Chapter 3 : Old Friends, New Enemies
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He rose, showered and dressed for the weather. A clever mantel clock, given to them for a recent anniversary by a mutual friend, stood on one of the chest of drawers in the bedroom and told not only the time, but the current climatic conditions as well. He found himself looking at it, and, quite before he could stop himself, his fingers reached out and marked the grooves of the engraving at the base of the clock. A corner of his lips quirked upward. “‘Two different lives’,” he quoted softly. “‘Two disparate souls. One dizzying, delightful, delirious, destined love.’”
Before life with Luna, he would have found such sentiments trite, fanciful; a hopelessly romantic notion. His smile deepened for a moment, and then he left his wistful thoughts with the clock as he left the room. He walked down the hall towards his daughter’s bedroom and had paused at her door to knock when he heard movement from the breakfast nook. Brows furrowed, he walked out into the front of the flat. His expression relaxed, however, when he found his daughter sitting at the small table. She was gazing sullenly at a plate of toast in front of her that was largely untouched. “Has your mother gone?” Malcolm asked, his voice a low morning rumble.
She never startled easily, his daughter, so he was unsurprised when she simply looked slowly over at him and nodded solemnly. Her cheeks were shining, and he knew that Luna’s departure had been marked with tears, doubtless on both parts. Malcolm smiled gently at her, crossing the room to touch her cheeks and wipe away the tear tracks. Such things could so easily break a father’s heart. It was for this reason alone that he was somewhat glad he had missed their good-byes. Perhaps his father-in-law hadn’t had such a bad idea after all.
As neither father nor daughter was particularly inclined to early morning hours, their shared breakfast was a silent one thereafter. Having cleared the table and set the kitchen back to rights, Malcolm ushered his daughter into the living room and then began shrinking her trunk and other school things down to an easily pocketed size. All the while she looked gravely on from her seat in his chair, her feet still only barely reaching the floor. Finally, only the pet carrier just next to the door was left un-shrunk, and, as Malcolm looked at it, it gave a rough shake. His daughter was to her feet in an instant, and had knelt beside the carrier and making soothing and shushing noises before Malcolm had even had a chance to be even slightly annoyed. It was amazing how good she was with animals, something she undoubtedly got from her mother.
With a satchel full of snacks, extra rolls of parchments and quills that couldn’t fit in her trunk and a book or two that she would have a very hard time finding in the Hogwarts’ library slung over her shoulder and her pet carrier firmly in hand, she and Malcolm left the apartment and descended to the London streets below. A Muggle taxi was waiting for them, all prearranged some days previous, and they slid inside. “Kings Cross, innit,” the sallow faced, toothless cabbie asked, merely glancing at them in the rear-view mirror. His brows knit together and he turned back to look at the older of his two passengers. “You all righ’, guv?”
Malcolm tried very hard to school his face into cool indifference, a marked change from the current pain that must have been evident. In his haste to be in the taxi, he had indelicately sat upon his phone which had dislodged certain of his daughter’s shrunken school things which were now poking him quite uncomfortably in a place he would have rather not mentioned. With a bit of clever, discrete manoeuvring he managed to set things back to right. He nodded, aware of how ridiculous and strange he must have seemed just then, and said gruffly, “I’m fine. Kings Cross Station, yes. The most direct way possible. We’d rather like to miss the crowds.”
The rest of the ride was a silent one, save for the constant knock of the well-worn engine and one small sentence mumbled in undertone: “I still don’t see why I couldn’t have ridden with my friends.” His daughter had muttered it to herself as she faced the window, rather obviously thinking Malcolm would not hear her. Quite to the contrary, with a quiet that hadn’t anything to do with the background noises pressing in from all sides, there was nothing but that to hear. The driver had apparently not heard it, or he was the model of tact; it was difficult to say really with the constant clack-clack-clack coming from the bonnet. Malcolm sighed to himself, and physically bit his tongue to keep from rising to the argument.
This was the final, but not last word on a subject that had been a heated one since his daughter had brought it up at dinner several evenings past. It was the first and therefore the worst fight they had ever had. Only his recollections of himself as an impertinent and cheeky teenaged boy kept him from blurting the things only meant to hurt. It had been a very hard habit to break, lashing out at the people for whom he cared the most. Thank God for Luna, truly.
No, instead he kept his tongue and his temper in check, and, when they had finally reached the already bustling station, he had quite mastered it. Malcolm paid the man for his services, even managing to remember a tip this time around, and then he and his daughter walked into Kings Cross. Even with all of the early morning commuters milling about, they had a ridiculously easy time getting to platforms nine and ten. The well aimed wand in his pocket may have had a touch to do with that. After that, it was a simple matter of leaning casually against the barrier wall and just slipping through to the other side.
Once on Platform 9 ¾, he found his daughter’s vociferous past arguments of, “But, Dad, I’ll be the only one there,” to be rooted in fact rather than mere exaggerated speculation. Truly, the only other living soul on the platform was a lone porter, sitting idly on a stool at the far end. His face was still spotty and the disinterest on it was of a type that Malcolm truly despised. He tried very hard not to glare at the man as he approached; his daughter waited just a few feet behind him. She was looking around at the station, a familiar and piercing glare scrutinising every part of the platform. It was good she wasn’t paying attention, Malcolm thought to himself as he prepared himself to speak to the indifferent man.
He exchanged a few terse words with the porter as he enlarged the pertinent contents of his pockets, and ensured the safe-keeping of not only his daughter’s school things but she herself while she waited for the other students to arrive. This last, unfortunately, was only obtained by filling the suddenly obsequious porter’s hand with a half dozen galleons and sickles. Malcolm turned around to tell his daughter the “good news”, but he found that she had already taken a seat next to another little girl who was sitting on a bench against the rear wall. How he had managed to miss seeing her was beyond him.
She was wholly unremarkable, he found himself thinking; reasoning to himself- wondering how his normally keen observational skills could have failed him. Quite harmless in appearance, she was, and looked to be his daughter’s age, though beyond that they could not have been more different. Later he would be unable to recall the little girl’s face, but for now he looked once into her dark eyes and nodded in a more or less amiable way. Having dispensed with pleasantries, he crouched down low to come face to face with his daughter. She, however, was gazing fixedly at a place just beyond Malcolm’s shoes, her chin shaking ever so slightly. He raised her face gently and stared into her over-bright eyes. “You must promise to be good for your mother and for me, hm?”
She sniffled once, trying to be reserved, and nodded gravely. Such seriousness in a face so young always disquieted him, so he abandoned all pretence and hugged his daughter tight around the shoulders. It didn’t take even a second for her arms to come up and fold around his back. They sat like that for some moments, a father gently rocking his daughter as they said their own good-byes, and then he stood. He nodded once more to the black haired girl sitting beside his daughter, though his gaze barely marked her face. There was an inner-struggle as he resisted the urge to chuck it all away and take her back home, where he knew she’d be safe and protected, and then Malcolm steeled himself and turned away.
There were no last cries, no loud sobs, no unseemly outpouring of loss or grief as they parted. As he slid back into the Muggle world, he reflected on the first eleven years of his daughter’s life. It made him smile. Yes, he thought, he couldn’t have raised a better Smith.
It was an event, getting everyone to the station in time for the Hogwarts’ train. By the time they had arrived in London, the general feeling in the car was one of irritation and frustration. Now, granted, most of that was actually just on Bella’s half, but, really, was it entirely necessary to have the entire family there? Maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but she still envied Rafe, standing there calmly with his father and mother and not with three million siblings milling about, clamouring for attention.
Molly Rose stood there, holding their mother’s hand, tears flowing freely down her face. She could be the biggest baby sometimes, Bella thought to herself as she rolled her eyes. “B-b-but, Mum,” her sister was sobbing, “I’ve read all the first year books and all of Hogwarts: A History- twice! I don’t see why I can’t go!” She stamped her foot impatiently, showing everyone exactly why it was she couldn’t go. Her mother shushed her with a look that was both exasperated and understanding at the same time.
“You only have a few years to wait, and then you’ll be with your brother and sister in Hogwarts. And I’m sure they’ll write all the time, just to tell you how it is.” Her mother looked at her and her brother, and Bella knew she would be risking a Howler or two if either of them forgot. Ah, well, she thought wistfully, at least she wouldn’t have to be around her bratty younger siblings until the Christmas holidays- with any luck they might even get to stay at the school. (Bella doubted this very seriously, but figured that one could hope at any rate.) Thankfully before Molly Rose‘s fit of indignation could grow any more severe, the entire Weasley brood was able to reach the Potters through the mass of students and their parents.
Bella was just about to raise her hand in greeting to her best friend, when her shoulder was rudely jostled by a passing student. She turned to glare at the offending party, a sharp rebuke poised on her tongue, when the person, a girl with long, white blonde hair, turned back around. “I’m terribly sorry,” she called over the noise of the crowd. Already it was bearing her away, and she jumped to make herself heard and seen. “Only my cat’s run off! Sorry!” Then she was gone, lost in the throng of people who were already getting on the train. Bella had to admit, a bit of her anger had ebbed at the girl’s apology. Maybe it was just her family that had put her in such a foul mood. Next time she was tempted to suggest that they just go with Rafe and his parents.
“Angelina!” she heard her mother cry, and turned just in time to see a woman, about her mother’s age, with dark skin and long braids making her way through the crowd to get to their small knot of people. They greeted each other in a wild profusion of hugs, and Bella took that moment to escape to the relative safety of Rafe’s side. He and her brother had their heads together and were chatting in undertone. Bella managed to slip just behind Rafe before either of them had noticed, and leaned up to hiss in his ear, “Hide me.”
Bax gave her a strange look, and then looked back around to where their mother and father, and indeed Rafe’s parents as well, were all speaking to the woman, who had a harassed-looking older student, a boy, in tow. He looked rather like she must have, for when they happened to catch one another eye, each gave the other a tiny smile of sympathy. He, too, managed to slip past her parents’ friend and joined them, although he looked rather apprehensive about doing so, as though being caught with a bunch of first years would be mortifying. “Angelina, I had no idea…” Bella heard her mother’s voice carry over the sounds of the crowd and the train.
The woman gave a small shake of her head, however, and glanced over at the boy. “He’s not,” she said. “He’s my nephew. My older brother…” She broke off, faltering, and all of the adults exchanged significant looks. It was a little infuriating. They were probably talking about the War. They all got these Looks on their faces whenever someone brought it up. “Anyway,” the woman spoke again, her tone a bit stronger. “That’s Kieran, he’s just starting his fourth year.” Bella gave the older boy a look of admiration. Their first day, not even at Hogwarts, and they already (sort of) knew a more advanced student. For his part, however, Kieran didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy looking around for someone or something.
Apparently he spotted whatever it was, for he turned and waved shortly at his aunt. “Just spotted m’friends, Auntie,” he said in a rush, darting back to her side to give her the briefest of hugs. “I’ll see you at Christmas, yeah?” And then he had bolted through the throng to join a small group of people near the train. Bella barely got a glance of the bunch of older boys and girls before the crowd obscured them again. That tiniest of first impressions left a small knot in the pit of Bella’s stomach. If all the boys in the school were that big and mean looking, she was suddenly not that sure about going.
“… and you remember Ginny, don’t you? That’s their son Rafe, and these three are mine,” she heard her mother saying. “This is Molly Rose and that’s Arbax and… Where’s Bella? Bella!” Her mother was looking around, frantic, and she was beginning to get that Look on her face again. Bella knew she was a bit smaller than Bax and Rafe, and that her hiding skills were among the best, but really? Why was her mum getting so worked up over this. Bax slid to one side, and said calmly, “She’s just here, Mum. Came over to talk with us.”
The woman with the braids was giving her mother a look of sympathy that Bella really didn’t understand. Her dad had wrapped an arm around her mother’s shaking shoulders, and he was saying things to her that only she could hear. She sniffled a little and, looking a little more red in the face than before, she reached out and pulled Bella closer to her. “As I was saying,” she continued, her voice becoming steady once more, “this is Arbella. They’re both in their first years. The youngest twins are at home.”
‘Angelina’ appeared slightly bemused. “Trying to give your parents a run for their money, Ron?” She watched her dad go pink around the ears and tried hard not to giggle.
“Twins run in the family,” her mother replied a little coolly. She leaned towards the other woman and said in a rather carrying undertone, “I had only wanted four,” after which she threw her husband rather fondly frustrated look. The braided lady laughed. Bella was saved from any further embarrassment by the train’s whistle going off.
After far too much waving and hugging and crying, Bella boarded the train after Rafe with Bax trailing just behind her. (Her mum had hugged her especially hard; her dad had lifted her into his arms with one of his wonderful “Devil’s snare” hugs, only to whisper in her ear, “Do try to give it another couple of years before you really begin to give your mum a hard time, eh,“ which had completely mystified her.) The trio made their ponderous way through the corridors, going from car to car, until, in a fit of exasperation, Bella grabbed the back of Rafe’s collar and pulled her way in front of him.
“You’re always like this,” she told him after she’d looked back and seen the irritated look on his face. “Thinking about things too much. If we’d kept on, we’d never have got a decent comp- ah-ha!” Somewhere about mid-train, Bella had found just what she was looking for: an empty compartment. Shooting Rafe an I-told-you-so look over her shoulder and with her nose ever so slightly in the air, she opened the door and ushered the other two inside.
Rafe sat at the window and waved brightly at everyone, fidgeting in his seat as he attempted to see his parents and aunt and uncle. Bax sat opposite him and merely looked vaguely amused, as was normal for him. Bella was just putting away her satchel in the overhead compartment when the whistle went off again and the train lurched forward. She was very glad she had a good grip on the edge of the overhead, otherwise she would have been sent sprawling into her cousin’s lap.
“What’re you doing, Bella?” her brother asked her, even as she pulled down several pieces of parchment, a quill and an inkbottle. She gave him nothing more than a rather shrewd, calculating look and then disappeared behind what she was writing.
“What is she doing?” she heard Rafe ask, at which point she saw Bax shrug in a rather bewildered fashion out of the corner of her eye. Bella smirked and continued with her secret project. Slightly exasperated, Rafe suggested that they play a few games of wizard chess, knowing full well that Bax had packed a travel set in his things.
The train passed quickly out of the city, which soon gave way to towns and fields and then eventually the open country side. Occasionally people would pass through their corridor, or peels of laughter would echo through the car from somewhere along the train. Really, the train ride had been entirely enjoyable, save for one instance that occurred just after the witch with the lunch trolley had rolled through. “Oh, no,” Bella heard Rafe groan. She looked over at him, her quill poised just above her third roll of parchment, but he had already stood.
“What’s up?” Bax asked; she saw him tear his gaze away from the chess board where the two sides were pretty evenly matched. This was...what? Their eighth game this trip?
Rafe was striding towards the door, his money pouch in hand. “I didn’t give the trolley witch enough Knuts,” he replied, going a little flush. Bella opened her mouth to tell him not to bother with it, but he had already pulled open the compartment door and was heading into the passageway. He didn’t get very far, however, as he collided with another boy who had been walking through at exactly the same time.
“Watch where you’re going,” the other boy snarled. Bella tensed, her gaze flying to the door. The boy looked to be their age, if she had to take a guess. His dark red hair just caught on the thin and waning afternoon sun, but it wasn’t nearly the fiery red of the Weasley clan, she thought a bit smugly. He had obviously stumbled back a couple of steps, and was brushing down his robes (why the prat was already wearing them was beyond her) and looking thoroughly disgruntled.
“Sorry,” Rafe replied, neither sounding nor appearing to mean it. Apparently the other boy caught on, for he looked up towards Rafe once more. She watched his lips part in an unpleasant grin.
Bella had the sudden and extremely strange sensation that she knew how Rafe’s dad must have felt whenever people’s eyes flicked to his forehead, just to see the scar. It was the same thing the sneering boy at the compartment door was doing now, only this time it was slow and notably deliberate, like he knew how uncomfortable it would make Rafe. And it did. Very suddenly, Rafe’s body shifted, and Bella could tell how irritated he was getting, despite his trying not to let it show on his face.
“You must be Potter,” the boy said, his voice cutting into the uneasy silence that had settled over the hall and compartment.
Jutting out his jaw some, her best friend replied in a tone of defiance, “Raffalius Potter, yeah.” The “What of it?” was left unspoken, but pretty clear. The boy’s sneer deepened, and Bella found herself taking an almost instant dislike to him. Who did he think he was, swanning about the train like he owned it, anyway? She felt a hand on her arm and looked back, only just realising that she had started to stand. Bax shook his head minutely, and she settled back against her seat just before the boy looked past Rafe, into their compartment.
“And the Weasleys,” the boy went on, upper lip curling back with disdain. “Of course.”
Bella began to get to her feet again, her mouth opening to retort rudely, but the grip around her arm tightened and she half-glanced back at her twin. Bax was wearing his normal wry, almost-amused expression, gazing steadily at the boy. “Yes, actually,” he said in a pleasant enough tone. “I’m Bax, and this is Bella. You are?”
A brow rose on the boy’s face, as if he was wondering for a moment if he should deign to reply. “Mordant,” came his terse reply as his gaze moved from Bax and Bella back to Rafe, staring coolly into his face. “Devon Mordant.” His own jaw came out, almost matching Rafe’s own defiance. “This is your first year.” It wasn’t a question. “Of course, you haven’t a hope of being admitted to Slytherin. Never would with your parents.”
She saw Rafe visibly bristle. Next to her, Bax muttered a curse under his breath that made her gasp. For a moment, even Rafe looked rattled, but then he spat, “As if I’d want to be a part of a bunch of slimy snakes.”
“Devon,” a drawling voice came from further down the corridor, “what’re you doing?” A blonde girl stepped into view; Bella thought she recognised her. “You said you were going to get a pumpkin pasty for me.” Her lips drew themselves into a small pout, clearly meant to charm. She had something cradled in her arms, but Rafe blocked it from where he stood in the doorway. He was staring at her in a way that made Bella embarrassed for him. She recognised the girl, then, as the one who had bumped into her on the platform.
“Would you stop bothering Mr-” she trailed off and looked towards Rafe with the barest hint of a polite smile.
“Potter,” he supplied, reddening slightly. It was to the girl’s credit that she neither overtly stared nor did she hesitate overlong before she continued.
“Would you stop bothering Mr Potter, then,” she said, “and come back to the compartment? You have to see the thing Jada Templeton is trying to pass off as a raven.” Bella had edged upward in her seat, her curiosity getting the better of her as to what exactly the girl had in her arms. She felt at once that the other girl had little room to be speaking ill of someone else’s animal, judging by creature nestled in her arms. It looked like a weird serpentine cat, or else a badly disguised dragon.
In fact, it so defied description that Bella found her brain completely blank after just a few moments of looking at it. Then again, it could have also been the panic that had risen in her chest, tightening it as though there were metal binds crushing against her. She was frozen where she was, half-standing in their compartment, her eyes staring without seeing the animal tucked safely in the other girl’s arms. Get it out, get it out, get it out, a voice in her head was screeching. She could feel the burn of the swallowed scream at the back of her throat.
They were moving off before Bella had quite realised it, her thoughts still clouded by the troublesome animal, and Rafe had disappeared down the opposite way. She sat back and exchanged a glance with her brother. He had a rather bemused expression on his face for a moment, but then he chuckled as though at some private joke and went back to looking at the chessboard. Moments later, Rafe rejoined them, and, other than a very low “Git” muttered under his breath, they did not discuss what had just happened in the slightest. It was the mark of their friendship that there had been no need; as the animosity had appeared to be universal to all parties (save the blonde girl and, perhaps, Bax- he was just sort of that kind of person) it bore no further notice.
Eventually, the lamps were lit out in the corridors, and one of the prefects stopped in and told them to get into their school things. Deep night had fallen outside, and with it came a mound of rocketing butterflies in Bella’s stomach. She could not let on to the others (they would poke too much fun), so she changed in silence and then sat down with her parchments again. She had just caught her brother trying to sneak a look over her shoulder, when the train began to slow. They were nearly there; their first year at Hogwarts.
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