Chapter Four: Handshakes and Meetings
As if fate was giving her an indication of awkwardness to come, Barabelle Smallwick nearly toppled into the gap between the Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 ¾ from being brutally jostled by the crowd of students rushing into the locomotive. It was the 31st of August, the day of transit for all Hogwarts students returning to school. Everyone was anxious and excited for the new term and equally as eager to escape his or her parents for at least ten months.
Great. Barabelle brushed herself off hurriedly, cheeks aflame with embarrassment. Now I’m going to be remembered as “that girl who blocked off entrance to the train for a full five minutes”. This year is starting out beautifully.
She bustled through the corridor of the moving train, her obsidian hair wild from the earlier incident. She prayed with all her might for an empty compartment she could safely curl up and die in. There seemed to be none, of course; circumstance was mocking her yet again. Really, I would find this quite hilarious if it wasn’t happening to me.
Finally deciding to throw caution to the wind, she threw open the sliding door of the nearest carriage, which, according to the little gold plague on the glass, was Compartment No. 16. It was not empty. In fact, it could almost be considered full; there were already three boys seated.
Two of them were chatting amiably next to each other, swapping stories (as they seemed to have only just met) and laughing uproariously, but one young wizard sat apart.
He rested near the window, his shabby robes drawn closely around him as he peered out at the rapidly passing English countryside. As she could see from his reflection in the compartment window, dark circles ran under his eyes, as if he had not had the pleasure of a comfortable sleep in a long while.
They all perked up at once at her sudden entrance. Still smiling slightly, the two jokers ceased their conversation to look up at her. The lone boy in the corner only gazed at her with interest and curiosity as she sat down. Barabelle returned all their looks with a polite little smile, just as her mother had ingrained in her.
“Hi,” she said brightly to her new company in the booth. She had decided long ago she would start her years at Hogwarts on the right foot, as agreeably as possible. “I’m Barabelle Smallwick,” she said, extending her hand hesitatingly to anyone who would take it.
There was an uncomfortable pause for a moment, as Barabelle suddenly feared they would leave her hanging there like an imbecile, her hand sticking out dejectedly. Her fears were quieted as one of the jokers immediately grasped it, giving it a good-natured squeeze.
He was a fun-loving lad; that much was sure at first glance. His messy, jet-black hair fell into his hazel eyes, which were encircled in round glasses and danced with mischief not yet planned. His face appeared as if it was perpetually ready to crack into a grin, and Barabelle immediately liked him. His small, lanky build was accentuated in his billowing robes, but he carried a curious aura of unexpressed strength that she admired.
“James Potter,” he replied, making first eye contact. “Pleased to have your acquaintance,” James said in a mock formal tone that made her giggle in spite of herself. “And the git to my right is the honorable Sirius Black.” He jerked his head at the boy beside him, who gave him a devious punch on the arm for his last comment. “We just met on the train.”
Sirius nodded to her affably as she gave him a warm smile. He had long, burnished black hair that hung around his ears in the rugged style that was in vogue at the time. Everything about him, from the angles of his physique to the air of a renegade firecracker that hung about him, spoke of an agile mind, as full of devilry and frenetic energy as his comrade.
However, behind his soft gray eyes, there lay, Barabelle couldn’t help but note, an inkling of....what was it? Darkness? Barabelle couldn’t quite tell. It made her want to reach out to him and make him feel better; she had to resist the temptation to put her arm on his shoulder. Blushing as she blinked herself out of her reverie, and she refocused her attention.
As he examined her more closely, she could see him giving her a puzzled look, almost as if he had seen her somewhere before. Black…Sirius Black…The name sounded distinctly familiar to her, now that she thought about it. She gave him a good once over and recognition dawned. Of course! His family was another one of the few Pureblooded clans left. “The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black,” she had heard her parents utter reverently from time to time when speaking of their society friends.
The dinner parties she had so adamantly attempted to avoid as a child came to mind once again. She could have sworn she had seen him there at Parkinson Manor at least once, hanging back from the party chatter and looking darkly resentful and quite uncomfortable. She couldn’t say she never felt the same way at those horrid little get-togethers that had plagued both of their childhoods.
Choosing to keep the atmosphere in their compartment light and amiable, she did not bring up where she knew him from; after all, she knew better than anyone how any mention of her family and their beliefs could drag a conversation down. Better to leave that for another, less socially delicate time.
Suddenly a voice from the corner of the compartment broke through her thoughts. “Barabelle…that’s Gaelic for ‘stranger’, isn’t it?”
It was the solitary boy at the window. As she turned to face him and answer his question, she was struck by his eye-catching appearance.
His face looked as if it had once been very attractive and wholesome, but was now marred by dramatic scars running across his face at random intervals. The circles of insomnia under his eyes only added to the haunted look he expressed in his striking aquamarine orbs. He looked straight at her, inquisitive and unafraid but his eyes steeped with deep undertones of suffering that gave him a tentative look.
I wonder how deep those scars truly run…Barabelle thought with sad curiosity.
Out loud she said in a hushed tone, “Yes, it is. “Actually, it’s more appropriate than you know.”
At her compartment mates’ inquiring looks, Barabelle motioned for them to get a little closer, as if to share a great secret. The scarred boy looked a little surprised at being included, but scooted nearer and leaned in like Sirius and James, expectant of what outrageous thing she would say next.
“I’m really from an all-Pureblood family, but I ran away and changed my name. I’m here totally on my own. They’ll completely disown me for this!” she said in one breath with a shaky laugh she quickly stifled under her hand.
Their reactions were immediate. Sirius gave a loud bark of a laugh; like he understood where she was coming from and admired her vivaciousness. He gave her a raucous pat on the arm that nearly bowled her over in her seat, as if she had passed some sort of initiation and he heartily approved. James appeared awed and a little envious of her scandalous act and muttered a laughing “Bloody hell!” as he leaned back in his seat, absorbing the ridiculousness of it all. The scarred boy looked extremely shocked, but she could see a glimmer of mirth and admiration in his eyes.
“Remus Lupin,” he introduced himself soberly, shoving his offered hand in her direction. His eyes sparkled as she took his hand in hers and gave it an encouraging squeeze.
Unable to hold it back any longer, all four of them broke out in riotous laughter, leaning on each other for support, even the previously timid Remus.
From that moment on, Barabelle knew she would have no further difficulty in the friend department during her time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Over the duration of the train’s journey to Hogwarts, the occupants of Compartment No. 16 became closer in every passing minute than Barabelle would have thought possible. They all shared stories of their pasts, their summers, and their respective families. Both Barabelle and Sirius became suddenly quieter during the latter vein of conversation.
James was easily the most well put-together member of their motley crew. He came from a good wizarding family and was all the healthier for it. Athletic and physically strong, his interests lay mostly with Quidditch, his one true passion. He spoke adoringly of this star Seeker or that bloody awesome team and a happy, far away look clouded his eyes when he spoke of his prized broomstick, an impressive Comet Two-Sixty. Barabelle predicted he would be a charmer one day, with his easy smile and his attentiveness to those around him.
Sirius was similar to James in his light-heartedness, but yet completely his own individual. His barking laughter and dark smile drew you in, making you eager to be someone he called his friend. The protective nature he exhibited made him fiercely loyal to his comrades; it was obvious that to him, friendship and brother-(or sister-) hood were as sacred to him as blood and lineage probably were to his family. He had the innocent, eager-to-please demeanor of a puppy, but Barabelle knew there was something else underneath.
No one, not even someone as stable and lion-hearted as he, could grow up in the House of Black completely unscathed.
Remus was simply a mystery. Although he did tell them little anecdotes about his rural life with his father in northern England, it was clear to all of them that there was much he was holding back. His inner child and the ability to laugh and have fun were still present in him, but his eyes held maturity and knowledge of the world beyond his years. Barabelle received the definite impression he had seen more of life than they had in one way or another. Yet his breast was a home to a good and warm heart and she would not have hesitated to trust him in any situation, no matter how dire.
Barabelle was right in the middle of recounting to her new friends the time she made her brother’s pet goldfish explode messily in its tank after he broke her toy broom when the door slid open once again and a visitor interrupted her story.
A girl of about their age stood in the doorway, her body haloed by a ray of sunlight shining through the glass window behind her. She was stunningly beautiful, that much was certain. Porcelain skin complemented her violently emerald eyes in an arresting vision of unblemished loveliness that brought a Victorian lady doll to mind. Her long hair, lit up attractively in the sunlight, was so electrifyingly red Barabelle thought for a fleeting moment that the young witch’s head was in flames.
Her extraordinary beauty did not go unnoticed by the boys around her. They all seemed struck dumb at once; Barabelle had never seen a mouth fall ajar so quickly as James’ did.
“Hello,” the girl said in a small but strong voice. “I’m Lily Evans, first year. Has anyone here seen a cat around? He’s small and brown?” she inquired tentatively.
“Sorry, no,” Barabelle answered with a small frown at Lily’s misfortune and their inability to help. After all, Lily seemed genuinely concerned about the whereabouts of her cat and Barabelle’s heart went out to her, having lost many a pet.
James suddenly shot up in his seat, quick as lightning. “Ehm, err…I…canhelpyoufindhimifyouwant,” James blurted, his last few words melding together in one long string of cringe-worthy nonsense. Sirius stifled a loud snicker at a warning glance from Barabelle.
Raising her eyebrows slightly at James’ outburst, Lily replied quickly, “No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I’m sure I’ll find him eventually. Well…nice meeting all of you.” She slid the door closed, nearly catching James’ glasses in it as he attempted to rush into the hall behind her.
“Watch your face, there, James,” said Sirius, chuckling at his friend’s awkwardness as James sat down again, his cheeks a delicate shade of fuchsia.
Remus, barely containing his own mirth, tried to comfort him. “Well, we have the whole school year ahead of us,” Remus said, grasping James’ shoulder in a brotherly grip. “You’ll have all that time to try and convince her you’re not nearly as weird as you just made yourself seem,” he finished, suppressing a chuckle.
But James did not seem to hear anyone in the car after Lily made her exit. A steely glint of determination in his eye told Barabelle this was far from over. “She’s going to like me,” James muttered, almost to himself, “by the end of the school year. I know it.”
Arching their eyebrows and snorting loudly, James’ three comrades made no mystery of what they thought the coming school term was going to be like, tagging along with the love-struck James and reeling him in when necessary. Barabelle could just imagine dragging him away by the collar whenever Lily Evans happened to walk by them in the halls.
The conversation in Compartment No. 16 declined into a comfortable silence as each occupant was lost in his or her own thoughts. They were all tired from their individual travels and needed a bit of quiet time to calm their nerves before the gates of Hogwarts opened to them.
Pulling out a dusty old tome of spells that he had previously concealed under his shabby cloak, Remus cracked it open and began to read, or at least tried to look like he was reading. Behind the large book, Barabelle saw eyebrows knot in worry and his eyes travel distractedly over what had to be the same passage a number of times. I suppose we all have our own pre-first year troubles to deal with, she thought wistfully.
In the idle hour that followed, Barabelle’s chief source of entertainment was watching James and Sirius growing steadily wearier, their eyes drooping and their yawns occurring more and more often. Finally, with a little smile to herself, she watched them as they fell asleep on each other as companionably as newborn kittens.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Remus surveying the two young boys in their sleep. As she turned to look straight at him and share his small, knowing smile, she noticed abruptly that the haunted look she had seen in his eyes when she first saw him had vanished; in fact, she had not perceived it at all when all four of them were together, talking and becoming friends.
As she looked upon her slumbering comrades and their caring guardian, all bathed ethereally in the ghostly light of the half-moon in the night outside, she understood why.
A/N: Chapter Image by FairyQueen at TDA. This chapter beta'd by silverfox at Betas R Us. Be sure to leave a review!