LIMELIGHT

Only you can choose when to step out from the Shadows...




Follow on from 'a week at Hogwarts' competition winner, 'Standing in the Shadows'
Cover design by Lily Anna Nightshade

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4. A New Year

For Dani, there was no building was more beautiful than Hogwarts castle. Especially at night, with its windows, flickering in the firelight, and it’s majestic towers and colossal ramparts, swooping down towards the lake. The moon was full, and the stars shone out through the blanket of the night, looking fondly down upon that revered place. The thrill of magic was in the air.

 It had taken a surprisingly short time for Dani, Ryan and Sophie to complete their journey. Indeed, they could see the collection of boats that was the first years still making their way across the lake, which was glimmering darkly in the moonlight. The front gates stood open, allowing the last of the carriages to pass through, and the trio hastened towards the castle. When they reached the main doors, they knocked sharply, then stood back as the tall oak swung open to receive them.

On either side of the doorway stood a gleaming suit of armour, hands clasped smartly behind their backs. When all three were over the threshold, the suits stepped forward to pull the doors closed, and nodded politely. Dani sighed; it seemed as though the suits of armour were the only things around here that chose to acknowledge her presence.

The doors to the Great Hall stood open, spilling light and warmth across the entrance hall. A buzz of excited chatter and laughter reached Dani’s ears, and she hesitated slightly. Inside, she knew, the houses would be sitting proudly at their four tables. In a few minutes, the sorting of the first years would begin. Professor Cain would make his termly speech about house points and the inter-house quidditch cup.

 And Dani would sit there in the corner, unnoticed, in her plain black tie, and listen to all she could have been a part of.

Steeling herself, she slipped through the doorway with her friends at her heel. Sticking close to the wall, Dani worked her way towards the small table tucked away in the corner. There were only twelve chairs, six of which were already occupied.

 A dark haired girl at the head of the table was the only seventh year, and there were no houseless sixth years. A pair of twin boys were the only fifth years, and the third years consisted of a plump girl with bad teeth and glasses, and a shy- looking boy who was twitching, constantly.

Dani slid into a seat next to the only second year, a brown haired, tanned girl called Katerina Betrova. As Ryan and Sophie – who had regained her cheer at some point along their moonlit walk – settled into seats, Dani surveyed the room.

Nearest to them was the Gryffindor house table. Dani didn’t mind the Gryffindors; they were funny and laid back, but were sometimes over aggressive and loud. Next came Ravenclaw, the quiet but somewhat vain group of people that Dani didn’t really have much to do with. The Hufflepuffs were Dani’s favourite, they were the only people who ever really chose to acknowledge her presence.

The Slytherin table, at the far side of the Hall, always drew Dani’s eyes with a dark fascination. The Slytherins were a strange bunch. Some, like Anton Bisquet, were outspoken and arrogant, while others kept themselves to themselves with an aura of dark secrecy. This thought had barely crossed her mind when Dani caught the eye of a girl who was most definitely the latter kind of Slytherin. After all, she had been in Knockturn Alley that day, threatening Mr Falks.

Dani gulped, and looked away.

Suddenly, the ceiling-high doors were flung open, and the first years entered, drenched with spray from their trip across the lake. One of them, a dark–haired girl who barely reached the others’ shoulders, stared around the room with widened eyes, taking in the rows of black-robed students and the star strewn ceiling. Coming up the rear was the gamekeeper Mr Tork and his simple-minded son Archie.

At the other end of the Great Hall, Professor Fagleton got to her feet, silencing the room with one pointed look. With a swish of her robes, she stepped forward just as Mr Tork produced, as if from nowhere, an old, battered three-legged stool. Fagleton placed on top of it an object that Dani still dreamed about; the legendary Hogwarts School sorting hat.

Looking at it now, perched faded and proud in front of the avid eyes of the soon-to-be first years, Dani thought back to that same day, three years ago.

She had been among the smallest of the new students. A wildly excited, naive young girl, plucked fresh from the mundane muggle world and thrust unexpectedly into a world of magic and mystery. When the sorting hat was placed on her head – large enough that it fell over her eyes – she had been quivering with excitement, so happy, so excited at the prospect of being placed in a house, her house, a place where she belonged.

All for nothing.

Sophie, perhaps sensing Dani’s distraction, nudged her in the ribs. Up on the stool, a tear near the brim of the hat opened wide as it began to sing.

 

 

 

Oh good day to you, young students,

Merry welcome to our school,

Here now I must split you,

Select you from the pool

And how might you be divided?

Into houses four, which be

Determined by those qualities,

Which, in you, I see.

The first of these is bravery,

The noblest of them all,

Which was admired by Gryffindor,

First founder of this school.

The second of such attributes,

Is that of cunning mind,

Which Slytherin did greatly see,

In students of his kind.

Now Ravenclaw, she much adored,

Those with a ready brain,

Whose sharp wit and intelligence

She did look to train.

And finally, dear Hufflepuff,

The kindest of the four,

Looked for nothing more than loyalty,

In those she did care for.

In one of these four houses,

I will give you a home.

In which you will find family

And will not be alone.

So now you stand before me,

I will speak your house aloud.

And there you will live out your years

And do your houses proud.

 

 

Applause broke out across the hall, in which none of the students at Dani’s table joined.

Fagleton now produced a list and began reading in her high, ready voice.

“Aberton, Michael”

Dani watched a plump boy with greasy blonde hair waddle his way up to the stool, which groaned beneath his weight. The house hesitated, pondering, before announcing, loudly, “HUFFLEPUFF!”

“Appleshine Luna”

“Aver, Harriet”

“Breethworth, Connor,”

And so it continued, seamlessly, the crowd of first-years shrinking as the students at the house table slowly grew.

But then, just as Emilia Crabbe skulked her way towards the Slytherin table, there was disturbance. The girl on the stool, hidden beneath the folds of the hat, was Ella d’Angel, tall and slim with cropped hair dyed a vivid, electric blue. She was fidgeting where she sat, unable to keep still, as the hat muttered quietly to itself, for a very long time. Too long.

Somehow, before it happened, Dani knew what was going to happen next.

The hat screwed itself up, as though it were in pain, and Dani knew the words it would be speaking to poor Ella. Knew, because they were the same ones it had spoken to her.

“I’m sorry, my dear, but there appears to be something wrong. I-I-I don’t think it’s going to work.”

“What do you mean?”

“None of them are right, not for you my dear. Oh I could give you a house anyway, but it wouldn’t be right. I can’t, I won’t do it. I’m sorry.”

At that was that. Dani watched as Professor Geralderoth stepped forwards and gently lifted the agonised hat off the spiky blue hair. Watched the girl’s lips tighten as he led her gently away, through a door in the corner. Watched the ripples spread through the assembled students.

She could see the moment, the exact moment when Ella d’Angel vanished. When Professor Fagleton read out the next name on the list and the rest of the school forgot about the little blue-haired girl who had just had the rest of her school life torn apart forever.

And so the sorting continued, and all Dani could think about was poor Ella, who right now would be listening to Geralderoth explaining it all.

The small, black-haired girl that Dani had noticed earlier sat on the stool for even longer than Ella had and, unsurprisingly, she too was unable to be sorted. As Professor Geralderoth led her into the sideroom along with Ella, Dani realised she hadn’t even caught the girl’s name. A sure sign of an ‘extra’.

As “Spears, Arthur” became a Hufflepuff and “Stratton, Lydia” became a Gryffindor, Sophie leaned over and muttered in Dani’s ear.

“Say what you will about his teaching, but Professor Rodretts has soooo gotten hotter over summer”.

Dani had been so absorbed in contemplation of the controversial ethics of ‘sorting’ that she had failed to notice her friend making unashamed goo-goo eyes at their youngest teacher. Sure, he might look like a twenty year old Leonardo di Caprio. Sure, he might do that adorable half smirk that only the hottest of the hottest know how to do. Sure he might have played Quidditch for England when he was only sixteen. But, he taught herbology and that, in Dani’s opinion, said it all.

“What do you see in him?” Ryan asked Sophie. He was smiling, lighthearted, but his gaze was intense.

“He’s gorrrrrgeous,” purred Sophie, and Ryan rolled his eyes.

“Sophie’ll go after anything with a p-“ Sophie hit him and Ryan said, “Pulse. I was going to say ‘pulse’”.

“Sure you were,” Dani laughed.

Just then, the last first-year, a pretty girl with exotic features, was sorted, and Professor Cain rose to his feet.

Standing there, in front of the entire school, he seemed strangely insignificant. He was physically small, dwarfed by his grand headmasters’ throne-like chair, and his robes were shabby in comparison to the other teachers’, but there was something else, which Dani couldn’t quite put her finger on. A small, shy demeanour, as though he was surprised to ever be noticed. Much, Dani realised, like those of her fellow houseless students.

He wrung his hands several times, staring across the hall worriedly as he collected his thoughts before speaking.

“Welcome, students. Welcome to another fine year of magical learning. I will not intrude on your time now, but merely wish you enjoy the feast. Thank you.”

A smattering of applause flitted across the hall. Dani clapped duly, but her attention was focused on the extraordinary assortment of food that had just materialised in gold platters in front of her. Roast meats, cold meats, pies, pastries, vegetables, rice, and a surprisingly large variety of potatoes. So engrossed was she that, at first, she didn’t notice the small hands fiddling nervously with their cutlery.

The two tiny first years had appeared so silently and unseen that Dani had no doubts as to whether they belonged here. The first one, Ella d’Angel, was moving constantly, her blue eyes darting round the room. Her pointed face and determined expression told Dani she was not someone to cross, but nor was she someone to ignore. Unusual for an extra.

The other girl was tiny, and closely resembled a fragile china doll, with her long silky hair, pale skin, perfect, small features and wide set green eyes.

“Hey,” said Sophie, leaning over to Ella. “I’m Sophie.”

“Ella” was the reply.

Dani, who was already starting to dislike Ella, turned instead to the quiet girl, who had not yet spoken. She too was watching the room, but not in the aggressive manner of Ella; more as though she was taking everything in, analysing it carefully before speaking.

“I’m Dani”, she said.

“Elisha.” The girl’s voice was soft, musical, with an Irish lilt. “Elisha Owl.”

“Are you okay?”

Dani could well understand what Elisha must be going through; the confusion, the rejection. Too much for an eleven year old.

“I will be,” Elisha smiled a small, sad smile, and helped herself to some carrots.

 

 

 

Throughout the rest of the feast, Dani, Sophie and Ryan chatted to Ella and Elisha about themselves. They learnt that Elisha was a pure-blood, orphan, raised by her grandfather. She loved music and nature, and Dani felt herself warming to her. Ella, on the other hand, was reluctant to converse, telling them only that she was a metamorphmagus. Ryan explained to Dani that this was someone who, like the famous Nymphadora Tonks, could change their appearance at will. Ella unwillingly provided a demonstration, turning her hair bright pink, then orange, then back to blue.

They also debated the merits of petitioning to Professor Gebands on behalf of forming a quidditch team. Ryan, an avid seeker, was keen to, whereas Dani, despite loving to fly and being a passable chaser, was worried about the unwelcome attention. Sophie, who was hopeless on a broomstick, sided with Ryan, on the grounds that “Those Slytherins are a right pain in the backside, and I really want to see them beaten”

By the time the last traces of crème Brule had faded from the shining gold, Dani was full and contented. When Professor Cain rose again at the front of the hall, she listened to him with mild disinterest, the way one might observe a rerun of an out-dated film. When he dismissed them, it was gladly that she, Sophie and Ryan led the two first years out of the hall to the dormitories.

The entrance to the houseless dormitories was in a discreet corridor near the base of the Astrology tower, hidden behind a thickly woven tapestry depicting The Beheading of Nagini. Dani reached behind it, pressing her palm to the empty circle carved into the wall. At her touch, the tapestry shifted, winding itself up to reveal a magically opened doorway, through which they entered. The extras did not have a common room as such, merely a smallish room with a selection of over-stuffed armchairs. Two spiral staircases led upwards to the dormitories.

Bidding goodnight to Ryan, Dani and the others went upstairs to a small, cosy room, with narrow slit windows and 7 four-poster beds. Dani pulled on her pyjamas, and slid into bed.

Talking was replaced with silent, deep breathing, but Dani lay awake for some time, staring at the stars. Something was unsettling her.

Thoughts swam around in her head; houses, Cain, owl seed, Ella and a certain member of Slytherin house.

Something was different, Dani could feel it. Something was changing. This was her fourth year at Hogwarts, so why did she feel like this was only the beginning?

 

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