a Disney/Hogwarts Crossover Fic
Author's Note: Last chapter was a long one, so here's a shorter entry. A breather episode, if you will, setting up a few things. There may be some similarities to an earlier chapter (exactly how, I won't say, as to avoid spoilers), but so many of the characters have had similar experiences, it wouldn't be right to not remark on it, particularly if they were to share the same universe.
9. STRANGERS LIKE ME
There was a knock on the door, and a raspy voice said, "Come in."
The door opened, and a wiry Indian boy with shaggy hair and a Gryffindor tie stuck his head in. "Professor Rafiki? You wanted to see me?"
The Magical Creatures instructor beamed, teeth white against his umber skin. "Ah, Mowgli, please, come in."
It was the first time the young first-year had been in his Head of House's office. It was larger and airier than he expected. Shelves were crammed with books and scrolls, and magizoological diagrams hung on the wall along with Swahili art and artifacts the Professor had brought with him from his homeland. Against one wall stood a large cage housing small birds with metal feathers. Mowgli was so fascinated, he almost didn't notice the upperclassman sitting across from the Professor.
Professor Rafiki gestured to the other open chair with a long-fingered hand. "Please, Mowgli, have a seat. Do you know Tarzan?"
Mowgli looked up at the older boy, who regarded him with intense blue eyes. "No," he said. He hadn't met the boy, but there was something very familiar about him.
Rafiki smiled, causing the blue and scarlet lines on his face to shift interestingly. Mowgli had asked a couple of older students, but nobody seemed to know if they were tattoos, face paint, or something else entirely. "In that case, Mowgli Seoni, I'd like you to meet Tarzan Kerchak."
The older boy nodded to Mowgli, then, as if remembering, held out his hand. It took half a beat for Mowgli to remember to do the same. Tarzan's hand was big with leathery palms and swollen-looking knuckles. He was also perched in his seat, instead of sitting on his backside. He had long hair which seemed to coil itself into something like dreadlocks, was obviously well-muscled, and would probably have been pretty tall if he stood up straight. He'd left off the black Hogwarts student robe, and his Ravenclaw tie was as loosely knotted as possible.
"I thought it would be good for the two of you to meet," Rafiki said to Mowgli. "I know that it hasn't been easy for you to settle in here." Mowgli opened his mouth to protest, but the Professor held up a hand. "I may be old, but I'm not senile yet. I know, first-hand, how hard it can be to fit in, when you are a stranger, even amongst the strange. How hard it is, to feel understood, when you barely understand yourself. I even know what it is like to not be sure what species you are."
Mowgli blinked at the Professor. "Species?"
Professor Rafiki smiled. There was a strange, organic sound as the Professor's form melted into that of a mandrill. Mowgli stared, slack-jawed, at the ape now sitting in the Professor's chair. Tarzan smiled, perfectly at ease. When Mowgli regained use of his mouth, he stammered, "You-it-wha-?"
The mandrill shivered and was replaced by the elderly Professor. "I am an Animagus," he said. "Many wizards have talents beyond casting spells. For me, it is turning into an animal. Try waking up as an ape, having no wizards around to teach you what is happening to you." He gave wry chuckle. "It wasn't until a priestess from the next village found me that I could feel like a human being. Even then, I was treated like a monster until she convinced my parents to let me study wizardry."
Mowgli said nothing. No one had actually gone so far as to bully him, or anything, but he caught their sideways glances and was aware of their stiff behavior around him. He didn't know who told them, but he knew his classmates had somehow found out about his early years. It wasn't that he was ashamed-far from it-but it felt somehow wrong that his story should be told without his permission.
"They treat you differently."
Mowgli blinked and looked over at Tarzan, staring down at him with those intense eyes. The older boy's voice was rough, and he spoke very clearly, as if taking care with each syllable.
"I'm sorry?" Mowgli said. His own speech was delivered with careful patience.
"They treat you differently," Tarzan repeated. "Different from how they treat each other. They are...careful around you. Watchful. Like you are a puzzle to solve. Or a dangerous animal."
Mowgli felt his mouth go dry. "How-?"
"It is how people treated me," Tarzan replied, and he glanced at Professor Rafiki, who nodded. With the Professor's assistance, Tarzan told Mowgli how he'd lost his parents as a baby while the family was on a trip through Africa. He'd been discovered and adopted by a gorilla who'd lost her child. Somehow, his latent magic had allowed him to bond with his gorilla family and communicate with other animals. A zoologist had discovered him as a teenager, and-at the urging of his gorilla mother-helped to reacquaint him with his human heritage. It didn't hurt that the zoologist's young daughter had recognized him as a wizard.
"It was wolves for me," Mowgli said, when Tarzan finished his story. "And a panther. And a bear."
Mowgli shared his own story-what he knew of it anyway. He barely remembered his own parents-his human parents, anyway. But the animals who took him in and cared for him, he remembered clearly and missed dearly. Mowgli's story was remarkably similar to Tarzan's, save that he was younger when he'd rejoined the human race. In that, at least, he supposed he was luckier. It wasn't quite so hard to relearn human speech, and at least he didn't have to see Dr. Poppins every so often because he kept trying to walk on his knuckles.
"Nobody lives the same life, Mowgli," Professor Rafiki said. "But sometimes, you might find someone whose experience is close enough to understand. When things get hard, and you need someone to talk to-" He paused and looked at Tarzan. "Or, someone to merely be silent with-you can come talk to us."
"Having friends helps," Tarzan said.
Mowgli, for the first time in a long time, smiled.
Jane Porter carefully shaded in her drawing, creating depth in the image of the bowtruckle. She'd been observing it for a while, there in the castle gardens, and had brought out her pencil and sketchbook without realizing it. The little creature had been patient as she drew it, as if it knew what she was up to. But, after a while, the creature scurried away. Jane didn't mind; she could fill in the details from memory.
"Hello, Tarzan," she said.
There was a spluttering sound, and Jane looked behind her. Tarzan was hanging from a branch, and clearly had screeched to a halt in the process of trying to surprise her with some kind of animal sound. He'd been trying to pull that trick since they'd met in the jungles years ago.
It was annoying-but cute.
"How did it go with Professor Rafiki?" she asked, returning to her drawing.
Tarzan dropped out of the tree and landed next to her. He made a conscious effort not to crouch on his haunches, but to actually sit. It was getting easier, training his body to move as evolution had intended, but a lifetime of moving like an ape was hard to change. He still felt slightly strangled by all of the clothing he was expected to wear, but Jane had impressed upon him that that point was non-negotiable.
"It went well," he said.
"Good," Jane said. "What exactly did he want?"
Tarzan hesitated. It didn't feel entirely right to talk about someone else's troubles. "You have heard about Mowgli Seoni?"
Jane closed her sketchbook. "Ah." She had heard about the boy. Most of the school likely had. "And Professor Rafiki thought you'd have some insights to share?"
Tarzan nodded. "I don't think he will have the struggles I had," he said. "He is young, and at least had a chance to know his human family." He looked over at her. She was watching him with obvious concern. He brushed the hair from her face. "But I had the best teacher."
Jane felt her cheeks warm a little. Maybe Tarzan wasn't Shakespeare, but he still said the right thing. In fact, as she laced her fingers with his, not minding the roughness of his skin, she remembered what it was like when she and her father had found him. Although, one might say he found them. She'd never seen someone pick up a language as fast as he had, like there was a vacuum inside of him, waiting to be filled with ideas.
Once he'd learned how, he begged them to show him more, eager to find out about these strangers like him. Whatever they did, he'd do it, too. He'd wanted them to show him everything and tell him how. He could see there was so much to learn; it was all so close and yet so far. He just knew there was something bigger out there.
Of course, when Jane had gone with him to see his world-where there was beauty beyond her dreams-she was very tempted to beg her father to stay in the jungle with the gorillas forever. Her father was no doubt tempted, too. But it wasn't meant to be. Even Tarzan's mother-his gorilla mother-urged him to go with the Porters. There was a world he needed to know.
"I think," Jane said, looking up at Tarzan, who looked down at her, smiling, "that the Professor has had an excellent idea."
Ariel positioned her wheelchair near the staircase banister. A section of the floor right there was a slightly different color from the surrounding flagstone. Ariel withdrew her wand and tapped the armrest of her chair. Lines and circles and symbols flickered briefly over the surface of the chair and the discolored section of flagstone, and Ariel held on tight. Loops of stone sprouted from the surface of the flagstone and curled around the wheels of Ariel's chair. There was a clicking of gears, and the entire panel of flagstone moved, lifting Ariel. Slowly, the section of floor, anchored to a the banister, began to carry Ariel up the flight of stairs.
Once upon a time, Ariel had heard, students who were denied the use of their legs would be carried up the stairs by teams of House Elves specifically employed for the purpose. Ariel was incredibly thankful technomancy had advanced since then and had started to catch up with muggle innovation. It was bad enough, having to make use of things like this just to function like her classmates, but the thought of actually being carried around by Elves like a rolled up carpet made her sick.
The lift deposited her at the top of the stairs, released her chair, and she continued towards the Library. It may have been a pain to have to go back and forth from the dungeons every day, but at least she wasn't in Ravenclaw, having to go up to the second tallest tower in the castle and back. Objectively, she knew she was being silly, but, for some reason, she just couldn't-
"Miss Del Mar?"
Ariel blinked and turned towards the husky voice. "I'm sorry?"
Professor Cecily was standing in the doorway to her office, watching her. Professor Cecily could be difficult to get used to, depending on what one expected from a Charms instructor. She wasn't a whimsical, airy-fairy sort with fluttery speech and a sparkly gown. She was heavyset, and not the least bit ashamed of her figure. In fact, she usually wore dark, form-hugging dresses, displaying roughly an acre of cleavage. Her age was indeterminate, her silver hair was styled in a high pompadour, she had a bawdy sense of humor, and her makeup was almost an act of aggression. There was almost always an amused smirk on her scarlet-painted lips.
But now, she looked decidedly worried.
"Miss Del Mar, might I have a word?"
"Yes, ma'am," Ariel replied, and wheeled herself into the office. The Professor closed the door behind her.
Professor Cecily's office was as surprising as the woman herself. The first time she'd been there, Ariel had expected it to look like it to be all polished chrome and geometric art deco furniture. Instead, the furnishings were rococo and the decor was mostly nautical antiques. The paintings on the wall weren't just seascapes, but underseascapes. It was as if there were dozens of rectangular portholes in a submarine, through which sea creatures magical and mundane could be seen. In fact, on one occasion, Ariel had seen every painting go dark at once, and what looked like a huge, yellow eye passed by.
"Is there something wrong, Professor?" Ariel asked.
"As a matter of fact," Cecily said, sitting behind her desk, "that's what I was going to ask you."
Ariel frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I went to Hogsmeade the other day," Cecily said. "I rounded off the evening with a trip to the Three Broomsticks."
"All right," Ariel said, not sure where this was going.
"It was a very convivial evening," the Professor said. "Especially the little impromptu dance party."
Ariel tried not to squirm in her seat. "Yes, I suppose so..."
The Professor sighed. "Ariel, dear, shall we not? I saw you there, watching the dancing."
Ariel tensed, her face turning almost as red as her hair.
"And I saw your face as you left, alone."
Ariel opened her mouth to speak, but found no words.
"Ariel, dear, I'm not just your Charms teacher," Cecily said. "I'm here as an advisor and counselor. If there's something troubling you, I want you to know you can come to me. If you have problems or questions, or if you just need to someone to listen without judging, my door is always open." Cecily offered a little smile. "All right, dear?"
Ariel swallowed, and nodded. "Thank you, Professor," she said, in a small voice.
"Aladdin is a fine young man, and no doubt, a marvelous friend," the Professor said, "but there are probably things you might not feel comfortable sharing even with him." She tilted her head, watching Ariel. "Am I right?"
After a moment, Ariel nodded, not trusting her voice.
Professor Cecily regarded her student a moment, then asked, "Let's be frank, shall we? Just talk girl-to-girl?"
Ariel frowned, but said, "Okay, I guess."
"I've seen how you look at that Gryffindor boy, Eric," Cecily said, and her expression turned mischievous. "Of course, I can't really comment on a student, but when I was your age, a boy like that would have turned my head, for sure."
A giggle escaped Ariel's mouth before she could stifle it, and the Professor chuckled. Her expression softened as she said, "And, as I said, I saw your face when he was dancing with all those other girls. Poppet, it was heartbreaking."
Ariel bit her lip, eyes stinging. "I-"
The Professor clucked her tongue and handed Ariel a handkerchief. "There, there, dear," Cecily cooed. "I know it can't be easy. Strike that-I can't know, I can only imagine."
Ariel sniffled and dabbed at the tears spilling down her cheeks. "Thank you, Professor. I appreciate that."
"That I can only imagine what you're going through?"
Ariel nodded. "Everyone keeps talking like it's something they understand, or that it doesn't matter," she said. "They just...don't get it."
"The best anyone can really do is empathize," the Professor said. She pursed her scarlet lips for a moment, then said, "Cerebral palsy, isn't it?"
Ariel nodded. "Healers and doctors all say it's just... one of those things that happens," she said, in a small voice. "I try to remember that there are worse things than not being able to use my legs, but it can be...exhausting, you know?" And Ariel was glad that everything else functioned properly. She had full use of her arms and hands, could see and hear and speak without impairment, and had total control of her bodily functions.
Cecily tutted and shook her head. "It's a shame they can't do anything for you," she said.
"Medical sorcery can't fix it when your own body turns against you," Ariel replied. "And as for muggle medicine..."
"They try," Cecily said. "I expect your father has done everything he could think of to help. Probably everything short of-" The Professor halted, then shook her head. "No, not that."
Ariel frowned. "What?"
The Professor waved her hand. "No, it's not worth mentioning."
Ariel gripped her armrests, eyes fixed on her Charms instructor. "Professor..?"
Professor Cecily drummed her garnet-polished nails on her desk. Then she sank back in her chair. "Oh, I suppose you'd learn about it, anyway," she sighed. "I suppose you've already learned about our illustrious founders?"
"Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin," Ariel recited.
Cecily nodded. "And I'm sure Professor Hatter told you that they founded this school so young wizards would have a place to learn, here, in this citadel of academia." Ariel nodded, and the Professor continued. "But do you know why they taught what they did?"
"What do you mean?" Ariel asked.
Cecily leaned forward. A shark crossed the surface of the paintings on the wall behind her. "Academic wizardry as we know it is the breed of magic taught over most of the world," she said. "It can be learned by anyone with magic in them. It's simple. It's safe. It's...tame. But before modern wizardry was established, there was something else."
"What?" Ariel asked, leaning forward herself.
"Old Magic," Cecily said. "Real witchcraft. Magic of the Earth, and the sea, and the blood and the bone. It was messy. Wild. Powerful. Modern wizardry requires only an investment of the wizard's personal energy, amplified by the wizard's wand and shaped by a spell's words. But the price of Old Magic was determined to be too great. The academic wizards were afraid of it. They couldn't actually fight it, so they tried to get people to forget it."
Ariel's mouth worked for a moment before she spoke. "Could...could Old Magic help?"
Cecily looked away. "Possibly," she said at last. "If anything could."
Ariel never looked away from her teacher. "And... do you know about Old Magic? How to use it, I mean? Could you find an answer?"
Cecily bit her lip. "If only I hadn't said anything," she muttered to herself. Then she looked up at Ariel. "I do have...resources at my disposal," she said. "I can't promise anything, but...I'll try." She sat up straighter and squared her shoulders. "Even if such things have been forbidden, I'll do what I can to help."
Tears spilled out of Ariel's eyes, but not of sadness this time. "You would do that for me?"
Professor Cecily reached across her desk and took Ariel's hand. "My dear, sweet child," she said, "it's what I do. It's what I live for."