I get through Security and Passport Control by prefacing every encounter I have with ‘I’ve never been on a plane before.’ Strangely enough, I don’t get as many weird looks as I thought I would, and at the end of it I’m in my departure lounge and I haven’t been mistaken for a terrorist, so that’s always a plus. I know I have to listen out for when they announce Flight WhateverNumber’sOnMyBoardingPass to Athens and join the queue that will form immediately outside the gate. I’m just looking forward to getting on the thing, knowing I won’t be left behind, and that’s one less thing I have to deal with.
It’s weird being alone. I’ve only been out of Hogwarts two months, and at Hogwarts you’ve got hundreds of people in your face all the time. And even at home, having a family like mine means solitude is pretty hard to come by. I always used to lament my lack of privacy, but I’ve gotten used to it now. It’s like spending your life wrapped in a warm, comfortable blanket and eighteen years later having it ripped away from you without warning. I shiver.
And then my boarding call comes.
“First time flying, love?” a kindly middle-aged woman sitting next to me asks. The plane is taking off and I’m gripping the armrest with all my strength. I have no idea what my expression is like, but I have a feeling it’s similar to what Dad looked like when he took that Avada Kedavra in the Battle of Hogwarts.
“Yeah,” I manage.
“It can be a little scary at first.”
You’re telling me.
“I remember when I flew for the first time I was about your age – was a much smaller plane, mind. The bigger planes are better, of course – you don’t feel the bumps so much.”
She has this smile on her face, like she’s revisiting fond memories. Muggles are weird.
“So what are you doing in Athens?” she continues.
Time to break out the lies. “Uh, I’m going to university there.”
Way to lie, Lily. That was phenomenal.
“Really? What are you studying?”
“Um, archaeology.” There we go. Nice lie, right there. Please don’t make me follow it up.
“Archaeology, fascinating. Do you know anyone else going?”
I shake my head. “Just me.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a Gryffindor.” Oh no, I just said that aloud.
“Nothing,” I say quickly.
“What’s your name anyway?”
“Tracey. I’m just heading over for a holiday. I’m catching the ferry to Santorini, actually. Spend a couple of weeks there, just get away from it all. My husband just left me, so here I am. Free as anything, do what I want.” She forces a smile, and to my alarm she starts crying. Awkwardly, I offer her a tissue.
“Thank you. God, I’m sorry. I’m not usually such a mess.”
“It’s okay, you didn’t see me earlier when I was saying goodbye to my family. Bawled my eyes out.”
She gives me a feeble smile, and for some reason I feel like crying again. No, Lily. Get a grip. You don’t want to arrive in Greece snotty-nosed and puffy-eyed.
“Quite a pair, aren’t we?” Tracey asks, seeing my swimming eyes.
Nothing like crying with a stranger on a plane. I’ve been in the Muggle world barely three hours and already I’ve decided it’s ten times weirder than anything the wizarding has to offer.
I pass the entire flight talking to Tracey, swapping life stories – well, the Statute of Secrecy-approved version of my life story anyway – and when we land I tell her to have a good time in Santorini and forget about her loser husband for a while.
I’ve made friends already. Fantastic. Never mind the fact she’s a Muggle, I’ll never see her again and now I’m in Athens and I have no idea where the hell I’m going now.
I go through passport control again, follow the signs to baggage collection and emerge into a large arrivals area while entertaining the vain hope that university staff will be standing there holding a big sign with my name on it.
I sort of had this assumption that things would just sort themselves out once I got here, but it’s beginning to dawn on me now that it hasn’t, and it won’t. And I would love to send an owl to the university, but I don’t have an owl, and I can’t exactly infiltrate the Greek wizarding society from the Muggle one.
Great work, Lily. You’re stuck in Muggle Athens and you’ll probably be sleeping in a doorway tonight with a whole lot of creepy homeless drug users.
I dig into my bag for the Introduction to EUS booklet and flick through it, trying to find anything about ‘Getting to the university from Athens International Airport.’ Funnily enough, there’s nothing.
I find the best, clearest picture I can of the university itself—a big, white marble building with an exterior colonnade, shut myself in a toilet, focus as hard as I can, and Apparate there.
“What the hell, man!” a distinctly un-Greek voice yells.
I don’t dare open my eyes. Oh God. I’ve Apparated to America. After all that.
Carefully, I risk a peek around. I’m on a large, arid hill surrounded by people with cameras and flanked by tall, crumbling, slightly yellowing buildings with columns and no roofs.
Nope, I’m on the Acropolis.
I’m on the freaking Acropolis.
I’m even more screwed than I was before. I’m in the middle of a massive Muggle tourist destination with a suitcase. This would be funny – if I knew I’d be getting out alive. Seeing as I don’t know that yet, I’m not seeing the funny side.
After a couple of hours milling around not being sure what to do and trying unsuccessfully to look casual and blend in, I decide on my plan of action, running into the Parthenon, Confunding the Muggle who tries to stop me, hiding behind a column and sending a Patronus message to Mum.
Hey Mum, uh, I’m kinda stuck on the Acropolis. Don’t ask, just find out for me how I’m meant to get to university from here. Thanks!
Five minutes later I get a message back, and I have to Confund some more Muggles.
You’re on the Acropolis? Why doesn’t that surprise me? Just owled the university, someone will come and get you from there.
I wonder how long it would take for an owl to get from England to Athens. I sit in the Parthenon, brooding. It’s starting to get dark, and the tourists are leaving.
“You in there!” a scary looking security guy bellows at me.
He wanders off again. Thank you Dad for teaching me that one.
It’s late. Really late. And cold. I pull my bedding out from my suitcase and curl up into a ball. First night in Greece and I’m camping out in the Parthenon. This is ridiculous.
Hurry up, owl. Get here.
I’m really, really tired. Might just close my eyes for a bit.
“Good evening,” a heavily accented voice says. I leap to my feet, heart racing.
“Who’re you?” I demand.
“Are you…” he pulls out a piece of paper, “Lily Potter?”
Greek Guy smirks. “We just received an owl from your mother.”
“This is not the usual way we receive our students,” Greek Guy continues.
“I can imagine,” I mutter. I’m tired, cold and embarrassed, and in no mood to be friendly.
“We will Apparate to the university,” Greek Guy continues, holding out his arm. Feeling slightly awkward, I take it. I hate Apparition. Whoever invented it should be AK’d.
We arrive in a grassy area and I glance around to notice a whole lot of white marble buildings that look like they were designed in the Classical Period, but it’s dark and I’m tired and I don’t really take much in other than that. Greek Guy leads me to one of the bigger buildings, where I can see a few lights and therefore signs of life, and takes his leave. I walk through what I assume is the main entrance, and approach the desk where a grumpy-looking Greek witch is listening to Celestina Warbeck.
“Hello,” I say in what I hope is a friendly tone.
The woman grunts.
“I’ve just arrived,” I prompt.
“I can see.”
“Where am I, exactly?”
“This is student accomodation. You stay in student accomodation?”
“You have been accepted?”
I nod again.
“What is your name?”
“Lily Potter,” she repeats. “You are in room two hundred fourteen. Here is your key. You are upstairs.” She gestures to a marble staircase. “Staircase moves.”
“Like Hogwarts,” I note happily.
She looks at me. “Staircase in England go nowhere. Staircase in Greece take you to your room.”
Feeling slightly affronted, I pick up my bag and head for the staircase. Just because the Hogwarts staircases have minds of their own. It made life more fun. Hogwarts is quirky. I miss it.
Don’t cry, Lily.
I step off the staircase as it deposits me in front of the door labelled 214, slip the key into the lock, step inside and cast lumos maxima.
It’s small, with white marble walls and a large window on one side. There’s a bed along one wall, and a desk and shelves along the other. The window is open and a cool breeze comes in, rippling the white curtains. Everything’s too white. I’ll do some Colour Change Charms tomorrow.
Feeling suddenly exhausted, I pull my bedding out of my suitcase, dump it on my bed and collapse, grateful that I don’t have the chance to dwell on how alone I feel.
I wake up at 11am with no idea where to get food or to shower, which I must admit are my priorities right now. Shower. Shower shower shower. I poke my head out, peering down the corridor and shuffling out. Aha! Shower! I bolt back into my room, gathering clothes and other shower essentials and cautiously opening the door.
There’s a long row of shower cubicles, magically expanded inside with separate showering and changing areas. Though at this point I would be happy with a fountain outside, because I smell, and I feel gross.
Half an hour later, with my will to live restored, I decide to go for a bit of a wander, hoping that I’ll come across some people because the place seems so empty and quiet.
As I head down the corridor I can hear a babble of voices somewhere below me. Maybe they’re in the dining room. I could so do with some food, and with this in mind, hop onto the staircase without knowing where it would take me.
It takes me to the dining room. I could get used to the staircase.
I feel slightly apprehensive walking into the room crowded with students and not knowing a soul, but I keep my focus firmly on the food being served at the front and take a seat in a nice, inconspicuous place in the corner.
“Hey,” a girl with a distinctly American accent says. She’s tall, a bit plump, with strawberry blonde hair and a nervous smile. “Mind if I sit here?”
“Not at all,” I say agreeably. “What’s your name?”
“Amber. Amber Fullman.”
“You’re from the UK?”
“Sure am. You’re American, I take it.”
“Yeah, I’m from Montana.”
“What brings you here?” I ask. “I thought America would have its own university?”
“It does, but I wanted something different. Can’t get much more different than this.”
“I know, right? I’ve just come from a thousand-year-old castle.”
“I’ve just come from Salem Witches’,” Amber says wryly. “I haven’t even laid eyes on a boy – apart from my brothers – for the past seven years. So yeah, this is different.”
“Really?” I ask incredulously.
“Really,” she confirms. “I actually have no idea how to talk to them. And I don’t know anyone here, because all my friends went to Leonard Kleinfelt. That’s our university, by the way.”
“I’m in the same situation. Well, we don’t have our own university, but nobody knows about this one either. I mean nobody. Everyone just goes straight into their careers.”
“So what are you studying?” she asks.
“Bachelor of Wizarding Studies. You?”
“Bachelor of Magical Politics, probably majoring in Muggle Relations. Should be interesting.”
“Hey, I heard you guys speaking English, mind if I join?” A girl with dark skin and an accent I can’t place smiles at us and takes a seat. “I’m Marama, by the way. Where are youse from?”
“I’m from the States,” Amber says.
“England,” I add.
“Sweet. I’m from New Zealand. What are youse guys’ names?”
“I’m Amber, and this is Lily.”
“Oh, awesome. So what are you lot studying?”
We just manage to swap information about our respective degrees – Marama’s doing a Bachelor of Magical Sciences, which is basically Potions and Transfiguration – when two guys approach us.
“Hey, can we join you guys?” the first guy, tall with shaggy blond hair, asks.
“Sure,” I say. “Why don’t we just go round the table and say our names, degrees and countries of origin, it would make things easier.”
“Well, you’re obviously British,” the first guy says.
“Well spotted. My name’s Lily, and I’m doing Wizarding Studies.”
The boys introduce themselves as Luke and Nathan, studying Magical Sports and Wizarding Studies respectively, from Australia.
“Oh, nah,” Marama says when she hears this. “I’m a Kiwi, youse can’t sit with us.”
“Just coz we beat you in the Quidditch,” Luke says with a grin.
“Oh, don’t even bring that up. Painful memories, man, painful memories.”
Amber and I exchange glances.
We continue talking until long after all the other students have left the dining room, swapping stories about our respective schools. Marama went to Southern Cross School of Magic, the guys went to Snowy River Wizarding College.
“So there were no guys at your school?” Marama asks Amber.
“No, just girls. Seven years of bitching, catty, hormonal girls.”
“I know where I’m going in the holidays,” Nathan declares.
“Honestly, you don’t want to,” Amber assures him.
“Two thousand chicks in the same place,” Luke agrees, nodding. “Awesome.”
“Two thousand chicks who would like our accents,” Nathan says. “Amber, American girls like our accents, right?”
“You both sound horrendous,” Marama says.
Five minutes follow of the guys and Marama insulting each other’s accents, during which Amber and I quietly slip away to collect more water for the table.
“Is this going to go on forever, do you think?” Amber asks.
I shrug. “I’ve never met Australians or New Zealanders before, so I can’t really tell you.”
“First time overseas?”
“Same here. How did you get here?”
“Flew. Muggle style.”
“Do you do that often?”
“First time in my life.”
“Are you a pureblood?” she asks curiously.
I shrug. “My grandmother was Muggleborn, so whatever that makes me.”
“Close enough to pureblood,” she decides. “I’m a half blood, I guess. Dad’s a wizard, Mom’s a Squib.”
“Your mum’s a Squib?” I repeat.
“Yeah. She still lives in the wizarding world, though. She runs the university bookshop.”
“What ’bout your dad?”
“He lectures Dark Arts Resistance at the university,” she says with a small smile.
“I can see why you came here instead.”
“Yeah. What about you? Just wanted something different?”
“Actually, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left Hogwarts, so I just kinda…came here.”
She bursts out laughing. “Good a reason as any, I suppose.”
We return to the table, where Marama and the boys are engaged in a lively debate about the merits of their respective national Quidditch teams.
“Well, it’s no wonder you guys suck, you have such a small population to choose from,” Luke’s saying when we sit down.
“Must be super embarrassing that we beat you for five years straight, then,” Marama retorts.
“The team wasn’t as strong as they are now,” Nathan says with a shrug. “But now we’re gonna kick your ass. Australia for the Cup this year!”
“You wish,” I interject. “You might beat New Zealand, but there’s no way you’re beating England.”
“Wait and see, Pom,” Luke says ominously.
I decide to take this opportunity to leave, remembering my stuff is still in my suitcase and my room is still shiny white marble.
“Where’s your room?” Amber asks, accompanying me out of the dining room.
“Two fourteen, what about yours?”
“Two ten, I’ll be pretty close to you.”
“Awesome. How long have you been here?”
“Since yesterday afternoon, you?”
“Since one o’clock this morning,” I admit.
“Why did you get in at one o’clock this morning?”
“Long story,” I begin, arriving at my room and unlocking it, “But I ended up on the Acropolis.”