Chapter 6 : Train Ride
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Here goes something.
The beginning of September found me standing in King’s Cross station, attempting to look Muggley in an old pair of jeans and a tie-died shirt of Mom’s that was altogether too large for me. The effect was somehow ruined by the cloak Dad had decided to throw over his trousers and sweater vest, and, of course, the small issue that we had no idea what we were doing. The general assumption was that things might have gone less awkwardly had Mom actually been there, but school was starting in the States as well, and she refused to miss the first day of teaching. It was wishful thinking on my part that her shirt might send me some sort of psychic vibrations as to how we should blend in, but the garment clearly had no Inner Eye whatsoever.
“I very much doubt the existence of a Platform Nine-and-three-quarters.”
“And I very much doubt your ability to act like a Muggle,” I joked back, hoping to put him in somewhat higher spirits. He still wasn’t all that keen on my attending Hogwarts, and had been decidedly disgruntled the entire day.
“It’s probably concealed or something,” I continued, “Near Platform Nine, I bet.”
“Closer to Platform Ten, really, if the name suggests anything.”
We knew better than to ask just anyone about the train, not that they would answer us anyway, given our odd attire and obvious confusion. We would have asked a wizard long ago, but any magic people in the vicinity were clearly more adept at this than we were. In fact, one girl in particular was such a chameleon that she appeared to almost blend in with the wall…
“Dad!” I exclaimed, grabbing him by the arm to keep him from wandering towards a very scared looking little kid.
“Watch that bit of wall there,” I said, pointing at the barrier separating Platforms Nine and Ten, which, weirdly enough, was only halfway between the two, as opposed to three quarters.
We watched intently, and just as I was beginning to think I’d been seeing things, a boy and his mother strolled right through the wall, after a quick glance around.
That settled it, then. I dragged my trunk over to the suspicious partition, and checked for any prying Muggle eyes. Just as I was about to dash forward, Dad enveloped me in an enormous hug.
“I guess there’s no talking you out of it now,” he said, refusing to relent despite my insistence that I was going to miss the train, “But try to come back in one piece, okay?” He released me.
“I’ll do my best.” I waved, taking one last look at him and the Muggles that kept shooting him odd glances. Then, I stepped through the barrier.
It was a different world on the other side of the wall. Children in billowing, black robes were gathered in clusters scattered all over the platform. Others were loading their trunks into a train. Some were yelling out of the windows of a large, scarlet steam engine that they’d saved someone a seat. All in all, it was a far more loose, together environment than the discomfort I’d felt at the non-magical station. I was so absorbed with the sight that I didn’t realize I was still standing right in front of the entrance. Presently, someone smacked into me.
“Watch it!” he called over his shoulder as he continued forward.
“Sorry,” I muttered, positive he hadn’t heard me. Before I could move myself away from the wall, another boy seemed to materialize out of thin air to extract me himself.
“Welcome to Hogwarts!” he said loudly as soon as I was out of the immediate path of danger. His face might have been three inches from mine as he shook my hand vigorously. A literal bush of curly hair perched precariously atop his head only enhanced the sheer energy he seemed to exude.
“You must be a transfer!” The boy must have lived for exclamation points.
“Yeah, I–” I began, but was clearly unheard in his haste to say everything he needed.
“Benjamin Fenwick, Head Boy – that’s me – completely and totally at your service!” If he’d been talking any faster, his mouth wouldn’t have looked like it was moving at all. “You can call me Benjy, though. Will you be needing help with anything?”
Good old Benjy. My sweetest memory of him is his murder. Terrible way to die, really, but someone had to do it. I won’t deny that it was fun. I’m sure he would’ve preferred a death more like his speech, quick and painless, but that wasn’t how I worked.
I shook my head in response to his question, still too scared of his over-the-top enthusiasm to form an actual word.
“Well, I’m here if you do,” he announced, clapping me firmly on the back before disappearing to greet someone else.
I guessed I still had about fifteen minutes before the train left, and also guessed I’d need nearly that much time to get myself where I needed to be, given how flustered I was at the moment. I lugged my trunk over to one of the entrances to the train, and attempted to heave it up the stairs. I suppose having no upper body strength whatsoever goes along with not being athletic, but that fact didn’t stop me from being surprised that I couldn’t move the thing an inch upwards. Luckily, though, Mr. Helpful-Head-Boy appeared once again to assist me, materializing out of the crowd so quickly and suddenly that I just about jumped out of my skin.
“Could I get that for you?” he asked, and, without waiting for an answer, he picked the trunk up off of the ground and carried it over his head into the train. He then preceded to transport it – still above his head, mind you – all the way to the back of the train, where he practically tossed it into the overhead rack of an empty compartment, all without breaking a sweat. He wasn’t even breathing hard.
Merlin’s freaking beard..
He was Head Boy, had great muscles, and probably got perfect grades, too. The boy was just begging to be cut apart anyway.
He waved and left the compartment, leaving me alone, trying not to blush as I considered how attractive he was, in addition to everything else. I made my decision right there – don’t talk to any boys whilst at Hogwarts.
Which proved to be an ironic decision to make really, as about three seconds after I’d sat down and opened The Catcher in the Rye to the bookmarked page, three boys strode into the compartment, making themselves at home around me as though I was part of the décor or something. They then began to talk loudly, periodically laughing uproariously, and every so often socking each other in the shoulder. The one sitting on my side of the compartment had the most annoying, tinny little giggle I was likely to ever hear in my life. The worst part about that was the fact that he seemed to be the one laughing the most.
Between the three of them, they made reading very, very difficult.
“Get ‘em a second, willya?” Ackley said, “I got this hangnail I want to cut off.”
“Oh, yeah, and then you dropped the-”
“Yeah, yeah! It was somewhere down by the cardboard-”
The smallish, round one giggled again.
Ackley said, “I got this hangnail I want to cut off.”
“Hey, Pads! Gimme my glasses!”
“Fight me for them!”
That piercing chortle as two of the boys leapt up and began to chase each other around the very tiny compartment, jostling me with each revolution, and apparently not noticing.
“I got this hangnail I want to cut off.”
I was becoming quite tired of reading about Robert Ackley’s hangnail. Luckily, there was a brief lull in the noise as the two dashed out into the aisle and up the train, the giggly one tripping along after them. Finally, I was able to steal a glance at the next sentence. The train’s whistle sounded, and I lurched forward as we began to move along the tracks.
I was actually able to get through the next several chapters before they returned, the one boy with his glasses back on, and the other cradling a large bump on his forehead.
“Padfoot, you can’t just put them on… you were bound to run into something…er, someone.”
The one known as Padfoot waved away the comment, saying, “It wouldn’t have been so hard to see if your lenses weren’t so bloody thick,” he bit back, poking his friend on the temple. Much socking and poking then ensued, making it once again impossible to concentrate.
Then, the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen opened the sliding glass door.
He was tall in a balanced kind of way, quite unlike my gangling awkwardness. His shaggy hair was somewhere between dark blonde and light brown, and fell across his face in just the right way. His eyebrows were arched ever so slightly, and his nose was long and straight. His eyes, though, were the things that kept me looking at them. They were such an amazingly deep brown, warm, and intelligent. I felt like I could look into them forever, and was getting quite ready to when I realized he was looking back at me.
I turned to stare out the window very quickly, blushing hysterically, which is something I don’t often do. Under the pretense of gazing at the countryside as it tumbled by, I snuck another glance at him. He had sat down, and was talking quietly with the glasses guy.
“Who’s who?” he replied to whatever Mr. Beautiful had said. Mr. B then pointed at me.
“WHOA!” the other boy cried out in shock, jumping out of his seat and landing on the floor. He scrambled back up and inquired quite noisily, “When did you get here?!”
I held true to my promise not to talk to boys and stared at my shoes, attempting to seem interested in them, hopefully accomplishing it by counting the scuffmarks.
For the record, there were six on the left and four on the right.
“I don’t think she heard you, mate,” came the voice of the boy who’d stolen the glasses. At this point I would have benefited from learning their names, so I wouldn’t need such absurdly long descriptions.
The other boy leaned over in response, prodding me gently on the knee, “Hello? What’s your name?”
It isn’t often that you find yourself in a position in which you realize that there aren’t many things on your shoes that are countable. This, however, was one of them.
Mr. Beautiful spoke, then, “She may not understand you.”
His voice was like the chiming of a million tiny bells in perfect harmony, and if you can’t recognize the infatuation of a schoolgirl crush here, then I fear you have the perception of a used match.
“What, like she’s deaf or something?”
“Well, she might be transferring from a country that doesn’t speak English.”
“Oh, that’s right! We’ve got new students this year! Oh, imagine all the pranks–”
But then the glasses guy cut him off, saying softly, “Quiet, Pads. There’s always the possibility that she does know what you’re saying…”
Beautiful was speaking again, this time directly to me, so of course I had to look up, “Are you a transfer?” He spoke very slowly, annunciating clearly, still under the impression that I couldn’t understand him.
Well, since I couldn’t very easily express ‘America’ with a gesture, I remained still and silent.
One of the other boys chimed in, “Sweden?”
Then another, “France?”
And so began a very, very long guessing game.
About twenty minutes later, the giggly one finally got it.
I nodded vigorously, by this time very annoyed with the whole process. They all made noises of excitement and triumph, with the odd “We’ve got it!” here and there.
“So you do speak English?”
I nodded again. But before they could bombard me with yet another question, a call of “Anything from the trolley?” was heard throughout the cabin and, if you’ll pardon the cliché, all Hell broke loose. The boys were jumping all over each other to find and ‘borrow’ each other’s money, talking rapidly about which sweets they were going to purchase, and arguing about who would share which thing, et cetera. In all the confusion of the candy-fray, I was able to slip past the jumble and trade one sickle for a Chocolate Frog. I was halfway done with it by the time the first one of them was bartering for a Licorice Wand.
Eventually, the trolley lady left, and three of the boys were on the floor, encircling an enormous pile of sweets, counting what they had and divvying it up amongst themselves. The gorgeous one, though, was sitting cross-legged in his seat, reading – well, reading my book. First I was rather indignant, but eventually came to the conclusion that I’d never be able to read it in this place anyway, so he might as well.
Presently, the remainder of the group surfaced from their candy-trawling, each with their own armful of junk food.
“Sho… I shupposhe we shfould infrodushe ourshelves, ah?” said one almost indecipherably through a mouthful of Jelly Slug.
He swallowed before resuming, “James Potter,” he said, holding out his hand.
Ah, finally some names. I shook the proffered limb tentatively, nodding somewhat.
“Sirius Black,” said the one who’d taken James’s glasses, waving quickly.
“Peter Pettigrew,” said the giggly one almost too energetically, grabbing my hand and shaking it quite profusely, which was rather unpleasant, seeing as his hand was covered in Pumpkin Pasty.
“And I’m Remus Lupin,” the beautiful boy finished off, making no movement towards a handshake, which made sense after the vicious attack by Peter’s pasty mess.
Remus Lupin. One of the biggest reasons I wish my life had gone in a different direction. But, of course, he went with that Tonks chick. Not that it didn’t make sense. She was younger, prettier, stronger, less maniacal. You get the picture.
They went back to their respective candy-eating and book-reading. At one point I extracted myself to go find some place in which to change into my new robes. By the bright pink and orange of the sky that was visible out of the window, I guessed we were getting nearer to our destination. There was a small bathroom near the back of the train. I thought the robes were unusually heavy and coarse, especially when compared to the lightweight, almost sheer fabric of the St. Hedwig’s uniforms, but I had to remind myself that I was a lot farther north than before, and that it might actually snow in the winter here. The weather outside, though, didn’t stop it from being needlessly hot in the train.
I was clearly the only person who felt this way, though, as the boys had all miraculously changed into their robes by the time I returned, and seemed not to notice the discomfort brought on by such a garment. One thing was different between my outfit and theirs, though. They were all wearing striped, red-and-yellow ties, tied somewhat messily around their collars.
I would’ve asked about them, but I refused to break my vow about not talking to boys. And besides, even if I had asked, none of them would have heard me. They were all too deep in their shallow, nonsensical, albeit amusing conversations.
I gazed out at the sunset for the remainder of the trip.
I was jerked awake by a sudden lurch as the train began to slow down. I must have dozed off wrapped up in the veritable blanket that was my new uniform. After peeling my face off of the window and shaking myself into a more conscious mode of wakefulness, I saw what was waiting for us outside.
There was a castle silhouetted against the twinkling stars that had relieved the sun for his coffee break. Not just a really big building, but an actual castle. The behemoth of Gothic architecture was complete with spires, turrets, towers, and even gargoyles. It was undoubtedly the most amazing thing I’d seen in a very long time. It was cooler than Disneyworld.
Finally, with a pneumatic hiss (which was most likely magically generated simply for effect), the train crawled to a stop, and Remus had to tap me on the shoulder to tear me away from the incredible sight that was Hogwarts. I reached overhead for my trunk, and was able to heave it towards me enough to fall to the ground. It nearly concussed me on the extremely rapid descent, but instead landed on my foot with a resounding thunk.
I bit my lip to keep from crying out just as Sirius informed me, “Oh, you can leave that here. The elves’ll take it in during the feast.”
Now he tells me, I thought, annoyed. I removed my foot from beneath the heavy baggage, and stepped into the aisle after the boys, following in some kind of order with the rest of the students as we filed off of the train.
I heard a rough sort of voice calling out “Firs’ years! Firs’ years over here!” as I dismounted the train. I was afraid I’d be left behind in the crowd, and figured the best thing to do would be to continue doing what I’d been doing, and that was to follow the guys. I did so admirably, and this course of action led me into a carriage, seemingly hooked up to absolutely nothing, already occupied by two girls.
“Jamesy!” squealed one of them, hopping into James’s lap the instant he’d taken a seat.
“Er… Hello, Nicci…” James replied almost reluctantly as the girl began to play with his hair.
Nicci was clearly far more observant then any of the boys had been, and noticed me instantly.
“James, who is that?”
“Oh, that’s… uh… Well, we don’t know her name.”
“But she’s a transfer,” Peter said, as though it was significant or something.
The remaining girl gave a weary sort of smile, and introduced herself as Lyric. Once again, I nodded my response, slightly paranoid due to the amount of people in the single carriage. I realized belatedly that we were moving quickly uphill, though no horses had been added to the carts.
“Ouch, Nicci, get off…”
The girl sighed, grudgingly sliding off of his lap and back into her seat. The journey continued in much the same way that the train ride had, with everyone talking but me, who was once again looking out the window, this time at the lake that sparkled with the reflections of the myriad windows and torches on the castle.
Suddenly, about halfway up the hill, Sirius leapt up and exclaimed, “Oi! Whatever’s driving this thing… Could you stop for a minute or two?”
Surprisingly, the carriage actually stopped moving.
“Thank you!” he called quickly, seizing James by the arm and dragging him out of the carriage. They made their way across the immense lawn to this tree overlooking the lake. I had no idea what they were doing, and was still too amazed at the spectacle of everything I’d seen so far to be terribly annoyed.
The others, however, had seen all this before, and could manage quite a bit of annoyance.
“Ugh. What now?” Lyric grumbled, leaning out of the door to look behind us, “They’re holding up the entire line…”
She hopped out of the cart and began moving in the direction of the two boys and the tree, which they appeared to be talking to at this point. Nicci followed suit, as did Peter, Remus, and finally, albeit grudgingly, myself. We didn’t get far, though, before whoever the boys had been really speaking to burst out from behind them and raced toward our group with a speed that can only be described as that of a racehorse.
“RACHIE!” was the exuberant and all-too-familiar cry as my best friend administered the best tackle-hug she could muster.
She was wearing that smile again, the warm, comforting one. The one that lets me know that I’m loved and that everything will turn out okay when all is said and done. Well, Facetia, if you wanted everything to be okay, now would be a really good time to make it so.
I hugged her back, glad beyond words, which was odd, considering I hadn’t spoken all day.
“You know her?” asked Sirius.
“Yes,” she replied, “This is Arachnae Firmin, she went to my old school.”
Facetia made everything easier with the introduction.
She turned to me, and read me like a book, “You haven’t spoken to these gentlemen the entire ride, have you?”
I shook my head, and she sighed most audibly. No doubt she found my inability to meet new people exhausting.
“No,” Sirius said, “She didn’t talk the entire time. We were beginning to think she was a mute.”
“You do realize,” Facetia countered, “that she still hasn’t said anything yet, and thusly, by logical reasoning, your hypothesis is still valid.”
I opened my mouth, and spoke for the first time in hours, intending to disprove their ‘hypothesis,’ “Are you defending them, Tia?” I questioned in a mockery of dismay.
“Well, no, I wasn’t,” she said in her own defense, “I was merely pointing out–”
“–the obvious,” I finished for her.
I was up to seven words. It had been a good day for conversation, hadn’t it?
James cleared his throat, “Excuse me, you’ve introduced Arachnae, but not yourself.”
“Gentlemen first,” she answered quickly.
It sounded harmless, but Facetia was quite the feminist, though you’d never get her to admit it. I like to hold doors open for people, but Facetia will refuse to walk through any door held by anyone, even me. She says things like that come from men thinking women are too weak to open a door themselves. I think she’s being ridiculous. In this instance, though, it was funny.
“I think you’ve got that backwards. You must be from America.”
“Whoa!” she replied, sarcasm coming off the words like a fog, “How’d you guess?”
“Well, it might’ve been the accent.”
“I may well be American,” she began, “But allow me to introduce myself.”
“You certainly shall get no argument from me.”
Merlin, these people talk a lot.
“My name,” she began with a wry sort of smile, rather unlike the one I remember so well, “is Facetia.”
Four words. Four simple words that locked everyone present together in all kinds of ways for as long as we all would live. Most of them are dead now. James, as you know, was killed by the Dark Lord just before the first fall from power. Bellatrix forced her cousin through the Veil in the Department of mysteries. Lyric’s ghost haunts what remains of Grimmauld Place, having been killed when she was barely aged seventeen years. Peter was killed by a lesser Death Eater for some traitorous act or another. He was, really, more brave than everyone would tell you. Braver than I, for certain. I don’t know where Nicci is, but I’m sure it’s no place good. And Remus… Remus doesn’t love me. Not anymore.
As for myself, I’ve lost everything I’ve ever had. My job, my house, my friends, my family, my sanity. I’m not entirely sure why I’m still waiting here. I guess I think maybe something good will eventually come out of all of this, but there’s absolutely no reason for karma to reward me with anything. I know that, at least. The worst part of it is that I do have the option of redemption, but I’m not strong enough to take it. If you do something over and over again for a really long time, there’s a point where you can’t stop, a point at which the idle want becomes a necessity. It’s like tumbling down a hill that gets progressively steeper, and you roll faster and faster until sooner or later you’re free falling, the whipping wind drowning out any sound other than your own descent.
And however exhilarating the fall might be, eventually you’re going to hit the ground.
A/N: Luckily, this one didn't take as long as I thought it would. Onward to chapter seven! Constructive criticism, will, as usual, be cherished and petted like a little kitten.
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