Disclaimer: The Harry Potter world and characters belong to J.K. Rowling, and I gain nothing from borrowing them.

Author's Notes: If anybody has nitpicks or feedback for me, I'd greatly appreciate it. Also, my beta Nymphaea is being very patient with me and doing a fabulous job. Apologies for the long wait, by the way. I've had exams and am trying to move out for the first time, and the process appears to be eating my life.


Even after two weeks, Anna still wasn't used to the idea of a four-poster bed. It seemed too big somehow, too grand for her. She was a messy sleeper, always throwing the covers off at night and waking with cold feet in the morning, but this bed was too big for anyone to fall out of. If she hadn't had classes, she probably would have lain there for a while every morning and stared at the canopy above her, trying to get her head around the fact that all of this – the heavy yellow brocade hangings around her bed, the occasional crackle and fizz of magic in the Great Hall (which usually made her hair stand on end), the glorious food – was somehow still real. Truth be told, Anna was only just beginning to realise that she not only wasn't going to, but actually didn't need to wake up.

The food helped with that, of course. It wasn't quite the same as it had been at the feast, but there was still more than enough food to go around at breakfast. There were great teetering piles of toast with honey or marmalade or even real butter, and crumpets or muffins for those who wanted them. There were pans of mushrooms – not just the stalks, but whole mushrooms like restaurants sold – and grilled tomatoes. Plates of kippers (which she wouldn't touch; the eyes were glassy and just a little off-putting over breakfast) or fat sausages steaming juicily. There was porridge and cornflakes and fruit in bowls. Anna had taken to filching an apple after breakfast so she'd have something in her pocket later for morning tea. She still had no idea where all this food might have come from, but she wasn't going to turn down a nice apple if she could get one. Cox's orange pippins were her favourite.

Dinner and supper were even better, even if she couldn't get used to the taste of pumpkin juice. It was too…grainy, almost like pumpkin soup in a glass. The taste was fine – odd, but fine – but the texture…eurgh. Even with the strange juice, this still wasn't like any school food she'd ever seen or heard of, mostly because it was actually good. Anna had spent most of her free time for the last week and a half trying to come up with some way of sending a bit home to her mother.

Anna sat bolt upright in bed. Speaking of home…she'd promised to write, and she hadn't done it yet! Thank heavens it was a Sunday. No classes on Sunday…maybe if she were really, really quiet, she could nip up the stairs to the common room and do it now?

Very quietly, she felt around for her slippers. Very quietly, she tied the cord of her dressing gown. She reached into the small cupboard beside her bed and pulled out a quill, a roll of parchment and a smallbottle of black ink. She glanced around cautiously, checking that no one was stirring. It really was very early, and she didn't want to cause a disturbance.

Alice was fast asleep in the bed next to hers, curled up in a little ball with her mouth hanging slack and open. Cressida Smith – the next bed along, and just a little blunt and intimidating when she was awake – had her nose buried in a ragged stuffed bunny. The only way that one might have known Cressida as a distant cousin to one of the oldest wizarding families in Britain (as she'd made quite clear in their first History of Magic lesson) was if the bunny came to life again. It did that occasionally. Lucy McArthur – who came from Dumfries and was by far the most flexible person Anna had ever laid eyes on – had somehow turned herself right around without waking; she was sleeping quite contentedly with both feet propped up on her pillow and her head, covered in spectacularly long coppery hair, poking from the bottom of her bed. In the last bed, the one directly opposite her own, Philippa Hughes – small and pinkish and slightly rounder than was usual these days, Cardiffian docks girl, full of enormously convoluted stories about the Morgan family who lived over the fence - was spread out over the covers with her cat curled up on her stomach, watching the world go by with slanted green eyes. Anna wasn't at all sure that the mysterious Morgans actually existed – the oldest boy a year older than she was, his younger brother barely a year behind him and already looking to be two or three times his size when he grew properly…brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins and even a grandmother, all packed into each other's houses and squabbling like gannets – but Pippa was such a good storyteller that somehow everything became funny. Aside from Alice (who was, of course, still very dear to her) Pippa was probably the easiest person to talk to.

"Hello Gwyn," she whispered as he padded over. Pippa might have bought the white cat and paid for his basket at the end of her bed, but as soon as he arrived he had become common property…and he knew it. Gwyn was perfectly capable of providing for himself, largely by begging for scraps and affection from anyone and everyone in the room. He seemed to get it, too. He purred loudly as she scratched his ears. "Shhh," she told him. "I've got a letter to write. Come and help me."

She slipped the quill pen, the parchment and the bottle of ink into the pocket of her dressing gown, then headed up the stairs to the common room with the little white cat balanced in her arms.


The common room was quite pretty, in its own way. It didn't have very many windows, and the windows it had weren't very big, but the walls were a warm sort of yellowish grey colour, and the yellow and brown armchairs by the fire were very well stuffed and cosy. There were comfortable rugs under her feet, the fire was nicely banked up and smouldering away with a screen in front of it…the common room might have been underground, and might even have felt like it was underground, but it was a welcoming room even so. Looking at the stone walls, looking at the smoke-darkened wooden beams that held the ceiling up, it was a little bit like a very large and well-appointed cellar with the barrels taken out. Anna amused herself for a moment with the thought that if badgers could live like humans, and have their setts like human homes…this was exactly the sort of room that a badger might like to live in.

Anna sat down in the squashiest armchair she could find and pulled over a little table with a chessboard set into the top. Gwyn jumped into her lap and settled himself extravagantly over her knees. She uncapped the inkbottle and dipped the quill into it.

"Right," she muttered to herself, making a private resolution not to smear the ink everywhere. She was still learning how to use a quill pen properly, and quite a lot of her schoolwork was blotchier than she would have liked it to be. This time, she was going to make it as neat as it was in her head.

She started to write.

Dear Mum,

I'm sorry I haven't written before now, but we've been so busy that I haven't had a chance to write you a good long letter like I wanted. I think I've found a way to do it now, so I'll try to write once a week.

School is good fun. I'm in a house called Hufflepuff, and I live with four other girls named Alice, Cressie, Pippa and Lucy. I think you met Alice at Calderstones Park, but the others are all new. They're nice to me, but I think I'm a little afraid of Cressie. We're very different, and I'm not sure what to say to her yet

That was the understatement of the year, Anna thought wryly, stopping in the middle of a sentence and watching a spot of ink dribble onto the page. It wasn't that Cressida was unkind – she was very kind, and the other girls seemed to like her well enough – but she was so sure of herself, so certain of where she stood and how her world worked that nothing seemed to shock her. In two weeks, she had never once looked even the slightest bit surprised or uncertain. Anna couldn't even imagine being like that. She loaded the pen with ink again and kept going.

so I think I might just see what happens. I'm sure we'll be friends soon. We have a ghost too! All the houses have ghosts here – ours is a monk who always seems to be happy. We call him Friar, but some of the older boys and girls call him the Fat Friar instead. He is, I suppose.

Her first meeting with the Fat Friar had been…memorable, to say the least. She'd been running a little late on her way to lunch after her first classes and he (fat, grey and tonsured, wearing a habit that probably would have been black if it hadn't been almost totally transparent) had drifted beside her in companionable silence for about a minute before she saw him. He'd tactfully ignored her squeak of surprise, nodded cheerfully at her shocked face and answered her stammering question 'can you talk?' with a broad smile, a wink and the first few words of the Nunc Dimittis.

I have lots of classes to go to, and I'm learning all kinds of new things. We have Potions with Professor Slughorn, Transfiga (oops) Transfige (drat! Ignore that) Transfiguration (turning things into other things) with Professor Dumbledore, Herbology with Professor Wick, Charms with Professor Dobbins, Defence against the Dark Arts with Professor Merriwether and History of Magic with Professor Binns. My teachers seem nice, I think.

That was true…sort of. Professor Wick was very strict indeed, apparently because she'd already seen one poor first-year being eaten alive by a Venomous Tentacula and had no wish to repeat the experience. She also appeared to nurse a secret, burning desire to someday see a Whomping Willow installed on school grounds. Anna had a reasonable grasp on Herbology (it was basically gardening, and not too shocking if the plants didn't bite), but she hoped there would never be a Willow. Even if she didn't quite know what it was, it sounded as though it could take somebody's eye out.

Slughorn was…pleasant, but that was all she could say. He played favourites – he had one forth-year Slytherin in particular; a very handsome, very clever boy named Tom Riddle, whom he seemed to be grooming for greatness and whom everybody appeared to know wonderful things about. Personally, Anna had never met the lad. Slughorn was not unkind, and occasionally gave her a good word or a scrap of praise – Potions was like cooking, and she already knew she could do that – but his little court smacked of something vaguely unfair. Anna wasn't about to tell him that, of course…but she didn't like it at all.

Dumbledore was tricky. She liked him and respected him (almost everybody respected him), and he never seemed to shout…but she would have felt a lot more comfortable addressing him if she hadn't been so terrible at his subject. Changing something into something else, or changing something so that it looked like something else but was really still the same thing on the inside…it just didn't make sense. Dumbledore was patient and gentle with her, but it only served to make it worse. She didn't want to disappoint him – she couldn't think of anything worse than eventually exhausting his apparently limitless patience – but the theory made her head hurt and that was all there was to it.

As for Binns…he had a voice like a frog with bronchitis and kept calling her 'Miss Bardsley'! History should have been fairly straightforward, and Anna thought she might have been reasonably good at it if she could find some way of propping her eyelids up with sticks. He was considered ageless, but only because no one could remember or figure out how old he really was. Rumour had it, there was a flourishing betting pool on how much longer he had to live. Anna had never seen it, but (rumour again) the hot odds were on a month or two at most.

Other than those small things, Anna loved her lessons. She was slowly getting the hang of sitting on a broomstick (with a little help from Lucy, who was surprisingly good at such things)…but maybe it wasn't the best idea to tell her mother that she was spending several hours a week learning to sit comfortably when she was fifty feet from the ground.

No. On second thoughts, definitely not.

There were signs of life coming from the dormitories. Anna scribbled the end of her letter hurriedly, not stopping to blot the extra ink away. This was – this had to be – totally private. The others might laugh…

I have to go to breakfast now, so I'll send this to you on the way and write a longer letter soon. Give my love to Daddy when he comes home on leave.

All my love,

Anna

She sealed it as neatly as she could and – since Gwyn supposedly had a 'lucky lick' according to Pippa – she let the white cat lick the stamp. It couldn't hurt, anyway.

"Up you get, Gwyn. I need to move."

Gwyn did not approve of being shoved around, and he had no intention of being pushed off a nice comfortable lap in a dressing gown. If he was going to go anywhere, it would be on his own terms and no one else's. He stood up, stretched, gave her a pointed look and stepped daintily from her lap to the nearest newspaper, where he curled up again as though he had never been disturbed.

Under his tail, the front page trumpeted GRINDELWALD STRIKES BACK! in enormous, thick black letters. Anna had learnt not to notice the photographs moving – particularly in the sports pages, where all that lurching around on broomsticks made her feel faintly ill.

Hmph. Grindelwald. What a queer name.

Anna tucked the name in the back of her mind and resolved to ask Professor Binns when she saw him next.