The small boy stopped just before the gate, holding his grandmother's hand tightly, and refused to budge another inch.
"Come on, dear," she said kindly, knowing this was going to happen. "It'll be all right, I promise."
"I don't think..." he said worriedly. "I don't think I want to go."
His grandmother crouched down in front of him and tweaked his nose, which stayed in the sideways position. "Do you know what? Your mum said the very same thing when I first took her onto the platform. She stopped right about here and wouldn't budge until your grandfather finally came and swooped her through the fence." His grandmother grinned with the memory. "Oh, how she screamed! I'm sure the Muggles thought we'd kidnapped her. It took a fair few memory charms to calm everyone down, that's for sure. But," she continued quickly, catching the look on her grandson's face, "as soon as we were through, she saw all the kids, her age and older, looking just as scared as she was, and she felt better immediately. By the time we got her on the train, she was smiling and laughing, already having made a couple of friends."
"But what if that doesn't happen?" he asked, nose still askew.
"It will, love, just you wait."
The boy shook his head, his hair turning a different colour with each shake. "Can't I wait another year?"
"Believe me, Theodore, as soon as you walk through that gate, you won't want to." She smiled at him one more time and stood up, offering her hand. "Come on." But he only stood in place, looking frightfully at the apparently solid gate. "You won't come willingly?" she asked with the hint of a smile on her face. "All right, then."
Suddenly Teddy felt a pair of hands under his arms lift him off the ground. He gasped and squealed, squirming around and trying to catch a glimpse of his attacker. The hands kept a firm grip on him, though; a familiar laugh reached Teddy's ears, and he went limp with the realization that he was doomed to be taken through the gate.
"That was mean!" he exclaimed once having been put down. He faced his grandmother and his godfather, both of whom were grinning from ear to ear.
"Was it?" Harry asked. "I found it rather funny."
But Teddy stood his ground, his hair turning a surly jet black and standing up on end to closely resemble his godfather's. He looked morosely up at the two people most responsible for his upbringing. Harry forced his face back into a sincere expression as he tousled his godson's hair. "You're going to do fine," he promised as he conjured Teddy's trunk and tawny owl out of thin air. "First thing I did when I got on the train was make friends with Ron. Second thing I did was make enemies with Malfoy. Third thing I did was decide that Hermione Granger was one of the most annoying people I'd ever met." Teddy's mouth dropped open. Harry smiled. "Anyway, the point is that all sorts can happen before you even get to Hogwarts. Our dads met on the train, and they were friends for the rest of their lives. So, believe me, the only things you really need to worry about in first year are exams, and teachers who secretly have two faces, and really, what are the odds of that happening twice?"
"Harry," Andromeda warned, but Teddy finally cracked a smile. Harry grinned and picked up Teddy's things, heading toward the Hogwarts Express.
"I'll put your things in an empty compartment. Be back in a moment," Harry said, leaving Teddy alone with his gran and ignoring the interested stares he got as he passed. Teddy watched him go; he caught the eye of a blonde girl looking as terrified as he felt, standing by her mother. Teddy gave her a timid wave, which she returned after a moment. The expression on her face eased, and Teddy felt his own stomach unclench a bit.
"See, what did I tell you?" Andromeda said, smiling. "You're going to have a wonderful first year, Theodore." She gave her grandson a hug. "I know you hate hearing this, but your parents--"
"Would be so proud, I know," he finished for her, but for once he didn't roll his eyes. He looked around at all the other students, bidding their parents goodbye, and couldn't help but feel a little sad.
"All right," came Harry's voice from beside him. The same girl Teddy had waved to dropped her jaw in recognition of the famous Harry Potter, and Teddy's sadness dissipated immediately to be replaced with pride. "You're in the last compartment, which is, interestingly enough, the same car I first met your dad in. It's actually an all-right compartment, it just sounds shabby because of its placement." Harry checked his watch with stars instead of numbers and noticed the train was about to leave. He smiled down at Teddy and gave him a hug, which Teddy returned. "Don't get yourself into too much trouble, all right? Most of the ghosts are all right; Peeves is a pest and the Bloody Baron looks as scary as he sounds, but Nearly Headless Nick is very welcoming. And, listen," Harry said, dropping his voice and looking Teddy straight in the eye. "If anything out of the ordinary happens, anything more extraordinary than usual that is, you send me an owl straight away. I don't care if it sounds crazy; the crazy things tend to be the truer in the end anyhow."
Teddy nodded soberly. Harry smiled and ruffled his hair before stepping back and watching him get on the train. The girl Teddy waved at before was saying a last goodbye to her parents just as Teddy passed; Teddy found his compartment and hugged his gran out the window again as the train started to move.
"Tea, Harry?" Teddy could hear her asking as the train gained speed.
"No thanks, Dromeda. I'd best get back, Ginny's probably climbing up the walls after Albus. He's the busiest three-year-old I've ever met," Harry responded, watching the train go. The whistle on the Hogwarts Express sounded again, and Teddy couldn't hear Harry's voice anymore. The wind was starting to make his eyes water, so he brought himself back into the compartment to see the girl from the station peering through the doorway.
"Can I sit in here?" she asked. She had a very delicate voice that sounded as though it might shatter if she ever shouted. Teddy smiled and nodded at her. She dragged her trunk behind her, and the two of them managed to shove it up into the storage compartment above their heads. "Thanks," she said, sitting across from him.
"No problem. I'm Teddy," he said, holding out his hand somewhat awkwardly. She grinned shyly and shook it.
"Julia," she said. The two of them seemed to have already run out of conversation, so they both stared out the window. Finally, after what appeared to be much contemplation, Julia burst out with, "was that your dad with you at the station?"
"Sort of," he said after a second. "He's my godfather. My parents died when I was a baby, so my gran and Harry pretty much raised me."
Julia's eyes became very wide. "I'm sorry about your parents, that's awful," she said in the same delicate voice. "How... what happened?"
"Battle of Hogwarts," he mumbled. She gasped and clasped a hand to her mouth.
"That's horrible, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Teddy was somewhat shocked at Julia's strong reaction. "It's all right, really," he assured her. "I don't remember them. Gran and Harry are my family now."
"Do you ever get sad?"
"Sometimes. Like just now at the station. I saw everyone with their parents and I thought how cool it'd be to have my mum and dad see me off like that. But I'm grateful for what I have. Harry grew up with a lot less, and he turned out all right," he finished with a sly grin.
Julia returned the smile tentatively, seemingly deciding that losing his parents wasn't a sore subject for him. Even so, she changed the subject after a moment of silence. "Is it weird having Harry Potter" (her already naturally quiet voice dropped to a whisper at Harry's name) "as a godfather?"
Teddy laughed aloud. "God, yes," he said. "The stares are unbelievable. I really don't know how he got used to them, he doesn't even seem to notice anymore." By now the two of them had gotten over the uncomfortable introduction stage; Teddy went on to tell stories about his recent trip to Diagon Alley with Harry. They were both laughing when the compartment door slid open again.
"Oliver, I've found one!" a tiny girl shouted down the hall. Then she turned to the two occupants of the compartment and smiled sheepishly. "My friend and I were just kicked out of our compartment. Would it be all right if we shared with you?"
"Yeah, of course," Teddy said as the small girl with pigtails lugged her trunk into the room. "Here, let me help you," he started, standing, but the girl threw her trunk overhead with surprising ease, especially considering her size.
"Thanks, but I've got it," she said, grinning widely as a tall black boy entered the room. He looked sincerely flustered about all the goings-on. The brown haired girl introduced herself while Teddy helped the boy with his things. "I'm Winnie, and this is Oliver." Oliver waved vaguely and sat heavily down across from Winnie.
"I'm Teddy," he said, holding out his hand again to the two new occupants. He glanced over at Julia, but she had turned red and was staring at her feet. "This is Julia," he added, and she finally seemed to come to herself at the sound of her name, smiling shyly. "Who kicked you out of your compartment?"
"A bunch of cranky Slytherins," Winnie replied with contempt.
"How do you know they were Slytherins?" Teddy asked, trying to keep the annoyance at her obvious prejudice out of his voice.
"They said so. 'Oi, you two, get out of our compartment. We've sat in here since first year, go find a non-Slytherin area to sit in, you clearly don't have what it takes to be in the best house anyway', blah blah blah. Like I'd want to be in their stupid house."
"Slytherins aren't all bad," Teddy muttered, but Winnie didn't hear him.
"What are Slytherins?" Oliver nearly wailed. He looked very tired and very confused.
"Members of one of the houses at Hogwarts. We went over this, remember Oliver?"
Oliver made a noise that sounded very much as though he didn't remember at all.
"He's Muggle-born," she told Teddy and Julia. "Poor kid, someone did a dreadful job of explaining things to him. He's been asking me questions all morning. Not that I mind," Winnie added loudly as though Oliver had been about to argue. To Teddy, it looked like Oliver was ready to do was pass out.
A silence fell in the compartment. Teddy watched Julia curiously; she'd seemed so friendly when it was just the two of them, but since they were joined by these two, she hadn't said a single word. Her face was returning back to normal colour, however. A soft hoot from behind him interrupted the silence; Oliver nearly jumped twenty feet in the air. He had evidently not seen the tawny owl when he'd entered.
"Kira, I'm sorry," Teddy muttered, standing on his seat and opening the owl's cage. Harry had bought her for him last month while they were in Diagon Alley. Kira the owl soared around the cabin. Oliver watched her, fascinated, until Teddy opened a window and Kira flew out to hunt for her dinner.
"So--" Oliver started, eyes wide. "So you just... keep owls as pets?"
Teddy nodded and smiled kindly. "Mail is taken with owls in the wizarding world rather than by post. A lot of people have owls."
"I was wondering why I saw so many in cages at King's Cross," Oliver muttered. Teddy shot an amused look at Winnie, who grinned and shrugged. A second later, she frowned and squinted at Teddy.
"How did your nose get crooked like that?" she asked unabashedly.
Teddy widened his eyes in horror and felt his face with his hand. He tried hard not to blush as he shifted the soft tissue back into what was, he hoped, normal formation. Julia broke into silent giggles across from him, and Winnie stared in fascination. Oliver just threw his hands up as though to say, "what's next?"
"What?" Teddy asked Julia, red in the face but pleased that she seemed herself again.
"I really thought it was stuck that way," she said in her delicate voice before dissolving back into silent laughter. Winnie grinned at Julia before going back to ogling at Teddy.
"How did you do that?" she breathed after a moment.
"I'm a Metamorphmagus," he murmured embarrassedly. "I inherited it from my mum... I've been able to change my hair colour at will since birth, but I only found out I could do facial features a couple of months ago. I haven't... worked everything out yet," he admitted.
"Really?" Winnie said shrilly, obviously thrilled at this news. "I don't want to make you feel like a sideshow attraction or anything, but... can you do one?"
Teddy smiled sheepishly. He looked round at Julia, who had gotten her laughter under control and was watching him interestedly. Oliver, too, was looking at him with more interest than he'd shown since he'd gotten into the compartment. Taking a deep breath, Teddy looked at the ceiling at raised an eyebrow. He felt the warmth in his skull that told him his hair was turning to his desired colour. He looked in the window of the sliding door and saw his reflection staring back with lime green hair.
Winnie squealed and clapped in excitement; Julia was regarding him with wonder, and Oliver was grinning widely. Putting on a lop-sided grin, he let his hair return to its normal shade of mousy brown that he had also inherited from his mother and mussed it up nervously with his hand.
"Anything from the cart, dears?" asked a witch from the hallway, hair greying and cheeks dimpled. Teddy and Winnie jumped immediately up and bought themselves a term's supply of candy; Julia bought herself a single chocolate frog, and Oliver remained seated.
The compartment was filled with conversation and the rustle of candy wrappers for the rest of the journey; Julia interjected every so often with well-placed comments, and even Oliver began contributing once he felt confident about the subject at hand. Kira returned to the car and hooted softly, signalling that they were fast approaching the school. Pulling on his robes moments later, Teddy smiled with the realization that he had made three good friends before he had even gotten to the school, just as Harry had said would happen.