Chapter 1 : On board the Hogwarts Express
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“I’m going!” she cried, skipping with excitement. “I’m actually going to Hogwarts!”
I smiled down at her, my annoyance evaporating. I remembered just how excited I had been on my first day of Hogwarts. Even now, three years later, anticipation and happiness bubbled inside me at the thought of getting back to school. But to actually skip with excitement would be far too embarrassing for me to handle.
“Don’t say that too loudly, dear,” Mum cautioned. “We don’t want people coming up to us and asking what Hogwarts is.”
You needed to be magical to get through the apparently solid ticket barrier to platform 93/4, so Mum went first, with Fern, followed by Dad with me. As soon as I stepped through I breathed a huge sigh of content. I stood still, enjoying listening to the excited chatter, delighted yells, happy laughter… but most of all enjoying the magic – The trolleys full of cauldrons, spell books, owls and cats; the students practising jinxes they’d forgotten over the summer; the copies of the daily prophet scattered around; the exchanging of chocolate frog cards and other magical sweets. The holidays were lovely. It was great to be able to relax, and spend time with my parents, but I loved being at Hogwarts too. I hadn’t realised just how much I missed it.
Fern was gazing in equal rapture at the bustle surrounding us. For the millionth time, I marvelled at the stroke of good luck that had meant both Fern and I had turned out to be magical. What with both Mum and Dad being muggles, there had been hardly any chance of us both being witches. I supposed Mum and Dad must have some magical relatives they didn’t know about. Whatever the reason, I was immensely glad Fern was a witch. It would have been incredibly hard on her watching me leave on the Hogwarts Express every year, and knowing she would never come.
“Eliana,” Fern whispered to me, in awed tones, “What’s that?” She was pointing at a large cactus like plant, which was purple, and kept covering the nearby people with sticky pink gloop. Unfortunately, herbology wasn’t one of my strengths, so I couldn’t tell her.
I craned my neck, searching eagerly through the crowds for any sign of one of my two best friends. They were both fairly easy to spot – Brynne Finnegan, because of her unusual dress sense, and Tulip Towler because of her shimmering, chestnut hair. She was very proud of her hair – it was the only thing she was vain about – and used all sorts of potions on it to make it so dazzling. Unfortunately, none of them worked on my hair, which remained stubbornly fuzzy at the back, and mousy brown. Tulip always tried a new potion on my hair every term, and every time I went round to her house. Admittedly, this wasn’t often, as Mum and Dad tented to want to keep me to themselves during the holidays.
Thinking of this made me stop scouring the students and turn back to my parents. This year, they wouldn’t have any children at home. I wanted to say sorry for being a witch, but I didn’t know how to say it without sounding stupid, so I settled for giving them both an extra tight hug.
“Have fun,” Dad said, as always. “Don’t get too many detentions!” he teased – I never got detentions.
“We’ll miss you both,” Mum told us, smiling warmly.
“We’ll write,” I assured them, “won’t we Fern?”
“Oh yes!” She nodded emphatically. “I’ll write every day. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.”
Mum and Dad gazed at her fondly, before saying goodbye, and telling me to go and find my friends.
Turning around, I caught sight of something bright and orange bobbing through the throngs of people, and grinned to myself. Brynne was always conspicuous. At the moment she was dressed completely in vivid orange: orange robes, with an orange bobble hat. I couldn’t help laughing as she ran up to Fern and me. I blushed slightly at the looks we were getting, but tried desperately not to be so disloyal to Brynne as to show my embarrassment.
“Don’t I look absolutely gorgeous?” she proclaimed, spinning in a circle so that I would get the full benefit.
Before I could reply a wry voice came from behind us. “Gorgeous is one word for it. Ridiculous is another.”
I turned excitedly to see Tulip grinning at us. Laughing, we simultaneously ran to hug each other, and ended up doing a sort of three way bear hug, giggling the whole time. I drew back first, and had a good look at Tulip. She was looking just as nice as always, with a lovely tan from her holiday in France. But, standing next to her, I realised something was different. I felt distinctly smaller than usual.
“Hey, Tulip!” I cried. “You’ve grown!”
“I know!” she smiled happily. “Now I’ll finally be able to look Oliver in the eye.” Oliver was her boyfriend, a Ravenclaw.
“That’s so not fair!” groaned Brynne, while I nodded fervently in agreement. “You’re average height- well, you were average height – and you’re the one who has a growth spurt, while me and Ellie are stuck being midgets. Oops! Sorry!” she added, realising what she had said.
I waved it away, grinning. “It’s fine. We both know it’s true. Anyway, at least we can both be midgets together!”
All this time Fern had been standing awkwardly by my side. I started guiltily, noticing her. I remembered how lost and scared I had felt on my first day, knowing no one and knowing nothing about magic. It wouldn’t take long for her to make friends when she would be spending so much time with the other first years, but I knew how daunting it was at first. If I hadn’t met Brynne on that first train ride, I would never have managed.
I had been standing alone in the corridor, wondering desperately whether there were any empty compartments and fighting the urge to cry, when Brynne had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
“Hi, I’m Brynne Finnegan,” she had said, smiling brightly, and sticking her hand out in an oddly formal gesture, which I tentatively shook. “You must be a first year too since you look like you could possibly be even smaller than me!”
At this point, she had insisted on us standing back to back, so we could see who was taller. She had been disappointed to find it was me.
“Anyway,” she had continued, “I’m sooooooo excited to be going to Hogwarts, aren’t you? My dad’s told me all about it! Did you know that there’s actually a giant squid in the lake? But that’s not all – there are mer people too. My dad’s seen them. And no one knows exactly what there is in the forbidden forest. I bet there are werewolves – and mummies! Ooooooh, and vampires! And do you know, the staircases move? Isn’t that cool? You know, I’ve never seen a moving staircase before. Mum thought Dad meant escalators, when he told us about them, but he said they were proper moving staircases which swung around. Then Mum thought they could be dangerous. I suppose they could, couldn’t they..? But Dad says no one fell off one in his day. Still, there’s a first time for everything, isn’t there? I hope I’m the one who falls down. It’d be so exciting, don’t you think?”
By this time, I had begun to giggle. Brynne and I had found a compartment together, and shortly after, a rather shy looking Tulip had entered.
I determined then and there to be as comforting to Fern as Brynne was to me.
“Guys,” I said to Brynne and Tulip, pushing Fern forwards, “Fern’s coming to Hogwarts this year.”
“Fern!” yelled Brynne, pulling Fern into a bear hug from which she extracted herself rather awkwardly. “You’re finally coming! Gosh, you’re so lucky to have Ells here to show you around. I would’ve given anything for an older sibling to show me how Hogwarts worked.” She sighed reminiscently, then continued, with a twinkle in her eye. “I was so timid and shy back then. I was so scared I barely talked to anyone for the first month!”
Tulip and I snorted, while Brynne grinned, and Fern looked rather confused. Brynne put an arm around Fern’s shoulders, who glanced at me, slightly alarmed. No doubt she was overwhelmed at the attention she was getting from a girl she’d only met a couple of times. I smiled reassuringly at her.
Tulip smirked too as she interpreted the look. “Don’t be intimidated by Brynne – she’s always this weird.”
Brynne ignored her. “We’ll soon find you some first years to make friends with,” she told Fern confidently.
I knew that I wouldn’t like being forced to meet people I didn’t know, and thought that perhaps Fern might feel the same. I searched her face anxiously. “Is that all right?”
She nodded, allowing Brynne to steer her through the masses of people.
“You guys know any first years?” Brynne called over her shoulder.
Tulip thought for a moment. “Well, there’s Fred Weasley’s sister, I think. Roxanne, isn’t it? And Rose in the year below – her brother too… what’s his name? Hugh something? And I’m sure there’s another Weasley…”
However, these suggestions were all pointless as Brynne had just spotted a family standing chatting on the platform – the Potters. James Potter was a Gryffindor, like us, and his brother, Albus, was also a Gryffindor, but in the year below. I noticed a small red haired girl standing next to them with a trolley – she must be a first year, and their sister. She didn’t look much like the two brothers, but a lot like her mother. Both of the boys appeared to take after their father.
I looked at the dad with interest. Coming from a muggle background, I had known nothing of wizarding events or history. I had known nothing about Lord Voldemort or Harry Potter, who was, of course, James’ and Albus’ dad. Brynne had lost no time in telling me all about it, as, she announced grandly, her dad had shared a dormitory with Harry Potter at school.
From what I had heard, Harry Potter was recognisable by a lighting-shaped scar on his forehead from where Voldemort had tried, and failed, to kill him when he was a baby. It was impossible to see the scar from this distance, and there was not a chance of me going any closer. The Potters intimidated me. Harry Potter must be the most skilled and powerful wizard who ever lived, to defeat Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard of all time. Seeing him made me realise that, however perfect it seemed to me, the wizarding world had its own big problems. My intimidation wasn’t helped by the fact that James Potter was most probably the most popular boy in the year.
Brynne, however, had no such qualms, as she marched up to the family to introduce Fern to Lily. I debated whether or not to join them, but decided in the end that I couldn’t face the Potters. Brynne would be able to look after Fern, I told myself.
“Oh, I didn’t remember that Lily was coming this year, too,” Tulip said, “She seems far too small!”
I always marvelled at Tulip’s ability to remember people. I wouldn’t have known that Fred Weasley, Rose Weasley and James Potter even had younger siblings, let alone their names.
Tulip stood with me instead of going with Brynne, something I appreciated greatly. She knew how shy and awkward I felt around people I didn’t know very well. Whereas, Brynne… Well, I didn’t think she knew the meaning of the word awkward.
“Hey, Tulip!” we heard a voice shout. It was Caitlin Roberts and Sophia Quirke, the other Gryffindor fourth year girls.
“How are you guys?” Caitlin beamed, as she saw both of us. “You look tanned, Tulip.”
“I went to France,” she explained. “It was a lot hotter over there than here.”
“Well, we went to America together, but we’re not nearly as tanned as you,” Sophia pointed out. “But it was so nice there! You should’ve seen the shops.
Caitlin nodded fervently. “I got myself such a nice new set of dress robes – I’ll have to show them to you tonight.”
At that moment Brynne came bounding up to us. Sophia and Caitlin looked astounded by her choice of clothing, which they would have to be tortured to made to wear. But soon their attention was caught by something far more interesting, in their opinion – James Potter.
“Oh… I’d forgotten how fit he is…”
“Oh, wow… Look, he’s grown his hair!”
“I think he’s got taller. Oh Merlin – he’s even better than before the holidays!”
Sophia and Caitlin had been drooling over James Potter ever since we were in our second year. It was decidedly annoying, especially as James, although good friends with them, didn’t appear to have ever considered anything more than that. To be honest, I didn’t see what was so amazing about him, unless the attraction lay in his famous family. Yes, he was quite good looking. But he was a bit big-headed, always ruffling up his hair to make himself look cool. And in my opinion, his pranks, and his tendency to break rules, were just childish.
As Caitlin and Sophia made their way towards the Potters, I noticed Fern and Lily chatting animatedly as thought they were old friends. Surprised, but pleased, I smiled gratefully at Brynne.
“Right, we’ve sorted your sister out,” she said briskly, “So now let’s find ourselves a compartment.”
I helped myself to a pumpkin pasty from the mountain of food we had made. “So, Tulip, looking forward to a year without divination?”
She groaned in response. “Urgh! Don’t talk to me about divination. I’m so glad I dropped it. I have no idea why I chose it in the first place.”
Brynne tutted. “I’ve always said and I always will say that you never gave divination a chance.”
“How can anyone give it a chance?” Tulip cried. “All that messing about with tea leaves, and that rubbish about the inner eye. It’s so ridiculous.”
I giggled to myself. I had brought up divination because it was so funny watching them squabble about it. I did divination myself, and I had to admit that, although I wasn’t as scornful as she was, Tulip had a point.
“Tulip, you just have to be more patient if you don’t see anything straight away,” I told her, while Brynne nodded triumphantly. I put on a misty voice. “Let the inner eye guide you, my children. Put all other thought away and concentrate on the crystal ball before you. It will show you your destiny.”
Tulip laughed, and Brynne had to grin. Professor Trelawney, the divination teacher, was a bit of a joke. All her predictions seemed to involve terrible deaths looming in the near future. Crystal balls were the hardest part of divination. The only thing I had ever been able to see in one was something which looked vaguely like a bobble hat, and even that had only been when I scrunched my eyes up. That had been in last year’s exams, and I had had to tell Professor Trelawney that I thought I was going to receive a bobble hat as a present. Then again, it could have been a premonition of the ludicrous hat Brynne was still wearing now.
Glancing out of the window, I saw that it was still light. We probably had a long while yet until we reached the school. My eyes rested guiltily on the pile of food. Maybe I should stop eating now. I surreptitiously sucked my tummy in, thinking enviously of Brynne and Tulip’s slim figures. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t give for a flat stomach. What with being thin and having lovely hair, Tulip really had all the luck.
As if reading my thoughts Tulip said, “Oh, Eliana, I bought a new hair potion over the holidays. We could try it out. It says it works on all hair types, to make it ‘shimmer, shine and sparkle all day long’”. She rolled her eyes. “Apparently it makes you attract guys as fast as if you were veela, but like I believe that.”
I snorted. “And if it really could, I’m not sure I’d want to use it. But it’d take more than a hair potion to make me attractive. Imagine me attracting guys!” When Tulip opened her mouth indignantly I cut her off. “It’s OK. I know it’s true. And I don’t mind.”
“Well,” said Brynne conspiratorially, “I know someone who really does need to sort out their hair – Priscilla Higgs. I mean, what is up with it? Does she really think it looks good to charm it green? Why does she do it?”
I thought this was slightly hypocritical of Brynne, given what she was wearing, but I decided not to say anything.
“Probably in honour of Slytherin,” said Tulip. This was probably true. Priscilla was incredibly proud of being in Slytherin, and thought all the other houses were ‘scum’ – her words, not mine. She was a very nasty character, one of those people who would go out of their way to create problems for anyone who got on the wrong side of her. Sophia had discovered this in our first year, when she had accidently spilled some of Priscilla’s potion. For weeks afterwards Sophia hadn’t been able to go anywhere without something unfortunate happening to her, like her bag splitting open, or fur sprouting on her face. Priscilla didn’t do much to improve Slytherin’s already shaky reputation.
“You know last year when Sam Boot, that Ravenclaw, had to stay in the hospital wing for five weeks and nobody knew why? Well, apparently, that was ‘cause of something Priscilla did. Her and Pucey,” Brynne told us.
Priscilla and her friend, Zach Pucey, were a spiteful pair, but I didn’t believe they were capable of hurting someone so badly that they couldn’t be put right for five weeks.
“Maybe that was just a rumour, Brynne. You know, one of those things people say which aren’t actually true.”
Tulip grinned. Brynne was very naïve when it came to rumours. She would believe anything anyone told her. She stuck her tongue out at us.
“Some rumours are true though, aren’t they? That one about Louis Weasley’s dad being a werewolf – that was true, wasn’t it?”
Tulip rolled her eyes. “No, Brynne. No, it wasn’t true.” She sounded extremely exasperated, and with good reason; we’d already been through this countless times before, last year. “He was bitten by a werewolf. He isn’t an actual werewolf.”
Brynne opened her mouth to retaliate and I cast around hurriedly for something to say before they started having a proper argument. It was then that I noticed a lot of commotion outside our compartment. Some sparks shot past our door and there was a wave of laughter. All three of us hastened to the compartment door and stuck our heads out curiously.
James Potter was standing directly opposite us. Behind and around him, other interested people were watching from their compartments. James was pointing his wand at a pale haired Slytherin boy I didn’t know, who was standing next to Lily Potter… and Fern!
I shot her an angry, questioning look. How had she managed to get involved in a fight before she even set foot in Hogwarts? She looked back at me, plainly anxious. Before I could say anything, James spoke.
“Scared of a few sparks, Malfoy?” he sniggered scornfully. “You know, you’re lucky you’re not a fourth year. If you weren’t younger than me… Well, let’s put it this way – you probably wouldn’t be standing upright right now.”
The Slytherin boy didn’t answer, instead staring at his feet uncomfortably. My heart went out for him as I caught sight of his red, humiliated face. Being shown up by James Potter in front of all these people had to be one of the worst possible experiences I could imagine.
“If I were you, Malfoy, I’d get out of here pretty fast,” James continued contemptuously. “If you stay here a moment longer I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself hexing you.”
Malfoy cast a few wary glances around, like an animal caught in a trap, before turning hurriedly and heading away down the corridor. Everyone’s eyes followed him, causing even more pity on my part.
When all the spectators had disappeared I rushed towards Fern. “What’s going on? What happened?”
“She your sister, Jones?” James asked me as he put his arm round Lily’s shoulders. “Malfoy,”- he shot a furious glance down the aisle- “seemed to think he had the authority to kick these two out of their compartment. When I came in he was threatening to curse them if they didn’t move. Git.”
I didn’t feel quite so sorry for Malfoy anymore.
“Been playing the hero, James?” Fred Weasley laughed as he came out of a compartment, giving James a playful punch on the arm. “You like doing that, don’t you?” He caught sight of James’ arm round Lily’s shoulders. “Anyway, if you’re done molly-coddling your sister,”- Lily instantly shrugged James’ arm off, fuming, while Fred smirked - “the guys want you to show them that – um… thing – you know, the one you found?”
Appearing to understand this strange request, James attempted in vain to give Lily a hug, before disappearing back into his compartment and leaving Fern, Lily and I alone apart from Brynne and Tulip hanging out of our compartment.
“Are you all right?” I asked Fern seriously, taking her by the shoulders. I couldn’t imagine how shaky I would feel after being threatened by a third year on my very first day.
Fern nodded weakly, and I gave her a comforting hug. Lily, however, seemed completely unfazed.
“It was quite exciting, really,” she told me happily. “As soon as James came in I knew that boy was dead. Still, I sort of wish he hadn’t come in. We could have fought that nasty boy of by ourselves, couldn’t we Fern?”
Fern didn’t look so sure. I smiled again at her, before going back into my compartment with Brynne and Tulip.
“Nothing like a good old fight in the corridor to set off the first day back,” Brynne remarked, quite seriously.