The next morning was unsurprisingly chaotic. April awoke before everyone else and squeezed her remaining books into the ancient trunk which Tom had offered her.
Once she'd checked around the room for stray items that she might have left lurking under the bed, she dragged the trunk down the rickety stairs and propped it up against the bar. Tom emerged as she did so holding a tray of clattering tea cups and a large stack of toast which he directed to a table in the corner. Six elderly wizards were sat there in long, black traveling cloaks. They sounded like they were talking Russian, but every now and again heard words like ‘Black' and ‘Azkaban' and she shivered. The image of Harry's frightened face refused to leave her. Tom prepared some more tea and bowed to her, holding out a tray. She shook head and he shuffled away upstairs. April decided to stay in the bar instead of disturbing the others; she predicted that Harry would want to be alone, Ron and Percy would be sick to death of each other, and the twins would be going out of their way to make trouble. Hermione and Ginny would be struggling to pack all of Hermione's books whilst simultaneously trying to keep Crookshanks out of Ron's way and, if April's understanding of Mrs. Weasley was correct, she would be stressed and taught like an elastic band stretched to breaking point. It could not, April thought, be easy to chivvy such an enormous family along whilst worrying about Black, and Harry, and luggage. Aside from the group of foreign wizards – who were ploughing through the toast as though they had not eaten for weeks – the place was quiet. The smell of buttery toast made her hungry and she reopened her trunk and rifled around in it for a book to distract herself with. Her hands found the familiar leather binding of the potions book and she opened it, inhaling the smell of aging parchment.
Lost in the book she failed to notice time slipping past her, but when she eventually looked up, light was streaming through the dusty, latticed windows and throwing itself upon the wooden floor. Tom was now conducting the washing up with his wand. She was about to return to reading when voices jerked her from plot.
“What is wrong with him?” Ron asked moodily, “It was only a tiny bit of tea…”
“Great work Ron! Absolutely brilliant!” “You know, you might have us out of work,” Said the second twin in mock anxiety.
“It barely made any difference anyway,” Ron continued as though he had not heard “If you didn't know her then you'd never notice…” he trailed off, and the twins started shaking his hands with excessive frivolity; “You know, ickle Ronnie-kins-”
“Shut up” Ron said, his ears going red.
“-all may not be lost; there's still hope for you yet.”
“What's going on?” April asked as Ron handed her a mug of tea.
“Ron spilt tea on a picture of Percy's girlfriend. Her nose has gone blotchy,” said one twin, smiling wickedly.
April almost choked on the tea “Percy has a girlfriend?” she spluttered.
“Penelope Clearwater,” the three boys said in unison. “Ginny caught them snogging last year.”
She grimaced at the thought. “Poor girl; I'd die of boredom,” she concluded, pushing aside the tea. It was half-cold, and it tasted bitter and stinging on April's tongue.
“Takes a bit of getting used to” Ron said noticing her distaste. “Pear and flitterbloom leaves, Mum likes it.”
“What are you doing down here anyway?” asked one of the twins.
“George,” said the other in a falsely terrified voice “She's reading…in the holidays…she's a lost cause.”
Fred snatched the book away from her hand looked at it in horror “Potions?” he exclaimed “That's even worse!”
“Oh, leave her alone.” They all looked up at the sound of the fourth voice; Hermione was marching down the stairs with her arms full of cat. Harry was behind her, dragging both their trunks.
“Hermione!” said George, looking delighted, “Just the girl we were hoping to see!”
“You need to come and sit down here with April and take a lesson about reading school books in the holidays.”
“Sorry,” she snapped, “I'm a bit preoccupied with Percy. He's labouring under the impression that Crookshanks was responsible for stealing his badge and so it's my fault. He says Crookshanks had it and he won't listen when I try to tell him it was you two.” She put the cat on an empty table and retrieved her trunk from Harry, heaving it over to join April's.
“Caught in the act,” said Fred without a trace of guilt. “How did you know it was us?”
“Well, who else would have bewitched it to say Bighead Boy?” she asked in the same snappy tone. “He still hasn't noticed.” April watched as Harry half-smiled along with the others, but in the chaos and chatter, nobody else seemed to notice his silence.
“Anyway,” the twins said, turning back to April. “You'd better have a good explanation for this.” They said, pointing in sardonic criticism at her well-thumbed book.
“I, um, well, if I read it all now, then I don't have to do anything when I'm at school, do I?” she invented distractedly.
“I suppose we can let it slide this time” said Fred, looking grave and George nodded sternly before both faces split into grins. She stuffed the book hurriedly into her bag; not quite sure why reading was such a big problem.
“If you don't watch out, you'll be in Ravenclaw,” said George.
April recalled Dumbledore's story about the Rowling sisters and decided that she didn't want to be in Ravenclaw. The next to emerge were Ginny and Mr. Weasley, chattering loudly.
As they climbed down the stairs, Ginny fell silent and her face flushed bright red. “Ginny's got a crush on Harry,” George hissed in her ear, his voice shaking with amusement. Percy came down some twenty minutes later, looking disgruntled. Mrs. Weasley was practically pushing him along in her urgency, and she threw repeated glances at the clock in the bar as though that would stop its hands from moving. She bustled up to the bar and, when she turned around two minutes later, she was smiling gratefully and bearing an enormous toast tower and a flagon of pumpkin juice. Breakfast was rushed, noisy, and disordered and April couldn't help thinking that Tom would be glad when their enormous party had left. The cars arrived at ten and she was astonished at the way that they were so roomy inside. She sat on a back seat – which had somehow elongated to resemble a stretched park bench – with Percy, Ginny, Hermione, Crookshanks, and Ginny's cauldron. The traffic was bad and above them the early sunlight was fast blurring behind the rain clouds. To April's great surprise, the cars were largely unaffected by traffic as they seemed able to slip through gaps that far smaller vehicles would be unable to negotiate. At one point they escaped a long loop of congested road by detouring through an alleyway. Even with these shortcuts, they arrived at ten-to-eleven and the Weasleys hurried them through the crowded station, parting the way with the high-piled trolleys.
“Where does the train go from?” April panted to Harry.
“Didn't Dumbledore tell you?” he replied, “Platform 9 and ¾.” He grinned, but his smile, as it had done all morning, fell away quickly.
“You have to run at the barrier between platforms nine and ten.”
“You're joking, right?” she asked, looking from him to the twins and back again. She was sure that this was some strange prank which was going to result in her being mashed against the barrier. Harry smiled at her disbelief and shook his head. Mr .Weasley grabbed Harry's arm and marched him briskly towards the barrier. April stared in disbelief as they disappeared through it, closely followed by Percy who marched through so naturally that April blinked several times at the solid barrier.
Mrs. Weasley waved her hands towards the other children and Fred and George propelled Ginny between them through the barrier. Ron followed and he shut his eyes painfully as he approached it as though expecting an inevitable crash. Mrs. Weasley dragged a bemused April towards it and she wondered if she was the only one who had actually noticed how impermeable it looked.
“Focus on getting to the platform” Mrs. Weasley instructed as they rushed towards it, her rolling trolley careering faster and faster. April had no real idea what she meant, but simply repeated the words 9 and ¾ to herself. She braced herself for a collision which never came; the muggle world slipped away and suddenly she was running along another platform. They passed under a large sign reading Platform 9¾. There was a large red steam train, belching out a blue haze and the platform was amok with students holding animal cages or trunks. April recognised several faces from Diagon Alley and a blonde girl waved dreamily at her whilst pulling a string of leaf shaped, purple vegetables out of her bag.
Mrs Weasley gave them all lung-bursting hugs and April couldn’t help wondering self-consciously whether it annoyed the Weasley kids that she and Harry received the same attention that they did. She then started pulling lumpy sandwich packets out of her bag and handed one badly-wrapped bundle to each of them, reassuring Ron that they were not corned beef. His ears went red.
April noticed Mr Weasley talking urgently to Harry, tucked in an alcove in the wall. Her attempts to eavesdrop were impinged by the shouts of “Bye” and “How was your summer?” and “Quick, get on the train” and “I’ll send letters” and “Have fun” that thickened the air.
Mrs Weasley called Harry and Mr Weasley over and together they bustled further down the platform to where it was less crowded.
“What was that about?” April quizzed Harry as they jogged along the length of the train.
“What I heard last night,” he replied.
“Have you told the others; Ron and Hermione and that?”
Mrs Weasley swept April into a carriage and Fred and George piled the assortment of trunks into the space by the door before climbing aboard themselves.
“Where’s Percy?” Mrs Weasley cried suddenly and they searched frantically – eyes raking the crowds - until Hermione appeared by her side with Crookshanks in a basket to reassures them that he had gone to the Prefect carriage.
There was a long shrill whistle and Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny jumpped up into the train. They slammed the door shut behind them and stood awkwardly in the corridor, jammed in place by all the trunks.
As the train pulled out of the station and the waving, red-headed couple slipped out of sight, they heaved their baggage into the racks in the nearest compartment and slumped down on the seats. In one corner, against the window, a tired and ill looking man was sleeping.The Dursleys had not taken April beyond Little Whinging for years and so she was fascinated by the city-scape they were rattling past. The others seemed more interested by the man in the corner.
“We’re gonna go find Lee.” Fred and George said and left the compartment, “See you later.”
“I need to talk to you, in private.” April heard Harry mutter and understood that to mean that he intended to tell them about Black.
“Go away Ginny.” Ron demanded and Ginny responded huffily, rolling her eyes and walking out. April decided to follow her because, although I’m sure Harry wouldn’t mind me being there, she felt a little out-of-place among such a close group of friends.
The corridors were full of students and, in each of the separate compartments, there were groups of people laughing, chattering and eating sweets.
“Hey Ginny,” said a dreamy voice and both of them turned around to see the girl who’d waved at them on the platform.
“Hi Luna. This is Harry Potter’s cousin.”
Luna tipped her head on one side and looked at her with mild interest. She had very protuberant eyes, April noticed.
“I know” Luna said to Ginny in the same soft, floating tone “She has the same expression… Quibbler?”
April and Ginny avoided catching each other’s eyes knowing that laughter was inevitable if they were to do so. April declined the offered magazine politely and said she’d see her around.
As they pushed their way through into the next carriage they started giggling, and, as with the twins the night before, April struggled to stop.
“She’s really nice… a bit strange… but really nice when you get to know her.” Ginny said, between tremors of laughter.
“What’s the quibbler anyway?”
“Oh, a magazine thing; her Dad’s the editor. People only read it for a laugh, or if they’re totally mad. Half of it’s filled with reports on bizarre creatures which nobody has ever heard of. And the other half’s not worth mentioning. But she’s alright, once you’ve got over how unusual she is. Most people take the mick, I guess she gets bullied a bit, but I try and stand up for her sometimes.”
She pauses to wave at a boy going in the opposite direction who smiled back and waved.
“In here.” She said eventually, sliding open a compartment door and letting them inside.
One of the seated girls immediately jumped up and hugged her in a way which somehow resembled Mrs Weasley.
“Hey guys.” Ginny grinned once she had been released “This is Harry Potter’s cousin” She said, pushing April forward. She smiled awkwardly under their scrutiny.
“I never knew he had a cousin.” Said a girl with exceptionally long hair.
“Yeh, well…” April invented “… he didn’t want to let on about me, bad for his muggle-hating reputation, you know, as the Heir of Slytherin.” She grinned but the other girls in the compartment looked uncomfortable.
Way to go April, now they’ll think you’re some weird, accusatory freak. She realised that her laughing over the matter was probably not the right way to tackle it. Maybe her joke had come too soon; not enough time had passed since the fear that they were ‘Potter’s victims’. She hadn’t really thought about that.
Slightly lost, she looked at Ginny for support. She realised that Ginny was probably even more sensitive than the others about it but, to her great relief, she was smiling slightly through flushed cheeks.
“You are so like Fred and George,” she said quietly, “They thought it was all really stupid – the whole thing about Harry – and they would go around making jokes about it.” She smiled again and sat down in a bid to chase away the tension.
“I was only joking guys,” April said weakly, “Although it’s not exactly difficult to be a muggle hater if you live with my parents.” One girl who was wearing an extravagant, lilac flower in her hair looked surprised.
“Are they really that bad?” She asked.
“They locked her in a cupboard,” said Ginny by way of an answer.
“I’m Amica, by the way” The girl said, shifting her bag out of the way so that April could sit down.
After the awkwardness of the first ten minutes the mood became steadily more friendly and, by the time the lunch trolley arrived, they had almost forgotten about Harry and all the danger that surrounded them.
Amica was sweet and, apparently, the most liked person in the year group. She was in Hufflepuff and got on with almost everyone. The number of good-natured insults that the others threw in her direction suggested that she paid for this attribute with a lack of intelligence.
Viviana was short and bubbly with unruly, brown hair which flicked across her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were bright blue and gave her the permanent look of an excited child at Christmas.
Nicasia was exciting and wild; she got them all playing dares and beat them all hands down. She had short, dark hair which she had twisted round her head in a sort of crown.
The long haired girl was called Aquillia and she was in Ravenclaw. Until that point, April had decided that Ravenclaw did not sound particularly appealing but she was forced to reconsider. Although Aquillia was occasionally sharp, she was funny, intelligent and had amazing eyes which had surpassed light brown and were almost tawny in colour.
The last girl in Ginny’s collection of close friends was Jessica. Her parents were farmers and she grew up in a village in Somerset without any idea about being a witch. She, like April, thought she was just a bit of a freak so she was “super excited” when she got her letter. Unlike April, her parents were “delighted” once they got over the shock. She had dead-straight blonde hair, like it had been ironed, which was tied back with a bit of string she and dressed like a boy.
“Let’s play exploding snap.” Suggested Nicasia with a grin that April did not really trust.
“Exploding snap?” April asked slowly; “You mean snap but with explosives involved?” She pretended to be cautious although she couldn’t really imagine that this game would be genuinely dangerous. The others all nodded enthusiastically.
“Doesn’t quite sound exciting enough for me,” April said feeling a reckless sense of enthusiasm ball up inside her.
“You haven’t played with Nicasia’s cards.” Amica said and everyone laughed.
The laughter was cut short by a rattling sound and a shout of “Anything off the trolley dears?”
As they pushed out of the compartment, digging money out of their pockets, April felt slightly pleased with herself. She had never imagined that she’d be able to make people laugh. Dudley had only ever laughed when she was either in trouble or caught doing something stupid. Now a group of girls, all older and taller than her, were laughing at her off-hand sarcasm.
The trolley was full of sweets that she had never seen before. She had not had enough money to buy a great variety of sweets since her sixth birthday but she had watched Dudley scoff countless chocolate bars and was sure that he had never eaten Drooballs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, or Chocolate Frogs.
Below the boxes of sweets there were stacks of Pumpkin Pasties I stood and looked at the food, feeling very hungry but knowing that she needed to keep her remaining galleons for more important things. The money she’d been loaned was not intended for her to aimlessly waste it bit by bit on sweets, besides, she had Mrs Weasley’s sandwiches.
“Didn’t know you had enough money for the lunch trolley, Weasley.” Drawled a blonde boy April thought she recognised vaguely from Diagon Alley.
“Shove off Malfoy” Said Ginny but she blushed with embarrassment.
He stepped out of his compartment and walked up to her, his face contorted with anger.
“That’s for losing us our house elf,” He snarled, pushing her against the wall. The short witch with the trolley looked positively terrified.
“Well perhaps next time you should learn not to be so careless with such, old, dirty belongings. Then again I think your family could do with taking care of many things, namely who they hang around with.” Ginny said coolly and April admired her nerve. The girls exchanged glances – all understanding the root of the insult.
“You do, do you Weasley? Do you think we want to end up like you and all the other blood traitor scum? Maybe you shouldn’t hang around with all those mudbloods; then you might be able to afford a house elf in the first place.”
“Leave her alone.” April said, surprised by her own daring.
“Who’s this?” He queried with interest and an enormous, heavily built boy with a squashed in nose appeared behind him cracking his knuckles and laughing.
“Was that meant to be threatening?” The blonde boy smirked. “I think we should run away Crabbe, she must be what, at least four-foot-six?” His voice dripped sarcasm.
Harry had told her about a boy called Malfoy, Draco Malfoy with his two henchmen Crabbe and Goyle. She screwed up her forehead, trying to remember what Harry had said about him.
Draco was scrutinising her intently. His face was whitish and his glare faltered to a confused grimace. He looked at April and then at Ginny before frowning and lifting his hand questioningly to his forehead. They nodded in confirmation.
“Look familiar, do I?” April asked in a tone she had only ever had to use with Vernon before. “You must be Draco Malfoy, the boy who bought his way into the Slytherin Quidditch team and then couldn’t manage to catch a golden ball floating in front of his face.” The boy looked stumped; he clearly was not expecting a first year to challenge him, let alone to point out his Quidditch short-comings.
He turns around to the busy corridor behind him “Everyone bow down” he says in a mocking tone “We’ve got another Potter coming through.” He spat the name and his face contorted once more. The people in the corridor remained stationary and he turned back to April, his greyish eyes glinting with malice. “I’ll get you later, Potter” and he gave her shin a departing kick.
The witch with the trolley broke the silence that followed with a shout of “Anything off the trolley dears” as she swayed into the next carriage.
“He was pleasant” April remarked as they headed back to the compartment.
As they shared out sweets and April and Ginny attempted to eat their sandwiches, a silence fell in the aftermath of the exchange with Malfoy. The train was cutting through stony hills and the landscape became steadily greyer as thunder clouds build up overhead. They made the air feel somehow heavy.
“So, what about this game of exploding snap” Nicasia suggested eventually, unveiling a packet of smoking orange cards. “You want to play with a bit of risk? We’ll play with a forfeit: whoever loses has to eat the sandwiches.”
They laughed and, despite feeling that she ought to be more grateful for her packed lunch, April helped Ginny pile the sandwiches in the middle of the table. The bread in itself was delicious but it had been filled with what Ginny described as Pumpkin and Ackee jam. April personally thought it tasted of sugary scrambled eggs and her stomach was repulsed by the thought.
Halfway through their fourth game, the train came to a sudden stop. It could only have been about five in the afternoon but the clouds were now so thick that it was almost dark already. The lights in the compartment flickered off and a chill fell like silence. Hail was buffeted against the windows with ominous scratching and, from further down the corridor, screaming could be heard.
“What’s happening?” asked Amica, craning her neck to peer out of the window.
“I’ll go see if I can find out.” Ginny rose from her chair and opened the compartment door. A blast of cold air entered in her place.
“I’ll come too,” April suggested immediately but, to her disappointment, Ginny shook her head.
“Stay here with the others; I’ll be back in a second.”
The second stretched in to minutes which April counted in her head. The group remained silent but after seven minutes there was a shriek from the next compartment and they saw Draco pelt past their door; his pale face waxy and his eyes wide with fear. April stood up – unable to contain either her nerves or curiosity any longer – and opened the door.
“Not so cocky now Draco,” she called after his retreating figure. “I didn’t think you’d be afraid of the dark but then again, I heard you peed your pants in the forbidden forest.”
Then she turned to face the other way and she could see why. A large black shape was walking towards her down the corridor. She supposed that the movement would be described as walking, although it was more like it was swimming. The rippling shaped seemed to have no definitive outline, appearing to be just a tide of ruffling black. There was a hood hanging low over where it’s face should have been.
April fell back into the compartment as though punched. The other’s stared at her.
“There’s this black thing wearing like a cloak and it’s sort of floating towards us” she expounded in in a voice which was high and feeble and nothing like her own.
“Dementors?” Aquilia whispered, drawing her knees up so that she was curled on the seat. April recalled the name from somewhere and realised that Dumbledore had mentioned them to Mrs Figg. She wished, now, that she had inquired into them a little more. Knowledge was the most powerful shield. Without it you couldn’t hope to defend yourself.
Dumbledore had said that the Minister wanted to put Dementors around the castle as guards, surely that meant that they were there to ward off intruders not students.
The dementor reached their compartment and slid back the door. It drew a long rattling breath and April slumped back in her seat, shaking. Memories that she never realised she had kept bubbled to the surface of her mind… Vernon is hitting her, time after time after time, his face wild, breathing heavily… At school, she’s lying on the floor, kids are all around her shouting, spitting at her “Freak”, “Freak”, “Freak”… Dudley is ploughing her down on his first bike; her chin is being forced into contact with the pavement … she’s all alone, lost on Little Whinging common, Dudley’s idea of a practical joke, it’s getting dark, she is walking unsteadily and then these is a streak of something which forces her face down into boggy ground. She can hear cruel laughter and hushed voices which blur just on the edge of her hearing “look at the filthy little muggle, what’s her mummy going to say when she comes back in pieces?” Then there is excruciating pain…
She was back in her seat on the Hogwarts express, the train was still dark but she could feel Amica’s fingernails cutting into her palm. Her arms were still shaking; she could still hear the voices –“Freak”… “comes back in pieces” – and she could still feel the pain twisting her body. She raised her hand to her cheek which seemed to be stinging from a slap delivered several years ago.
When was the last memory from? She couldn’t remember the event at all. How did she get home? How old was she? Who was it? Her mind was blank once more.
She felt sick and wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans.
The lights flickered on, the train started to move. Ginny had not returned. The lights seemed too bright for her eyes now and April squinted through her lashes at the way that Amica was holding me so tightly, and Nicasia’s eyes looked like they would explode from her pasty face. Aquillia had her hands over her face and Jessica was curled up beside her sobbing, her face pressed into her shoulder. Vivianna was twitching and shaking with her eyes half closed. Had they all seen what April had?
“I thought those things were meant to be guarding us.” She said eventually.
“They were” said Aquillia “They were looking for Sirius Black, but they’re angry because they haven’t found him, they’re getting restless and hungry for…” she trailed off.
“How do you know all this stuff ‘Lia?” asked Amica releasing April and shuddering.
She looked away “You-know-who got them on his side, they took my Dad.” She trembled violently and there seemed to no longer be any sharpness to her face; just fear and grief.
“Hungry for what?” April ventured nervously.
Aquillia turned her back on them and gathered herself together before responding. “They suck out your soul, they feed off hope, they force you to relive your worst nightmares, they drain all the happiness out of you – a train full of excited students would be their idea of a feast.”
“But we’re not Black; we’re innocent!"
“They can’t see, they can only sense souls, they’re are hungry, they’ll take anyone.”
April sat in silence, feeling terrible. Aquillia’s worst nightmare – her dad’s soul being sucked out.
The train was very quiet after this. Ginny returned and said they’d be arriving in ten minutes in a subdued, frightened little voice. April couldn’t believe that they had been laughing about an explosive set of cards just half an hour ago and now they were scared, sick, and silent.
They fumbled noiselessly with their robes; shocked by the fear that snared each of them and shaken by the information Aquillia revealed. Although the fear slipped slowly away, the way skin dries from a storm which has left you drowned, the memory of what the dementors forced her to relive remained fresh in April’s mind. Her memories were like unsightly obstacles which she had forgotten until she tripped over them.
It was almost a relief to get out of the train although the night was wild and the rain fell in fierce, icy lashings. Students run amok on the platform, attempting to shelter themselves with their cloaks, hands, and school books. Only a few had umbrellas.
“Come on.” Said Vivianna, budging April out of the carriage door. They’d somehow become separated from the others as they climbed out of the train. The sky was murky indigo and the platform seemed to be hanging crookedly onto a weathered outcrop of rock. The tide of bodies carried her across the platform and she looked around, trying to catch sight of Ginny’s red hair bobbing in the sea of school robes. The platform was lit by lanterns that were lurching in the wind and, through the rain, she spotted one of the twins. Thankful to see someone she knew, she wriggled her way through the throng to join him. Ginny appeared beside her.
“Good luck for the sorting” she said kindly.
“Yeah, we might see you afterwards” said the other twin, emerging from under an umbrella that was carried by a boy with dreadlocks.
“If you survive-”
“Remember our year, Lee?”
“Poor little James Goldstein had to be taken to St Mungos after the troll had finished with him.”
“Who was it that lost a finger last year?”
“Oh yeah, Collin Creevey.”
They all laughed aside from Ginny who frowned at them as they left.
April had met Collin Creevey, in Diagon Alley – he’d been that kid with the camera – she hadn’t noticed his fingers.
“They’re just pratting about, honestly all that happens is-” Ginny began to explain but she was cut short by a loud summoning from the opposite side of the platform.
“Firs’ years over ‘ere.”
An enormous silhouette was outlined against the sky by the light of a lantern. April’s heart began to beat fast as visions of trolls and missing fingers scudded across the surface of her brain. Ginny pushed her forward;
“Go on, follow Hagrid.” Hagrid. April was certain that Dumbledore had mentioned that name to her parents although she could not remember the words that had been said. All the same, she decided she would remember if the context had been a threatening one and decided that this ‘Hagrid’ character was unlikely to do her much harm. Her fantastical visions of trolls disappeared as rapidly as they’d arrived.
The shout came again: “Firs’ years over ‘ere,” and she picked her way between the puddles that splattered the emptying station until she was close enough to see Hagrid properly.
He truly was enormous; his hands were the size of Petunia’s dinner plates and his head seemed enlarged by clouds of bushy hair and beard. The top of April’s head barely reached his stomach.
“Is that everyone?” he scanned the pale-faced group that had gathered around him. There was not so much as a whisper in response and he looked a little disconcerted. “Well… then…” He floundered, unhinged by their silence. “Follow me… what’s the matter with you lot? I normally have to tell firs’ years to shut up.”
“There were dementors on the train” April said eventually. The effect that the word had on this giant-of-a- man was astonishing, his face paled and he suddenly looked like a horribly overgrown child.
“Well, that explains why you’re all so ruddy quiet; agh they give me the collywobbles, them dementors. Dumbledore won’t be ‘appy about this.” He said twisting his fingers anxiously and squinting into the rain as though expecting more terrifying creatures to sweep down on them. He shook his head as though ridding himself of the thought and looked back down at the collection of damp and miserable students. He did a strange sort of double take when he looked at April, as though only just seeing her clearly and he frowned at her up-turned face.
“What is it Sir?” she asked but he had already turned abruptly and was stomping off down a mountain path. They were left with little choice but to follow.
In the light of one lantern they slipped and slid on the wet rocks, stumbling and trailing as they attempted to keep to the steep and narrow path that was twisting downwards in a scree-slope. Despite his size, Hagrid seemed the most able to pick his way among the boulders, stamping with ease down large, rocky steps.
They turned a corner and below them a huge expanse of water was ruffling – silky black and polka-dotted with rain drops – it looked lonely but beautiful. On the far side of the lake, a hulking shadow could just be seen through the rain. The shape was pin-pricked with orange light and she realised, with a rush of anticipation, that she must have been looking at Hogwarts. Hogwarts masked by a cloak of bad weather.
“We haven’t got to cross that have we?” said one girl, her voice shrill with obvious panic.
“Someone’s not going to be in Gryffindor.” Said a dry voice behind April.
“Huh?” she asked, spinning round.
“Well Gryffindors are meant to be brave, duh” She said and rolled her eyes. “Clearly you’ll be going in Hufflepuff, along with Little-miss-pee-her-pants over there.”
So far the only Gryffidors and Hufflepuffs April had encountered had been pleasant but this girl was studying her with a look of cold superiority. Through the lashings of icy water, her face was somewhat distorted but April noticed she had strangely fiery eyes and bushy golden hair.
“Don’t listen to her,” said another girl, taking her hand. It was cold and bony but there was something warming about having someone beside her. “There’s nothing wrong with being in Hufflepuff.” She was like Amica, sending out rays of happiness and friendliness. “I’m Aurelia by the way.” She said with a small smile.
“Can someone, please explain these houses that everyone is so obsessed with!” April said, annoyed with the feeling of being out of the loop.
“I can help you there” Said the girl with the mane of hair. “Slytherin is the one place no-one wants to be but Hufflepuff’s practically as bad that. They say it’s for people who are loyal and that but really it’s just for the idiots, the ones who are too stupid and too soft to be anywhere else. Ravenclaw’s for all the smart asses, the ones who are kiss-ups and get high grades, they’re mostly alright but they take life way to seriously. Gryfindor’s the best, that’s where all the best people go.”
“You know, that’s what I thought about Gryffindor too, until I met you.” April said stiffly.
People had gathered around them, ignoring Hagrid’s calls from the lake-side. Their eyes were fixated on the two girls – their breaths alight with anticipation – but instead of the fight they were expecting April merely earned herself a flaming glare.
“Yeah, and Harry Potter’s in Gryffindor!” Said a dark-haired girl who was stood behind April’s opponent.
“I’m aware of that, thanks, on account of the fact that he’s my cousin.” she said and marched down the final stretch of path to the twenty or so boats that were bobbing on the black surface. Hagrid was sitting in his own boat, and, wrapped in his several coats, he seemed almost to overflow out of the sides.
The rest of the crowd followed and she found herself in a boat with Aurelia, the dark-haired girl, and two very pretty African girls.
“I’m Romilda” said the dark-haired girl breathlessly “Is he really your cousin? Can I meet him? Can I talk to him?” she asked in a stream of enthusiasm. April was unsure was not sure what to make of her unnerving obsessiveness and so turned to the other two girls who were sharing the back of the boat.
“Who are you?”
“Neela and Shania” said the shorter one softly “Who are you?”
“April,” She replied shortly, wondering why introductions always came down to her sickening name.
There was no way that she wanted to be known as April, the clueless, gutless, dumb girl who wasn’t really good enough to be Harry Potter’s cousin. Things were had gone well on the train – until the dementor came, of course. She had made five new friends and beat her cousin’s nemesis. Now, she realised, she looked stupid. She ought to have found out more about the school she was headed for, she ought to have prepared in order to avoid embarrassment and instead she’d already started some sort of feud by simply not knowing enough.
“Look,” Aurelia exclaimed, pointing up in front of them. Hogwarts had reared suddenly out of the rain and, without noticing its approach, they were suddenly almost underneath it. April could make out a stone staircase straggling up to an enormous wooden door. The entrance was illuminated by blueish flames in large, decorative torch brackets that seem to be burning from nothing.
“We’re there.” She breathed deeply, as though her whole life up to that point had been concentrated on reaching it. For April, the moment was one she seemed to have stumbled across, one she seemed to have accidently fallen into without any warning.
From there the lights at the windows were clearer and, every now and again, they flickered as though someone had just walked along the corridor behind them. The rain, for a minute, seemed to cease to fall and, from under her sodden cloak, the hairs on her arms rose in expectation.
The chatter from the other boats fell away and the silence was not awkward but awed. The students gazed up at the castle with something close to reverence and she couldn’t help but join them. She had never seen something more welcoming, neither had she felt before such a need as this to be part of the group. she hated the feeling of not knowing what others did. She wanted to be a sheep; part of the struck-dumb-in-wonder crowd that picked their way up the stairs to the enormous, oak door that was stained dark by the rain.
Hagrid raised one enormous fist to the door and knocked three times.