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For Your Own Good
Of Ifs and Ands
By Anne B. Walsh
"You know, my alter ego was really rude to yours, the first day they met over in the gray world," said Mal to Henry as they sorted through the enormous pile of clean laundry in the center of the girls' bed. "It was your birthday, and he never got you a present."
"How was he supposed to know it was my birthday?" Henry rolled together a pair of his socks and tossed them into his cauldron, where they would help to cushion his potion-brewing kit on its journeys from Creedsdale to Pittsburgh via car, from Pittsburgh to London via airplane, and from London to Hogwarts via train. "I never said so."
"I'd certainly hope I know when my own cousin's birthday is." Mal sniffed, sticking his nose in the air. "He remembered enough to tell Dora, and she sent something, but he never did, and I feel stupid about that."
"If you want to send him anything, send him a backpack." Two pairs of underpants joined the socks in Henry's cauldron. "He's got all his books and his Muggle clothes to get to Hogwarts, and nothing to carry them in."
"Right, because his trunk's already there, waiting for him." Mal got up to dump an armful of his own clothing into his cauldron. "I don't know why we don't all do it that way. Unless it's supposed to show how well we can keep ourselves from being noticed, getting these huge trunks through King's Cross and into platform nine and three-quarters without every Muggle for miles around realizing something's up." He straightened to gaze out the window. "Ever wonder what it would've been like if the parents had decided we weren't going back at all?" he asked quietly.
"We'd still be getting ready to go to a new school." Henry shook out a T-shirt and folded it to add to his pile. "It'd just be the Pittsburgh campus of Adastra Academy of Magic, instead of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Be nice to keep living at home, though. A lot of kids aren't close enough to any of the satellite campuses to do that, so they either have to homeschool or find host families." He glanced around the room. "They might have asked us to become a host family, and we'd have to find some reason why we couldn't convert the Doghouse into an extra bedroom…"
Mal snickered. "I can just see that letter. 'Sure, we'd love to put up some students in that basement bedroom, if you don't mind them getting mauled the first full moon they're here.' But since we're all going now, that won't be a problem. Aunt Amy's hosting a couple students in her apartment, isn't she?"
"She was going to, before Professor McGonagall came by, but since she'll be staying here to take care of River and Firefly while we're gone, she figured why not volunteer to host as many kids as the house can hold?" Henry motioned a line down the center of the girls' full-size bed. "Split this in half and bunk it like ours, do the same thing over in Mom and Dad's room, tuck a couple beds in Dad's writing room downstairs and a couple more in the Doghouse…"
"By my count, that's twelve." Mal frowned, looking around their room. "You think Aunt Amy can handle twelve kids all by herself?"
"You think she can't?" Henry picked up his pile of shirts and crossed the room to set them on his bed. "She works with goblins every day."
"True point." Mal packed socks and underwear tightly around his potions kit, giving the trunk an experimental shake to see if anything rattled. "Plus, if she's hosting that many, I bet they'll send over a brownie or two to help keep up with the housework. This place'll probably be cleaner than it's ever been when we get back next summer."
"Right." Henry swung himself onto his bed. "When we get back."
"What's wrong?" Mal looked up from his packing. "You sound kind of funny."
"You started it." Dropping the stack of shirts inside his trunk, Henry leaned on them to push the air out of them. "Asking what-if questions. Now I'm wondering what if one of us hadn't been able to go to Hogwarts, or hadn't wanted to go. Would Mom and Dad have let me, or Aunt Gigi and Uncle John have let you, stay here with Aunt Amy and attend Adastra while everybody else went off to Hogwarts?"
Closing the lid of his trunk, Mal sat down on it. "You're scared somebody's going to figure us out, aren't you?" he asked. "That somebody's going to spot one of us, or one of our dads, or even Aunt Thea or Pearl, and work out who we used to be."
"Aren't you?" Henry challenged. "It won't be so bad for you, not after we get Sorted. They'd never think somebody who started out like you could end up as a Hufflepuff. But they'll all be expecting me to turn out a Gryffindor, and that's most likely what I'm going to be. Add that to the eyes, the scar, the birthday, and we're all but caught already…"
"Borrowing trouble much?" said Jeanie from the doorway, making both boys jump. "You're being stupid, Henry. Who's going to know your birthday unless you tell them, or unless they're already close enough to us that we could trust them anyway? The same goes for your eyes. Only somebody that knew your birth mum pretty well would spot those, especially with how you look now. And the scar's all but impossible to see even from here, and I know you have it." She crossed her arms and fixed him with a firm stare. "So you can just stop it right now. You too," she added in Mal's direction. "Though you probably weren't as bad."
"No, but I'm about to be." Mal got to his feet, regarding his sister curiously. "What's your alter ego's name, Jeanie? You've never told us, and Mom only ever calls you 'Neenie' when she tells that story."
"Because you know perfectly well I think we should leave the past in the past. I've never even admitted I have those stupid dreams the way you do." Jeanie came into the room and began to sort her own clothing out of the heap on the bed. "And the more we think and talk about the dreams, the more likely it is we'll make some ridiculous mistake like calling each other by the wrong name, and then we will get found out. Or we could start off the magic again like you did on Henry's birthday and get our souls pulled out of our bodies, which did not sound like fun, thank you very much. So I'm not going to tell you anything."
"Oh, come on." Henry scooted to the edge of his bed, letting his feet dangle. "Give us a hint at least."
"How about just the first letter?" Mal coaxed. "If we promise not to go crazy with it?"
Jeanie kept working for a few moments, her head down. "You promise?" she asked at last. "No running up to me on the train or shouting at me across the platform or anything like that?"
"We'll be total strangers." Mal started to hold up his left hand, then quickly switched to his right, forcing Henry to stifle a snigger in his sleeve. "I'll even be snotty to you, if you like. Don't think Henry could get away with it, here or there."
"Depends on how know-it-all you're going to be over in the gray world." Henry leaned back against his hands. "Have you memorized our textbooks yet?"
"Being as prepared as possible for my first year of formal magical education is not a bad thing," said Jeanie primly, but her lips were twitching as she turned to face her brother and cousin. "All right, but only one letter. And only because you promised." She swallowed, as though preparing for some small ordeal, like a nasty-tasting dose of potion or a shot at the doctor's office. "You know the first two initials I have here," she said at last. "Switch them around, and they're the first two I have there."
Without giving either boy a chance to reply, she hurried out of the room.
"Jeanie Hope Reynolds." Mal drew his hawthorn wand from his pocket and scribed 'JH' on the air, then twirled the wand twice, making the letters change positions. "So she's HJ…something."
"Hope it doesn't start with a P." Henry slid down from his bunk and went back to the pile of laundry for another load. "The house-elves'll mix up our things all the time if it does. Unless your dad's able to talk her around to Ravenclaw, and that carries across the worlds."
"Here's hoping." Mal flipped back the lid of his trunk again. "I think there'd be murder done at some point if you and she and Boom Boom Weasley all ended up in the same House."
Henry paused in the middle of folding another shirt. "Do you think any of the parents are going to ask how he got that nickname?" he asked thoughtfully. "Ours or his?"
"We'll tell them it's because he roots for the Cannons." Mal shrugged. "And so long as the twins keep their mouths shut and the repairs hold up, no one ever has to know anything else."
Was it really only yesterday I was a quarter of the world away from here?
Jeanie stood at the window of the room she and Pearl were sharing at the Leaky Cauldron, gazing out over Diagon Alley. The Blakes and Reynolds had arrived in London the previous evening and come directly here, where judicious doses of her Aunt Thea's potions had combined with the natural weariness induced by twelve hours of travel to quickly realign eight body clocks in deep and dreamless sleep. Tomorrow, King's Cross Station beckoned, and after that…
After that, nothing will ever be the same again.
For either of us.
Taking a step back, Jeanie looked at her reflection in the window glass. Her reflection looked back gravely. For an instant, she felt a wild temptation to smash the window and the image in it, to end this impossible duality of worlds, of lives. Being one person, with one name, one family, one destiny, could only be for her own good—
But would it just be for me, or would it happen to everybody? She glanced over her shoulder to where Pearl still lay sleeping. I know how unhappy they all are in their other lives, in their gray world, and that's starting to change, but it isn't there yet. I can't do that to them.
Besides, the only way I'd never have to choose is if I could be Jeanie for always and always, and I don't think it works like that.
With a sigh, she picked up her hairbrush from its place on the bureau and began to work it through her hair. From the time they'd realized why she often awakened from her dreams frightened and confused, her dad and mom had been preparing her as gently as possible for the inevitable dual life of a Muggleborn witch. As much as her alter ego loved her parents, and they loved her, she would soon begin to have experiences that a pair of Muggle dentists simply could not comprehend—
"No, that's not fair." Jeanie sat down in the rather squashy chair by the window. "Maybe they don't have magic of their own, but that doesn't mean they can't understand what it's like. And the difference between us certainly doesn't mean I'll stop loving them, or going home to them, or being their daughter." She hissed in pain as the brush encountered a tricky knot, and set the brush aside to untangle the knot with her fingers. "But I'm still magical, and they're still Muggles. There are some things they'll never be able to see or do with me. Some questions I won't be able to ask them." Her fingers stilled within her hair. "I wish there were some way for everyone to be happy…"
She paused, then laughed under her breath. "Look at me! Like I'm waiting for an answer to come down out of the sky! It's like Dad always says. If you want it with your heart, you need to put your head and your hands to work on it. And right now, that means getting dressed." Finishing with the stubborn knot, she picked up the brush again and continued the work of taming her hair. "Muggle clothes still, not magical, for just this one last day."
Her voice roused Pearl, who blinked at her sleepily for a few moments, then clambered out of bed with a yawn, searching out her day clothes and hanging her night things on the bed to air. "Do you think we'll see any of our friends today?" the younger girl asked, pulling on her socks. "Doing any last-minute shopping, or coming to stay the night so they don't have as far to go in the morning?"
"Maybe." Jeanie stifled a yawn of her own behind her hand. "But one of your friends doesn't have to go anywhere, does she? She's already at Hogwarts, or she will be as soon as the professors come back from wherever they spend their summer vacations. And if you two play one single trick on me this year, I'm dumping you in the Forest for the centaurs or the wise wolves to take care of," she added fiercely. "And I'll lie my face off to Aunt Thea and Cousin Cecy about it, too!"
"Really?" Pearl perked up, sitting down to tie her shoes. "That sounds like fun! We could play Mowgli, or Tarzan, or Demigoddess Heroines, all day and all night too, and never have to do chores or homework or anything!"
Jeanie sighed. "Just when you think you've got a good threat, it backfires on you," she said to the mirror.
"It's not my fault you don't know what she likes," the mirror retorted. "You're the one who lives with her."
"True enough." Jeanie went to the door and opened it.
Past her feet and into the room shot a streak of black-and-white fur, emitting a low noise somewhere between a hiss and a growl, which rose and fell as the creature wearing the fur scrambled around the room, trying to find an exit. Pearl shrieked and jumped onto the chair, and Jeanie snatched her vinewood wand out of her pocket. Let me see if I can do this right…
"Wingardium leviosa," she said clearly, executing a careful swish and flick, its final motion aimed directly at the animal.
With a startled yowl, a skinny black cat with a jagged streak of white along her side rose into the air, her paws flailing furiously. Pearl giggled at the sight and climbed down again, and the round-faced boy now standing in the doorway of the room sighed in relief. "Thanks, Jeanie," he said, nodding to her. "I should have known you'd know what to do."
"You're welcome, Captain." Jeanie sketched a curtsey to another of the friends she and her brother and cousins had made on their family's expeditions to England over the years, this one a bit more recent than the Weasley siblings, though Jeanie was fairly sure their parents had known each other back in the time before. "Happy day before Hogwarts."
"Thanks, you too. Hi, Pearl." Neville Longbottom advanced into the girls' room, looking doubtfully at his pet, who was now grumbling and muttering to herself as she writhed in the grip of Jeanie's levitation spell. "Would you get the door? If Jeanie puts Trixie down with it open, she'll only run away again."
"Sure." Pearl pattered over to the door and closed it firmly. "Did you come to Diagon Alley to get something for Hogwarts? We're all going, you know, even me, because Uncle John's going to be the assistant Defense professor and Mom's going to be their Healer on call, and Dad and Aunt Gigi didn't want to stay behind by themselves. So I get to come too, and live in their quarters, like Cassie does in her mom and dad's."
"That's great, Pearl." Neville nodded to his pet. "We're here because of Trixie. She's hard to find when she runs away and hides even at home, and Mum said I'd better have some way to keep track of her before I take her anywhere as big and full of hiding places as Hogwarts. So Dad found this little shop that sells talismans with locator spells, and we're going to get her fitted with a harness at the Magical Menagerie and attach the talisman to it. That way, I'll always know where she is."
"That's definitely important." Jeanie lowered the cat to the bed and ended the spell. Trixie hissed once at her before settling down to wash her fur back into place. "My parents decided it would be better for our cats to stay home, so we don't have any animals to take to Hogwarts yet, though Henry and Mal have been talking about getting an owl to share, and I might chip in too." She giggled a bit, imagining the owl's dilemma. "That poor bird. It'll never know which table to come to first! Where do you want to be Sorted, do you know yet?"
"Not really." Neville shrugged. "As long as it's not Slytherin, I'll have a friend anywhere I end up, so I'm not too worried."
Pearl made a face at Neville, coming to sit on the end of the bed. "Slytherin isn't all bad," she announced. "I want to be in Slytherin, and Cassie does too."
Trixie prowled down the bed to butt her head against Pearl's arm in approval.
"That's fine for you, Pearl, but you and Cassie won't be Hogwarts students for two more years." Neville moved cautiously to the side of the bed, then pounced, scooping up Trixie and tucking her against his side. She grumbled under her breath, but subsided into his grip sulkily. "I think I may want Hufflepuff, like Dad. But we'll see."
"We will," Jeanie agreed. "Do you think you can keep hold of Trixie while we have breakfast? If you can, you and I could go over to the Menagerie together and pick out something nice for her."
"I'll have a go, but she's in a nasty mood." Neville winced as he pried a set of claws out of his side.
"When isn't she in a nasty mood?" Pearl tapped a finger against Trixie's nose, and dodged the snapping teeth that resulted. "Come on, let's go find the grownups. They can probably help."
Downstairs, Mal and Henry greeted Neville with the nickname he'd earned via the role he had invariably taken during their endless games of Pirate Ship summer before last, while his parents looked up from their discussions with the adult Blakes and Reynolds to make the obligatory exclamations over how much Pearl and Jeanie had grown. Alice Longbottom conjured her son a temporary harness and lead for Trixie, allowing him to set her down on the floor beside him, and the little group, eleven strong (not counting the cat), settled in for breakfast.
"Why don't you come back to our place for dinner tonight?" said Frank over toast and marmalade. "I'll Floo Mum about it right now, and that'll give her an hour or two to fuss and fume about how I never give her any warning of these things before she starts cleaning furiously and bossing the house-elves around and generally having the time of her life."
"Such a good son, keeping his mother young." Gigi smiled sweetly at Frank. "If you're going to twist our arms about it, what can we do but accept?"
"I knew you'd see things my way." Frank grinned. "Shall we meet back here at six?"
"Hard to believe they're Hogwarts age already," said Alice that night after dinner, watching the children at the other end of the room, laughing and egging Trixie on as she stalked a magically animated wooden snake. "Seems like just yesterday I was clearing the first floor at Malfoy Manor after we'd arrested Lucius, and spotted possibly the least likely people in the world stepping out of the nursery." She nodded to John and Gigi. "And you said to me…"
"'We're not here,'" John quoted his younger self. "And you saw to it that officially, we weren't."
"So I did." Alice looked thoughtful. "Though I may have let a few things slip where Lucius could hear me. Just by accident, you understand, telling Frank what was going on, and of course naming no names. But I couldn't resist the thought of everybody's favorite pureblood hearing over and over in Azkaban what sort of people would be raising his little boy instead of him."
"Marvelous." Gigi chuckled, the sound low and satisfied. "Now if we could only show him how Mal's turned out. But that would involve his still being free, and I don't think any of us want that."
"When I think of what we'd have lost if we hadn't caught up with him when we did…" Frank shook his head in wonder. "Bastard was so confident of that hidey-hole under his drawing room floor that he kept written records of Muggle torture in there, chapter and verse on who'd done what, when and where. We got better than half the Marked Death Eaters off the streets on the strength of that alone. Crabbe, Goyle, Dolohov, Rookwood, Karkaroff, Macnair—"
"Macnair?" John interrupted. "Walden Macnair?"
"The very same." Alice raised an eyebrow at her friend. "Why?"
"I saw that name in the newspaper recently." John frowned. "Though I can't remember why."
"For the best of all possible reasons, as far as I'm concerned." Alice drew a finger across her throat. "He's dead. Died in his sleep about a month ago, in his cell in Azkaban. Systemic shock leading to heart failure, which is Healer-speak for death by dementor. No offense meant," she added to Thea.
"None taken." Thea intercepted Ryan's glass of firewhiskey on its way to his mouth and added a splash of it to her tea before handing it back. "I'm sure that's what you saw, isn't it, John?"
"It must have been." John leaned forward to take a petit four from the tray of after-dinner treats. "Funny, though. I could have sworn it was something else. Like his being missing."
"Losing your mind much, Moony?" Ryan downed his reduced drink and exhaled in pleasure. "Nobody goes missing from Azkaban. Nobody ever has, at any rate. And I doubt a two-a-Sickle Death Eater like Walden Macnair would be the first, not when he couldn't even…" He coughed, shaking his head. "Gah. Firewhiskey got me there. You were saying, Frank? Getting Death Eaters off the streets?"
"It was a mad and glorious time," Alice took over. "We barely saw Neville for a fortnight after Halloween, some of which was your fault," she said sternly to Ryan. "You couldn't have just Stunned Pettigrew instead of killing him? We had to do some awfully fast talking to convince Barty Crouch you and he both hadn't been Death Eaters, even after we examined his wand and found he'd been about to throw a spell that would have blown the entire street to bits. It wasn't until Dumbledore passed your letter along and we were able to link the Fidelius on the Potters' place to him that Crouch conceded. And we could have done that a lot more easily if Pettigrew had still been alive."
"Wormtail knew too much." Ryan's hand contracted on his knee. "Our best chance of keeping the kids safe was to disappear from here and pop up in the States, make everyone think we'd been settled there for years and Henry was Thea's and mine by blood. But Wormy knew Thea hadn't really gone to America when she said she had, and he was one of the only people in the world who could have followed the logic we used for changing our names. And he would have, too. Bringing in The Boy Who Lived would have been his only way to salvage his chances with the Dork Lord." For an instant, something dark and feral flashed in his eyes. "I don't regret what I did. Do it again tomorrow if I had the chance. Sniveling little rat-bastard—"
"Not in front of the children," said Thea firmly, and Ryan sighed between his teeth but subsided. "And after that fortnight, what then?" she asked the Longbottoms. "I know there was some excitement of the less-than-pleasant variety, but we never got many details."
"Yet another reason to be grateful for Lucius Malfoy's mistakes." Alice picked up a madeleine and dipped it into her tea. "If it hadn't been for him, and the haul of Death Eaters we got from his records, we probably would have thought our ordinary protective charms were enough. And we would have been very, very wrong."
"We set an extra layer of spells around the house, inside the normal wards, just as a precaution." Frank gestured in the air in front of him, his hands sketching spheres within spheres, shields on top of shields. "And it was that final set of spells that tripped and woke us up just in time, the night four Death Eaters came sneaking in here." He looked across the room at his son, who was using his wand to coax the wooden snake to slither in patterns for Trixie to chase. "Otherwise we'd probably have had to choose. Apparate out and save ourselves, or hide Neville's cot and save him. I still have nightmares about it sometimes, what could have happened, what might have become of us…"
"Except that it didn't." Alice reached over to squeeze her husband's hand comfortingly. "We were awake and we were ready, and we got them all, and three of them stood their trial and went off to Azkaban. As for the fourth one…" She smiled sweetly, her eyes fixed on the little black cat with the white streak down her side, who was even now crouching to pounce on the fake snake. "She's not here."
"But she's not anywhere else either, now is she?" asked Gigi with a sly grin, as Ryan froze in the act of refilling his glass and stared incredulously at the cat.
John removed the bottle from Ryan's grasp before his glass could overflow. "Trixie," he said, nodding. "Very clever."
"Thank you." Frank sat back in his chair. "She was so certain of herself, so positive that her Master would reward her even for trying and failing to find him, and Azkaban wouldn't have had any real effect on her, not when she was already madder than a cage full of Fwoopers. Alice didn't have to do much talking to convince me a more roundabout form of justice was necessary here." He smiled. "And now, she's getting ready to accompany our son to Hogwarts."
"Well, that explains the meowing," muttered Ryan, and tossed off his glass of firewhiskey.
John and Thea both glanced speculatively at him, but neither made a comment. Gigi merely smiled, and the conversation moved on.
If things are still confusing, they're meant to be, just a little. But I do promise that it will make sense when you finally see all the pieces. There are a few hints in this chapter, as it happens, along with the openly stated things that are going on. Like Trixie. I do hope you enjoy her, as she has caused much giggling among my group of idea-vetters.
Today is Fiction Friday, both here on the fanfic sites and on my blog, Anne's Randomness. Obviously the chapter is my offering here, and on the blog I've been doing a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Most Incredible Thing". Please have a look, thanks as always for reading, and more as soon as I can manage it!