Ginny Weasley stepped into King's Cross station with her mother and four of her older brothers. Being a witch, as Ginny was, it felt weird to be among Muggles, as non-magical people were called. She, her family and many others were part of the secret world of wizards — a world that none of the Muggles surrounding them knew even existed. However, it was from King's Cross station that a scarlet steam engine carried young witches and wizards off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Ginny was now ten years old — she had just turned ten, in fact — but it was at the age of eleven that you began attending Hogwarts. She had never so much as seen the castle, but she had heard quite a lot about it since she had six older brothers, two of which had already left Hogwarts. As the youngest and only girl in her family, Ginny was repeatedly told that she was "too young" to participate in whatever her brothers were doing. Now even Ron, the youngest after her, had turned eleven and this year he would be joining the ranks of Hogwarts students as well.
"Fred, George, don't stray!" Ginny's mother said strictly. "This place is packed with Muggles, of course — Ginny, take my hand." Knowing that arguing wouldn't have done her any good, Ginny reluctantly took her mother's hand.
She knew how the argument would have gone. First, she would have pointed out that they were surrounded by no one except Muggles. Her mother would then tell her that just because they couldn't use magic, Muggles could still harm her physically and that if she got lost she wouldn't be able to tell anyone who she was or where she was supposed to be. Ginny would then point out that no one would dare harm someone her age in public, that she could easily find the platform, having been there so many times, and that none of her brothers were ever forced to hold hands.
And then her mother would have dismissed it all with the words "Quiet, Ginny."
It was embarrassing how many people — even if they were all Muggles — could see her holding her mummy's hand like a little toddler. They must think she was a clingy little girl about seven or so. Well, she was ten and she was not clingy. She just had an overprotective mother determined to make sure she never grew up. It was what made her different from her brothers — she was "too young" and, no matter how old she got, it seemed she always would be.
"Now, what's the platform number?" Ginny's mother asked her sons to make sure they hadn't forgotten it, as though that were possible.
"Nine and three-quarters," Ginny chimed in, only to be immediately shushed. As Percy headed for the platform, Ginny found herself thinking angrily about how unfair the world was. This wasn't exactly something pleasant to think about and it soon made her feel a bit bitter.
"Fred, you next."
"I'm not Fred, I'm George," Fred said, his face perfectly deadpan. "Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother? Can't you tell I'm George?"
"Sorry, George, dear."
"Only joking," said Fred, as Ginny knew he would, "I am Fred." And with that the twins headed right into the platform one after the other. Ginny grinned to herself — her mother had just fallen for the old twin-switch prank and not for the first time. It was a rather cruel joke, but Ginny wasn't happy with her mother at the moment, so she found it more amusing than she did normally.
It was while she was grinning at this that Ginny heard the voice of someone who would change her life forever…
Ginny, her mother and Ron turned to see a boy standing completely alone behind a trolley loaded with Hogwarts school supplies and a cage containing a snowy owl. The boy was a little taller than Ginny, but not by too much, and rather skinny. He had messy black hair, clothes that seemed to be too large for him and taped-up round glasses. Whoever he was, Ginny thought he looked rather pitiful and couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for him. Maybe he didn't have any family.
"Hello, dear," Ginny's mother said politely. "First time at Hogwarts? Ron's new, too," she added, pointing at Ron.
"Yes," the boy said awkwardly. "The thing is — the thing is, I don't know how to —" He was talking quietly, but Ginny tried to catch every word. He seemed so helpless and nervous…
"How to get onto the platform?" Ginny's mother asked and the boy nodded, apparently at a loss for words. "Not to worry, all you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous. Go on, go now before Ron."
"Er — okay," the boy said, sounding overwhelmed.
The words "good luck" were on the tip of Ginny's tongue, but somehow they didn't make it out of her mouth. The boy took off running towards the platform, clearly afraid he was going to crash into it, and then disappeared right through it, causing a strange wave of relief to wash over Ginny. She hadn't realized it until then, but she had been a little scared that the nervous boy wouldn't make it through.
"Go on, Ron, you're next," her mother said and with that Ron rushed right through the barrier after the boy.
"Mum, couldn't I just —" Ginny began, but with a "C'mon, Ginny" her mother grabbed her and pulled her through the barrier before she could finish.
She had been about to suggest that she could go through the barrier on her own for once. After all, the nervous black-haired boy couldn't have been much more than a year older than her, but he was allowed to go through on his own even though he was nervous and she wasn't. It wasn't fair — it was all because she was "too young." But maybe that would change next year when she started Hogwarts…
On the other side of the platform, Ginny found the familiar sight of the train she had seen every year for as long as she could remember — seen, but never boarded. She had always tried as hard as she could to get a good look at the interior through the windows, but she hardly bothered this year. After all, it would be only one more year until she would be allowed to board the train herself and she was pretty sure she had seen as much of the interior that way as was possible.
"Fred? George? Are you there?" her mother called out suddenly.
"Coming, Mum," a voice called back from inside the train. The twins ran back off the train towards their mother as she took out a handkerchief.
"Ron, you've got something on your nose," she said.
As Ron tried to wriggle free, Ginny took advantage of the opportunity to wander away from the others, though not far enough to get her mother alarmed. By now, Ginny had a very good instinct about just how far that was. She looked around at all the boys and girls surrounding her. All were students of Hogwarts and even the youngest ones seemed really old somehow — unreachably old. She couldn't see any other younger siblings like herself, which was disappointing. If there had been some, she would have had someone to talk to about how it felt to always be the one left behind.
But that was how it had always been — Ginny was always the only one to be left out...
As she was thinking this, her ears caught a few words of what her family was saying, though she hadn't really been listening.
"You know that black-haired boy who was near us in the station? Know who he is?"
"Harry Potter!" That got Ginny's attention. She knew Harry Potter was a wizarding boy who, at the age of one, had somehow defeated a powerful Dark wizard so awful that almost everyone still refused to say his name. Harry Potter was famous all around the world for the lightning-shaped scar You-Know-Who had left him with and Ginny had been right in front of him and not even known it!
"Oh, Mum, can I go on the train and see him," she pleaded, rushing back to the others, "Mum, oh, please…" Maybe, she thought hopefully, the train would leave while she was still on it. She knew they would send her back home, of course, but at least she would get a glimpse of Hogwarts that way…
"You've already seen him, Ginny," her mother told her strictly, "and the poor boy isn't something you goggle at in a zoo. Is he really, Fred? How do you know?"
"Asked him," Fred replied simply. "Saw his scar. It's really there — like lightening."
Knowing she probably wouldn't get another chance to see Harry Potter for at least a year, Ginny allowed her attention to wander, but still caught a few words of what her mother was saying ("…poor dear — no wonder he was alone… he was ever so polite…") before becoming lost in her thoughts again. She was now feeling very sorry for Harry Potter. What she found most extraordinary was how close he was to her age — she had never really thought about him that way before — as a normal boy.
She supposed few people actually had. Everyone he met would probably treat him like some big hero, but she felt certain that he was really just an insecure boy about her own age who had lost his parents when he was a baby and had as little idea as anyone else why You-Know-Who hadn't been able to kill him. He probably didn't even want all the fame and attention. He probably just wanted a friend. If she could go on the train, Ginny could be his friend…
The train whistle sounded and Ginny's mother called for her sons to hurry. The train was leaving and Ginny would be stuck at home with no one but her parents for the next nine months while her brothers would be at Hogwarts with Harry Potter — he was just a year older than her, but that one year made all the difference. As she saw her brothers wave goodbye, she looked through all the windows on the train, trying to spot him, but he didn't seem to be anywhere in sight.
By now, she felt sure that she was the only person — or at least one of only a few people — who truly felt sorry for Harry Potter and now she wouldn't even be able to see him for an entire year — it wasn't fair. Ginny found herself greedily hoping that Harry wouldn't make any friends at Hogwarts because then she could still be his first friend. That was a really cruel thing to hope for, she realized. She ought to be hoping that someone else would become his friend and experience all those wonderful moments of friendship with him that she really wanted and thought she deserved.
Suddenly and inexplicably, she started to cry. She had always tried to keep herself from getting too emotional in front of her family, since it would just reinforce in their minds that she was "too young", but there she was — standing in a public place filled with hundreds of people — and the tears wouldn't stop.
And, for some reason, she didn't want them to.
"Don't, Ginny," Fred told her reassuringly, "we'll send you loads of owls." Ginny clenched her jaw angrily — Fred, of course, had no idea why she was upset. Nobody ever understood why Ginny got upset and, if they didn't know, she wasn't going to tell them. They didn't deserve to know.
"We'll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat," George added dryly.
"Only joking, Mum."
The train was leaving. Though she knew it would be quite impossible for her to keep up with it, Ginny ran after it for several paces, half-laughing and half-crying. She wished she could run alongside it all the way to Hogwarts and finally see, after all those years of watching it leave, where it went after leaving the platform. Eventually, it got too far ahead of her, as it inevitably would, and speeded away.
She came to a halt and watched the train bolt away from her, sadly waving after it. It was gone.
He was gone…