Harry rubbed his chin, reading the letter he had written just a few moments ago.
Dear Amy Mitsuko Black
How are you? Fine I hope. If you are reading this, then no doubt you have controlled your childish temper for a moment before ripping this letter apart. Maybe you're curious, or maybe you are having trouble with a translation spell to make this readable to you.
You are learning how to read and write in English, I assume?
Before you are tempted to rip this letter (if you haven't already), then stay that hand, my fiery Godfather's daughter. Listen to your wiser and superior:
Your father is free.
It has been what, a year since he last visited? I have told him to write to you, bring news to your newfound good fortune, and threatened him I'd be writing you first if he doesn't, and send it via Owl while I'm travelling to my new location. If he hasn't written to you before you received this letter, then I am assuming he caught on my bluff as I am not travelling with my own owl.
You are welcome.
By the way, still having trouble with your magic? I am not that very well versed in Eastern practices, but if you need a teacher, you may need to look farther away.
Harry James Potter
He counted how many insults, veiled or otherwise, he was able to put in. Not as much as he wanted, but considering he wanted the letter to be read, he couldn't overdo it. He also couldn't do without it. Harry found it ironic that as immature as it seemed, if he hadn't at least put a few insults, he knew Amy would think something is wrong, and most likely not take this letter as seriously as she should.
Moreover, it's therapeutic. Amy was one of the few people he can act as juvenile as he wanted to. Though, as shadows loomed at the drawn shade, if he were correct, the place he was about to spend a year in had enough potential candidates he could shed some juvenile and academic tongue lashing.
Satisfied with his letter, Harry covered his ballpoint tip pen with its metallic cover, and placed it on his inner-left jacket pocket. He folded his paper thrice, and then inserted the letter on his inner-right jacket pocket and reminded himself to send the letter as soon as possible.
Only then did Harry relax, spreading his fingers over the felt material of the seat. The compartment was empty, something he found as a comfort. He was never good with children of his age, and he mostly worked well with older people – or at least those who didn't look at him with suspicion.
There was a knock on the door, and a matronly woman slid it open slightly, smiling with a professional smile.
"Need something of the trolley, dear?" she asked.
He stole a glance towards the cart the woman was pushing, selling sweets and the likes. He gave her a polite shake of his head, and she went on her way, sliding the door shut. Harry relaxed.
The light outside was fading fast. He estimated maybe an hour or so before they arrived at Hogsmeade. He went to a corner of his compartment, and lifted his trunk towards the empty seat opposite of him. Harry began to scrounge up his belongings, and found the cloak he had tailored, folded neatly. He took that out, and spread it on the unoccupied seat, straightening it out.
There was a knock before the door slid open again.
"Excuse me," a girl said, entering.
For a moment, Harry got an impression of a beaver. It wasn't that the girl was ugly by any means, but her hair was rather bushy, more frizzy than curly. She had a mousy face, and her cheeks a bit filled. Her eyes were almond brown and they were bright and curious. He could see the intelligence behind them, but also, he smiled slightly, naivety. She wore a cloak, somewhat quite worn, probably had been wearing it for the past hour or so. It commented much on her enthusiasm.
"Yes?" Harry replied neutrally.
"Have you seen a toad?" the girl asked.
Harry shook his head. "No, sorry. No toads here."
She frowned. "Ah… well, if you…"
"I will keep a look-out," Harry nodded.
"Thank you," she nodded and smiled.
A boy appeared behind her. He was of the same age range, had a healthy build, and looked a bit nervous as he swept his head outward towards the corridor, apparently looking for something. He straightened then, and tapped on the girl's shoulder.
"Hermione?" he asked.
"No not here as well," the girl replied.
"Ah. Well, there are more carriages to look-" He stopped as he spotted Harry in the compartment. His head tilted to his side, confused, recalling. Then, it narrowed, his grip on Hermione's shoulders tightening. "Let's go."
"Neville," she muttered, a bit pained. "What's wrong?"
"Let's just go," he replied, and practically forced the confused girl out. He then glared towards Harry, and slammed the door shut, strong enough to rattle the glass pane.
Harry stood there, his expression still. He could hear them outside, arguing.
"Neville, that hurt!"
"Sorry, but we can't stay in that compartment for long."
"That boy… I know him. He's… dangerous."
"Don't be silly."
"Trust me, he is…"
Their voice faded from the background, and it wasn't until the voices disappeared completely did Harry close his trunk, placed it back on its corner and settled down on his seat. He straightened a crease of his slacks, then rubbed the side of his head with his thumb and index finger
The door slid open. Harry blinked as another group entered the compartment. It was three boys this time. Front and centre was a blonde boy, his complexion almost as pale as Harry was. He had an arrogant expression; his lips lifted giving him a perpetual sneer.
On the left was, what Harry could only describe, a slab of meat and muscle for a boy of their age. He was overdoing (in Harry's opinion) a menacing face, his huge fists closed as if ready to launch them in all directions.
On the right, another huge boy, this time consisting of fat, wore a less severe, but nonetheless, threatening expression. His large arms crossed his chest, and Harry could see what looked like confectioner's sugar powdered slightly over his mouth and shoulders.
"Yes?" Harry asked. His tone was neutral, almost polite to anyone who knew him.
"Is she here?" the blonde asked.
Harry's eyebrow rose a bit. "No."
"Oh…" and the blonde boy looked like he was about to leave when he looked at Harry. His head tilted slightly to the right, his expression now sporting recognition.
Harry clenched his right hand slightly. "Yes?"
"Draco Malfoy," the blonde said. He then pointed towards the chubby one. "That's Crabbe." And then pointed towards the muscled boy. "And that's Goyle."
"Harry James Potter."
"Ah. I knew I recognized you. I've heard about you… from my father," Malfoy said. "He said you are the only Potter who's smart. What you did to your parents… that was quite cold and calculating. A lot of these idiots wouldn't understand you, and even take it up against you."
Harry said nothing.
"Personally, I think it's surprising considering that your dad married your mother."
"Which implies what, exactly?" Harry said, his tone going cold.
Malfoy continued as he hadn't noticed. "Your mother was a mud blood, was she not? Well, at least your father didn't marry a muggle."
"Well, see you around Potter." And they left, simply, sliding the door shut after them.
Harry took a moment to realize he was still clenching his fist. He relaxed it, letting his fingers stretch as he felt for his wand hidden in the sleeve of his right arm. Then, he finally settled down back to the chair.
He couldn't help but snort. Sirius expected him to make friends? Granted, if Harry tried, the only ones who are willing to give him a chance and honestly befriend him would be muggle-born witches and wizards - provided they wouldn't be swayed by the more… biased magical community.
Then there was Draco Malfoy, heir of the Malfoy family. He was like any of the long-line generations of wizards and witches – arrogant, racist, and rich and trained under the dogma of pureblood fanaticism. And of course, easily manipulated.
The train now began to slow, indicating they were close. His scheming mind paused. He could plan the manipulation of the upcoming Malfoy heir after he was done with this heist. He crossed towards the opposite seat and unfolded his cloak. He wore it over his suit and took a deep breathe.
"Here we go…" he whispered to himself.
Susan smiled as she watched Ron partake a few sweets she had bought with a few gold coins, absolutely dropping the packed corned beef sandwiches he had brought with him. The sweets cost a modest amount considering how much she had brought. She had deliberately withdrawn much money from her parents vault than her uncle deemed necessary so she could judge her expenditures for this year and extrapolate from that her average spending for the next school years.
Besides, she felt a bit sorry for Ron. The boy was from a poor, but loving family, and like most kids of his age, was less appreciative about it. But she understood him. She hated corned beef too.
"What are these?" she asked as she took a package out.
"Oh, Chocolate Frogs," Ron replied as he chewed on a liquorice wand. "Check the card."
"Oh yeah, right. Inside are cards of famous witches and wizards through history," he explained.
"Oh, like those baseball cards Americans collect," Susan said.
She smiled, finding a bit of irony in the conversation. "Oh yeah, right. Baseball is a sport played by Americans." She slipped the carton on one hand, finding an opening track with the other, and then whirled it around. She popped the carton up, revealing a very realistic looking frog, only made of chocolate.
She took a bite off its leg, she spotted a card underneath, showing a picture of a wizened old man with long silver-white hair and beard wearing a blue cloak and hat designed with stars and moon. He wore a half-moon spectacle that hung loosely over his crooked nose, and if Susan wasn't mistaken, his eyes sparkled. His name was underneath the picture.
Currently Headmaster of Hogwarts
Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of twelve uses of dragon blood, and his work on Alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and tenpin bowling.
"Albus Dumbledore," she read. She blinked. "Rather odd hobby…"
"I have a dozen of him," Ron stated, now opening another box of chocolate frogs. "I'm just looking for Agrippa to complete the set."
"Ah…" Susan nodded. She frowned. "The more I know the more I feel overwhelmed."
She looked at the boy for a moment, wondering how she could say it on simpler terms. She was too used to talking with her uncle and other adults, as most kids her age, or even older ones tended to avoid her. She appreciated Ron Weasley's company, and she liked him. But she didn't know how to act around him without making him think any less of her. Then again, as her uncle said, one always starts at the beginning.
"I've just found out I'm a witch less than a month ago. A week ago, I just learned I'm not only a witch, but also a famous witch."
Ron's mouth twisted a little. Susan didn't know if it was a grimace or a pitying smile.
"I remember Hagrid brining me to the Leaky Cauldron…"
Susan blinked, and then nodded. "Oh yeah. Big man. Said he works at Hogwarts… Keepers of the Keys I believe."
"Yeah, he's the groundskeeper at Hogwarts. My brothers talked about him," Ron replied. "Is he really… large?"
"Quite. And friendly too," Susan added, seeing some apprehension of the boy's face. "Anyway, he brought me there to enter Diagon Alley." The memory of the place was still fresh on her mind. Diagon Alley was a traditional-looking street filled with various magical shops. Most of her school stuff she bought from there and much more. She smiled slightly, remembering the goodness of Florean Fortescue's ice cream. "Do you know how weird it is to have people recognize you, and shake your hand?"
Ron looked pensive. "Weird?"
"Strangers all around you, talking like they know you. I'm sure they are all friendly people, but…" and she shook her head. "It's just… weird."
They were silent for a moment, with Susan looking out the window, while Ron silently ate a few more of the sweets. Then, Susan looked thoughtful, and said, "I did meet a professor."
"Who?" Ron asked, happy for the distraction. The silence was a bit heavy.
"Quirrell," Susan frowned. "Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts. He wanted to get a book about vampires." She smiled a bit. "Shaky man. Eyes twitchy, a pale demeanour, and had a turban that looked a bit too wrapped up around the head to be healthy."
Ron blinked. "Wow. That was… detailed. Was there something special about him?"
Susan nodded. "Oddly, he was the only one who didn't shake my hand."
He looked confused. "What?"
"I know, don't ask. My brain is weird, like that," she replied.
Before anyone else spoke, the door of their carriage door slid open, revealing a boy.
"Excuse me," he called. "Have you seen a toad around?"
Ron shook his head. "Sorry mate."
The boy frowned, and said, "Trevor…" under his breathe and left.
Susan raised an inquiring eyebrow, and looked at Ron for a moment. "Toad?"
"Probably kept as a pet," he replied, shrugging. "I have a rat myself." And he took out a rather fat rat from his jacket pocket. The rat looked asleep. "Name's Scabbers. A bit useless really. My brother Percy found him, and he's been in the family since."
"So, what's good about pets?"
"Well, if you got an owl, you can send your own messages. Most of the time, it's for companionship. Oh, and you can also use them to practise harmless spells." Ron then smiled a bit excitedly. "Which reminds me…" He brought out a wand, and Susan noticed how old it looked. "Yeah… Unicorn hair is sticking out. Anyway--"
Ron placed his sleeping pet on the table and had raised his wand when a girl entered.
"Excuse me, have you seen a toad around here?"
Susan smiled a bit. "We've heard that one already."
The girl frowned. "Oh…" and she was about to leave when she saw Ron. "Doing magic? Can I watch?"
Before Ron could reply, the girl sat beside Susan. For a moment, he just sat there, confused and then shrugged. "Okay… let's see. Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow, turn this stupid fat rat yellow!" And he waved his wand. Nothing. Scabbers still lay on the table, asleep.
"Is that a real spell?" the girl asked. "It's not that good, now is it? I tried a few practise spells and it all worked for me. Nobody in my family has magic at all."
"I know that feeling," Susan replied. "I remember when I got my letter… quite a shock."
"Yes, quite," the girl smiled at her. "I've read all the books in our course. I just hope that is enough." She paused. "Oh, excuse me. Hermione Granger."
Hermione blinked. "You are? I have read all about you, of course."
"Background reading?" Susan guessed.
"Yes. You're in quite a lot of books, really. Modern Magical History, The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
Susan groaned visibly, and then looked at Ron. "See? Complete strangers."
He smiled slightly. Hermione looked confused, but shook her head, and looked at him expectantly. He gave himself a hasty introductory. "Ron Weasley."
"Charmed," Hermione replied. "Anyway, it's nice to meet you both, but I really have to help Neville with his toad. And you two better change. We'll be arriving soon, I'm guessing." She stood up and walked towards the door, and exited.
When she was out of an earshot, Ron heavily said, "I hope she isn't in my House… that would be a nightmare."
He meant one of the Four Houses of Hogwarts, of course. Susan only knew them by name: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaws, and lastly, Slytherins. Hagrid never really explained much about them, except commenting that people think Hufflepuff 'are a lot of ol' duffers' and how Slytherins attracted the dark kind of wizards.
"What house do you think you'll be in?" she asked.
"Well… all my brothers are in Gryffindor, but that's not a real guarantee…"
Before Ron could continue, the door opened again, revealing a boy with pale hair and face, accompanied by two other boys beside him.
"There are no toads here," Susan said immediately.
The boy blinked, frowned. "What about toads? You know, never mind. I hear Susan Bones is here."
"Yeah, here," she replied.
The blonde boy looked at her, an eyebrow raised. Susan had the oddest feeling she was being studied, just like earlier in the platform.
"You are Susan Bones? I expected someone more impressive."
Susan blinked then frowned. "Well, coming from you, that seems to be a favourable remark."
Ron stifled a laugh, and the blonde boy looked far from amused. In fact, his pale demeanour was now sporting red cheeks. Without even waiting for another word, Susan asked, "What do you want?"
His face was still a bit flushed, though his voice was calm when he replied, "There have been some rumours about you hiding mostly in the muggle world. Thrust here in a strange world, you will need some friends."
Susan stared at the boy, then towards his two companions, thickset and had ugly expressions. "Let me guess. You are here to extend your hand in friendship. Right?"
"Quite," the boy smiled. "I'm Draco Malfoy. This is Crabbe and this is Goyle." He stole a glance towards Ron, and shook his head. "Bones, you'll soon find that some families are better than others. You don't want to find yourself of the wrong sort. Take example, the Weasleys. A family with no absolute forethought, always having more children then they should."
Ron stood up and snarled, and Susan let out her arm, stopping him from his tracks.
"And I suppose the Malfoy family is the right sort, and raise their child on being rude and arrogant then?" she asked.
Malfoy face almost turned scarlet. "If I were you, Bones, I'd be careful. Or you'd end up like your parents."
This time, Susan's face turned slightly red. "And if I were you, Malfoy, I'd watch your mouth before someone puts a sock in it."
"Ho?" Malfoy grinned. "I'd love to see that."
"Seriously, Malfoy," Susan said. "Leave."
The pale boy ignored her, and looked towards their table still filled with sweets. "Seems you overbought. Did you buy all of these Weasley? Of course not, what was I thinking. You're too poor to afford any of these. Still, quite a waste don't you think? Maybe we'll help ourselves."
One of them, Goyle maybe, went towards the table and reached out to grab a Chocolate Frog. At this point, Susan stopped caring who it was or even how large he was, and with swiftness that surprised the offending boy, she grabbed him by the wrist, and flicked it in a rather painful angle. He screamed, and almost fell to a knee.
Malfoy and the other boy were too surprised to react. Susan controlled Goyle's motion, putting pressure to make him back away. Trace of emotion went away, leaving Susan's face a neutral mask as she stared at Malfoy and Crabbe.
"Last warning. Leave," she said.
"You… you're going to get in trouble for this, Bones!" Malfoy declared nervously. "Don't you know who my father is?"
Susan pushed Goyle away from her, hard, tripping his feet with her leg. The motion was so fast that if anyone not looking would think she just pushed a boy twice her size bodily outwards. Goyle fell backwards, his head landing towards Malfoy's face, who yelped in pain. And with Goyle's size, he shoved the unprepared Crabbe out as well, leaving the three sprawled on the corridor floor.
"Now, get out," Susan stated coolly, and closed the door.
"B-bloody hell…" Ron muttered, his eyes wide in shock. "How'd you do that!?"
Susan blinked. "What, that? Simple really. I trained. Had a few bully problems back when I was young. My uncle had me take self-defence class. My teacher taught me many of those forms back at home. Helped a lot."
"B-bu-but you just threw them out like crumpled parchment!"
"Don't be silly Ron," Susan smiled a bit as she took back her seat. "If that were true, I'd have thrown them out of the train."
Poor Ron looked even more confused. He slid down back at his seat, his back resting on the back cushion. "You're going to be in trouble…" he whispered. "I know his dad… rich and has influence."
Susan shook her head. "Believe me, last thing Malfoy will want is to tell daddy dearest he was just driven out by a girl."
Ron looked at her, and smiled weakly. "Good point."
The door slid open, and Susan, thinking it was Malfoy again, stood up, ready, until she spotted Hermione entering, looking confused.
"What has been happening here?" she asked.
Susan just smiled. "Nothing. Just… taking out some trash."
Harry thought it was odd to find Malfoy and his cronies running back across the corridor of the train, with the Malfoy heir holding his nose. Crabbe and Goyle looked a bit shuffled themselves, and when he slid his door open, there was an excitable chatter following their wake.
"Did you see that?"
"Wow… what magic did she use to throw them off like that?"
"Didn't hear a spell. She just… threw them out!"
Harry raised an eyebrow, and closed his door. Apparently, they had run into someone, probably Susan Bones, who has some martial art training. He took a mental note not to instigate a confrontation unless it was absolutely necessary.
The train crawled to a stop. Harry, for the first time since the trip, flicked the curtain open, revealing the fading twilight as the darkening night sky loomed. They were on the platform at Hogsmeade, the town just outside Hogwarts proper. Students scuttled from their compartments, each of them having a few trolleys to pull their trunks with them. Outside, there was a voice, loud and heavily accented, calling first years. It was Hagrid.
The giant of a man gathered around the nervous looking students around him, and said, "Firs' years over 'ere! C'mon, 'urry up. Leave yer trunks on there, it'll be brought in, no worries. And whose toad is this?"
The Neville boy approached, happy in finding his toad safe and sound as Hagrid handed it to him. He then lined the students into three rows. Harry joined in an anonymous group of peers, making sure his eyes wandered slightly, looking around in case he'd need that kind of information on his planning.
Hagrid led them towards a large dock in the lake, and a few large, yet simple, boats floated on the wharf. He broke the students down to groups, and placed them on the separate water transports, he himself joining one where he noticed Bones and that redhead Weasley and Neville had ridden. The latter seemed to grow apprehensive with the giant man joining in, but the fear was unjustified. The wooden vessel kept afloat.
It was a marvellous sight. Under the velvet sky with shining pinpoint of stars, the castle of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry suddenly popped from the background. The structure was massive and well lit. Harry could discern most of its features, ranging from multiple towers, the stone way bridge that crossed towards Hogsmeade, and the woodland area surrounding it.
Needle in a haystack, he thought. Would a year even be enough?
Around him, the students seemed awed as well, gasping silently in the relatively quiet night. The only group that seemed less attentive and impressed were Malfoy and his two bodyguards, apparently trying to regain some dignity.
The boats moved with magical grace, gliding through the water as if were sliding through smooth ice until they reached an overhanging cliff.
"Watch yer heads," Hagrid shouted.
Deeper into the cliffs was a cave hidden by hanging ivy. Delving further, most probably under the the base of Hogwarts itself, Harry guessed, the dark tunnel stretched, lit only by a small speck of light which grew larger and larger until they reached what seemed to be an underground harbour. The Gameskeeper then called all the first-years to disembark, and generally keeping order as they stepped off their boat.
The light source was actually a lamp, which Hagrid took as he led them towards a stairway leading upwards, until they reached a grassy ground covered by the castle's shadow. He then led them towards a huge oak wood door, and asked one last time, checked the status of the student body before he knocked on the door three times.
Each blow to the door drew a muffled echo from the inside, and the doors slowly slid open. Harry then, ironically, thought the whole setting made it more eerie than it was. Around him, the students seemed to shiver, and huddle closer together.
Here we are… about to enter the mouth of the beast, Harry thought as the door creaked to open fully. He couldn't help it. He smiled.