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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3. stultitia vinculum

           The platform was crowded with muggles. As usual. Bustling around, completely oblivious to the fact that, on this day in particular, an extraordinarily high number of witches and wizards were boarding a train via Kings Cross Station. As soon as Dani stepped out onto the platform she was engulfed by a wave of such muggles, and allowed herself to be swept along with the tide towards the large plastic number 10. It was unseasonably warm for September, the sun making a feeble attempt to penetrate the layer of clouds, and Dani allowed herself to relax, blend in with the crowd as she would undoubtedly be forced to do for the remainder of the school year. Nonetheless, she loved Hogwarts dearly, and it was with a spring in her step that she turned towards the barrier between platforms 9 and 10.

           Access onto platform 9 ¾ was a simple matter of walking straight through solid brick, into an area that is precisely nowhere, without being noticed by the hoards of non-magic civilians milling around. Dani, glanced around her, got a firm grip on her trolley, and started forwards. She squeezed her eyes closed as the wall loomed in from of her and, when she opened them, the air was thick with smoke from a gleaming scarlet and black steam engine, proudly emblazoned with the words ‘the Hogwarts Express’. Dani barely had time to register the deluge of mixed emotions that flooded her as she stared around, before a sharp squeal sounded in her ear, and a pair of tiny hands covered her eyes.

             The hands retreated and Dani found herself pulled into a viciously tight hug, before being held at arm’s length and surveyed distastefully by Hogwarts personal fashion guru and Dani’s best friend, Sophie Champion. Sophie flicked her waist length copper hair over her shoulder and allowed an expression of utmost distain to appear on what was probably the most model-worthy face this side of the Atlantic. Dani knew boys would stare at Sophie if it wasn’t for, well, the whole ‘extra’ thing. Over her friends shoulder, Dani spied Ryan Fraiser, shaking his head at Sophie’s antics. Was it her imagination, or had he got thinner over the holidays?

           Pulling away, Dani beamed round at her two best friends.

           “And where have you been?” Sophie cocked a hip and stared enquiringly at Dani. “I sent no less than five owls to your house this week, but did I get a reply? Oh no. You better have a good excuse.”

           “I haven’t been there. My parents went to the Caribbean for two weeks so I’ve been staying at the Leaky Cauldron.”

           Sophie nodded, mollified, and, pushing her trolley in front of her, began to weave her way through the crowd, Dani and following and Ryan trailing dutifully behind. As Sophie prattled on about the state of Dani’s hair, and the wonders of eyebrow plucking, Dani grabbed Ryan’s arm and pulled him aside.

           “Ryan, random question; do you happen to know anyone called Marlow?”

           The events of Knockturn Alley that morning were bothering Dani; she couldn’t shake off the thought that she knew someone called Marlow, and that she had recognised the unknown girl’s voice. And she’d mentioned Hogwarts. Anyone with enough nerve to enter Knockturn Alley alone, and enough power to scare Arthur Falks was someone whose threats Dani would take very seriously, and any threats concerning her beloved Hogwarts could not be good news.

         “Trick question?” Ryan smiled his lazy, lopsided smile and his hazel eyes twinkled down at Dani.

            “No. I just – I heard the name somewhere, and thought I recognised it.”

            Dani didn’t know why she was lying to Ryan; he and Sophie were her best friends, and she knew she could trust them completely. But how could she explain this horrible sense of unease which she herself didn’t even understand?

            Ryan ran his fingers through his thick chestnut hair, making it even more untidy, and frowned. “In that case, no, I don’t think so. There’s a Anthony Marley, Russian Alchemist, is that who you mean.”

            “No, I don’t think so. Never mind.”

           Puffs of silver smoke were now covering the platform, which was rapidly emptying as students scrabbled for the best seats of the train. Dani watched a young girl, probably first year, with blond plaits wrap her arms tightly around her tearful mother, while next to her, a stern looking father patted his son’s dark hair. Dani’s parents weren’t here, they were still holidaying in the Caribbean, and strangely enough, Dani was glad. She loved her parents dearly, but they just didn’t get the whole ‘magic’ thing. It was good to be back in the wizarding world.

           Her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp squeal as Sophie’s bulging trunk inevitably landed on her manicured toes. Ryan, smirking, easily hoisted it into the carriage, and Sophie thanked him with a simpering smile and batted eyelashes. Scrambling into the train after them, Dani felt herself buffeted to the ground by a tall, broad boy who probably hadn’t noticed her. It wouldn’t be the first time.

           Once inside, Dani followed her friends down the train to an empty compartment three from the end. They flopped themselves down on the seats.

           “Sophie, have you spoken to Professor Gebands about starting up a quidditch team yet?,” Ryan asked. “Because I saw Hallie Mason in Flourish and Blots on Friday, and speaking for myself, she needs to be taken down a peg or two. I’m fed up of Gryffindor always winning the quidditch cup.”

           “No, there’s no way she’d let you. And I like Hallie – did you know her brother’s going out with Taylor Monteveiw? ‘Cause apparently-“

           Dani allowed herself to zone out of the conversation and instead contemplated her two best friends. They were so different. Ryan; clever, sensible, quiet but charming; Sophie; loud, funny, flirtatious and a somewhat ‘dumb blonde’. Their only similarity was their stunning good looks, a quality which Dani knew herself to lack. But being the only three extras in their year had drawn them closer together, allowing them to look past such differences and form a friendship Dani had come to depend on.

           Dani watched as Sophie withdrew a chocolate frog from within her bag and aimed it with uncanny precision at Ryan, who was rummaging in the luggage rack. It hit him on the back of the head, causing him to jolt forwards, hitting his head on his trunk. Cursing but grinning, he sprang backwards and Dani and Sophie dived under the much abused seats to avoid the long string of pale ping goo that projected from Ryan’s wand.

           When the compartment was artistically decorated with strewn strings of gung, the girls resurfaced, laughing, while Ryan smirked.

           “What –“ Sophie hiccupped, “Ry, what was that?”

           Dani grinned at Sophie’s ignorance and explained,

           “Silly string. Muggle invention. How did you make it come out your wand?”

           “Well ladies, unlike you, I like to devote my free time to doing something useful. Such as”, he gestured around at the resultant mess, “converting popular muggle inventions into wizarding toys.”

           Dani glanced sideward, her and Sophie exchanging their usual glance whenever Ryan made extraordinarily blasé comments about his phenomenal magical skill.

           “In case you were wondering, the incantation’s stultitia vinculum”.

           And that was how Dani, on trying the incantation managed to, on her third attempt, drench the surprised face of the lunch lady in pungent slime when the poor woman entered the compartment with the trolley.

 

 

 

             By the time the trio had exhausted the dramatic re-enactments of the expression on the lunch lady’s face, and Ryan had done a complicated arching motion with his wand which had vanished the silly string in less time than it took you to say ‘kneazle’, the sun was touching the horizon and students were donning their school robes.

            As the train pulled into Hogsmeade station, the corridor outside Dani’s compartment became tightly packed with a throng of talking and laughing students. Dani, heaving her trunk, followed Sophie out into the fray and without further ado, disappeared.

            Just like that.

            It was amazing how easy people found it to ignore someone they simply didn’t want to notice. How easily Dani found herself shunted aside by people who found it easier to ignore what was in front of their eyes than face the truth. She didn’t blame them; Dani had seen enough of the way Hogwarts worked to know that her peers weren’t intentionally blocking her out. They had simply trained themselves not to see her. When they were scanning the tables in the Great hall, looking for their friends, their eyes simply slid over her. When they walked past in the corridors, no one glanced her way, smiled or said hi. No one saw her, like she was hidden in perpetual shadow.

            And now, pushing her way towards the door, she could have been invisible. A tall, skinny girl with flowing black hair and thick eyeliner caught Dani with her elbow as she rushed past. Dani knew her; September Essence. A quiet Ravenclaw in Dani’s year, who shared most of her classes. Who had no idea Dani even existed.

            It wasn’t her fault. Just the way it was.

            Once outside, Dani trailed behind Ryan and Sophie, dragging her trunk over the uneven ground towards the old-fashioned carriages perched quaintly at the roadside. As one by one the students clambered in, the carts set off up the considerable hill, flaunting their bizarre horselessness. Dani followed her friends into one, claiming the only three remaining seats, the rest of which were occupied by an unruly group of third year Gryffindors. One of them, a bold looking girl with short, blonde, highlighted hair and a pointed face, glanced Dani’s way as she entered, but turned back to her friends indifferently. None of the others moved.

            Dani, grinning, couldn’t help but notice the way Sophie’s eyes went instantly to the muscular, exposed forearms of the tallest boy. His nose was too big for Dani’s taste, and his ears stuck out, but Sophie cocked a hip, flicked her hair and adjusted her lips into that ever slight pout that was her trademark expression. She leaned over to whisper in Dani’s ear.

            “So. Whatdya think?”

            Dani rolled her eyes. “He’s not bad. But he’s two years younger and, well, Gryffindor.”

            Sophie’s pout became more prominent as she stuck out her lower lip and tilted her head. “Oh don’t be such a spoil sport. Besides –“

            But Dani never would find out what was ‘besides’ about Mr Muscle-arms, because at that point, his spiky-haired friend called over.

            “Hey. You.”

            Dani and Ryan shared a glance; as a general rule, the other houses – particularly Gryffindor and Slytherin – ignored them. This was certainly a first.

            “What are you doing here? This is our carriage.” The girl smirked. “Get out”.

            Dani watched as she linked her arm through that of the muscular boy, who grinned and said, “You heard her. Scram.”

            Ryan, half smiling that awkward smile of his, said “hey, hey. We’re not bothering you.”

            The boy stood up.

            “Hey, Tom, calm down” the blonde girl tried to pull him back down to his seat but Tom brushed her off, saying,

“shut up Hal.”

            His stepped forward so that he was toe to toe with Ryan who, Dani noticed, looked like he was about to faint.

            “I-I don’t want trouble,” Ryan stammered, but Tom just said,

            “Leave, Surp.”

            Dani gasped, and saw Sophie’s eyes narrow. ‘Surp’ was a particularly unpleasant name for someone like her, with no house.

            Ryan glanced sidewards towards Dani and Sophie, and Sophie leapt to her feet. Hands on hips, somehow managing to keep her balance in the fast-moving carriage, she faced Tom.

            “Make me”.

            Dani knew it was a mistake the moment the words left Sophie’s mouth. Her and Ryan both leapt to their friend’s side, but it was too late.

            Tom glanced back at two of his friends, and they rose to their feet.

 

 

            “Well,” said Ryan, as the trio picked themselves up of the freezing road, dusting down their robes and watching the carriage disappear into the darkness, echoing with hoots of Gryffindor laughter. “At least we’re nearly at the castle.”

            Dani and Sophie just looked at him.

            Thanks to Ryan’s hasty use of a cushioning charm, no one was hurt, with the exception of very questionable hair, one skinned elbow and severely injured pride all round. There was nothing to do other than begin the walk up the hill, despite the late hour and impenetrable darkness.

            “What was their problem?” asked Sophie, as they started to climb.

            Ryan and Dani exchanged glances.

            “Soph-“ Ryan began.

            “They just don’t want to be associated with us” Dani finished. “At all. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It’s what we are that bothers them.”

            She hated to see her best friend like this, sad and somehow smaller than usual, rejected by those around her. Being ‘houseless’ was hard enough for Dani, muggle born as she was, but she knew it must be ten times worse for her friend. Sophie came from a long line of magical blood. Her elder brother was head boy, and her twin sister a Ravenclaw prefect. Dani knew she was the family disappointment.

            “I’m just so,” Sophie said, clenching and unclenching her fists, “so frustrated. I mean, why do they have to be like that? Treat us like we’re something disgusting and slimy that crawled out from under a rock. It’s not our fault. Just, just why?

            Ryan stretched out his hand and patted her awkwardly on the arm, but both he and Dani were at a loss as to what to say. Dani had never seen Sophie like this, so upset. She was usually the strong one, the funny one, the ‘look-on-the-bright-side’ one.

            “Why don’t I have a house?” Sophie’s voice began to crack. “Why? Why not? Why can’t I just be like everyone else; why can’t I just be normal?”

            And then she gave a strange little hiccough, and sped up into the night.

         

       

       

 

       

       

 

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