The child refused to talk. He just sat there, knees to his chest, glaring at the wall, and flinching from all touch.
The one time Dumbledore tried to use Legilimency on him, he had nearly strangled the old wizard with chains that had risen around him, hissing like snakes.
“He’s amazingly powerful for his age,” Dumbledore had commented after they had forced the boy to take a Calming Draught, “He seems to be already capable of Occlumency with a tiny bit of Legilimency. Of course, that must have been why Shaw had been interested in him.”
Brian Xavier felt somewhat ill; out of all the Death Eaters, it was said that Sebastian Shaw was the one most prone to horrific “experiments” involving Muggleborns and their innate magic. That this child had somehow managed to escape was a miracle all on its own.
But now, since he refused to talk, and any attempts to see in his mind was met with a storm of furious magic, no one really knew what to do with him. All they knew was that he was a Muggleborn child whose parents were dead, and he had escaped from Shaw because the Xavier Mansion’s wards, tuned to distress and need, had seen that and let him in. It was unknown whether or not he had relatives that they could return him to, and the Order was much too stretched to go investigate.
There was a war to fight, so Brian just hoped that the boy would manage to find his own way to heal inside the walls of the mansion.
Erik could feel the brush of another’s mind against (the high, high concrete and metal walls of) his own. He had felt it since he had walked into the mansion. At first, he had thought that it was the mansion itself, like in the beginning when he had slammed into something invisible running to the seemingly empty grounds and had felt something slip into his mind (so softly, like a tendril of smoke, not like the cold knives that Frost had ripped through his mind) and then the invisible barrier had suddenly dropped and he had been let in. He had been willing to ignore that at the time since the mansion was not a person (not someone who would laugh as his partner played his parents’ deaths over and over and over to see what sort of magic he would bring up next in his fury), but when words and emotions began to bleed through (curiosity, Who are you? What’s your name?, loneliness, friendliness, We could be friends?) he had thrown up all the barriers that he could (that he had been trained to) and lashed out at the other mind (blindly, he had never been especially good at it).
There had been a small wail of pain, and then the other presence was gone, and he was alone again (as it had been since that day). But it came back quietly, day after day, knocking on the walls of his mind with tentative motions, breathing Can we be friends? It’s just, there’s no one here to play with, and Erik tried making the walls higher, thicker, tried smacking back the other mind (sometimes he would hit it, and it always cried but then sent back so many emotions of compassion and hurt feelings that he felt sick), tried burying himself, tried ignoring it, but he was getting tired.
What do you want? he finally yelled through his mind.
The other mind pulsed with excitement before bubbling, I just want to be friends!
The walls of Erik’s mind developed spikes as he became suspicious, Why?
Because you’re fascinating, the other mind promptly responded.
Erik snarled (“You are fascinating Erik, do you know that? As a Muggleborn specimen, you are simply superb. We’re going to learn so much from you.”), forming knives in his mind, Wrong answer.
Wait, wait! shouted the other mind, sending a wave of peaceful feelings with a hint of panic to wash against the walls of Erik’s mind, I didn’t mean it that way! I just meant—I’ve never met anyone like me before.
Erik paused in his efforts to figure out which way to throw the knives, What do you mean like you? he asked cautiously.
Normally, children exhibit magic by making things float, or vanishing things, or maybe causing people they don’t like to break out in boils, but I’m different. I can do this, Legilimency, which according to the books I read, normally takes years of practice, but here I am, the other mind expounded excitedly, I thought I was the only one, but you can do it too! Well, actually I think you’re actually doing Occlumency with a tiny bit of Legilimency when you’re angry, but—
Who are you? Erik cut in, putting an end to the other mind’s (almost endearing, and why does he think that?) babbling.
A small hand tapped Erik’s shoulder, and he turned around to see a small boy with wavy brown hair and the bluest (like the sky on a clear, clear day) eyes he had ever encountered.
The boy smiled and stuck out his hand, “My name is Charles Xavier. You are not alone here.”
Erik stared at the other boy (Not alone?) for a few moments before finally shaking his hand and saying, voice hoarse with disuse, “Erik Lehnsherr.”
Charles beamed at him and asked eagerly, “Do you want to play hide-and-seek with me?”
Erik flinched (running and hiding through a dark house, walls stained with blood, desperately trying to get away) and shook his head.
Charles looked at him sympathetically (a feeling like a warm blanket brushing around his mind) and suggested, “Why don’t we go de-gnome the garden then? It’s pretty fun.”
Erik frowned and asked, “How do you de-gnome a garden?”
Charles grinned and clapped his hands, “I’ll show you!”
Later, Brian found the two children arguing in the garden, covered with dirt.
“I threw it farther than you,” the boy said adamantly, crossing his arms.
“That was cheating Erik! It was going to hit the gate and then you levitated it!” his son protested, waving his hands around.
“I still threw it farther than you,” the boy (Erik?) replied stubbornly, “You can use magic too.”
“Yes, but we hadn’t said we were going to use magic!” Charles argued back, and Brian wondered if he had ever seen his son so excited before.
“Well, now we are,” the boy replied and then flashed a quick grin, “Another round?”
“Sure,” Charles agreed happily before noticing his father and waving, “Dad! You’re back!”
“Hello Charles,” Brian said, ruffling Charles’ hair as the boy hugged his leg, “Are you having fun?”
“Yes!” Charles smiled and then tugged the taller, suddenly silent again boy over by the hand, “This is Erik Lehnsherr! He’s six years old, like me! We’ve been de-gnoming the garden!”
“That’s wonderful,” Brian replied, glancing at the taciturn boy who refused to meet his eyes, “Charles is not bothering you, is he, Erik? Because if he is, you can tell him to go away.”
The boy looked up and mumbled, “No, sir.”
“Are you sure?” Brian persisted, despite the hurt looks (and thoughts) his son was sending him (Charles manifesting Legilimency at such a young age had been a surprise, and he was still worried sometimes about what a child with such magic could do. Charles never meant any harm, but he was such a curious boy).
Erik looked him straight in the eye and said clearly, “Yes. Charles is my friend.”
Brian swore that if Charles’ smile grew any wider, it would split his face in half.
“Alright then,” he sighed (Sharon was going to have a fit when she realized that her pureblood son was playing with a Muggleborn, but he could talk her around), “Have at it then and have fun.”
“We will dad,” Charles said cheerfully before turning to Erik, “I bet you can’t make the gnome spin ten times and make it go over the fence, even with magic!”
“You’re on,” Erik replied dryly.
Charles was getting beaten for the first time at wizard’s chess (his king was currently scurrying away from Erik’s aggressive knight), and he thought he should be annoyed (which he was, a little), but really he was ecstatic. No one had ever beaten him at wizard’s chess before since it was easy (especially with eye contact, but strong emotions and thoughts still bled through without any, which was also unusual according to all the books Charles had read on the subject, since most Legilimens required eye contact in order to look) to counteract all the plans forming in his opponent’s mind. This time however, he couldn’t get in to Erik’s mind (walls higher than the gates that surrounded the Xavier Mansion, although Erik seemed to be slowly relaxing the more dangerous defense systems around his mind whenever Charles brushed in), and while he was actually pretty good at chess even without seeing his opponent’s thoughts (there were lots of wizard’s chess manuals in the Xavier library), Erik was ruthlessly good.
“Checkmate,” Erik said, his knight finally cornering Charles’ cowering king.
“That’s amazing!” Charles burst out, patting his poor king on the head, “No one’s ever beaten me before! Did you used to play a lot?”
Erik grew still and quiet and Charles bit his lip. Erik was touchy about his past; Charles usually tried to avoid the subject (if Erik got really angry, he could strike out randomly with Legilimency, and even though Charles could usually dodge it since Erik was no Legilimens, rage and despair still fundamentally hurt), but sometimes Charles just wanted to ask.
“I did,” Erik said finally, tapping the board to get his black pieces to regroup, “I used to play regular chess with my father.”
“Oh,” Charles said softly, touching each piece to tell it to reform, “Muggle chess? It has the same rules, doesn’t it? Is it just as fun?”
“It’s fun,” Erik agreed haltingly, staring at the board.
“Do you want to play that instead?” Charles asked quickly (he knew there was a Muggle chessboard somewhere in the mansion; the Xaviers had collected many odd things over the years).
“No,” Erik abruptly replied, and softened his tone when Charles flinched, “No, I mean, this is fun too. It’s interesting watching the pieces fight.”
Charles smiles at the clumsy way Erik projects contrite thoughts and emotions into his mind (like a brush of a hand against his shoulder and Sorry, sorry, sorry) and projects back a warm wave of affection. The fact that Erik doesn’t bother to try to try to block it and lets it seep in through his walls makes him ridiculously happy (kind of like his birthday and Christmas combined).
“It is, isn’t it!” he commented cheerfully, directing his pawn to move forward two spaces.
Erik gives him a brief smile in return and is about to direct his knight to move when the doors of the study burst open to reveal a harried looking Auror Moody.
He gave a quick glance around the room, gave a misshapen grin at the way Erik already had a few lamps floating behind him, ready to hit the Auror in the back of the head (Constant vigilance! Moody’s mind always sang out), turned to a surprised Charles and roared, “Boy, where’s your parents?”
Charles blinked, “I think they’re meeting with Headmaster Dumbledore right now, why?”
“The war’s over, boy!” Moody yelled enthusiastically, “Some baby offed You-Know-Who! At least that’s what I keep hearing! I want someone to confirm it!”
Charles’ eyebrows shot up his forehead, “Really? A baby? How? What? When?”
“Are they trying to catch Death-Eaters now?” Erik cut in intensely.
Moody bared his teeth in a grin of feral joy, “We’ll be hunting them down boy, never you fear. Now I’ll leave you two to your little games and go find out if a little baby seriously took down the Big Bad Dark Lord.”
He ran out (most likely to go to the main parlor with the giant fireplace, which was the only one linked to the Floo network at the moment for security reasons), leaving the two boys stunned in silence.
“A baby! Really!” Charles finally broke the silence, running around the study to fetch some books, “Perhaps a special sort of innate magic—? But no, not strong enough. Blood magic then, perhaps—”
“Do you think they’ll catch him?” Erik interrupted, staring intently at Charles, “Do you think they’ll catch Shaw?”
Charles paused in his pursuit of research and said slowly, “I’m sure they’ll try their best, Erik.”
Erik laughed, a low, ugly sound scraped from his throat, “Is that what they were doing before I managed to get away on my own? I will be better off trying to hunt him down myself then.”
Charles turned back to the table where they had set up their game and firmly intertwined Erik’s long fingers with his own, “Listen closely, my friend: killing Shaw will not bring you peace.”
Erik shook his head and said softly, “Peace was never an option.”
Oh Erik, Charles projected softly, wrapping his arms around his friend (if he could, if there was some way, if he could somehow turn back the tides of time, he would try to erase all that had been done, but this was impossible).
Erik stiffened and drew away, “I don’t want your pity.”
“It’s not pity,” Charles insisted, holding on tighter, “I’m your friend; I should feel bad if you can’t be happy here.”
Erik huffed out a breath and mumbled, “It’s not so bad here. With you anyway.”
Charles felt a smile tugging up his mouth, but he still held on to his friend, “I like having you here also,” he confessed, “Stay a little longer?”
Erik patted Charles on the head, “Alright,” he agreed in a somewhat amused tone.
“Excellent!” Charles grinned, letting go and settling back into his own seat, “Now, let’s continue on with our game, where I will finally beat you.”
Erik snorted, shaking his head, “In your dreams.”
“To all those that have fallen: we salute you and your sacrifice. To the living and fighting: we still have a long road ahead, but tonight, we celebrate our victory. To Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived!” Brian raised his glass high.
“To Harry Potter!” the Order cheered, raising all their glasses high and quaffing it down.
Charles grinned at Erik as they clanked their two cups of Butterbeer together, “Do you like it?” he asked eagerly.
Erik took a sip and grimaced slightly, “It’s awfully sweet.”
“We could go down to the kitchens and ask the house elves for something else, if you like,” Charles suggested, drinking down the rest of his cup.
Normally Erik would protest (he still feels like a charity case, wandering around this mansion where each room seems to be the size of his old house), but Charles is beaming at him, Charles’ giddiness is flitting around the walls of his mind (he had a feeling that Butterbeer was more alcoholic than everyone had claimed), and all the adults had started dancing around the ballroom and singing terribly off-key (“Groove around like a scary ghost, spooking himself the most,”), so he nods and stands up to offer a hand to his friend.
Charles’ grin grows wider, and he grabs Erik’s proffered hand and stands up, only to sway and stumble directly into Erik’s shoulder, “Oops,” he giggled.
Erik smiles down at him fondly, “You are a lightweight,” he informs Charles, as he propels the both of them out of the ballroom and down into the kitchens.
“I am not,” Charles mumblingly protests, clutching Erik’s sleeve, “Butterbeer has a very low alcohillic, no wait, alcoholic content. Have to drink lots before you get ine-inebri-inebreat-drunk. I read that somewhere.”
“Obviously whoever wrote that never met you,” Erik replied, pushing open the door to the kitchen.
The house elves (odd little squeaky things that quite honestly somewhat get on Erik’s nerves, much too subservient, it couldn’t be natural) all look up and begin fluttering around them.
“Master Charles! Master Charles! Master Erik!” they all squeaked around them, “Something we can help you with, sirs?”
Charles looked up from Erik’s shoulder and expounded, “Ah, Blinky and Doodge, could you please get us some mince pies? Wadge and Coombs, some quiche, if you would be so kind? Keratin, perhaps some mashed potatoes? And Rebi—”
“Charles,” Erik interrupted, only to be waved into silence by the smaller boy.
“Do let me finish, Erik. It’s a cele-cela-celi-it’s a party! We should celebrate!” Charles exclaimed as the house elves ran around the kitchen frantically.
“There’s already tons of food upstairs,” Erik pointed out, putting a steadying hand on Charles’ shoulder to keep him from falling over.
Charles widened his eyes, “But it’s not food you like!”
Erik coughs and looks down (why? Why him? It’s true that there aren’t any other children in the mansion, since it was an Order headquarters, but surely Charles with his impish grin and endless charm could have found someone else to attach himself to, someone that was not sneered at by his mother, someone who didn’t wake up screaming from nightmares, someone who didn’t form hissing chains around him every time the door slammed).
He looks up again when Charles grabs his hand and says seriously, “Erik, you’re my friend. My best friend. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
And he doesn’t deserve this at all (not with all his rage, not with all his hate, not with all the dark plans he thought out when trapped in that basement), but he still squeezes Charles’ hand and nods his thanks.
Charles smiles, offers him one of the quiches that Wadge had just pulled out of the oven, and says offhandedly, “And that’s why I asked dad to take you in as a ward.”
Erik stiffened and growled, “I told you, I’m not some charity case that you can just—”
“I know you’re not,” Charles says, tone steely, the drunkenness suddenly having faded away, “I’m not asking you to stay here out of pity, Erik. I want you here. Unless there’s somewhere else you’d rather be?”
He has no relatives, and even if he had, he doesn’t know if he could bear to go back to a (ordinary) life where magic (and the darkness and pain) is invisible and not an intrinsic part of him (and part of him, the part that seethes and simmers and plots, whispers that this is the best way to find Shaw). “No,” he grudgingly admits.
Charles stuffs the mini-quiche into Erik’s mouth and chirps, “Then indulge me?”
Erik rolls his eyes as he chews and swallows, “You are such a spoiled brat,” he complains.
“Ah, but you love me anyway,” Charles retorts happily as he waves over more house elves, “Everyone, enjoy yourselves! Tonight is special!”