- Discussion-Child Abuse
- Canon Divergent
- Fix It
Harry held his breath as the wall was getting closer and closed his eyes. It felt incredibly odd to pass right through the bricks. Or were they passing through him? How did any of this even work? He was still at full tilt and gasping when he came out on the other side after only a few steps.
Hands reached for his trolley and brought it to a halt and the first thing Harry saw as he snapped his eyes open was another set of hands that reached out to prevent Hedwig’s cage from toppling over.
“Careful there,” a barely familiar voice said. “You don’t want to crash into the box of the guard, he gets terribly grumpy.”
Harry just managed to catch a glance of a dark red wooden structure maybe three metres farther down the plattform, as he and his trolley were pulled into the other direction. He’d have had real trouble stopping in time to avoid a crash. He turned his head to look where they were going and who had saved him from such embarrassment and found himself flanked by the redheaded twins, both grinning at him. Next thing he knew he was gaping at a beautiful steam engine in gleaming red and black.
“Thank you,” he said somewhat distracted. “Wouldn’t it be better to leave that space open if the advice to new students is to run through the barrier?”
“Yeah, you’d think so. Sadly–”
“Magical people aren’t always logical. And normally people are warned about it–”
“But you looked pretty lost out there and well, we know our Mum and figured she’d probably forget. It’s not malicious, it’s just so–”
“Normal for her and she’s been a bit frazzled getting all of us ready for the train. So–”
“We figured it wouldn’t hurt to wait and stop you. It’d be a shame if your owl got cross with you before you even reached Hogwarts.”
Harry thought the verbal ping pong was a little exhausting but also fun. “No, I’m sure Hedwig wouldn’t appreciate it at all if we crashed into anything. Woaw!” Harry jumped a little in surprise as they passed by a row of large fireplaces and the flames in one turned a bright green before a full grown man stepped out.
“Oh, that’s just the floo,” one of the twins said.
“Yeah, the floo network. It allows for easy–”
“Travel between fireplaces that have been hooked up. You just throw some floo powder into the flames–”
“Say where you wanna go, and off you are.”
“Is it very expensive?” Harry wondered.
“No, not at all. Why?”
“Well, if you can just swish from one place to the other through this floo, why would you bother going through King’s Cross and the barrier?”
“Oh, that. You see, that’s just family tradition–”
“And pride, really. Even when like today, we’re already running late.”
“When the Hogwarts Express was first installed, it was one of our ancestors that came up with the idea and created the charm work for the barrier to the muggle plattform. They needed an easy way to allow muggle-borns to get here, after all.”
“It’s pretty ingenious magic so our family has made it a point to always come here that way. Dad says, it’ll teach us kids to appreciate the hard work and accomplishments of our ancestors. But we think–”
“It’s just another chance for him to observe Muggles going about their daily lives. Our Dad is a bit nuts over all things muggle, you know.”
Harry just nodded. He couldn’t see how people hurrying towards trains or standing around waiting could be fascinating. But then again, he was gaping at every other thing on this platform, all of which appeared to be perfectly ordinary to the twins, so it was probably all a matter of perspective.
“Hey, here’s an empty compartment,” the twin on Harry’s left side said after jumping up a little to glance through the window. Harry was pretty sure it was Fred.
“Do you wanna sit with us? We can give you a hand with your trunk either way,” the other twin–George?–offered.
“Ehm, I don’t want to be a bother. I’m sure you want to catch up with your friends and stuff. I’ll be alright on my own. Though some help with the trunk would be great.” The truth of it was that Harry would love to stay with the twins and their easy confidence. It had distracted him from his own nerves and he hadn’t felt lonely – not something he was used to.
“Pish-posh,” George swished away Harry’s words with a wave of his hand. “If you’d like to join us, you’re welcome to. We have the whole school year ahead of us to catch up with friends.”
“And you don’t look like you’d bite if someone comes dropping by. Just a sec.” And with that, the older boys grabbed first one trunk off their trolleys and carried it into the train with practiced movements, then returned for the second.
Harry watched in awe as each trolley once empty, rolled off to the collection line, neatly avoiding any passers by. For a terrible second the thought crossed his mind that the twins had no reason to come back out of the train now, that they could just leave him standing there, laughing at him behind the curtains of the compartment. He started looking up and down the train if there was anyone else he could ask for help instead.
But then the boys jumped back out of the narrow door.
“You take your owl, we’ll take your trunk. Come on!”
Harry had barely time to grab a hold of the cage George handed him before his trunk was whisked off into the train. He watched as his trolley, just like the others, dutifully rolled away, even though Uncle Vernon had gotten it from the normal line. Harry grinned as he imagined what his face would look if he could see this right now.
Hedwig screeched at him and Harry followed the twins into an old but cosy looking compartment. All their trunks were stacked in a corner clearly intended for trunks, so all the seats were free for them to get comfortable in. Harry stood there a little unsure where to sit.
“Why don’t you put your owl beside the trunks? That way she can take a nap if she feels like it. We thought you might like to sit by the window,” George patted the seat beside him.
“We’ve been on this trip a bunch of times already, after all,” Fred added.
“Thanks,” Harry nodded a little uncomfortable. He busied himself for a few moments by settling Hedwig’s cage safely in the corner seat by the door and making sure she was comfortable. When he felt a little more at ease again, he finally dropped into the seat intended for him.
“I believe we haven’t gotten around to proper introductions,” the twin across from Harry said. “George Weasley, at your service.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “You told your mother you were Fred, at least that’s what you said when you stopped kidding around.”
“How can you tell?”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s just something… different between you two. I’m good at paying attention and I’m pretty sure you’re Fred. Or did I get it wrong?” He shrank down in his seat at the end, feeling like he might have done something terribly rude and offended his hopefully new friends.
“No, you’re right,” Fred confirmed. “Sorry, we didn’t mean to be mean or anything.”
“It’s just some fun we pull on most everyone because hardly anyone can tell us apart. You saw even our own mother being unsure in a weak moment, though with her and Dad it’s really rare.”
“Funnily enough, Dumbledore always knows who’s who.”
“Anyway… I’m George Weasley, you already met my brother,” the twin sitting beside Harry said, grinning.
“It’s very nice to meet you two. I’m Harry Potter.” He held his breath, unsure of the twins reaction to his name after the hubbub at the pub a month ago.
Both boys’ eyebrows shot up in surprise and there was an exchange of looks that Harry had no hope of deciphering, but neither of them seemed to freak out.
“The pleasure is entirely ours, Mr Potter,” George finally said with such overdone formality and mischievous smile that Harry finally relaxed.
“Fred? George? Are you in there?” a woman’s voice drifted into the compartment.
“Coming, Mum,” Fred answered and George rolled his eyes at Harry.
“Don’t leave without us.”
Harry watched through the curtains as the oldest Weasley brother came down the train to say his goodbyes to his mother. He seemed rather stuck up and Harry grinned at the teasing the twins bestowed upon him.
“Did you see that dark haired boy that was lingering close by before we passed through the barrier?” Mrs Weasley asked her sons. “He was all on his own and I wanted to make sure he made it onto the platform and the train alright.”
“Yeah, don’t worry. We took care of him,” Fred said.
“That’s not nearly as comforting as it should be,” Mrs Weasley told him.
“No, really,” George assured her. “We stopped him before he could crash against anything and helped him with his trunk. We’re actually sharing a compartment.”
“You won’t believe who he is!” Fred added. “He’s Harry Potter!”
“Oh, Mum, can I go on the train and take a look at him?” the little girl at her side begged and Harry shrunk deeper into his seat.
“No, Ginny. You already saw him and the poor boy is not an attraction to gawk at. And you.” She pointed a sharp finger at all three of her sons. “I expect all of you to behave like decent people and not ask him rude questions about what happened with his parents. That’s the last thing he needs. He was ever so polite and shy when he asked how to get through the barrier. I wonder… even as an orphan he shouldn’t have arrived here on his own. He clearly could use some support and friends, so prove for once that your father and I raised you to be good young men. I’d much rather hear about that than you getting up to shenanigans like blowing up a toilet.”
“We’ve never blown up a toilet.”
“But that’s an excellent idea, Mum. Thanks!”
“We had to get it from somewhere in the family. Looks like you’ve got yourself to blame.”
Mrs Weasley’s answer was drowned out by the whistle blowing. She hugged her sons goodbye, and gave them last admonishments to behave and write often.
Fred and George were back in the compartment by the time the doors were all closing. They pulled down the window and made a big production of waving their mother and little sister goodbye, throwing Ginny kisses as she ran along the train as long as she could keep up.
“Well, that’s that taken care off,” George huffed as he dropped down in his seat.
“Yeah. Now we need a plan to blow up a toilet somehow.”
“She was practically asking for it,” George agreed.
“Do you really do that kind of thing?” Harry asked. “Don’t you get in terrible trouble?”
“Mostly on if they can prove it was us, who catches us, and how creative we went about doing it,” Fred explained.
“Yeah, the headmaster has a really quirky sense of humour and an appreciation for the absurd. Flitwick, that’s the Charms teacher, can also be softened by creative and competent use of magic. McGonagall not so much.”
“She teaches Transfiguration and is the head of our house, Gryffindor. Awesome woman, total badass, but not great on the humour front.”
Harry filed those snippets of information away, thankful for the explanations the twins wove in for his benefit.
“But, would they even be lenient if you damaged school property?”
“We’d definitely get detention and lose house points, but detention isn’t all that bad, depending on who you are serving it with. The Potions master, Snape, makes you clean cauldrons and stuff like you’re slave labour but Filch, the caretaker, is the worst. He’s just a miserable person and tries to drag everyone down with him.” Fred shuddered.
“Property damage isn’t as big a deal in the magical world as what you are likely used to from the Muggle world. You did grow with Muggles, right?” George asked and waited for Harry to nodd. “Right. You see, it’s relatively easy to repair most things with magic. Speaking of which…” He pulled his wand out of his sleeve. “I assume whoever forgot to tell you how to get onto the platform at least told you that you’re not allowed to do magic outside of school.”
“It was Hagrid, and he only mentioned not doing magic around Muggles. But I didn’t try anything because I was afraid what might happen.”
“Right, good call. There’s actually a decree against the underage used of magic outside school. So unless it’s like life or death, you better not use your wand at all at home.”
Harry nodded his understanding and was very glad he hadn’t given into temptation to recreate that feeling he’d experienced in the wand shop.
“Anyway,” George continued, “we officially fall under the authority of the school the moment the train leaves King’s Cross and are therefore allowed all the magic we want. Here.” He turned Harry slightly towards him and pointed his wand at Harry’s nose. “Oculus reparo.”
Harry felt a wave of tingling magic wash over his face and the sellotape holding his glasses together vanished. He took them off and inspected them from all sides.
“Wow! Thank you! I don’t think they’ve ever looked that good.” He put them back on and found that they even fitted a little better and weren’t sliding around as much anymore.
“You might wanna go see the nurse at school about your eyes,” Fred advised. “Magical healing can fix a lot more than muggle medicine, though vision is tricky. But it’s definitely worth asking.”
“Yeah, sounds good. Thanks for the tip, I wouldn’t have even thought of it.”
“You’re welcome. Thanks to our Dad, we know a bit more about the Muggle world than the average wizard, so we can guess what you’re missing. And you can always ask. There’s no shame in not knowing something you had no chance to even come across before.”
Harry nodded his acceptance but averted his eyes. Relying on the help of others seemed wrong to him and he worried his new friends might grow as annoyed with him as the Dursleys had. But then again, ever since he’d entered the magical world, he’d met an awful lot of nice, helpful people – not including that arrogant blond boy at Madam Malkin’s. Maybe his luck was finally changing for the better.
They settled in for the ride and Fred and George taught Harry how to play a game called Exploding Snap. It was great fun once Harry had gotten used to the cards actually creating small explosions. The twins had gotten a good laugh out of his reaction the first time it happened, but Harry couldn’t begrudge them that, as he literally jumped up in his seat and squeaked like a little piglet. In hindsight it was definitely funny.
After a few rounds, Fred stood up.
“I need to stretch my legs a little. Wanna go have a look at that tarantula Lee was bragging about?”
“Sure,” George agreed easily. “Are you coming as well, Harry? We can always catch the trolley witch in the corridor, if you wanted to buy something.”
Harry’s stomach took that moment to remind him that he hadn’t eaten any breakfast and that it was already quite a few hours into the day.
“Or how about I give you one of my sandwiches and you repay me with a cauldron cake later?” Before Harry could say anything, George was already digging through the satchel he had taken from his trunk earlier and came up with a stack of paper wrapped sandwiches. “Let’s see what we’ve got here… roast beef and mustard, ham and swiss cheese, and egg salad.” He pulled a face at the last one. “I sometimes wonder if she forgets who likes what accidentally-on-purpose so we’ll eat other stuff.”
“I quite like egg salad,” Harry said.
“Great! Here, enjoy.”
The sandwich was practically thrust into his hands and now that he’d become aware of it, Harry was too hungry to decline it. George and Fred had one sandwich each as well, so he wasn’t eating on his own while they were waiting and watching him. When they were ready to leave the compartment, Harry made sure he had his money pouch in his pocket, so he could buy things from the trolley to make it up to George. He was also curious how cauldron cakes might taste and what else would be sold on a magical train.
Lee Jordan was a good friend of the twins and a fellow Gryffindor third year. And he actually had a tarantula in a cardboard box.
“Careful that you don’t startle her. That would be no fun for either of you,” he admonished when Fred was the first to take a look.
“She’s quite large and hairy,” Fred observed.
“Yeah,” George agreed. “Good thing Ronniekins isn’t around. He’d be clinging to the ceiling and crying for Mum. Total arachnophobic, that one. How about you, Harry?” He held the box out for Harry to take.
“I have no issues with spiders, they kept me company a lot. Though none were this big, that’s for sure.” He slowly turned the box around to see the tarantula from all sides. “Where did you get her?” He asked Lee as he handed her back.
“My uncle bought her for me as a belated birthday present. Mum wasn’t well pleased but eventually allowed me to keep her.”
“She’s cool,” Fred admitted. “But I hope you’ll have her in a secure terrarium or something in our dorm. I don’t fancy waking up to that sitting on my pillow.”
Both twins shuddered at that thought.
“How are dorms divided up?” The question had just occurred to Harry.
“Well, first of all, you are sorted into your house, and each has its own space,” Lee started and Harry nodded; he already knew about the houses from Hagrid.
“Then they are obviously sorted by gender, with separate staircases or corridors for each,” Fred continued Lee’s explanation. “I still think it’s unfair that we can’t go up the girls’ staircase but they aren’t warded from ours. Whoever did that had no clue how disrespectful of boundaries girls can be.”
“Oh, stop whining. I doubt Marie Clarence was out to see your scrawny butt in your undies,” George said and caused a round of giggles from everyone but Fred.
“To finish answering Harry’s question,” he continued. “The rest depends on which house you’re in. In Gryffindor, the dorms are split up by year and Hufflepuff is the same. Ravenclaw has two or three students per room and who knows what Slytherin has going on. They are always so very secretive.”
That brought up another question Harry had been worrying about. “How does the sorting work? It didn’t say anywhere and I have no clue if I should have prepared for it.”
“Ah, well, it’s tradition not to tell anyone ahead of time how it’s done,” Lee said sheepishly. “I was told by older students that we would be given super hard riddles to solve.”
“Charlie was mumbling about troll wrestling last time he came home for a visit.”
“And we told Ron that it would hurt an awful lot,” Fred added with a gleeful smile.
“And none of those are actually true?” Harry asked, not really feeling up to any of it.
“We can neither confirm—”
The twins were smiling like the picture of innocence, though the effect was ruined by Lee laughing his arse off.
Harry sighed. “And I thought I might get some help from you, but no such luck, it seems.”
“Nobody ever tells anyone the truth about the sorting unless the person has experienced it themselves,” George said apologetically.
“Come to think of it,” Fred pondered. “No secret known by so many is ever kept this well. Do you think there’s some sort of spell involved?”
“Seems like the kind of thing the headmaster would do,” George agreed. “But it could be even older, or the info would have made it into some old book about the school, and I never heard about it anywhere. I can tell you that nobody ever got hurt during the sorting if that’s of any relieve.” He smiled encouragingly at Harry and he supposed it had to do for now.
The door was pulled open to reveal Ron Weasley.
“There you are. I was looking for you.” He glared at his brothers. “You could have told me what you were up to.”
“Oh, we were just taking a look at Lee’s new pet. It’s a tarantula,” Fred explained.
“Here. Wanna look?” George was holding the box towards Ron and lifting the lid. The spider played her part well and reached one hairy leg over the edge.
“No! Get off! Take it away!” Ron was screaminging and stumbling backwards into the corridor.
Harry figured it wasn’t nice to laugh about somebody being so obviously scared, but it was difficult to hold in.
“What is going on here?” a stern voice interrupted. It belonged to a bushy haired girl that appeared in the open door, closely followed by a very insecure looking chubby boy, who looked supremely unhappy.
“Oh, nothing. Little Ronniekins here just isn’t all that fond of Lee’s new pet,” George explained and offered her the box to look into.
She did so and scrunched up her nose. “Spiders aren’t on the list of approved pets, so I hope you’ve considered that.”
Ron suddenly looked relieved. “Yeah, that beast can’t stay in the castle. It’s forbidden.” He drew himself up to his not inconsiderable height.
“Maybe the person bringing a rat to school as his pet shouldn’t be touting that horn too loudly,” Fred pointed out. “Did you think Percy didn’t get special permission before he brought Scabbers? You know, Percy, our rule obsessed older brother who recently made prefect? Ring a bell?”
“You mean I even inherited Percy’s special permission?!” Ron looked aghast.
“Well, it should be made clear on the letter then that such exceptions are possible,” the girl lectured and put her hands on her hips. “It is supremely unfair if muggle-born students are not informed of such facts wizarding families would be aware of. I’m Hermione Granger, by the way.”
George handled a quick round of introductions and she looked at each of them in a way that Harry was sure she was consciously making an effort to memorise all their names and faces that very instance.
“As we were talking of pets,” she continued. “Has any of you seen a toad? Neville here lost his.” She pulled the shy boy forwards and he gave a clumsy wave.
Ron snorted. “If I had lost a toad, I wouldn’t bother searching for it. They are so lame.”
“Ever heard of the one sitting in the glass house better not throwing stones?” George asked.
“Yeah, Ron, because a permanently sleeping rat is sooo cool,” Fred added. “And no, Hermione, Neville, sorry, but we haven’t seen a toad. But we’ll be sure to keep our eyes open.”
Ron harrumphed, pushed past the others and stomped off to where he came from.
Neville snivelled. “He’s always getting away from me and I don’t know what to do. Uncle Algie just dropped him and his little basket in my lap one day and when I asked my Gran to take me to Flourish & Blotts so I could get a book about how to properly care for him, she said a toad shouldn’t be too difficult even for me to figure out. But he’s clearly unhappy.”
“Are you still keeping him in that basket?” Harry asked. “I mean, I’m not an expert, but don’t toads like wet places?”
“Yes, they definitely do. All amphibians do.” Hermione agreed enthusiastically.
“But how do I give him that in a dorm room?” Neville sounded desperate.
“By tomorrow, you’ll have one of the biggest magical libraries at your disposal, I’m sure there’s something to be found on the matter. Toads were quite popular a while ago after all,” Lee suggested.
“Oh, I’ve read about the Hogwarts library,” Hermione said with stars in her eyes. “I’m so excited to finally see it! I was so worried that I might be cut off from any additional knowledge once I was at school but Hogwarts – A History made it clear that it is one of the biggest collections on magical knowledge in the world and holds some of the oldest books still in existence. I think we are so very fortunate to have that available to us for our studies. I only hope there’s a competent librarian in place and the catalogue is up to date so I don’t have to waste unnecessary time on figuring out how the system works.”
“See, Neville, sounds like you already have the perfect companion to help you with your research,” George interrupted Hermione cheerfully. “Also, the librarian, Mrs Pince, knows every book on her shelves. But she’s a real stickler for rules, you know, being quiet and putting everything back in its proper place.”
“Well, I would certainly hope so.” Hermione was back in full swing. “I can’t stand people who disrespect the silence of a library and interrupt everybody’s work. And how are others supposed to find what they are looking for if you made a mess of the shelves?”
“So, you’re already quite the library pro?” Harry asked, thinking that this sounded all rather overwhelming.
“Yes. I’ve read most books in my local library and my parents have been taking me to the public research library in the next bigger town for years because our local library is fine for leisure reading, but falls somewhat short on academic materials.”
“Okay, great!” Harry hurried to interrupt her again. “I might ask you for help figuring that all out then, if you don’t mind. My relatives never allowed me to go to the library.” He didn’t add that they never allowed him to go anywhere; that was nobody’s business.
“Sure, I’d love to. But I think now we should probably continue to look for Neville’s toad. It was nice meeting all of you!” And with a little wave and a swish of the school robes she was already wearing she and Neville vanished further up the train.
“Well I hope she calms down once she actually is at Hogwarts. That excitement is exhausting!” Fred said and leaned back in his seat.
“If she ends up in a different house than us, it wouldn’t be too bad, I guess,” Harry said.
“Yeah, you’re right!” Lee perked up. “With that hunger for knowledge, she should be a Ravenclaw, for sure. So that means we’re save! Just depends on where you end up, Harry.”
Harry could only shrug at that. After all he’d heard about the houses so far, he didn’t feel a special affinity to any of them. He could only hope that he wouldn’t be sent home to the Dursleys if he ended up really not fitting in anywhere.
The three of them headed back to their own compartment a little later because Lee wanted to try and charm a Hufflepuff girl named Sandra into going to Hogsmeade with him. George and Fred didn’t seem to think much of his chances but bros didn’t stand in the other’s way, so they made themselves scarce.
The matronly witch with the food trolley arrived at their compartment almost at the same time as them and Harry ended up buying some of everything. How was he supposed to choose between things he’d never tried? They added the rest of the twins’ sandwiches to the lot and made a bit of a picnic of it.
They had barely started in on it when their door was pulled open without even so much as a knock and three boys filled the opening—the one in the middle was the arrogant blond kid Harry had met in the robe shop, the other two were large and outright fat, which was saying something given that Harry was used to Dudley’s figure.
“Is it true?” the blond boy asked in the same bored tone Harry had disliked before. “They’re saying all down the train that Harry Potter’s in this compartment. So it’s you, is it?” He focused on Harry and didn’t even grace the twins with a single look, which rackled Harry.
“Yes, that’s me. Though I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“I’m Draco Malfoy, and these are Crabbe and Goyle.” He pointed over his shoulders. “It’s important to make the proper friends while you’re at school. Some families are simply better than others and you wouldn’t want to run with the wrong crowd. I could help you with that.”
The disdainful look he threw in the direction of the twins made it obvious that he didn’t think much of their family. Too bad Harry already didn’t think much of Malfoy.
“Would that distinction be made based on whether or not someone’s parents are magical or their bank account?” he asked. “I don’t think we have the same priorities either way, Malfoy. But thanks for the offer, I guess.”
The other boy’s face was flushed red, if in anger or embarrassment, Harry couldn’t tell.
“You’ll come to regret that!” he said angrily.
“I can’t see how I would,” Harry replied calmly.
At that moment, Goyle reached for some of the sweets spread out on the bench. Before Harry even knew what happened, George had his wand in hand and stretched out straight at Goyle’s nose.
“I’d hope your mother raised you better than to take from someone else’s property without permission like a savage.”
Goyle stared down at the wand speechless and crossed-eyed. Sadly, Malfoy made up for it.
“What would you know about good manners, Weasley?” The sneer didn’t do Malfoy’s face any favours. “My father told me all about your family—more children than common sense and your father’s meager salary allow.”
“Obviously, our parents could afford to raise us to know right from wrong.”
“Yeah,” Fred agreed. “Why don’t you lot get lost? Nobody invited you in anyway.”
“Yes, Malfoy. You haven’t made the best case for your ability to choose friends. I think I’m definitely better off on my own.” Harry couldn’t keep himself from adding his own smirk, even if it was petty.
Malfoy and his cronies left and the git tried to slam the compartment door shut, an effect thoroughly ruined by a shimmer of magic catching the door at the last moment and closing it silently.
“You know, I think I would happily deal with Hermione Granger if it meant I don’t end up in the same house as that git,” Harry mused.
Fred snorted. “Odds are, he’ll be in Slytherin. His family on both sides tend to sort there.”
“Is that normal, that families sort into the same house?” Harry was still curious and the whole sorting business only got more prominent on his mind the farther north the train travelled.
“It’s not unusual in old families. Weasleys usually end up in Gryffindor, though we have a few Hufflepuffs among our cousins. Potters are also Gryffindors more often than not. I think you have a few Ravenclaws in your line as well,” George mused.
Harry nodded deep in thought. He found it rather vexing that the sorting was turned in such a big secret, especially as it seemed to be so important to most magical people, what house one ended up in.
“Would you still be friends with me if I went into a different house?” he eventually asked.
“Yeah, mate, of course, we would,” George reassured him.
“Well, maybe try to stay out of Slytherin,” Fred threw in. “We have a bit of a feud going between our houses.”
George glared at his brother. “Yeah, Gryffindors and Slytherins don’t get along that well, but that’s just because most Slytherins are terrible blood purists and snobs and we can’t stand that. There are few that aren’t annoying like that and we get on well enough with them. You’re clearly not one of that sort so wherever you sort, it’ll be fine.”
“Okay. Thanks, guys. I’ve never really had friends before.” The way the twins gaped at him made Harry uncomfortable, and in an attempt to change the topic, he pulled a bag of colourful jelly beans out of the pile of sweets. “Now, what are these?”
It was maybe an hour later and they were still having fun daring each other into trying various dubiously looking Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans by coming up with the most heinous possible tastes when their door was pulled open again. It was Hermione Granger and she immediately looked disapproving.
“Why aren’t you in your school robes yet? I’m sure we must be arriving soon. I think I’m going to head up front and ask the driver how much longer it takes.” She was already halfway turned around when Fred called her back.
“It’s still another half hour until we reach Hogsmeade. Plenty of time to change. And you don’t have to bother the poor man while he’s working. That old engine needs attention.”
“How can you be so sure?” she demanded to know. “It didn’t list our arrival time anywhere in the material provided. I find that highly irritating! How is one supposed to plan for a trip without knowing its duration?”
“Em, because this is our fifth time travelling to Hogwarts?” George suggested. “The train always leaves at eleven and arrives at half past five. Simple as that.”
“Oh.” Hermione deflated and slumped into an empty seat. “Right. I guess, I should have just asked one of the older students. That was so stupid of me!”
“Maybe not so much stupid, as a little distracted and overwhelmed,” Harry offered. “I know that’s how I feel.” He gave her an encouraging smile and got a shy one in return. Seeing Hermione like this was shining a different light on her earlier behaviour.
He turned to the twins. “Why have you done this trip five times already? You’re only third years.”
“We went home for Christmas, of course,” Fred told him.
“Oh, right.” Harry had a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Do we… do we have to leave the school for the holidays?”
“No, students can stay at Hogwarts, and there are usually a few that do for one reason or the other,” George explained. “We’re staying this year as well, all four of us. Mum, Dad and Ginny are visiting our brother Charlie in Romania. The cabin he lives in isn’t big enough for all of us and you have to be careful with space extension charms around dragons. So he offered to have us boys come for a week or so in the summer instead.”
“That sounds fascinating!” Hermione perked up again. “Is he working in the reserve there? It was mentioned in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
“Yeah, he pretty much got his dream job there. But we think spending the holidays in the castle is also pretty awesome.” Fred’s grin promised all sorts of mayhem.
“Yup, we’ve been planning how best to utilise our time in a mostly empty castle,” George added. “We’re definitely not mad about staying.”
“Cool!” Harry said relieved. “I was worried I would be the only one.” What he had really worried about was having to go back to the Dursleys so soon, but he didn’t want to say that.
“Nah, we’ll have so much fun!” George bumped Harry’s shoulder.
“I’ll be going home over the holidays,” Hermione said. “My parents didn’t want me away from home for such a long time and I’m looking forward to seeing them again as well. But maybe I’ll stay next year. Mum and Dad have been talking about wanting to go skiing in the mountains sometime, and I’m not overly fond of that. Undisturbed time in the library sounds much more fun!”
“You have an odd definition of fun, Hermione,” Harry told her. “But to each their own, right?”
“Exactly.” Her eyes were twinkling with good humour, something Harry hadn’t seen in her before. “Anyway, I should leave you boys to change and pack up this mess.” She waved around their compartment. “See you around.”
She left and the boys soon figured out that she had been right to do so. It took them all the time they had left before the train started to slow down to pack up the leftovers of Harry’s sweets shopping spree, the Exploding Snap cards still slipping around on the table, and change into their school uniforms.
Hedwig had screeched indignantly as they’d bumped into her cage a few times in the process and had eventually turned her back at them before putting her head back under her wing.
Harry was now plastered against the window, eager to see the wizarding village of Hogsmeade the twins had told him about earlier.
The train came to a halt in the middle of maybe a few dozen quaint but otherwise ordinary looking houses and the doors snapped open.