The two Longbottoms arrived with a faint pop into the apparition zone set aside for Hogwarts students and their families at Kings Cross and hurried towards the barrier between Platform’s Nine and Ten, putting Neville´s trunk on a trolley. The station was packed with muggles and they had to weave the trolley from side to side to avoid causing a collision. The station was filled with tourists and commuters going about their business, yet no one seemed to notice the numerous oddly dressed families, pushing trolleys laden with trunks, cages and bags.
There was a small queue at the barrier and so Neville and his grandmother waited patiently as the people in front of them made their way through it, some at a canter, others more lazily. They looked at the various muggle trains assembled on the platform. Neville had never spent much time at the station and noticed that these looked dreadfully dull and grey when compared with the great scarlet behemoth that was the Hogwarts Express. A great crash made everybody jump. A small, blond haired girl and her mother had, instead of being absorbed through, ricocheted off the barrier sending possessions flying everywhere. Looking dreadfully embarrassed, they collected their things together, this time walking a more sedate pace through the barrier. Eventually they arrived at the barrier and gently pushed against it and the Hogwarts Express appeared and with it the platform, but Neville could immediately tell that something was wrong.
The Hogwarts Express, for decades the symbol of the school for parents and children had changed completely. Instead of being scarlet, the train was painted an ominous black, with even the windows blacked out so that once on board, its occupants were invisible. Normally students would be hanging out of windows, saying their last goodbyes to their families, but now there was only silence around the platform. The only colour on the entire train came from the engine which was emerald green and shaped like a serpent, its tongue outstretched and its eyes two large black windows. The serpent shimmered in the dark platform, the candle lights in the lamps dancing off its scales. The steam coming out of its mouth made a faint hissing sound that only added to its threatening aesthetic.
A glistening translucent barrier herded the Hogwarts students and the families into a snaking line and with a growing sense of foreboding Neville pushed his trolley down the gloomy platform to join the end of it. The silence on the platform was quite unnerving Neville, and he looked around for people that he knew, but at that moment he didn’t see anyone familiar.
“What do you think this queue is for?” Neville peered over the heads of those in front of him, but could not see the table where they were all headed.
“I don’t know,” Mrs Longbottom replied, “Although I daresay we’ll see soon enough.”
Progress was slow, but after much sighing and shuffling, they reached the front of the queue. Ahead of them were the small blond haired girl and her mother from earlier. The girl, who had appeared nervous even before she had got onto the platform, was now in tears and her, whose hand was on her shoulder was arguing with a young bespectacled official with red hair and a clipboard in his hand. He looked familiar to Neville and he racked his brains as to where he recognised him from.
“I’m sorry,” the official said, “but unless you can prove to me that you have magical heritage then you will be brought before the Muggleborn Registration Commission. Magic has to have been passed down from wizard to wizard. If you have no magical heritage then you must have stolen it.” Neville stared at the man, and finally recognised him as the Head Boy from his Third Year at Hogwarts, Percy Weasley. He had always thought the Weasleys as a good family, and indeed was friends with two of his siblings so to see one tormenting this poor first year was shocking to him.
“Excuse me young Weasley,” Augusta Longbottom said loudly so that the entire queue could hear, “maybe I can help you.”
“I am Junior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic madam, so please show some respect to that office,” Percy said indignantly.
“Oh I’m sorry Junior Undersecretary,” she replied, her voice laden with sarcasm, “but for what reason are you tormenting this poor child? Can’t you see through those ridiculous glasses that she is upset?
“Every student this year must be able to prove that they have magical heritage madam, this is the law. Laws are the sign of a civilised society and they must be enforced.”
“Spoken like a true Ministry hack,” Augusta said under her breath. “Well,” she said now addressing Percy again, “what makes you think that this poor girl has no magical heritage. She has a wand doesn’t she, and she got through the barrier? They put that barrier up in my day as a means to prevent muggles from entering this platform. Are you perhaps suggesting that she tricked it?”
“I’m just doing my job madam. It has been recently proven by learned magical scholars that only those with magical blood can become witches or wizards. It is not my job to argue academic theory; it is my job to make sure that every student that passes through these gates has a magical history.”
“Well young man, now that you have completed giving me a lesson in bureaucracy, perhaps you will let me tell you that this girl is in fact my great niece.”
Neville looked at the girl, who looked positively shocked at this revelation. She looked like she was about to say something, but a quick glance at her mother stopped her
“Oh really,” said Percy in a stern voice, cutting through the tension “how is it then that this is not on my list.”
“Well it really isn’t my problem if Ministry records are inaccurate is it?” Augusta Longbottom was really getting into her stride now. “But she is my great niece I assure you. One does not forget family, one looks after them and keeps in contact. Or at least they did in my day.”
Percy was quite taken-aback by this, his ears going slightly red. Augusta had clearly hit a nerve. “And just who are you then? Can you prove your magical heritage?”
“I am Augusta Longbottom, wife of Trevor Longbottom, the daughter of the noted wizard, Fargo Summers and mother of Frank Longbottom. If you look on your list, I think you’ll find I can trace my family through pure-blood wizards back five centuries. This here is my grandson Neville.”
Percy looked down at his list and his eyes rested on a spot halfway down the page. He sighed and waved both families through.
“I don’t believe this!” Neville who had been silent throughout his grandmother’s conversation with Percy. He was now resting his hand gently on the shoulder of the girl who was still in tears but was glaring back at Percy Weasley with a look of righteous anger. “This is ludicrous, they can’t just stop muggle-borns from getting through!”
“We live in dark times Neville,” she said wisely. “I’d hoped that last time was the final occasion that I would have say that.”
“Are you really my Great Aunt?” the girl said, looking curiously at Augusta.
“I strongly doubt it I’m afraid dear,” she replied, looking down kindly at her. “I just can’t stand wizards who are prejudiced against people like you. No matter what they say, it makes no difference who you are born to. There is no such thing as magical blood, there is only talent. I’m sure you will do well, hopefully a little better than my grandson here.” She looked up at Neville who had turned pink by this slight. “Well Neville have a good year and look after this girl and make sure that she comes to no harm. Remember what I said to you at home! Your mother and father were great students and worked hard. Do them proud.”
She turned to the girl’s mother who was shaking, “Would you like to go for a drink, you look like you could do with a stiff brandy.”
“Yes, thank you Mrs Longbottom, I think Jessie and I owe you one for getting us past that horrible man. Goodbye honey,” she stooped to hug her daughter, “Good luck at your new school. I’m sure that things will go a little better than they did today. Have a good term, and I’ll see you at Christmas.”
The two women then turned back towards the barrier, pushing their way past the crowd and disappeared behind the barrier.