Friday, Sept 1, 2017
As his father faded from view in the swirling mist of the platform, Al drew away from the window and glanced around the compartment. A few students were heading back to the other side of the train, having only come across to wave good-bye to their parents. One boy settled into a seat not far from the sliding door; Al recognized him as Peter Bones—he had met him a few times before at Ministry functions. But aside from being more acne-spattered than the last time Al had seen him, all he recalled about Peter was that his mother worked with Rose's in the MLE.
The door eased closed, and the only ones left in the compartment were he, Rose, Peter, and a pale, dark-haired girl he had never seen before. She was still at the window, her nose and splayed hands pressed to the glass.
Al sat down, leaving a few spaces between he and Peter, and Rose, with a concerned glance at the girl, took the seat opposite him, across the center aisle. After a moment, she caught Al's eye, and with a smile so wide it threatened to push her ears to the back of her head, began to chant: "We're off to Hog-warts… We're off to Hog-warts…"
Al grinned back, ignoring the rising anxiety he felt as the train drew further and further away from his parents. Peter laughed, an explosion of excitement and relief.
"Can you believe it?" he said, leaning back in his seat with a whooshing sigh. "I thought August would never end."
Al thought rather differently—for him, one minute he had been unfolding his first list of school supplies over breakfast in the cozy kitchen of the Den, and the next he was stepping onto the Hogwarts Express, wishing he were Lily.
Lily-livered, more like, said a quiet voice in his head. He called this voice "James."
As the train rattled around its first bend, the girl at the window seemed to droop. With a deep, audible breath, she turned around.
She had not been crying, as Al had feared—a weepy stranger would make for a long, awkward trip—though her face was white as a sheet. Her dark hair fell over her shoulders in two narrow braids, and she was dressed in a black pleated skirt with a dark gray jumper. She crossed the compartment, sat down next to Rose, who seemed a bit startled at the sudden proximity, and commenced an unblinking examination of her own knees.
Looking at her, Al was reminded of a girl in a film he'd once watched at his Muggle relatives' house. His father's cousin Dudley collected film files like Aunt Hermione collected books, and he always ended up seeing at least one whenever they visited the Dursleys during the holidays. The film he remembered now had been a strange American one, with an older look about it, called The Addams Family…
"Are you all right?" Rose asked the girl, peering at her curiously.
The girl extended her neck a bit as she swallowed, which Al supposed could pass as a nod. To his side, he sensed Peter bracing himself, and knew that he too half-expected her to burst into tears any second.
Hesitantly, Rose reached out and patted the girl's shoulder. "It's our first time away from home, too," she said.
Looking up, the girl gave them a weak, closed-lipped smile. Rose was staring at the boys expectantly.
"Yeah," said Peter hurriedly, and Al nodded.
"What's your name?" asked Rose.
"Ana," said the girl. "I'm fine, really. Just… nervous."
Rose smiled. "I'm Rose Weasley. This is Peter Bones and Al Potter. If it's nerves you've got, you should talk to that one," she said, tilting her chin at Al. "The Sorting's nearly got him going into fits."
"It has not!" protested Al, as Peter laughed.
"Why the worry?" Peter asked. "Your family's been in Gyffindor for ages!"
"I just… I dunno," said Al, not wishing to explain his anxiety. He had a feeling Peter would not understand.
"Personally, I'm not worried at all," said Rose, in a lofty tone. "I trust the Sorting Hat to make the right decision, and I'll be fine with whatever House it chooses."
Reminded of something his father had said on the platform, Al spoke up, aware of but quite unable to stifle the note of hope as he said, "But it's not just the Sorting Hat that chooses!"
At Rose's apparent confusion, he rushed on. "My dad said that the Hat will listen to what you think as well. So if you really doesn't want to be in Sl—in a certain house, it won't put you there."
"Really?" said Rose, her brow furrowed in doubt.
"Really?" echoed Ana, voice faint, her knees gripped in panic.
"I've never heard of that happening for anyone," said Peter.
"But Dad said—" Al stopped, and suddenly his father's words were not so comforting anymore. Sure, the Hat may have done what Harry Potter wanted, but his father was special, wasn't he? Not that Al had ever really seen his father among anyone but family and friends and coworkers, but he had seen the newspapers. His father's name was always preceded or followed by some impressive-sounding phrase—'savior of the wizarding world' or 'the famous hero' or 'he who revolutionized the Ministry.'
And he wasn't Harry Potter—he was Harry Potter's kid, the one in the middle with the old-person name. He looked at Ana and Rose. "You've never heard of that happening either?"
They shook their heads.
"Oh," said Al, struggling to tamp down the swirls of panic fluttering anew.
Peter had crossed his arms, satisfied, as if he had won an argument. Al wished Peter would go away. Peter, however, turned his attention to Rose.
"Would you really be fine with whatever House it chose?" he asked. "I mean, any House?"
Al knew what Peter was implying, and it seemed so did Rose, who replied, with forced confidence:
Ana was staring at Rose as though she wanted to, but couldn't quite, believe her. Peter appeared outright skeptical.
"Although," Rose continued. "I expect I'll either be in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw."
"I'll bet you do," said Peter, nodding as though he heard exactly what he had anticipated. Rose narrowed her eyes. Ana's were fastened to the floor. "I'm fairly certain it'll be Hufflepuff for me," he went on, with a careless wave of his hand. "What with the legacy and all. Though I'd not say no to Gryffindor. You seem a fun lot."
Peter aimed a grin at Al, who could only just bring his mouth to twitch in reply. Of course Peter assumed Al would go Gryffindor—that he would follow his grandparents, his mother and father, his brother into the House that could do no wrong, the best House at Hogwarts, if his father's stories were anything to go by. Only… only you don't think you will, do you? said his James voice.
Not wanting the others to notice his lack of response, he asked: "What about you, Ana? Where do you think you'll end up?"
Ana looked up at Al with wide eyes, and hunched her shoulders. Al felt a bit guilty—she apparently did not welcome being put on the spot.
"I—um…" she darted a look at Peter, who raised an eyebrow, then at Rose, who nodded encouragingly. "…Slytherin," she said, in a small, miserable voice.
"Oh!" said Rose, in slight surprise. "Are you… very ambitious?"
"I'm not sure," said Ana, twisting her hands in her lap. "But I'm not very brave or loyal or studious, either."
"Hi, are you evil?" asked Peter with a laugh. "That'd be a good clue."
"Peter Bones!" exclaimed Rose. Ana looked back down at the floor, biting her lip. "What an awful thing to say!"
"I was only joking!" said Peter. "Obviously she won't be sorted there. I can picture her perfectly in any house but Slytherin—"
"Oh, because you know her so well?" cut in Al, a bit surprised at himself for speaking up, but he felt sorry for Ana. If anything, she had looked even more upset at Peter's implication that she wasn't suited to Slytherin.
Rose seemed to have noticed the same thing. "What's your surname, Ana?" she asked gently.
"Dolohov," said Ana. She glanced around, meeting their looks of recognition with air of resignation.
"Any relation to… Antonin Dolohov?" asked Rose carefully.
Dolohov had been a middle-ranking Death Eater in the first and second risings of Lord Voldemort—before their time, but his name had come up amongst their parents. He gained infamy amongst Order members during the Death Eater trials following the Battle of Hogwarts and the final defeat of the Dark Lord. Priori Incantatem indicated he had cast a dozen Killing Curses throughout the battle. Questioning under Veritaserum revealed that only one had found its target—in Remus, Teddy Lupin's father.
Al had grown up with Teddy, who often came by the Den to visit Harry, his godfather. To Al, Teddy was the older brother who only made fun of him when he knew Al would laugh as well.
"I—I've never met him, but he's my grandfather," said Ana. She now sat with her shoulders pressed flat against the back of her seat, hands clasped tightly in front of her. She looked like she was preparing herself to be thrown out. Rose was glancing between Al and Ana with trepidation, but Al shrugged off her worry with slight frustration. If he were James, then she would have cause for concern—but Al found himself intrigued more than anything.
"Do you—want to be sorted into Slytherin?" he asked, trying to interpret her strange behavior thus far. "Or are you hoping you won't be?"
"…Both," admitted Ana. She seemed to relax at his question, and Al had a feeling she had never discussed this with anyone before. "My dad really wants me Sorted there, like he would've been, he says, if he'd gone to Hogwarts—"
"He didn't?" asked Peter. He was regarding Ana with a mixture of distaste and curiosity.
Ana shook her head. "Durmstrang. Always wished he could have gone to Hogwarts, but Gran thought it'd be safer for him somewhere outside Britain—" She stopped, suddenly embarrassed, as though she had said too much. "I just don't want to disappoint him," she mumbled.
"But you really don't want to be in Slytherin," Peter clarified.
She did not look at him as she replied, "I know what everyone still thinks of Slytherin. I know I'd have an easier time of things, of everything, if I were Sorted into… 'any House but Slytherin,' and it'd be nice, I guess, if things were easy." She laced her fingers and leaned forward to hook her knee, rocking back and forth a bit.
If things were easy… Al leaned back in his own seat, thinking hard. What had his father said about easy things and right things? It had been awhile since he heard the story, but it was returning to him.
"You just reminded me of something my dad told me when I was younger," said Al, the thought still taking shape. "About—I think he said, about making choices between what's right and what's easy. And how an easy way is not always the right way. It was the best advice Dumbledore ever gave him, he said."
Not sure whether he had worded it right, he looked over at Ana, hoping he hadn't hurt her feelings. But Ana had ceased her rocking and was staring at him with something akin to wonder—whether because what he had relayed had come from Albus Dumbledore via Harry Potter, or because what he had said struck a chord, he wasn't sure. He shrugged and smiled hopefully at her. He found himself feeling a bit better, at least.
"Well…" Rose began. "What if we promise now that, no matter what houses we're sorted into, we'll be friends? That'll automatically make it easier, won't it?"
Al thought that was simplifying things a bit much, but said nothing, because Ana was smiling. It seemed to cost her much less effort to do so than the girl from The Addams Family, he noted with relief.
"All right," said Ana.
Again, the boys found Rose Weasley staring at them expectantly.
"Uh, yeah—sure," said Al, glancing at Peter, who raised a shoulder noncommittally.
Content with this, Rose turned to Ana, saying something about whatever class she was most excited about—all of them, Al guessed. He wondered whether it would be rude to pull out a book, or if Peter expected him to make conversation.
"How soon will we start flying lessons, do you reckon?" Peter asked him.
Well, that decided things. He tried to subtly convey his disinterest by pretending to search for something in his book bag as he replied:
"Probably a few weeks into term. Not really looking forward to them, though. James says the school brooms are ancient."
As a second year, James was allowed to take his broom with him to school. Al tried sneaking his own into his trunk, but his mum had caught him at it and given him a lecture about breaking school rules and losing points for Gryffindor. He thought wistfully of his Meteor 12, the model he got for his birthday last year, his first broom…
"…or that's what I think, at least," Peter was saying. Al blinked, trying to remember what, exactly, Peter thought.
"Uh, yeah…" he said. Casting around for something more to say, he was rescued by a rumbling in his stomach. "Merlin, I'm starving."
"Think the snack cart's on its way," said Peter, cocking an ear. Al thought could hear squeaking wheels and crinkling wrappers somewhere beyond the sliding door. Peter was searching his pockets. "Mum only gave me a Galleon for food. Should buy me enough Chocolate Frogs to really get me started, though."
"To keep you for the rest of term, you mean," Al said with a snort. "A Galleon's worth? That's, what—" He tried to do the math in his head. "—a hundred Frogs?"
"At least!" said Peter, rubbing at an angry spot on his chin. Al averted his eyes, but Peter evidently detected some of his disdain, as he continued defensively: "Well, I'm not going to eat them all, am I? I'd probably die! But if I want a shot at the prize I have to get a hold of as many cards as I can, right?"
Al had no idea what he was talking about. This, too, could be read in his expression, as Peter was staring at him in disbelief.
"You haven't heard of the Chocolate Frog Challenge? Merlin, Potter! Where have your parents been keeping you? First that comment at the window—" At Al's confusion, he exclaimed, "Hello! 'Why is everybody staring?' Why is everybody staring at Harry Potter? I mean— hello!"
It was then, with a certain detached surprise, Al knew that he and Peter Bones would never end up being very good friends. He tried to stifle a sudden sense of disappointment. It was silly, he knew, but in the back of his mind he had been expecting to meet his life-long best mates right here on the train. His father had, after all…
But as he had already reminded himself, he was not his father. And so, he was making the trip stuck in a compartment with his overbearing cousin, Wednesday Addams, and a pimply kid he rather wanted to hit.
"—and now the Challenge!" hollered Peter, attracting the attention of Rose and Ana. "Hi, it's been all over the place for the past week!" At Al's continued silence, he gave a snort of disbelief and turned away to rummage in the book bag propped at his feet. When he sat up again, a copy of the Daily Prophet was clutched in his hand. He trust it towards Al, saying, "Front page, side panel."
Al wordlessly took the paper and scanned the narrow panel of news briefs running down the side of the front page. He soon found what he assumed he was looking for:
Candy Critters Co. Re-Release New Round of Famous Wizards Cards
As the fourth week of the 'Chocolate Frog Challenge' comes to a close, the Candy Critters Company confirms the re-release of four more Famous Wizards Cards, bringing the current total to thirteen. "We of course cannot say which cards have been re-released," said a company spokeswitch. "But you'll know them by the newly designed Famous Wizards logo on the back—and of course, by the riddle posed by the Famous Witch or Wizard on the front."
Officially begun on August 7th, the Chocolate Frog Challenge is a nationwide contest for all witches and wizards under seventeen, jointly hosted by the CC Co. and the MCA Group. The Challenge Guidelines, announced in conjunction with the re-release of the first three Famous Wizards Cards, are as follows:
Throughout the coming year, the CC Co. will re-release a total of eighty-one Famous Wizards Cards with their Chocolate Frogs, each different Wizards Card charmed to ask a different riddle. If answered correctly, the Famous Witch or Wizard will provide the cardholder with a Word, and the name of the Famous Wizards Card with the next Word in the sequence. Acquire all the Words in their intended order to form the Ultimate Message (UM), which said aloud while holding aloft any of the re-released Famous Wizards Cards will bring the contestant to the Candy Critters Factory—where awaits the Ultimate Prize (UP)!
Al finished reading and passed the paper to Ana and Rose. "Sounds a bit gimmicky to me," he said to Peter, who was waiting for a reaction.
"Gimmicky!" said Peter. "Everyone's talking about it—I still can't believe you didn't know about it—"
"They're very vague towards the end, aren't they?" said Rose. "It doesn't say what the Ultimate Prize is—actually, it doesn't even say if you get it…"
Ana laughed. "Yeah, just that it 'awaits.'"
"Well, of course you get it!" Peter blustered. "And if it's called the Ultimate Prize it's obviously something incredible!"
"Obviously," said Al, deadpan.
"But I wonder what it could be?" said Rose. "They're asking rather a lot, don't you think? Having us jump through hoops without even telling us what we'll get for it!"
"It's a candy company, though," Ana pointed out. "Maybe the prize is a life-time supply of chocolate?"
Al thought that would be a stupid Ultimate Prize. He still thought the whole thing seemed a bit overwrought, but he did have one question:
"What's the MCA Group?"
"Muggle Culture Awareness Group," answered Rose before Peter could open his mouth. "They asked Mum to sign a petition last month."
"Did she?" asked Al.
"Sign it? I think so," said Rose. "She said they meant well..."
"Translation: they're a joke," Peter interjected.
"I dunno," Rose said with a shrug. "They're all for wizards reading Muggle novels and listening to Muggle music—you know, that kind of thing."
Peter scoffed, but Al personally thought it a worthwhile concept, especially if it meant wizards owning televisions. The Dursley's telly was brilliant—massive, with endless channels—though he still had no idea how it worked without magic…
The sliding door rattled open.
"Anything off the cart, dears?" asked the snack witch. "And before you ask, yes—I've got enough Chocolate Frogs for anyone who wants 'em." She patted a wooden box atop the trolley. "Special Self-Replenishing Supply, straight from the factory."
---- ---- ----
Once Peter was busy eating the animated, chocolate amphibians and sorting Famous Wizards Cards, Al no longer felt obligated to carry on talking with him. Climbing up on the armrests of his seat, he reached into his trunk stowed on the overhead rack and extracted Trainee Transfiguration—the only textbook he found remotely interesting.
As he jumped back down, he noticed an approving glance from Rose and barely resisted rolling his eyes. He slouched low and propped the book up in his lap, blocking his cousin from view. Slowly leafing through the pages, he read whatever caught his eye, nibbling now and then on a Cauldron Cake.
He had only been reading for about ten minutes, however, when Peter cleared his throat, the sound accompanied by the crinkling of Chocolate Frog wrappers as he swept them off his lap onto the empty seat beside him. "All right, I'm gonna try one."
Ana and Rose looked up, watching interestedly as Peter held up a card so that Cornelius Agrippa faced the compartment. He appeared on the card as a middle aged wizard, dressed in a ruff and robe—common wizarding attire of the sixteenth century. At his side sat a large, black dog.
"Er, hi—Agrippa?" said Peter. "Could I hear the riddle?"
Agrippa sighed, and began to recite in a thick German accent, seemingly against his will:
As I went to St Ives,
I met a man with seven wives;
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits;
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives.
How many were going to St Ives?
Peter stared up at the card in horror. "That's not a riddle! That's math!"
Rose was scrambling for quill and parchment in her book bag. "Ask him to repeat it and I'll try to get it down."
At his request, Agrippa repeated the riddle. Rose handed her notes over to Peter, who unhappily bent over the parchment with the borrowed quill and began scratching figures.
Al turned back to his book, but the riddle was running through his mind.
As I went to St Ives… seven wives… kits, cats, sacks, and wives…
After what seemed like ages, Peter threw down the quill and groped for the card. The parchment was covered in numbers and sevens and circles and arrows, but he had apparently gleaned some sense from it all, because he held Agrippa close to his face and said:
"No!" cried Agrippa, looking as though he were finally enjoying himself. His dog barked, the sound tinny and small.
"What?" Peter yelled. "I double checked—it's 2,800!"
"That is not the answer I seek," said Agrippa.
Ana stared at the card, her forehead wrinkled in thought. Rose crossed the compartment and sat next to Peter, scanning the parchment in his lap. "Oh!" she said. "Maybe you forgot to add the husband? It says 'I met a man with seven wives'—"
"2,801?" Peter asked Agrippa.
Agrippa shook his head, grinning. "These children aren't very bright," he told the dog, scratching behind its ears. Peter was turning red in the face.
"We are so, you stupid—collector's item!"
"Easily riled, too."
"You're not supposed to say anything except the riddle and the Word and—"
"Peter, shut up a minute," said Al. Peter seemed inclined to take affront to this, as well, but Al cut him off. "Ask him to repeat it once more."
Peter rolled his eyes, but had Agrippa say the riddle a third time.
"Try—try 'one,'" said Al. He could see Agrippa craning his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the new speaker. Peter looked doubtful.
"One?" he said, looking down at Agrippa. The wizard sighed.
"Third time's the charm, I suppose."
"It's ONE!" shouted Peter, waving the card jubilantly. The dog yelped in protest as Agrippa clutched the edges of the card.
"Yes, yes, kindly stop whipping me about," he said. "The answer is one. Only one was headed to St Ives."
"So—the Word?" asked Peter.
"Breakfast," said Agrippa, straightening his ruff.
"Breakfast?" repeated Peter.
"Is it not a word?"
"Well, okay," said Peter. He wrote 'breakfast' on the crowded bit of parchment. "And the card with the next Word?"
"Never heard of him," said Peter.
"That is not my problem," said Agrippa. "Please stop talking to me, I have told you all that I know."
Al decided he rather liked Agrippa. Perhaps he would look him up in the Hogwarts library…
"You're brilliant, Al!" said Peter, tossing Agrippa aside. "I would never have guessed that—"
"I think I would have, eventually…" mused Rose.
"I wouldn't have," Ana admitted.
"Here, Al—take some chocolate. Least I can do—you've got me started on the Challenge!"
"It is pretty exciting, isn't it?" said Ana. "I wonder if the riddles will all be like that, or if some will be easier."
Peter laughed around a mouthful of Chocolate Frog. "Easier, I 'ope!" He shallowed. "Or you'll be hearing from me again, Al!"
Al nodded and ducked back behind his book, hiding a pleased smile. While Peter passed out more chocolate to the girls, he went back to reading, this time taking a bite of Frog every few pages. The spells in Trainee Transfiguration were interesting, but the practical exercises for each spell seemed rather dull—turning toothpicks to needles and turnips to teacups—for most of the year. Towards the back of the book it had a few examples involving animals… Maybe if the class did well with toothpicks and vegetables they would move on to animals early…
Al read for the remainder of the trip, though he got up to pull on school robes as the sun set outside the window. The train was surrounded by nothing but forest, now, the sinking glare seeming to sputter in and out from behind the treetops.
"We should be there soon," said Rose, checking her watch.
At her words, Al's insides lurched with nerves. Breathing deep to bring his heart back down to a trot, he glanced up to see Ana looking about as apprehensive as he felt.
Peter began packing away his Famous Wizards Cards and spare Chocolate Frogs. "I hope it's a quick sorting," he said. "I'm about to die of starvation."
Al did not see how that was possible, as Peter had been stuffing his face with chocolate the entire trip—then reconsidered, remembering that Peter had shared said chocolate with the rest of them. It had been a long day, he supposed, and he was rather hungry…
"Me, too," he said.
"Just think," said Rose. "By the time we go to bed tonight we'll be proper, Sorted, Hogwarts students."
"With no classes till Monday," added Ana, with dawning realization.
"Oh, no!" said Rose. "I hadn't even noticed—but it is Friday, isn't it? I have to wait two whole days before classes start!"
"Is she kidding?" Peter asked Al.
Al managed to keep a straight face. "Rose never kids," he replied.
---- ---- ---- ---- ----
Disclaimer: These are JKR's characters and their imagined offspring, and I'm not the boss of any of them.
A/N: This is my first time posting any of my writing online. It's surprisingly terrifying...
A/N II: The 'life-time supply of chocolate' line is borrowed from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the riddle in this chapter is an old nursery rhyme :)