A man can smile, and smile...
Twilight looked up from her latest book – this one was a history book, in the hope that something in the past might hold a hint to a way home – at a general hubbub in the common room.
"Er..." she ventured, nervously.
Some of those nearest to her turned to look at her.
"Well..." Twilight gestured at the wizards and witches of Gryffindor, who were putting on cold weather clothing. "What's going on?"
"Quidditch match!" several people said at once.
"It's the first game of the season!" Ron said, grinning. "Gryffindor against Slytherin. Fred and George are the Beaters! It's a pity I wasn't here last year, actually, Charlie was captain."
"We know, you mention it often enough," Seamus muttered.
"Oh." Twilight absorbed that. "Do I have to come?"
Ron deflated slightly. "Well, er, I suppose not – not if you don't want to..."
"What's going on?" Spike asked, walking out of their room with a Gryffindor scarf around his neck. "Oh, Twilight – are you coming?"
After a look at Spike, and then at her book, Twilight decided – a break might actually be a good idea. She bookmarked her place and stepped back from the table, leaving a note asking for her books to be undisturbed – an old habit from her years in the Academy.
"Okay," she said, casting a spell to keep herself warm. "Let's go, then."
Twilight hung back a bit from the general movement downstairs – while she was getting quite comfortable on the stairways of Hogwarts, walking down them in the middle of dozens of students would be quite another matter.
"You don't look especially enthusiastic," Percy commented, keeping an eye on the younger witches and wizards.
Twilight checked her pace slightly, and fell in next to him. "Well, I'm not really one for sport..."
"Neither am I," Percy admitted. "My brothers were all mad for it – are, I should say. And with five brothers..." He shook his head. "But, well, I've learned to follow it."
"Well, it's nice that you have something you can share with your brothers..?"
"Actually, it's not because of them." Percy chuckled. "My dorm-mate is Oliver Wood. Spend four years in the same room as someone as fanatical as he is, you soon learn."
Twilight nodded. "I see."
The game was... interesting, Twilight supposed. The rules were still a little strange for her – why was the Snitch worth fifteen times as many points as the main ball? - but she was sure Dash, at least, would love it.
Spike certainly did. His eyes flicked around the stadium as he followed the rapidly moving Quaffle, and he cheered as loudly as anyone in their stand when Gryffindor scored. (Twilight felt sure that the commentator shouldn't be cheering in the same way, but perhaps it added something.)
About twenty-five minutes in, however, the Slytherin Seeker caught the Snitch. What had been a comfortable lead for Gryffindor of eighty points turned into a seventy-point loss, which left everyone a bit sour.
"We were cheated!" Ron grumbled, as they trooped back upstairs.
Neville frowned. "Er... isn't the Seeker part of the rules?"
"Well, yeah... but without Charlie, our team's Seeker sucks."
"I have to agree," a fourth year said. "Cormac's not terrible, but he's not up to playing like this – he's only a second year, and he's not experienced."
"Still," Ron added, in the tone of someone forcing himself to cheer up, "at least Fred and George did well."
"Yes, they can certainly hit large metal cannonballs at other people like they were born to it," Percy commented, causing Ron to give him a suspicious look.
Twilight suppressed a smile, then looked over at Spike. "Not too disappointed, I hope?"
"No," Spike said, sighing. "A bit upset, I suppose... just wish Gryffindor had a better seeker, our current one's rubbish."
"Is he?" Twilight asked. "I heard someone just up there saying he was quite good..."
"Yeah, but he didn't see the Snitch at all!" Spike replied. "I kept seeing it, it was easy..."
"Me too," Harry contributed. "I lost sight of it a few times, but it wasn't very hard to find it again."
"I'm sure it's harder when you're on a broom," Twilight replied, making to shrug but then aborting the attempt – doing it while handling the stairs would have been a little tricky.
"Yeah, I suppose." Spike shook his head. "Ah well."
A few days later, Twilight noticed that Professor Quirrell was limping as he came into the classroom. He hid it fairly well, but the wince as he sat down was obvious.
"A-alright, c-class," he began. "T-today, we will b-b-be l-looking at the s...stunning s-spell. Who k-knows about this s-spell already?"
Twilight raised a hoof. Perhaps surprisingly, Seamus Finnegan raised a hand.
"Well, me mam used it once when we were out shopping one night in Dublin." Seamus shrugged. "I was about nine at the time, see, we were getting something for me da, and this scunner in a mask tried to threaten her. She just got out her wand, Stunned him, and we waited for the Obliviators to show up."
Quirrell nodded. "I s-see. D-did your m-mother tell you about the s-spell?"
"She said it was a good one to use, 'cause it doesn't hurt someone. It just knocks 'em out?" Seamus made it a question, to which Quirrell nodded. "And then you wait for the Aurors. That's what she told me to do, wait for the Aurors."
"A m-most clever w-witch, your m-mother," Quirrell agreed. "D-defence against the d-dark arts is about p-protection from d-dark m-magic," the teacher looked mildly unsettled by the very concept of dark magic, "but it is also f-for protection from other p-people. The im...portant thing is to d-defuse the s-situation. Always r-remember, m-muggles can be d-dangerous as well. M-miss S-sparkle?"
Twilight lowered her hoof. "Like a lot of spells, the stunning spell – stupefy – is made to do a particular task, which makes it easier to cast than a spell with more factors in the casting formula. With a spell to conjure water, for example, you could mean to create fresh or salt water; you could want it cold or hot; you might want a large amount or only a small amount. So the will component is complicated. But with stupefy, the will component is very simple and it is easy to cast – you just want to knock someone unconscious, and that's all that spell is ever used for."
"V-very c-clearly summarized, m-miss S-sparkle." Quirrell said, nodding to her. "N-now, what are the d-downsides of the s-stunning spell? M-mister W-weasely?"
Ron jumped. "Sir?"
"Y-your b-brother Charlie is a d-dragon tamer, y-yes?"
"Oh, right!" Ron thought back. "Er, Charlie said at the end of the summer that during his training classes it sometimes took all of them working together to stun one of the big dragons. Is that the sort of thing you mean?"
"A-adequate, M-mister W-weasely." Quirrell raised his wand, levitated some chalk, and began putting the points people had already mentioned on the board. "S-so, Stupefy is a s-spell which is p-perhaps not the m-most p-powerful, and as s-such some m-magical c-creatures can r-resist it. S-shields also b-block it."
Another couple of hands went up.
"M-miss S-sparkle, if you could remain behind for a moment...?"
"Of course." Twilight gathered up her books and put them into her saddlebags, then waited as the first-years headed out to enjoy their free period. "What is it, Professor?"
"W-well, I w-was checking on the p-p-protections we d-discussed," Quirrell explained, indicating his leg. "I was s-shocked to d-discover that a n-new d-defence had been p-put in that I w-was not aware of."
"So that's what happened to your leg," Twilight said. "Are you okay?"
"I w-will mend." Quirrell grimaced. "W-worse things have h-happened in my p-past." He paused, then continued at Twilight's curious expression. "It w-was a three-h-headed d-dog."
"A cerberus?" Twilight asked. "Oh, I met one of those once. He just needed a tickle and he was much happier. My friend Fluttershy dealt with him, and then I led him back to Tartarus."
Quirrell blinked. "I s-see. Isn't T-tartarus the h-home of... the d-dead?"
"I think it's the prison of monsters, actually," Twilight replied critically. "If there were more around I'm sure one of the Princesses would have taken care of things." She visibly gathered herself. "Right, sorry, lost track a bit there. We were talking about the layers of protection Dumbledore set up?"
"Y-yes. Well, the f-first layer was j-just a locked door, w-which..."
"Which isn't very secure because of charms like alohomora, or because of other spells which can quickly deal with a locked door," Twilight finished the thought. "That is strange. I'd have just made the door into a part of the wall, so to get through you'd have to blast the wall down."
"M-most curious," Quirrell agreed. "I b-believe that m-most fourth years could d-deal with the d-door, so it isn't very s-safe to have such a d-dangerous beast b-behind it. When I h-helped supply a t-troll for the d-defences, I d-did so on the understanding that there be n-no c-chance that a p-poor helpless p-pupil could run into the t-troll."
Twilight nodded. "This does sound strange. I wonder if Professor Kettleburn knows anything about where the dog came from..."
"Just d-don't let him k-know w-why you're asking," Quirrell cautioned. "Even if h-he is a g-good man, a-as I t-think he is, he m-might talk to the w-wrong p-person."
Twilight considered that. "Good idea, yes. And I've had trouble with people not believing me even with good reason. I don't know if I've convinced myself yet this time, so trying to convince someone else of all this..."
"A w-wise decision, m-miss S-sparkle."
When the unicorn got back to Gryffindor tower, she was surprised to discover that Spike wasn't there. A few minutes' questioning revealed that no-one had much idea where he'd gone, so she sighed and settled down to research shields again. The parallels between her own style of magic and the local version were starting to come into view, though the actual spellform concordances remained frustratingly vague.
Let's see now... a protego type shield is the most basic, and it stops any magic which isn't cast by the original caster. How does it tell? Magical signature, right.
So why aren't those horrible Forbidden curses stopped?
Can't tell for now. Maybe they're like the Harmony effect – I know Luna said once that she certainly
was shielding when the Elements turned her back from Nightmare Moon into herself...
She made a note of that. Unfortunately, her own Element was still safely in the store-rooms of Canterlot Castle, along with the others. So she couldn't exactly test further into the nature of the harmony-wave.
What about... she stood up, and headed for one of the sixth years.
"Yes?" he replied, looking up from his history of magic textbook. "Oh, hello, Twilight."
She smiled. "I was wondering if I could borrow your standard book of spells. Grade six?"
"Oh, sure." The boy rummaged in his bag for a moment, his arm going in up to the shoulder, and then pulled out the reference guide. "I've got to revise Charms later, so I'll need it back, but you can certainly borrow it for an hour or so."
"Thanks, that's great." She took the book from his grasp, and carried it carefully to where she was working.
A few minutes turned up what she was after. A sixth-year shield spell designed specifically to work against the stupefy spell.
"So, how does it determine the spell it's supposed to block..." she muttered. "Spell form? Perhaps, but that means a decision gate, and this is supposed to be a simple spell... wait a second."
She looked more closely. "Oh, I see! It doesn't bother with a decision gate, it just loops the antiform across the surface. Wow, that is specialized. I wonder if I could modify a spell Shining taught me..."
Twilight looked up from her fifth page of notes. "Spike! Sorry, I couldn't find you... where were you?"
Spike frowned. "We went to see Hagrid. Remember? He invited us."
Twilight winced. "Oh, no, now I feel terrible. I'm so sorry, Spike."
The dragon shrugged it off, though he still looked a little hurt. "Don't worry, Hagrid knows you're busy – I know you're busy – and..."
"No, seriously." Twilight looked down. "I know I'm working hard. I want to get us home, and I want to understand the way magic works here. But I'd be letting Princess Celestia down if I let my study of magic get in the way of my friendships."
She forced some brighness into her voice. "If I forget next time, fire-send me a note, okay? I really want to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Spike nodded, a little more cheerfully. "Okay. Did you make any progress, though?"
"A bit." Twilight shook her hoof back and forth. "I'd be doing a lot better if I had my old reference books here, I'm going off memory, but it seems to be working. Slowly." She shrugged. "Anyway, how was Hagrid?"
"Same as usual." Spike grinned. "Spent half the time trying not to stare at me. Fang seems to have got over his shyness with me, though, he was trying to lick me. Face full of dog drool, uuugh!"
Twilight grinned. "Now I really wish I'd been there. Anything else?"
"Yeah, he talked a lot about Charlie – Ron's brother? The one who tames the local dragons-"
"I remember," she interrupted.
"Right. Well, Ron mentioned the quidditch game again, and Neville asked about what Charlie was actually like, and Hagrid had a lot to say. Apparently he helps Professor Kettleburn with some of the end-of-year classes in Care of Magical Creatures, so he saw Charlie at work."
"And?" she prompted.
"He sounds like a mixture of Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash," Spike said with a laugh.
Twilight winced at the thought, getting a mental image of a pegasus demanding that everyone train until your hooves hurt!
"So, yeah, that's how we spent the afternoon," Spike finished.
"Sounds fun." Twilight gave him a look. "How's your homework situation?"
Spike gave an exaggerated sigh. "I'm mostly up to date!"
"Well, there's something for History of Magic I haven't done yet, and that paper from Quirrell about the appropriate uses of the stun spell..."
"Right." Twilight looked out the window. "I think we can get the History of Magic paper done. It's about the rebellion of 1719, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Spike slouched over to get his book and a roll of parchment. "What was it again?"
"We have to list the main battles in date order, and who won them," Twilight reminded him, "and then do six inches on why the goblins lost."
"It's obvious, though," Spike muttered rebelliously. "They didn't have wands..."
"Well... yes," Twilight admitted. "But you have to say that in six inches, basically."
Twilight looked over the large wood-cut chart covering most of one wall of Kettleburn's study. "This is... impressive?"
"Glad you think so." The Professor stumped over to her, and joined her in looking at the chart – which shifted slightly as he pointed his wand at it, revealing itself to be a magical version of a skeleto-musculature chart. "This is what I've got so far from my studies of your body plan. It shouldn't take much longer before I can work with Madam Hooch on that modified cushioning charm."
"That'd be nice..." Twilight said, a little wistfully. "Dash always has such fun flying..."
Kettleburn shrugged. "I never cared for it much myself. Now, on the back of a hippogriff, that's something else entirely."
Twilight nodded, and turned to go. Then stopped. "Professor? I was curious about something..."
"Go ahead." Kettleburn sat down, smiling. "As I said before, my door is always open – though, of course, you're already inside."
"Well, I know how unicorns and dragons are different here, and I've read about pegasi, ponies and griffons, as well as manticores... but there's a few I think I missed, that I encountered in my world."
"Oh?" Kettleburn nodded. "Do go on. Such as?"
"First, I had a rather nasty experience with a Hydra." Twilight produced an illusion in the air. "It looked like this."
"Ah, a hydra!" Kettleburn leaned forward. "Can you bring that image closer?"
"This is wonderful..." Kettleburn said, smiling broadly. "A hydra! To think I'd get as close as this to seeing one..."
"Are they rare?" Twilight asked, concerned.
"Well, they're extinct, I'm afraid." The Care of Magical Creatures teacher let out a deep sigh. "Poor things. Wizards wiped them out during the Roman Empire – too dangerous, really, too hard to kill. I imagine the same would have happened to the Nundu if it were closer to civilization."
Twilight didn't really know how to take that. Certainly, if a hydra were encountered in the middle of Canterlot or somewhere like that, it might be necessary for the Guard to put it down, but... the whole species?
It was a long time ago, and a long way away, she reminded herself. You don't know why it was their choice, or if it was the only choice.
"I... see," she said, aloud. "That's a pity."
"Oh, I agree," Kettleburn said readily. "Indeed, we try to relocate magical creatures nowadays, that's why we have dragon reserves."
"Well... thanks." Twilight nodded, and produced another image. "This one..."
"Is that a cockatrice?"
"Yes." Twilight swallowed. "Sorry, I had a horrible experience with one of these. It... petrified me, and it took several hours for my friend Fluttershy to save me."
"If she saved you from something that dangerous, she sounds like a model Care of Magical Creatures student," Kettleburn pronounced. "In fact, it sounds like she'd have my job..."
Twilight giggled, surprising herself. Then had a silly thought, and started laughing.
"Are you alright?" Kettleburn asked. "Twilight?"
"Sorry, Professor," she managed. "It's just... we were discussing this, and then I thought about the way Care of Magical Creatures is C-M-C, and... well, there were these fillies back home who got into all kinds of mischief who called themselves the Cutie Mark Crusaders... sorry, it probably sounds very strange now I've explained it all..."
"No, it's perfectly fine." Kettleburn shrugged. "Any others?"
"There was one more." Twilight created the image of Cerberus.
"Well, well. There certainly seems to be a Greek theme, doesn't there..." Kettleburn looked the three-headed dog over. "A little more squat than the ones I've seen, but recognizable. How did you handle this?"
"Fluttershy again. She gave him a belly rub, strange as it sounds."
"Well, I imagine that might work, if you could reach the belly without being eaten... what I find works is music. It makes them fall asleep, you see."
"Right. That'll help if I ever run into one again. Thanks again, Professor."
"Any time, Twilight."
The next morning, at breakfast, Owlowiscious came swooping down to the tables with the rest of the owls. In his talons was a copy of the Prophet.
He dropped it in front of Twilight, deftly unrolled it, and then indicated a circled headline. Twilight took the paper in her magical grip, and read the article he'd picked out for her.
"Scandal at the Ministry?" she said aloud. Then shot an embarrassed glance at Seamus (who seemed rather startled) and got to reading the body of the article.
Major concerns have come to light at the Ministry in the past week regarding the appalling handling of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Augusta Longbottom – matriarch of the Longbottom family – gave a speech in the Wizengamot yesterday, accusing the Fudge administration of 'willingly neglecting those we have a burden to support in favour of supporting those we would be better off neglecting'.
Madam Longbottom also decried what she described as undue influence by a body of men with former criminal charges brought against them (such as the well known philanthropist Lucius Malfoy) in the affairs of the Ministry. While this reporter feels that this is perhaps reading too much into the situation as it stands, certainly it is hard to believe that so august a body of men and women as the Minister and his chief undersecretaries could allow the corruption in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
'The Werewolf Registry office is a boondoggle,' proclaimed one source, who wishes to remain nameless. 'No Werewolves have been registered there in the entire history of the office. I've heard that only one werewolf has ever applied, and he was turned away for being too poor! All that means is that the money for their support goes straight into the pockets of the Departmental authorities, of course.'
The Minister has so far retained the support of his base in the Wizengamot, though his majority is much slimmer than usual and the chamber failed to pass a bill yesterday which had his support – 23 members abstaining. The bill would have made it illegal to search the home of a wizard with a ministerial position without a two day advance warning, to ensure that the wizard
in question be in to show the searchers around.
The crisis was precipitated by a hearing last fortnight, in which two magical creatures – a unicorn called 'Twilight Sparkle' and a dragon by the name of 'Spykoranuvellitar' – were certified as legally Beings and permitted to attend Hogwarts. (Photos on page 3).
Twilight turned to the page in question, interested.
The photos both showed the floor of the large hearing room in the Ministry, with the witches and wizards sat on benches around it involved in a furious argument. The photo-Spike in the left hoof picture waved at her, then the photo-Twilight in the right hoof picture winked.
"Huh," Twilight said, passing the paper to Spike. "You know, that's quite a good picture of you..."
Owlowiscious dropped some letters next to Ron's plate. (He'd volunteered to do extra duty to help the Gryffindor boy, and Twilight had resolved to calculate his back pay once they got back to Equestria and then double it.)
The next few weeks passed with relatively little to break the routine of Hogwarts life. Spike improved noticeably with his wand-work, aided by whatever time Twilight could spare him from her research, and their little group from Halloween spent a number of evenings in Hagrid's hut having conversations about an incredible variety of topics.
Perhaps inevitably, the first one was about the scandal in the Ministry. Neville's ears were red through the entire day, and he didn't contribute much, but Twilight noticed he seemed... well, proud, of his grandmother.
Ultimately, the scandal blew itself out, though not without a number of acrimonious debates in the Wizengamot which included a spectacular public haranguing of Lucius Malfoy by Augusta Longbottom.
Twilight couldn't help but feel quietly gleeful when the Prophet ran the full text of that speech, including a memorable exchange where Madam Longbottom continually tried to pin Lucius down on a particular point and all he would say was that he 'regretted the war as a whole'.
Hagrid had barked laughter. "Just means he's sorry 'e lost!"
It was all very rough-and-tumble, more like something from the early days of Equestria than the modern Canterlot parliament. But it was somehow humbling to know what the two displaced Equestrians had started.
There was one interesting result, as well. A man by the name of Remus Lupin had been brought in to consult as to what the role of the Werewolf Registration Office should be, and from what little the papers said about him Twilight was rather reminded of the dusty librarians from her days at the Academy.
The evenings at Hagrid's hut weren't over with the political storm, though, and Twilight came to enjoy them as much for the break from her intensive studying as anything.
Quidditch was a common topic, and one which almost all of the boys enjoyed going on about at length. Hagrid himself wasn't much of one for flying, mainly due to his bulk, but he and Ron spent considerable time holding forth on the relative merits of their favoured teams. It was mostly quite hard to understand for Twilight (she spent most of that part of their trips talking plants with Neville) but one thing which seemed to be incontrovertible was that the Chudley Cannons were the best team in the Quidditch Cup.
The fact they hadn't won a single trophy in living memory (except the living memory of people like Dumbledore, of course) didn't seem to change this assessment. They were having an 'off century', and would win this year. For sure.
Another time, it was dragons. Twilight had a few sharp words to say about certain dragons from Equestria, while Hagrid said wistfully that he'd love to raise a dragon – while the accepted wisdom was that they were untameable, he thought differently. Twilight just hoped he did it somewhere fireproof.
Spike got to show off his flame-sending trick, which was much less of a chore for him now he didn't need to deliver regular post – though, like Twilight, he did miss the earlier routine of Ponyville life, with the weekly friendship lesson and the picnics.
One evening it was about Equestria – what started as a discussion of how Princess Celestia worked with Parliament, then talked about Canterlot, then Ponyville, and from then on the conversation rambled over dozens of topics and continued on into the night. Twilight and Spike described their homeland in tones which went from matter-of-fact to wistful to choked up over the course of the evening, as all the memories they'd tried to bury came back again.
Spike mentioned, in whispers, his (not so) secret crush on Rarity. The idea (a dragon with a crush on a unicorn) seemed to confuse the younger wizards a little, but Hagrid just shrugged.
That was also the evening Peewee managed to show off his song in front of all of them. It lifted their spirits after such a sad topic, and when the little phoenix finished and gave a self-important chirrup, the hut was filled with glad laughter at his antics.
As they headed back to the castle through the darkness of an early December night, lit by Peewee's steady patrol overhead, Twilight fell back to talk to Harry.
"Are you okay?" she asked, softly. "I saw you were looking a bit sad earlier."
"Yeah," Harry said, then paused and shook his head. "No, I'm not. I was just thinking about... well, home."
"Home?" Twilight repeated.
"Yeah. It's nearly the end of term, and I know I've got permission to stay here, but... I don't want to go back home at all."
Twilight stayed silent, inviting further comment.
"See, you and Spike... you miss your home. And..." Harry rubbed at his eyes. "Ever since I found out I was a wizard, it's all been amazing... but it isn't really home at all. I feel more at home here at Hogwarts than I ever did at the Dursleys."
"There's something more, isn't there?" Twilight asked gently.
"Yeah." Harry rubbed at his eyes again. "See, here, everyone thinks of me as 'the boy who lived'. I'm a celebrity, and people just see that. They expect me to be some kind of... hero, with a sword in one hand and a wand in the other, who rides down on a dragon and saves them. They keep asking how I beat Voldemort! And I just want to be... Harry Potter, first year wizard."
He sniffed, then shook his head. "Sorry."
"No, it's fine." Twilight shrugged. "I know the feeling, actually – back in Ponyville, I did try to fit in, but my friends and I were 'those mares who defeated Nightmare Moon'. Or Discord, or whoever."
"If there's anything I can do to help..."
"Yeah, there is, actually," Harry said. "I think. See, if people usually see you at the same time as they see me, they're more likely to think you're the strange thing and so I can look relatively normal."
Twilight stifled a giggle. "Reminds me of when I sat next to Pinkie Pie..."
A minute or so later, they entered the castle itself.
"What are you still doing out of bed?" Filch asked suspiciously, looking at them.
"We were visiting/ the Grounds-keeper," Fred and George answered together. One of them looked at his watch, and the other added "It's at least five minutes until curfew."
"And you're going to get into your common room in time, are you?" the janitor asked, with a still more suspicious look.
They all exchanged glances, then broke into a run up the stairs.
Sorry for the long wait (again!) For the Wizengamot-as-parliament thing, I'm basing it off the sometimes fractious nature of the British parliament, which has at times got particularly bizarre. Also - one of the benefits of having a wandless caster around is that you can go walking through the night in the Scottish winter without feeling particularly chilly.