Chapter 2 : Journey
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As milky dawn light poured in through the window behind him and the chattering of the early rising birds driften in from outside, he opened his mouth in a wide yawn. If he were to have it his way, nobody would get up before ten o'clock in the morning. It would be considered madness.
"Why are you here?" the accusing voice sliced through his hazy thoughts. "It's not your shift!"
Mr Henderson broke into a wide grin when he caught sight of the approaching girl. Her golden hair as wild and untamed as ever, Leslie Corren's face was alight with excitement. She was wrapped up in a red raincoat that was at least two sizes too big and trailing a large brown suitcase.
He was suddenly brought back to the first time that he had caught a glimpse of Leslie. It had been his second day working at Adelaire and he had just stepped through the orphanage doors. She had been sitting in the corner, waiting patiently. Nine. She had been nine when they had met. He was only seventeen.
"Your new, aren't you?" Leslie asked him in that same assertive manner.
"Yeah," he replied, giving the small girl a smile. "I'm Mr Henderson. What's your name?"
"Leslie Corren," she answered instantly. She paused, staring up at him with her wide blue eyes. "I hope you know what your walking into, coming to work here."
"Adelaire is horrible. All we get to do is sit around this boring old building and get fed liver and onions."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"You're not allowed to say that before you've had your first Assessment. The man your replacing left before he'd finished his second week."
"What about all the other staff?"
"They either feel too sorry for us to go or they really need the money.
"Well, unfortunately for you, I really need the money. I'm no going to be leaving any time soon."
"Can I go outside?"
"Will you open the door so I can go outside?"
"Of course not! I'm not allowed to let any of you kids outside under any circumstances!"
"Okay then," Leslie shrugged. Getting up off of the floor, she skipped out of the room and left Mr Henderson gawping after her in amazement.
"I couldn't let you leave without saying goodbye so I asked Mitchell if I could take his turn at the door," Mr Henderson explained, dragging himself back into reality. "He didn't complain."
Leslie stopped beside him and he pulled her into a hug. His strong arms wrapped around her protectively, squeezing her against his warm body. Leslie, with her ear resting against his chest, could hear the steady thump of his heartbeat as she breathed in his familiar scent.
"I have to go now," she whispered, a little reluctantly.
Mr Henderson gave a slight nod before releasing her from his grasp.
"I hate to say this, but I'm really going to miss you around here, Les," he told her. The smile returned to his face as he reached out to ruffle her hair. "Now get out of here before your carriage leaves without you!"
Leslie gave a peal of laughter, picking up her suitcase again and opening the door.
"Goodbye, Mr Henderson!" she shouted as she leaped down the front steps. "Have fun sweeping floors!"
"Bye, Les!" Mr Henderson called after her. Even though he knew that she was now too far away to hear him, he still added, "Good luck!"
Only once Leslie had disappeared around a corner did Mr Henderson close the door behind her. It seemed as if, in the mere seconds that she had been gone, a silence had fallen over the room, over the entire building. Adelaire will be very different now, he thought to himself as he settled down on the floor beneath the window. As no sane person would wake until at least eight o'clock, he figured he would get away with napping until his shift was over.
Meanwhile, Leslie Corren stood at the end of the driveway that led up to Adelaire Institute. A carriage, one that looked like it had been torn from the page of a storybook, slowed to a halt in front of her. There was no driver, just two black horses with well defined muscles rippled beneath their identical black coats. Seeing the Elvindor Academy crest painted onto the door, Leslie pulled it open, heaved her suitcase inside and clambered in after it. The second that she had seated herself on the deep red cushion that lay on top of the bench, the horses took off, dragging the carriage smoothly along after them.
For the first few miles, the carriage followed the same tarmac road. It wove like a river through the countryside, flowing through forests of towering pine and splashing over heather covered hills. Past fields of grazing cows, flocks of munching sheep and the distant outlines of red deer.
Leslie stared out of the window, transfixed, when the carriage took her through a small town. It was exactly like the one that she had imagined. A square with a lawn and fountain in the center. Lines of houses, their gardens clustered with flowers, children's play equipment, greenhouses and sheds. A school. Shops. Restaurants and cafés.
Leslie's nose was almost pressed against the pane of glass as she gazed out in wonder, taking in everything from the people that walked the streets to the noise that filled the air. A million different shades of bright colours sung out at her. The smell of vehicle exhausts, fast food, and coffee made her nose wrinkle. Her head was spinning, eyes not quite sure what to look at, but she couldn't help but smile.
Then they turned a corner and left everything behind.Time seemed to get lost in amongst the long grass that lined either side of the dirt track. The outside world once again became a hazy blur of greens, blues and browns.
Leslie sat back in her seat, immersed in her own thoughts. She tried to picture Elvindor Academy, her teachers, her new friends. A grand building appeared in her mind. It almost looked like a castle with its tall towers, crenellated roof and big arched doorway. Sat at the top of a desolate hill, such an impressive structure looked quite out of place. Then she could picture a lady dressed in pale blue robes, black hair falling down her back in silky ringlets. She was standing at the front of a room filled with people, her mouth moving, but no sounds coming out. Finally came the clearest image of all. The freckled face of a young boy. His emerald green eyes sparkled behind the lenses of his glasses and a shy smile turned up the corners of his lips -
The carriage ground to a halt and the door swung open. The two horses horses stood solemn, silent and stationary. Uncertainly, Leslie collected her suitcase and stepped out onto the hard packed mud ground.
She looked up to see that she was facing a steep slope that led to the base of a mountain range. The gigantic rock formations reached high up into the cloudless blue sky, their peaks snow-capped even now, on the last day of August. There was not a dwelling to be seen on the barren landscape in front of her and whoever was supposed to be meeting her was definitely not there.
Leslie turned and made to get back into the carriage, only to see the two black horses take off in the direction that they had come from.
"Great," she didn't realize that she was speaking aloud until the words escaped her mouth. "Just fantastic." Her voice echoed around the hollow that she was sitting it. Somewhere nearby, a startled bird cawed, abandoning its perch. Leslie watched enviously as it took flight, soaring over the hills until it was no more than a mere brown speck in the distance. It was lucky. It could escape.
"Sorry to keep you waiting."
Surprised, Leslie spun around. Through the long stems of green grass to her right, a man appeared. He was tall and young. Despite his greying brown hair and the wrinkles that creased the corners of his grey-blue eyes, he looked to be in his early twenties.
He was wearing a new black cloak without a hint of a crease or stain on it, but, as Leslie peered more closely at him, she realised that he had put it on to hide his other clothes. Underneath, he had on a tattered, pale shirt and light brown trousers that had been torn and patched in many places. His shoes, that may have once been smart and black, had been worn so much that they looked grey-ish brown colour and were practically falling apart
"I got a little lost on my way here," the man held out his hand. Hesitantly, Leslie took it. His grip was firm but gentle, his skin rough but warm. "I'm Professor Lupin. I'll be teaching you Defense Against the Dark Arts."
“I’m Leslie,” she told Professor Lupin. “Leslie Corren.”
“I guessed,” was his only reply.