One hand on either side of the cold porcelain sink, Taylor Durden leaned in towards the bathroom mirror until her nose nearly touched the glass. A slightly panicked-looking eighteen-year-old girl with long straight brown hair and brown eyes looked back at her. For a moment she said nothing, matching her reflection stare for stare, a tiny cloudy spot appearing and then disappearing on the mirror's surface in time with the rhythm of her breathing.
"Alright, Taylor," she said finally. "Here we go." She stared a second longer, and then, as if to stiffen her resolve, gave a curt nod and stood up straight again. She turned away from the mirror and heaved a bulky tan duffel over her shoulder, nearly staggering under the weight of it. Regaining her balance, she strode purposefully out of the bathroom onto platform nine and three-quarters.
Taylor stood in a crowd of young wizards and witches all running to and fro as a train whistle blew. All around her, people carrying heavy trunks made their way to the train. Happy to have finally cast off her own heavy Hogwarts trunk in favor of the lighter and more portable duffel, Taylor strode purposefully through the crowd, almost smirking at the several people who had simply given up and were dragging their trunks across the floor, the metal scraping loudly against the cement. At the luggage car, Taylor handed her duffel to a man loading the bags and felt her smug attitude vanish as he threw another giant trunk on top of her duffel, effectively squashing it flat. "Oh well," she thought, "won't be doing that next year." She kept a blue striped drawstring bag with her, containing her purse, wand, and a book for the trip, and now she put her arms through the straps and wore it as a backpack.
She made her way to the passenger compartments of the train and climbed on. The inside of the train was almost exactly what she remembered from all her years at Hogwarts, people running up and down the aisles, shouting hellos to friends. So, basically chaos. But somehow it was comforting to her, in that it was familiar.
Taylor made her way through the noisy crowd to a less occupied car. She didn't know anyone, so she felt more in the way than anything else, people pushing past her to get to someone they hadn't seen all summer. Finding an empty compartment, she wrestled with the door (it stuck), finally getting it to slide shut. She pulled off the blue bag and collapsed into the cushioned seat and let out a heavy sigh. "Well," she thought, "this is it. I'm really doing it."
A year ago she wasn't even sure whether or not she was going to continue school after Hogwarts. Certainly she wanted to, but her family—Muggles—simply couldn't afford the tuition of a five-year wizarding university. Thanks to her top grades at Hogwarts, however (as well as some very impressive letters of recommendation), Taylor had qualified for and received a full-ride academic scholarship funded by a private wizarding organization that supported Muggle-born witches and wizards. So now here she was, on the train to Wandslake Wizarding University in Scotland. And she was terrified.
She chided herself for her horrible nerves and pulled a dog-eared copy of "Sense and Sensibility" from her bag, settling down for the trip.
It was a difficult time for the Dashwood women, read Taylor. Lacking money and the means to make it, and without any relations thoughtful enough to die and leave them some, they were now unattractive marriage prospects for the well-to-do men and boys who might otherwise have been interested...
Taylor soon found herself completely absorbed, and had read nearly a hundred pages of Elinor and Edward's story when suddenly there was a weight in her lap and Taylor looked up from the book to find a slender black cat staring at her.
"Well, hello," said Taylor, laughing, putting aside her book to pet the cat. "What's your name?" It purred appreciatively, its wide green eyes narrowing to contented slits. Taylor fingered the silver tag on the green collar and pulled it around to have a look.
"Kaliko," she read aloud, and then laughed delightedly. "That seems fairly inappropriate," she commented, noting the cat's solid pitch-black coat. By now the cat had settled on Taylor's lap, purring loudly. The purring sound buzzed in the cat's chest, thrumming through Taylor's legs and stomach, making her feel completely at ease.
"You know, I really should find your owner," she told the cat, who in response only purred louder. Taylor stood carefully, and the cat went limp, draping itself over her arms. "Oh, come on," she said, collecting all the cat's spindly limbs and cradling it carefully. She nudged the compartment door open with her toe, as her hands were full, and leaned all her weight against it to make it slide grudgingly open.
She'd made it only a few steps towards the car to the next door when she heard a voice coming from behind it.
"Yeah, hold on," it said, coming closer, "I just have to find Kali, and then I'll catch up." The door swung open toward Taylor, catching her off guard. She quickly sprang out of the way and caught her balance again, but by then, the young man coming through had crashed into her.
"Whoops!" he said, trying to catch Taylor as she fell, unable to balance herself because of the cat. The cat leapt from Taylor's arms and perched on a light fixture nearby to watch as the two people fell in a heap. "Sorry!" said the boy, pulling Taylor to her feet and smiling broadly. "Wasn't watching where I was going."
"No, no, it's fine," said Taylor, smiling too. She couldn't help but notice that he was very good-looking. He smiled broadly again and then frowned thoughtfully, his brown eyes narrowing as he pointed at her.
"Did you just have a cat?" he asked, after a moment.
At this, Kaliko jumped down from the light fixture, landing softly on Taylor's shoulders.
"Kali!" said the man, "There you are!" He reached out to the cat and it swatted at his hand playfully, meowing loudly. "Ouch," said the man, pulling his hand back. Then he half-grimaced, half-laughed, shaking his finger, saying, "Bad cat!" He reached out again and the cat flew gracefully into his outstretched arms, purring happily again.
Taylor watched all of this with a smile.
"Sorry about that," he said. "She keeps sneaking away from me. But at least she seems to befriend the right sort." He flashed her another smile and she tried furiously not to blush. "Thanks," he said, shifting the cat to one arm and offering her a hand. "I'm Oliver."
"Taylor," she said. "And no problem. She's a dear."
"Well, I have to go," he said, pointing back the direction from which he'd come by way of explanation, "but thanks again. She can be a terror, honestly."
"Maybe I'll see you around at Wandslake," Oliver said, perhaps hopefully, and he gave her one last smile before disappearing into the next car.
"Oh dear," said Taylor. She was standing on the platform at Wandslake University, looking up at the giant pile of trunks unloaded from the train. A stranger next to her nudged her with his elbow.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "I think," said Taylor, slowly, sadly, "that my duffel...is on the bottom of all that." He laughed.