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Chapter 4 : The Pregnant Hero
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The Pregnant Hero
About a month later, Liam found himself on the train to London with his mother and brother. It had been a nervous wait - Annie Keats had seemed perpetually on the verge of changing her mind about the whole thing. Liam could see that she regretted her assenting to Liam's request to go to Hogwarts almost immediately. The only thing that kept her from calling it off was the fact that Liam's father was opposed to the idea.
They had told him the name "Lakewood Prep" instead of "Hogwarts." Both Liam and his mother agreed that this was best. No one had told them not to use the word "Hogwarts," but there was so much secrecy inherent in the brochure, and in Harkenborough's visit with his plain clothes and shabby car, that Annie and Liam agreed they had better keep this quiet.
Sean Wren had not heard the name of Lakewood Prep before - it wasn't discussed in his regular pub, nor were any of his work acquaintances sending their children there. Mostly though, because Annie seemed to be in favour of Lakewood, Sean was opposed to it. And likewise, because Sean was opposed to Liam going there, Annie in turn had to be for it, despite her grave misgivings.
This was played out over the phone. Liam would sit in the hallway and listen to his mother's side of the conversation. "I know you've never heard of it, but that doesn't mean it isn't a top school . . . The reviews I've heard are all for the good . . . As a matter of fact, they don't wear orange knickerbockers at Lakewood . . . You may think it insignificant, but Liam doesn't . . . ." He waited with bated breath for any sign that his mother was wavering, but the arguments with Liam's father only strengthened her resolve.
Still, July 10th could not come soon enough. Liam spent hours gazing at the paper Harkenborough had given him, stating the address and cross streets of the entrance to Diagon Alley. The last words were, "Enter through the Leaky Cauldron." What sort of a place is that? Liam wondered.
The direction sheet told them at which station they should disembark. Through the turnstiles they went, and out into the bright London morning. Annie found the right street, and she led the boys down it, past one ordinary looking store after another. Suddenly, there it was, a dingy looking pub with the name "Leaky Cauldron" over the door.
Annie was nearly past it when Liam called out, "Mum, it's right here!"
She looked back at Liam and said, "That's just a music shop, Liam-lad."
Patrick could see it too. "Next to the music store, Mum!"
She turned and looked, puzzled, in the direction Patrick was pointing. At that moment, Liam understood . "She can't see it, Patty," he said.
Taking his mother's hand, he said, "Close your eyes, Mum. We'll get you there."
Patrick took Annie's other hand. She gazed down at Liam and said, "Taking me down the rabbit hole, are you now?" She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes. Liam and Patrick pulled her forward. Liam turned the handle on the door and opened it wide as he and his brother eased their mother through it.
The room was dark, which was just as well, for what Liam could see of the decor was old and shabby. He felt his mother's hand tighten in his as she whispered, "What sort of a place is this?"
An ugly looking woman with a great wart on her nose gazed curiously at them. "Tom," she called, "you've got a customer."
The barman looked up. His head was bald and his skin wrinkled. "Come on in," he said. "You're blocking the door." The trio didn't move right away, but stayed still, eyes darting nervously about. The barman stared keenly back at them. He called out, "Ned. Ned! Go get Granger. We've got some Muggleborns 'ere."
From a back room came a woman in a flowing black cloak. Her brown hair was cut short, and she had a wide warm smile on her lips. "Oh hello there! We weren't sure you were coming, but I wanted to be here just in case." The woman had an odd waddle when she walked. She looked first to Liam and said, "Are you, by chance, Liam Wren?"
"Then you must be Patrick Wren."
"Yes, and I want to come here too!"
"In time," said Granger, with a laugh. She extended a hand to Annie and said, "How do you do, Mrs. Wren, I'm Hermione Granger."
"My name is Annie. Annie Keats."
"I kept my maiden name, too," said Hermione brightly. "I've been Mrs. Ronald Weasley for some time now, but professionally I'm still Hermione Granger." As Hermione spoke, she ran her hand idly across her stomach, pressing the robe she wore flat against it, revealing a prominent bulge.
"Are you expecting?" asked Annie.
"Yes," said Hermione with a blush. "I'm due in October."
That magic people got married and had babies in the normal way seemed to put Annie greatly at ease. Hermione was able to lead them away from the door to a brick wall that was off to the side. She drew her wand from a pocket of her cloak and tapped one of the bricks.
A hole appeared in the wall, which grew until the wall had become a grand brick archway, beyond which was a narrow alleyway lined with shops. In front of the nearest store, brightly polished cauldrons stood in a teetering stack.
"Here's your list of supplies," said Hermione. She handed Liam a paper with a long list of items. As he gave the list a quick scan, she asked, "Did you bring your wizard money with you?"
He nodded. "Then, I think, the first place we ought to go is to Ollivanders, to get you a wand."
"Oh," said Liam. "Got one."
"You do?" asked Hermione, surprised. "Well then, let's go off to Madam Malkin's to get your uniform."
As they walked, Hermione said, "Glyn mentioned that you remembered the war. That wasn't in our records, though it isn't too surprising. You must have lost someone dear to you."
"Yes. My brother lost his fiancé. She died in '96."
Hermione set her hand on Annie's arm. "I'm terribly sorry. I lost some close friends, too. It really was a hard time for all of us. Have you ever wondered why so many people have forgotten all the terrible things that happened during those years?"
"You made them forget, didn't you?" said Annie, darkly.
"That was the decision, yes, though I was really too young at the time to be part of the process. What we found, though, was that our spells worked only on a certain percentage of the population. If the non-magical person had lost a loved one during the war, that person would still remember.
"And that's how it should be, I think. Love truly is the most potent form of magic, after all. It over-rode anything that we could do."
They had reached the shop. Hermione said, "My husband, Ron, told me today, when I said that I might be meeting you here, that eleven year old boys do not always like their mothers hanging around while they're trying on clothes. Shall we stay out here, then?" she asked Liam.
Liam nodded. "I'll be all right."
"Well then, if it's all right with you, Annie, why don't we take young Patrick here over to the pet shop for a few minutes, while Liam gets fitted."
Liam walked into the shop and shut the door behind him. As he did, a little bell rang and a woman's voice called out from the back of the shop, "Be with you in a moment!"
A dark haired boy, right around Liam's height, was peering out the window. "Was that Hermione Granger out there?" he asked.
"Do you know her?" asked the other boy.
"Not really. We're here for orientation."
"Oh, you must be Muggleborn, then."
"I guess so."
"Not that there's anything wrong with bein' Muggleborn. Some people will still hold their noses up at you, but they're just as likely to hold their noses up at the likes of me, too. I just ignore people like that."
Liam shrugged."What's so special about her?"
"Who, Granger? I guess you wouldn't know. She fought in the war. She was at the Battle of Hogwarts."
Feeling he should contribute something to the conversation, Liam said, "I heard the castle was damaged in the war, but they fixed it up after."
"I took a tour there last week, with my cousin Archie. It's as good as new." The boy stuck out his hand. "I'm Mike, by the way. Mike Bendrix."
"Liam Wren." The two boys shook hands.
"You a First Year, like me?" asked Michael. Liam nodded. "You bought much of your things yet?"
"No. This is my first stop."
"How 'bout, when we're done here, I show you 'round the place."
A woman, who Liam assumed was Madam Malkin, although she didn't wear a name tag, took the boys back behind the counter for their fitting. As she worked, Michael kept up a steady stream of information.
"First thing, once we get to the castle, we'll be sorted into Houses. Don't know how it's done, but it's pretty important, 'cause that's where you'll live an' all.
"Most guys I know want to be in Gryffindor, of course. All the great heroes came from Gryffindor - Potter, Dumbledore. Granger out there, she was a Gryffindor, and so's the Headmistress.
"But, the way I see it, that's a lot of pressure, don't you think? Having to live up to all that. Now, there's plenty of people who think Hufflepuffs are duffers, you know? No better than squibs, right? But, my cousin Archie's a Hufflepuff, so I think that talk's all bunk."
Liam nodded. He didn't know what a squib was, but he certainly knew about people looking down on other people for no good reason.
"All the smart kids end up in Ravenclaw," continued Michael, "so that about counts me out. There've been a ton of bad dudes that came out of Slytherin. But, I don't know what it's like these days. It may be totally different, you know, after the war. Archie told me not to worry about it. He says I'm not Slytherin material.
"Well, that's it - Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. We'll be sorted into Houses, and then there'll be a big meal. The food's really good there, I hear."
"That's good," said Liam. "I like eating good food."
On and on the conversation went. Michael jumped from topic to topic - the Forbidden Forest, the nearby town of Hogsmeade, wizard candy, the Weasley joke shop. It was really more than Liam could keep in his head. But, he was happy. He was a full-fledged member of the Magical Community of Great Britain, and he'd already made a friend.
"We'll have your clothes ready in an hour," the woman told them when she was finished. "Mr. Bendrix, shall we be putting this on your grandmother's account?"
"Sir," she said, turning to Liam, "you're new. I'll have to ask you to pay now."
"I've got money for you," said Liam, drawing out the leather bag from his pocket. "How much I owe you?"
Once Liam had settled the bill, the two boys went outside. Liam ran up to his mother, then called out, "Hey Mike, come here." Mike followed, but hung back a little, suddenly shy. "This is me Mum, and me brother, Patty."
Liam followed his new friend's eyes, and realized what was making him so bashful. "And this here," he added with a wry grin, "is Hermione Granger. Michael here tells me you're a war hero - that you fought in the Battle of Hogwarts."
"Yes, I did," she said, blushing too, "but I don't think I did anything really heroic. It was a dark and scary night for all of us."
Patrick interrupted to say, "They sell broomsticks here, Liam! People really fly on them! Wizards, too, not just witches."
"Just so you know," added Hermione, "First Years are not allowed their own broomsticks."
"I know," said Liam. "It says that on my paper. We're gonna go buy some more stuff on the list. Come on Mike. What's next?"
"Bookstore," said Mike, finally finding his voice again.
As they scampered away, a shrill voice called out, "Maurice!"
Michael cringed and turned slowly around. "Yes, Grand-mum?"
A hunched old woman was standing near one of the shops. "Did you put the clothes on my account?"
"Where are you off to next?"
"The book store."
"Keep to the list, mind you. I don't want you running up the bill on me."
"Yes 'm." He waited a beat for her to give another instruction. When she didn't, he added, "I'm showing me mate Liam 'round. We'll see you later, all right?" She nodded, and the two boys scampered off.
"Maurice?" asked Liam slyly.
"Maurice Michael Graham Bendrix, at your service," answered Michael glumly. "I've got four names, and only one is worth a Knut."
In the bookstore, Liam and Mike went right down the list and bought all of the same books, except that Liam didn't buy One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, because he had his uncle's copy and he wanted to stretch his money as far as he could.
Next door, the boys each bought a small telescope. Michael then led Liam to the apothecary to buy their potion kits. Liam picked up his brass scale there, too (Michael had inherited one from an older cousin.) He also priced the glass phials against the crystal ones, and settled on glass (the difference was considerable).
At a nearby shop, the two boys bought pewter cauldrons. (Liam just shook his head at the solid gold one worth 1,000 galleons.)
Bags full, the key items purchased, Michael brought Liam finally over to the Magical Menagerie. Inside was a bewildering array of animals - purple toads, poisonous orange snails, owls and snakes of every size and color.
In a box by the window was a litter of black cats. Liam looked fondly down upon them and wished that he didn't have to pinch his pennies quite so tightly. Michael dragged him by the sleeve away from the yellow eyed beauties. "Bad luck, those," he said. "Come on, you've got to see this."
At the back of the store was a glass case that looked to be empty except for a pile of rubbish in one of the corners. Michael tapped the glass. "Come on," he urged. "Come out."
"What's in there?" asked Liam.
"You'll see," answered Michael. A clerk was passing by in a stained robe. His hair was matted, and he had a bad case of acne. "Hey," said Michael to the clerk. He pointed to the glass case and asked, "Can we feed it?"
"All right," said the clerk, reluctantly. The boy reached up to a shelf above the glass case and brought down a large jar full of fat crickets, each over two inches long. "There's a slot in the top of the case. Just open the little one," said the boy, sternly.
Michael did so, as the pimply boy drew out a cricket from the jar. Its legs wriggled frantically in the air. Liam drew back a step, then watched with fascination as the black insect fell into the soft sand at the base of the cage.
Its tiny legs clawed desperately at the glass wall for a moment, and then the thing got perfectly still. "Come on," urged Micheal.
And then, out it came - a spider almost as large as the kittens at the front of the store, with long legs and eerie, bulbous eyes. It pounced on the cricket and drew the meal quickly back into its lair.
Liam recoiled in horror. As the clerk walked away, Liam whispered to Michael, "What was that thing?"
"A baby Acromantula," said Michael, with awe in his voice.
"A baby!" cried Liam. "How big do the grown ones get?"
"About as big as a car."
"Who's gonna keep a thing like that as a pet?"
"You don't keep it as a pet," answered Michael. "They're for guarding buried treasure or protecting a remote estate from squatters. They eat people when they're grown."
Outside the shop, the two boys were greeted by an excited Patrick. "Liam!" he cried. "Did you see the spider?"
"I got to feed it!" said Patrick. "I got to drop the cricket in myself!"
Liam gave a quick shudder. Looking up at his mother, he asked, "Did you see it?"
"I didn't dare," said Annie. "We have your gowns. If you're ready, we'll get going."
From behind them, there was another shrill cry, "Maurice!"
"I've got to go," said Michael. "See you on the train, all right?"
"See you. Thanks for being a pal."
Michael nodded, then turned and ran over to his grandmother.
Hermione was sitting on a bench nearby. She called out, "Before you leave, let me have a quick word with Liam."
Liam brought his bag of supplies over to where she was sitting. She looked tired, and she stroked her stomach as she sat. "I've given your mother your train ticket, and the instructions on how to get on the train platform.
"I'll try to be there to help you - it can be confusing your first time. But, everyone will be coming through the same way, so if I'm not there, another witch or wizard should be glad to help you."
She took his hand in hers and held it a moment. "You're part of us, now, Liam. You're a member of the Magical Community. And as a member, you'll have to start following our rules. That means no displays of magic in front of non-magical people. I don't mean your mother and uncle, but anyone else shouldn't see it.
"Your mother tells me that you've already started using the name 'Lakewood' instead of 'Hogwarts.' That's for the best. If any of your friends and relatives want to know where you're going to school, there's a Lakewood website for them to visit.
"If the word 'Hogwarts' does slip out, that's the name of the dormitory where the Lakewood First Years stay. Have you got that?"
"I know this can be overwhelming. My parents were Muggles, too. I was so worried as girl that I wouldn't fit in, that I would be all alone. Here you are on your first day, and you've already made a friend. You're going to be a fine wizard, Liam."
"Thank you, " he said. He turned and left the pregnant hero sitting quietly on the bench, and led his family back towards the Leaky Cauldron.
[Next up: The trip to Platform 9 3-4!]
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