Actions

Work Header

Auradon Imperia: A Descendants Retelling - Chronicle I

Chapter Text

AN OVERVIEW OF AURADON

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE UNITED KINGDOMS OF AURADON

AS RECORDED BY THE WIZARD, MERLIN

The United Kingdoms of Auradon, formed during the reign of King Stefan II after the marriage of his daughter, Aurora, to the son of King Hubert, Phillip, inspired by the period of peace brought on by their union. Stefan turned his sights towards forming a larger alliance across the kingdoms of Western Europe.
                Rallying the rulers of surrounding kingdoms, Stefan’s efforts proved slow due to King Hubert’s involvement, a stubborn negotiator himself, though they found an ally in Queen Snow White of Blumental, and her king-consort, Florian, the younger brother of the King of Orvallee. Together, the four rulers formed a council of monarchs and were the first to lead the United Kingdoms of Auradon, with King Stefan elected as the High King, though there were movements for Snow White to be chosen as High Queen instead, which she graciously declined.
                Although now operating under a single banner, the four kingdoms were free to govern individually as they saw fit, as Auradon was conceived as an allied union rather than an empire, and only decisions of continental import were decided among the union’s monarchs. Although the transition was not smooth, the kingdoms found ways to manage, and with their new alliance the benefits of Auradon began to outweigh the detriments. Trade flourished, and the sharing of resources led to a brighter future, and drew other monarchs of Europe to join the United Kingdoms.

King Stefan greets Queen Snow White

THE REFORMATION
A RARE TRUE EXAMPLE OF ‘MIGHT MAKES RIGHT’

The formation of Auradon came with a number of revelations for the monarchs involved, which also threatened the formation of Auradon as old enemies began to spring up around them. These villains were not the result of some hellish exodus from the underworld, but rather by a lack of examination.
                First among the villains that returned was the former queen regent of Blumental, Grimhilde von Ballenstedt, stepmother to Snow White, who was discovered to have survived her fall from a cliff in the Schwarzwald by good fortune of a river below. It came to the attention of Snow White that her stepmother had returned to their former home in Lohrer Schloss overlooking the village of Lohr in Blumental, since abandoned following Snow White’s marriage to Florian and decision to live in Orvallee for a time.
                Grimhilde was apprehended, and put up little resistance in her weakened state, and imprisoned in a tower to await trial after negotiations for Auradon’s unification were complete. The discovery of the wicked queen sparked paranoia in King Stefan, who sent knights out to Montagne Interdite – the Forbidden Mountain – in order to investigate rumours of activity there and discern whether or not brave Prince Phillip had truly slain the fairy.
                The knights Stefan sent never returned, and so taking this as a sign of her survival, he launched an assault against the ruined fortress. Yet following the sorceress’s death, Maleficent’s dark troupe had long since abandoned the fortress, and Stefan’s knights found no opposition awaiting them. Yet within the bowels of the mountain, deep beneath the fortress itself, he discovered the fairy sorceress, and apprehended her to be executed. Yet containing her proved troublesome, and so it was on the advice of the Three Good Fairies that he sought out the wizard, Merlin, in the Broceliande. Sending an envoy to the Broceliande Forest, Stefan asked for a way to securely contain her, fearing death would elude her again should he have her killed.
                It was this that led to the establishment of the Isle of the Lost. With the combined efforts of Merlin, the Three Good Fairies, the patron fairy godmother to the royal family in from Occitaine, and many other fairies, wizards and good witches of the kingdoms, that the isle was raised from the depths of the ocean, and a nexus cast over it to inhibit the magic of whomever stayed on the isle. Maleficent was sentenced to live on the isle for the rest of her days, and with the formation of a potential prison for all criminals in the Union, Grimhilde was sentenced to the isle alongside her.
                This was the beginning of the reformation, with many surviving villains being tracked down across Europe and sent to the Isle of the Lost, converting it into a prison colony for exiles and those who helped them.

UNIFICATION
THE REALISATION OF A KING’S DREAM

King Stefan II did not live to see his dream of a completed Auradon, with his death of King Hubert weighing heavily on his heart in the months to follow at the loss of such a dear friend. It was not until he received encouragement from his wife, Leah, and his daughter, Aurora, that he chose to pursue Auradon as he and Hubert had envisioned it. Stefan convinced other kingdoms to join the union, using his prior dealings with the fairy godmother from Occitaine to convince King Henri-Christian and his queen, Cinderella, to join the union, as well as cementing an agreement with Gascaine’s Grand Prince, Adam, after years of battling with Gasconian aristocrats who didn’t wish to bow to foreign laws.
                Shortly after, he also began negotiations with the kingdom of Regnomaria, though they were never completed. It was on the arrival of King Eric and Queen Ariel to cement the alliance that Stefan fell gravely ill, soon passing away before a dialogue could be made. Though mourning Stefan’s death, his queen, Leah, now Queen Dowager, nevertheless took initiative with King Phillip, and completed her husband’s negotiations with the Regnomarian royals and completing Stefan’s Auradon as tribute to him.
                Following her success, Leah retired from the throne and handed the kingdom to her daughter and son-in-law entirely, and saw them finally conjoin the kingdoms of Stefan and Hubert as a singular nation now known as Pryleaux.
                Queen Aurora committed herself to maintaining her father’s legacy, and with her husband’s help, she reached out to other kingdoms beyond the borders her father had set, such as Corona, Arendelle, and even the mythical kingdom of the merfolk known as Atlantica and Agrabah in the middle east. However, her efforts proved more difficult than her father’s had, due to her own inexperience as a ruler, never having learned in her youth due to her seclusion in the woods.
                Other factors also complicated her efforts, such as Arendelle’s former queen, Elsa, being suspicious of Auradon due to its relations with Corona, which had indirectly become involved in an attack on Arendelle from the southern isles known as the Danes. Furthermore, Atlantica had once again become separated from the world above the ocean’s surface, prompted by the newly crowned Queen Attina’s brush with pirates who attacked and kidnapped some of her retinue, resurfacing old memories of her own mother’s death at the hands of pirates. As such, Aurora’s communication with the merfolk has been relegated to correspondence with Queen Ariel, who remains the only port of call between the land and sea now.
                Agrabah was the only region to respond to Aurora’s outreach, though even Sultana Jasmine is apprehensive about joining her realm to a predominately Western power, though she has agreed to trade relations and made use of the Isle of the Lost herself to incarcerate the sorceress, Nasira.

CONCLUSION

It is King Stefan’s triumph in facilitating the union of the kingdoms that marked him as one of the most capable leaders of his time, and following his death he was canonised by the church as a patron saint of peace and unity.
                Though his daughter struggles to come to grips with ruling, it is with careful guidance from her mother and her husband, Phillip, as well as cooperation from other rulers in the union, that the United Kingdoms of Auradon have maintained peace. However, it is with the passing of Grand Princess Belle’s petition to bring children of the Isle’s prisoners to the continent, branded wicked for their parents’ sins, that dissention has begun to spread throughout the kingdoms.
                As unfortunate as it may be, this chapter of peace in the history of the kingdoms may well be threatened, should Queen Aurora prove unable to uphold her father’s legacy and stifle public outcry against the petition, and thus have the Union collapse under her reign.

Chapter Text

THE WITCHING HOUR

Between the hours of Three and Four,
when the World is fast asleep;
Witches, Demons and Ghosts appear,
and Black Magic does run deep. ”

Over the rolling hills and plains of Pryleaux, once the lands of the late kings Stefan and Hubert, now the conjoined kingdom of High Queen Aurora and High King Phillip, two black birds flew through the night. One a crow with ruffled and ragged feathers carrying a bag in its feet, the other a regal raven whose plumage was patched with the colour of granite from a spell that was mostly undone. In the distance and growing closer, the castle of the king and queen: Château de l’Aube.
                Flying in through an open window, the birds perched on two posts of the bed, looking down upon the sleeping monarchs: one the handsome king, destined hero of a fairy tale come true, skin glowing and muscles shadowed in the firelight. The other, the beautiful queen, most wondrous fair, gold of sunshine in her hair, and lips to shame the red, red rose. Looking between them, the raven and crow drift down to the sleeping queen, the raven settling upon her chest, and the crow aside her head.
                The crow looks at its companion, then hops from the bed, taking its package to the ground and untying it with its beak to expose a piece of mandrake. Tossing it beneath the bed, behind the skirting of the sheets, the crow takes up the cloth wrapping and string, and tosses it into the fire and returning to its perch upon the post, watching. The raven looms over the queen’s face, beak brushing her nose, turning its head to stare at her closed eyes, ensuring she slumbers deeply.
                Rearing back, the raven spread its wings, opening its mouth with a quiet caw, willing her to dream of an isle, of a spinning wheel, and of forgotten children...


 

“It is done,” spoke Maleficent, the vision of the sleeping Aurora fading from her sight, replaced now by the image of Grimhilde seated by the fire, kneeling in front of a copper bowl of burning herbs and curling scrolls of paper scrawled with curses and maledictions turning to ash before their eyes. Nasira, who stood across the bowl from Grimhilde, handed a sprig of mandrake to the former queen, who took it and held it to the flames of the fireplace, before placing it in the bowl with the rest of the spell.
                “How can you be so certain?” Cruella spoke, standing to the left of Maleficent’s chair as she watched the contents of the smoking bowl, the mandrake started to curl up along with the paper. She could have sworn she heard it screaming, though the sound was barely audible, almost lost in the crackling of the fireplace. “You’ve said for years something like this could hardly work from here on the isle.”
                “I also said restoring Diablo from stone would be a challenge, yet I achieved it eventually,” Maleficent responded coolly, trying to rub her pained sternum as discreetly as she could, though she caught Grimhilde’s eye as the former queen glanced up from the bowl.
                “I also recall that bird falling over itself because of a stone wing you failed to turn back at first.”
                “Trial and error, Cruella, trial and error,” Nasira answered in her smooth Agrabahn accent.
                “Are we going to tell them?” Grimhilde asked, peering up at the three other woman, Cruella and Nasira turning to look Maleficent where she sat in her chair.
                “No,” she said, adjusting her position in her seat, “we’ll wait to see if it works first. No use getting them excited, or soon enough the whole isle will know as well.”
                “Like they won’t know when the ship comes to harbour and doesn’t leave after getting rid of its cargo,” Cruella scoffed, and she flicked ash from her cigarette into the flames.
                “I’ll write a letter,” Grimhilde said, “to Snow White. I’ll plead on their behalf, maybe she’ll convince Aurora if this doesn’t work. She was always a soft touch, it should be no trouble to sway her in their favour.”
                “Yes, do,” Maleficent nodded, rubbing the orb of her sceptre idly with her thumb as she gazed into the fire. “Until then, we’ll keep trying. We’ve waited nineteen years, we can wait a little longer...”

Chapter Text

A MONTH LATER...

“You just had to go for the gold too, didn’t you?” Christian snarled.
                His feet pounded along the dirt pathway down from the dock warehouse. In his hand, he tightly gripped a satchel, and with the other he kept the bag around his shoulder from impeding his haste. His meagre muscles and skinny legs weren’t made for running, and he was wearing one of his nicer pairs of shoes too. They didn’t deserve the abuse being laid upon them. Beside him, Jahd ran with equal measure, though unlike Christian he was fitter, and a devilish smirk spread on his face. He was also carrying bags, one of which jingled with the sound of no small amount of coins.
                Coming to the end of the path into the main docks, bustling with people who parted to make way for the two boys Jahd made a quick dart right. Christian, not following suit quickly enough, skid along the dirt as he came nose-to-nose with the much taller form of Harry Hook, a mangled grin bearing down on him and his eponymous hook raised.
                “Going somewhere?” he cooed in the brief second it took Christian to act, quickly bolting in the opposite direction and following the path Jahd had taken. The streetrat, however, had disappeared from sight, though Christian didn’t break his sprint, hearing the heavy footfalls of Harry’s boots behind him and shouts to other pirates in Melusine’s crew. The boy wove through the crowd, dodging and ducking as he went, before skipping left through a threadbare carpet stall, hopping onto the display table and barrelling across to the next stall. He hopped down when he came to the end of tables and was prepared to keep running until he reached the upper isle were he not pulled into the alley by the neck of his shirt.
                For a brief moment, he panicked, until he saw golden eyes peering back at him from the shadow. Looking back out to the market road, he saw Harry and his lot charge past towards the end of the street.
                “What did you do?!” Pandora hissed, drawing his attention back to her. Her brow was drawn together, and her nose and upper lip curled.
                “Nothing!” Christian answered, glancing back out to the road then to Pandora again. “We did everything like you said and got the box. Jahd caused the trouble. There was another box, full of gold sovereigns, this big,” he paused to show her with his hands, “and Jahd just went for it after we got Nasira’s box.”
                “And?
                “And then one of Melusine’s crew saw him from up in the rafters and rang the alarm bell and we got out of there. I ran into Harry on the way down.”
                “And now the dock is going to be crawling with her and her grandmother’s lot!”
                “Where’s Eve?”
                “Still keeping the le Gume brothers distracted I imagine, she caught them in the market square on their way down here,” Pandora said, leaning out from the alley to look up and down the road. Harry was down towards the end dividing his boys to either fork in the road, and more of Melusine’s crew coming down from the waterfront. ”Come on, we have to go around the back.”

-

Eve von Ballenstedt had long since found that when the curves of the body won’t do, the loving curve of one’s smile was a young lady’s most reliable weapon.
                “What do you think of this?” Eve asked, draping red velvet like a sash over her breast, turning for the three sons of Gaston to admire it. In each of their arms was either a stack of boxes and bolts of fabric she bought for herself, or bags filled with perfumes and ointments she had desired and they had obliged to purchase for her. Behind her, the eldest Tremaine boy, David, held the bolt of red velvet for her.
                “Beautiful!” said Gaston II, who was the oldest, and so largest and strongest.
                “Ravishing!” exclaimed Gaston III, who was middle, and most charming.
                “Breathtaking...” sighed Gaston IV, who was youngest, and thus most foolish of the three.
                Each of them would be her suitor given the chance, all three of them thoroughly besotted and always vying for her hand. From behind the register at the front desk, Eve could see the jealous glare of Drizella Tremaine glowering over the shoulder of the youngest (and shortest) Gaston.
                “You’re just saying that,” she grinned, twirling light-footed and girlish, all while they shouted over each other in protest.
                The three brothers were only silenced with the loud rapping of a cane against wood, all four of them turning to face the withering glare of Lady Tremaine, who had appeared in the doorway. “I do believe that this is a fabric store,” she said coldly, “not a tavern for you all to fight over the nearest wench of a barmaid who flashes you a smile.”
                The three brothers fell silent, and bowed out of her way as she strode into her store, cane striking against the floorboards with every step. Despite all the years she had spent on the isle, Eve could safely say that neither Lady Tremaine’s arrogance nor regal air had diminished. Her hair had greyed further, her wrinkles may have deepened, and her gowns may have gotten less and less luxurious the longer she remained, yet the cold glassy green of her eyes and that scowl never changed.
                David placed the bolt he held on the table, and rushed to take his grandmother’s hat and cape from her.
                “Have you heard what they’re saying out there, Eve?” she asked coolly.
                “I have not,” Eve replied, rolling the red velvet back up onto its bolt, which she then slid out of its spot on one of the tables, Gaston IV rushing to take it from her hands before his brothers could.
                “The cargo ship from Occitaine came again,” Lady Tremaine said, “and they say an official stepped off of it and went to you and your mother’s tower, as he did to Maleficent, Cruella and Nasira’s homes. There are rumours you and your friends may be leaving the isle.”
                Eve didn’t know what she could say to that.
                True enough, she knew her mother and Maleficent had had fantasies of leaving the isle since she and Pandora were girls, but she never gave them any credit. At one point, when she was thirteen, Maleficent had even written to High Queen Aurora and High King Phillip inquiring to the girls being allowed to leave, though they received no reply.
                “I wouldn’t know anything about that, Lady Tremaine,” she answered simply, it was the most truthful thing she could say after all.
                Lady Tremaine peered down her hooked nose at Eve for a moment, eyes narrowing slightly before she gave a hum, and receded further into the store, down to the back. Eve’s eyes followed  her, before looking back to the Gaston brothers, each of whom was glancing between where Lady Tremaine had gone and to Eve.
                “You’re not leaving, are you Eve?” said Gaston III, a distraught tone coming to his voice. Gaston IV was wide-eyed, and Gaston II was clutching his boxes and bolts ever tighter to himself like they were the only thing that could keep Eve on the isle.
                “Of course not,” she responded sweetly, lips drawing into a grin again as she crossed the distance between them, reaching up to caress each of their chins in turn. “How could I leave three strapping lads like you?”
                That was all it took for their smiles to return, Gaston II’s as cocky as III’s was enchanted and IV’s was dreaming.
                Eve reached to her purse, taking ten Auradonian sovereigns from it and placing them on the desk for Drizella as she left, the Gastons following behind. She had barely reached the door when Harry appeared in the doorway, fingers digging into the wood of the frame and eyes alight as a group of pirates barrelled past behind him.
                “You three idiots!” he snarled, looking past her to the three brothers. “Stop flirting and get going after that streetrat and white-haired twit before Melusine make eunuchs out of you all!”
                “Wait—“ Eve began to protest, though she had barely turned to face the brothers before they were all brushing past her – each apologising profusely and standing her upright as they rushed by, Gaston III even kissing her on the hand as he went.
                Eve looked back at the doorway, where Harry stood for only a second glaring at her, and her gazing down the step at him, before he was running off after them. Eve looked after him as he went, before looking back at the pile of boxes and bolts of fabric the brothers had left behind, and she felt her shoulders slump at the sight.
                “Not so charming now, are you?” Drizella snorted.
                Eve looked to the back of the store, where David had reappeared, with his own younger brother in tow, standing awkwardly in the far doorway, and Eve smiled.

-

Pandora and Christian walked briskly through the small maze of narrow alleys and roads that spread out from the main road and square behind all the stores and houses, leading further out towards the edge of the town, though they stayed close to the main road all the way. Brushing past stacks of boxes and abandoned, broken down equipment, they weaved through out into the market square. The entire isle was divided and subdivided by territories. While Maleficent and Grimhilde ruled the upper isle, having built it from the ground up after being exiled and gathering new followers under them, the waterfront was the sea witch Sycorax’s domain. The market, however, was neutral territory, and all folk of the isle gathered there to barter and haggle without troubles that came with running with the isle’s gangs and crews.
                Over on the far side of the market Pandora could see Harry and his pirates moving about, and standing taller than them, the three Gaston brothers. “Come on, this way,” Pandora said to Christian, taking him by the arm, and him in turning clutching his bag tightly in an effort deter potential pickpockets. The two of them moved through the crowd, past the stalls laden with trinkets, produce and general junk to be sifted through.
                They managed to pass through the crowd discreetly, only once ducking behind a tapestry stall when two of Melusine’s crew came down their alley.
                “There’s Jahd!” Christian said, pointing to the far side of the market, where he slipped out and up to the safety of the upper isle and out of Harry and the Gastons’ reach. “Pandora...” Christian said meekly, tugging on her sleeve. “Pandora, Melusine’s here.”
                Pandora looked towards the lower end of the market, and it took her no time to see the little sea witch marching in, her cloud of dark hair blowing about as she stormed through the market towards the crew. Though she only got a few steps in when her pale blue eyes, eerily bright against the darkness of her skin, locked with Pandora’s, and the two froze.
                “Quick,” Pandora said, pushing Christian out of the way towards the upper isle. “Run and get to Jahd, I’ll keep her busy.”
                No sooner had she said it, Christian bolted in a flurry of black, white and red. Melusine moved to chase after him, and Pandora rushed to intercept her, pushing through tapestries and rushing past pox-marked Madam Mim peddling her potions to stand in Melusine’s path.
                “Looking for something, Melusine?”
                “Your boys took something from my grandmother’s warehouse, again,” Melusine growled, moving to go past Pandora, though Pandora only stepped in her path again. Melusine moved again, and Pandora as well, until they both became still.
                “Maybe try improving your locks if Sycorax doesn’t want people getting in.”
                “Locks are useless when you seem to keep getting the key.”
                “Then shouldn’t you be finding out who keeps losing theirs for us to find it?”
                “Problem, Pandora?” Eve said, coming up behind Melusine, circling about her to stand at Pandora’s side. Following after her were the Tremaine boys, pulling along a cart of boxes, bags and bolts of fabric behind them. “You know where I live, don’t you boys?” Eve smiled, gesturing smoothly towards the upper isle, and they were quick to nod, grinning and rushing to deliver her purchases. No sooner had they left, Harry and the Gastons had joined their little gathering; Harry looming behind Pandora’s shoulder, glowering at her, and the Gastons flanking either side of the standoff between the three girls.
                “Now Melusine, don’t you know it’s rude to send a whole band of pirates to cause trouble in the market?” Eve said, sweet as can be, all the while reaching into her pocket. “And you three,” she said, gesturing to the Gastons, “were very rude dropping all my things like that. I’ll be quite cross for some time I imagine.”
                ”Last time I checked they were my men,” Melusine spat, “not your footmen.”
                The Gastons shuffled nervously.
                “I was just telling Melusine,” Pandora spoke over her, “that if she didn’t want people breaking into her grandmother’s warehouse then she should be more careful with who she trusts the key too.”
                “Maybe you should tell your traitorous little thief to keep his hands off what isn’t his.”
                “Still sore Nasira and Jahd thought we were better company?”
                “Well you’ve always stolen what isn’t yours, haven’t you? Is your mother too feeble to do her own dirty work anymore? Has to send the fledgling fairy and her rabble out instead?”
                Pandora stepped forward, raising a hand, though Eve restrained her. Melusine could only laugh.
                “You know as well as we do you can’t do anything here, Melusine, and neither can we, Pandora,” said Eve warningly. “Just let it go, we already have it and they won’t dare to go up to take it back from Nasira.”
                Melusine’s upper lip curled at the notion, looking across darkly at Pandora, who glared back in turn.
                “Besides, we have bigger fish to fry,” Eve continued, drawing Pandora further back to whisper in her ear. “Lady Tremaine said someone from the continent came to our houses. That we might be getting sent to Auradon.”
                Pandora shot a look at Eve, eyes wide and brow furrowed. She hadn’t heard wrongly, judging by the firm expression Eve bore. Pandora looked back at Melusine and shook Eve’s hand off before turning and pushing past Harry.
                “Run away to mother dragon,” Melusine called after her, watching as Pandora slipped into the crowd toward home. Eve lingered for a moment, glancing over Melusine, the Gastons, and turning with a toss of her dark hair to face Harry, who stood in her path. The girl paused for a moment, looking up at him with a wry smile, before adjusting his coat.
                “Haven’t I told you you’d look good in a cravat?” she asked, holding up a white cravat cloth and placing it in his hand before brushing past. She lifted her skirt as she jogged to catch up with Pandora, settling into a brisk walk to keep up with Pandora’s stride.
                “You’re positive that’s what Tremaine said?” Pandora asked.
                “She’s the biggest gossipmonger on the isle, she wouldn’t say it unless she knew it was credible.”
                No scandal big or small, nor any newsworthy event on the isle had ever escaped Lady Tremaine’s ears. Sooner or later, she always found out.
                Pandora and Eve finally passed out of the market, Eve glancing over her shoulder to make sure Melusine and her crew hadn’t entertained the notion of following them, and no sooner had they passed the second street up Jahd and Christian came out to join them.
                “Shake them off then?” Jahd asked, his voiced accented like his aunt’s, though rougher where hers was svelte.
                “More or less,” Pandora answered. “Though next time you feel like stealing gold, do it in your own time.”
                “Oh come on, how bad is a few more sovereigns in our pockets?” Jahd grinned, holding up the small sack and shaking it, the coins jingling inside.
                “Did you get what your aunt asked for?” Eve asked.
                Jahd only looked over at Christian, who looked down at his satchel bag. They all came to a stop, gathering into a circle as he opened the back, and pulled out the small box. It was black wood lined with gold designs of unknown creatures, each one flowing into the other and dancing along outside of the box.
                “It’s the right one, isn’t it?” Christian asked nervously.
                “We’ll find out when she gets it,” Pandora answered, looking over the box one more time before taking it and putting it back in Christian’s bag, which she then took and gave to Jahd.
                “Go home and give it to your aunt,” she instructed, before walking forward again. “I need to go home and talk to my mother.”

Chapter Text

As the first to come to the isle, Maleficent and Grimhilde had had the luxury of building their homes first, and in pride of place among the isle. At the very height of the upper isle, into the side of a short cliff face, two large doors had been placed as the only entrance to the small manor peering over the edge of the cliff above, houses built on either side of the doors fanning out along the cliff. Down the road, towards the edge of the isle where the ocean churned below, stood Grimhilde’s tower.
                Pandora and Eve parted ways when they came to the cave doors, Eve departing down to the tower to see her mother, and Pandora taking the key from her pocket to unlock the doors and enter. The only light in the small tunnel came from the end of the short stair before her, emanating from the house, and the narrow slits in the doors behind her cast long lines of light in front of her. She went to walk forward, though her feet brushed against something and she looked down to see a rolled piece of scroll, creased where it had been squeezed through the door window, and tied off with a blue ribbon and a seal. Pandora knelt down to take it, holding it to the light of the door windows.
                Her heart skipped at the seal: an imperial crown monogrammed with an ‘A’, surrounded by a ring of seven stars.
                Clutching the scroll to her chest, Pandora passed up the stairs, and into the house. By no means a grand home, it was nonetheless larger than others on the isle, and the wide empty expanse of the first floor laid out before her.
                On the far side of the room a fireplace, alight and casting shadows along the walls and floors, the clouded windows doing little to light the room up. By the fire was a chair, in which a dark figure sat. Pandora crossed the room quietly, treading lightly as she breezed across the floor to the chair, a hand settling against its back.
                Maleficent was leaned back into the chair, her head angled towards the fire and her eyes, tired and shadowy, were closed, and her mouth drawn weakly into a thin line. Her sceptre was leaning against the fireplace. No one could have ever guessed this woman had once terrorised a kingdom for sixteen years by the sheer chance of it losing its princess. Yet here she sat, dreaming, her pale wisps of white hair uncovered and drawn back over her head. It was like looking at death, pale and shrouded in black.
                By her mother’s own admission, she had never been the same since her defeat, and the pains of it had haunted her ever since.
                “Mother?” Pandora said softly, her other hand coming to touch her mother’s shoulder.
                Her eyes opened, somewhat slowly, and the fairy shifted in her seat, straightening and rolling her neck slightly as she lifted her head to look at Pandora. Her eyes were golden and bright as ever, gleaming in the firelight.
                “There you are,” she said, her voice lilting and strong despite her ailing appearance. “I had begun to wonder how long you would be.”
                “There was some trouble with Melusine and her crew.”
                Her mother did not answer, instead looking back to the fire.
                “Did anyone come to the door when I was gone?” Pandora asked.
                “I wouldn’t know,” Maleficent responded.
                Pandora held the scroll out to her, and Maleficent turned her head to look at it, then at Pandora. Pandora turned it in her hand to show the wax seal on the ribbon, and at the sight Maleficent’s eyes widened, her thin eyebrows arching upwards. Taking the scroll from Pandora’s hand, Maleficent slit underneath the seal with a sharp fingernail, untethering the blue ribbon and dropping it to the floor beside her as she unfurled the document, which proved to be two pages.
                Holding it to the firelight, Maleficent read down the page, and Pandora moved behind her chair to the other side she may read it as well.

 

By the HIGH KING & QUEEN
A PROCLAMATION

For the Emancipation of the New Generation

AURORA R.         PHILLIP R.

                                                                  W HEREAS Our High and Privy Councils of the United
                                                                  Kingdoms  of  Auradon  has  voted  in favour of the
                                                                  emancipation  and  rehabilitation of a select  group
                                                                  of children born on the Isle of the Lost.
                                                                             We, therefore, High Queen Aurora and High
                                                                  King  Phillip,  with the sound support of our ruling
                                                                  friends  do  now  hereby  call upon Her Excellency,
                                                                  Maleficent de Guillory, Comtesse-Fae of Montagne
                                                                  Interdite, to  prepare her child for transport  to the
                                                                  kingdom of Gascaine under  the  hospitality of Our
                                                                  friends, Grand Prince Adam and Grand Princess
                                                                  Belle.
                                                                            Such a child will be educate and evaluated at
                                                                  the Royal Preparatory Academy of Villeneuve under
                                                                  the   guidance  of   Her   Serene   Highness,  Grand
                                                                  Princess Belle, and  make  her debut into the good
                                                                  society of Auradon as Ambassadors for the Isle of
                                                                  the  Lost  to  attend the inauguration of Auradon's
                                                                  heirs.  We  await  their  collection  at  your earliest
                                                                  convenience today.

                                                                  Given  at  Château de la Vallée  in the Kingdom of 
                                                                  Pryleaux, this  Fourth  Day  of  June in the year of
                                                                  our Lord, 1558.

God save the High King and Queen
Long live the United Kingdoms of Auradon

 

                Pandora had barely read the end of the page before Maleficent had risen from her chair, jumping to her feet laughing and spinning in front of the fire. Pandora moved to steady her, though the fairy moved too wildly and quickly, dancing out of her reach in a swirl of black cloth and white hair. Her laughter bouncing off the walls and floors of the room as she came to a standstill before the fire again, reading the paper over once more, then flipping over to the second page to read that.
                “So it’s true then?” Pandora asked, gripping the chair tightly for fear she might find herself subject to a faint wave. “We’re going to the continent?”
                “Indeed,” Maleficent grinned, eyes dancing over the page again and again. “You, along with the little witch, urchin and runt of a boy, I imagine. Exactly as we intended.”
                As they intended?
                “What do you mean?” Pandora asked sharply, eyes narrowing as she made a step forward.
                “We’ve been planning this for nineteen years, Grimhilde and I, to have you sent back to the continent in our stead. Jahd and Christian have just lucked out by our good grace. Yes, this is just as we planned.”
                “How could you have managed to arrange this from the isle? You’ve no connections or power here.”
                “Don’t be foolish girl,” Maleficent answered, offering a harsh look as she clutched the proclamation to her chest, a hand rising to clutch the mantle of the fireplace to steady herself. “I’ve taught you better than to underestimate me. Distance is no obstacle when you are clever enough to cross leagues without taking a single step. I have my ways, and you’ve yours.”
                As if to agree, a caw came from above, and Pandora looked up to see Diablo perched on the rafters, bearing down on their exchange with what could only be described as a macabre grin. Looking back to the fireplace, Pandora saw the copper bowl set to the side, and saw the ashes and charred roots within it.
                Of course. All this time she had been wondering what curses the sorceresses had been conjuring up at night. She had never dared to intrude, or to ask of it. She was told what she needed to be told, when she needed to be told.
                ”Go collect the others,” Maleficent called up at the raven, and Diablo flew swiftly through the circular window at the ceiling’s apex at her command.
                Maleficent took a deep breath, still smiling as she stared off into the distance for a brief moment before turning towards the stairs. Pandora took her sceptre from where it leaned against the side of the fireplace, and walked over to give it to her to lean on.
                “I need to get dressed, and you need to pack, quickly,” Maleficent said, striking her sceptre against the ground with every step as they came to the stairs, Pandora taking her mother’s arm to guide her up to the second floor. Pandora helped her mother dress first, taking her robe and helping her into her houppelande, and then pinning her hair up and covering it with a caul, wimple and veil. It was not the most lavish outfit in her mother’s wardrobe, but it was elegant in its simplicity.
                “Go pack,” Maleficent commanded from her seat on her bed, rubbing her sternum with a grimace. Pandora hesitated for a moment, until Maleficent repeated her command. “Go, quickly. The others will be here soon, and you’ll need to be prepared with them.”
                Pandora nodded, and gave a slight bow as she retreated from the room, Maleficent rising from her seat and rounding about the bed as Pandora turned to leave, catching a glimpse of her mother approaching a cabinet on the far side and unlocking it just as she closed the door to the bedroom. The fairy hovered in the hallway before crossing over to the other door across the way, entering into her bedroom. It was a small room, her mother’s only a few feet larger itself, and the bed was smaller. She had few possessions of note, anything of worth in the hall below where visitors could see it and measure their wealth and status as one of the isle’s governing bodies.
                Reaching to the top of her wardrobe, Pandora pulled down a large leather bag, setting it on the bed and opening it. She packed books first, her favourites and two sketchbooks she placed on the bottom of the bag where they wouldn’t get damaged. Then she emptied half the contents of her wardrobe into the bag, rolling her gowns and shifts and other garments as small as she could to fit them all. Looking about, Pandora took a few small trinkets, and nestled them among the clothes; A tiny brass cauldron that could sit in the palm of her hand, a small wood carved raven that matched one Eve possessed, and a small, black varnished box that she placed the raven in for safekeeping.
                When she finished, she found she could clasp the bag shut again, and so took another smaller bag from the top of the wardrobe to deposit some of the clothes into that instead, before shutting both of them with ease. Pandora heard two pairs of footsteps coming up the stairs, and down the hall, before Eve appeared in the doorway, now wearing a cloak. Since their houses had been built, Maleficent and Grimhilde had both held keys to each other’s homes.
                “She made you waste no time then?” Eve said, the door to Maleficent’s room sounding behind her, and Pandora could hear Grimhilde’s voice as she entered and shut the door again.
                “It’s not like I can take much. Besides clothes and keepsakes everything’s too big.”
                “Do you know what you were planning to wear when we’re presented?” Eve asked, looking towards the two bags on the bed. Pandora hadn’t thought about that, and turned to look at the bags herself before saying, “I was thinking about that black dress, with the woven wool sleeves?”
                Eve tutted in response, shaking her head. “No,” she said flatly, “that describes a third of your wardrobe. They’re practical for everyday work, though the fraying and hem will have to be fixed. But when we meet everyone we must make an impression.”
                Eve approached the bed, opening the two bags and looking over the contents. She removed the cauldron and box, setting them aside, and sifted through the gowns, evaluating them in turn and setting aside every other one. Pandora couldn’t have told what she was thinking if she tried, her only clue being the slight furrow of her brow. Eve’s expression rarely betrayed her true thoughts, just like her mother. The former queen had only ever seemed to express in imperceptible looks and hints of smiles – a talent she had taught well to her daughter early in life.
                 ‘The world is your plaything when they do not know what you are thinking,’ Eve had once said, quoting her mother.
                Finishing her appraisal, which had resulted in half of Pandora’s bag being unpacked, Eve set more clothes aside, before repacking the bag herself with her own choices, taking things from the wardrobe Pandora had left behind and packing them in place of the discarded garments. Unlike Grimhilde, Maleficent had not seen fit to outfit Pandora with the best finery she could find on the isle, and Pandora was loathe to do so herself thinking it frivolous. Why worry about tarnishing silk and luxurious embroidery? Pandora was not a flower of society, that was firmly in Eve’s sphere of interest, and Pandora was happy to not to entreat upon it.
                “There,” Eve said, fastening the bags shut after replacing the cauldron and box in their places. “You need to remember we’re going to be walking among the elite, and appearance is everything. Your current clothes will do for now. Mother says we won’t arrive until late at night, so everyone should be asleep. No use dirtying good clothes, and woe unto you should anyone first see your good clothes when they’re soiled from travel?”
                Across the hall they both heard Maleficent’s door open again, and Grimhilde appeared int he doorway. The former queen wasn’t as worse for wear as Maleficent, good fortune had seen her age gracefully, though her resignation to her fate had seen the queen relax her strict code of dress. Her hair was wild and pulled back behind her head, and she had taken to dressing in simple blue gowns and black shrouds.
                “Come, girls,” Grimhilde said, crooking a finger for them to follow.

Chapter Text

Eve took the smaller of the two bags, Pandora taking the larger, leather one, and they both exited into the hall. Pandora did not pause to look back at the room. Grimhilde and Maleficent were there as well, Maleficent now leaning on the queen’s arm, though she stood taller and with more strength than she had before Pandora had left her room. Pandora had never known what she kept in the cabinet, but when she had gone to it she returned livelier than before, for a time.
                The two women gave their daughters a glance over, before turning to descend the stairs where the loud voice of Cruella echoed from below. Pandora and Eve followed, descending the stairs behind their parents into the hall bellow, where Cruella, swallowed up in a balding fur coat and cigarette holder in hand, and Nasira, dressed in burgundy and sheer black veils, came into their view where they stood by the fire. Christian and Jahd stood a few feet away from them, bags at their feet. Maleficent returned to her chair by the fire, lowering herself into it without Grimhilde’s assistance, and Jahd quickly pulled up a chair for the queen at her indication, and then pouring each of the four women a glass of wine. He then handed a glass to each of the women. Cruella took her glass, looked over the four children, and then crossed the room to the window overlooking the town where she peered out.
                Pandora and Eve set their bags down with Christian and Jahd’s as the latter returned to his position next to Christian, and the girls standing alongside them to form a line. Christian stood with his arms folded, a sour look on his face, and Jahd toyed idly with a gold coin in his hands, rolling it along his knuckles and flipping it before Maleficent spoke.
                “Now you’re all ready,” Maleficent said, taking a sip from her glass. From her place by the window, Cruella scoffed a laugh and said “So to speak,” her red lips curling up into a smirk as she exhaled a laugh.
                “And aren’t they just a motley crew?” Nasira said, taking position next to Maleficent, between the chair and the fire as she lifted the veil from her face, over her head.
                “Indeed,” Maleficent mused, a sly smile pulling at her thin lips. “A fair princess, a little devil, a streetrat and a fairy – all going to Auradon together.”
                “How novel,” Grimhilde grinned, bringing her glass to her lips.
                “Sounds like the beginning of a joke,” Cruella barked.
                “In any case,” Maleficent continued, “you all have an important task ahead of you.”
                Maleficent held out a hand, in which Grimhilde placed the proclamation, which she unfurled again, resting her sceptre in the crook of her arm as she showed the second page of the document.
                “They say here that your role as ambassadors will unofficially begin once you arrive at the Academy, and that your stay there will be both educational, and also to begin fostering good relations between yourselves and the heirs in an ‘equal setting’ where your titles and backgrounds will hold no bearing.”
                “A lie,” Grimhilde scoffed. “Where royalty is concerned, the title always matters. Even servants given leave to do so never criticise their superior.”
                “What does this have to do with us?” Pandora interjected.
                “You’re going to attain the means of our escape,” Nasira replied.
                The four children looked between them, a critical look crossing Christian’s face, Jahd staring warily at his aunt, and Eve and Pandora glancing at each other for a moment.
                “This isle wasn’t always here, it was raised up from the ocean by the wizard Merlin,” Maleficent said. “It was he and the Fairy Godmother that cast the nexus over this place, that dampens the magic here so it’s barely functional, and together with the Three Good Fairies and every other good wizard, witch and fairy across Europe this place was made impregnable. None can leave, and none may enter, unless they have either Merlin or the Godmother’s blessing, or the means to change their enchantments.”
                Still the four of them maintained confused looks, and all three of the women sighed in disappointment.
                “You must take their wands,” Nasira said, to the point, and gesturing with her hand as if she were waving one.
                “Come,” Maleficent spoke, crooking a finger and gesturing for Pandora to sit at her feet. Eve and the boys glanced to her, and Pandora conceded, coming to kneel before the elder fairy. Maleficent leaned forward in her chair, taking Pandora gently by the chin and angling her gaze upwards to meet hers.
                “Now listen carefully, Pandora,” Maleficent said quietly, gripping her sceptre in her free hand. “A magician’s wand is a symbol of office, it defines their standing. They might come in all shapes and sizes, and the greatest wizard may have the most humble of wands, but they all signify magic in the hands of those who know how to use it. No doubt, the Fairy Godmother and Merlin will have their wands with them during the inauguration, as will any other wizard or fairy in attendance. But the Godmother and Merlin are the important ones to worry about. Do not concern yourself with the Three Good Fairies, and I do not imagine the Blue Fairy will attend as she rarely appears to anyone. The Fairy Godmother and Merlin were chief among those who created this cage. If you can get at least one of their wands, take down their enchantment on the Isle, then the rest of the spells will weaken and begin to unravel too. I would go for the Fairy Godmother, Merlin is sharp as a tack despite his age, but she is old and easily tricked, and you’ll know her by her incantations: she most favours ‘Bibbidi bobbidi boo’ if I recall, ridiculous as it sounds.”
                Pandora nodded, and Maleficent gave her a slight smile, her eyes crinkling, golden and gleaming from beneath her shadowed lids.
                ”How is taking the wand going to help?” Christian asked.
                ”It’s an extension of its owner,” Maleficent answered, her eyes turning to him. “It may be an object, but with enough time and usage, it becomes tethered to their power. Their wand as precious to them as my sceptre to me.”
                “The only obstacle, I imagine, is getting close enough to take the wand,” Nasira finally spoke.
                “I can take it,” Jahd spoke, smirking as all the women and Christian turned to look at him.
                “How cavalier,” Grimhilde sneered.
                “I think he should get points for bollocks though, don’t you?” Cruella answered.
                “I’ve no doubt you could lift the necklace from a noblewoman’s neck, Jahd,” Grimhilde said, “but we’re talking about a wand. Equally precious and dangerous. Your obstacle isn’t a lack of skill in attaining it, but in getting close enough to do so.”
                “They’ll need to find her first,” Grimhilde said over her glass.
                “True,” Maleficent answered. “She has only ever gone by her title, and she kept her name secret to all but her closest friends and charges.”
                “Why?” Jahd asked.
                “Names have power, boy,” Grimhilde answered. “Doubly so for fairies and devils, it can give someone power over them if they know how to use it.”
                “But I have no doubts she uses it freely now,” Maleficent added. “There’s no threat that people such as we can use it against her here. You’ll still need to get close though. They won’t let you stand at the front of the inauguration with the royalty and High Council.”
                “At best they’ll place you with the gentry,” Grimhilde said. “They won’t trust you enough, even if you show good behaviour. You’ll need someone to vouch for you, to invite you to the forefront of the ceremony. That’s where Merlin and the Godmother will be seated as well no doubt, they’re part of the privy council.”
                “What’s the difference between the High Council and the privy council?” Christian asked.
                “The High Council is just the rulers, the privy council is their most trusted advisors,” Grimhilde explained. “The High Council votes on most decisions, but if they can’t agree or someone abstains from voting, they defer to the privy council for a second opinion.”
                “Alright. But if Jahd is stealing the wand he’s going to have to charm some princess?” Christian answered, an incredulous smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.
                “Why not?” Cruella laughed. “He’s charmed his way up nearly a third of the skirts on this island.”
                “The other two thirds were cleverer than that,” Nasira said, before drinking deeply from her glass.
                “Indeed, women are much too clever,” Grimhilde continued. ”You think you can court a princess on charm alone? We have many more tools at our disposal, and a princess even more so. That is why Eve must be the one to charm a prince. It’s why I’ve raised her the way I have, instructed her in all the intricacies of court.”
                Grimhilde looked her daughter in the eye.
                “I have given you all the tools to perform this task. You were already gifted with beauty, but I groomed you with grace and armed you with knowledge, wit and witchcraft. It was all I ever needed, and it will be all you shall require in Auradon.”
                “’The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.’” Cruella interjected, waving her cigarette. “Nietzsche said that.”
                Pandora looked to Maleficent, as Eve looked to Grimhilde. Though Maleficent only looked at Grimhilde, who looked at Nasira, who shrugged, for none knew any Nietzsche. All their lives the four children had known Cruella to say many things none of them understood. She was alien in a way, displaced in time, though none of them understood how this came to be beyond stories of doctors and strange crystals from a sunken city.
                “I forget he’s before your time,” Cruella huffed, taking another puff from her cigarette and rolling her eyes. “Backwards century.”
                “Whoever Nietzsche is though, he spoke the truth,” Grimhilde answered, looking back to her daughter. “Beauty and wit will serve you will in Auradon, a prince would be a fool not to fall at your feet. Look at all the wives of kings, and you will see women fair of face on their husbands’ arms, and cunning women when those husbands aren’t there to hear—”
                “Courtly intrigue and seduction may be your stratagem, Grimhilde,” Nasira said, voice rising over the queen. “Yet we’re forgetting the matter of magic.”
                Cruella made a sound of annoyance at the mention of magic and returned to her post at the window. The three sorceresses that remained ignored her.
                “Nasira is right,” Maleficent said, lifting her sceptre from its rest and rising from her chair. “You two boys must protect them, though they might not need it, there is always strength in numbers. Though I have something to aid you in your magic, girls.”
                Maleficent crossed the room, a black figure sweeping across the floor to her little study in the corner: a desk on top of which a small number of strange items sat among piles of books and rolls of parchment.
                ”Now you girls know well enough that no great magic works here,” she said, coming to the bookcase behind the desk, also laden with a number of tomes. Between her and Grimhilde, the two had the most extensive collections of magical texts on the isle, and Nasira the largest collection of artefacts and magicalities Cruella found in her black market. “Only the small tricks and minor workings any village conjurer might be able to cook up on a good day, and any potion or item that carries magic with it can be of use. But on the continent, you will have no bonds like we do here.”
                Retrieving one of the books from the shelf, Maleficent returned to the gathering, motioning Eve over and for Pandora to rise. “Take this,” she said, offering the book to them. “You two have only ever learned theory and worked whatever minor magic we could get you to use here. On the island we will not be able to tutor you, and I doubt they will want to teach you themselves for fear of you using your talents against them.”
                Eve didn’t move, instead looking to Pandora, who took it from Maleficent’s hands. It was a simple book, thin, bound in black leather, and the pages within were warped from water damage, puffing the book open.
                “Listen carefully, girls. Don’t reach for the heavens when you can barely fly, do you understand?” Grimhilde said harshly. “Don’t try anything grand, stick to what’s in the book, and what we’ve already taught you. For Pandora it might come more naturally, but your power has a higher price, Eve.”
                Pandora looked to Eve, who looked worriedly at her mother, who in turn Pandora saw clenching her jaw; an unknown understanding between the both of them. From what Pandora understood of witchcraft, she felt it was better not to ask what they knew.
                “When you’re in Auradon, you’ll be on your own,” Maleficent spoke. “We’ve told you what is expected of you, and all your life we have tried to prepare you as best we know how between Pandora’s power, Eve’s guile, Jahd’s thievery and Christian’s cleverness. It will be your job to find a way to achieve it, do you understand?”
                The four of them nodded.
                “Good,” she said, before striking her sceptre against the floorboards. “Now come, we don’t have any more time to waste.”
                “Right on time too,” Cruella said, craning her head slightly to look through the window better. “The ship’s coming back into harbour now.”
                “I don’t see why they left harbour to begin with if they were just going to come back,” Nasira answered, joining her to look out at the waterfront. Maleficent called them away and to hasten, gesturing for the four children to collect their bags. Grimhilde rose from her seat moving to guide her daughter to the stairs down to the entrance.
                “Where is your signet ring?” Grimhilde asked, taking Eve’s hand in her own to look at her bare finger.
                “I must have forgot to put it on before I left,” Eve said quietly, flexing her fingers out to look at it herself before slipping it out of Grimhilde’s grip, fisting her skirt in one hand to hide it within the silk. But Pandora knew that Eve never forgot her signet ring, it was the symbol of who she was. Who she came from. An almost imperceptible frown crossed Grimhilde’s face, before she pulled her own ring from her hand, and gave it to Eve.
                “Be careful not to forget this one,” she said fiercely, and Eve took the ring, putting it on her bare finger. Grimhilde then turned with a dramatic sweep of her gown, facing the four of them as a group.
                “Remember, your role as an embassy will be purely honorary. You won’t hold any power, and they’ll treat you like spies. They’ll be gracious to your face, but beyond that you’re essentially on parole. They’ll think we’ve sent you with designs to usurp power and cause dissent, as they rightfully should, so you must be cunning. Do not let them know you are responsible for their misfortunes.”
                Maleficent, Nasira and Cruella vanished down the entrance, Jahd and Christian following after them. Pandora hovered for a moment as she waited for Eve.
                “Take this,” Pandora heard Grimhilde say quietly, handing a small slip of paper to Eve. “It is a conjuring you may try, if you ever need answers. You’ll need only a mirror and to follow the instructions on that paper,” she said, as Eve examined the small roll of paper in her fingers.
                “Mother, I don’t—“ she began to say, going to hand the paper back to her though Grimhilde pushed it away.
                “Just take it, my girl. The spirit left my mirror long ago when they destroyed it, but you may call him to service again and bind him to a new glass. Just be careful not to let him get into your mind as he did mine when I was young and foolhardy.”
                Grimhilde glanced from Eve to Pandora, their eyes meeting for a brief moment before Pandora looked away, moving for the stairs. She didn’t hear whatever else Grimhilde said, the queen’s voice falling to a murmur before she was ushering Eve, who slipped the paper into the front of her bodice, and Pandora out of the hall.

Chapter Text

As they made their way through the town, following the four women down from the upper isle to the waterfront, like servants carrying their mistresses bags rather than their own, the four could see the ship coming in to harbour. The royal standard of the United Kingdoms flew in the wind, along with the flag of Gascaine, and the children could hear Cruella say “A direct trip!” with a laugh, “I thought they were taking an Occitanian ship!”
                It was common knowledge on the isle that all ships from the continent went to and from Occitaine, the kingdom of King Henri-Christian and his late wife, Queen Ella of glass slipper fame.
                “They might not want to risk them running off,” Nasira answered Cruella. “Even if it means a longer trip.”
                “The trip to Occitaine then to Gascaine would be longer,” Grimhilde said, only getting a dismissive wave of a cigarette from Cruella. Maleficent scolded Nasira and the furrier as they laughed between themselves. The four women didn’t break stride, even as Pandora and Eve paused to adjust their grip on their bags with the boys’ assistance.
                All the while the eight walked further down the town, the people parted like a sea. Charlatans, witches, thugs and murderers. All making way for the grand dames of the isle and their children. “They all know now,” Cruella said gruffly. “Word travels fast.”
                Pandora couldn’t help but wonder if they had expected any different. The way they were parading down the main street certainly didn’t help, they were barely even trying to conceal it. They passed by the ‘townhouse’ of Lady Tremaine and her daughter, Drizella, both women standing in the doorway. The elder Tremaine’s nose crinkled jealously at them, while her daughter folded her arms, turning her nose up at the four of them while the three youngest Tremaine children sat on the porch steps. David leaned against the wall with a dumbfounded expression, watching until their grandmother ushered them inside. From behind her stall, Madam Mim eyed the small prideful parade, giving Pandora a toothless grin and a nod of the head when their eyes met. To the other side of the street, she could see the Gaston brothers, II and III, frozen as they carried large boxes and looking aghast at Eve. Eve paid them no mind, trying her best not to let her bags slip again as she passed by them.
                Finally, they came to the harbour, and the four children only paused briefly to set their bags down again. Their rest was short, however, when the four women turned back and told them to keep up and continued onwards. To the left, Pandora could see Gaston IV, the youngest of the three brothers, staring in equal disbelief to his brothers, before he disappeared into the gathering crowd. Eventually, rounding about the small bay, the Auradonian ship loomed into view from behind a moored galleon that had been turned into a tavern. Several guards in pristine blue uniforms came down the gangway, separating to either side of it to make way for an official in a blue uniform, a powdered wig on his head and his hands clasped behind his back.
                The crowd chattered around them, breaking away from each other as they saw the women coming up behind them. Maleficent took the lead, flanked by Grimhilde and Nasira, with Cruella to Grimhilde’s left, and the four children shuffling to keep up. Then they all came to a halt, and the crowd quietened, though the whispers did not stop.
                “Lady Maleficent?” said the official, his gaze flitting from her to the other three women, then to see the four behind them. Maleficent lifted her head proudly, answered “Mistress, in fact. Or ‘Your Excellency’, if you please.”
                The official did not respond, only squinting warily at the horned fairy for a moment, and Pandora could see her mother’s knuckles whiten as she tightened her grip on her sceptre.
                “If you would present the children, ladies,” he finally said, and Grimhilde stepped aside, reaching out with a hurried gesture for the four to come forward. Picking up their bags, the four of them filed out between the fairy and the queen, Pandora’s eyes catching the dark glint from Maleficent’s gaze as she passed. The four of them huddled together between their parents and the official, until three of the guards came forward and took their bags from them.
                “I assume you are all prepared to leave?” he asked, looking over them all as the guards took their bags up onto the ship. Pandora turned her head to look at the others. Jahd glared out at him, Christian following suit, Eve kept a cool expression on her face, offering a nod.
                “Yes,” Pandora said, turning back to the official and nodding as well.
                The official inclined his head as he turned, nodded for them to follow, before returning up the gangway. The four of them hesitated for a moment, before Pandora took the first step and led them onto the ship, the remaining guards filing in behind them. The crew barely noticed them, only briefly glancing up to look at the four before continuing their preparations to leave port.
                Pandora was only distracted by Eve turning back, turning as well to look after her as she came to the port side of the ship. Pandora approached as well, coming up behind her, Jahd and Christian trailing behind as they all looked out over the crowd. The four women stood together in the sole spot clear of others, all looking up at them. Cruella did little more than light another cigarette, inhaling and blowing out the smoke as she looked on. Grimhilde gave a gentle wave to Eve, and Nasira a single wave of the hand to Jahd, while Maleficent only nodded towards Pandora with a dark look.
                Pandora’s gaze was torn from her mother for a moment, distracted by the girl pushing to the dockside. Melusine, her black cloud of hair blowing in the breeze as she looked up towards them, Harry at her side and Gaston IV rushing up behind to her other. Melusine’s lips parted as if to say something, though no words left her lips that Pandora could hear as they looked at each other. She could see Gaston’s astonishment, still fresh, and Harry’s jaw clenching as Eve’s fingers curled against the railing.
                A call came from behind them, and the ship began to pull away from the dock. The harbour began to cheer. Eve pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from her sleeve, raising it to the wind to wave it, before letting it go. “Why are you always so dramatic?” Christian scoffed, though she ignored him. Pandora watched the handkerchief sail on the wind down to the crowd, though she didn’t see who caught it, instead pulled to face the official again by Christian.
                “It’ll take all night to reach the continent,” he said, hands still clasped neatly behind his back. “You would do well to rest if you think you’ll be seasick, your bags are in the cargo and you’ll sleep with the crew.”

-

The journey had been relatively smooth. Pandora had stayed on deck most of the time while Eve retired to sleep below, as did Christian. Jahd was the only one to do poorly, having spent much of his time leaning over the side of the ship voiding his stomach into the sea. As Eve said her mother had predicted, they arrived at night. All was quiet in the small town they had been dropped at, and a small retinue of four guards awaited them with a carriage. From there, they had been on the road to Villeneuve.
                “It really wasn’t a thorough plan,” said Christian, breaking the silence in the carriage. The boys sat on one side, Jahd spreading his legs so much that Christian was forced to sit on the very edge of his seat against the wall much to his annoyance. The girls sat across from them, Eve sitting straight, hands in her lap and eyes closed as she rested. Pandora watched through the window.
                “You can’t expect them to know everything,” Pandora answered.
                “They certainly like to make out that they do, though,” he scoffed, before peering out the window at the passing trees. They had just passed through another town ten minutes ago, out of the two hours it had taken their trip across land already. Eve had guessed the town was Villeneuve and that they were nearing their destination once they’d come to the wood.
                “Yes, but it basically amounted to ‘Find a way into the inauguration even if you have to lie, cheat, or bewitch your way into it.”
                “Or get Eve to show a little more cleavage than she usually does,” Jahd chuckled, though he quickly yelped when Eve’s foot shot out in a sharp kick to the shin, her eyes flying open and brow furrowing. No air of serenity and nobility now she was out of the sight of her mother.
                “I’m not a honey pot!” she hissed.
                “You had us fooled,” Christian scoffed. “How many boys back on the isle did you have doing your every whim for a kiss?”
                “Only half as many as you wished to jump on your ‘whims’,” she spat back.
                “Quiet, both of you,” Pandora said, raising her voice slightly though she tried to remain hushed. She gestured to the front of the carriage, where two guards were driving the carriage. “They’ll hear you.”
                The carriage was silent for a few moments, none of the occupants sharing a look or word.
                “I never went through with anything,” Eve finally said, frowning slightly.
                “But your mother wants you to anyway,” Christian said. “We all heard her. She basically told you to throw your skirt up for the first prince you meet and hope he doesn’t ask questions.”
                “Do you always have to be so crass, Christian?” Eve responded. “I know what you did with Gaston II when he got drunk last Christmas and saw you in that ridiculous dress.”
                Christian went to snap back at her again, only stopping short when Pandora gave him a dark look, eyes shining in the dark as she raised a warning finger. Looking back out the window, Pandora could see a gate approaching.
                The carriage came up the approach to the gate, beyond which the great Palais de Villeneuve stood. According to Eve, who explained it to them as they approached, it was originally the summer palace of Grand Prince Adam, and the setting of his famed curse before Princess Belle came and broke it. Now it was the princess’s own school, and her the headmistress.
                The moon cast a pale light down from behind the palace, giving the looming building and its tall towers the appearance of a looming, shadowy behemoth rather than of a grand residence. All four of the group in the carriage peered out the windows at the palace as they passed over the bridge towards the palace entrance. Not a single light could be found in the palace window except for that in one of the high towers, and that of the lantern held by one of the three footmen standing on the palace steps as the carriage came to a halt. The footman with the lantern descended the steps, opening the carriage door for them quietly. Pandora stepped out first, with Eve following behind, her skirts gathered in her hands, and both their cloaks sweeping out behind them. Jahd and Christian followed after, and the remaining two footmen on the step descended to take the bags from the carriage.
                                “If you’ll follow us,” the footman said quietly, though his light French accent was unable to be ignored, and he gestured towards the palace entrance, leading the way. Pandora and Eve exchanged a look.
                “You’d think they wouldn’t want anyone to know we’re here,” Christian said dryly.
                With the footmen carrying their bags behind them, the four moved onward up the stairs. The footman with the lantern opened one of the great doors, and they all filed in to the entrance, a great hall, cold and dimly lit except for the beams of moonlight filtering in through the windows above. They followed the footman across the hall, up the grand staircase, and into the halls. All throughout Pandora could only describe the castle as being ominous, more akin to a lair than it was a palace for a grand monarch. The light from the footman’s lantern only served to make it more macabre, the golden glow casting shadows from the angelic statuary into stretched gargoyle-like figures on the walls. Yet the further upstairs into the castle they got, and the more moonlight filtered through into the halls, the more ethereal it became until they came to a stop before a doorway directly across from one of the windows.
                “Your appartement,” the lantern footman said, opening the door and motioning for them to enter. Christian and Jahd eyed the door warily, and Eve scoffed. “Cowards,” Pandora hissed, before entering the dark room. The curtains were drawn, so no light entered the room by the moonlight behind them until the footman entered, the two footmen behind him following after and dividing to doors on either side.
                “The ladies will reside in the room on the right, the gentlemen to the left,” the lantern footman spoke, before giving a bow and leaving the lantern on a table before them and exiting. The two other footmen exited from the rooms he indicated, before following after and closing the door behind them.
                “I was expecting a bigger welcome than that,” Christian drawled, taking the lantern and raising it to try and see. On the table where the footman had set it, an oil lamp also sat, unlit, which Pandora took in her hand. She pondered over it for a moment, before passing a hand around the glass as the oil ignited, first in a brilliant green flame, before changing to a natural orange.
                It took barely any effort here. The magic flowed freely. She didn’t have to force it at all.
                “I suggest we all get to bed and prepare ourselves for an early start tomorrow morning. Goodnight, boys.”
                Eve turned for the door to their room, and Pandora watched before following after. Christian also moved for his room, both the princess and him disappearing through either door as Jahd called in protest. Pandora had turned to close the bedroom door behind her when she heard Jahd rush for his own door before the light vanished entirely, following by the sound of heavy furniture groaning and shifting with a crash, and the utterance of a loud Arabic curse.
                Taking two steps into the bedroom, Pandora could see Eve looking over the room, the two beds facing them, the vanity on the far wall, and again two tall windows. The curtains were not drawn on these, and let the moonlight in, though it was fainter since they were opposite to where the moon hung in the sky.
                “Isn’t it grand?” Eve said, a little mocking though even then her astonishment betrayed her. Indeed, it was more than Pandora had been expecting too; canopied beds, fresh flowers on the table against the wall between them, everything white and detailed in gold. It was the kind of luxury Pandora could only have dreamed of, evidence of all the rumours of Gasconian decadence.
                Eve undid her cloak and folded it neatly and placed it on top of her bags, which had been placed at the foot of the farthest bed from the window. Pandora set the oil lamp on the table by the wall and began to undress with her. Both of them changed into their nightgowns, before slipping into each of their beds, facing each other, Pandora’s face illuminated by the glow of the lamp and Eve’s by the moonlight.
                “What do you think is going to happen tomorrow?” Pandora said quietly, brushing her hair out of her face.
                “I don’t know,” Eve answered. “Just try to sleep, we’ll deal with tomorrow as it comes and go from there.”

Chapter Text

Pandora and Eve were awoken by the sound of doors being thrown open, and curtains being drawn to let the sunlight pour in. Both the fairy and the princess sat upright in their beds, Pandora bracing herself against the bed and Eve pulling the covers up to cover her undress. Where they expected intruders, they only found two maids dressed in black gowns with white aprons; though so far as Pandora thought they were intruders anyway to enter with no warning. From the other side of the appartement came the sound of something metal hitting the wall, and through the doors she saw a male servant rushing out of the room as Jahd shouted something in Arabic. The meaning of which Pandora could only guess was obscene in some way, though she saw him charge past the door wearing nothing at all as another distressed servant chased after with a sponge.
                It was an image Pandora knew she would never be able to put out of her mind.
                “Bonjour et bienvenue, mesdames!” spoke the closer of the two maids in a thick French accent. She stood between the feet of their two beds, her dress indistinct from the other though she had blond curls twisted up on her head behind her bonnet. Lowering herself into a short curtsy, the maid continued to speak “I am Veronique, and I will be your lady’s maid as you stay in the palace.”
                Neither Pandora nor Eve responded, and Veronique’s smile faltered almost imperceptibly as the other maid set about opening the grand wardrobe which had simple gowns hung within, though it wasn’t overflowing like Eve’s bags were.
                “Would you like us to help you dress?” Veronique asked, meekness beginning to shine through with every passing second the two girls remained silent. From the other side of the appartement Jahd’s voice continued to carry over, alternating between angry Arabic to horrified English, Christian’s voice occasionally interjecting between in attempts to settle him as another manservant ran from their room, the door slamming behind him.
                “Yes,” Eve finally said, discarding the covers and slipping off from the bed and gliding over to the wardrobe, her nightdress billowing behind her. It took her all of ten seconds to sift through the limited contents of the wardrobe before she said “Wie beleidigend,” and closed the wardrobe doors with a huff. Moving over to the foot of her bed where her bags remained, the second maid went to help Eve with the bags, though her hands were quickly slapped away. From one of the bags Eve produced a black silk lace-front gown, the skirt organ-pleated and trimmed in gold, which she placed on the bed along with a white kirtle. Ushering the second maid over, Eve then instructed her to help her back into her stays, removing her nightgown as she spoke and putting on her shift again.
                “You don’t think black is a bit dark?” Pandora said, eyeing the gown for a moment, it was one of Eve's best gowns. “More like something our parents would wear, don’t you think?”
                ”I’m German,” Eve said proudly, holding her stays to her waist as the maid began tightening the laces. “Black is the favoured colour of the upper class there.”
                Pandora gave a slow nod as she slid out of bed. Eve knew better than she did as far as these things went after all, and Pandora thought she would find herself relying on Eve’s knowledge quite a bit during their stay here. As Pandora moved, however, Veronique moved with her like a mirror image, until they both came to the foot of the bed. Pandora paused for a moment, eyes narrowing over at Veronique; for a tense moment, they only looked at each other, Pandora squinting and Veronique trying to keep her smile up.
                “Would madam like me to help her into her stays as well?” Veronique said, and Pandora cast a woeful glance down to the torturous undergarment, almost refusing before she saw Eve cast a warning look over at her. “Yes,” Pandora said, copying Eve and removing her nightgown and putting her shift on as well.
                The two girls were silent as the two maids laced them into their stays, and Pandora found herself loathe to admit the experience a bit more pleasant as Veronique deftly pulled at the laces. She didn’t lace it as tightly as Eve had, and apparently Eve’s maid hadn’t as well prompting Eve to tell her to lace it tighter, and so Eve’s already small waist shrunk another inch. Once Veronique had finished lacing Pandora into her dress, Pandora went to open one of her bags, though found herself unable to bend in the stays. So, upon Veronique’s insistence, Pandora allowed Veronique to open her bag for her, retrieving the burgundy dress Eve had suggested. In the light, the purplish-red colour reminded Pandora of the wine that Grimhilde had smuggled over to the isle from Occitaine.
                Lowering herself and raising her hands as Veronique instructed, allowing the maid to pull the dress over her head, her arms slipping into the sleeves, Pandora caught her reflection in the window as the sun started peaking out over the mountains beyond. She had not ever worn this dress before. It was too fancy for anything she did on the isle. The one good gown Maleficent had bought for her if a special occasion ever arose on the isle. It was silk like Eve’s, though the quality was lacking compared to it, and long stretches of it flowed from either shoulder, almost like a cape, from under which fitted black sleeves emerged. The triangular neckline, which exposed the green kirtle underneath, had been lined with black mink, salvaged from an old gown her mother was going to discard before Eve rescued it. Yet here, in Auradon, Pandora supposed it would suit - and no doubt it was why Eve had insisted on it.
                Pandora tore her eyes away, looking to her hands as she pulled the ring-sized loops of thread over her middle fingers, fixing the pointed shape of the cuffs into place on the back of her hands. She looked over to Eve, whose maid was lacing the front of her bodice taut against her now triangular torso, the gold-embroidered blue band of her kirtle fixed across her bust, and her dark waves of hair falling around her shoulders.
                As always, she was the very image of beauty: the fairest of them all.
                When Veronique finished adjusting the laces at the back of Pandora’s gown, the fairy moved to wait by the door, only stopped short when Eve snapped her fingers. “Brush your mane,” Eve said, pointing to the vanity table. Pandora looked back to the window, seeing the voluminous bush that had formed on her head during the night, and seceded, going to the table. She went to pick up the brush, though Veronique beat her too it, pushing Pandora down onto the cushioned stool forcing Pandora to look at herself in the mirror as Veronique tugged the brush through her hair in an attempt to tame it.
                Looking into the mirror, Pandora thought it was perhaps the clearest mirror she had seen. All other looking glasses on the isle were either clouded with age, broken or poorly made, yet here she saw herself in the light, with no obstruction. Pandora saw the gauntness of her cheeks, the hawklike quality of her eyes, golden irises peering out from beneath dark lids like her mother’s, high angular cheekbones and a thin nose, which when her head turned she could see had a slight jagged hook to it also much like her mother’s.
                All of it was her mother, now that she saw it together. The only thing missing was a pair of curled horns. Yet where she could see her mother had once been regally beautiful, Pandora could not find that in her own pallid features.
                When Eve’s hair and makeup was done, pinned back with a gold comb laden with sapphires – another gift from her mother – and the maids were pacified their work was sufficiently done, the two girls entered into the main suite. In the daylight, they could see it clearly now, with yellow marble floors and pastel yellow paint on the walls. The room was outfitted with two sofas and a table, desks either side of the entrance alcove, plants in every corner, and short long cushioned stools in front of the windows that took up the entirety of the rear wall.
                The white doors to Jahd and Christian’s room opened. Christian stepped out first, and like Eve it appeared he too had packed his best garments, wearing a black doublet over red tights, the breast of the doublet slashed to expose his white undershirt, and a white cape hemmed with decent ermine to that fell to his mid-thigh, one side tossed over his shoulder to expose the red interior. His white curls fell lazily to the side over his forehead as they always did.
                As he exited his room, Jahd stepped into the doorway behind him, a miserable expression on his face as he was exposed to the room. If there was one person Pandora knew that was more opposed to the frivolities of fashion, it was Jahd, and a more ridiculous victim of it she had never seen other than the one before her. He trudged into the room, a scowl on his face, dressed in an attempt only to have the bare essentials: a white shirt, a buttoned, simple, ill-fitting waistcoat in a garishly bright orange colour, the fabric of which shone in the light, and brown breeches that were too tight on him for it to possibly be comfortable over white stockings. Though funniest of all were the shoes: heeled and square-toed and the same colour as his waistcoat with decorative golden buckles.
                “Mein gott...” Eve gasped, and looking over at her Pandora tried not to smile at the look of sheer horror on her face and hand hovering over her red-stained lips.
                “I tried to help him,” Christian spoke, arms folded as he cast a glance over his shoulder at Jahd. “The manservants too before he threw the wash basin at them for insisting he bathe again. They didn’t believe he was clean, and they thought all his clothing from the isle were dirty and took them to be washed so he had to wear what was in the wardrobe.”
                “When you say ‘tried to help him’,” Eve spoke, casting an accusatory glare over at Christian, ”did you actually give him any or—“
                She was cut short by the opening of the appartement doors, which the manservants that had fled the boys’ room held open. The maids took position either side of the alcove by the desks and dropped into curtsies, lower than the ones they had given to Pandora and Eve, as a woman entered into the room. A boy with chestnut hair and a girl whose hair fell in waves curls of sunshine gold, both dressed in two different shades of deep blue, flanked either side of her. The woman was dressed in a pale pink robe à la polonaise with intricate embroidery of roses and inscriptions spread across it, and her hair was swept up into a simple twist, with ringlets falling around her neck.
                Eve curtsied, as the maids had done, and remained lowered as she cast a dark look over at Pandora and the boys to follow suit as she said “Grand Princess Belle...” No sooner had she spoke, Pandora curtsied herself and the boys gave bows before the four all rose back to their height.
                 “You don’t need to do that,” Belle said, smiling in amusement. “You’re our guests here, students. Within these walls I’m only the headmistress to you, not a princess.”
                “Of course madam,” Eve said, taking the lead, and Pandora was happy to let her speak for them. The girl on Belle’s left distracted Pandora, as her sharp gaze remained fixed on Pandora, and in return Pandora could only narrow her eyes back at her.
                “Let me introduce you,” Belle spoke, turning slightly as she gestured to the girl on her right. “Princess Célene, daughter of High Queen Aurora and High King Phillip,” she said, with Célene offering a shallow curtsy, before turning to her left. “And my son, Beau.”
                Beau gave a warm smile, and a respectful bow, a lock of his brown hair falling forward though he brushed it back into place.
                “Célene, Beau, this is—“
                “Pandora de Guillory,” Eve interjected, gesturing to Pandora and head cocking as she smiled, and Belle smiled back at her, albeit caught off-guard. “Jahd Ya’fur,” Eve continued, “Christian de Vil, and I am Eve von Ballenstedt, Princess of—“
                “Grimhilde has no political standing in the United Kingdoms,” spoke Célene sharply, smiling over at Eve.
                “Then Markgrafin of Glasberg,” Eve answered, her tone equally cutting. “I don’t recall my mother’s home kingdom becoming part of the United Kingdoms, so I imagine you can’t strip her of her margravate.”
                “I remind you, your titles don’t matter in these halls ladies,” Belle spoke over them, giving them both looks of disapproval. “Here you are students and equals,” she looked back to her left. “Remember, Celene? Now, everybody sit.”
                Stepping around the sofa in front of her, Belle seated herself on it, with Célene and Beau on either side of her. As Célene walked, Pandora could see she wore a houppelande much like hers, though it was all the more luxurious in royal blue velvet. Glancing down at her own dress, Pandora felt that what she thought was luxury comparatively seemed plain compared to the princess's. Beau, however, was dressed in a cobalt blue justaucorps jacket, which he wore unbuttoned to expose a yellow waistcoat over a white shirt, and black breeches with black stockings. Unlike Jahd, however, he wore sensible black leather shoes. Yet even as princely as he looked, Pandora couldn't help but think it didn't suit him to wear it. As she, Eve and Christian sat on the sofa across from the royals, Pandora looked to her right as Jahd sat on a chair, looking at Beau, then down at his own clothes with an embarrassed frown.
                “Now, it’s not quite breakfast yet so we have some time to go over a few things,” Belle spoke, her smile restored to its full brightness again, hands folded in her lap. “Now, officially you’re here as ambassadors for the Isle of the Lost, here on a trial basis to see if all the children should come over. I organised most of the conditions for your being here, so you’ll be staying in the Academy as I’m sure you know, and the Academy has arranged for you all to receive a group stipend for expenses that should cover anything you require within reason, though all your academic equipment will be provided by the school. You’ll be required to attend classes, like the rest of the students, and will take a Remedial Goodness class as a formality which will be taught by Lady Anastasia Tremaine.”
                Belle paused briefly, looking over them for any sign of questioning.
                “While you’re here what we’re looking for is to see if you can integrate well into Auradonian society, and if you can then you’ll remain here in the United Kingdoms with the option to continue as ambassadors and work with me to help select other children to come from the Isle. If that isn’t what you want, then we won’t stop you, and you can go and pursue whatever your interests are out in the kingdoms. However, you should know there are some places in the kingdoms you’ll be forbidden from going to, from here until the foreseeable future. Chiefly the Forbidden Mountain in Pryleaux and Schloss Friedrichstein in Blumental, the High King felt that you’re going there could present a potential danger.”
                “Does he think we know all our parents secrets left behind in the dark corners of their dungeons and towers, ready and waiting for us to collect and use?” Pandora scoffed, though her smile quickly faded when she saw the look on Belle’s face. They did think that.
                “Obviously we want to believe the best in you,” Belle said, “but precautions need to be made in any case, whether you do know any secrets or not. So, you cannot go to the Mountain, Pandora, and you cannot go to the castle, Eve, though for now you won’t be allowed to go beyond the village of Villeneuve without an appointed escort anyway.”
                Pandora looked over at Beau, whose eyes were cast down to the ground anyway and a solemn expression on his face. Célene, on the other hand, was failing to conceal the growing sneer on her face the longer she had to sit with them.
                “That’s all well and good,” said Christian, his voice cutting through the brief silence, “but what you’re essentially saying is we have to be on our best behaviour and aren’t allowed to jump without royal consent.”
                Eve hissed Christian’s name over at him, and Pandora slapped him on the arm.
                “Well it’s basically what they’re saying,” Jahd said.
                “Essentially, yes,” Belle conceded, and the four looked at her, as did Beau and Célene. “Prove that myself and Queen Snow White didn’t make a mistake in thinking you all deserved a chance to live freely and with the same rights as everyone else in the United Kingdoms. It was not easy getting the petition through, and even harder to convince their highnesses Aurora and Phillip to accept it. I don’t even know what convinced her to agree in the end, she just woke up and did one day. Yet we did this in your best interest, not ours, so prove you were worth the trouble of giving a chance. Now, you have a school day to begin, so let’s get off to a good start, shall we? I’ll be checking in with you at the end of the week.”

Chapter Text

The four of them had been served breakfast separately from the rest of the students, who were all served in the dining hall where Beau and Célene had gone to eat. Though they hadn’t departed from the four’s company fast enough not to see Jahd jump down to the table to begin devouring the spread. The sheer effort Pandora saw Eve take not to grab him by the neck and settle him had sent the girl into a lurch, though he made a fool of himself far too quickly.
                Their timetables were provided to them by Mistress Belle along with basic supplies for the day’s classes – bound books for note-taking and lead pencils. While eating, Eve had pored over the timetables, and found they were all mostly separated during the day. Jahd barely listened, instead filling up on bread, either buttered or spread with ample amounts of jam, before moving on to the porridge that Pandora, Eve and Christian were eating, which was drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
                “I thought this was an academy,” said Christian, taking his timetable from Eve’s hands when she was finished comparing them. “It sounds more like a finishing school for girls. Dance, fine art and literacy classes? Etiquette? What is this meant to teach us?”
                ”They have other classes,” Eve said over a spoonful of porridge, which she ate before continuing. “Mathematics, sciences, equestrianism – we all have that before remedial goodness by the way.”
                “Equestria-what?” Jahd said around a mouthful of bread and porridge.
                “I think Jahd will benefit from literacy,” Pandora spoke, smiling slightly.
                “Tozz Feek.” Jahd responded.
                “It’s horse-riding, Jahd, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll also like fencing I believe,” Eve said sternly, handing Jahd his timetable, which he tossed down to his side with the rest of his school gear. Pandora looked over her own timetable. She had Etiquette first.
                “Do you know who Mistress Béatrice is?” Pandora asked, glancing up at Eve who had moved on to her porridge.
                “No, but I have her class as well,” Eve answered, before eating another spoonful of porridge. “Merlin teaches history and sciences though, so at least we know where he is.”
                “I think we have fewer classes than the rest of the students,” Pandora said, glancing over her timetable again. “There’s too many free periods, and have you noticed we don’t have a single class involving politics and leadership apart from history? In a school for teaching future royals?”
                “Grand Princess– I mean Headmistress Belle is expanding the student body though,” Eve said. “They’re going to accept lower nobility and give scholarships to the middle and lower social classes soon. They probably haven’t prepared a proper curriculum for them and us yet. Besides, we aren’t going to benefit from politics classes from an academic standpoint. We aren’t royalty or officially hold a government office. Our ‘embassy’ is purely honorary, remember?”
                Eve stopped to finish the last few spoonfuls of her porridge that she would allow herself, before taking her napkin from her lap and standing.
                “Finish up, all of you,” she spoke, gesturing for them to stand. Christian only gave a dark look up at her, his mouth agape as he paused mid-spoonful, Jahd quickly shoved another half-slice of bread into his mouth, and Pandora quietly set her spoon down and stood, setting her own napkin down on the table. Only Christian continued to idle, eating more before deigning to follow suit.
                The four managed to find their way back to the entrance hall with enough ease, before dividing at the directions of a passing maid as their routes differed. Pandora and Eve walked through the halls, Eve checking the timetable again for their room, and finding it matched none of the gold numbers that had been placed above the frame of each door.
                “We must have made a wrong turn,” Eve said quietly, fishing through the rest of whatever Belle had given them in the hopes that maybe there was a map, though she found nothing of the sort. “You’d think they’d have assigned us a guide on the first day at least, or left us with someone in our class.”
                It was then, as they continued walking down towards the end of the hall where a spiral staircase swept further up into the case, a boy’s head, crowned in dark hair, rose into view from the floor below.
                “You!” Pandora called, drawing the boy’s attention as he clutched his bag to his side. At first, he bore a look of confusion, before his eyes fell on Eve and his lips parted slightly. Not like the way the Gastons or the Tremaine boys had, or any other boy from the isle for that matter, but in abject surprise. He said nothing, and the two came to stand with him at the stairwell.
                “We’re looking for the Etiquette classroom,” Eve informed him. He gaped at her, and then at Pandora, and then at the signet ring on Eve’s finger, lips moving though no sound left them until he shook his head and gathered his thoughts, brushing a stray lock of black hair back with a gloved hand.
                “Right,” he said, and Pandora thought to herself that his soft voice suited him well. “I’m on my way there now actually, we must be in the same class then.”
                “Clearly so,” Eve nodded.
                His blue eyes met theirs once again, and his cheeks burned pink against his pale skin as she gestured towards the stairs upward. “It’s this way, we can walk together,” he smiled, before leading the way. Both Pandora and Eve looked after him as he climbed up, somewhat surprised at his sudden eagerness. He stopped on the stair, looking back for them to follow, and they did.
                “You’re from the Isle, aren’t you?” he asked, climbing up in front of them until they came to the next landing, where he came out into the hall with light steps. “You arrived last night?”
                “How could you tell?” Pandora answered, teasing slightly.
                “Everyone’s been waiting, we all knew you were coming soon enough we just didn’t know when,” he said as they continued down the hall, making a left into a small alcove occupied by a single door. “We’re here.”
                Entering into the room, the girls found that it was furnished with a dining table set for nine, the number of their class, plus a woman standing towards the end of the room by the windows, gazing out into the valley absentmindedly.
                “That’s Mistress Béatrice,” said the boy quietly, looking over the table quizzically. “She didn’t say we were doing dinner etiquette...”
                Mistress Béatrice was a short and pleasantly plump woman, dressed in a pastel purple gown that was almost entirely pleated, streaming down from the lace collar save for the embroidered panel down her front, with matching lace sleeves extended from the large puffs of pleated fabric ending at her elbows. A small cloud of white hair sat on her head, pinned in place with a simple comb. In one hand, she held a white baton, which she flicked back and forth idly in her fingers as she waited for the class to sit, gazing out the window absentmindedly.
                “I believe she prepared for who she’s teaching,” said the voice of Célene from behind them. Pandora and Eve turned, finding her seated on a chaise with a meek looking girl dressed in lavender, her mousy brown hair tucked into a short truncated hennin. The lavender colour of her dress only served to make her paler, bordering on appearing sickly, and style of her hair did nothing to flatter to the roundness of her face. Even more so when seated next to Célene and her golden curls falling around her shoulders. The mousy girl didn’t look up, keeping her gaze fixed firmly on what must have been an interesting bit of the marble flooring. Célene, however, lifted her gaze from the small book she had been reading to look at them.
                “At the very least you can pass on good table manners to your ruffian friend,” she said, a kind smile on her face. It was the sort of kind smile one would bear if they had just eaten your favourite treat when you weren’t looking.
                “Oh you’d be lucky to be half as charming as Jahd, dear princess,” Eve spoke, and Célene’s gaze switched from Pandora to her, her lips twitched down slightly before she answered. The girl beside her only shrank further back into the wall, looking as if she were hoping to blend in with it.
                “There’s that biting wit again that I so love,” she said. “Do you find your step aunt as amusing as I do, Frederick?”
                Pandora turned to look at the pale boy, just as Eve did, and under their gaze he too shrunk back, eyes widening and flitting between Célene and the two girls. Even Célene’s companion looked up from the floor to look at him, and his chin quivered as he tried to find the words to say.
                “Step aunt?” Pandora said, looking to Eve.
                “Frederick von Waldeck,” Eve said to herself, ”son of Snow White...”
                “Yes,” he nodded quietly.
                “It’s 9 o’clock everybody, find a spot at the table,” spoke a pleasant voice, interrupting Frederick because he could speak any further. It was Mistress Béatrice, having turned from the window to face the class from the head of the table.
                Everyone was moving to gather around the table, standing in front of chairs. Frederick was quiet, and chose a chair at the end, next to which Eve then took for herself much to his astonishment and Pandora between her and a golden-haired boy in black and purple. Across from Pandora, the girl in lavender stood, next to Célene who stood at the centre of the table. Pandora went to sit, though Eve quickly grabbed her by the arm and lifted her back up to stand.
                Mistress Béatrice peered down at them, her hands rose readily, before lowering them and herself down into her seat at the head of the table as she said “And sit,” setting her baton on the table next to her. Everyone sat on her instruction. Pandora glanced up and down the table as she slid her chair into place, spotting the mistress smiling warmly and nodding at her.
                “This is Etiquette,” Eve said quietly. “Here she acts as lady of the house, and so you sit when she has seated herself first.”
                “Precisely, Eve,” Béatrice said, loud enough for them to hear from down the table, and both Pandora and Eve glanced up towards her again. Her hearing must be excellent, Pandora thought. “Now then everyone, tonight we’re set to have a special dinner, and so I’ve had the table set and arranged so we can all refresh our memories a little. We don’t want anyone making a fool of themselves in front of new people, now do we Madeleine?”
                The mousy girl in lavender glanced up from staring at her empty plate, a mortified expression crossing her face as she looked down at the mistress, who only smiled back down at her with an amused nod.
                “Madeleine always forgets the finger bowl isn’t for drinking,” said Béatrice, chuckling as she looked over the table. “Then again, so did I when I was her age. All that savoury leaves a thirst I find and a glass of water just isn’t enough!”
                The girl, Madeleine slowly looked back at her plate, eyes wide as she slid down slightly in her chair.
                “Now, obviously we’ve all had breakfast, and I thought that instead of having empty plates or wasting food you all won’t eat, we could make do with a little something special instead,” Béatrice said. Taking her baton up in her hand again, raising it up slightly and saying clearly, waving a circular motion with it as the tip sparked with silver light: “Bibbidi...bobbidi...boo!
                Waving the baton out towards the table, the candles lit and the platters and tureens filled with food. Roasts, vegetables, stews and soups, and the scent of it all spread quickly through the air. All of it could have inspired rapture in those who saw it, but Pandora’s gaze was fixed to the wand in Mistress Béatrice’s hand, only barely realising Eve had put her hand on her arm. Pandora looked to Eve, who in turn looked at her, then they both looked back to the Mistress – no, the Fairy Godmother, who was clearly pleased with herself.
                “None of it is real,” she said, sticking the wand into her hair like a pin as she clapped her hands together. “You can all smell it, see it, taste it and feel it, but you won’t get any fuller. This is just to add a little realism. No using pretending to spoon up soup, now is there? I prefer service à la russe, when dinner is served sequentially, but when in France we must do as the French do even if we find it a bit overwhelming. Besides, I don’t think the castle is equipped with enough servants to serve the whole dining hall unless it’s all laid out at once.”
                Looking across the table, Pandora could see Célene pursing her lips, staring off into the distance instead of listening. Madeleine only looked at all the food in front of her, often coming back to stare at the desserts. Everyone else at the table however, appeared to be listening to the Fairy Godmother, or at the very least pretending to. Pandora had no illusion that they all didn’t know this already. That being said, it seemed simple.
                “Now, the whole point of service à la française, is that you help yourself,” Béatrice continued, gesturing every so often with her hands in idle waves and cocking her head when a lock of hair fell in her eyes. “So what I’m looking for now is manners. Eat as you please, though test your skills of polite conversation. Speak to your neighbours, and when you run out of things to talk about, maybe talk to someone you don’t usually talk to.”
                Across the table, Célene took the napkin from her plate, laying it out on her lap.
                “Oh fiddlesticks!” cried Béatrice, waving her hands for everyone to stop, before taking her own napkin and copying Célene’s actions. “Quite right, I forgot. Don’t forget that you must place your napkins on your lap, and only ever after your host as done so first. Frederick, gloves off at the table.”
                Pandora and Eve both turned to look at Frederick, who shrunk down slightly in his seat as Madeleine had done, before removing his gloves, exposing small, strange bumps on the backs of his hands that made the two girls exchange a confused look.
                With her leave, the party continued, Pandora doing as Célene and the Fairy Godmother had done. Over the course of the ‘dinner’, Eve occupied herself with talking to Frederick, who being at the end of the table had nobody to talk to. Pandora didn’t know what they talked about, being distracted by the golden-haired boy with a funny accent to her right.
                “I find it a little odd too,” he said in his odd accent, smiling brightly as he piled a serving of illusory fish on his plate along with a serve of peas and carrots. “In Arendelle, we do it as Mistress Béatrice says she prefers, à la russe, being so close to Russland—I mean Russia. We only ever eat this way for small casual gatherings, but my father hates it all the same. He doesn’t like dressing up.”
                As he spoke, Pandora couldn’t help but smile slightly at him and the way he transformed his ‘w’ sounds into ‘v’ sounds and dragging out his ‘ah’ sounds. Never once did he pause, happily chattering on as he cut up his fish.
                “My mother though, she would love to eat like this,” he continued, consuming a large forkful of fish, and turning to look at her as he chewed happily. Pandora, taking a bowl to place in front of her, occupied herself with ladling soup into it, though she periodically looked up as she spoke. “One time she snuck out of a feast with a whole roast chicken and ate it herself. But I am rambling and you haven’t spoken a word.”
                “I think you could speak enough for the both of us,” Pandora answered, grinning as she brought a spoonful of soup to her lips. It wasn’t too hot, or too cold, and the smell was heavenly, the taste even more so. Only something this immaterial could be so perfect. As her mother said, that was the nature of illusions: ‘Something beautiful, but hollow.’
                “I know, ja,” he beamed. “I like to make new friends when I can, you see.”
                “I’m Pandora,” she replied, having another spoonful.
                “Kai,” he answered, nodding happily.

Chapter Text

By the end of Etiquette, Pandora had half wished the class would never end, each course she had eaten being more delicious than the last until the Fairy Godmother had dispelled the illusory feast and dismissed them to their next class. As it turned out, Pandora was to take Literacy with Kai, and so walked with him to class, all the while listening to his stories about other students they had been with in Mistress Beatrice’s class. Eve, on the other hand, had chased after Frederick when he tried to slip away quietly to his class.
                After Literacy had come and gone, Kai had to leave for Foreign Languages, and Pandora for Mathematics, which proved a gruelling experience for her. It was only by the fourth period that she found her way out into the sprawling gardens that were hidden behind the palace, where the Equestrian class had gathered. Jahd, Christian and Eve were waiting for her on the stairs away from the rest of the crowd.
                “Almost late,” Eve remarked, casting a look down the stairs at the other students, now joined by stable boys bringing out the horses. Among them, however, was Beau, who was leading his own horse and dressed in riding attire. All of them were dressed in riding attire, in fact, all matching colours of blue and white with cream jodhpurs and riding boots.
                “We don’t have riding gear,” Christian spoke, frowning down at them.
                “I’m not going to ride one of those anyway,” said Eve.
                Pandora watched as Beau left his horse with one of the stable boys, pushing past the other students and jogging up the steps to meet them, his red cravat bouncing on his chest, stopping two steps below them and giving Pandora and Eve a short bow.
                “You’re here,” he smiled, looking between them all. Eve smiled, though Pandora, Christian and Jahd squinted down at him as if he’d spoken to them in a whole other language. “I had horses prepared for you all. Everyone here mostly has their own horses, but I didn’t want you all to miss out.”
                “Aren’t we dressed incorrectly for riding?” Christian asked, cocking a brow.
                “No,” Beau shook his head, giving a small laugh as he turned to look at Christian. “Master Cavaliere says anyone can ride in anything after seeing my mother ride galloping horse astride out to town in her ballgown.”
                Pandora’s brow furrowed at the thought of Belle in her mantua, legs braced either side of a charging horse. It just didn’t fit in her mind.
                “Come!” Beau said, waving for them to follow them down. They wavered for a moment, before Pandora took the lead to the bottom of the stairs, where footmen took their belongings from them and set them on a table with the rest of the class’s. Each member of the class glanced over their shoulder at irregular intervals to look at them as they joined. Standing in front of the horses was a tall, thin man, his white hair pulled back into a ponytail tied off with a red ribbon, and dressed in a black riding coat.
                “Good day, students,” he said in a surprising baritone.
                “Good day, Master Cavaliere,” responded the class, with the exception of the four, and Beau who only grinned. The horse-master instructed them all on what to do, stating it was a simple recreational riding task to go out into the field beyond the garden bridge and retrieve a flag, and then free roaming until afternoon tea was to be served.
                Master Cavaliere turned to one of the grooms, and Pandora could hear him say “I suppose we can let the prince’s dogs out for a run too,” before sending the boy off to retrieve them. Pandora turned to look at Christian, though saw he had gone with Jahd and Beau to meet his horses, five Morvans, at first nervous though slightly warming to the mare he was presented with. Pandora saw Beau’s hand settle on Christian’s back, the other only barely turning his head in response as he listened to whatever Beau was saying to him. Though he hesitated, Christian tentatively extended a hand at Beau’s encouragement and stroking the mare.
                As Pandora and Eve watched, they saw Beau then stepping aside, and helping a bewildered Christian up into the saddle.
                ”Do you think he told Beau he doesn’t know how to ride a horse?” Eve asked.
                ”Not if he’s really interested,” Pandora responded, the two watching the boys, when the dogs came into view: large white talbots that stood as tall as Pandora’s thigh barrelling around the corner. The sight of these dogs caused Christian to scramble into the saddle of his horse as they moved over to him and Beau. Beau only laughed, and knelt to pet the dogs as they came to his feet.
                “They’re my dogs,” Beau said, looking up at Christian with a smile. “They’re not going to hurt you.”
                Christian only peered down suspiciously at the hounds, and gave an apprehensive nod as he clutched at the reigns of his horse. Jahd made a comment Pandora could not hear, which prompted a dirty look from Christian as Jahd climbed into the saddle of the horse Beau had provided him.
                The groom who had been holding the horses’ reins handed them to the boys once they were astride – Master Cavaliere making his way over to the two of them as the groom lead the remaining two horses aside.
                “Have either of you ridden before?” he asked sharply, a pointed glance towards the way Christian clutched at the reins while his legs braced either side of the horse, a hint of a scowl forming on his face sourly.
                “I have,” answered Jahd, who compared to Christian looked far more comfortable on his own horse, sat upright and the reigns held confidently in his hands. “We do have horses back in Agrabah, you know. Though I think they’re bigger than these creatures, and they can traverse rolling sand like nothing else!”
                “Then you can instruct your friend if you’re so confident in your abilities,” the horse-master replied. “It’ll give me a good show of skill.”
                Beau, who remained knelt on the ground with his dogs, watched the exchange quietly, idly stroking the head of one of the talbots.
                Beyond, the rest of the class had already mounted their horses and were slowly making their way down the garden path at a comfortable pace.
                “Come, I’ll show you,” Jahd grinned, steering his horse about to come up beside Christian.
                Pandora and Eve watched with quiet curiosity as Jahd proceeded to instruct Christian. Telling him to straighten his posture, to loosen his legs to centre his balance on the saddle, to hold his reins with his thumbs facing upwards and the reins looped over and forward towards the horse’s neck and to rest the bow of his feet on the stirrup instead of shoving his entire foot in them.
                At Jahd’s prompting, Christian began into a walk, steering the horse around in a lazy circle as he listened to Jahd, who did the same alongside them. As they did this, Beau stood up again, coming over to Pandora and Eve.
                “Come on,” he encouraged, taking Eve by the waist to guide her over to her horse, Pandora quick to retrieve her with a grasping hand on her elbow.
                “No, I’d prefer—“ Eve protested, though she didn’t wriggle free fast enough before they were standing in front of the horse. It took all of two seconds in which Eve met eyes with the brown mare, whose eyes widened with a shrill sound as it reared up as she raised a hand in her defence, falling back with Beau as they both fell to the ground. The dogs began to bark, and Christian’s horse hopped nervously as he and Jahd had circled back, braying as he struggled to control it, his legs tensing against the horse’s sides again as he pulled tightly on the reins.
                Beau hopped to his feet again, settling Eve’s horse as Pandora helped her up, pulling her back several feet. Yet Christian’s horse bolted with another raucous bark from Beau’s dogs, charging through the gardens as Christian braced down against the horse shouting.
                Jahd kicked his horse into motion, chasing after the runaway with a sweeping turn and astounding balance as he barrelled away down the path. Pandora moved to the last remaining horse to mount it as well and follow, though it also panicked at her approach and quickly moved away from her as she too backed away from it.
                From the corner of her eye, Pandora saw Beau leap onto Eve’s horse, and turn to follow Jahd. Master Cavaliere, who now sat astride a proud black Percheron, shouted for the stableboys to manage the horses, before he too gave chase, leaving the class of concerned students on their mounts and Pandora and Eve huddled together watching.

-

Christian clung with all his might to the mare, eyes shut and trying not to slip off the mount though with every upward rear he slid further to the side. He shot past and through the gathering of students still leading their horses steadily down the path, near the bridge leading over to the fields, all of whom gasped and shouted as they moved out of the way.
                “Christian!” called a bellowing voice behind him, and he opened his eyes to look over his shoulder at Jahd, who was quickly gaining on him, not once failing to keep his balance and speed, and Beau not far behind him. Both Jahd and Beau came up on either side of him. They’d passed over the garden bridge into the field, speeding over the long grass beneath them.
                “Here!” Jahd shouted as he came up to Christian’s right, holding a hand out to him as Beau steered the mare further over to Jahd from the other side, reaching to take Christian’s reigns as he told him to go. Christian glanced down at the blurring grass again, then to Jahd, who leaned over further in his seat with an imploring look. “C’mon!” Jahd said, fingers outstretched, and Christian reached over, leaning to close the distance. He slid down the side, screaming as he did and almost falling as Jahd’s hand closed around his, yanking him over with a powerful pull of his strong arm over his lap. Jahd’s horse slowed, and Beau circled about, also slowing down as he came to regroup with them, clutching the reigns of Christian’s horse as he guided it.
                Christian pushed himself off against Jahd’s thigh, slipping down when they came to a trot and quickly turned to fall to his hands and knees. Bile rose in his throat and he spewed it out onto the grass with a gasping heave, choking as he trembled.
                The sound of Jahd’s feet hitting the ground behind him met his ears, as did the lighter footfall of Beau’s.
                “Fucking witches,” Christian choked out as Jahd and Beau came to kneel down either side of him, sobbing and wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his undershirt. His pants were already dirty from kneeling in the grass; he may as well drop any notion of staying immaculate.
                “You’re alright now,” Beau said, an arm draping around Christian’s shoulders and his other hand rubbing his arm. “It was just an accident.”
                “Don’t you know animals are put off by girls like them?” Jahd spat, though his venom was aimed at Beau than it was a detriment to the girls, and his arm came around Christian’s waist as he pulled him up to his feet. “Eve said she didn’t want to go near the horses.”
                “I don’t understand...” Beau said, looking up confusedly as Master Cavaliere came up behind them. Though as off put as he was, he felt a heat rush through him under Jahd’s scrutiny, not embarrassed but annoyed at the other’s accusing tone.
                “Is the boy alright?” Master Cavaliere asked, looking down at the three of them, Christian trembling and trying to hide his tears, Jahd glaring over at Beau, and Beau not sure what to think of any of it.
                “I’m fine,” Christian answered sharply, his usual harshness quickly returning to him as he spoke, breaking the silence and straightening up as he shook off Jahd’s grip. He looked proud enough, though the redness of his eyes, tear-stained cheeks and trembling fists betrayed the defiant pout of his lips.
                “I’ll walk back,” he growled, before quickly moving to return to the bridge, where Eve and Pandora could be seen rushing out into the field to join them, followed by a line of curious students on their horses. Beau looked on as Christian kept walking, pushing past Pandora and Eve when they tried to approach and back over the bridge as the students parted for him, giving both him and the two girls a wide berth. Pandora and Eve looked down the hill to him.
                ‘Witches’, Christian had said.

Chapter Text

Equestrianism had come to an abrupt end for the four of them, Christian having vanished by the time the girls and Jahd had returned to the gardens. Beau had barely said a word to them, apparently embarrassed. Master Cavaliere had forbidden the three of them from leaving the class, and so the three sat on the steps for the remainder of the period until they were dismissed for afternoon tea, though none sought out the dining hall.
                They wandered the castle looking for Christian until time came for Remedial Goodness, where they found him seated on a bench beside the door, sulking and glowering down at the marble floor with his gear in his lap. He barely acknowledged their arrival when they approached, only giving a venomous ‘Hey.’
                The one o’clock bell rang, and Christian kicked back against the bench as he stood, opening the door and entering ahead of them all into the small room before they could ask questions. The room was twice as tall as it was wide with the same towering windows the rest of the castle had, and the walls on either side of them were lined with bookshelves.
                From the door to the windows opposite them, there was room enough for five desks, four set into two rows and one at the opposite end in front of the window, behind which a wheeled blackboard had been placed.
                At the head of the room, by the front desk, stood a woman with hair that made Pandora think of a particularly vividly coloured pumpkin, dressed in pale pink and white and thumbing an ivory carving of what looked to in fact be a pumpkin that hung from a gold chain attached to a chatelaine which hung from her waist. The woman looked up as they enter, eyebrows raising in surprise before she moved to retrieve a small stack of papers from her desk, holding them tightly to her chest.
                “You’re here, good,” she smiled, though her voice was breathy and trembled slightly, it had an odd sound, not quite nasal, but coming from somewhere near the upper back part of one’s mouth beneath the nose. It didn’t take much for Pandora to know this was Lady Tremaine’s other daughter: Anastasia, for she and Drizella were almost identical in the shape of their face and nose, rounded and upturned. Unlike Drizella, however, who was shrill and bony, there was an apprehensive softness to the elder Tremaine sister. Christian kicked a chair out from one of the desks, making her jump and give a worried look as he sat, tossing his belongings on the desk.
                “Please, sit anywhere,” she said, giving a nervous laugh. “It doesn’t matter – not that there’s many places to choose from I suppose.”
                Jahd sat on the desk to Christian’s right, and Pandora passed between them to sit in front of Christian. Eve gave the back of Christian’s head a sad look, before following Pandora’s path and taking the remaining desk in front of Jahd. The young Lady Tremaine tried to restore her smile, and moved to hand out sheets, placing them onto each desk.
                Pandora looked down over the apparent worksheet, and read over what it had to say.

                                1) If someone hands you a crying baby do you:
                                                a) curse it
                                                b) lock it in a tower
                                                c) give it a bottle
                                                d) carve out its heart

                                2) You find a vial of poison, do you:
                                                a) put it in the king’s wine
                                                b) paint it on an apple
                                                c) turn it over to the authorities

For a moment, Pandora wondered if it was a kind of joke, though the further she read down the page the theme continued.
                “Mistress Tremaine?” Pandora said, looking up from the paper to the Tremaine hurriedly making her way back up to the front of the room. Anastasia lifted her head from her papers with a ‘Hm?’
                “Don’t you think this is a bit...”
                “Juvenile?” Christian scoffed.
                “Do you think...?” Anastasia answered, her shoulders dropping.
                “We know the difference between right and wrong, Lady Tremaine,” Eve spoke.
                Anastasia grimaced, and lowered the papers she held meekly.
                “I thought so,” she answered, setting the papers aside, a hand settling on her hip and idly chewing a nail from her other as she thought, looking at the ground. “I’m not much of a teacher anyway, to be quite honest – and please, call me Anastasia. Lady Tremaine was my mother, and I’m sure you know what she’s like...”
                She trailed off at the mention of her mother, glancing nervously between them all though finding their expressions had changed, and Christian was scratching aggressively at his desk with his fingernail. Anastasia leaned back against her own desk, though it slid back with a load groan of the wooden legs against the marble floor, causing her to jump up with a muffled cry before sitting on top of the desk instead, hopping up off her feet.
                “The way they made it sound was like it was suppose to be a class. Fairy Godmother said I had room for creativity but maybe I underestimated you all a bit. I think I was half-expecting you all to be children.”
                None of the four responded.
                “But if you know the difference between right and wrong, then I suppose what good is a Remedial Goodness class?”
                “Have you considered making it a counselling sessions, perhaps?” Eve said, toying with the end of her pencil. Anastasia gave her a quizzical look.
                “Make the class advisory,” Eve explained. “We know right and wrong, but it’s our understanding that could use improvement – the lines between right and wrong are different here than they are on the isle, and that means our reactions might fall out of line with what everyone else expects. It’s been twenty years since our parents lived here, and the isle is isolated. We need somewhere to voice our concerns safely without fear of repercussions. That could be here. What better way to teach than by careful guidance?”
                Anastasia nodded along as Eve spoke. “That’s a good idea...” she mused, eyes wandering as she stared off into the distance, thumb rubbing at the ivory pumpkin again as she set aside her papers.
                “Well in that case,” she said, looking back over the four of them, “what better way to start than to ask how your first day has gone so far? Were people nice to you? Were you nice to them? Did you make any friends perhaps?”
                The four were silent once again, Pandora and Jahd turning to look a Eve, considering it had been her idea to begin with. Even Christian looked up from beneath is lashes at her, before returning to his slow defacing of the desk.
                “Equestrianism was less than stellar, I think we can all agree. Though I think we could do with some more guidance, literally speaking,” Eve finally said, relenting under their scrutiny. “We were left to our own devices after breakfast and got lost a few times, but we got some help in the end, from Frederick.”
                “Oh! Well isn’t that a happy coincidence?” Anastasia said brightly.
                Eve nodded, moving on quickly. She talked about Etiquette, prompting Pandora to speak as well about the course of the class and their impressions of the other students, particularly the amiable Kai. Jahd talked about how he fell asleep in History, and his abysmal performance in Science, which Pandora justified in that they had come in midway through the year. Whatever Merlin was teaching in Science was probably more advanced than what he’d been teaching at the start of the year, after all. Christian never spoke a word, only offering barbed remarks to their recollections. Yet when they ran out of other stories, the seemingly forbidden subject of their Equestrian class was all that was left. None said a word more than Eve had at the beginning.
                “Well...if you don’t have any questions then why don’t we leave it there? We can talk more at your next session.” Anastasia said, breaking the awkward silence between them all. “I know they’re having a special feast for you all, to welcome you. Why don’t we finish early and you go and get ready for that instead?”
                The four gathered their things, and got up from their desks to leave. Christian, this time, quietly slid out of his chair and followed after, instead of kicking his way out and storming into the hall as he had coming in. He still wandered ahead of them, eventually disappearing up the stairs in the direction of their appartement.
                “Do you think he’s going to be alright?” Pandora asked.
                “You know what he’s like when he gets mad,” Jahd answered.
                “All he needs is time to cool off on his own,” Eve said. ”Just leave him be.”
                “Do you think he’ll be okay at the feast though? If Célene was any measure of how things might go, he might start something with someone else with something worse to say.”
                “We’ll deal with it as it comes,” Eve echoed.

Chapter Text

Christian threw his books down on the bed, loose papers scattering across the duvet as the collection slid. He tugged at button of his cape before throwing it down on the ground, soon to be joined by his doublet and undershirt as he shrugged them off in turn, before finally kicking off his shoes.
                The wash basin and jug that Jahd had thrown at both the heads of the servants in the morning had been replaced during the day, he noticed, and for a moment he stared at the silver on its stand with an inkling of suspicion, squinting for a moment before turning back to the room. His eyes danced over the furniture and his things, and then Jahd’s as well. Nothing else had been touched...or at the very least, it may have been left to look that way.
                The general tidiness of it all was off-putting. Even on the isle, Eve’s room in the tower had its own clutter, piles of books, a small mirror standing on her desk surrounded by all her lotions and potions and powders.
                Christian exhaled, shaking his head, thinking to himself that he was just being paranoid. He returned to the washstand and poured water into the basin. He stared at the water, and the taste of bile in his throat became apparent to him. Not as strong as it had been out in the field, but distasteful enough for him to want to wash his mouth out, doing so in a messy attempt to drink from the jug that resulted in him spilling water on himself. Then as he stood there, with a mouthful of water, he realised he had nothing to spit it out in, before looking across to the far window and walking over. He swished the water around in his mouth, picking up whatever bile remained, before opening the window and spitting it out where it disappeared below. He closed the window again, and returned to the washstand.
                Opening the drawer of the stand, Christian found two folded clothes stacked to one side, and a small selection of bottles to the other. Picking up one of the bottles, Christian saw they were in fact perfumes to be mixed with the water – general aromas like lavender or honeyed milk. He chose the latter of the two, uncorking it and pouring some into the water...then a little bit more just to be sure it was enough.
                Christian then took one of the cloths, submerged it in the water, rung it out, and then took to washing his face as he peered into the mirror on the wall before him, eyes darting across the freckles spread over his skin and down his torso. When he was done with that, he gave a quick once-over with the cloth on his shoulders and chest, and the randomly dotted circular spots of skin that stood out paler than the rest on his forearms and the nape of his neck, each just less than a centimetre wide that made the scent of cigarettes rise in his nostrils. Even with the brief wash he could already smell the scent of honey and milk on his skin, and he rubbed over his shoulders and under his arms again before placing the cloth next to the basin and looking into the mirror again.
                Christian saw his nose crinkle at the sight of himself, boyish looks that bordered on feminine, freckles littered across his face and body, pouty lips, long lashes, and tight white curls of hair that spilled over his forehead in an arch from his dark roots. When asked, Cruella had always said it was a family trait, a defect. Some de Vils born with only a few strands of white, others with single stark locks, or halves like her own, or like his, blanching the longer it grew. She could never explain why it happened, only that it was unique to their family so far as she knew.
                Christian had prided himself on his curly hair, and his high cheekbones and full lips. None of it was his mother’s, he thanked god, apart from the colour of his hair. Everything else down to the dark colour of his eyes was from his father, an unidentified pirate of Hook’s wife Elizabeth Bonny’s crew Cruella had only ever given a passing and unfavourable mention of. His skin was paler than his father’s apparently was though, who had been darker than Jahd, but even then Christian was fairer than the Agrabahn was; only the freckles scattered across him came close.
                He didn’t think it ugly though, despite all Cruella had done to make him think so. The only ugliness he saw came with the crinkle of that nose, the curl of his sneer, and the venomous hate in his eyes. Looking at his reflection, he was an angel to look upon, but Christian had resigned himself to the knowledge his mother had twisted him up inside long ago as he stared into those brown eyes.
                “Are you alright?” said Jahd, coming into view behind Christian’s shoulder. He hadn’t noticed him enter, too caught up in his own vanity to hear or see anything beyond his reflection.
                “Fine,” Christian said sharply, looking down from the glass to the basin, before backing away from the washstand, unlacing his breeches, the knees of which were grass-stained and brown with dirt from the field, and pushing them off down his legs before he stepped out of them. He then did the same with his stockings, now stripped down to only his underwear, before taking one of his bags from the foot of the bed. He opened it to find his clothing still there.
                “You’d think they would’ve put everything away with how thorough they were trying to be this morning,” he muttered, pulling out clothes and throwing them onto the bed with his books as he sorted through.
                “You know what happened in Equestrianism wasn’t your fault.”
                “Doesn’t it make it any less humiliating,” Christian growled. “Let’s see you have to be rescued in front of a whole class of people evaluating your every move. I looked like a fucking idiot in front of them, crying because—”
                “Because you were scared.”
                “That’s not the point,” Christian said in an annoyed huff, throwing down a shirt. He was probably making something out of nothing, but to him that entire class probably thought he was a coward or simply incapable.
                “What are you looking for?” Jahd asked, dropping it.
                “Something to wear to the feast,” he replied.
                Jahd made a sound, and Christian looked up from beneath his curls to see that the other had in fact forgotten about it.
                “Did you bring anything to wear?”
                “I didn’t think I’d need something fancy.”
                Christian scoffed, returning to his own bag as he continued sifting through the contents. Everything was fraying in places, or the colour was fading. For the isle these had been luxuries, but with the passing of time none of it was suitable anymore when he had been around boys and girls dressed in embroidered silks and other rich fabrics. What he’d worn today had been his best, and he didn’t have the time to wash it, and he knew Eve would never let him wear it to the feast anyway.
                Nothing he had to offer was good enough.
                Christian flexed his fingers, bringing his hands together to bend each digit back with a crack. He could still see Jahd out of the corner of his eye, hovering in front of the wardrobe looking at him, unsure whether to move or talk or do anything.
                “We could just not go?” Jahd finally spoke.
                “Eve’ll drag us down there by our ears if we don’t.”
                A knock came at the door, and both Christian and Jahd looked towards it, Christian entwining his fingers and stretching them out with a final rolling crack of his knuckles. Jahd walked over and opened it, though Christian couldn’t see who was beyond it though he heard the familiar nervous voice of one of the servants from the morning as two packages came into view. Offered to Jahd with gloved hands, Jahd leaned away from the offering, before finally taking it with an alarmed look. He closed the door again, and stared down at the two packages, which flopped awkwardly down in his hand before he looked at Christian, tossing them to him, a card falling from them as they sailed through the air.
                Christian caught the packages, and just by the weight of them and the movement of them he knew what it was underneath the paper and string. Jahd picked up the card, looking at what was written on it and saying, “It just says ‘B’.”
                Christian tugged at the bow of the string, and unwrapped the first of the two packages. It was a red frock coat, with black breeches trimmed with gold, and a pair of black shoes with no heel to them. Holding the frock coat up, he quickly noticed it was far too big to fit him.
                “I think this is yours...” Christian said quietly, lowering the coat to look at Jahd, who just stared at the crimson garment in suspicion. Christian just pushed the set of clothes to the other side of his bed, and moved on to the next package. In this one, he found a white doublet, a black jerkin with large billowing sleeves, the interior lined in red silk, a pair of white full-length hose, black shoes with delicate gold buckles and...
                “A codpiece?” Christian said, picking up the offensive item like he would something dirty, giving it a disgusted look.
                He could see Jahd beginning to grin, though it was quickly masked by a sudden interest in the red frock coat when Christian shot him a look. Christian looked down to the package again, the only remaining item a pair of small puffed hose. If this was some kind of joke, Christian would gladly strangle the offender using the packaging string. Although the clothing was immaculate, it was still plainer than what he had seen other students wearing.
                His vanity, however, left few other options between the embarrassing codpiece and the worn wardrobe he had brought with him. At the very least, the jerkin would be long-skirted enough to cover it...he hoped.
                The day couldn’t get any worse between now and when he went to bed after all.

Chapter Text

Eve held up the delivered gown gingerly, the paper of the packaging falling to the floor. Plain cobalt blue silk, gold laces down the front of the bodice, but it was all too modest for her – the neckline too high, shoulders covered, and barely any indication of a figure. Where was the daring? The appeal of something slightly risqué? The only thing it had going for it was the colour and lacing. This was a gown chosen by someone who clearly didn’t know her at all.
                “I think mademoiselle would look charming,” Veronique said brightly, though even she could recognise the discontent look on Eve’s face as she lowered the garment to look across at Pandora. The fairy was clutching her own gift of a mulberry coloured gown in her hands, a look of mortified confusion on her face like she didn’t know what to do with it.
                “This looks like something that Madeleine would wear...” Pandora lamented. She didn’t need Eve to tell her this wouldn’t suit her at all. In her experience, she had yet to find a shade of purple that flattered her, only burgundies, and the plain mulberry thing in her hands would not.
                Veronique went to offer another comforting remark, though she barely got past ’Miss Madeleine looks...’ before trailing off as she tried to think.
                “She looks plain,” Eve said. “She’s pretty enough with beautiful eyes, and she’d be more so if she learned what to do with her hair so it isn’t so flat, but she has no style.”
                “You don’t think she chose these, do you?” Pandora asked.
                “Mistress Belle chose them, Miss Pandora,” Veronique answered.
                A stab of terror struck Eve, not for the fact they’d been speaking ill of the Grand Princess and Madeleine, though that in itself was a horrifying prospect if Veronique ever relayed it back to Mistress Belle, but that if Mistress Belle had chosen these outfits, they couldn’t very well not wear them.
                “We can make it work,” Eve said, newfound determination taking over, walking over to the mirror and holding the gown up to herself to see it in her reflection. “Veronique, find me a sewing kit, I’ve some adjustments to make. Pandora, put that down and start pulling out what’s in the wardrobe, and then I suggest you start warming up to work some actual magic.”
                “You want me to what?” Pandora said, her brow furrowing and the mulberry monstrosity still clutched in her hands.
                “I don’t have time to do any major sewing, but if the Fairy Godmother could transform Cinderella’s rags into riches, and the Three Good Fairies put together a whole dress from scratch for Aurora with nought but a wand, you can do the same.”
                Veronique hadn’t left the room, producing a sewing kit from the pocket of her apron and setting it out on the vanity. The first thing Eve took was the scissors, and much to Veronique’s protest she began cutting into her dress, removing the trim of the neckline, deepening it into a low, arched scoop that came to a point, cutting back the shoulders and pulling at the seam where the sleeves were attached and removing them entirely. Then she unlaced the bodice, discarding the gold thread to the side before she started gathering up the front lengths of the skirt, too long without the farthingale underneath, and pinned them up at the waist with pearl hairpins that she bent the ends of into a hook so they wouldn’t slip. When she was done, she waved Pandora over, taking the trim she had removed before.
                “We don’t have time to sew it on properly, I want you to reattach it,” she said, pulling Pandora closer than the fairy had come, but all Pandora could do was look down at the garment nervously as Eve placed at the strip of trim in her hands.
                “Don’t you think this is a bit ambitious to be trying?” Pandora said, looking at the trim, then back to the dress and the hastily cut neckline. “We don’t have that much time...”
                “It’s too late to go back now; I’ve already cut it to shreds.”
                Realising she wasn’t going to be given a choice, Pandora sighed. She looked over at Veronique, who was watching warily, before returning her attention back to the dress. She took the strip of trim by one end, shaking it sharply in one hand and trying to picture what she wanted. Visualisation, her mother had taught her, was by no means a very reliable method of magic, but it was quick, and she didn’t have the time to think of an incantation and she highly doubted the book her mother had given them had something as frivolous as a spell for sewing. Maleficent was far more practical than that – love spells and cosmetics were in the line of Grimhilde and Eve’s paradigm.
                Even then, she knew that incantations never hurt, and as much as she loathed to think of them on the spot, Pandora nevertheless made an attempt, however clunky she thought it might sound.
                “Take upon this golden trim
                Lay it upon form and limb,
                To make a gown for fair of face,
                In shining blue, full of grace...”
                As Pandora spoke, she lifted the trim into the air, the loose end of it slowly rising up of its own accord as she let it loose, the gown rising with it to float in the air like a blue phantom. Slivers of green struck through the air, glinting and flickering like fire in their brief sparks of life, and the trim began to lengthen and separate.
                First it affixed itself to the shoulders and neckline, as she had intended, but the longer the strip of fabric grew, the more it decorated the gown – forming bands of ribbon and gold embroidery along the cuffs of the sleeves, which came to rejoin onto the gown, and along the hem of the skirt. That was as much as she had wanted, but the magic continued. The form of the gown lifting its sleeves in a dance as the dress spun in the air, and Pandora saw the cobalt blue silk deepen into a rich blue that shone in the light, vertical designs of vines and small flowers revealing themselves as they grew up the length of the skirt and bodice. The gold laces Eve had removed laced themselves back into the bodice, and like the trim divided to lace on the sleeve and shoulders before finally the gown drifted down to rest upon the bed again.
                Pandora’s eyes followed it as it settled, mouth hanging open slightly. It wasn’t exactly what she had pictured, exceeding her expectations in fact. For a minute she thought she had overdone it, until Eve took it up with a look of astonishment.
                “I wasn’t expecting you to do all that,” she said, thumbs rubbing over the now luxurious silk.
                “Neither did I,” Pandora answered quietly, eyes still fixed to the garment.
                Even Veronique couldn’t hide her wonder, making timid steps forward to take a closer look with a quiet whisper of ‘Incroyable...’, her own hand coming out to test the realness of it.
                Glancing over to her gown, Pandora left the two girls to their amazement and returned to her own bed, rubbing her fingers against her thumbs as she focused on maintaining the warmth of magic running across her fingertips. She remembered a story her mother had told to her as a little girl about a unicorn, from the Age of Enchantment long ago, and a young wizard of great potential but no talent to show it.
                “’Magic,’” Pandora said quietly, reciting the words from the story as she cast her hands over the mulberry gown, “’do as you will...’”
                Just as Eve’s dress had done, the garment floated into the air, not as playfully or showful as Eve’s had done, and immediately the change began to take place. The mulberry coloured faded and fled as new rose red bled through the fabric, becoming a rich velvet, and along the hem and up the sleeves great winding images of roses grew in gold embroidery. It was a short transformation, not nearly as fancy as the one before, but just as effective to make a normal gown into something fit for a lady she thought.
                “Start getting dressed,” instructed Eve, who was already being helped out of her dress by Veronique. “We don’t want to be late.”

Chapter Text

Eve’s worry about their tardiness had turned out to be more for her own desire to fix her makeup and redo her own hair, and Pandora’s, rather than any real concern for their being late. For herself she had braided her hair and wound it in golden thread, weaving it through the braid, and using her mother’s sapphire hair comb to pin it in place behind her head.
                As much as Eve had tried to convince her otherwise, Pandora refused to let either Eve or Veronique do her hair, instead letting it remain loose and unkempt with only a brief combing through. There had been a simple bracelet with the package. It was a set of three small rubies hanging from a thin golden chain, which on Eve’s insistence was strategically pinned into her hair like a headpiece to hang across her forehead like a diadem.
                When they finally emerged from their rooms, all made up and dressed, they found both Jahd and Christian waiting for them on one of the sofas. Christian was dressed in all white, though didn’t look entirely comfortable, and Pandora thought Jahd rather odd-looking considering how well-dressed he was in his frock coat and breeches. It was an improvement upon his outfit from this morning, but she had spent so long seeing him in ratty remnants of his Agrabahn clothing, or clothes he had repurposed to emulate it, that she had never thought she’d see him in anything different.
                Jahd, however, was the first to give a low whistle at the sight of them, prompting Christian to look up, and consequently ask, “Why did you get the good clothes?”
                “We didn’t,” Eve answered, not bothering to hide the smug look on her face as she gave a twirl, the great length of her skirt sweeping across the floor in an arc. She’d worn a kirtle and a petticoat underneath to make up for her gathering the front. “Pandora surprised us both in helping me fix them up.”
                “Are you sure you want to be going out there with a neckline that deep?” Jahd asked, only managing to tear his eyes away from the borderline scandalous scoop of her neck, which provided an ample look at her lily-white chest. “I don’t think anyone has seen that much of a girl’s chest here since...ever.”
                “All the better to keep them distracted,” Eve answered, with a proud grin. “It means I’ll get less questions and more compliments from the boys.”
                “And dirty looks from all the girls,” Christian drawled.
                “Well that’s what happens when a girl who’s more adventurous shows up, and they can’t fault me for it because it’s the evening and we’re going to a party. Now come along, I didn’t eat anything else today besides our breakfast in anticipation for this.”
                With another sweep of her skirt Eve turned for the door, Pandora and the boys following after. In Pandora’s mind she could only describe Eve’s gait as a march, light on her feet but stepping with intermittent, purposeful clicks of her short heels against the marble floor of the hallway. The only other sound was the rustle of her and Pandora’s skirts, and the shuffling steps of Pandora, Jahd and Christian in their effort to keep up as she passed through the hall, down the stairs and towards the grand staircase down to the entrance.
                All the while the three noticed Eve taking far too much pleasure in the gown she wore, using every turn to make another dramatic sweep of her skirt as it swept in arcs across the marble like a cobalt curtain.
                No sooner had she reached the top of the stairs, Eve paused, a delicate hand settling on the marble banister and the other holding her skirts up and out of the way, before she then descended. Pandora pulled her skirt up in both hands before following down, eyes firmly fixed on the stairs so as to not miss one, and also to keep from slipping on the smooth stone with her fancy shoes. Glancing down to the hall below she could see the glow of the dining hall lights reflecting on the floor from the great doorway to the side, and beside them stood one of the many footmen that could be found at every turn.
                Upon seeing them, the footman, who held a black cane in one hand, stood to attention as Eve dropped her skirt and smoothed the fabric down. The remaining three flanked either side of her, Pandora and Jahd to her left and Christian to her right. The footman bowed quickly, before turning to the doors and pushing them further open for them, then stepping aside and gesturing for them to enter. Following Eve’s lead, they all entered, Pandora lifting her head a little higher as Eve and Christian did, though Jahd failed to notice, his shoulders tense and hunched up.
                Two raps of the footman’s cane against the floor sounded behind them, followed by his voice.
                “Their ladyships, Pandora de Guillory and Eve von Ballenstedt, and their companions, Jahd Ya’fur and Christian de Vil.”
                Pandora could hear Christian ask ‘Was that really necessary?’, though he was only hushed by Eve. Those closest to the doors had already turned to face them once the doors had opened, though after the announcement the rest had turned as well, the hundred or so students now all looking, some even craning their necks to have a look at the four. Down the far end of the hall stood the faculty flanking either sign of the Grand Princess, her hair piled on her head wearing a daffodil yellow mantua, yellow silk roses adorning the skirt and flowering sleeves over white lace billowing out over her hips and the wide berth of her skirt.
                To Belle’s right stood the fairy godmother Béatrice, dressed in a simple white robe à la française with periwinkle trim and silver embroidery criss-crossing over it. To Belle’s left stood a tall, elderly man with the longest beard Pandora had ever seen, dressed in comparatively simple midnight blue robes with a short pointed cap on his head, and grasping the head of a long, thin wooden cane in his wrinkled right hand. Pandora need no introduction to recognise the wizard Merlin, who as she looked up towards him, she could see was also looking down towards her over his round wire-rim glasses, the bush of his moustache twitching from side to side with a wriggle of his nose.
                Her attention was drawn away from the wizard with the parting of the students before them as a tall, broad-shouldered young man, dark curly hair neatly sculpted back atop his head, and dressed in grey tights and a navy blue doublet exposed beneath the unfastened opening of a short red silk damask gown lined with fur strode towards them with a bright smile. Following behind him by a few feet with a dour expression was Célene, hands clasped in front of her and dressed in a deeper crimson, and a wreath of equally red roses and black ribbons adorning her head.
                “Ladies,” the boy smiled, looking between them as he took a deep breath that only served to make his full chest swell even further before he gave a low, courteous bow. He then took Eve’s hand in his own, placing a light kiss upon it, and then to Pandora’s surprise he did the same with her own hand, which tensed slightly in his grip as she considered wrenching it free. Yet she permitted it, albeit quietly. When she was free, brought the hand to her chest, taking a a small step back, behind Eve and closer to Jahd, whose nose was crinkling as he squinted at the blonde. Glancing to Christian, she could only see his brow furrowing as he cast a dark look at Célene.
                “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, I had hoped we would meet earlier in the day but it seems our registrar planned otherwise,” the boy grinned, exposing remarkably pearly teeth. “My sister has told me so much about you already though,” he continued, gesturing back briefly to Célene. At the mention of his sister, Pandora couldn’t help but double-take for a second – between the two of them, the twins didn’t look much alike. The features were somewhat similar, though the boy had a stronger jaw, yet otherwise his hair was darker and tightly curled where hers fell in looser gold curls, and his skin a few shades darker than her own giving it a pleasant warmth compared to Célene’s sun-kissed complexion.
                “She can’t have said much then,” Christian scoffed quietly, rolling back on his heels.
                “I am Aland,” the boy said, turning back to them with a smile.
                “Aren’t you gallant?” Eve answered, smiling and giving a small laugh, the hand he had kissed settling over her chest, a finger tracing back and forth along her collarbone as she gave a low curtsy. “I am Eve von Ballenstedt,” she answered, and with an easy step forward, Aland turning with her, she effortlessly wove her arm around his, drawing him to move with her into the hall. Aland did not waver, his eyes fixed to her, smile never falling and listening intently as Eve spoke in a low voice, though he did glance back briefly, his eyes meeting Pandora's before Eve led him away.
                “She’s unscrupulous that girl,” Christian snorted.
                Pandora didn’t answer, taking the moment to survey the scene as everyone’s attention followed Eve and Aland when the cry of an odd accent met her ears.
                “Pandora!”
                Shuffling past the other students, who had gone back to their idle chit chat and eating – though some still made brief glances in the direction of the three – Kai stepped into view, his towering, broad figure made all the larger by the double-breasted teal jacket, its epaulettes, and the built up cravat and collar that swallowed his thick neck. He held one hand above his head, and that of everyone else around him, atop which he balanced a platter of food piled high for himself and he was rosy-cheeked and cheerful as ever. Just seeing the infectious smile, which rivalled Aland’s, Pandora couldn’t help but return it.
                “You should see the banquet table!” he beamed. “So much food! Each one better than the next! Here, try the chicken!”
                Stabbing a shaved piece of chicken with his fork, he held it out for Pandora to eat. Over her shoulder she could hear Jahd and Christian attempting to stifle their sniggering, and for a moment hesitated, before looking to the fork, and then to Kai again. He still smiled.
                She leaned in, and ate the chicken. It was just as Mistress Béatrice’s illusory chicken had tasted, though...fuller she supposed. The spices tasted more whole, the seasoning richer, and chicken more tender, and it made her mouth water as she chewed, before finally forcing herself to swallow and give up the sensation.
                “Oh my god...” Pandora murmur, tongue running over her teeth and the top of her mouth trying to get as much of that taste as she could, and seeing this Kai grasped her wrist.
                “Come! Come!” he laughed, pulling her into the crowd. Pandora tossed her head over her shoulder, looking back at the two boys as they watched, before grabbing Jahd by the wrist as well and pulling him along, Christian quickly pursuing them as they were guided through the crowded towards the banquet table.
                It was laden with all the delights Mistress Béatrice had conjured for Etiquette and more. Roasts, vegetables, stews and soups. Bowls of peas, carrots and salads drizzled in oil and sprinkled with pepper. Steaming tureens of bouillabaisse, bisques and consommé amidst platters of bread and hors d’oeuvres.
                The three of them could only stare and marvel at the spread of food. Kai, however, was piling his plate higher with cuts of meat and copious amounts of peas, before overturning what may have very well been half a saucière of gravy. Following his example, Christian and Jahd were snatching up plates for themselves, and piling them equally high with whatever food they could reach. Though perhaps equally ravenous at the sight, Pandora reigned in her enthusiasm more than the boys did, and placed cuts of the chicken on her plate with peas and a small bowl of French onion soup, then returning for roast potatoes.

-

“Do you want me to get you a plate for yourself?” Aland smiled, watching as Eve tried some honey roasted duck from his plate, perched close next to him on a bench, alone but not out of the view of Célene, who watched from afar with Beau, Madeleine and another blond boy. Eve ignored her, instead focusing her attention on the prince, a sly smile on her face and the prongs of the fork pressed softly against her lower lip as she hummed.
                “No, no,” she smiled, now returning the fork to him. “I think if I were to start eating you’d never get another word out of me for the rest of the night.”
                “And why’s that?” Aland asked, grin still playing at his lips as he took the fork, setting it on the plate and lowering the dish to his lap.
                “We don’t have food nearly as good as this on the Isle,” Eve answered.
                “Then all the more reason for you to have more,” Aland responded, offering the plate to her.
                “Charming as well are you?” Eve laughed, taking the plate from him and helping herself to more of the duck.
                “That would be Lisle really.”
                Eve’s brow drew together, she didn’t recall any ‘Lisle’ of importance.
                “Henri-Carlisle? King Henri-Christian’s son? All the Occitaine boys have Henri in their name it can get confusing, his father prefers 'Kit' apparently,” Aland continued, glancing over her shoulder and nodding toward the direction of Célene. “There he is, with my sister.”
                Eve turned to look, catching Célene’s gaze, and then that of the ‘Lisle’ in question, dressed in white and gold with a blue sash. Like Aland, he had blonde curls though they were longer and swept to either side of his face to frame his cherubic features and large, round eyes. All of his beauty was undercut by the sharp look he gave and the way he pressed his lips into an almost imperceptible frown that could’ve matched her mother’s.
                “Cinderella’s son,” Eve said to herself.
                “Well, yes, I suppose. Though the late queen never used that name herself so far as I know,” Aland said, though Eve took the moment to watch the pair across the way, both evaluating her as she evaluated them. Eve looked back to Aland, and took another piece of duck, offering it to him to eat as a distraction.
                “I can’t hoard this all to myself,” she said, “and I won’t make you walk back over to the table to get more for yourself. You were kind enough to share, I can do the same.”
                Looking back towards the table though, as Aland ate, she could see Pandora, Jahd, Christian and Kai coming to it, and watching for a moment as they fixed their own plates to eat, before her gaze fell on Frederick towards the other end of the table away from them. He was ladling stew into a dish held in his gloved hand, before taking two slices of bread and settling them next to the bowl on the plate and wandering over to a bench further down from them, sitting alone on the end.
                “What can you tell me about Frederick?” Eve asked, tearing her gaze from the pale boy as he ate his stew.
                “Frederick?” Aland answered, looking about before his eyes fell on the boy for a moment, until Aland turned back to Eve. “He’s...quiet – though nice when you can get him talking. I’m not really sure what you want to know.”
                “He wears gloves to cover the marks on his hands, what are they?”
                “I haven’t seen any marks,” Aland said, brow furrowing.
                “The bumps on his hands,” Eve answered, gesturing with her own hand as if to demonstrate. Aland’s quizzical expression did not change.
                “I don’t know what to tell you,” Aland said, shifting in his seat for a moment. “We haven’t really talked all that much, and he keeps to himself so far as anyone else has told me.”
                Eve stopped herself from frowning for a moment before she remembered herself, and her smile returned. She forked another piece of duck, and offered it to Aland.
                “Here,” she said sweetly, inching a little closer. “Tell me more about yourself instead.”

-

“Brazen little coquette isn’t she?” Henri-Carlisle said, drinking from the glass of white wine in his hand. Célene was looking over at her brother and the little witch again, lips pursed and adjusting her position before she looked away again.
                “Be nice,” Beau spoke from Célene’s other side. “They’re here to try and prove they can be better but you’re acting like they’ve already done something wrong. Can’t you give them a chance?”
                “You’re being very naive if you think it’s that simple Beau,” Célene answered, straightening up and raising her head, tossing her hair back over her shoulders before adjusting the wreath of roses on her head. She scanned the dining hall again. Despite the hundred or so people inside, it was nevertheless large enough that she could easily see everyone and everything with little effort, until her eyes fell on Pandora on the far side, in the corner with the de Vil boy and the street rat, and Kai again it seemed. They were all listening intently to the Arendellian prince as he spoke animatedly, and gesturing wildly with his free hand, brandishing his fork as he did so in order to illustrate what was surely a rather wild story of his.
                Célene’s eyes became fixed on Pandora however, who in the princess’s opinion looked ghastly, a thin, bony creature whose jagged angles jutted underneath the drape of her scarlet dress, embroidered with roses and winding brambles, far too much like Célene’s for it to be a coincidence. Célene had no doubt in her mind that it the fairy was making an attempt at mocking her. After all, if she wasn’t here as a challenge to her then what was she?
                “If you keep scowling like that you’ll get wrinkles,” Carlisle said.
                “I’m trying to think.”
                “Of?”
                “What they’re here for,” she answered.
                “What do you mean ‘What they’re here for?’” Madeleine asked, reminding the heirs to her presence, though Beau was the one who straightened up, giving Célene an incredulous look as he said, “They were invited here.”
                “Doesn’t mean they can’t be plotting something as well.”
                “To turn us all in to frogs?” Carlisle laughed. “Or maybe try to take over the United Kingdoms? I’d like to see them try.”
                “It wouldn’t be far off, just look at how that little witch is throwing herself at my brother for a start, and I have no doubts that she-devil over there could curse us all if she wanted to, like her mother could have if she wanted to.”
                “Really, Célene?” Beau said. "I think you're jumping to some rather large conclusions, don't you?"
                Madeleine seemed to make a small sound of agreement, though it only made her sound like a mouse squeaking as she did.
                “Your mother might have fallen in love with a beast who turned out to be a prince, but with my mother the wicked fairy was just that, and she was Pandora’s mother. Evil breeds evil, Beau, even more so where matters of magic and those who use it are concerned, and I’m all the wiser to consider that they can’t have just come to attend a few ‘Remedial Goodness’ classes and make merry with us.”
                “Well my dear Célene,” Carlisle answered, standing as he saw Aland and Eve do so, and catching the smug grin on the witch’s face when she looked their away again, making Célene bristle as the two wove through the room towards the four gathered in the far corner. “There’s two ways to test that if you ask me. Provoke them, or just ask," Carlisle said, taking a step in their direction, turning back with an polite extension of his hand for her to take. "Either way, if you want Aland away from her you’ll probably have to drag him away yourself.”

-

“Pandora,” said Eve, drawing the fairy’s attention as she closed the distance between them. Pandora looked away from Kai, who stopped in the middle of his current story, through which Christian and Jahd had politely been quietly listening to without complaint though they leaned against the wall wearily. For a moment, Pandora thought Eve had come up with nothing regarding Aland, though to see Aland with Eve made Pandora all the more alert.
                “Aland wanted to meet you, properly, without everyone watching,” Eve explained, a sly look about her eyes as she did so as she guided Aland forward to stand with the group.
                “If I can tear you away from Kai that is,” Aland said wryly. “Once he starts talking it’s hard to get him to stop in my experience.”
                “He’s just jealous,” Kai laughed around a mouthful of roast potato. “He couldn’t tell a good story if he tried!”
                “Because you’d never stop long enough to give anyone a chance.”
                The two princes laughed between themselves, Kai even giving Aland a rough nudge in the side that surprisingly sent Aland off-kilter for a moment considering how equally stocky the two were. When they settled, they turned their attention back to the girls, and their two friends who were slowly making an effort at merging with the wall in lieu of an escape.
                “Lady Eve is right however,” Aland said, with a nod, “I wanted to have an opportunity to meet you properly.”
                The prince gave a low bow, as he had done when they first met at the start of the banquet.
                “Without all the world watching us that is,” he added, motioning subtly to the rest of the hall. By now nearly nobody passed a glance to them, too caught up in their own merriment to care about those from the Isle anymore, or their schmoozing with the royalty.
                “Your sister wasn’t so welcoming,” Pandora answered, and though she managed not to sound curt Eve passed her a glance regardless.
                “I can’t imagine she was,” Aland said, smiling slightly. “Célene was more...reluctant about the whole idea of letting children from the Isle come to the Kingdoms. I think she listened too closely to our godmothers’ stories about your mother. Personally, I think Flora, Fauna and Merryweather exaggerated a bit where she was concerned.”
                “If only,” Pandora said, taking a breath as her mind wandered back to her mother. Sickly as she had been on the Isle, she had nevertheless a force to be reckoned with. How else could she have taken command of the Isle than by her own eminence? Even if helped by Grimhilde during those fabled first years? Pandora could only guess what she had been like at her peak in Pryleaux all those years ago.
                “I don’t think you listened closely enough, Aland.”
                Looking over Aland’s shoulder, Pandora could see Célene approaching, her rose-crowned head held high, flanked by Beau and Henri-Carlisle, with Madeleine following not far behind her. As Célene spoke up, however, the attention of the other students around them started to be drawn again.
                “Kai, you’d do well not to get too friendly with her,” Célene continued. “Her mother was the type to cast a curse just because she wasn’t invited to a christening.”
                “Célene—” Aland went to answer, his voice rising slightly from the soft lilt it had been, though Pandora held up a hand to silence him. To her surprise, he fell quiet.
                “You must have a very narrow view of the world if that’s what you think it was about,” Pandora spoke, her voice coming out sharply as her upper lip curled. “Did you ever consider that your godmothers were a little biased when they were telling you bedtime stories about my mother to scare you?”
                “Your mother doesn’t scare me.”
                “And last I checked it was your mother that invited us to come to Auradon in the first place, Célene.”
                “A decision that I continue to question with each passing day.”
                By now, the students surrounding them were beginning to whisper, almost excitedly. Kai had fallen silent, a sad expression crossing his face and his gaze flitting between those from the Isle and Célene, her brother, and her posse. Eve had moved across to join Pandora, and Jahd and Christian had stepped forward from their places by the wall to close ranks. Across the room, out of the corner of her eye, Pandora could also see Mistress Belle and Mistress Béatrice speaking to each other, looking in their direction with concerned expressions, Mistress Belle even gathering her skirts up steadily to approach quickly if needed. Master Merlin was nowhere to be seen.
                “Why are you causing trouble, Célene?” Beau asked, shifting around them to try and stand between her and Pandora, though failing to manoeuvre around Aland properly to do so. “They haven’t done anything.”
                “Not yet anyway. Like I told you before, you’ve got to be very naive to think that they would just come here with honest intentions.”
                “Célene—” Madeleine began meekly, though she fell silent the moment Carlisle hissed at her to be quiet, her head bowing and stepping back when he gestured sharply with his wrist.
                “What exactly do you think they teach them on that isle?” Carlisle spoke, looking back to them and stepping forward, a wicked glint in his eye as he looked at Eve. Beau had since circled about to stand by Eve’s side, almost as if to bolster her against him. “Evil breeds evil,” he echoed, and he sneered, giving her a look over.
                “And like Célene said,” he continued in a loathsome tone, briefly looking to Pandora as he spoke, “magic only makes it worse.”
                Eve glared across at the prince, lips pressed into a thin, red line and her hand fisting in her skirt as Carlisle drew ever closer, standing over her, and she in turn stepped forward to match his glower.
                “I wouldn’t put it past this scheming, social-climbing little witch to have slipped something into your food just to make you fawn all over her, Aland.”
                “Why you—“ Eve hissed, taking another step towards him to try and push him back, though he didn’t relent, and deftly brought his hand up to push her back instead with a slight shove. As she stepped back, she tripped on her skirt and fell into Beau’s arms. Though no sooner had Eve fallen a blur of red crossed between the two sides of the standoff, startling Kai who dropped his plate with a clatter, and brushing Aland aside effortlessly as it hurled into Henri-Carlisle, hurtling to the ground as the people watching gasped, one girl even screaming.
                “Jahd!” Christian shouted, his voice coming out in a surprisingly bellow as he lunged forward, Pandora doing the same, though not in time to stop Jahd from raising a fist and bringing it down into Carlisle’s face with a wet crack. Christian’s hands grasped at one arm, and Pandora’s at the other, though both fell forward over him as he brought his hand down again. This time Carlisle moved his head in time and another sickening crack sounded followed by Jahd shouting a string of Arabic curses as he was finally hauled back off Carlisle with Aland and Beau’s help and ushered to the wall.
                Célene fell to Carlisle’s side, barking at Madeleine to help her, and the two girls pulled the prince to his feet and all saw his nose was bent out of shape, and blood was running down and staining his white clothes crimson. Carlisle was trembling, staring at his bloody hand with wide eyes and then fearfully to Jahd, who was held to the back of the isle’s group, his hand being examined by Eve, who held a handkerchief over it to soak up the blood.
                “Keep your dog on a leash!” Célene shouted, lurching forward in front of Carlisle and pointing at Pandora, who turned back with a snarl, the burning anger in her chest spilling over.
                ”You started this!” Pandora shouted, and with a sweeping gesture raised her own hand to slap Célene’s away, though with the sweep of her hand came a burst of fire, green flames slithering across the marble floor following the point of her finger where she had gestured, tracing the path of her movement toward Célene, though diverting across and between them. Célene scrambled back, trying not to fall over her own skirt while doing so, and Carlisle and Madeleine backed away, as did all those watching. Kai pressed to the wall and slipped to the side to avoid its path, though all those behind Pandora did not move, with Eve being the only person to stop Beau from moving into the fire’s path, holding him close by a fistful of silk.
                Pandora could only watch the fire in amazement, the barricade of emerald flames dancing higher between her and Célene, who watched with equal surprise. Pandora looked at her hand, and then to Célene as their gaze met across the flames, both perhaps equally as shocked as the other.
                A great wind passed through the room as an echoing shout met their ears: ‘Prestidigitonium!’, and everything seemed to slow.
                Pandora and Célene’s hair blowing serenely in the air around them as the world moved at a snail’s pace, though the fire danced and jumped as quickly as it had before, yet it quickly diminished and sputtered until it was nothing at all, not even a viridian flicker on the floor.
                Glancing sideways, Pandora saw Merlin, his cane raised and blue eyes steely behind the spectacles perched on his nose.
                “Now that’s quite enough of that,” he said, lowering his cane with an echoing strike against the ground, and time resumed its normal pace, the wind gone as quickly as it had come, simply disappearing from the room unlike the sweeping uplift of its arrival.
                Pandora looked to the ground where the fire had started, though found no scorch marks on the ground, and then she looked to Célene, who looked over at her in silence from behind the dishevelled locks of her golden hair, a hand clutching to Henri-Carlisle’s sleeve and her brother.
                The students parted to allow the Grand Princess and Mistress Béatrice through. The Fairy Godmother had a solemn expression on her face, a look of disappointment that made Pandora feel like she might shrivel up on the spot just for having incurred such a look from the kindly old woman. Yet she wouldn’t have time for that after seeing the thunderous expression on the Grand Princess’s face, a tranquil fury only indicated by the furrow of her brow and the slightly pucker of her lips. Yet it was enough to make Pandora’s heart skip a beat.
                “To your rooms. Straight to bed, all of you,” she spoke, her voice loud, clear and sharp, speaking to all the students in the hall. When they did not move, she turned to cast her gaze over the hall, and soon everyone was filing out as quickly as they were able. Turning to face the group in their corner, Belle looked at each of them. She gestured for Kai to leave as well.
                “Madeleine, go with your mother to see to Henri-Carlisle’s nose,” she said, both Béatrice and Madeleine quickly exiting with the Grand Princess’s leave, taking the prince with them.
                “Jahd’s hand?” she said, looking to Eve.
                “Only bruised I think, Mistress,” Eve answered quietly. Pandora looked back briefly to see Eve was perhaps just as frightened as she was, and Jahd was shrinking under Belle’s gaze while Christian tried to fade into the background. Beau stood apart from them now, head downcast. She looked back to Mistress Belle.
                “Very well,” she said coldly, nodding. “I’ll be seeing you all in my office tomorrow morning. To your rooms, and not a word to each other on the way, do you understand?”
                They all nodded, and with another nod from the Grand Princess, the headmistress left the cavernously empty dining room with a sweep of her yellow gown, Beau quickly following her without a word. Pandora and Célene exchanged another cold look before the princess hurried from the room.
                “I’m sorry,” Aland said, quietly and hurriedly with a sincere glance from Pandora to Jahd, before following after his sister, passing in front of Merlin who watched after him before looking back to the group from the Isle.
                “Well, come along then, off to bed with you all,” he said, waving his cane in the direction of the doors, and stepping slowly as he waited for the four of them to leave first, and the four huddled together as they exited into the entrance and ascended the grand staircase again with Merlin following behind. When they reached the top, Pandora turned back to look at Merlin, who stood at the bottom of the stairs watching after them, and who only gave a silent upward nod to her with a wave of the hand to usher her on.

Chapter Text

“Was that really necessary Célene?”
                Aland was hot on his sister’s heels as she charged through the doors of their appartement, the elder twin ripping the wreath of roses from her head and tossing it onto the table in a stream of black and red ribbons and falling petals. Her own fire had returned to her, the shock of the dining hall wearing off now that she was in her rooms and safe.
                “You heard all the same stories I did growing up about that wretch’s mother,” she answered, not breaking her stride as she shoved open the doors to her bedroom and moving to sit at her vanity. Aland followed her in, going to stand at the foot of her bed, arms crossed and watching her reflection as she wet a cloth to begin washing her face.
                “You believed everything our godmothers told you?” Aland said. “You didn’t think even once that maybe they only had one side of the story? Or that maybe they blew some things out of proportion? That they were definitely biased even? Did you ever even consider that even with their parents, that they might be different?”
                “I don’t think parents who curse infants, target children or otherwise try to bring ruin qualify as good influences to have. The isle is a cesspool of immorality, what makes you think anything good will come of it?”
                “I thought we had settled this before coming to Gascaine when you first learned mother and father agreed to this. Did you even consider giving them a chance like you promised? Or were you going to make them feel unwelcome regardless of who they are or what they’ve done?”
                “Because you know so much better?” Célene answered, discarding the cloth and swivelling in her seat to face him. “You were gifted with blessings of wealth, bravery, and good fortune, Aland, what qualifies you to take others so blindly at face value?”
                Aland scoffed.
                “Just because you were gifted with wisdom, doesn’t mean you knowing everything. Is it wise to go provoking sorceresses? Or to let conceited princes push people around? Where they come from shouldn’t matter, they haven’t done anything to you. If we’re going to assume things about people by their origin, then don’t you think you’re setting a poor example? By all accounts you should be welcoming them with open arms and offering to help them but inst—”
                “What if she had set me aflame? Hm? What then?”
                “You’re being ridiculous, Célene!” Aland spoke, his voice rising. “I don’t think she even knew she could do that! Did you see her face? She was just as surprised, or terrified, as you were, and as I was. We’ve spent so long with the only examples of magic being the Three Fairies and Merlin, and she’s spent her entire life on an isle where magic hardly works right let alone like that!”
                “Then that makes her unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”
                “So is anyone born with power they don’t know how to use, or do you want to go bring Kai in to tell you about his aunt again? Those four have been living apart from the world for nearly two decades on an island with nothing but criminals and with not real way to grow or learn beyond what’s been shown to them.”
                Célene didn’t answer, falling quiet for a moment and turning back to her mirror.
                “It’s better to remove the weed before it can kill the garden,” she said. “Tonight I began to dig at their roots.”
                “Are you actually listening to yourself?” Aland asked, crossing between them and pulling Célene’s stool out from the vanity to face him again as he knelt beside her. Looking down at him, Célene briefly envisioned their father. Aland had inherited all of Phillip’s features, and she her mother’s – and Célene had long found that they had both been assigned to their roles because of this; he the hero prince, and her asked to wait for the next prince to come find her and a happily ever after.
                “You sound mad,” Aland continued. “You are pointing fingers because of their parents and getting everyone up in arms because of what three fairies and our parents told you as bedtime stories, but you’re doing nothing to consider why they’re here and doing everything to completely subvert it. They are here to learn, Célene. You can’t expect them to be kind and good to you if you aren’t kind and good to them. You make it sound like they came here expressly to make the walls fall down around our ears.”
                “Neither you nor I can know they won’t either,” she answered quietly. “But the more I can glean from them then the easier it will be to find out why they’re here. You can hope for the best, Aland, but I will prepare for the worst. Just be smart for once and don’t trust that little witch and her friends so blindly.”

Chapter Text

“We should’ve known something like that to happen!”
                It had started in the halls. Christian’s anger coming first in harsh whispers, then acidic barbs against Célene and Henri-Carlisle, along with those who had just watched. In his words, if they did not intervene, then they were equally against them as both the royals had been. Yet then it finally boiled over into a tirade of rage when they were safe within the confines of them rooms.
                “There was no way those swiving prisses were going to just let us in with welcome arms, what the hell was Her Royal Pompadour thinking?!”
                “I’d wager it was more the Fairy Godmother’s idea,” Pandora answered, little more than a drawl, unpinning the golden chain from her hair. She stood on the opposite end of the parlour, leaning with her back against the frame of her and Eve’s bedroom door, placing the bracelet in her hand and folding her arms as she watched Christian wandering back and forth across the room. With every agitated word he spouted, his arms waved wildly, and the clothing he had half unlaced and unbuttoned began to fall into a dishevelled heap around his shoulders like the pale curls bouncing and falling into his eyes.
                Eve sat on the sofa with Jahd, the blood-soaked handkerchief she had been using set on the table next to a basin of ice water a maid had brought in shortly after their return, on Belle’s instruction apparently. Eve held Jahd’s hand in hers, gripping his hand firmly and forcing it into the water despite his reluctance. Like she had told Mistress Belle, he had only bruised it, and she had gone out of her way to inform Jahd of his luck in not breaking his hand against the marble. However, his knuckles and fingers were swollen and blooming purple and yellow.
                “What’s going to stop them from just sending us back in the morning?” Christian continued, waving at the window. “He beat the shit out of a prince! Pandora set fire to the palace!”
                “Exactly as I planned,” Eve said, giving Jahd’s hand another wrench into the water when he tried to pull away, giving him a stern look. “Behave.”
                “What do you mean?” Pandora asked, narrowing her eyes. Christian had fallen silent.
                Eve produced another handkerchief, folded into a square, from a small pocket hidden in the waistline of her gown, and unfolded it to take whatever she had hidden in it. Stepping closer to look at what she held between her fingers, Pandora saw it was two strands of hair, one black and curled, the other brown and long.
                “I needed something from at least one of the princes, it was just my luck I managed to get three.”
                “Hair?” Jahd said, quirking a brow.
                “You want to hex them,” Pandora spoke, taking a seat on the sofa across from them with a smirk. “How did you get the hair?”
                “Aland had some on his clothing, I got some from Beau when I ‘tripped’.”
                “You mean I’ve fucked my hand because you needed a few hairs?!” Jahd answered, taking his hand out of the water and fisting it in her direction, though he winced the moment he did before putting it back in the basin.
                “You did, and you were surprisingly chivalrous defending me like that,” Eve smiled, leaning over to press a kiss to his cheek, stroking his hair with a proud look. “Things might’ve gotten a little out of hand, but every cloud has a silver lining. Now hopefully I’m bait for sympathies as a victim of public humiliation, and nobody’s likely to bother us after yours and Pandora’s little outbursts, and that leaves us free to do as we please without interference because we’ll be given an even wider berth.”
                “Speaking of,” Christian interjected, coming to standing with them at the foot of the table, “where did you learn that little fire thing?”
                “It just happened, I don’t know how,” Pandora answered curtly. “You said you had three things, Eve, that’s two hairs.”
                Eve retrieved the bloody handkerchief from the table, waving it with a smile.
                “I think I can have a little fun with this if Carlisle becomes a problem.”
                “What about the hair?”
                “I was thinking a love charm. My mother taught me how to make them back on the Isle.”
                “For both of them?” Christian scoffed. “Don’t you think that’s pushing it a little? Whatever happened to keeping things socially acceptable?”
                “No, Christian,” Eve answered, looking at him with a roll of her head. “I was thinking make one for each and whichever one I can get to first will be the one I cast the spell on. Aland might be problematic considering how quick Célene was to give her opinion. Who knows what she might try if we started courting. In any case, I can’t do anything about it at the moment, I’ll need certain things first. Witchcraft requires work you know.”
                “Can’t we just take the wands?” Jahd groaned, rubbing his brow with his uninjured hand. “I mean, that’s why we came here isn’t it? Why do we have to mess around with all this witchcraft and ‘intrigue’ and playing royal. We know who the Fairy Godmother and Merlin are, we know they keep their wands with them, why don’t we just go out and take them?”
                It was a valid point, Pandora thought, chewing her lip slightly. They knew who they were looking for, and it was just a matter of taking the wand or Merlin’s cane. How difficult could it be, to wait through to the early hours of the morning and steal them while the palace was asleep?
                “I agree,” Pandora answered, occupying her hands with her skirt while her heart beat a little faster – she couldn’t think why.
                “What do you mean?” Eve asked, looking up across at her.
                “We can just take them, like Jahd said. I mean...none of our mothers ever muddled about with all these elaborate schemes and tricks, they just took what they wanted. Your mother trekked out into the forest herself when a man couldn’t do the job for her, my mother personally made sure Aurora pricked her finger and locked up Phillip just to make sure it stuck... You don’t need to be enchanting princes to get this done. It’s just an unnecessary step.”
                Eve’s expression had soured somewhat, but she didn’t answer; at least, not at first. Christian didn’t say a word.
                “Very well then,” she said, quieter now. “If you and Jahd think you have a better idea, then by all means, try it. I just thought we could enjoy ourselves here a bit longer. How long do you think we’re going to be able to do as we please without our mothers looking over our shoulders? Apparently I’m the only one seeing this as the golden opportunity it is.”
                “I think they’ll be too busy revelling in their victory to care what we do after,” Christian answered hopefully.

Chapter Text

Eve hadn’t elected to accompany either Pandora or Jahd, instead retiring to bed after a sour ‘Goodnight’ to them all. Between Pandora, Jahd and Christian, the three had decided that Pandora would look for Merlin and his cane, while they went to find Mistress Béatrice under the pretence of having her look at the Jahd’s hand – an idea Pandora had proposed to them. By Pandora’s logic, she assumed that the faculty quarters would be grouped together like the students.
                They had left their appartement during the witching hour, the palace quiet and dark and the three of them huddled together in the dark hallway as Pandora worked her magic. Green lights flickered to life in her hands as she spoke, floating lazily and wafting fine green smoke in a trail behind them as they bobbed about. Lifting them off into the air, the orbs drifted forward down the hall away from them.
                “That should do...” Pandora said quietly.
                “Follow the one on the right, I’ll follow the left,” Pandora instructed, before they all went on their way, following the wisps to the stairs, ascending, and then eventually parting as the wisps’ paths diverged. Pandora, alone in the hall, stepped lightly along the carpet as she followed the light. She could see lights underneath the doorways, golden against the pale light of the moon drifting through the windows. Pandora was starting to understand that most of the halls in the palace looked very much the same, the only differences being the statuary on the pillars and corners of the halls.
                The light came to another stairwell, and Pandora following it ever upwards, though each step came harder and heavier the further they rose. Finally, they came to a landing, and the wisp passed through the single door that could be found there. There was no light under the doorway apart from the faint green of the wisp, and twisting the knob Pandora found it was open, and pulled it ajar slowly only to see more stairs.
                Though she dreaded the climbing, not knowing how far it would go as she saw the narrow curve of the stairwell disappearing around the bend, only rounding up into the slope of the ceiling above her head. Pandora plucked up her might and continued on, following the glow of the wisp as it circled up, passing small square windows in the outer wall. For a moment, Pandora had to stop, sitting on the steps to give her legs rest, before standing again with renewed determination and trekking up the remaining curves of the stair until another door came into view at the top. The lights of the room were on, and for a moment Pandora paused, hand braced against the inner marble column of the stairwell and skirt clutched in her other hand as she stared. She didn’t think that the wizard would’ve been awake at this hour, though the wisp flickered out of existence, and the stairwell fell dark again.
                The only light she had now came from the edges and underneath of the door and looking down she could only see squares of light on the stairs from the small window. Retreating down a few steps, Pandora stopped at the darkness swallowing up the stairs below, the next window out of sight, and the stairs invisible in the black pitch. Looking out the window, she could see the other towers and halls below with their sloping roofs and decorative battlements mounted with statues of angels on horses and cherubs aiming their arrows. Looking out the window, she realised she had somehow come to the top of the palace itself, in the topmost tower. Looking back down to the dark maw of the stairwell, Pandora pondered her chances of descending again without losing her footing, before she heard the creak of the door behind her followed by a voice that made her heart skip a beat.
                “Well, are you just going to stand out there in the dark all night or are you going to come in?”
                Looking back up towards the door, where the golden firelight shone through, Pandora could see the dark silhouette of Merlin standing there in a nightgown and his bald head exposed without his hat. He bore an expectant expression, though she could also see the faint annoyance in his eyes.
                “Well?” he repeated, hands settling on his bony hips as he nodded in towards his room. “Come along then!”
                Pandora hesitated again, before climbing the steps and entering into the room. It was filled without...stuff. That was the only word that came to mind that she thought could describe it. From a large globe of the world standing amidst stacks of books, dioramas, mobiles and what appeared to be a rather large birdhouse hanging from the ceiling where she saw a large painted mural of the night sky and its constellations. Skulls of humans and animals were planted on various pieces of paper or as decorations on the mantle of the fireplace, and strange models sat on tables. Some of these models were made of wood, and some were made of metal and strange gears similar to a clock. The middle of the room remained somewhat clear though, a table set for tea with two large arm chairs on either side.
                “Sit, sit,” Merlin said, waving over at the closer of the two armchairs as he walked with rocky steps over to the larger chair on the opposite side, pulling it out and seating himself down. For a moment Pandora wondered how frail he must be, before he promptly, and with great vigour, shuffled the chair further in towards the table before relaxing back into the chair, hands clasped over his stomach – and beard – and nose twitching back and forth, and his moustache with it.
                Pandora sat at the table with him.
                “How did you know I was coming?”
                “I’m a wizard,” Merlin declared with an affirmative nod. “A wizard, soothsayer, prognosticator – I can see into the future—”
                Pandora’s heart skipped a beat again.
                “—centuries into the future, why I—“
                “Oh shut it you old windbag,” scoffed someone overhead, and Pandora glanced upward to see a rather surly owl perched in the now-open doorway of the birdhouse, bearing down upon them. “You’re just saying everything you said to the Wart all over again. Centuries into the future, pfft. Repeating yourself like that makes me think you’re just caught in a loop.”
                “Quiet Archimedes!” the wizard barked, jumping up in his seat and waving a hand dismissively.
                “I think not!” the owl responded, puffing up his chest and squinting an eye down at Merlin. “I’m the only person in this whole world who can keep you in check!”
                “Quiet!” Merlin repeated, waving more erratically, “we have a guest!”
                “I can see that, I’m not blind.”
                “Yet,” Pandora heard the wizard mutter from beneath the bush of his moustache. “Do you take sugar with your tea, young lady?”
                For a moment Pandora didn’t realise she had been addressed, still caught on the owl and its master’s quibbling before she shook her head and answered “No... I mean no, sir.”
                “’No, sir’,” Archimedes cackled.
                “That’s good manners!” Merlin shot at him, before clapping his hands together twice.
                Pandora saw the tea set spring to life, a cup surfing along the surface of the tablecloth on a saucer, settling in front of her where the sugar bowl swivelled over, teetering from side to side and the spoon hanging out from its rim clattering along the way before it heaped two – no three, four spoonfuls of sugar into her cup.
                “That’s enough!” Merlin said, rapping the table with his knuckles, prompting the sugar bowl to swivel and clatter over to his side of the table and do the same. Pandora contemplated scooping some of the sugar out with a teaspoon, though without anywhere to put it she left the cup as it was. The tea pot approached next, a tall thing that leaned to pour into her cup, before then gliding over to Merlin’s cup and doing the same. Merlin offered the milk to Pandora, which she then took and poured into her cup, before returning it with a thank you.
                “There we are,” Merlin said happily, stirring his tea, the spoon clinking against the sides of his blue, chipped china. Pandora had half-expected him to have finer china than this, though then again when he spoke she had expected a thunderous voice worthy of a master wizard. But he was...squeaky, in a way.
                “Now that was quite a stir at dinner, now wasn’t it?” Merlin continued, leading along with the conversation, taking a quick sip from his cup before setting it down. “I bet you didn’t know you could do something like that, now did you?”
                “No, sir,” Pandora answered.
                “The one hitch in Belle’s good-natured plan. I told her it might pose a problem,” he said, leaning back into his chair and clasping his hands once more. “Fairies have always been more magically potent than the average magician. It’s second nature! Never fear though, I thought something like this might happen before you even got here.”
                “Did you see the future?”
                “No, no, just common sense!”
                At that moment Pandora remembered the cane, though it was nowhere about Merlin’s person, not leaning against the chair or clutching in his hand like it had been at the banquet.
                “Do you have a magical education, Miss de Guillory?”
                “Only what my mother taught me on the Isle.”
                “And was it very successful?”
                “Well, no. I mean, the Isle doesn’t—“
                “—have much magic, I know, I know, and theory can only get you so far! But you know the basics?”
                “Yes, sir,” Pandora nodded.
                “Good! Then we’ll just cover those in the first lesson to see what you can do!”
                “I’m sorry?” said Pandora.
                “What?” Archimedes hooted.
                “Lessons! You’ll need guidance, won’t you? A budding young sorceress with powers that are finally flourishing, but without the means or teacher to really show her how to use them? Why it would be careless of me not to take you on as an apprentice! That’s how disasters happen, you know.”
                Pandora’s brow rose up, her lips parting as she tried to think of how to respond.
                “But you don’t take apprentices!” Archimedes cried, jumping on his perch and making the birdhouse swinging on its chain. “You haven’t taken an apprentice since that girl you found standing in the pond waving the Wart’s sword about!”
                “And she was quite a good apprentice if you recall!” Merlin said, wagging a finger at the bird.
                “Wonderful girl! Why she had more talent in her little finger than either Morgan or Mim! What would you have this young lady do? Hm? Go about setting things on fire?”
                “No,” Archimedes sniffed, chest puffing again. “Just stating facts: you haven’t taken apprentices in over two centuries.”
                “And I’m taking an apprentice now! Maybe two!” Merlin scoffed, turning back to Pandora. “How does little Lady von Ballenstedt fair magically? Does she have any talent of her own?”
                “Yes...” Pandora answered slowly. “But I’m not sure you’d like it...”
                “What do you mean?” Archimedes asked, his eye squinting again as he peered down at her.
                “It’s – well, she does witchcraft.”
                “And?” Merlin said, brow furrowing in confusion, though he remembered he had tea in front of him and picked up the cup to drink from it. Pandora, remembering her own cup, did the same.
                “I think I know,” Archimedes said, with a nod. “She made a deal, didn’t she?”
                Pandora didn’t answer.
                “I see...” Merlin hummed, almost sadly. “Well, there’s nothing to be done there. I can’t nurture that kind of thing. Her choices are her own so long as she doesn’t cause any trouble, and it’s not in my moral code to promote that sort of thing. Though how she managed it on the isle...”
                Pandora wanted to say that it hadn’t been Eve’s choice, though she supposed it wasn’t her place. If Eve was unhappy, she would have done something about it by now. Pandora glanced over to the flames crackling in the fireplace, then to the various oddities around the room, scanning over the models and books and bric-a-brac that the wizard had collected. It was a veritable hoard, though nowhere did she see the wizard’s wand.
                ”Do you like horses?” Merlin asked, fingers drumming against the arm of his chair.
                “I don’t dislike them,” Pandora shrugged. “Though I wouldn’t say they’re a particular passion of mine.”
                “Wonderful, then we’ll switch out your equestrian class for a sorcery seminar.”
                Pandora didn’t suppose she had a say in the matter, though she hadn’t recalled agreeing to the apprenticeship in the first place. Not that she was going to deny it.
                “Are you sure you can teach me?”
                “What could stop me?”
                “Wizardry’s a bit different from fairy magic, isn’t it?”
                “Yes, but the basic principle is the same. I thought you knew the basics?”
                “I do, but—“
                “Then you’ll know that it doesn’t matter who or what is doing the magic, or where it comes from, just that it can follow a formula just like any other science, or your very intent. As we believe the world to be, so it is, Miss de Guillory.”
                Pandora nodded, drinking more of her tea.
                “Now, I think you should go off to bed,” Merlin said, and she looked back to see him leaning on the table, hands steepled and knobby elbows resting on the tablecloth as he looked over his spectacles at her. “It’s far too late as it is and you’ll have class early in the morning.”
                Rising from their seats, Merlin rounded about and wrapped and arm around her shoulders as he guided to the door.
                “I’ll see you here tomorrow afternoon,” said the wizard, giving her a nod and a smile before closing the door between them. Pandora stared at the wood of the door for a moment, before turning back down to the stairs. They were illuminated by the moonlight, bright in the blue haze of the night and the only darkness being the shadows between the first window and the next, which she could now see clearly, no abyss barring her passage down now.
                Pandora swallowed, and stood there for a moment, glancing back to the wizard’s door then back to the bright moonlight in the stair, before deciding to think nothing of it – only brushing her hair back behind her ear, rubbing her tired eyes, and taking the stairwell back down.

Chapter Text

Sitting at her vanity, Eve stared at her face illuminated by lamplight in the mirror as she ran the comb through her hair. Though she gazed into the mirror, she wasn’t focused on the girl in the reflection.
                At the start of the day and the end of every night she did her ritual, for in her eyes the maintenance of her beauty was a ritual - handed down to her from her mother to cultivate a powerful tool. The only time her ritual had been interrupted was this morning, but now she had sat there with her things before her. She had washed her hair, rubbing it with an oil of perfumed herbs, washed her face with honey and milk and peeled it with oats, applied face cream and plucked the few hairs of her brow that ruined the graceful arch she preferred. In the morning, she would wake earlier and do it all again -- only this time with perfume and staining her pink lips red. Blessed with skin like porcelain, she would forgo powder, and so her ritual would be complete, and she would be ready to dress.
                Everything she had laid out before her in bottles, boxes and containers were the components of a ritual -- her armoury of beauty treatments and makeup to be used as was appropriate.
                Perhaps she’d had a more romantic notion of what they could do when they got here. Here they were awarded a kind of freedom that they would never have gotten on the Isle. Back there, if they weren’t worried about what they did under their parents’ gaze, then they were contending with the likes of Melusine and her grandmother’s gang, or the pirates under Elizabeth Bonny whenever they came to shore, not even counting all the cutthroats, thieves and sorcerers that populated the rest of the isle with their own ends.
                Here they were free to do as they wished, to be in charge of their own lives, and for a brief moment, Eve had perhaps been stupid enough to believe they wouldn’t meet any resistance. That she could have indeed gotten herself a prince as easily as history suggested; to go into the woods and meet a handsome stranger, to sing at a well and see his reflection next to hers, to cross a ballroom into waiting arms for a grand waltz.
                Yet instead, all of her fantasies had been dashed in a single night, and on top of it her friends were all the ready to squander their freedom to liberate their parents.
                Eve placed the brush on the vanity, her gaze falling to her mother’s sapphire comb, then to the hand mirror next to it. It sat face-down on the table, the plain ivory frame with a rose crest looking up at Eve before she picked it up by the handle, flipping it to see her mother in the glass.
                The lamplight flickered, softening the shadows around her eyes and the sharp curl of her nostrils as she took a breath and recognised herself.
                Swallowing, she placed the mirror face-down on the table again and pushed away from the vanity to approach the wardrobe, feet stepping on cold marble. She opened the wardrobe doors, leaning to grab the pair of sensible leather shoes she had worn when they arrived and fishing the slip of paper her mother had given her when they left. Maybe it had been paranoid of her to put it there, but it was better than it being accidentally thrown out by one of the maids.
                Taking her seat at the vanity again, Eve unrolled the slip of paper and weighed it down flat in the lamplight using the hand mirror and comb on the corners. The page was fresh and clearly written in haste.
                Eve recognised her mother’s handwriting, an elegant script though the flourishes were more restrained than ordinary, and her spacing varied, with lines wobbling and ink blots on the edges and covering two words Grimhilde had rewritten next to it. Like her mother had said, what was written on the page was a summoning – though much of it written in shorthand Eve could understand, having studied after studying her mother’s grimoire since a young girl. Grimhilde had made the working sound easy, only requiring the provided incantation and a handful of items but Eve could see now it was slightly more complicated.
                This wasn't witchcraft she could perform on a whim to instill fear or bring down a malediction. It was the ritual of a sorcerer, to reach past the veil between worlds and bring something back, and so it required tools Eve did not have at her disposal yet.
                On the isle she had been taught all the ins and outs of ceremonial magic, yet practicing them had been harder to grasp - and she didn't have the natural advantage Pandora was born with. Eve's was hard-earned, even if she had to give away a part of herself in order to earn it. Even if she could use both methods of magic at her disposal - and all witches blended the two - one came at a price, and the other was something she wasn't sure of herself in.
                She heard the door of the appartement open, and stilled for a moment before hearing the telltale sound of furniture sliding and a curse; the boys.
                Rising from her seat, Eve took the oil lamp in her hand and opened the door to the parlour.
                “You’re back earlier than I expected,” she said, catching Jahd and Christian mid-skulking to their room.
                Jahd’s face was screwed up, and from the way he held his right toes aloft he had been the one to kick something on the way in. Christian didn’t look any happier.
                “Pandora conjured some light-bauble that was meant to lead us somewhere but the blasted thing vanished into a wall,” Christian answered. “I’m going to bed.”
                Brushing past Jahd, Christian disappeared into his room, followed shortly by Jahd.
                “Goodnight, Eve,” he spoke.
                “Goodnight.”
                No sooner had the door to the boys’ room shut, the main door opened and Pandora stepped into view, one hand raised to sweep some hair back over her head. Her golden eyes raised, locking on Eve’s like a hawk and glinting even in the dark of her side of the room.
                “They already in bed?”
                Eve nodded.
                “Did you have any luck,” she asked as Pandora made her way towards her and into the room, Eve closing the door behind them.
                “I found Merlin’s tower,” Pandora answered. “He was waiting for me.”
                Eve’s brow rose.
                “I don’t think he knew what I was doing though...hopefully.”
                Pandora then began undressing, unbuttoning her sleeves and then quickly and roughly tugging at the laces of her bodice before slipping out of it, the red velvet pooling around her feet as she stepped out of it. 
                “How can you be sure?”
                “Because he served me tea,” she answered, scooping the dress up in her arms and discarding it into the armchair sitting between the wardrobe and the doo. “Then he said he was going to give me magic lessons to replace Equestrian.”
                “Did you accept?”
                “Yes,” she said, though her eyes were fixed up towards the bracelet Eve had improvised into a headpiece, taking the pins out and carefully lowering it into her hands.
                “You said we should enjoy ourselves while we can,” the fairy continued, moving towards the vanity. “At first I didn’t think anything of it, I just agreed because it was what he said was good, but then I thought ‘I have the chance to learn from the greatest wizard in Auradon’ and knew it would—”
                Looking down at the vanity, Pandora placed the bracelet and pins on the table and picked up the paper.
                “Did you try the summoning?” she asked, her eyes lifting from the page to Eve.
                “No,” Eve answered, shaking her head slightly. “It’s more complicated than I thought. I don’t have the tools for it.”
                Pandora didn’t reply, instead reading down the page even in the dim light.
                “He asked about it,” she said quietly. “If you had any magic, I mean.”
                Eve felt her throat tighten.
                “What did you tell him?”
                “More than I should have, enough that his owl figured it out,” Pandora said quietly, her lips pursing. “I shouldn’t have said anything at all.”
                “What’s done is done,” Eve answered, taking a breath and looking away, moving across the room and placing the lamp on the bedside table as she seated herself on the bed.
                “He said he would’ve taught you if the circumstances were otherwise, but he said it wasn’t something he could nurture.”
                “Does he know the specifics?”
                “No, just that you made a deal. Though I think he could put it together in his own head if he knows anything about your mother.”
                Eve pinched the bridge of her nose, doing her best not to frown any more than she had already tonight.
                “Don’t fret, it doesn’t matter,” she answered curtly, looking up again.
                “If he didn’t say anything, then we can’t know that he knows anything. This is useful though. With any luck this will work in our favour.”

Chapter Text

The morning light shone into Belle’s office in coloured rays through the stained glass of the windows, highlighting particles of dust floating through the air. The Grand Princess sat in her desk chair, leaning back into it, and across from her sat Merlin and Mistress Béatrice, and Anastasia standing idly to the fairy godmother’s left.
                “I think we all agree that last night could have gone better,” Belle spoke, leaning back into the comfort of her chair.
                “It could have gone worse,” replied Béatrice, eyes downcast and her lips pressed into a thin line, the cloud of white on her head swaying with each shake of her head.
                “Do you think this is going to be a long-term problem though?” Belle asked.
                “Célene and Henri-Carlisle were the aggressors, we all saw that!” Merlin barked, shifting and straightening in his chair, striking his cane against the marble floor with a crack. “Too much time spent in their palaces if you ask me. You can’t promote open-mindedness when you keep them in towers or behind a portcullis.”
                “But they’re setting an example, Merlin,” said Béatrice. “Who’s to say others won’t follow suit?”
                “The student’s have minds of their own, Béatrice, they aren’t sheep!
                “What about the children from the Isle?” Belle asked, turning to Anastasia. “How did they do in during your class?”
                Anastasia, looked up, glancing between the Grand Princess, the Fairy Godmother and the wizard.
                “I, uh,” she said, blinking away the bleariness in her eyes as she straightened up.
                Eve after all the time spent at Occitaine’s court, or when she came to Villeneuve to help Belle start the Academy, she had never taken to early mornings.
                “We didn’t so much have a class, you see... It was more of an introduction. I had a whole lesson plan, but it was kind of silly and I—well, we realised it wasn’t going to work so I’m in the middle of reworking it.”
                “Reworking it?”
                “We thought a sort of counselling session would be better, to give them a safe place to talk.”
                “That’s quite a good idea, actually,” Béatrice answered, nodding with a faraway look, hair bouncing upon her head.
                “And clearly needed,” Merlin said. “But even if I think the majority of the students won’t follow in Célene and Carlisle’s footsteps, I’d be a fool if I didn’t say it’s wise to think of a way to nip it in the bud.”
                “Do you have any suggestions, Merlin?” Belle asked.
                “The entire point of this little experiment is to evaluate the four of them, not to see how well they cooperate with all the little royals running around—“ the Wizard spoke.
                “But doesn’t that factor in to their evaluation?” Anastasia asked meekly.
                “It does, Miss Tremaine. Which is why I say we let things run their course.”
                “You can’t be serious,” Belle answered.
                “I most certainly am, princess,” Merlin continued, his wrinkled, knobbly fingers wringing the handle of his cane as he spoke. “It’s been one day and prejudices are flaring up, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about just yet. Given time, things will cool down, this is just the kind of resistance we should’ve been expecting. All these Auradonian children have never had to consider what it would be like to live alongside the likes of these four. All they have are scary stories told to them at night by those who were around to see what their parents did.”
                “You know that isn’t the entire reason, Merlin,” said the Fairy Godmother, raising a finger in interjection.
                “Carlisle was never told any of those stories...” Anastasia added, thumbing the ivory pumpkin hanging from her chatelaine.
                “Yes, well, the young dauphin’s reasons for acting this way are his own, and I think he’s just in it for attention. That is a different problem for another day, I’m afraid. It’ll take more than a scolding to curb that outlook.”
                From the corner of her eye, Belle could see Anastasia frown slightly, her head bowing. Even Fairy Godmother glanced to her left at the girl, before turning back to the wizard.
                “But what about Pandora’s magic?” Anastasia asked.
                “I’ve already dealt with that matter,” Merlin said, wriggling his nose (his moustache twitching along with it) as she puffed his chest with a proud smile.
                “You have?” Belle answered.
                “I’ve arranged to take Miss de Guillory out of her Equestrian class. She’s not very good with horses, and after last night’s display I’m going to give her a sorcery seminar in its place. Unbridled magic is never good, whether good or bad.”
                The fairy godmother nodded in agreement.
                “We’re starting this afternoon. She’ll have a handle on her magic in no time.”
                “So you really think it’s wise to leave the situation to cool on its own then, Merlin?” Belle asked.
                “I do,” the wizard nodded. “If the four of them can weather this, then they prove they won’t jump the gun like their parents.”
                Belle’s brow narrowed in confusion.
                “’Jump the gun’....?” Béatrice said.
                “Yes,” Merlin answered, a moment of puzzled silence passing before the wizard looked between the three of them. “’Beat the gun’...? It means to do something too quickly, or some such. You’ll all understand in a few hundred years.”
                “Well then...” Belle said, tearing her eyes from the wizard as he settled in his chair again. “In any case, I’m going to have a word with Célene and Henri-Carlisle before the day begins. I’ll follow your advice Merlin, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to give them the leave to continue acting that way without reprimand.”
                “I’d never suggest it, your highness,” Merlin nodded.