from Illusion to Transformation to the Summoning of energies to the Linking of things into Wholes – and even a smattering of minor but interesting things like weather control and innocuous but showy glamours and to his unending joy, fireworks.
However, at her crestfallen look, he suddenly remembered that Hermione came from a non-magical background and realized she might feel inadequate, so he pretended to be upset: "Aw, you've already forgotten my music! Oh, you cruel you, I'm crushed! Crushed, I tell you! What a tragedy... what a disaster! I'm a failure as a musician!"
"Oh, stop it!" she punched him lightly in the arm, cheeks tinted red with amused embarrassment; but she was no longer mortified, so he smiled with satisfaction.
The rest all laughed too and Alina cheekily told him: "Well, you'll just have to play again and try and make a better impression this time!"
The idea was applauded and Leo obligingly took out his beloved flute once more, launching into a lively tune that engaged them all in an instant.
Truth be told, he didn't mind the chance to lose himself in the music, letting the notes make him soar until he reached a state of freedom where he could truly think.
Because he had a lot to think about right now, a lot to consider and evaluate and plot; especially in the light of one of his most treasured and cherished memories ever: the last evening before he'd left Narnia to come here.
Queen Lucy, in an effort to avoid being sad at her beloved nephew's departure, had declared the absolute necessity of a huge feast to celebrate his bright future as a wizard and there wasn't a soul in Narnia who would deny her, of course.
Thus Cair Paravel was alight with cheerful fires and lively music and the merriment of all who'd gathered to say goodbye to their little Prince, and there had been a great feast, and revelry and dancing, and people laughing and wine flowing and tales told with gay spirit.
Leo had been having fun, dancing with the Dryads and Fauns, watching the Nymphs play juggling tricks with spheres of water (something he never got tired of admiring), playing hide and seek and throwing rings at set-up targets with the numerous cubs and kids who'd been there, when something indefinable had pushed him to leave the merrymaking and slip out into the sweet scented night, unnoticed.
He'd walked leisurely in the orchard, theatre of so many childhood adventures, without really knowing what he was looking for.
And there He had been.
An unmistakeable silhouette, darker against the dark of night. Waiting.
"Well met, Child of Fate," He'd said and Leo had almost gasped at the deep timbre of that voice, so full and rich and somehow good and terrible at the same time.
Living in Narnia, he'd grown up on tales of the Great Lion, but this was the first time he'd actually met Him and it was... breathtaking. A part of him wanted to kneel and tremble and never dare to look at Him again, and another part wished he could throw his arms around Him and gaze into those royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes forever.
Then Aslan had bent forward and touched his nose with His tongue and it had made Leo feel as if he was in a long forgotten dream, the kind that is so so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again; and when the soft, silky mane, black in the dark of night, had brushed his cheek, Leo had stopped feeling nervous altogether, remaining only glad and dreamy and quiet inside as if he'd enjoyed a long, happy day in the open.
He's stayed there, breathing in the warmth and love that radiated from the Great Lion, and he couldn't have said how long it was, but it was one of the happiest times of his life.
He'd tentatively run a hand down His warm side, what part of it he could reach, half-expecting to be reprimanded, but Aslan had simply let him and from the low, earthquake-like sound that had come from inside him, Leo might have thought He was purring, if he wasn't too awed to think a Lion could purr. The feeling of surprise and wonder and incredulous joy that had filled him was something that Leo knew he would never experience again, unless he was so lucky as to meet Aslan once more.
He'd wished to prolong the moment forever, but at one point something had simply told him that it was time to let go and despite his reluctance, he'd felt that it was the right thing to do. So he'd gathered his courage and murmured wonderingly: "Why did you call me 'Child of Fate'?"
"That is what you are," the Lion had answered, "and the time has come for you to choose what to do about it."
"What does that mean? Sir?"
"Only you can decide that."
"Well, that's not very useful," he'd blurted out before biting his tongue, horrified at his disrespect.
"Is that so?" had rumbled the Great Lion. Leo had had the strangest feeling that Aslan was silently laughing at him. He'd scowled half-heartedly, but had soon melted again into the warm fur with a contented sigh.
Whatever it meant, finding out could wait.
"You have an interesting journey ahead of you, Child of Fate," Aslan had told him. "Full of possibilities. Many, many lives will be influenced by the choices you will make in the coming years."
"Is – is that so?" had asked Leo, unaccountably nervous.
"Do you feel ready for this responsibility, Child of Fate?"
"I - I don't think I do, Sir," he'd stammered. "I'm only a kid."
"Good," had said Aslan. "If you had felt yourself ready, it would have been a proof that you were not."
That had confused Leo all the more: "But – but if I'm not... if I..."
"Walk with me, Child of Fate."
Aslan had got up and padded down a line of apple trees with stately, noiseless paces: and Leo had gone with Him, laying a rather tremulous hand on His mane.
"Do you know what prejudice is, young prince?"
"Hum... an opinion that isn't based on the truth?" he'd tried.
"An opinion that is not based on actual experience of the truth," had corrected the Lion gently. "There might be cases when a preconceived notion formed with no apparent reason nevertheless matches the truth; however most of the times to trust a prejudice is to avoid seeing the truth for what it is."
Aslan had sighed: "And once you close your eyes to one portion of the truth, it is easier and easier to blind you to the rest of it; until you can no longer see what is, but only what you tell yourself must be, to make yourself feel better."
"I- I don't understand, Sir."
It had been Leo's time to sigh. That didn't sound like a good thing. "Aslan?" he'd asked tentatively. "Is this about me going to the wizarding school?"
"Indeed, Child of Fate."
"I... will face prejudice there?" he'd guessed.
"Prejudice and preconceptions are the fabric of that world and so entrenched they are, that have torn apart any trust and happiness that could be born of unity and love. And thus, too many are lost to the truth..."
"Do I have to go?" Leo had blurted out unhappily.
The Lion had been silent for a long moment. "No," He'd said at last, "you do not 'have to'. There is no set path for any of us. It is your choice."
Leo had bitten his lower lip, sensing that 'to not have to' was rather different from 'to should not'. "But what good can it possibly do if I go?"
"That which divides is evil," had told him Aslan gravely. "yet people there choose division because they believe they can gain from it. Will you do nothing in the face of this?"
"I... no," he'd said and then he'd repeated more strongly: "No, no, I couldn't let things stand like that – not if I knew there was a chance to stop something evil from happening. If I did nothing it would be like being responsible for that evil!"
"There you have your answer, Child of Fate."
Aslan had stopped and regarded him with infinite patience. His warm breath had come all round him and Leo had gazed up into the large wise face.
"It will be difficult, won't it?"
"That which is worth fighting for always is."
"Will you be with me?"
"Always, even when you will not see me."
Leo had smiled. Before he'd realized it, He was gone – and yet not.
He was, as He had promised, always there, in Leo's heart: even now that the train was slowing down, passing by mountains and forests under a deep purple sky in a world so far from Narnia and so riddled by blind struggles.
Leo brought his tune to an end to merry applause and taking a deep, satisfied breath, he let his excitement fill his eyes and his smile. He was looking forward to whatever the future might hold in store for him.
Narnia or elsewhere, prince or wizard, it mattered not. He was still Leo, a Knight and a servant of Aslan; and he would do his best for Him under any sun.
- The End -