The Lion, the Snake, and the Safe Room
Chapter 9: Belonging
Harry sat at the top of the tower where he'd talked to Garnet, alone with his thoughts and the Narnian night. The stars and constellations above him were nothing he remembered from his Astronomy classes in his other world, but felt somehow nearer and more personal than those ever had.
Maybe because I didn't learn their names by looking through a telescope and listening to a teacher who was talking to a whole class, but by lying out on a blanket with my friends—well, my friends and Draco, it's going to take more than a couple months of him not being a total prat for us to be friends, but we're not enemies anymore, it's a start—and listening to…
A quiet scuff of boot against stone warned him an instant before a man's voice spoke. "Am I interrupting?"
"No, sir." Harry bowed slightly, in greeting. "Ardan," he corrected himself before the High King could.
"Thank you." Ardan stepped out onto the tower's top, ensconcing himself between a pair of merlons across from Harry. He wore a simple tunic and trousers of dark red similar to Harry's blue ones, his crown was nowhere to be seen, but Harry could still feel the sense of presence he recalled from his first sight of the High King.
They called High King Peter the Magnificent, and for all it sounds silly just to say it, if he was anything like Ardan, it must have been true. But at the same time, I feel good around Ardan. Safe. Respectful, but not in a standoffish way. It's almost like…
Another memory, blurred but clear enough to serve, slipped to the top of Harry's mind. He'd been sitting in his bedroom, wherever it was that he lived when he wasn't at school, and worrying about something which had happened, something about which he wanted advice. It had seemed almost shameful at the time, but made perfect sense now, that he'd been trying to think of a person who was neither friend nor teacher but a combination of both, and so much more besides—
"I never knew my parents," he said, leaning back against the side of the crenellation in which he sat. "They died when I was a baby."
"So Ilana has told me, but not much besides." Ardan was regarding the full moon which hung halfway up the sky, smiling crookedly as though it amused him for reasons of his own. "Was there anyone in your life who took their place?"
"Not until last year." Harry traced a pattern in the stone with his forefinger. "And I had myself convinced I didn't need that, didn't need anyone's help. Not like I sat down and worked it all out, but in the back of my mind, that's how I was thinking."
"Because if you had never had that sort of adult attention, you would naturally regard it as unnecessary. An enjoyable addition to life, but not a central point." Ardan glanced down at Harry, raising one eyebrow. "Has something changed your mind, then?"
"I was having nightmares about…something that happened to me," said Harry rather than answering this directly. "Back in my world, and still here, sometimes."
"A very strong set of memories, to so affect you even after having been set aside." Ardan nodded. "But you placed them in the past tense. Have they gone from you?"
"They're starting to." Harry flattened his palm against the stone. "They still come every now and again, but they're nowhere near as strong as they were. And I'm learning what I can do to fight them, while they're happening and before they happen." He turned to smile at the High King. "Caelin's teaching me, and Ilana. And Gilles—I think he can see, or maybe smell, when I've had a bad night, because he'll change my training schedule to give me something to beat up right away, so I can get the worst of it out."
Ardan laughed. "That does sound like Gilles. Violence is always the answer for him, though he takes care to apply it only in the proper quarters. But you had mentioned my Queen, and my royal sister—what, if I may ask, do they teach you about your dreams? Not that I should need to ask about my beloved, for dreams are her purview, and have been for many years."
Harry nodded. "She taught me how to get control of them," he said. "How to recognize that they're happening, and that they're just dreams, that the things aren't really happening all over again." He found his hand on the way up to his scar, and consciously lowered it into his lap. "Caelin…well, she told me one of her rules for healing wounds. Not to poke at it too much, because then you make it worse instead of better. But not to leave it completely alone, either, because that's how things go sour."
"Which leaves you with something of a dilemma." Ardan held out his hands, palms up, like the pans of a scale. "How do you balance the two extremes?"
"I was hoping…" Harry swallowed his nerves and reminded himself of another rule Caelin had quoted him, that assistance was less than likely to be forthcoming to one who did not ask for it. "I was hoping you might be able to help me with that. Sir. Ardan."
Because if they're the Kings and Queens, and we're the Princes and Princesses, then they're pretty much our parents.
And this is the sort of thing parents do.
"Perhaps I can." Ardan nodded slowly. "Certainly I can try. Will you share with me some of what you may recall about the source of the nightmares, and allow me to offer what little advice I may from the experiences of my own life?" He smiled. "And when we have finished with that, which I believe covers the second half of my sister-Queen's advice to you, we shall adjourn to the courtyard, for I have a feeling such a beautiful night as this will surely bring some of our subjects calling on us, and that should provide ample distraction to fulfill the first half…"
"Come, little sister! Tonight, we revel!"
Hermione jerked, startled, and looked up from her book to see Ilana standing in the doorway of the Princesses' room, smiling at her. The High Queen of Narnia wore a flowing gown of misty green and silver, highlighting the similarly-colored gleams within her long brown hair.
That's right, she's mostly dryad. Almost all dryad, except for the bit of human blood that means she's allowed to rule…
"Revel?" she asked, her ears catching up with her mind. "Why?"
"Why?" Ilana's smile turned into a puzzled frown, as though this were not the question she had been expecting. Then her expression softened, and she shook her head. "My poor child," she said. "You still have so much to learn."
"Yes, I do." Hermione tried to keep her offense at this form of address out of her voice. By the sudden gleam of amusement in Ilana's expression, she hadn't succeeded. "And I was trying to get some of that learning done right now. So unless there's some kind of special occasion, a birthday or a holiday that I shouldn't miss—"
"There is," Ilana interrupted. "There is a great deal you should not miss, Hermione. And your book will wait." Crossing the room, she picked up a feather Meghan had pulled from one of her arrows, set it in the groove of Hermione's page, and shut the book firmly. "Come with me." She looked Hermione up and down, then nodded approval to the gold tunic and long gray skirt. "Your clothes will do."
Do? Do for what? Hermione was too baffled to resist as the High Queen took her wrist and drew her out of her chair (she's stronger than she looks, noted a stray corner of her mind, but she would be if she's mostly dryad, they have the strength of their trees), as Ilana towed her out of the room and down the corridor, around several corners and into a more opulently decorated section of Cair Paravel, into what Hermione realized belatedly must be Ilana and Ardan's own bedchamber, decorated in warm golds and cool greens, to stand in front of—
"A mirror?" Hermione peered at her reflection, but nothing had changed about it. Her own face, no different than usual, gazed back at her out of the silvered glass surrounded by its ornate frame. "What about it?"
"What do you see?" asked Ilana softly.
"Myself." Hermione looked more closely, wondering if perhaps Ilana meant to tell her that her face was dusty or her clothes somehow disarrayed, but everything appeared to be in order, except her hair, and that was seldom anything but flyaway. "Why?"
"Name that self to me." Ilana smiled, stroking a few strands of Hermione's hair which had strayed over her shoulder. "If you would be so kind."
"Hermione Jean Granger. Student of witchcraft, going into my fifth year of schooling. Member of the House of the Lion." Hermione hoped she was doing a better job of keeping her voice level this time, but suspected from Ilana's slowly elevating eyebrows that she was not. "A friend to Harry Potter, learning to be a friend to Meghan Freeman, and working very hard not to slap Draco Malfoy across the face when he insults me without thinking—"
Ilana laughed aloud. "It might not be such a tragedy if you should do that, one of these fine mornings," she said, still caressing Hermione's hair. "It would do him good to realize that his actions have consequences. But while you name yourself well, little sister, you are naming only a part of yourself. I must ask you for the whole."
The whole? What am I missing? There are the memories I put aside at the Silver Spring, but she can't mean those, we're years yet from going home, we have to become the Kings and Queens first—
Hermione stopped, hearing her own thoughts again. "Oh," she said in a small voice. "You mean…"
"I do." Ilana nodded. "Speak it aloud, that you may believe it in your heart of hearts."
"I'm…" Hermione had to swallow hard before she could get the words to come out. "Princess Hermione. A Princess of Narnia, by the right of my blood and the choice of Aslan."
"It still sounds odd to you, does it not?" Ilana slid one arm around her, holding her gently. "But it is truth, and you must learn to live up to it. And a princess does not insult her subjects by refusing to join in the revel they have raised for her enjoyment. As for your question of 'why'…" She paused, her face thoughtful. "I believe I must answer a question with a question, for which my mother often scolded me. But it seems the only way to bring you to understanding." She released Hermione and turned to face her. "Why not?"
"Because there's work to be done. Things to be learned, like you said. I can't waste time…" Hermione trailed off, seeing sadness rising in Ilana's face. "What's the matter?"
"I knew a girl once who was much like you." Ilana's hand rose to her own hair, tangling in it as though her story were hidden in the snarls and needed to be coaxed forth. "So much like you that sometimes it frightens me. She had such life in her, she burned so brightly, and she knew just what she wanted, so she never wasted her time. But her time, Hermione, her time ran out." Brown eyes shone bright with tears. "She was taken from the ones she loved, taken from them too young, and there was still so much she had not shared with them. So many things they had never had the chance to do. Because she had thought of many of our simple, everyday joys as nothing but a waste of time."
"I'm sorry." Timidly, Hermione laid a hand on Ilana's wrist, then reached out and embraced her when the High Queen did not pull away. "I didn't know."
"There was no way you could." Ilana brushed her lips against Hermione's forehead. "And time has brought us all some measure of healing. But for the sake of that girl who was, I have never forgotten that work, no matter how important, can wait. That it is all very well to plan and prepare for joy, but that sometimes joy should also be a surprise to us." She looked down at Hermione, smiling. "All of which is a very long way to say that you are coming to the revels, my young Princess, will you or nill you. And it is even within the bounds of possibility that you will find yourself having fun. Which is also a lesson, and a vastly important one."
"It is?" Hermione blinked. "How can having fun be a lesson?"
Ilana drew her close again. "I will tell you a secret," she whispered. "If you promise to tell no one else. Many of the duties of a Queen…" She paused impressively. "…are terribly, terribly boring."
Hermione giggled before she could help it.
"And for those, your strong sense of duty and responsibility will stand you in good stead," Ilana went on in more normal tones, loosening her arms so that she clasped Hermione by the shoulders. "But as the rulers, so the land. If you are absorbed with nothing but duties and necessities, if you never take the time to laugh or play or rejoice, then Narnia herself will lose some of her color, some of her wonder. Do you understand?"
"I…think so." Hermione turned her head back to the mirror, inspecting her reflection. "How long will the revel go on?"
"Likely all night, but we may retire at any point once we have made our appearance and danced a few times—and what have I said to put that expression on your face?" Ilana planted her hands on her hips. "Anyone would think I had told you that we planned to fling you into the sea from the palace roof!"
Draco peered around a handy stone pillar at the chaos in the courtyard.
He'd already spotted Kargin, helping a stockier and longer-bearded Red Dwarf unload a wagon filled with more varieties of drum than he'd thought could possibly exist. Garnet was running her fingers appreciatively over the silky wood of a stringed instrument which a dryad with autumn-yellow hair, sharply contrasting her sisters' greens and browns, was holding out for her inspection. He thought he might even have seen Oren, off to one side in the middle of a swirl of fauns, tuning a different type of instrument to the tones of their pipes, but it was difficult to be sure. The mingling of torchlight and moonlight made for imperfect vision at long distances.
But I can see perfectly well that no one's setting up in the middle of the courtyard. They're all lining the edges, finding spots along the wall. Which, if I'm any judge, means there'll be dancing.
Memories rose of dances in his native world, of the heavy, itchy discomfort of his best dress robes and the slow, almost funereal music considered appropriate, whether for the decorous movements of pattern-dances or the forced intimacy of the ballroom styles. Learning to compliment his partner without losing the rhythm of the dance badly enough to step on her feet had been good practice for firing insults at his sporting opponents without his play suffering by it, which was the only utility he had ever seen for the years of lessons he'd endured.
I suppose it's possible they'll be more use here, but somehow I don't think we're going to be hearing very many slow songs tonight. Draco dodged back into the shadows as a pair of Foxes, gray and red, chased a clutch of smaller Animals across the center of the courtyard, all of them laughing. He could see a couple of palm-sized, stripe-backed, narrow-tailed Squirrels, one gray and one golden Mouse, a brown Rabbit, a small and silken-coated Dog, and smiled at the improbability of it all, at the wonder and the marvel of where he was, what he was doing…
His left forearm twinged once. Absently, he rubbed it. What would my father think if he could see me now?
The smile broadened. Probably that I've gone mad. The Animals raced back across the courtyard, the mixed bag of smaller Beasts now chasing the Foxes, snapping at their tails. Barking mad, even.
A laugh escaped him at the inadvertent pun, but then he frowned. For all it had been a joke, the play on words held a sharp, hidden edge.
Funny is one thing. Facts are another. And I've got to face facts. This is mad, all of it, and I haven't bothered to question anything, not once. I've just let myself get swept away, without ever stopping to think, to ask what might really be going on here…
His mind began to spin faster and faster, and his breathing kept pace with it. Finding other worlds by climbing through wardrobes, being hailed as a Prince just because I'm human, setting up for some kind of mad midnight orgy with a load of Talking Beasts and weird nature things—it's just not possible. None of it should be happening at all.
And if it shouldn't be happening…
What if it's not?
The colorful courtyard blurred even as the idea came to him, running together like a watercolor painting left out in the rain. Draco hissed under his breath and squeezed his eyes shut so that he wouldn't have to watch as the world dissolved under the merciless pressure of his thoughts.
Freeman's Muggle-raised. She's read the books. So when she saw the wardrobe, she thought she might as well climb into it and out of it again to mess with my mind. I must have hit my head on one of the shelves when I followed her in. Or maybe she used some kind of Healing spell on me, I know she's always hanging around the hospital wing—
The sounds of cheerful chatter, the discordant plunks of instruments tuning up, rippled into the distance like water running out of a basin. The orange of torchlight against his closed eyelids faded towards purple, then black.
I've hallucinated all of this, dreamed it up from what I heard Granger reading and my own twisted little brain. None of it's real, none of it ever was. He curled his hands into fists, furious at having been caught in such an emotional trap. And now that I've worked that out, I'm due to wake up back in that damned safe room, maybe even still shut into the wardrobe—
He leaned against a flat slab of wood in darkness and silence, as alone as he had ever been.
But I still wish it could have been real.
"Why so pensive, my Prince?"
Draco's eyes flew open. He stood in the shadows of the courtyard at Cair Paravel. The surface against which his shoulder rested was curved stone. The laughter and talk, the snatches of music, the competing lights of torches and moon, were back in their places as though they had never been gone.
And standing before him, smiling at him, reaching out for him, was Nata of the Silver Spring.
Before he could find the presence of mind to deny it, their hands touched, right to left, left to right.
Draco exhaled in relief as his mind cleared in a rush. What was I thinking? How could this not be real? I've lived it for two bloody months, I'm not quite so stupid as to have been taken in for that long! And nothing's impossible with magic, nothing except raising the dead and a few other bits and bobs, none of which anyone's been doing here in Narnia—
But I might as well ask. Just to be on the safe side.
"Are you real?" he said, squeezing the naiad's hands gently.
"As real as you are, my Prince." Nata laughed. "And a poet you must be indeed, if you can delve so deeply into your thoughts at a moment's notice that you must ask that question when you return to us!" She turned their joined hands so that Draco's were uppermost and stroked her right thumb along his fingers. "Will you come and meet some of my friends? They live in the woods near my spring, and they would like to meet my poet-Prince and trade some of their marvels for his. And Oren had also asked to be remembered to you—the dryad, you recall, who guided you here to the palace—"
"Of course, I remember him." Draco peered around the pillar again. "There he is, over there with the fauns still. Are they the friends you mean?"
"They are. Will you go ahead of me, and make your own introductions?" Nata released his hands. "There is something I must do. It will take only a moment."
"I'll do that. As long as it is only a moment." Draco drew himself up to give her his best haughty look, the one he'd often practiced on Potter and Granger. "Your Prince commands it."
Nata laughed again and curtsied deeply. "And thus I shall obey."
"Good." Draco held the look for one more moment, then grinned at her and slipped between the pillars into the light. The sooner he could get to Oren and his friends, the better chance he'd have of putting that terrifying moment of darkness behind him.
Wonder what it was, really?
Alone, Nata turned to look into the deeper shadows. Her face hardened, and her voice when she spoke held traces of winter's ice. "You," she said with clear deliberation, "do not belong here. This is not your time, nor your place. You will have your chance. It is not yet." Her hands rose, and she made a flicking motion outward with all her fingers. "Begone."
The presence she could sense in the darkness beyond hovered for a moment, defiantly, then vanished into the night, as though it had never been.
I will have to speak to the High Queen. Nata turned to regard Cair Paravel. If the White Wizard can get so close without being found out, close enough to affect Draco's mind and make him doubt such a fundamental fact as the reality of our fair Narnia…
Her many years of life, and the knowledge she had garnered from other sources, made her well aware that her young Prince had a very long road yet to travel, the longest of any of the four who had come to Narnia from their castle home. Still, if he could only remain strong and determined, he would find what he longed for awaiting him at the other end of the road.
Even if he does not yet know what that may be.
Shaking off her momentary mood of melancholy, Nata pranced out into the courtyard. She had won a victory, small though it might be, and the rest of the night belonged rightfully to celebration.
Now if only our Kings and Queens will come out to us, to begin that celebration as is proper…
Harry paused on the spiral staircase to look out one of the narrow windows at the courtyard below and see if he could spot his friends. Kargin and Garnet were easy to find in a general sense, though he thought he'd have to be closer to pick them specifically out of the cluster of Red Dwarves who were surely their family. Oren was off to one side, demonstrating a dance step to Meghan, who copied his every movement faithfully. Further along that same wall stood Draco among a group of fauns, at their direction wrapping his fingers gingerly around what appeared to be a set of multiple pipes. Nearby, Nata the naiad was whispering with another of the fauns, both of them doing a great deal of gesticulating.
I don't see Hermione anywhere… wonder if she's feeling all right?
He descended the last few rounds of stairs, turned the corner into the ground-floor corridor, and got a partial answer to his question. Hermione might not be physically ill, but her face was the delicate shade of green Harry associated with an exam for which she felt she hadn't sufficiently studied.
"What's wrong?" he asked, coming up to her and inclining his head to the Kings and Queens, who were murmuring to one another near the tall doors which led out to the courtyard. "You don't look well."
"Oh, hello, Harry." Hermione gave him a rather sickly smile. "No, I'm fine. I'm just fine. It's only…" She gulped. "Harry, it's dancing," she said in a rush. "And I'm not good at dancing! I never have been!"
"I don't think this is the sort of dancing you have to be good at." Harry frowned, remembering the events of the Christmas just past in their native world. "And what about the Yule Ball? You danced then, didn't you?"
"Yes, but we had weeks to practice, and we haven't had weeks this time! Ilana just told me about it a few minutes ago, and everyone will be looking at us because we're the Princes and Princesses, and they'll expect us to be good at it, and I'm not, Harry, I'm not, and I just know I'm going to trip over my own feet or crash into someone and then—"
"Breathe," Harry interrupted her. "Just breathe. Panicking won't do you any good at all."
"But I—" Hermione began.
Harry held up a hand, halting her, and motioned for her to breathe.
With a shaky little laugh, Hermione did so, inhaling deeply and exhaling on a long sigh. "I'm sorry," she said on the tail end of it. "But I don't like surprises, and I don't like people staring and laughing at me, and I'm sure they will as soon as they see me try to dance."
"Why don't I dance with you, then?" Harry wasn't sure what had prompted the offer, but the half-stunned smile to which Hermione treated him told him it had been the right thing to say. "That way, if we look silly, we look silly together. And they probably won't laugh at both of us."
"No one will be laughed at tonight," said Caelin, turning from her conversation with Gilles and Ardan. "Our people all understand that you come from another land, with different ways, and will be glad to teach you how we dance in Narnia. And you will hardly be the only inexperienced dancers present—many of the Animals are too young to have attended our palace revels before, and some of the Dwarves come seldom to Cair Paravel."
"And then there is the one who is always here, but comes seldom out of his beloved cellars," muttered Gilles. "And why we allow him to stay on…"
"We allow him to stay on because he is a talented alchemist and an excellent scholar, and because he is entirely loyal to Narnia, no matter his background," said Caelin tartly. "As though you had any right to question based on such a thing."
"His background?" Harry asked, but a moment later recalled Ardan's lessons in the differences between types of Narnian peoples. "Is he a Black Dwarf, then?"
"He is." Ardan nodded. "But although he can be rather cross-grained at times, and I would not recommend invading his territory without a clear reason, Sedem would fight as fiercely as any of us here to protect Narnia. You will meet, I am sure, and soon, as it would be wise for one or another of you four to become proficient in the creation of such brews as he has mastered." He smiled. "But for tonight, I am sure our Black Dwarf friend has gone to bed early, likely with his ears stopped up to keep out what he considers nothing more than noise. And we, for our part, should betake ourselves to the courtyard before our subjects tear down the doors in search of us."
"Indeed we should," said Ilana from her place by those same doors. "Harry, Hermione, perhaps would you care to slip out by the side way? We will draw attention as we enter, and it is customary for the first dance at any palace revel to be an exhibition piece for us alone, so you will have time to find your friends and learn a few basic steps."
"Yes, please," said Hermione fervently as Harry nodded. "Where is it?"
"Behind the tapestry, just beside you there." Ilana pointed, and Harry pulled back the tapestry to reveal a passage beyond. "It will be dark, but the floor is level, and you will find your way easily to the courtyard from its exit."
"Thanks," Harry said, Hermione ducking under his arm into the passage. "See you outside."
Ilana blew him a kiss just before the tapestry dropped back into place, cutting off his vision of the corridor.
"Dark" was an understatement for the inky blackness of the secret passage, Harry found, but as Ilana had promised, the floor was smooth under his feet and there was only one way to go. Just as he located the door at the other end by barking his knuckles on it, a lively drumbeat began beyond, mingled with cheers and clapping as, he assumed, the Kings and Queens emerged from Cair Paravel and descended the broad stairway into the courtyard below, waving to the other Narnians who had come to share this beautiful summer night with them.
"Everyone sounds so happy to see them," Hermione whispered as Harry felt around for the door handle. "Do you think they'll ever cheer like that for us?"
"Hope so." Harry pushed down on the handle, and it turned. "Here we go."
Hand in hand, they slipped out into the shadows of the courtyard as a fiddle started to play a rhythmic pattern in time with the drums.
Oren turned his leaf-crowned head as they approached and beckoned them nearer, smiling. "We had thought you were lost in the palace," he teased, indicating himself and Meghan, who bounced up from her place to bestow hugs on them both. "If you had not arrived soon, we would have started forming search parties."
"No need," said Harry, returning Meghan's hug, then seating himself beside her, Hermione taking the place on his other side. "So what's this, then? An exhibition, they called it?"
"It's where the Kings and Queens show off how well they dance," Meghan explained rapidly. "To prove to all of Narnia that we'll never need to be ashamed of our royalty on state visits or at formal balls." She wriggled in rapturous glee. "And we won't. Not ever."
In the clear space before them, with the music of fiddles and drums filling the air, now joined by several faun pipers and a chorus of dryads and naiads, Ardan, Ilana, Gilles, and Caelin were proving Meghan's faith to be amply justified. Hermione made a faint noise in her throat, half despair, half envy, as the Queens step-skip-stepped up to one another, snapped their skirts back and forth sharply, then joined hands and spun with perfect precision.
"They've been doing this all their lives, remember," Harry murmured to her. "And we've got…well, maybe not all our lives, but a good long time to learn how."
Though I almost wish we would. Have all our lives, I mean.
He paused, surprised, but the thought was there and he couldn't take it back. He might as well explore it.
I'm the only one who didn't leave anybody behind when we came to Narnia. Any family, that is. He could see Meghan from the corner of his eye, sitting with her knees hugged to her chest, enraptured by the dancing. She had her mother all her life, and now she has her father again, even if he can't be around very much. And Hermione's always had her parents. Even Draco. He glanced to one side to see the blond boy, discussing something about the dancing with Nata and one of the fauns. They may not be the best people, but that doesn't necessarily make them bad parents, and I'm sure he'll want to see them again sometime.
But I…well, it's like I was saying to Ardan, up on the tower. I never knew my parents, and I never had anyone who was even like a parent until last year.
In the center of the courtyard, Ardan and Gilles took their turn as the moving partners in the dance, enacting a mock battle of strikes and blocks, done in perfect time with the music.
And now I do. Now I have them.
But it's even more than that—it's to do with Narnia itself, and how I feel every morning when I wake up and remember where I am, when I see the sunlight and smell the sea and hear the merpeople singing…
"You look sad," Hermione whispered. "What are you thinking?"
"It's…complicated." Harry twisted a bit of his tunic's hem between his hands. "Are you sure you want to hear?"
"Please." Hermione shifted her weight until she was sitting on her hip, looking at him intensely. "You've been very quiet the last few weeks. Not like anything's wrong, exactly, but…"
"But." Harry stopped twisting his hem and tugged at it instead, seeing how far the dark azure weave would stretch. "Hermione, have I ever told you about my first flying lesson? Our first flying lesson, I should say, you were there. So was Draco."
"And he stole something from one of our friends, and dared you to follow him into the air to get it back." Hermione chuckled under her breath. "He really was terrible, wasn't he?"
"He was. But that's not what I'm thinking of. We'd been at school for a week or two at that point, and I was starting to think that there'd been a mistake. That I ought to go away from school, stop trying to learn magic, because everything I tried was hard, nothing worked quite right. But then Draco challenged me, and I grabbed up my broomstick, and…" Harry paused, feeling again the rush of joy which had filled him in that first instant of flight, making an inward face at the impossible task of explaining it with such plebeian things as words.
"That was the first time I really felt like I belonged in the wizarding world," he said at last. "Because flying was easy, it was wonderful, and most of all, it was right. My body, my mind, my soul, every part of me worked together when I was in the air, and worked the best way they possibly could." He shook his head at the halting words coming from his mouth. "Is this making any sense?"
"A little. It might make more when you tell me what's on your mind now." Hermione brushed a bit of hair back from her face. "Does something feel right, all the way right like that, now?"
"Yes." Harry spread his hands, careful not to hit any of the Narnians sitting around him. "Everything." He saw the incomprehension in Hermione's brown eyes and tried another tack. "How long did it take you to get used to putting your wand in your pocket every morning, when you were first at school? How many times did you get halfway down to breakfast, or halfway down your dorm stairs, or even just to the door of your dorm, and have to go back for it?"
"I didn't," said Hermione frankly. "But some of the others did, and I've watched the younger students these last few years, so I know what you mean. It usually takes the ones who didn't grow up with magic, the ones who haven't been looking forward to a wand of their own since they were babies, at least until Christmas to really get used to having one, and keeping it with them all the time. Sometimes it's as late as Easter before they're sure they always know where it is."
Harry nodded. "Christmas sounds about right for me," he said. "But look what I put on this morning, without ever having to think about it."
He lifted his tunic's hem over his right hip to display a gleaming dagger with a small red pommel stone, of a size to lie in the palm of his hand, belted around the waist of his trousers.
"And we've only been here two months…" Hermione looked up from the dagger to Harry's face. "This place is what feels right to you, isn't it?" she asked. "Cair Paravel, and Narnia itself. Being Prince Harry, in training to be the High King someday. And it scares you, because that's not something you ever thought you wanted before."
"Scares me to death." Harry let his eyes roam about, resting on a yellow-haired dryad, who was laughing as her bow raced across her fiddle's strings; on Kargin, grinning at another Red Dwarf who must be one of his many brothers, keeping pace with the Kings' and Queens' flashing feet on their multitude of drums; on the litter of small Animals who had formed their own miniature dancing square on the courtyard's far side. "And at the same time, it's the best thing that ever happened to me. Because when I wake up every morning, I…" He trailed off, embarrassed by the words he'd been about to speak.
"I won't tell," Hermione said softly.
"Thanks." Harry flattened a hand against his knee, reminding himself that he belonged to the House of the Lion. Surely that should mean he had enough courage to tell a friend the truth.
"I know that I'm somewhere I belong," he said finally. "That no one hates me here, and no one's trying to kill me, and I don't have to leave in a few weeks, or a few months, and go back to a place where people don't understand me, where they're afraid of me. Some of what we're learning here is difficult, but none of it's impossible. It makes sense to me, Hermione, it fits, in a way nothing else ever has. And I can stay here as long as Aslan wills it, as long as Narnia needs me." He lifted his head and tried a smile, and was pleasantly surprised when it worked. "Is it wrong of me to hope Narnia needs me for a good long while yet?"
"I don't think so." Hermione laid her hand atop his. "And maybe you can lend me a little of that belonging while you're at it. I still spend more than half of every day being certain that I'm far too ordinary for a proper Princess."
"I think that's the point of Narnia." Harry turned to watch the end of the dance, the Kings and Queens spinning dizzily in place, then catching hold of each other's hands for brief seconds to spin one another into new spots within the figure. "The most ordinary people from our world make the best Kings and Queens here. And that's looking like they're almost finished, so would you care to dance?" He grinned at her. "Princess Hermione?"
"Well, since you ask me so kindly, Prince Harry." Hermione inclined her head and dipped her shoulders, giving the impression of a seated curtsey. "Yes, I would. As long as you're willing to put up with my stepping on your toes."
"I'll probably do that to you too, so we'll be even."
The music swelled to a triumphant conclusion, and the two Kings gathered their Queens to them for a passionate kiss. Their subjects cheered and applauded, then surged forward as their rulers vacated the dancing space, calling out overlapping suggestions to the musicians for the next piece they should play. As Harry got to his feet, then held down his hand for Hermione, he heard a familiar voice cutting through the noise of the crowd.
"…understand that you don't want to, but not even once?"
"Is that Garnet?" Hermione asked, turning her head to follow the voice.
"No, not even once! You know what'll happen if I go out there!"
"Garnet and Kargin." Harry peered around the courtyard and caught sight of his friends in the musicians' area, glaring at one another, Garnet with her hands on her hips, Kargin with his arms folded across his chest. "Let's go see what's the matter."
"…gets an idea in her head, she never gets it out!" Kargin was saying as they approached. "So if I give her any encouragement at all—oh, Harry, Hermione, there you are. We were looking for you." He sketched a bow in their direction. "How do you like our Narnian revels so far? Are they anything like yours?"
"We don't really have revels where we come from," said Hermione, watching the tangle of Narnians in the center of the courtyard sorting themselves out into four-person bunches. "But I think I do like it, yes. What were you saying about someone getting an idea in her head?"
"Oh, that." Kargin blushed, his ear tips turning the same fiery red as his hair. "It's just this dryad girl who lives near our home caverns—she's very nice, but she gets ideas, and…"
"And she thinks she's in love with him," said Garnet when her brother trailed off. "So she comes to all the palace functions, and cuts in on his every dance, or worms herself up beside him at the bonfires, or anything else she thinks will bring them together." A wicked smile touched her lips suddenly. "But maybe if he were dancing with someone she didn't dare offend…"
"Someone like a Princess?" Harry suggested, trying not to laugh at the identical looks of panic which flashed across Hermione's and Kargin's faces. "But this dance looks like it's for four people, not just two. And we shouldn't give her the opportunity to get in on the other side of him." He extended a hand to the Red Dwarf girl. "Squire Garnet, may I have this dance?"
"Why, Your Highness." Garnet curtsied, grinning. "I thought you'd never ask."
"I'll get you for this," Kargin muttered to Garnet. "And your little Prince, too." With a sigh, he turned to Hermione. "Shall we?" he said.
"How very gallant." Hermione was trying for a severe tone, but the little twitches at the corners of her mouth were spoiling it. "I suppose we shall, then. But you'll have to teach us how it's done."
"Oh, this one is easy." Garnet took Harry's hand, Harry took Hermione's, and Hermione took Kargin's, and they started forward for the nearest empty space among the dancers, Garnet chattering as they went. "You advance three steps towards your partner and bow, back up three steps and bow, then turn to the other person's partner and repeat the same thing…"
None of them saw, across the courtyard, the small, fond smile on the face of High Queen Ilana.
Phew, that turned out longer than I thought it would. For which I'm sure you all hate me.
I've been rereading Narnia, both to get ideas and to reacquaint myself with the universe, and there are a number of things which overlap to an almost frightening degree. But then, that's why this story works, isn't it? If it is still working for you, which you'll have to tell me.
Next time…well, to be honest, I'm not sure what will happen next time. There are just so many possibilities. We will certainly learn more of the backstories of the various Narnians, and see bits and pieces of everyday life in Narnia, which is one thing we didn't get so much from the actual Chronicles. And at some point, we'll discover that the White Wizard isn't the only enemy our young royals may have to face…
More of everything, including my originals, coming soon! Please don't forget to review!
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