Biggleswade, a village on the far northern edge of what could be called the London suburbs, had been a quiet town for centuries. In the weeks that followed his visit to Diagon Alley, Liam found it exceedingly dull. There was nothing around him to rival the excitement of that crowded street, with its strange shops and dangerous fare.
He found himself thinking more and more about the deadly spider, growing ever larger. "What if no one bought it?" he wondered. "What would the shop-keeper do with it if it got full grown? What would he feed it? Where would he keep it?"
Tim, his closest friend from his grade school days, also seemed dull and uninteresting when compared with Michael Bendrix. Michael seemed so knowledgeable about the Magical World. Liam longed to question his new friend and learn as much as he could before he started school. Instead, he was stuck in this old forgotten town with his old best friend. To Liam's great irritation, Tim could not seem to remember anything Liam had told him recently.
"Where are you going to school?" asked Tim one day, as the two boys walked in the shade of the trees by the old polo grounds.
"I told you already. Lakewood," said Liam. "Lakewood Prep."
"Where is it, again?"
"Up in Scotland, somewhere."
"I still don't know why you don't just come to Thursgood's with me."
"I told you, I got a scholarship."
"But, you didn't do any better on those tests than I did!"
"It's the questions! It's how I answered them. It's like a psychology test." Liam wasn't making this bit up off the top of his head. He had recently read the Lakewood Prep letter, without touching it, as it lay on his desk, and it said something very similar. He had even read those words, over the phone, to his father.
"I've half a mind to believe you're making the whole thing up," said Tim. "I better not come home this fall and find out you've been here the whole time."
"You shan't," said Liam coldly, "because I shan't be." Liam gazed across the wide grass field. His left hand itched. He longed to do some magic. Instead, he crammed his hand in his pocket.
The boys were nearing the end of their friendship, and they both could sense it. They both had one foot in their past and the other in the future.
Liam was happier when he was at home, for there he felt he could still perform magic. Instead of pushing his cars around the plastic track in his room, he would lie on his bed and make them fly. He would make his little red car dive bomb his desk, then rise suddenly and make a great arc around the room.
At night, he would drag out the books and other items he had purchased at Diagon Alley. On a clear, warm night, Uncle Charlie helped him set up the small telescope, and the three of them (including Patrick) gazed up at the stars until it was well past the boy's bedtime.
Liam was also very interested in his apothecary kit. He was careful to bring it out only when Patrick was out of the house, for he knew his brother would scatter the ingredients about. He gazed at each item and looked them all up in his books - thinly sliced death-cap mushrooms, powdered root of asphodel, black ground scarab beetles, and a sweet smelling herb called jasmine heather.
Looking through his potions book, having skipped past sleeping draughts and love potions, he found a chapter on "Common Poisons." These recipes he poured over, looking back and forth between the words and the apothecary kit. "Young wizards and witches," read the book's disclaimer, "should keep some bezoars at the ready, and not attempt any of the following without strict adult supervision."
"Brilliant!" thought Liam.
The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1, on the other hand, gave him pause. All the spells seemed to require an incantation, and each was a mouthful: Wingardium Levioso, Alohomora, Petrificus Totalus. Worse, each spell also required some sort of wand motion to make it work, some combination of twirling, swishing or flicking.
"Can't these people just do magic?" he wondered.
Patrick had picked up on the fact that Liam had been neglecting Hexwood's wand. One afternoon, while their mother was working, and Liam was pouring over his books, Patrick asked him, "Are you ever going to use that thing?"
Knowing that the next question would be, "Can I have it?" Liam picked up the wand and tried the Wingardium Levioso charm on his car. He kept mangling the words, however, and he couldn't get the right combination of swishing and flicking.
Patrick watched his brother struggle with curiosity. Liam had always been good at magic, but now he seemed flummoxed. "Let's try another," said Patrick after a few minutes, in which the car had yet to even move.
They poured through the book and settled on the "opening locked doors" charm. The incantation was simpler, by contrast, to the levitation charm, and all one needed to do with the wand is give the handle a tap.
The two boys first went to the front door, but then, Liam had some doubts. "What if I unlock it and we can't get it locked again?"
"Let's try it on the loo first," suggested Patrick. "We can always say we were horsing around, and the lock just broke."
This was entirely plausible. So, the two brothers went to the water closet. Patrick went into the room, closed the door and pushed in the privacy lock. Liam had Hexwood's wand in his left hand while struggling to keep the spell book open to the right page with his right. He took one more look at the directions before setting the book face down on the floor. "Alohomora!" he whispered, and gave the handle at tap.
On his second try, he heard the door handle pop. "That did it!" said Patrick.
"Now lock it again," said Liam. He heard his brother push in the button. Liam tried the handle with his right hand. "It's locked. We didn't break it."
Patrick opened the door. "Let's try it on the front door, now!"
Liam went outside, but quickly had second thoughts. He remembered Granger's warning about keeping his magic secret. Before Patrick could shut the door, Liam said, "Wait, Pat. Let's try the back door."
Liam went around through the gate to the backyard, while Patrick stayed in the house. Once in the backyard, Liam took a quick look around. None of the neighbors seemed to be paying them any mind. He tried the handle. It turned, but the bolt held the door fast. Gazing at the door, he wondered, "Should I tap the handle or the lock?" This wasn't a simple privacy lock, but a bolt meant to keep out intruders.
He concentrated hard on the bolt, said the incantation, and tapped the lock. To his surprise, on his first try, the bolt slid back and the door opened slightly. "Nice work!" said Patrick. "Can I try it?"
Liam gave his brother a hard stare. "Be careful. You can't break it. I'm sure they're really expensive, and I'd have to go back to Diagon Alley to get another."
Patrick shrugged. Liam kept staring at him until finally he said, "All right, I 'll be careful!" Liam handed the wand over, and his little brother spent the next hour locking and unlocking the doors of the house. Liam continued reading about poisons. When he heard the television on, he went into the room where his brother was sitting and took back the wand. Patrick had left it lying on the floor.
The summer waned, and Patrick started school. Liam grew increasingly impatient, waiting to go to Hogwarts. Tim had left for Thursgood's already. Liam had gone to see him off, but it was raining, and the two boys said very little to one another before Liam went back home.
September the first was a Wednesday. Annie took the day off work to see her eldest son off. Patrick begged to come and after some resistance from his mother, was allowed to make the journey by rail to King's Cross Station in London.
The morning Liam left home, it was raining steadily. His belongings were packed neatly in a sturdy trunk with a pair of wheels on one end, and a handle on the other, so that he could pull it. His mother drove the two boys to the station in Biggleswade, and the three of them rode into London, much as they had on the day Liam visited Diagon Alley.
"It seems silly," said Annie, "to be riding south to catch this train, when it's just going to take you north again. You should be able just to catch it as it rides by the house."
Liam shrugged. "I guess it doesn't stop."
"I've never seen or heard of a Hogwart's Express train before. You'd think, with twelve million people about, someone might have noticed it."
"It's a magic train," said Liam quietly. "You can't see it."
"Then why hasn't anyone been run over by it?"
"They're bright people. I'm sure they've fixed things so that doesn't happen."
Soon the three of them were walking through King's Cross Station, which was bustling with people. They made their way to platforms nine and ten. Liam had expected to be able to see the entrance to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, much as he had been able to see the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. Instead, there was nothing but a blank brick wall.
"Do you see the entrance?" Annie asked. Liam shook his head. "How 'bout you, Patty?"
"No," said Patrick. "It's just a wall."
They stared at the wall for a minute, giving nervous glances to each other. Annie checked her watch. "It's quarter to eleven, boys. We've got to figure this out, or Liam will miss his train."
"Excuse me," said a voice behind them. "Are you trying to get on the platform?"
They turned with a start. Another family had approached while they were standing there, a woman with two daughters. The girls both had trunks on trolleys. On top of one of the trunks was a cage with a large brown owl inside.
The woman smiled kindly at Liam. "Off to Hogwarts, are we?" She extended a hand to Annie. "How do you do. I'm Tania Guishar, and these are my daughters, Lucida and Lara." The woman had a thick accent which sounded vaguely French. (Liam would learn much later it was a mix of French and Russian.) "Lucy is a prefect this year, we are so proud of her. And my little Lara is a first year. Just like you, no?"
"Um, yes, I'm a first year," answered Liam.
Lara was hanging back, trying to keep in the shadow of her older sister. Lucida wrapped her arm around her sister and pushed her forward. "Come on, Lara, don't be shy. Say hello to the boy."
Liam had not shown much interest in girls up to that point, but he knew a pretty girl when he saw one, and Lara was pretty. She had golden brown hair that went down to her shoulders. Her face was pale and brown eyes were wide as she gazed back at him. She reluctantly took the hand that Liam offered her and let it go almost immediately.
"What's come over you?" chided Lucy. "Honestly, she's not usually this shy." Lucy held out her hand to Liam. "My name is Lucy, and I'm a prefect. So, if you need anything, if you get lost or something, and you see me, just come right up to me and I'll help you. The castle is pretty big. It's easy to get turned around, but the older kids are always willing to help a younger student."
"It's nearly eleven, girls," said Mrs. Guishar. "Shall we go? Lucy, take the first years through to the platform."
"Come on," said Lucy. She reached out and took both Liam and Lara's hand. "Keep one hand on my trolley. Just walk towards the barrier and you'll pass right through it!" They walked together, Liam and Lara pulling their trunks behind them with their free hands. Just before they hit the barrier, Liam blinked. When his eyes opened, he was on the other side.
Before him was a grand engine of scarlet and chrome, wreathed in steam. The platform was crowded with people, some in jeans, slacks and dresses, others in flowing black robes and pointed hats.
"There you are," said Lucy. "Welcome to Platform Nine and Three Quarters!"
Liam gave Lara another glance. She was still watching him with a strange look, a mix of suspicion and fear. Liam smiled at her, trying to put her at ease, and fished for something to say. Before he could think of anything, Mrs. Guishar came through the barrier, along with Liam's mother and brother.
"Whoah!" exclaimed Patrick. "Nice train!"
The Guishar sisters quickly found friends among the crowd. Lucy eased up to a tall boy with a pointy hat, who had a shiny letter "P" pinned to his black cloak. Lara was huddled with another girl, with wavy, dark blond hair. The two girls were whispering to each other and casting dark looks at Liam. Farther down the platform, Hermione Granger stood, speaking to another boy.
He decided to ignore them all. He pulled his trunk along the side of the train until he found a car that was mostly empty. He boarded the train, found an empty compartment and stashed away his trunk. Then, he went outside to find his family.
His mother and brother had followed him, and stood waiting for him as he disembarked. "You fit right in here, don't you?" said Annie.
Liam nodded. "These are my people now. I'm a member."
She wrapped his arm around him. There were tears in her eyes and a crack in her voice as she spoke. " You have a good term, now. We'll miss you."
"Will you write me?" he asked her.
"Tania said you should send me a note with one of the school owls, and I'll send it back with a letter."
"I'll write you. I promise."
"You're a brave boy, Liam."
"I'm not afraid." To prove the point, Liam pulled away from his mother, and looked up at the train car. He pulled in a deep breath and fixed a look of resolve on his face. It was time to put those words into action.
[That's it for this batch! I hope to have more for you all by the end of summer. Next up: Liam's first trip to Hogwarts! The train ride, the ride across the lake, sorting and more. In the meantime, spread the word, and write comments. Thanks for all the support so far! Fondly, Cartmell]
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