Chapter 1: 1949
Charles and Erik talk appointments on the Hogwarts Express.
Outside the Slytherin dungeons, most people thought quite well of Charles Xavier. He was an exceptional student, a little reserved but impeccably polite to everyone, no matter their House or station, and never put on airs unlike the heirs of certain other old magical families.
In fact, his fellow students were occasionally to be heard wondering aloud how the Sorting Hat had placed him in the snake pit at all.
Erik Lehnsherr didn't have to wonder. He knew. Ever since the day they met on the Hogwarts Express - when Charles had looked at him with cool blue eyes and smiled with the kind of careful precision an 11-year-old shouldn't have been capable of - he's always known. Charles had many so-called friends at Hogwarts, but Erik was one of his two true confidants, and none of it would have come to pass if he hadn't seen the wolf beneath the sheepskin that first day.
Hogwarts gossip had a great deal to say on why charming, affable Charles was thick as thieves with the scariest Prefect the hallowed halls had seen in many a year. (Clever enough, of course, but a Gryffindor, and of no notable magical breeding either, as people had quickly learned not to say in his hearing.) None of it came close to the truth.
Charles' friendship with Erik ran on the same principles as his equally inexplicable bond with Emma Frost, his other true confidant: the heart of a predator calling out to its own kind.
"Where's Frost?" Erik said. It came out harsher than he'd intended.
"I always sit with you on the train in, as you well know," Charles said, totally unfazed, and busied himself with arranging the folds of his beautifully tailored cloak. "Erik? Erik. Are you mad at me?"
"Don't pretend you have to ask, it's not attractive."
Charles smiled. "Believe it or not, I'm not peeking. Is it because of the Head Boy appointment? You know it's all House politics - Dumbledore used all his credit on that Rubeus Hagrid business and Slughorn must have leaned hard on Dippet this year. Besides, you've got the Quidditch captaincy to worry about."
Erik winced at the latter. They were short of a pair of Chasers and another Beater to partner him, and he didn't particularly relish the thought of holding trials.
"I know. I'm not angry at you," he said quietly.
Charles tilted his head, his gaze going sharp. "Oh. You thought Moira would beat Emma to Head Girl? My friend, if that had come to pass Moira would probably have had a dreadful accident sometime during the holidays. Everything goes better when Emma gets her way, really."
"I'll never understand how you can tolerate working with her."
Emma Frost was a very talented witch - the most talented to come out of Slytherin House in many a generation, it was said, and those who disagreed knew not to do it loudly.
"Simple, really. She enjoys visibly being in charge. I don't."
Charles' smile widened enough to show a tiny flash of white teeth, the kind of expression no one but Frost and Erik ever saw out of him at Hogwarts. In its own way, it was just as distressing as the teeth-baring grins Erik gave out right before he taught someone a lesson they wouldn't soon forget.
"Typical Slytherins, addicted to intrigue," Erik said, and he sounded hopelessly fond, in a way no one else knew he was capable of. The younger students would drop dead of shock if they ever saw him like this.
Charles only shrugged, although his eyes never left Erik's, the smile in them more real than the one curving his mouth. "Guilty as charged."
Chapter 2: 1947
Charles' sister arrives at Hogwarts during their fifth year.
"My sister is coming to Hogwarts this year. I think you'll get along splendidly."
Erik narrowed his eyes. In all the years they'd known each other, Charles had only ever volunteered information about his family a few times.
"Erik, I don't care. The worst people I know are all pureblood."
"Most people you know are pureblood."
"That's beside the point. Did you know my step-father's family claims descent from Rowena Ravenclaw? As pureblood as you can get, and all dreadful."
He wore his name gracefully, but the shadow it cast was visible if one knew where to look.
(One of the first things Erik ever used the Hogwarts library for was to look up the Xaviers. Even then, he'd known to read between the lines, and the picture that emerged - immensely old, ridiculously wealthy, known for producing powerful wizards and witches with a seemingly unconquerable strain of mental instability and a tendency to fail to live past 40 - finally made sense out of his new friend's contradictions.
The way children of other significant magical families acted around Charles during first year only confirmed his suspicions. The Xaviers were to be respected, perhaps feared, and certainly kept at a safe distance.
"Do you know why my father married an American witch? No British magical family of decent standing would let their daughter marry a Xavier."
Emma Frost was the only exception.)
"You think she'll be a Gryffindor," he said flatly.
Charles nodded. "I'm sure of it. After all, it's what she wants, and the Hat respects personal desire, as you're well aware."
Erik felt his mouth twist. "A Xavier failing to sort into Slytherin? What will your mother say?"
"My mother can say what she pleases, and Raven and I will do as we please." Charles shrugged. "Take care of her for me."
"Why aren't you sitting with her?"
"She insisted on finding her own way. It's for the best, really." Charles' studied nonchalance slid away like a mask being peeled off, and the look he turned on Erik was unreasonably warm. "Perhaps she'll make a friend the way I did."
"Let's hope not. I'm not sure Hogwarts would be left standing if there were two sets of us," Erik said, the words tumbling out of the part of him that wasn't completely distracted.
"I don't know what I'd have become without you."
Charles said it all matter-of-fact, nothing soft in his expression, and Erik still had to look away until the vice around his heart stopped squeezing.
After a few hours with Erik, Emma's particular brand of affection always took a little getting used to. It was just as well that they had the Sorting as a distraction.
Charles smiled in all the right places, shook the hands of all the new children as he was now expected to do as a Prefect, and didn't even bother to fight the fierce pride filling him up (and changing his expression to something totally inappropriate for public consumption) when Raven was Sorted into Gryffindor.
Emma had to dig her fingernails into his arm to get his attention back during dinner, which was certainly a first. "That little one. The Metamorphmagus. She's yours, isn't she?"
"Emma, Emma, Emma, you know it isn't nice to refer to people like they're things," Charles said with a delicate frown. "Raven is my sister."
Emma's brow wrinkled and cleared again in record time. She was getting very good at that. "You're not related."
"You don't often state the obvious, darling," Charles said, and presented her with the mental equivalent of closed floodgates. This was definitely not play time.
Emma put on one of her least terrifying smiles. "I don't mind that she's Muggle-born, you know. At least she has a delightful gift, unlike that dreadful step-brother of yours."
Of course, she'd mentioned Cain on purpose. Charles didn't give her the satisfaction of a reaction. Legilimency in the Great Hall was too risky to be used for petty revenge.
"My step-brother is proof positive that purity of blood means nothing. And he's not part of this conversation."
Emma knew better than anyone what that particular tone meant. She didn't apologize - she would never apologize - but Charles took her hand on top of his as the peace offering it was.
"Don't frown, dear, it's unbecoming. Aren't you disappointed the girl went into Gryffindor? Lord knows what Lehnsherr's going to fill her head with."
The disgust in Emma's voice when she spoke of Erik amused Charles despite himself. They had so much in common, and yet.
"Raven knows her own mind admirably. She'll be fine with Erik and Moira to look after her."
Emma never lost her disapproving look, but she drained her goblet without further comment. "If you insist. Shall we go terrorise some first years?"
Charles bowed his head. "After you, my lady."
Chapter 3: 1949
Charles and Emma give the Slytherin first years an unconventional welcome.
The role of Prefect is what you make of it, the Headmaster had said, when they'd had their first meeting with him back in fifth year. Charles thought he understood when he ran through the differing styles of the Slytherin ones he knew.
Riddle had been carefully permissive, with the occasional flash of autocratic inflexibility. The most important thing Charles learned watching him was how not to get caught. Any observant Slytherin could see his little club breaking rules by the dozen, and yet no one ever told any of the teachers.
Watching Lilandra a few years later taught him a different kind of power, more subtle and many times more effective than threats and force. She wielded her authority with good grace, and Charles had been more than happy to learn at her feet.
Then there was Emma, his friend and confidant, who strove to be harsh and forbidding just as Charles tried to appear courteous and approachable. They worked well together, and had since the day they met.
And now it was their turn to give the first years a traditional welcome. Charles twirled his wand, waited a beat -
A burst of green flame lit up the dungeon, winding its way through the forest of green and silver tapestries like a python and vanishing with a soft puff of air when it reached Emma and Charles.
"Show-off," Emma said. Her lips didn't move, which just made him itch to point out the hypocrisy of her comment. With this many witnesses -
"Aren't we all," he replied, speaking directly into her mind. His wand was still, and he hadn't used the incantation either. "You're not the only one who practises during the holidays, darling."
Then it was time to speak - out loud, letting his soft words fall heavily in the silence, filling the dungeon. Emma and Charles, shoulder to shoulder.
"Welcome to Slytherin House. My name is Charles Xavier. My lovely friend is Emma Frost. She and I are the heads of the student body this year. Most importantly for your purposes, we're the senior Prefects for this House. Inside these walls, everything goes through us. Miss Frost will tell you a bit more about just what that means."
Emma didn't have to step forward to attract attention. Charles had yet to meet the witch or wizard who could ignore her when she demanded notice, even without any magical sleights of hand.
"Whatever you've heard about the other Houses, forget it. We run things a little differently here. If you have a problem within the House, you bring it to a Prefect. We will resolve it without involving the teachers. If a teacher has to be involved, one of the Prefects will make that decision. If you have a problem outside the House, you talk to Charles and I. We'll decide whether to liaison with other student leaders to resolve it. If you think you can get away with hiding or lying, think again. Nothing goes on within these walls that escapes our notice. Don't be the one fool every year who tests that promise."
Charles and Emma had come to Hogwarts in time to see the tail end of Riddle's influence. One of the first things they decided on together as Prefects was what they were going to do to clean house. It wouldn't do to have a group of senior students strutting around terrorizing the lower years, sprouting nonsense and barely avoiding detection for their careless rule-breaking.
They were scheming and ambitious, as all Slytherins tend to be. What elevated Charles and Emma above their House peers from the first, what made them exceptional, was the use to which they put those traits. Not for them the petty squabbles over dinner at the Great Hall, or sneaking around in the dungeons.
Charles let the ringing silence hang long enough to become unsettling before he spoke again.
"We do not expect unquestioning obedience, and you don't owe it to us either. You are expected to question. However, you are also expected to put your House and your own education before any petty squabbling and rule-breaking. Remember that and you'll do fine. Dismissed."
After the students left, still wide eyed and staring and therefore easily shepherded by Armando and the other younger Prefects, Charles got out the bottle of Firewhiskey he'd had stashed away, sat on his favourite leather couch and poured both himself and Emma a decent portion.
"To a successful final year. I don't have to tell you how wonderful you were, back there."
Emma inclined her head regally, acknowledging the compliment as her due. "We work well together."
"Absolutely." Charles took a sip of his drink, letting the rush wash over him, and felt his smile widen into mischief. "Would you marry me? Think about it. Our children would be beautiful. Powerful."
It wasn't the first time he'd proposed like this. Not even the first time that year, actually. She knew that he only did it because she'd never say yes, and was forgiving enough not to point it out.
Emma could be kind in her own way.
"And absolutely raving mad," she replied, the barely detectable note of affection in her voice belying the dramatic eye-roll.
Charles took it for what it was and pressed a kiss to the shell of her ear in thanks. "I'm sure you'd be a civilizing influence, my dear."
When he pulled back, she was giving him an oddly pensive look.
Chapter 4: 1943
How Charles met Emma.
Emma met Charles while they were waiting to be Sorted. She had said why be normal when you can be exceptional? to some idiotic blustering Gryffindor-in-the-making and caught Charles smiling in response, a flash of teeth that he hadn't disguised quickly enough, and he didn't look away when she turned her glare on him.
"Oh, no, I agree," he said quietly, amused, with a mocking edge that made her fingers itch for her wand and the application of her singular gift that made the mind as easily navigable as Diagon Alley on a sunny morning.
She'd had to settle for mere words, in the end, because Dumbledore had come to collect them. The man really did have uncanny timing.
"Just don't get in my way," she hissed at him under her breath, as they were lining up to be led in.
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said, oddly solemn.
It was the work of a moment for the Hat to put her in her rightful place, in Slytherin House. She'd never doubted where she would end up, and felt neither suspense nor fulfillment.
When Dumbledore called out Charles Xavier, several heads turned at the Slytherin table. Hers was one of them. Perhaps she was one of the few who immediately knew what that name meant, and so felt no ripple of surprise when he met her eyes across the hall as he was walking towards the Hat.
It took a surprisingly long time before the Hat called out Slytherin.
On their second Monday at Hogwarts, Charles sat down next to Emma at the end of the Slytherin table at breakfast, as they had done every day since the beginning, and smiled with a flash of teeth.
"Sleep well, Emma?"
She hadn't. There'd been strange dreams - a story told with perfect, logical clarity, while she watched from the outside. Something about a wronged princess, an evil queen in white -
"A Muggle fairytale," Charles said, still watching her intently.
What was it Father had said about the Xaviers? They're like us.
Emma narrowed her eyes. "My dream - that was you."
"You're welcome to reciprocate," Charles shrugged, but he was, for the first time she'd ever seen, uncertain, Even nervous. Unsure of her response.
She let him hang for a long moment, just for the sheer presumption, before she smiled, one of the ones that made her brothers cringe.
Charles physically relaxed at it. What a strange little boy he was.
"And how are we to escape Dumbledore's notice? They say he's the greatest Legilimens of our age," she said, finally, not without a hint of grudging respect.
Charles gazed up at the head table with his usual measured smile. "Let him notice."
Chapter 5: 1949
Charles and Erik meet with their respective heads of house.
Dumbledore was far too careful to ever display favouritism in class, but Erik always knew with absolute certainty that he was regarded differently to the rest, and would have been even if he hadn't displayed a particular gift for Transfiguration.
The head of Gryffindor House had a remarkable eye for potential. And Erik - for all that he bristled at times under the wing of a man whose entire life seemed to consist of schemes upon schemes, he never forgot that Dumbledore had been the one to finally put Grindelwald down, four years ago. He never forgot what he owed, for that act alone.
Sometimes, though, he found it hard to imagine how Dumbledore could have done it, when he was looking down through his glasses like a benevolent grandfather. "I confess, Erik, I had been hoping to be congratulating you on your appointment as Head Boy."
Erik shrugged stiffly. "That's all right. I have enough responsibility to be going on with. Ch - Xavier will do fine."
It was too much to hope that Dumbledore wouldn't notice his slip. Or comment on it, with that damn twinkle in his eye. "You know, your friendship with Mr. Xavier has always been a source of great comfort to me."
"Why would that be, Professor?" Erik said sarcastically. Maybe sometime this century he'd get a real answer.
"In the interests of House unity, of course," Dumbledore said, predictably enough. Erik opened his mouth to retort, but Dumbledore held up a hand, and he reluctantly subsided, curious despite himself. "Mr. Xavier always struck me as a man in need of friends."
Erik snorted. "He's friends with half the school."
"But he confides in only you and Miss Frost, and I fear that she's not always the best influence on him," Dumbledore said in an oddly gentle voice, as if he was breaking bad news.
He was so caught up in the oddness of the tone that the words took a moment to register properly. "You think I'm a good influence?"
"I know that you are, Erik," Dumbledore said. His blue eyes gleamed, and for the first time, despite the incredibly silly purple robes he was wearing, despite the smile on his face, Erik understood what Albus Dumbledore's enemies feared about him. "Mr. Xavier is an extraordinarily gifted wizard, but he will not devise shields that I cannot penetrate for a few years yet. And yes, you may tell him I said so. I have no doubt he will prise this entire conversation from your mind regardless of my consent, in any case."
"Charles, my boy, congratulations! Did I not tell you three years ago that you would make Head Boy? No doubt in my mind whatsoever."
Charles gave Slughorn one of his brightest smiles. He'd bought the head of Slytherin House a present for the beginning of a new school year, as he'd done ever since Slughorn had taken notice of him in the middle of his third year. If he'd been more than just decent at Potions, it would probably have happened much earlier, but everyone had their failings.
"Thank you, Professor. It was close, though, wasn't it? Erik must have been a strong contender. And it's hardly politic to have both head students be from the same House. Did Professor Dumbledore not have anything to say about that?"
"He pushed for Lehnsherr quite hard, of course, anyone would, that boy's quite a talent," Slughorn said dismissively. "But you underestimate yourself, Charles. I dare say Dumbledore's quite fond of you too."
Somehow, I doubt it.
Chapter 6: 1947
Charles has a frank talk with Dumbledore.
Professor Dumbledore, being a man quite skilled at artifice (as a keen student of the art, Charles recognised a master when he saw one), found many convincing reasons to avoid ever being alone with Charles. One of the few times he hadn't, Charles had indulged an unworthy impulse and attempted to read his mind.
It was the hubris of youth to think that he could fool a master Legilimens. He'd been told one too many times that his gift for Legilimency was unprecedented, and had forgotten to account for vast, unknowable experience.
"There's no need for that, Mister Xavier."
"I - Professor."
For possibly the first time in his life (certainly the first since he came to Hogwarts) Charles looked down and away from someone not of his own volition, but because he couldn't help it. He gave into the impulse to fidget with his signet ring and tried hard to disguise the racing of his thoughts.
A part of him wanted to simply tell the man that there was nothing to suspect, Slytherins took care of their own messes and they'd cleaned house after Riddle left, and did he have any fucking idea how difficult a dungeon's worth of entitled brats with more stupid schemes than sense were to wrangle, even for two skilled Legilimens with no concept of privacy?
Dumbledore's mouth twisted in an odd little smile, as if Charles really had shouted the words at him. "If you truly wish to know why I avoid you, you only need to ask."
Charles squared his shoulders. "All right. I'm asking. Sir."
"You remind me rather uncomfortably of myself at a similar age," Dumbledore said quietly. "And - I must say, I'm glad to see you disapproved so strongly of Mr. Riddle."
"Of course I - Oh. I'm not like him, Professor."
I don't know what I have to do to convince you that's true.
Chapter 7: 1944
A little backstory about Charles, Emma, and Tom Marvolo Riddle.
It had been sometime during their second year.
"Be careful around Riddle and his friends," Emma said off-handedly. To anyone else she'd sound perfectly normal, but Charles could detect a hint of genuine concern underneath her cool exterior, and that was more worrying than anything else.
Emma kept looking off into the distance. They were up in one of the taller towers, because she liked to see Charles suffer. Or so he'd thought at first, but now it seemed more likely that she genuinely enjoyed open spaces and starry nights, and Charles pale and shivering in all his finery was just a bonus.
"Talk. Unless you want me to - " Charles trailed off, twirling his wand between gloved fingers that were already stiff with cold.
The look she turned on him was sharp and quelling, but at least she was looking at him. "He tried to recruit me for his little club."
"Oh." Charles tilted his head and smiled his real smile. "Emma, darling, you need to stop being so obvious. Someone was bound to notice."
Emma snorted inelegantly. "Unlike you, I feel no need to hide what I am."
There was no shame in disguise. No one would ever convince him otherwise, not when their entire world was built on hiding.
"How positively Gryffindor of you," he said coolly. That got him a reaction - her eyes narrowed and her wand appeared in her hand as if it had always been there. He ignored the implied threat blithely and carried on. "We'll be fine, Riddle's leaving next year - "
Emma began to smile. " - and his acolytes will be easy enough to handle without him."
"Precisely, my dear."
It was quite an unfair comparison, really. Unlike Riddle, Charles held no burning hatred for muggles or muggle-born wizarding folk. One only had to look at some of the useless, witless children born from the most pure of magical blood to see that birth didn't mean a thing, and Charles had had the grave misfortune of growing up with one such child as his step-brother.
Raven - clever Raven, with her hunter's instincts and her unyielding heart and so much magic he thought he could drown in it - was worth a hundred of them all by herself.
She'd been the only non-pureblood he'd really, properly known, before Erik and Moira and the rest of his Hogwarts friends and acquaintances. Truthfully, it had been a relief to find out that not all wizarding people were like his family and their friends. He'd known it intellectually, but books and actual experience weren't the same thing.
Charles rather thought wizarding society was overdue for some changes within itself before it looked to anyone else, and that he knew what the best course of action should be. That was all.
As Erik was increasingly fond of saying, Charles had been born telling other people what to do. He was hardly going to shake the habit now.
Chapter 8: 1947
Charles gets to know Armando a little better.
Charles first noticed Armando during fifth year, when Armando had been in his third.
"Greengrass, is there any particular reason for you to be so, ah, festively coloured?"
Apollo Greengrass was, in fact, bright red and gold all over. As amusing as it was to see the little snot squirm at the dinner table, all the snickering coming from the Gryffindor side of the Hall was putting Charles off his meal.
He had made sure his expression was nothing more than pleasantly inquiring, but Greengrass still flinched. If he could have gone white, he probably would have. "It was Munoz! He cursed me! Please, Xavier, I didn't - "
"All right," Charles said, pitching his voice for soothing. He looked across the table and down, spotting the culprit surrounded by a cluster of friends, smiling as easily as he always did. "Munoz, a word. When you're finished with your meal, of course."
Munoz's smile didn't even flicker. If anything, it got wider. "I'm done."
Charles let his gaze linger for a moment longer than was strictly proper before inclining his head in the direction of the great double doors. "Take a walk with me."
"Sure," Munoz shrugged. He patted the boy sitting next to him - Bainbridge, Charles noted automatically, third year, quite nice for a snake - on the shoulder. "I'll see you guys in class."
Bainbridge grinned. "Try not to die, Armando! Good luck!"
Charles waited until he was standing directly behind them, and pulled on his most charming smile. "I'm not that scary, Bainbridge."
Bainbridge started so violently he almost unbalanced his soup bowl. Then he began to blush, which was so delightful that Charles patted the back of his neck as he walked past. Third year really was a most entertaining age.
Kids like Bainbridge and Greengrass were easy enough to handle, even without his specialist skill set. Munoz seemed trickier. The smart ones always were.
Munoz walked beside him, straight-backed and steady, not a single nervous tic in sight. Charles felt his mouth stretch into one of his more honest smiles just looking at him.
"Do you want to tell me what happened?"
He always asked. Whether or not they lied to him was telling in itself.
"He called me mudblood," Munoz said baldly.
Charles had to swallow back a heavy sigh. Of course, it just had to be something like that. Some inbred idiot with more pride than sense, chafing under the indignity of a muggle-born witch or wizard being better at anything than they were. Sometimes he envied Erik. The Gryffindors were unruly, but surely they didn't have to deal with quite as much stupidity just by sheer weight of numbers. If anyone so much as breathed that word in their common room, there'd probably be enough angry people to shut them up, and that was on top of having to answer to Erik, Moira and Howlett.
Down in the dungeons...there had probably been a large group egging Greengrass on. And of course no one had told any of the prefects.
One thing at a time. Charles leaned closer and lowered his voice. "For future reference, that curse you cast can be done wordlessly without much extra effort."
The corners of Munoz's mouth quirked up, just slightly. He shook his head. "I wanted him to know what I did. And why."
"I see. All right," Charles said, properly chastised, which was novel enough that it gave him pause. Suddenly he remembered Raven, whispering not everyone wants to hide, you know. Maybe - Charles raised his voice, just slightly, not enough to project, but enough for the conversation not to seem furtive. "I hope you've both learned something from this."
"What am I supposed to be learning?" Munoz said flatly, brows knotted in suspicion.
Charles stopped walking and turned to clasp Munoz by the shoulders. He dropped his smile. Let himself be honest. "That you have allies here, even inside Slytherin House."
"Even amongst the purebloods," Munoz said slowly.
He was a bright one. Charles had been blind not to notice it before.
Munoz examined him for a long moment, until even Charles couldn't be sure he'd pass muster. Then he nodded once, decisively. "Call me Armando."
"It's very nice to meet you properly, Armando. I'm Charles. Emma Frost and I have plans. Would you like to hear them?"
Chapter 9: 1949
Erik's first evening back proves eventful, even after he leaves Dumbledore's office.
The shadows moved, and Erik had his wand out and the incantation ready on his lips -
He lowered his wand as he recognised the voice as Raven's. No wonder he hadn't seen anyone - she'd changed to blend into the walls around her. The girl who stepped out of the shadows rippled, her hair going from grey to her favoured dark red.
"Don't do that again. I almost Stunned you," Erik said sharply.
"Sure," Raven said absently, letting his harsh tone glide right off her back. Sometimes he could really see the resemblance between her and Charles, even though they weren't siblings by blood. "When are you holding trials for the Quidditch team?"
"You want to try out?"
Raven raised an eyebrow. "For Beater, yeah. That's why I'm asking."
"What does Charles think?"
He hated that those were the first words out of his mouth, especially when they made her smirk.
"Why is that relevant? He doesn't care and it wouldn't stop me if he did." Raven's eyes bled from yellow into blue, blazing with fire and life. They looked nothing like Charles'. "Stop it. I can feel you comparing. I am actually a person independent of Charles, you know."
"Of course I know that," Erik said, stung. What kind of person did she think -
Raven talked over him. "And I'm a lot better adjusted. He's all twisted up inside. That's why he likes people who are only cold on the outside. People like you and me, Lehnsherr."
Erik opened his mouth to protest - he was sure she'd just called him soft - and shut it again at the way she was grinning at him, conspiratorial, like they were friends sharing a secret.
"Make sure you let me know about trials. Good night."
The Gryffindor common room was almost empty. Unsurprisingly, Moira was one of the few who had lingered, her nose buried in a book the size of her head. She didn't stir even when Erik sat down in the armchair opposite hers.
"Sorry I left wrangling the first years to you, Dumbledore wanted a chat."
Moira didn't look up, but he could see her expression change into a smile. "Not a problem. They were full and tired, it was easy. What did he want?"
"The usual," Erik shrugged. He'd be giving Charles a full recap tomorrow, but Moira didn't need all the gory details. "House unity, keep the first years from getting into trouble...oh, actually. He wanted to tell you sorry."
That got her attention. "For the Head Girl appointment? I don't blame him. Frost's dad probably got to the governors. I bet he was more upset about you not getting it over Charles."
Charles. Moira pronounced the name with a familiar mixture of disdain and fondness. She had been friends of a sort with Charles since third year, and there were the occasional rumours about them being together (even though Erik tried very hard not to hear anything that was said about Charles in hushed tones).
Those rumours in particular he'd laughed at. Moira was not immune to Charles' charm; that was precisely why she kept him at arm's length, too smart to trust in the harmless facade. Some days Erik wished he had her sense of self-preservation.
She was waiting for his reply, her dark eyes fixed on his face, far too thoughtful and shrewd for comfort.
"Dumbledore doesn't get upset."
She swatted his thigh with her book. "You know what I mean. What did he say?"
"He said...that we had to help Charles and Frost this year."
Moira huffed a laugh. "Of course, that goes without saying. We're not the spiteful ones."
Almost exactly what he'd said. That was why they worked so well together, and had since they partnered up in Potions back in first year.
"No, I think he meant something more."
Keep an eye on Nathaniel Essex for me.
Dumbledore must have known neither Erik nor Charles were on the best of terms with the senior Ravenclaw prefect. So why?
What's that, you say? Plot? Why, yes.
Chapter 10: 1949
The Nathaniel Essex problem presents several complications for both Charles and Erik.
"What did Slughorn want?"
"What did Dumbledore want?"
They had spoken at the same time, as they were both sitting down for their usual Wednesday night appointment. As far as privacy was concerned, there really was no bettering the beautifully appointed Room of Rewards with its stuffed armchairs and ornate shelves, especially since the portrait of Professor Vindictus Viridian guarding ignored anyone who was not Charles or Raven.
Erik had a feeling he was going to be glad for the privacy tonight.
"Thank you for the courtesy of asking before you pull it out of my head," he said dryly.
Charles was startled enough to show it, which was very startled indeed, even if it was only for half a second before his eyes narrowed. "Erik, I wouldn't. Not if you said no. What did Dumbledore say? Tell me."
Beneath the usual snap of cool command, Erik thought he heard something that might have been distress. "I'm not saying no. Go on."
Charles rewarded him with a dazzling smile. "Thank you. Legilimens!"
He called up the memory of his meeting with Dumbledore, hoping to congratulate you on your appointment as Head Boy - I fear that she's not always the best influence on him - Mr Xavier is an extraordinarily gifted wizard, but he will not devise shields that I cannot penetrate for a few years yet -
Charles laughed - his real laugh, low and wicked. It was strange to feel his amusement bleeding through as he skimmed the surface of Erik's mind, like the leftover impression of body heat after an embrace.
"What a remarkable wizard you have for a Head of House, Erik."
"Most Slytherins think he's a doddering fool."
"I'm aware of that. It's part of his brilliance."
"If you say so," Erik said sardonically, well aware that he was arguing for the sake of arguing but unwilling to concede. Charles had after all seen the moment when Erik perceived the truth about Dumbledore himself. "What do you propose we do about Essex?"
Charles shrugged. "It depends on what Dumbledore actually wants with an aspiring Dark Wizard obsessed with the glories of Grindelwald."
He had spoken so lightly, so contemptuously that Erik barely registered the words. When he did, it was like being dunked in cold water.
Grindelwald. What -
"And this was something you didn't think to mention to me, say, a few years ago?"
The words sounded cold and bitter, lashing out like the crack of a whip. Charles flinched on cue.
"Erik, as distasteful as I find their beliefs, if I outed every student or staff member who ever had a prejudiced thought - "
Erik shook his head. "Obsessed, you said. That's more than a thought. You know everything about me, Charles. You know why I'd want to hear about it."
"So you can do what? Run off to duel him over it?" Charles said mockingly. His voice was unsteady, Erik realized with a shock, and that was -
"Worried," Charles said, ducking his head, but not before Erik saw the way his lips quirked at the corners. "It's strange. I don't feel protective often."
There were people at Hogwarts who'd probably say that Charles didn't feel anything often, but those people knew nothing about him.
"What happened between you and Essex?" Erik said slowly.
"Nothing. His mind was unpleasant, and I won't be going back in again for a while."
Which was either not an answer at all or too much of one. Erik felt a chill go down his spine.
"Charles, what happened?"
Charles sighed as if Erik was the unreasonable one. "If you must know, I slept with him. Once. Don't make that face, or should I ask what you did with your summer holidays?"
Rather damningly, Erik felt himself beginning to blush. Sometimes, a best friend who knew everything wasn't as much fun as it sounded. "That's irrelevant."
"Shall we move on? I'll tell Dumbledore what I know, and we'll see if he's capable of not being vague," Charles said. The look he turned on Erik after that was as close as he'd ever come to pleading. "Don't go picking a fight with Essex in the meantime. Promise me."
Erik had to clear his throat before he could continue. "I promise."
It was only for a few days. A week at the most. He could wait that long.
As soon as he had a moment free, Charles went to see Dumbledore. It was only the second time he had ever been in the office allocated to the Head of Gryffindor House, and he felt no less unnerved than he had the first time. The fact that Dumbledore had obviously been expecting the visit only made it worse.
Charles folded his hands together in his lap so that he wouldn't clench them. "What did you mean when you told Erik about Essex?"
"Charles, my boy," Dumbledore said warmly. He only chuckled, totally undeterred, when Charles raised his eyebrows at the endearment. "There's no need to observe the formalities so strictly, yes? If you have any objections - "
"I can nod and smile?"
For once, the twinkle in Dumbledore's eye seemed like actual, genuine amusement. "A practice which you have elevated to an art form, I must say. I need your help, and I need you to promise to keep it a secret."
"A promise to you wouldn't mean much to me." Since we're being honest.
"Erik's life may depend on it," Dumbledore said coolly. "Since we're speaking our minds today."
I did not make up the Room of Rewards. Apparently it makes an appearance in the OotP video game.
Chapter 11: 1941
How Erik came to England.
After weeks of hushed arguements that stopped as soon as Erik came into the room, his mother told him of their decision.
"Papa is taking you to England."
Erik knew dimly that not everyone had a secret war raging outside their window. England, his father had said, was safe, because Grindelwald could not reach them there.
His mother had said, quick and angry, that running was the coward's way out, and somebody had to stand and fight. Then Erik had come into the kitchen, and they'd both looked ashamed to be caught.
"Why aren't you coming with us? I'm not going without you."
Erik's hands tightened where they clutched the hem of her shirt. His mother was the bravest person he knew. Most of the time he could only be proud of that, but now he was scared of what it might mean.
She gave him her brightest, most beautiful smile, and carefully pried his hands away, cradling them between her own callused palms. "Erik. Listen to me. It's not safe for you here. That's why you have to go. I just have some business to finish up before I join you. Now promise me you'll be good, and I'll see you soon."
"But mama - "
"Promise," she said sharply.
She brushed a few stray strands of hair off his forehead and kissed the exposed skin. "You're my son. You're a wizard. You'll be more than fine, darling. You'll be brilliant."
He never saw his mother again.
Two weeks after they arrived in England, a strange man turned up at their doorstep, and that was when Erik first met Albus Dumbledore.
Chapter 12: 1948
Erik, Emma, and Charles' heart.
In the middle of their sixth year, Charles caught him coming out of Quidditch practice one freezing night. He was dressed for travelling, and Erik had been just about to ask him what the occasion was, the words dying unsaid at the look on Charles' face.
His eyes were so dark they looked black in the dim light, the ringing certainty in his voice ground down into chilling quiet. "My mother is dead. Fell down the stairs, you see."
"I'm sorry. Charles, is everything - what can I do?"
As undemonstrative as he'd always been, Erik would have pulled Charles closer then, offered whatever simple comfort he could. But Charles didn't look like someone who would allow himself to be comforted, that day.
The smile he gave Erik was bright and brittle. "Be here when I come back."
Despite his words, there was something terribly final about the way Charles turned away: the quick glance he swept up at the castle, the way his eyes lingered on Erik.
"Wait!" Erik blurted, and felt like hitting himself with his bat for it right up until Charles' steps slowed, and he came to a stop. "Promise me you will. Promise."
"Goodbye, Erik," Charles said. He sounded like himself, then.
Two weeks passed after that in which Erik tied himself into knots wondering if Charles would be coming back after all, and all of Hogwarts learned to fear their scariest Prefect's worsened temper.
All of Hogwarts minus Emma Frost, otherwise known as the bane of Erik's existence, who appeared to be determined to fill the Slytherin-shaped hole in his life despite their mutual dislike. Naturally, he assumed she was doing it because she enjoyed making him miserable, an assumption which lasted right up until she started mentioning Charles.
Then he began to suspect that she wanted to provoke a fight.
"Stop moping. If I was Charles, I wouldn't even have said goodbye. But he actually cares about you, Merlin knows why."
"How would you know?" Erik snapped, not really meaning it, and certainly not expecting the response he got.
"The Xaviers have been dabbling in arcane and dangerous magic for centuries. The magic of the mind is treacherous. Lehnsherr - You shouldn't blame him for being born like that," Emma said, and if Erik didn't know better -
Was that sympathy in her voice? Surely it wasn't. No way. She had no right.
"Like what?" Erik snarled.
She shrugged elegantly. "Hollow. Like he was fathered by a dementor. You've heard the whispers about that family."
The depth of Erik's sudden rage left him motionless and speechless for a long moment. It was just as well - he might have tried to curse her otherwise, and he wasn't at all sure about winning the duel that would have led to.
In the end, the only words he could muster up seemed inadequate, his voice too close to cracking. "Shut up. You don't know anything."
Emma raised an eyebrow. "Don't I? You think I enjoy spending time around you, especially when your unusually sunny disposition has managed to scare away all your little Gryffindor hangers-on?"
"No one's making you," Erik said petulantly.
"No, but someone did ask," Emma admitted quietly. "So clean up your act, Lehnsherr. I would hate for you to be disappointing."
One week later, Charles was back as if he'd never been gone.
By then, everyone had heard about Kurt Marko's confession, and the tone of the whispers changed.
Charles' Monday nights belonged to Emma, and had ever since the very beginning. She was the one who had told him about the Room of Reward, back in third year.
(It would be more accurate to say that he'd taken it from her mind when they were practising together, but the distinction hadn't mattered by then.)
He sat on the arm of Emma's favoured armchair, massaging her scalp. The gift of Legilimency in both families had unfortunately come with the drawback of occasional headaches. They both considered it a more than fair trade.
"Poor Nott's been throwing himself at you ever since term started, you realize."
"I noticed. It's not important."
"He's not worth your attention, darling," Charles said. He dug his fingers in hard at the back of her neck, smiling at her soft exhale.
"Yes, I quite agree. Although, coming from you..."
"What about me?"
Emma opened her eyes just so she could give him an unimpressed look. "You fuck Hufflepuffs, Charles."
Charles considered becoming indignant and discarded the idea as too much effort.
"Only on special occasions."
Emma cupped Charles' face in her palm and kissed the upturned corner of his mouth, feather-light. It was as affectionate as she'd ever been, up to and including the times when she decided she wanted to relax and propositioned Charles for sex.
(She'd tilted her head one day, looked at him a beat longer than usual, and said, "you've grown up well," like he was a thoroughbred animal who was fulfilling the promise of his bloodline -
- and it had been enough. Charles had never claimed to be anything other than easy, and Emma was always beautiful, even when she was cruel. Perhaps especially when.)
"Be more selective. There's no need to debase yourself."
"Yes, dear," Charles sighed long-sufferingly.
"If you want enthusiasm, I'm sure Lehnsherr is willing and able," she continued blithely, and he really should have known this was coming.
"Emma," Charles breathed. If he could have asked her not to go on, please can we talk about something else - but that was never the way things worked between them.
She went on, relentless as ever. "You'll break him sooner or later. Kinder to do it through love than through cruelty."
Charles shivered. "I'm not cruel."
"You don't mean to be," Emma said, almost gently. "It's not the same thing."
Chapter 13: 1949
What Erik did with the summer holiday before his seventh year.
Erik's mother was murdered in 1941 by a follower of the Dark Lord Gellert Grindelwald while attempting to carry information about his army's movements to the head of the resistance in Hungary. Few who knew of her involvement had survived the great war. Still fewer knew how Edie died.
It took Erik years of asking in every way possible for Dumbledore to give up a name, and even longer until he provided an address and an introduction.
The trail of evidence was going colder every year, and he had to know.
Like many other refugees from Grindelwald's war, Anya Eisenhardt still lived in Montrose, on the eastern shores of Scotland. It was a port town which had probably been lovely once, before the ravages of the Muggles' war took its toll. The small wizard village hiding in plain sight here had served as a hub for those in wizarding Britain concerned about Grindelwald and prepared to do something about it, or so Erik's research into the war had said. Eisenhardt led the information-gathering effort herself, both while she was still living on the continent and after she'd been forced to flee to England, following an assassination attempt which even the Daily Prophet deemed front page news, albeit beneath the fold under a piece about the next Minister for Magic.
Given all of the above, Erik felt he'd been justified in expecting something other than a small thatched cottage that could have been termed charmingly rustic, if one couldn't see all the wards.
A girl of long, skinny limbs stood in the doorway. She had a face that wouldn't have been out of place in some old Muggle painting, grave and still, framed by tangles of auburn hair. Then she smiled at him, and he thought he'd never seen anyone more alive.
"You must be Erik." Her voice was low, the accent so familiar that Erik felt a strange pang upon hearing it. His next breath was a little unsteady.
"I was wondering if I had the right house," he said, and tried a smile himself, hoping for once that the expression would fit on his face.
Twin spots of colour appeared on the girl's cheeks, but her direct gaze never wavered. "My name is Magda. I'm Anya's niece. She'll see you now." That said, she turned and strode into the dark hallway without waiting for a reply.
Erik took a deep breath to steel himself and followed.
The hallway opened out into an austere, well-lit sitting room. A thin, frail-looking woman sat on an enormous armchair as if it was a throne.
"You must be Edie's boy," she said, with what might have been a smile on a less forbidding face.
Erik could have been looking at his own mother. Anya Eisenhardt had the same hard eyes, and held herself as if daring the world to try and take her on.
"I am. Thank you for having me."
Anya barked a harsh laugh. "I hardly had a choice. But come and sit, let me have a good look at you."
Once Erik was settled, she stared at him unblinkingly for what seemed like an age while Erik tried not to fidget.
"You look a lot like her," she pronounced finally, and nodded as if he'd passed some sort of test.
"Thank you," Erik said, once he could get it past the lump in his throat.
"Just as stubborn, too, or else Dumbledore wouldn't have given you my name."
"I had to know. Would you - please, I've waited for so long - "
Anya heaved a long, exasperated sigh. "Merlin's beard, you're young. Don't be in such a hurry to run off and get into trouble. Edie wouldn't have wanted that."
You don't know that.
"I'm not looking to get into trouble. I just want to know what happened to my mother."
"Edie was one of the best witches I knew. Do you understand what I'm saying, young man?"
Erik held her shrewd gaze - just about, with a great deal of effort. "The one who killed her. Please. I just need a name."
"Promise me you won't go looking for him. Do that first."
So he's alive.
"Swear on something you care about," Anya snapped, suddenly.
The first thing that came to Erik's mind was the cold resolution on his mother's face as she saw them off to England. Then it was his father presenting him with one of his beautifully constructed pocket watches on his tenth birthday; Dumbledore handing him his Hogwarts letter -
Charles, looking at him with such unbearable warmth that Erik could feel it on his skin.
Erik's mouth felt dry. He had to swallow before he could speak. "I swear on the memory of my mother."
She would have wanted justice.
Anya gazed at him silently for so long that Erik thought his bluff would be called. At last, she looked down. "They called him the Dark Lord's Hand. A very powerful wizard. He vanished after the Dark Lord fell, but by then he'd killed many of my best people. Don't add yourself to that number, kid."
"His name. Please."
"Klaus Schmidt," whispered Anya, as if from a great distance.
The cottage itself seemed to shiver around them.
Magda had to drag him out of the sitting room by his arm. Erik's limbs were stiff; he knew that Anya no longer wanted to see him, but moving was impossible.
"Come on, out. She needs her quiet now."
Erik felt a twinge of guilt. He could hardly imagine the kind of ghosts he'd just brought back into Anya's new, idyllic life, all for his own, selfish ends. "I'm sorry. I'll go."
"No, don't." Magda was suddenly very close, peering up into his face with kind eyes. "You look like you need a drink. I have some mead stashed in my room."
Erik hesitated, torn between his habitual reticence and Magda's smile. "You must have better things to do than entertain me."
"If I did, I'd tell you so. Come on."
Magda's room was crammed to the brim, overflowing with books, the walls covered with posters of Muggle bands. Compared to the rest of the cottage, which crackled with magic to those with the right eyes, it was relentlessly mundane.
Several things became clear to Erik at once, as they sat down on her bed.
"You're - oh. Forget I said anything."
"It's fine. Yes, I'm a Muggle."
"But you live with Anya," Erik blurted. The confused look on his face must have been a picture.
"We're not blood relatives," Magda said softly. "I'm a refugee from a different war."
Her familiar accent suddenly made a great deal of sense.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
Magda gave his meaningless apology the exact amount of attention it deserved, which was approximately none. "You know, they say Grindelwald was responsible for starting our great war too."
It wasn't the first time Erik had come across those rumours. He'd never put much store in them for a variety of reasons, chief of which was that they seemed to be most enthusiastically endorsed by those who thought the least of Muggles.
"Do you believe that?"
Magda laughed, a sharp, bitter sound that suited her not at all. "No. Muggles don't need any encouragement from you guys to hurt each other. We're more efficient, actually."
You guys. Somehow, that hurt.
"My father's a Muggle. My mother was Muggle-born."
He thought Magda might take offence; instead, her face softened at the mention of his mother. "Your mother was a hero." She turned away to rummage around in a large chest at the foot of her bed. "That's what my aunt says, and you never want to disagree with her - ah, found it."
'It' turned out to be an impressively large bottle of mead, half empty of its contents already, and two mugs. Magda poured them both a generous amount.
"To the memory of your mother, war hero. Drink up."
The mead was terrible - it burned going down his throat and sat uncomfortably in his belly, overheating his skin. Or maybe that was just the warmth of Magda's body where their knees brushed, and the way she looked at him, pure intent and a hint of mischief in the curve of her smile.
"Cheers. So, what's it like? Hogwarts?"
Erik opened his mouth without any idea of what he was going to say, because after so many years the only thing that came to mind was that Hogwarts, with all its mysteries and frustrations and seething mass of kids with limited control over their emotions, let alone their magic, was home in a way he couldn't explain.
Then he recalled with piercing clarity his first impression of the castle, glittering in the dark, and the words came to him as if he always knew them.
"Like something out of a story. I've always thought the Founders must have enjoyed the idea of making kids suffer, because why else would they make us stumble around in the dark to get to the lake? And then, just when we're all wondering what we're in for, there's the lake, and the mountain, and the biggest damn castle anyone's ever seen."
(The most remarkable thing about it, though - and this Erik has only ever admitted to himself - had been turning to his new friend, only to find that Charles was regarding him with the same wonderstruck expression the rest of them were directing at their new home.)
The look on Magda's face was rapt as she finished the rest of her mug, licking her lips to savour the last few drops, her eyes fixed on him as if he were the most interesting thing in the world.
"It sounds amazing."
Erik felt his cheeks heat. He wanted to look away, but couldn't - it was as if she had cast a spell, commanded his vision. "Sometimes it's just school. Some of the problems are probably the same ones you'd have at yours."
"I go to a girls' school. It's very strict. Dead boring," Magda murmured as she reached out for him. "You're not boring."
Charles knew it as soon as he opened the door of Erik's compartment on the Hogwarts Express, if not before, and although he clearly thought himself too good for schoolboy teasing, the smile he wore widened, somehow at once salacious and joyful.
"Shut up," Erik grumbled.
"But I didn't say anything, my dear Erik. Good summer?"
The parts with Magda had been fantastic. His further research on Schmidt had not gone so well. But he would have more resources at his disposal at Hogwarts. There was time.
Erik had waited eight years. He could wait a bit more.
In the next chapter, we learn what Charles was up to in those holidays. That'll be up in the next few days. As always, thank you for reading.
Chapter 14: 1949
What Charles did with the summer holiday before his seventh year.
I must reluctantly concede defeat on your point about the resilience of memory. Montgomery's writing seems to suggest that the true memory is never properly erased, only obscured. It would seem to follow that the false, planted memory may be dislodged, although no one seems to have worked out a way to do it without raving insanity as a byproduct.
My research into the control issue has hit something of a dead end. I don't suppose your family library has a copy of The Subjugated Mind you wouldn't mind lending me?
A little something to relieve your boredom: Orion Black and Persephone Yaxley spent the last dinner party I went to disturbingly engrossed in each other. I'm sure you'll agree that this sorry state of affairs has nothing to do with Black's new position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and Yaxley's brother being detained by Aurors last week. Do let me know if you hear anything.
Lastly, a little bird tells me that congratulation are in order. You'll make a great Head Girl, but you didn't need me to tell you that.
I remain, as ever, very truly yours,
Charles set down his quill, rolled up the letter and gingerly approached the window where his large and exceedingly grumpy eagle owl was perched.
"I've got some work for you." Hephaestion glared balefully at him even as he stayed still for the scroll to be tied to his leg. "For Emma. Don't fight with Artemis again, please. Emma will hex you if she has to, and I won't object. Go on."
Hephaestion didn't budge.
"What? Go on. By the time you get back, I might have something for you to take to Erik."
Somehow, this mollified him. Charles really had to find out what Erik was feeding the bloody impossible creature.
Hephaestion took to the skies with an ear-piercing screech, and Charles settled down to write to Erik, having finally run out of excuses and begun to feel the first pangs of what might have been guilt over his utter failure to do so since holidays began.
I'm sorry for not writing. By the time I figured out how to begin it was too late to do so without explaining why I've been behaving like a prat and
Charles set down the quill in lieu of throwing it across the room.
The thing about being a Legilimens was, once he'd been granted access to someone's mind, it was possible to leave the door slightly ajar and come back in any time.
Charles had no ethics to speak of when it came to his magic, because he'd been taught none. But he was always careful with Erik, only ever going where he'd been invited, because the prospect of that tentative invitation being withdrawn was one he couldn't deal with.
In the past year or so, Erik had suddenly grown into features that previously made his face look tense and hungry. He began attracting a great deal of female attention at Hogwarts, which made him alternatively angry and confused, and provided Charles and Moira MacTaggert with a great deal of amusement.
To Charles, the change was pleasant, but almost irrelevant. He saw the same thing he always saw in Erik: a mind that he wanted - maybe even needed - to know down to the core, like a favourite book he never tired of reading. Increasingly he was plagued by the fear that what he felt was far too visible.
It was contrary to everything he'd ever been taught, every silent lesson he'd ever formulated from childhood. But he was helpless before it.
Charles hated being helpless.
The summer drags on interminably. Raven is overjoyed; I feel like a particularly disgruntled ghost lurking in the halls of our home, impatiently waiting for the days to pass. I miss Hogwarts.
With any luck, your summer research project is going better than mine. Let me know if there's anything at all I can do to help. I know how important it is to you.
Please give my best regards to your father.
As the sole remaining Xavier, Charles had to fulfill certain social obligations when he was away from Hogwarts. The presence of Kurt Marko in his life had complicated those obligations, but it could not and did not erase them.
Xavier House itself was an eloquent rebuke to any delusions Kurt and his son might have had about its ownership. Even Hestia, the mousy, ancient house-elf, had only ever obeyed the Markos' commands when Charles or his mother repeated them. With his mother dead, Kurt in Azkaban, and Cain banned from the grounds, there was more to do than ever.
"Will the young master be home for dinner tonight?"
"Almost certainly not," Charles said absently. "Make sure Raven eats."
Hestia had been in the family for generations. She'd never warmed up to his father, and the trend had looked set to continue with Charles until the terrible night his mother died.
"Did you see what happened?"
"Hestia was bring her mistress cocoa. Hestia - Hestia cannot say any more, unless Master Charles makes her."
The kindness of Hestia's words, on top of everything else, almost broke something in him. But no, this was not the time. He had work to do.
"I see. Hestia, tell me exactly what happened. That's an order."
"As Master pleases."
Charles drew his cloak closer, suddenly chilled and not particularly willing to think about why. "Where is she?"
"The young mistress is in the garden, Master."
"Thank you, Hestia."
Charles had never known Xavier House to be anything other than dark and forbidding at the best of times, the high vaulted ceilings and enormous spaces only adding to the chill. It was a monument to the dead, more mausoleum than residence, and had been for generations.
No wonder Raven preferred to be outside whenever she could. The grounds had become something of a dangerous overgrown mess since his mother's death, but at least it promised sunlight and life.
Most important of all, it was an open space, and she loved flying more than anything else.
Charles squinted against the afternoon sun until he spotted her, a small figure looping her way through the tangles of old, dying trees at the far end of the grounds. He held his wand to his throat.
"Sonorus. Raven! May I interrupt?"
With the benefit of long and occasionally painful experience, he knew to take several quick steps back, just as a gust of wind bought Raven to a sudden, dead stop right on the spot where he'd been standing just a second ago.
She didn't bother to get off her broom. "What is it? Are you going out?"
"Nice braking," Charles said wryly, brushing dead leaves off his travelling cloak.
Raven grinned. "Thanks. I've been working on it."
"I'm going to Lord Essex's dinner party. Don't forget to eat something in between all that Qudditich practice."
"Sure, I'll go bother Hestia when I'm hungry," said Raven, in the tone that meant she was humouring Charles' nagging. She looked him up and down critically, and pulled out her wand to help him with the last of the debris stuck on his clothes. "Scourgify!There, stop fussing. These parties are awful, anyway. Try and have some fun, won't you? For me?"
Charles caught her hand in his, grinning when she squeaked at how cold he was. "Since you put it that way, my dear Raven, how can I refuse?"
The party was just as dull as Raven had predicted. Charles said all the right things and smiled at all the right people for as long as convention required. This done, he retreated to nurse a glass of firewhiskey while pondering the wisdom of using Legilimency to pull out the filthiest secrets of the gathered great and good of wizarding society.
If Emma had been invited, she'd have been whispering in his ear, egging him on, making it into a competition. Sadly, though, Emma's great-grandmother had killed Lord Essex's great uncle rather messily in a duel many years ago, and the Frosts had been left off guest lists ever since.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Charles was interrupted before he was truly tempted to make it happen regardless. "I understand you're looking for a copy of The Subjugated Mind. Any luck?"
"I'm afraid not," Charles said. If his smile was wide and hungry, well - he did want the book very badly. "Hello, Nathan. Are you to be my knight in enchanted armour this evening?"
Spots of colour appeared on Nathaniel Essex's pale, gaunt cheeks. "My father has a copy. Would you like to see it?"
Essex, the sole heir of one of the oldest, most respected families of wizarding Britain, had been disappointed not to be Sorted into Slytherin. It was clear in the wide-set green eyes prominent on his aristocratic face whenever he looked at Charles, a strange blend of longing and envy to be read loud and clear even without the use of magic.
To Tom Riddle, he must have seemed like easy prey. A slippery fish on a hook, perhaps.
Charles had been seeing Essex at dreadful dinner parties ever since he was old enough to wear robes, but never felt the need to approach him. There was always something cold and empty behind his eyes that made him seem the complete opposite of what Charles was drawn to in his confidants.
That only changed in fifth year, when Slytherin had Defense Against the Dark Arts with the Ravenclaws, and Professor Merrythought made them partner up with someone from the other House. Essex turned out to be very bright, and every bit as hollow as Charles had suspected. The depth of his knowledge just about made him useful as a fair-weather friend, one Charles could trust about as far as he could throw him without magic.
All of which made it bad idea to be receptive to his calculated advances. But it was a very boring party. It was either sex or experimental Legilimency, and only one of those was likely to land him in trouble with a roomful of dull, inbred bigots with too much power and not enough imagination.
"I'd be delighted. Lead the way."
Charles had no cause to regret his decision-making until after, when he was lying beside Essex, their breaths slowing, filthy, bruised and more or less content for the next ten minutes.
Essex's eyes fluttered open; they fixed on Charles, alert and fascinated, as if he was some exotic and dangerous magical creature. "I know what you can do."
Charles summoned up his best wide-eyed look. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"You don't have to hide. Use it. Read me," Essex said dreamily.
"Oh, darling, really?"
The whole point of mastering Legilimency was to make it undetectable. Charles had never met anyone who wanted to feel it. There was Emma, of course, but Emma was an exception to any number of rules. The only other Legilimens amongst the student population -
Had been Tom Riddle. Of course. The entire thing was horribly predictable, really. "Let me just - " Charles' wand was within arms' reach, as it always was. He debated using it; decided to see what he could do without instead.
"Relax. This won't hurt a bit." Essex's eyes widened satisfyingly when Charles rolled on top of him and cradled his skull with both hands, but he didn't object. "Legilimens. Oh. Oh my."
The tendril of his thoughts slicing its way through the layers of Essex's mind had caught on something bright and deadly, a knot of obsession at the core of his personality. It was the kind of secret that Charles could never resist, sealed away not because Essex was ashamed but because it was so treasured, so important to him.
Charles drew on the heart of his magic and coaxed the knot open like a flower in bloom.
"My master may have fallen, but some of us still keep the faith. We must continue his work."
For the greater good.
"Of course, Mister Shaw."
Then there was a blaze of gold light, and Charles was blind, surrounded and scalded by it with no idea of how to make it stop -
The sting of teeth on his collarbone brought him back to the dull world of the physical; irritated, he pulled Essex's head back roughly by the hair. "Not there."
He'd been so close to the true heart of the secret, before the protections around it proved too much for his magic. Without it, the rest was useless.
"Concerned about appearances, Charles?"
"Not really, no," Charles replied, exasperated and amused in equal measure by the very idea. He had somewhat more pressing concerns. He was sure Essex didn't mean for Charles to venture quite that deeply into his mind.
If Essex had noticed anything amiss, he hid it well. "They say that the Xaviers sold their souls for forbidden magic long ago." The words were whispered into Charles' ear as if they were the sweetest of endearments. "I never believed a word of it, of course - us old families all have our fanciful stories."
Charles let his grin widen past all notions of propriety. "How about now?"
"Maybe a little," Essex said, a funny little smile playing about his thin mouth. He pressed a kiss to Charles' temple. "It would explain you."
"A time is coming when we'll all have to choose a side, Charles. Make you sure pick the right one. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you."
"How sweet," Charles said idly. He rolled away from Essex, sat up and began to get dressed. Raven would expect him back soon. "I'll remember that, when the time comes."
But of course Essex was wrong. There were no choices left.
Charles knew a Fidelius Charm when he saw one.
It's not all plot from here - there will be more flashback chapters when backstory is necessary, including the story of how Raven came to be living with Charles, and the story of Erik and Charles' first meeting.