Disclaimer: Characters are not mine. Suing is bad.

A/N: May baskets of chocolate and goodfic find their way to Kerosene for being kind enough to make this chapter readable.


By Taricorim


Professor Davis was a tall, slender woman of forty years, though one would not have given her more than thirty. Her hair was swept gracefully back from her face and pinned with clips of some unidentifiable jewel, which quite matched her twinkling blue eyes. Her appearance on my doorstep on the morning of 18 August tripled my beliefs in the wonder that surely was the wizarding world.

"The Headmaster wished me to come and aid you in your preparations for Hogwarts. Have you bought your supplies yet?" she said, smiling and directing the question at both Doreen and me.

"Er... no," I stammered. "I don't know where to find them."

Indeed, I didn't. I had lived in London all my life. I knew most of the markets like the back of my hand, and could find my way easily through the south. Fruits? Bread? Those I could buy, and much more besides. But not once had I seen a shop that sold wands and cauldrons. And, of the three bookstores that I had visited, none of them carried Magical Theory or The Standard Book of Spells.

Professor Davis nodded sympathetically. "Well, no matter. That's what I'm here for. I'll be your Potions Mistress this year."

So the three of us quitted the house, and, much to my surprise, we set off at a brisk pace down Glendale Road. Within five minutes we had reached a small, brightly lit store. I recognised it; I had stopped here on the road back from Lawrence almost daily for four months, and it was here that Doreen sent me every time we needed extra bread.

"Janet!" said Mrs Hurst, the shop keep, warmly. "How are you?"

Professor Davis nodded toward her. "On Hogwarts business right now," she said. "Can we use your fire? We need to get to Diagon Alley."

"Of course." Mrs Hurst led us into the back of the shop. I stared in awe as she took out a long, slender wand, tapped a chest, and opened it to produce a small sac, which she handed to Professor Davis. "Leave it by the fire when you're done."

"Thank you."

Doreen and I followed Professor Davis and Mrs Hurst to the fireplace, where the former took a handful of glittering dark powder and cast it into the fire. The flames at once flared up into a sickening, bright green, taller than a man and just as wide. "Diagon Alley," she said, and stepped into the fireplace.

There was a crack, and the fire briefly flared brighter. An unseen wind lifted Professor Davis's hair and whipped back her periwinkle robes. She began spinning, her feet lifting up from the burning wood, until she was but a blur hovering in the midst of the flames....

And then she was gone. I stared, open-mouthed, at the fire, which was now burning calmly, all traces of green gone.

Doreen eyed the bag mistrustfully, but took up a handful. When the fire roared up again for her, she stepped into it, flinching where the flames brushed at her skin. Her normally smooth voice was tight and high with fear when she spoke. "Diagon Alley." The fire whisked her away from me.

"You're shaking like leaf, dear," said Mrs Hurst. "Are you cold?"

I shook my head, noting numbly that she was right, that I was terrified. Whatever happened to plump fairy godmothers and Andersenian princesses with long, blonde hair and beautiful satin gowns?

"Don't fret, it'll be easy. You saw them—just throw the Floo powder into the fire, and say 'Diagon Alley'."

She shooed me toward the grate and offered me the bag. Hesitating, I reached in to take a pinch of the glittery powder.

"Now, mind you speak loudly and clearly. You wouldn't want to come out at the wrong place."

"Diagon Alley!" I said, casting the powder into the fire half-heartedly. The sad little flames roared again and leapt up in a whirl of green light. I drew back in shock.

"Quick!" said Mrs Hurst.

I closed my eyes and stepped in.

It was the strangest sensation. The flames licked at my robes like a tongue of green wind. They burnt. They froze. They caressed. They hurt.

It ended as abruptly as it had begun. I fell out from a dusty grate, coughing and sputtering, into a dark room. The dull wooden countertop and stools had certainly seen better days, and the barkeep was an old, though jovial enough, man wearing shabby grey robes. A sign in the window proclaimed this place to be "The Leaky Cauldron—London's best butterbeer since 1683."

Unsurprisingly, at this time of day, the pub was quite empty. Most of the chairs were still stacked neatly against one wall. In fact, the only four people in the Leaky Cauldron were Doreen, the barman, me, a rather dour-looking customer sitting in a corner, and Professor Davis, who had stood up from her table when she saw me enter.

"Scourgify," she said, and abruptly the dust and cinders disappeared from my clothes and skin. Doreen, evidentially, had just been given the same treatment, and, apart from being a bit off-colour, seemed otherwise fine. I extended a trembling finger to my blouse, half expecting the thread to fall apart. She pocketed her wand. "Three butterbeers, please," she said to the barkeep.

Butterbeer turned out to be a warm, foaming, amber liquid that tasted of sugar and spices and cinnamon and chocolate all at the same time. It was ambrosial.

While we drank, Professor Davis explained that the Leaky Cauldron was most famous as a gateway to Diagon Alley, the wizarding centre of London. "You'll find all you'll need here," she informed us happily.

The barkeep came and took our mugs when we finished. Professor Davis rose. Doreen and I followed her through the pub and into a tiny courtyard, which was as shabby as the inside of the Leaky Cauldron. In front of us stood a brick wall.

Professor Davis tapped it three times with her wand, then moved back and waited as the brick shuddered and melted away, leaving a hole that grew bigger and bigger until there was an archway slightly taller than Professor Davis in the wall. I stepped through, and found myself faced with the most amazing street that I had ever seen.

It was narrow and winding, and the ground was paved with cobblestones, which were clean enough that they fairly gleamed in the sunlight. Even at this hour, the alley was filled with people—wizards—in robes of every colour imaginable, bartering for strange and exotic goods from the corners of the world. Within only minutes, I had developed a crick in my neck from craning it to absorb all the sights, and I was sure that no one understood how to "strain one's ears" until he had visited Diagon Alley.

I looked over at Doreen. She seemed too shocked for words, her mouth open in awe. This was a rather unsettling change; she usually knew the right words to describe any occasion.

It was true, however, that Diagon Alley might well have been indescribable. Indeed, the sights and sounds were so unlike the rest of London, the Leaky Cauldron included, that I was certain I had stepped into an altogether different world. This feeling stayed with me for all of that first day, and returned each summer I went back for my shopping.

And yet, so entrancing was it, and so desperately I strained to capture all my senses within my memory, that I later remembered little of that street.

I remembered a general sense of activity, noise, and colour—for Diagon Alley was very colourful, from the robes of black, blue, white, gold, orange, red, mauve, emerald, and every colour in between, to the shimmering, bright banners in the shop windows. I saw with a start that the banners were moving; the letters rearranged and transformed themselves to form words on the heavy cloth.

The second thing that I remembered was people, masses of them. The queues spilt out of the stores and onto the cobblestone, queues of dwarves and midgets, giants and goblins, harridans, hags, troll men, and one who had suspiciously sharp teeth and red-rimmed eyes in the shadow of the ice cream parlour, licking a blood-red cone.

At the alley entrance, Professor Davis halted as Doreen and I drank in our surroundings. "I always forget that Diagon Alley is so spectacular to first-time visitors." She shrugged, her mouth twisting into a wry grin. "I don't even remember my first trip here; my parents took me when I was one."

We made our way through the masses. Professor Davis first led us to Gringotts, the wizard bank, where my money was changed into strange coins by a pair of goblins, one of whom had tufts of grey hair sprouting from his ears. "Muggles!" muttered the hairy-eared goblin in exasperation, after explaining that the little gold coins were Galleons, the silver were Sickles, and the bronze were Knuts.

Thus I ran back outside, my little bag filled with wizard coins. Professor Davis laughed at my wide-eyed eagerness to begin my first exploration of the wizarding world.

I was sorely tempted to spend all of my money at Flourish and Blotts (even Doreen wanted to relax her spendthrift ways), but restricted myself to my schoolbooks and a copy of Hogwarts, A History. Lawrence Academy's library, which I had never before found lacking, seemed pale and tiny in comparison. "You can find all of these books and many more at the Hogwarts library," Professor Davis assured me. "Hogwarts has the biggest collect of wizarding books in Europe, and the second biggest in the world—only Alexandria's is larger." I filed this piece of information away.

At the Apothecary, we found my first-year Potions supplies: slimy, squirming worms; glittery, dark beetles with sharp black pincers; sun-dried skin of some reptile; herbs and fungi, pressed and dried, or preserved in a clear gel that evaded my fingers when I tried to touch it.

Our fatigue had begun to catch up with us by this time (it was not yet noon). Doreen, especially, for whom childhood fables were half a lifetime away, was turning faintly green with prolonged shock. She put clammy hands to her forehead and said softly, "I need to sit down."

Five minutes later, I paid for my purchases with six gold Galleons and eight Knuts. "You go ahead," said Professor Davis. "I need to buy some more supplies, myself."

I crossed the little street to Madam Malkin's Robe Shop, which was run by a young, plump, kindly witch of about thirty years who carried in her arms three giant bolts of black fabric. Doreen sank gratefully onto a small, rickety wooden chair in the waiting area by the door.

The little shop was dimly lit and altogether too hot for a warm August afternoon. The young witch—presumably Madam Malkin—led me to a short stool and bade me step on it. "Hogwarts?" she asked.


She plucked a tape measure from the trail of dozen or so various instruments that followed her and set it to work. It darted around my wrists, around my waist ("Raise your arms higher, dear"), and moved on to my legs, while Madam Malkin muttered measurements to herself under her breath.

It was not an unpleasant respite from the insanity of Diagon Alley outside. Madam Malkin's Robe Shop was quiet. The warmth of the fire in the back wall was quickly making me drowsy.

Having done its work, the tape measure returned to its fellows, hovering and humming like a swarm of angry bees. Madam Malkin retreated into the back room.

A little bell at the top of the door rang, its note high and discordant. I winced.

Enter a middle aged woman of about forty years and her daughter—my age, I decided, quite pretty, with long blonde braids, sparkling blue eyes, and a pleasant face. "But how does the hat know where to put me?" she was saying.

The woman smiled rather tiredly. "It can read your thoughts. And it talks to you."


"The four founders enchanted it to sort the students into the best house. Don't ask any more questions, now."

The girl pouted and stepped onto a stool beside me, where Madam Malkin's tape measures set to work on her. She turned to me.

"What's your name? Are you going to Hogwarts? Do you know what house you'll be in?" she said rapidly.

"Claire," I said.

"You're starting at Hogwarts, too, then?"


"Well, do you know what house you're going into? I'm sure I'll be in Hufflepuff, all my family's there—except my aunt Tilly, she's a Gryffindor. Though I'm sure Gryffindor would be great, too..."

I began to tune her out. The girl seemed to be "sure" of everything.

The heat in the shop, so comfortable before, began to grow rather stifling. Perhaps I had drunk too much hot butterbeer earlier in the Leaky Cauldron.

Abruptly, I became aware that the girl had asked me a question. "Pardon?"

"I asked if you know your house yet," she said, a tinge of impatience in her voice.


"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Are you a Muggle? I've read about those! My second cousin is a Squib, and he married a Muggle when I was six. I went to their wedding. She seemed really nice."

I watched her with bemusement, listening to an occasional word here and there. Despite her evident naïveté, I found myself liking her, though I was not sorry when Madam Malkin's return with my complete set of robes interrupted her in a long-winded description about the day her cat Javert defeated her neighbour Dorothy's dog.

"Well, bye then," she said. "Maybe I'll see you on the train."

Professor Davis had just finished paying for her own supplies when I left the robe shop, blinking in the noise and sudden sunlight. "What else have you got on your list?" she asked.

"Cauldron," I read out. "Telescope, wand."

Twenty minutes later, I was further weighed down with a standard pewter cauldron, a set of scales, and a brass telescope, and all that remained was to buy my magic wand, which, after seeing Professor Davis use hers, I was very eager to do.

Ollivander's was the last shop in Diagon Alley proper, and was in fact so grungy that it was hardly distinguishable from the dark shops of Knockturn Alley ("unpleasant place," Professor Davis told me) just beyond it. The bell above the door rang an unearthly tone when I entered.

This shop was old. Everything seemed to be layered in dust, dust and memories. Each grain held a single moment in time. The windows were layered in grime and oil. The room was scarcely furnished: a single counter took up the length of a wall, with an ancient wizard attending it. On the wall proper hung a sloppy shelf of long, thin boxes.

"Welcome," said the shop keep—like his shop, even he seemed covered in dust, old and fragile. His birdlike eyes blinked down at me. "Here for your first wand?"

I nodded.

Ollivander drew out a tape measure similar to the one in Madam Malkin's Robe Shop. "What is your name?" he asked.

"Claire de la Valence."

The large, pale eyes blinked again; they seemed almost luminescent in the dimness of the shop. Silvery brows furrowed slightly.

"At Ollivander's, each wand is hand crafted to ensure the utmost precision in performance. Ollivander wand cores are carefully selected; every wand core is a phoenix tail feather, a dragon heartstring, or a unicorn tail hair from a healthy animal. The wood is also carefully selected and treated—no two Ollivander wands are the same."

It was probably a memorised and rehearsed speech, but I listened rapturously.

"Hold out your wand hand," said Mr Ollivander.

I did. The tape measure ran down my arm, as well as my fingers, knuckles, and the distance between my tendons.

"Your left hand, please, Miss de la Valence."

I raised that, too, and continued staring at the tape. Somehow, I couldn't bear to look up into Ollivander's eyes.

I heard the sudden intake of breath. "Ah," he said. "A musician."

"How did you know?"

"The calluses on your fingers. Is it the violin that you play?"


"Good. Perhaps you will bring music back into magic."

Surely he meant 'magic back into music'? Ollivander didn't elaborate, but instead furled up his tape measure and tucked it into a pocket. He turned and began rummaging through the shelves in the back.

"Here, try this," he said, thrusting a long, thin, grey box into my hands. Inside the box, lying on the bare cardboard, was a single, slender piece of wood. I reached into the box and lifted the wand. It was smooth and dark brown, polished to a high sheen. "Mahogany and phoenix tail feather, 8 inches. Snappy. Wave it about, wave it about...."

I obeyed, but almost immediately he grabbed the wand back. "No, no, that won't do," he muttered, dumping the wand unceremoniously to one side and pulling out five more boxes. "Here, ash and dragon heartstring, twelve inches, very flexible and good for Defense Against the Dark Arts." Then, just afterward, "No. Try this one: Rowan and unicorn tail hair, nine and a half inches. Willow and unicorn tail hair, thirteen inches. Holly and dragon heartstring, eleven inches," and so forth until Ollivander handed me my wand.

I remember it perfectly, every gleam of the dim candlelight on the wood, long and slender, the exact shade of deep, reddish brown that was my violin under the bright sunlight during a warm afternoon practise. Ollivander had presented the box. "Maple and unicorn tail hair, ten and a half inches, whippy," he had said.

I had brushed the wood with my fingertips.

Abruptly, the air in the room shifted, and a tingle ran up my right arm. I felt as if my whole being were alight, as if I had tapped into an unspeakable wellspring of power.

"Just wave it about," said Ollivander. I looked up; he looked smug, a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his white, white lips—almost as if he had felt that same jubilant rush.

At his encouragement, I picked up the wand. It was warm and singing with liveliness under my fingers. Focussing on the electricity running up and down my arm, I brought the wand down in an arc through the air. A shower of gold sparks burst forth from the wand tip.

Ollivander was smiling fully now. Doreen clapped. Professor Davis laughed. "A very good wand, Miss de la Valence. It will take good care of you, should you allow it." He snatched the wand from my hands and wrapped it deftly.

I paid for my wand, thanked him, and, cradling the box under my arm, left.

"Well, now that we've got everything—oh, I almost forgot!" Professor Davis searched one fold of her cloak and came up with a grey envelope. "Your ticket. Be at King's Cross Station on the first of September, on platform nine and three quarters—it's just through the barrier between platforms nine and ten. The train leaves at 11 o'clock. It's all on the ticket."

We reached the brick wall at the end of the cobblestone street. Professor Davis tapped it, and the archway reappeared.

"I'll see you when term starts," she said as Doreen and I took up a handful each of Floo powder. "Owl me if you need anything."

The next moment, my view of the inside of the Leaky Cauldron was whisked away in a maelstrom of green flames.


The rest of the summer passed in a blur of expectation, avidly reading my new books, randomly waving my wand (and feeling very foolish when nothing worked), and practising my violin. Nothing could turn my mind from the thought of Hogwarts, and my new world. If Professor Davis was any example, wizards must all be wondrous. So I finished packing my bags and slept with hope in my heart and a smile upon my lips, and I dreamt of the future.

I woke before dawn on the morning of 1 September, and, finding it rather early to do anything but wait, sat and reaffirmed that I had everything I would need until June. By the time Doreen came to breakfast, yawning with fatigue, I was almost bursting with eagerness.

After breakfast, I hugged Doreen tightly while promising to write, and I was off. I even managed not to cry.

The car clanged to a noisy stop as the large clock over the train schedule was just reaching 10:30. Mike looked at my ticket strangely; nowhere on the schedule did it say "Hogwarts, 11:00, platform 9 and ¾."

"Professor Davis said to go through the barrier between platform nine and platform ten," I said hesitantly.

It was a solid wall of unpainted brick. I wheeled my trunk up to it and stopped, prodding at the wall with a finger.

The next moment, I was sucked into the barrier and through the grey. I found myself sprawled on the ground, my trunks in a heap beside me.

"Are you alright?" said a fair-haired boy of around 16 years.

"Yes, fine," I said, blushing. I lowered my eyes and began gathering up the books that had spilt from one case.

"Here," he said. He waved his wand, and the books flew neatly into my trunk.

"Thank you."

There was a small "pop" behind us, and Michael pushed through the barrier. "I saw you fall through," he said, looking around nervously, as if the steam engine might suddenly explode. "Well, if you're fine..." he handed me my violin case. "The train leaves in 10 minutes." He beamed at me.

We stood in awkward silence. The fair-haired boy shrugged and headed to the train.

"Well, your new school awaits."

I stood up on my toes to kiss him on both cheeks. "See you around Christmas."

He helped me pull my trunks up onto the train, then fell back.

The train pulled out of the station with a shrill hoot and a puff of billowing, pearly smoke. I found an empty compartment and sat down to watch the scenery, still holding my violin. The leather handle, worn smooth and shiny with the years, felt comfortingly solid and familiar under my hands. Almost unconsciously, I opened the tarnished silver clasps.

The polished wooden instrument inside had, over the past two years, grown as familiar to me as my own skin. My fingers curled automatically around the neck, poised over the ebony fingerboard in first position. I launched into a warm-up—a simple C minor arpeggio—stopping briefly to adjust the tuning on the E string.

The landscape outside was flattening into rolling hills and country. I switched to an old tune, simple, quick. It was a French song. I remembered the words as I played, though they held little meaning. Alouette, gentil alouette....

The door of the compartment slid open with a thud, and a boy peered inside. He was eleven years of age, medium height, with inky black hair and blue eyes that had seen far more than his age allowed. I nearly dropped my bow in shock. The song broke off with a sharp screech of the strings.

"Hello, Claire," said Tom Riddle from the doorway.


A/N: Okay. I deserve to be flamed. I deserve to be berated and fixed by my thumbnails to a cement ceiling. Um. I vow never to make a false promise regarding projected update date again.

But, yeah.
All readers get a nice, shiny blue ribbon for being so kind and patient. Yes, even cl@m ch0wdah. ::blows kisses::

Next chapter: Riddle returns. Riddle talks. Everyone is sorted. Classes start. Taricorim gets to make war rants under the pretense of writing fiction.