Chapter 3 : Stop This Train
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Stop this train
The morning was too young, when the Harys’ and Mr. Dumbledore were found walking together at the Central Station of Madras. A great rambling place, where dozens of trains barreled through everyday, it looked humongous to Maitri at first. Great wide spaces, trenches with rail tracks neatly embedded, huge iron stairs coated with grime and dust of ages. In a way, it looked like a sad old underground ruin from an old industrial novel.
It was still dark, and hence, Maitri’s perception led her imagination to stray. She trotted forward, bundled up in a new set of clothes and carrying her own, brand new sandalwood trunk, a novelty her father had insisted. It wasn’t that heavy, but it was largely empty for now, except for a few books and some sets of native clothing, between which was a cloth purse with her pocket money for the year. Mr. Dumbledore had assured her father that she would be able to exchange it for Wizard money as soon as they reached their destination.
Her mother and her little brother had also made it to the station, Chandru curled up in their mother’s arms. Maitri looked wistfully at him as she clung to her mother’s other hand. She was hoping he would wake up when the train leaves with her in it. Her mother had a loving arm around Maitri’s shoulders, keeping her close until they really had to part.
Mr. Harys and Mr. Dumbledore were a little up ahead, talking in low tones. Due to the city’s eternal indoor breeze-less state, they couldn’t hear the discourse.
“Did you know about magic, Amma?” Maitri asked in a small voice. “And that Uncle was also a wizard, like Mr. Dumbledore?”
Her mother readjusted Chandru and fell silent for a while. She then sighed.
“Yes, Maitri,” she said, slowly. “I’ve met your uncle before you were born, dear… I was informed of it when your father and I got married.” She looked in front of her, at the two seriously conversing men. “Mr. Dumbledore has come once before, a long time ago, to our house. You were but a baby.”
The men turned around at this point, Mr. Harys glancing nervously at the teller machine near him. Mr. Dumbledore, however, beamed at them.
“May I introduce you to our exceeding wonderful Magical Transportation device?” he said in a gallant voice, gesturing at the teller machine. “The newest make of the Indian Ministry of Magic, which is rather a conventional temple. No offence, Mr. Harys.”
Maitri’s father was positively astonished at the mention of the word “Magical”, and was staring at the teller machine, wide-eyed. Maitri’s mother was as composed as ever, but her eyebrows did rise a bit, marking her surprise of the discovery of a hidden ministry in her own country.
“Now, Mrs. Harys, if you could step up here, with young Maitri,” Mr. Dumbledore said, briskly, nodding at them over to the telling machine. Maitri jumped on it eagerly, and wrapped her small arms around her mother and her new trunk, looking at the old wizard with anticipation. Dumbledore laughed fondly. “There you go, just press the yellow button.”
Maitri did as he said, as her mother held to her shoulder and Chandru tightly.
There was a sudden flash as the platform they were in disappeared and another one appeared, much cleaner and smaller than the earlier one. As one, they stepped off the narrow foot-stand, only to find both men appearing behind them. Dumbledore grinned, looking around.
“Quaint place they have here,” he remarked, stroking his beard again. “Come on, the train should be leaving soon.” His brilliant blue eyes wafted over to the gleaming little blue train that sat huffing on the track. An old brown man stood near the train, smiling and waving at them, stout and jolly-looking. Maitri was clutched by both her parents as the group made their way to the old man.
“Professor Dumbledore!” he exclaimed, his white teeth catching the faintly appearing sunlight. “Fancy seeing you here! Was told there was a trip today - well, ne’er did I…” He trailed off, his merry gaze shifting to Maitri and her family. His eyes grew wide and he whistled softly.
“Oho! Another new student for your precious school up there!” he said cheerfully, squatting down to Maitri’s eye level. “Pretty little thing, aren’t you?” he said, softly ruffling Maitri’s head. She blushed deeply and buried into her mother’s side, smiling.
“Well, if it isn’t our old Stationmaster Varghese,” Dumbledore said reminiscently, smiling at the stout man. Stationmaster Varghese straightened up, winked at Dumbledore and held his hand out to Mr. Harys.
“Devon Varghese,” he introduced himself, his eyes twinkling again. Mr. Harys grew comfortable, finally.
“Vaibhava Harys,” Maitri’s father introduced himself, slowly seeping into his old booming voice. He accepted the proffered arm. “Nice station you have here. Is this a part of our Central, my good man?”
Varghese nodded. “It is, good sir; has always been a part since the British started railways in India. The very reason being this - Magical Transportation! And yes, sir, I do this noble job!” He finished proudly, making Mr. and Mrs. Harys raise their eyebrows.
He effortlessly picked Maitri’s trunk with a flick of his wand. Dumbledore then helped her settle down in the compartment nearest to the door. The train suddenly puffed up white clouds. Maitri’s breath caught as she watched her baby brother wake up from her train window. She threw the window open and put her head out as her parents came to her. Chandru rubbed his eyes and blinked sleepily at her, before breaking into a loving smile.
“Akka,” he stated simply, and leaned out of their mother’s arms to give her a hug. Their parents smiled and hugged her, too, in a big group hug. They stayed like that until the first whistle blew, Maitri hanging waist up outside the window immersed in the tight family hug.
Her parents finally let go, beaming and her mother, very tearful. Her father was looking at her with a strange smile.
“Do us proud, darling,” he said kissing her forehead. “My brilliant Maitri.“ He smiled and nodded at Dumbledore, who was standing behind Maitri, and stepped back to let Mrs. Harys and Chandru forward.
“Study well, love, and take care of yourself,” her mother said gently and kissed Maitri’s forehead. “Write home, and be bold. You are my brave girl.”
Chandru leaned forward and wrapped her in a hug so fierce that it brought tears to her eyes. He unwrapped and looked at her, smiling so that both his dimples showed up. “Akka,” he said softly, keeping his face nose-to-nose with her. “Get me gifts?” Maitri smiled through her sudden guilt of leaving him behind, and kissed his little cheek, assuring that she would, indeed, how can she not?
With a mischievous smile, Chandru leant back to Mrs. Harys’ arms and looked at Maitri in a contented gaze. Mrs. Harys stroked Maitri’s cheek softly.
“See you soon, my golden one.”
Mr. Harys came forward and stood near his wife and son, wrapping an arm around them. Dumbledore gently pulled Maitri back in and the window closed by itself, slowly. She just stood there, looking at her family, unmoving, a smile etched on her face. The train belched another shrill whistle and lurched forward.
As it moved away, Maitri’s smile faded, but her eyes never left her family, until they became specks and finally disappeared in the distance. Her face became pained, and the hidden tears spilled out as she slumped down on one of the berths, looking at the spot in the window where they’d vanished. It was a sudden fear, as if it might be a long time until she could see them again. An alarming fright that she might not be able to carry her baby brother around and shield him from the Unbeliefs. The sudden realization that she won’t get to make her delicacies she and her mother always made together, laughing, during Diwali and Krishna Jayanthi… She won’t be reading the news headlines to her father, for a very long time. A whole year without her silent grandparents, who always misplaced something for her to find. A whole year, when the sun will rise, travel and set in her hometown skies without her there to watch it and enjoy the nature’s follies, it’s hidden magic. The emotions caught her unawares and she found herself sobbing.
She lift her head and found Dumbledore turning from the window to look at her.
Stop this train, she thought to him, I wanna go home. Dumbledore gazed at her, something along the lines of sympathy in his expression.
“It’s ok to cry, young one,” Dumbledore said in a reassuring voice. “You may not be see them physically for a while, but you can always get back to them, after your school term. Magic makes your life simpler; getting back to that is what is difficult, Maitri.” He leaned forward and put a hand under her chin. “Think about it again, little one; would you rather live the life meant to be for you, or go away from what you are?” Maitri looked at him curiously. He noticed and smiled wanly.
“I could help you get off from the train, now,” he explained, and she flinched, wondering how he could hear her thoughts. “But, you will have missed your chance to learn what Nature has provided you in excess. Magic. You’d be bereft of your control over it, when it burst the boundaries. You don’t want others around you to get hurt, do you?”
Maitri’s eyes grew wide, and she shook her head. Her sobs stopped, as she understood what could have happened if she’d really stopped the train. She wiped her eyes on her sleeves and looked up at the old wizard.
“I- I’m ready, sir,” she stuttered. “I’ll only be who I have to be. I’m sorry; I wouldn’t have stopped the train. I… just miss them.”
Dumbledore’s gaze softened. “It’s alright to miss the ones you love, Maitri. It’s hard to see your parents going away from you… and you are but a child, though you are much braver and many I’ve met. I was only doing my job as a teacher, and I show you where you belong.” He winked at her and leaned back on his seat. “Even though, I don’t get a raise in my salary!” He chuckled at his own joke, as Maitri forced herself to smile. Though a part of her still stayed on the platform with her parents, she was going on this new journey with this old man who was trying to cheer her up. She wanted to know how it was, the new world he mentioned.
It was just like in a story, the train chugged off throughout the sunset, though Maitri peeped at it from the rear window of the last carriage. The lights were magically lit on her way back to her compartment.
Though they made many stops during the long journey, the train seemed to not carry many passengers. Maitri supposed the anterior end of the train was getting filled, for their compartment was near the back, and she couldn’t have missed anyone passing by it. Dumbledore tried to alleviate the silence by inviting her to a game called Exploding Snap, which she didn’t like at the beginning, but found it hilarious when the cards squirted a foul-smelling liquid at the old wizard, who grumpily proceeded to wipe his beard clean with his wand.
“Nasty game,” he muttered sulkily. Maitri eyed him, trying to hide her growing grin. “Never mind, let’s just teach you - Wart-a-Witcha!”
Wart-a-Witcha was, in simpler words, a very idiotic game in which the witch or wizard had to set a tea-table, and whoever set the worst tea would get a bunch of very descriptive warts that spelt LOSER on the fore arm. Maitri could hardly contain her giggles this time, as the warts in Dumbledore’s arm began to spell out even further as to say LOSER MUGWUMP WITH A - when Dumbledore waspishly wiped them out with his wand.
“Can we play, er, Snakes and Ladders? Sir?” Maitri asked him timidly, hoping that a Muggle game might irritate him lesser - and make him feel better, since this one was ALL about luck, and not skill. Dumbledore looked at her curiously, but cracked a smile and nodded, flicking his wand at the tea set and changing it into an elaborate board with real-like miniature snakes writhing over it.
“I could make them still if you want,” Dumbledore offered to little Maitri, who was eyeing the snakes beadily. She looked up suddenly and shook her head.
“They’re not real, are they?” she asked. “Real… and trapped?”
Dumbledore’s gaze hardened, but his smile did not flicker. “They’re not, of course. It’s only magic.”
“Oh,” she said inaudibly, and raised a thin finger to stroke one of the snakes on the board. Dumbledore’s eyes followed the trail warily.
“You like snakes, my dear?” he asked, sounding a bit surprised.
Maitri smiled wanly. “I like all the animals, sir. Even snakes.” She looked at the snakes again and smiled. “If anyone let me, I want to become a person who sells pets.”
Dumbledore nodded absentmindedly and conjured two miniature forms of themselves for them to use as their pieces on the board. The game began spectacularly with Maitri almost getting swallowed by a snake, and Dumbledore standing dangerously near the mouth of another one. The game progressed, unlike the others, quite a bit, until it went all dark outside the window, and the moors were no longer seen.
Dumbledore then neatly tucked her into her berth and she watched as he transformed his hat into a fluffy night cap, and his elaborate suit into flowing midnight blue robes. He settled himself on the opposite berth, looking ridiculous, and too tall for it.
“Socks, m’dear?” he asked, holding up a pair of woolly green socks that had golden coins knitted on it. Maitri giggled and shook her head. She was as warm as she wanted. Dumbledore sighed and enlarged them with a swish of his wand and pulled them on. “Can never have enough socks, don’t you think so, Miss Harys?” he said, and fell asleep right after.
Maitri smiled at his immediately snoring form, and cuddled into her tulsi-scented blanket. She was assured once during the day that they would reach their destination only on the morning after, and could sleep soundly if she wanted to - Mr. Dumbledore would take no offence, never, if a child slept a lot.
“Our destination…?” Maitri had asked almost hesitantly. Dumbledore and her parents had simply stuck on to that word, never revealing where exactly they would get off the train. “Is it, like, somewhere else in the country?”
Dumbledore had chuckled. Again.
“You will see, my dear, you will see.”
The night wasn’t really the night. Though the sky was a deep navy blue, and sparkled with the glow of the endless constellations. Though the crescent moon was shining like a silver sickle. It was completely quiet - not a single frog would croak, nor would a stray cricket chirp. There was a kind of ethereal shimmer around the grass that actually swayed to a non-existent breeze. The violet flowers at the corner of the tracks glowed with strange golden pollen, that scattered softly on the ground next to the flowers, leaving a faint trail of gold in the silver moonlight. At one point in the journey, the train silently chugged towards a cave carved into the hillside, cleverly hidden by the thick foliage hanging off the evergreen trees. The hanging leaves rustled as the train gently pushed through them. It was as if they were whispering to the train. Whispering praise and wonder, and astonishment. A word of courage here and there. A signal of a new course, a new switch of the tracks. They whispered until the train completely disappeared into the cave.
For starters, Maitri didn’t really think it was a cave. It was a tunnel, but the looks of it was that of a cavern, no pinprick of light even at a distance. By all means, they could’ve been going straight into a dark trap. It was so dark, that Maitri’s vision went black. The train, however, was in motion, and moments later, there was a small jolt, after which, the train moved in a rocking manner, almost lulling her back to sleep. She faintly glimpsed a fission of light before falling deeply asleep. Perhaps, it was a tunnel afterall.
The strong smell of ginger tea hit her nose, causing her to wake up. Maitri looked around, confused, not understanding how suddenly it was so bright, when it felt like she’d fallen asleep only a minute ago. She pressed both her palms to her face and muttered a morning prayer, and wiped her sleepiness away. Dumbledore serenely poured out two cups of tea, and smiled at her, his night cap now changed to a pointed wizard’s hat with silver stars on it. She smiled back methodically and raised out of her comfortable berth, and began digging into the small rucksack she’d filled for the train journey. Within minutes, she was brushed, tidied and freshened, before she took her proffered tea. Immediately after a sip, she set her cup down, and hunted down a few powdered substances from her bag and sprinkled them over her tea. She then took a deep breath and smiled, closing her eyes. Dumbledore chuckled, taking in the ritual.
“Little Miss Maitri, so elaborate in her taste,” he complimented, setting his tea down. “Was that cinnamon, my dear?”
“We call it elaichy, Sir,” she explained. “And a bit of cardamom. We Indians like our spices.” She completed proudly, taking a long sip of her enriched tea. “Are we almost there, Sir, our destination?”
“Ah, we shall be arriving there shortly.”
Maitri nodded, and looked out of the window. The whole of yesterday was spent in moors and large expanses of countryside, yet today was no different. However, there were little dots and pieces of civilization in the distance, like grazing animals and a faraway cottage with a puffing chimney. Maitri frowned slightly.
She looked closer at the wandering people on the fields, and did a double take. They were a kind of motley folk, like a group of mixed nationalities living like a global village. In fact, the place didn’t even remotely look like the Indian Subcontinent - nor any place that she had ever heard of. It was filled with tropical plants, and temperate land grasses, neither too warm, nor windy or even chilly. She spotted snow on the faraway peripheral mountains, but the low clouds made it hazy to look at. As the train sped by, more and more people came into view, confusing Maitri’s logical senses beyond question.
The people wore long robes, and weird assortments of equipments hanging off their apparel or arms. They waved cheerfully as the train passed them, and Maitri glimpsed thin, long pieces of wood strapped to their arms in a sort of guard. Farther along, she even saw someone trying to sit on a broomstick, that looked shiny and new; the little boy was laughing with his parents as they watched him zoom a few feet above the ground.
Within moments, Maitri had her nose stuck to the window, as she visually devoured the actions of the people. It was fascinating to her, all these strange activities and bustles. It was magical, in a way, all this new stuff. Brimming with curiosity, she turned to Dumbledore.
“Are they all Believers?” she asked, awed.
Dumbledore smiled. “Yes, but I believe the majority of us call them witches and wizards.”
Maitri’s smile turned quizzical, and she glanced out of the train again.
“What is this place?” she asked, more softly, more to herself than to Dumbledore.
“This place, Miss Harys, is our Magical Interspace,” Dumbledore announced. “The one station that connects trains to all the Magical destinations around the globe.” He suddenly stood up and stretched. “I do believe we have a train scheduled to London in a few hours.” He turned to her and smiled again. “You might want to make sure your things are all packed up, dear. The station is quite close now.”
Maitri nodded dutifully and checked that all of her belongings - a rucksack and her trunk - were secured properly, and swept her eyes around the compartment for anything amiss. The train gradually slowed down and stopped, while Mr. Dumbledore lifted Maitri’s trunk as though it were as light as feather. She followed quietly out of the train, and looked around in astonishment as she found herself on the strangest platform in the whole world.
She was standing on a flimsy wooden board, beneath which were waters of strange nature - they were admittedly blue, yet sparks seem to swirl underneath the surface, giving it the effect of a hundred scaly fishes swimming close to the water surface. Maitri grinned and hopped onto the mud-covered sidewalk about a foot away from the wooden board, which shook slightly on the impact, yet bobbed in its place just below the last step. The sidewalk she stepped on immediately spread out in a million pathways, little boards springing up, indicating cities’ names and the pathways to their respective train-platforms. Dumbledore held out a large hand, and she grasped it with her tiny one and he carefully led her out of the sidewalk, onto a marble patio, beyond which lay a simple iron arch way.
She sucked in an appreciative breath, and a smile of pure glee spread out on her face, as she looked out of the arch under Dumbledore’s arm. This place was the absolute haven of magic! Every direction that she turned to was neck deep in some magical activity. Dumbledore in front of her, Maitri looked around to see them at the crossroads of some magic market, streets sprawling out with goodies’ shops all around them. Basically, most of them held trinkets, but a few here and there sported mysterious plants with leaves or stems waving rather alluringly. A huge block of a building at one end held racks upon racks of papers; newspapers, magazines, any printed that you can ever imagine, propped up the whole length of it.
The trinkets grabbed her attention most admissibly, forcing her to come out from behind the huge wizard, and run forward excited, tugging at Dumbledore, who was openly amused at her efforts to lug him around. She turned around with a pleading face, and he laughed out aloud.
“Go on, dear,” he said, shrugging her grasp off. “You have fun seeing around. I’ll be there when you need me.” He finished and winked at her, and she ran off towards the nearest stalls, gazing enthralled at all the magical objects.
Soon, Maitri had befriended a number of shopkeepers, with her incessant questioning and never-ending curiosity. When most of them heard that she was with a certain “Mr. Dumbledore”, she was heaped with sweets and little gifts, some for her, some to be given to Dumbledore.
“What do you call this?” Maitri asked the dark-skinned owner of Tasmanian Talismans, holding up what looked like a spider arm-guard.
“Tha’, leetle girl, eez a pygmified Acromantula,” he said, puffing his hookah between words. “Bes’ to uze when yeh’re goin’ inta forests.” She frowned slightly wondering what it could do in forests.
“Repels poison?” she asked after a few moments of thinking. The wizard nodded. He reached out for the armguard and set its clasp around Maitri’s wrist. It fit almost perfectly.
“Tha’!” the wizard exclaimed cheerfully. “Fits yeh! Yeh kno’ what? Yeh can keep tha’.”
Maitri looked at him astonished, and back down at the spider. “O-oh, no…” she stuttered. “I… can’t… I’ll pa-pay -”
The wizard cut her off, smiling mysteriously. “Tha’ one’s a mystery to me, youn’ one… I believe I got tha’ from a stranger. Yeh can keep it, gif’ from meh for school.” He winked, crinkling the skin around his beetle black eyes. “But yeh’re fine to buy summat off meh, too,” he added, waving his wrinkled brown hand around his congested stall. Maitri shook her head, already grateful with the arm-guard, and skipped away to the next stall, where they sold miniature stuff.
“Is that a zoo?” Maitri chirped excited, spotting an oddly painted cardboard box. It had long, thin metal bars barricading its insides, and something was moving in it. The leafy patterns were a dead give-away. The witch with the dreadlocks grinned toothily, showing off the whitest teeth Maitri had ever seen.
“Aren’t you a sharp li’l one?” she mused, reaching up to the very topmost shelf of her little shop and carefully lifting the box from its place, and setting on the counter. With a flick of her wand, which had weird symbols painted all over it, she removed the film of dust coating the box. Maitri just smiled back, her eyes glued to the top of the metal rods.
The witch tapped her wand on them, causing the rods to disappear, and put her hand into the box. When she pulled her hand out, it was filled with miniature beasts. A giraffe. A monkey. A hippo. An ostrich. Another dig out followed. More animals tumbled out of her fingers.
A whole pride of lions. A long, curling and uncurling python. A panda that was diligently chewing off a piece of painted bamboo. And then, came the little tigress and her three little tiger cubs.
Maitri squealed with excitement as one of the tiger cubs actually trotted up to her, measuring only the length from her fingertips to the base of her wrist. It sniffed, and blinked up at her with bright golden eyes, before climbing onto her outstretched palm, fitting quite snugly there, making the other customers ogle at her and the miniature cub.
“Duma’s taken quite a liking to yeh, I see,” the saleswitch observed, with a mysterious smile. “Would you like to buy her?”
Maitri’s smile almost instantly vanished. She thought about her mother, who’d never let her keep a pet, out of fear of the mess it would make, and of her Hogwarts letter, which said the school allowed but owls, cats or toads.
“B-but, this is not a real tiger cub, is- is she?” Maitri stammered, wishing fervently there could be a chance for her to buy “Duma”.
The witch’s dreadlocks danced around her face as she shook her head, her eyes twinkling in amusement. “It’s a miniature, and miniatures don’t necessarily have to be real to be animate, my dear.” Maitri nodded happily, not really comprehending the words, but enough to understand that Duma was a little more than a doll. “And that will be 3 galleons, love,” the sales witch added, before turning to the next customer.
Maitri was confused now. She had a bunch of rolled up notes, but it was all Indian money. Hesitantly, she pulled a note out of the wad and held it to the witch, who looked at the note, took it and placed on a weird set of scales, which looked more like a large plate sitting over an old fashioned boiler. Maitri watched fascinated as the boiler gurgled and wiggled a lot, and her note began to disappear. Her eyes widened more when a bunch of big golden and silver coins were dropped on to the plate, like by an invisible hand.
The saleswitch returned from her other customer, reached into the cardboard box again, putting all the other animals inside. At the sight of Maitri, who was still looking at the coins and gaping, she giggled as she extricated 3 gold coins and shoved the rest into a tiny pouch. The little girl hesitantly took the pouch, her eyes still wide and astonished by the currency.
“Here you go,” the older dread-locked witch announced, tapping in mid-air. An elegant bronze cage with thin rods appeared out of nowhere, which was immediately directed to the girl, who reluctantly gave up the tiger cub to it’s new home, new perch.
Feeling that she’d purchased too much on her own, Maitri skipped off to find Dumbledore, her pockets full of sweets and trinkets that had been given to her to be passed on to him.
Dumbledore was found staring at a plant outside the third nursery in the second street Maitri was searching. The plant was tall, wiry, and had a beard, though it was significantly much smaller than Dumbledore’s. Even as Maitri saw, the plant grew before her own eyes. The leaves twisted and turned as they enlarged themselves, and the greenish grey tendrils elongated and thickened until the beard was much longer than before. The flowers rearranged themselves in rows, two tiny electric blue ones peeking out from the centre of the formation. In moments, Maitri found herself looking at the exact replica of Dumbledore in the plant. A green Dumbledore, with flowers for eyes, and tendrils for hair and beard. Undoubtedly, the rest of the features were formed out of leaves.
Maitri pulled up a short way behind the wizard, gazing avidly at the plant. A few moments passed in silence, and suddenly, Dumbledore spun around. When he saw her, he cracked a grin, and moved aside, giving her a complete view of the plant, and vice versa. Immediately, the green Dumbledore-plant began to chuckle, like the original one, and also began to shrink… and morph out. Maitri’s eyes grew wider, and more astonished. Dumbledore smiled, and beckoned her forward.
“What is this… plant, Sir?” she squeaked, clutching at the older wizard’s robes, almost petrified, but still a tad curious. She took a hesitant peek at the ‘plant’ again, and her fears were confirmed. It was now trying to resemble her. In a few moments, Maitri was looking at her own green leafy self, wearing an expression of faint terror.
Dumbledore put a reassuring arm around her shoulders, and crouched down to her height, still scrutinizing the plant, but there was a hint of delight in his merry twinkling blue eyes.
“That, Ms. Harys, was the most impressive plant in the name of Animorphus calistropus, otherwise, known as the Morpher,” Dumbledore said conversationally, waving his arm towards the plant. “This unique plant has the ability to morph its features into whatever or whoever it witnesses.” The green leafy form of Maitri grinned and nodded, winking at Dumbledore, who grinned back. “Albeit, green and mossy.”
That made the Morpher Maitri scowl at him.
The real Maitri laughed, surprised at seeing her own ("albeit, green and mossy") face holding an expression she’d never ever attempted before. The Morpher girl turned to her and smiled. She held out a leafy hand. Maitri’s eyes lit up, as she stretched her own arm out.
“I’m - I’m Maitri,” she said softly. The Morpher grinned and mouthed her back, with no sound coming from the plant. Maitri, startled by her own display, turned to face Dumbledore.
“Are you going to buy this plant?” she asked timidly. Dumbledore took another look at the plant, and chuckled.
“Professor Sprout will love it,” he declared, and dusted his robes before going into the small nursery. Moments later, he was back with a weathered wizard - forgive the poor pun - who was caked with mud and clay the whole way up his arms, and had bits and pieces of greenery adorning his grey hair.
Once the Morpher was safely tucked into a small extensible bag, Dumbledore led Maitri to a little inn that skirted on the edges of the train station. When Maitri held out all the sweets that had been given to her to be passed to him, Dumbledore burst out laughing.
“Oh, you sweet, generous girl!” he exclaimed, in midst of his loud laughter. Maitri turned a deep crimson as she noticed the passers-by smiling at them both. She did know that children of her age would attempt to keep the sweets for themselves, but if she followed that, she knew that she’d be left feeling guilty. Not a very pretty feeling, actually.
Dumbledore finally stopped laughing and accepted half of the sweets, his eyes twinkling so merrily that stars could’ve popped out of them. Maitri graciously accepted the rest, and eagerly showed her little miniature toy-pet, the tiger cub, Duma, and the little trinkets that had been vested upon her. Dumbledore chuckled as she portrayed her experience.
About an hour later, both of them were wandering in the train station, the trunk swinging effortlessly from Dumbledore’s left hand, food packets from the little girl’s. Maitri had chosen her lunch and dinner carefully, for she was a pure vegetarian, according to her culture. Not that she’d like to eat animals, even remotely. Dumbledore had assured her that Hogwarts’ cooks could fit their cuisine to suit each and every student, and even prepare their traditional dishes. His exact words included “there is nothing that Hogwarts’ house-elves cannot make!” Maitri vaguely wondered what house-elves were.
Nevertheless, she was content with his answers to her childish queries. Oh no, if she’d thought he was queer before, she was now convinced he was insane. In a good, believable way.
She now followed him onto a steaming scarlet train, that was puffing contentedly. In bright, blazing black paint, it declared LONDON.
Their final destination. For today.
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