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[AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Wow! A fanfiction about someone other then Marguerite and Roxton. I didn't know I was capable of it. Once again my heartfelt thanks to Colorado, who is always ready willing and able to make sense of my creative grammar. A special thanks to every single person who has read and critiqued my previous stories. It's your kind words that keep me plugging away at this.]



by Ryalin

London - 1870

It was another typical winter's day in London. Gray sky, gray buildings, and gray streets all seemed to run together in the January rain. The Londoners' mood matched the somber day as they packed the narrow sidewalks, hurriedly making their way to the promise of shelter from the cold and wet. A passing carriage made a fountain out of a puddle, causing the pedestrians in its wake to disperse like ants escaping water poured over an anthill. The sudden throng of people caused George McNamara to momentarily lose his grip on the hand of the 10-year-old boy walking at his side. In less time than it took for the lad's mind to register that he was on a downward journey toward the wet cobblestones, he found himself back in the firm grip of his grandfather.

"Thanks, grandfather," he said, looking up with profound relief at this man he adored: grandfather, best friend, and confidant. "Father would have killed me if I'd come home with my pants wet and muddy."

George smiled down at his only grandchild. "He probably would have killed both of us, and where would that get me? Better to leave our health intact m'boy and not tempt fate." He tried to make light of the situation, tried to get the smile to return. He noticed more and more that that smile he loved so much would instantly disappear whenever the subject of the boy's father came up.

What Lisbeth saw in Edward Challenger, God help me, I will never know.

No one had been more surprised than he and Emma when their only daughter had announced her intentions to marry the brilliant Oxford professor who had been courting her with all the romance of a piece of parsley. Lisbeth had always favored the dashing sortsilly young men with more spirit than sense who would woo her with baubles and love poetry. He was almost relieved when she took an interest in Edward. Finally, a man with his feet on the ground, who could pull Lisbeth's head out of the clouds. Edward had made quite a name for himself as the youngest man ever to be made a full professor in Oxford's chemistry department. As George got to know Edward better, however, he began to notice Edward's passion was focused utterly and completely on his beloved science. Nothing was left for his young wife, and especially not for his only son.

Lisbeth had died of pneumonia five years before, followed closely by his Emma. George and his grandson had turned to each other in grief, forging a bond that Edward Challenger could never even hope to understand. He accepted Lisbeth's death as nothing more than a scientific fact to be logically assessed. Without her tempering influence, he began the mission of molding his son in his own seemingly perfect image. It helped that the boy was smart. He'd begun reading at the age of three, and Edward took full advantage, especially once Lisbeth was no longer around to coddle the child. Scientific books and journals quickly replaced nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Dinner conversation, when Edward would deign to eat with the boy, consisted of a rapid firing of questions regarding the day's assigned reading. The only affection Edward ever showed his son was during these times, when the child's born intelligence and natural curiosity shone through.

Affection, my ass, George thought with a quiet snort.
That bastard wouldn't understand affection if it walked up and kissed him on his damned arrogant mouth. Pride is more like it, like Frankenstein gazing at his monster.

Edward was trying to steal his grandson's childhood, and George wasn't going to stand for it. The boy needed to be just that, a boy. Out of nothing less then desperation, George had come up with the idea of these Saturday afternoon outings.

"If you want to spend time with the boy, that's fine, but I will not have him dawdling and wasting his day away with frivolous pursuits," Edward had stated matter-of-factly. "I will give you a list of acceptable activities. Take care to adhere to them or these respites will come to a swift end, old man."

It had taken every ounce of George's willpower not to pummel his son-in-law right then and there.
He may be almost 40 years younger then I, but I could still take that insufferable bully.

George had started out by following Edward's explicit instructions. He took his grandson to the museums and libraries Edward had deemed 'acceptable.' What Edward didn't know, and hopefully would never know, was that just as often they ended up in other, less satisfactory locales. George snuck the boy to the park, to puppet shows, to the theater-anywhere that would help the child's imagination run wild. George slowly watched his grandson reawaken; becoming the laughing, smiling, carefree child he was before Lisbeth's death. Understanding the necessity for duplicity, they would carefully go over the day's 'activities,' creating a scenario that would be both believable and acceptable to Edward. It was amazing how calmly and precisely the boy could recite the events of the day, speaking about library books or museum exhibits, as if that was what had really transpired with Edward looking on in feigned interest.

I've created quite the little liar, George thought to himself with a laugh.

What truly amazed George above all else was despite the incessant prodding of his obsessive father, the boy truly loved to learn. He had his father's intelligence, curiosity, and thirst for answers. George respected that. However, he was unwilling to allow the boy to lose the magic of childhood, and as long as he was alive, he would strive to keep that balance in his grandson's life.

As they walked the final two blocks towards home, George once again looked down at the face of his grandson and gently tousled the curly, red hair. The boy had been beaming since leaving Charles Bertram's magic performance. Never had George seen the boy so enthralled, his eyes fixed on the 17-year-old magician. When Charles had used his magic wand to make a silk scarf float around his head, George was certain the boy was going to jump out of his skin, the two sides of his character at war with one another. The scientist had desperately searched for logical explanations. The child simply wanted to believe in magic.

When they finally reached the front door of Edward's home, George pulled a long, thin box out of the deep pocket of his coat and presented it to his grandson. "A present for you m'boy," George said with a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin. "Be sure to hide it from your father or there'll be hell to pay. Keep it in your coat pocket until you get to your room."

"Thanks grandfather," the boy said, breathless with anticipation. "Thanks for everything. I had a really great day."

"And what did we do today?" George asked, his grin getting wider.

"Why, we studied an absolutely fascinating exhibit of Egyptian artifacts at the museum, of course," he said with mocked sincerity.

"That's m'boy," George said as he tousled the boy's hair again. "Now get inside before you father comes out looking for you, and I'll see you next Saturday."

"I love you grandpa."

"I love you, too, and don't you ever forget it."

With that, George McNamara turned and walked back into the London rain. His namesake, George Edward Challenger, gave him a last wave goodbye and quietly entered the house, making sure his present was hidden deep within his coat pocket.

Considering the weather, it was amazing the house felt even colder inside, though George was certain it had nothing to do with the temperature. Ever since his mother's death, the house had been a cold, lonely place. He and his father were practically strangers to one another, their only bridge the shared love of knowledge.

He was relieved to find his father out. Millie, the housekeeper and cook, would undoubtedly be in the midst of preparing dinner. Hanging up his damp coat on the coat rack by the door, he quickly took the box from the pocket and shoved it under his sweater. He paused at the kitchen long enough to assure Millie he was home safe and sound before retiring to his bedroom and some much needed privacy. Anxious to examine his treasure, he sat down on the edge of his narrow bed and inspected the gift given to him by his grandfather. As he pulled the lid from the box, a small piece of paper fell to the floor. Bending over to retrieve it, he noticed immediately that the paper bore his grandfather's distinctive handwriting.

My dearest grandson,

I cannot begin to tell you how very proud I am to be your grandfather. You are a wonderfully loving and intelligent young man who I'm certain is destined to change the world. I respect your love of science, as it is part of what makes you who you are. All I ask is that you remember that the world is a very big place, full of magic and mystery. Never cease looking at the world with the eyes of a child, m'boy. As long as you hold on to that, the child will always remain in your heart, and I will be there right along with it. I hope this gift reminds you that not all pleasure comes from answering the questions. Sometimes it's simply better to ask and wonder.

With all my love,

Grandpa George

Eyes wide with wonder and curiosity, George pulled the magic wand out of the box. He smiled as he waved the wand around his head, mimicking the movements of the magician he had seen earlier that day. He remembered a long-forgotten story read to him by his mother about magicians and wizards. Grabbing his robe from the hook in the closet, he wrapped it around his neck imagining a cloak of purple satin. His face aglow with pleasure, he whirled around the room waving his wand, imagining what it would be like to make the bed float or have puppies miraculously appear out of thin air. So caught up was he in his splendid fantasy that he never noticed the quiet opening of his door and the dour, disapproving stare of the man silently standing and watching him.

"What on earth are you doing?" came the harsh voice from the doorway. George whirled around, guilt and fear etched on his young face, as he instinctively tried to hide the wand behind his back. His father, however, was not to be so easily fooled. "What do you have behind your back George? Give it here this instant!"

With a sinking feeling in his heart, George walked to his father and placed the wand in his outstretched hand.

"And what might this rubbish be?" Edward asked with a sneer. "A useless trinket courtesy of your foolish grandfather, no doubt. I will not have this nonsense in my house!"

With that Edward Challenger grabbed the slender piece of wood in two hands and emphatically snapped it in two. George could have sworn he felt his heart break in half at the same instant. With tears in his eyes he started to reach down to pick up the broken pieces and was shocked to feel a vicious sting across his cheek. It took several seconds for it to register that his father had actually slapped him. He was so numb with shock that his father's next words barely registered.

"You are forbidden to spend any more time with that old man," he said acidly. "I will not have George McNamara corrupting the man you are destined to be by filling your head with drivel."

"But father..." George said pleadingly as his father turned and strode out of the small room. He slowly sunk to the floor, tears streaming down his face and again alone in his grief. Three hours later, he didn't think he had any more tears left inside to shed. Three days later, upon hearing the news that his grandfather had died the night before of a sudden heart seizure, George Edward Challenger discovered that you could never run out of tears.

Chapter Two

The Plateau - 1922

A full moon hung over the plateau, gently illuminating everything in its wake with silver-white light. The stillness of the night was punctuated with the occasional sounds of hunting animals and the errant breeze softly rustling the dew-laden foliage. In the treehouse suspended 60 feet above the jungle floor, all was quiet. Marguerite Krux, the resident night owl, had retired for the evening half an hour earlier. It was her habit to stay up reading long after everyone else had gone to sleep, enjoying the solitude to which she was so accustomed. However, this practice had quickly led to her reputation as a late riser; something her housemates teased her about incessantly considering how early the rest typically began their day. Marguerite, being Marguerite, simply ignored the taunts and continued to do as she pleased. Little did she know that on this particular night she wasn't the last one to bed.

With almost ghostly silence a figure stealthily made its way across the common room. The shafts of light coming in through various openings left glowing patches on the floor, alternating between illuminating and shadowing the face of George Challenger as he walked through the moonbeams. His face wore an expression of wariness tinged with an almost breathless anticipation. He carried a long, thin object wrapped in a piece of brown cloth. He set it down on the table, careful not to make any noise that might alert the others to his clandestine activities. Still not satisfied that he was alone, he took one more careful walk around the common area, listening intently for any noises coming from the bedrooms. With the exception of some soft snoring coming from the direction of Ned's room, all was silent. As a smile light up his features much as the moonlight had done earlier, Challenger walked back to the object on the table. His eyes were alight with the same glow seen on the face of a child seeking the wrapped presents on Christmas day.

Thankful the moonlight made it unnecessary to light a candle, Challenger slowly began unwrapping his treasure. Pulling aside the folds of cloth soon revealed a branch of polished birch. About a foot and a half in length, the slender piece of wood bifurcated at its midsection forming two smaller, intricately coiled branches. Almost instinctively, his hand reached out, his index finger gently tracing the twists and turns of the coiled strips of wood from one end to the other.

Rubbish! Useless trinket!! The forgotten voice echoing in his mind came suddenly, causing Challenger to whirl around, half expecting to see his long-dead father standing in front of him. He would remember much later that he had instinctively hidden the wand behind his back, eerily recreating the events of that painful and devastating night so many years before.

The man's been dead for almost 20 years, and he still has the power to make me cringe like a terrified child, Challenger thought with a combination of sadness and anger.
He was an egocentric, uncaring bastard...and I came so close to being exactly like him.

Challenger shuddered as he sat and remembered the first few years following the death of his grandfather. It was almost as if a part of him had died right along with Grandpa George. Rather than reach out to his father, he had turned to the only thing that made any sense to It was clean and rigid. It followed rules that were unwavering, rules that could never disappoint. Science was always there. Science never died, leaving you all alone in grief and despair.

In the end Edward Challenger had gotten exactly what he had wanted. His son had followed in his footsteps, carving out a name for himself in the world of science both nationally and internationally. When it came time to marry, George chose his bride methodically, seeking a strong, independent woman who wouldn't mind the countless hours separated from a husband whose primary concern was not house and home. He and Jessie had mutually decided that it would be best to remain childless. Buried in the recesses of his mind were memories of the lonely boy he had once been. Even in the midst of his all-consuming obsession, it was abhorrent to envision himself as the cold, uncaring father of a child of his own. There was absolutely no way he would allow history to repeat itself, and he considered himself fortunate that Jessie had never expressed any deep longings towards motherhood.

Yes, the last thing George Challenger had needed was a family, yet here he was stuck on this godforsaken plateau forming almost familial-type bonds with four individuals who had been complete strangers to him not three years before; four individuals who had taught him so very much about what was really important in life. It put a smile on his face to think he really had quite a lot to thank the plateau for.

What kind of man would I be right now if I had never come to this place? We've all changed so much, grown so much.

It never ceased to amaze Challenger that his ever-present love of science could co-exist with such strong feelings of loyalty, friendship, and even love. His life felt more complete than it had in yearssince those long-ago Saturday afternoons spent with his loving grandfather. It hadn't dawned on him, however, until his dubious encounter with the self-proclaimed witch, Dame Alice, that one lone wall remained around his heart and soul.

"Humbug," he had scoffed.

They had all been seated at the common room table as Roxton and Malone showed him the magic wand they had recovered from Dame Alice's mysterious castle. One small word, so casually spoken, had nonetheless terrified him. It had terrified him because at that single instant of perfect clarity, he realized exactly how much he had changed in the last two and a half years-and yet how quickly he could slide backwards toward arrogance. In that one moment it hadn't been George, but Edward Challenger speaking. He had quickly excused himself from the table, careful not to let his anxiety break the jovial mood consequent to yet another victory over certain death. It wasn't until he had entered the shelter of his room that he realized he still held Dame Alice's wand in his clenched hand. He wrapped it in cloth and put it away, not yet ready to deal with the wave of emotions and memories flooding him. Tonight, however, was the time. He was finally ready to make peace with his ghosts.

Challenger closed his eyes and thought of his grandfather for the first time in years. He willed himself to remember the exact shade of red hair; the good-humored smile that always lit up his face; the smell of pipe tobacco; the irrepressible love he had shown for his grandson.

"The world is a place of magic and mystery," his grandfather had said. Challenger the boy had understood; Challenger the man had needed reminding. He stood and picked up the wand. As images of a young boy whirling around his bedroom in delight flashed through his memory, he began to dance around the moonlit room. Once again he allowed himself to dream of floating beds and puppies, of the magic found in the satisfaction of a hard day's work; the magic of friendship and loyalty in the face of daily risk and danger; the magic of a grandfather's interminable love.

Challenger spun around and found himself face to face with a pair of silver-gray eyes, silently watching him with amusement. Marguerite had no idea what had awakened her so soon after retiring to her bed but had decided to take advantage of the fact that she was awake to refill the water glass she typically left by her bed. Nothing could have prepared her for the shock of finding George Challenger dancing quietly around the common room in the moonlight with a magic wand in his hand. Her fears that something was very wrong were assuaged when she saw the look of complete contentment on his face. Fear was quickly replaced by embarrassment as she realized that she was interrupting something both very important and very private. She had been trying to back away slowly when Challenger had whirled around and seen her standing in the shadows. She didn't need a lamp to know that Challenger's face was as red as his hair and that his embarrassment at the situation mirrored her own.

"It's too late for either one of us to feign innocence now," Challenger said quietly as he composed himself. "Care to join me?" He pulled a second chair away from the table.

"Im sorry to interrupt, George. I was simply on my way to the kitchen for some water," Marguerite said as she sat down next to him. "Is everything OK?"

"Oh yes, my dear. Everything is fine. Just taking a moment to spend some time with memories I had thought long forgotten."

"I could tell from the expression on your face that they were good ones," Marguerite said with a tinge of envy she couldn't completely hide from Challenger.

She doesn't realize how alike we are; how we both bristle at the people we once were. Marguerite has grown so much. We all have.

"You know, Marguerite," Challenger said thoughtfully. "I was remembering a very smart man who once told me that the world is a place full of magic and mystery. I had forgotten that until just recently. Tonight helped me remember."

All was silent as the scientist and the heiress sat at that moonlit table, each momentarily lost in their own thoughts but enjoying the quiet companionship. When Marguerite excused herself to return to her bedroom, Challenger picked up the wand and slowly made his way back to his own room. He crossed the room and lit a small candle on the table that held what few personal items he brought on this expedition. Next to the picture of Jessie was a long, thin box of polished teaka box he had never been without in the 52 years since the man he loved most in the world had given it to him. He opened the lid and carefully removed the yellowed piece of paper, still carrying his grandfather's unmistakable script. Lying underneath were the two halves of a broken magic wand.

"This is for the past, the things in life we can not change," he said as he held the broken sections of wood in his hand. In between the two broken pieces he placed Dame Alice's intact wand. "And this is for the joys of the present and the promise that tomorrow brings." Around the three pieces of wood he carefully wrapped the piece of paper, a grandfather's legacy to a lonely boy, and carefully replaced the bundle in the box. With a smile on his face, Challenger blew out the candle and got into bed. "I love you grandfather" were the last words uttered in the moonlight before he was asleep and lost in dreams of magic.