"What on earth…?" Hermione was standing at the carriage window gaping up at the sky outside, her fingers – which had been buttoning up the front of her robes – had temporarily frozen in place. "Alice you have to come and look at this."
Her friend, who had her head buried in her trunk trying to locate her own robes, straightened up with a frown and went to stand beside her to see what had gotten Hermione so worked up this time.
"What is it?" She looked outside but couldn't see anything other than the rolling green hills and late summer sun slowly moving towards the horizon.
"The car," Hermione pointed up at the clouds as Alice looked in confusion. "There's a car in the sky."
Suddenly Alice saw it. Just below the clouds, and looking like a toy it was so far up, was a tiny blue car chugging contentedly along in mid air.
"Seen our brilliant brother have you?" Both girls turned quickly at the sound of a voice behind them and Alice grinned delightedly when she saw who it was.
"Fred! George! How are you? Did you have a good holiday?"
"Brilliant, we managed to keep our noses clean -"
"Well almost, there was the time when -"
"Oh, I suppose, and then with the custard -"
"And don't forget the ghoul escaping -"
"But on the whole we were positively saintly," George concluded with a smirk.
Alice merely raised an eyebrow.
"But hang on a minute," Hermione interceded, "you said your brother. What do you mean?"
"Nice to see you too Hermione, we missed you the most obviously…" Fred tailed off and cleared his throat as Hermione continued to give him an icy stare. "Well that's where Harry and Ron are isn't it? They must have taken Dad's car and -"
"WHAT?" Hermione screech could probably be heard at the other end of the train. "Harry and Ron are up there?" She immediately turned back round and stared searchingly out of the window as though she would somehow be able to make them out. "I am going to kill them." The thunderous look on her face suggested to Alice that she might actually carry out her dark threat if not restrained.
"Your Dad's car? Was this the one you rescued Harry in over the summer?" She remembered the letters she had received from all her friends afterwards exclaiming about the incident.
"Yeah, although no one's supposed to know that or Dad might get into trouble."
"We took the car to the station and the two of them disappeared when we all went onto the platform. They must have thought they could make a more stylish entrance like that."
"Wish we'd thought of it," Fred looked enviously out of the window at the car which was now disappearing back up into the clouds.
"Upstaged by ickle Ronnie," the expression of self disgust on George's face made Alice giggle.
"How did your Dad manage to enchant the car?" she asked, curious as ever about any forms of magic unknown to her.
"Never mind that," Hermione still sounded hysterical, "what if they have an accident? What if they're seen? They are going to get into so much trouble and the term hasn't even started yet."
"Impressive isn't it?" The twins chorused.
Hermione seemed to be about to retort but before she could get a word out the compartment door slid open again and a stubborn looking girl about the same size as Alice, but with hair of a much more flaming orange shade, stepped into the compartment.
"There you are," she addressed the twins, "Lee said you might be down here. I've been looking everywhere for you, have you seen Ron at all?" and she looked curiously round the compartment as though he might emerge from behind the luggage rack.
"He's not here," Fred smirked at her, "and neither is Harry." Alice thought she could detect a hint of disappointment on the girl's face as she received this second piece of news.
"Oh hello Hermione," the redhead added belatedly.
"Sorry Alice, you haven't been introduced yet have you?" George waved a hand vaguely between her and the newcomer. "Alice this is our little sister Ginny. Gin this is Alice Evans. We told you about her remember?"
As Alice reached out to shake hands with the youngest Weasley the other girl regarded her with a coolness she couldn't fathom. "Briefly," she replied.
Alice endeavoured to be polite, perhaps she was just shy. "Well I've heard a lot about you from Ron and the boys," she indicated the twins. "It's nice to finally meet you at last."
The smile she received in response was barely discernible. "Do you know where they are then?"
"Oh yes we certainly know where they are." Evidently Hermione was going to be outraged about this all day. "They're up there in your Dad's car apparently!" She waved an agitated hand towards the window. "You can't see them anymore though," she added as Ginny rushed to look, "they're above the clouds." Again the annoyance seemed to flash across the face of the youngest Weasley.
"Oh I wish I had seen that!" It seemed Ginny was as determined to be excited about the boys rule breaking as Hermione was disapproving. "Do you think they'll come back down?" she asked her brothers.
"Maybe, they'll need to eventually," George grinned as he and his brother stood up again.
"Are you going?" Alice tried to hide her disappointment.
"Yeah sorry midget," Fred pulled one her pigtails teasingly and Alice was sure she saw his sister shoot her an unfathomable look. What was her problem?
"Lee's got a double-ended newt we want to take a look at," his twin added.
"A newt? What happened to his tarantula?"
Identical evil grins suddenly spread across their faces. "It may have escaped when we were, hypothetically considering of course… enlarging it and giving it wings and then releasing it in Ron's dormitory at the end of last term."
Hermione finally turned away from the window looking scandalised. "How could you - !" but she didn't get a chance to finish as the twins quickly ducked out of the compartment laughing uproariously at the look on her face.
Once they had gone Alice racked her brain for something to say to Ginny, she never knew what to say to people she had just met, every sensible thought seemed to fly out of her head and the only thing she could think of was the fact that she had to say something. Consequently this meant that she could never actually come up with anything intelligent to say, which was confusing to say the least. Hermione was no help either as she was still too preoccupied with staring out the window for some sign of the boys; and the younger girl didn't seem inclined to begin a conversation either. Alice wasn't surprised that she wasn't saying anything, she knew how daunting it was to meet older pupils, and it must be especially difficult since she had just been dumped by her brothers in a compartment where the other occupants were already friends. Although, Alice considered, she did already know Hermione having met her over the summer when everyone went to Diagon Alley. Alice hadn't been able to make the trip at the same time as everyone else having been on a trip to Edinburgh with the Home at the time.
Realising the silence was beginning to stretch painfully Alice decided the first thing that came into her head would just have to do. "So… Ginny… what House do you want to be in?" She cringed internally at the inanity of the question; this was why you were supposed to think before you spoke.
Clearly Ginny thought so too as she gave her that look again before she tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Gryffindor of course, my whole family's been in that House. You're in Gryffindor too aren't you?" The way she phrased it made Alice wonder whether she thought this was a good thing or not so she just nodded.
"Are you very good friends with Harry and Ron then? Only he didn't mention you much. He stayed at our house in the holidays; Mum was really excited having Harry Potter to stay. I think he's really brave for all the things he's done don't you? Such a hero."
"Well, I suppose," Alice wasn't really sure what response to make to this, "he's just Harry really. We've all been friends since last year, I don't really think of him as being famous."
"Oh," Ginny gave her another odd look; it wasn't condescending this time so much as she thought Alice was a bit odd in the head. As for Alice herself she was rapidly going off the youngest Weasley, but she was determined to try and make an effort for the rest of the boys' sakes. "I suppose being a muggle born you wouldn't have really known about him before. Maybe that makes a difference… It must be really exciting, I suppose he'll get up to all sorts of adventures this year too," her smile as she considered this was slightly dreamy and Alice realised with a suppressed giggle that Ron's little sister must have a crush on her raven-haired friend. Poor Harry.
"As much as I hate to admit it I'm sure we will." Ginny's eyebrows contracted slightly at her use of the word we but it was fleeting. "What do you think Hermione?"
Her friend eventually tore her eyes away from the window. "Oh I'm sure we will, in fact it looks like some people seem to be having them already, and term hasn't even started. Really, what were they thinking?" She began to launch into one of her long, flowing tirades which Alice had become familiar with over the past year and which, if they weren't directed at you, were rather endearing. Ginny however, felt the need to interrupt.
"Oh Hermione how can you be so mean about them, they're just having fun. Relax a bit more."
Hermione's lecture came to an abrupt halt as she blinked at Ginny looking rather stunned.
"Right…" Alice racked her brain for a way to steer the conversation in another direction. "Ginny what's it like having so many brothers? Hermione and I are both only children"
"It's alright I suppose, it means you have to get used to them playing tricks on you all the time, but they tend not to play too many on me because I'm the only girl." Alice was beginning to suspect that this was part of the problem with the first year's attitude but kept silent on the matter. "It's always fun in the holidays of course," she continued, "especially this year when Harry came to stay. We all became such good friends." Now it was Hermione's turn to shoot her an unfathomable look. "But I suppose I better go and find my brothers; there must be something exciting happening on this train." And before either of them could utter a word she got up and exited the compartment leaving them both lost for words. Eventually Alice managed to find her voice.
"Well she seems…" she struggled to find a word within the confines of politeness and failed so settled for the mundane, "nice."
Hermione frowned, "she seems very different to what she was in the summer. She hardly said two words then especially round Harry," her scowl deepened fractionally, "so I don't know what she was talking about them all becoming great friends. And all the boys mentioned you to her quite a few times when we went to Diagon Alley, they thought the two of you would get on really well," Hermione raised her eyebrow in silent question.
"I'm reserving my judgement," Alice grinned at her and they both knew full well that she was only being polite and trying to give Ginny the benefit of the doubt. "She's still only a kid," they both began laughing at her irony.
After that the train journey was relatively uninterrupted, with the exception of the witch who came round with the trolley and Hermione peering in frustration from the window every so often in the vain hope that she might spot the boys and tutting with irritation whether or not she could.
Almost before Alice knew where she was they were at the station in Hogsmeade, but instead of being led towards the boats by Hagrid as they had been last year, she and Hermione were left to find a space on one of the horseless carriages along with all the rest of the students. They eventually managed to find one, after being shoved repeatedly by older students - much to Hermione's fury, with Fred, George and Lee Jordan who then showed them his newt complete with second head instead of a tail. Just as they were about to pull away they heard someone calling their names.
"Alice! Hermione! Wait up!" Neville clambered awkwardly into the carriage after them trying to keep hold of his escapist toad with one hand and pull himself up with the other.
"Hi Neville," Alice smiled as she and Hermione assisted him, "How was your summer? Did you manage to convince your Gran to let you off of those extra flying lessons in the holidays?" she asked referring to his mention of the topic in a letter.
"Nope, trying to convince Gran is like trying to tame a Doxy. It was a disaster… again," he looked so woebegone that Alice immediately regretted bringing up the subject.
"So Lee where did you get that poor newt from anyway?" Hermione tactfully changed the subject and Alice smiled at her in gratitude once everyone's attention was focused on the creature in question.
Once the carriages had rumbled up to the school gates they all filed noisily into the Great Hall and took their places at the House tables. Looking around at all the students in their black robes with the candles hovering above their heads and the stars twinkling languidly in the enchanted ceiling above that still, Alice felt a rush of affection – even, though it was fleeting, at the sight of the Slytherins. They were all part of home and there was definitely no place like it.
"It's so good to be back," she beamed at Hermione enthusiastically then they both laughed again as her stomach rumbled. "I'm so hungry," she chuckled, "I was too nervous to be hungry last year."
"Yes but now we're all sophisticated second years," she turned to Parvati who had just sat down next to them with Lavender in tow. "It'll be great not being the youngest anymore." Alice smiled and listened contentedly as the rest of the Gryffindors from her year arrived at the table and all struck up a conversation.
"When do you think they'll start the Sorting? I'm starving." Just as Seamus Finnigan had echoed her earlier sentiment the doors to the Great Hall swung open again and the room descended into silence as the first years followed Professor McGonagall in. Alice managed to spot Ginny Weasley striding confidently along behind a tiny mousy haired boy and wished she could have her self-assurance, even if she was annoying at first impression. Scanning the rest of the group she spotted a girl near the back of the group who looked as though she had wandered into the Hall completely unintentionally. She had dirty blonde hair which fell in straggly waves to her waist and wide, dreamy eyes that were so pale they almost looked white. She strolled along at the back of the group gazing upwards at the enchanted ceiling and humming beatifically to herself in an odd lilting voice. Although instantly curious about her Alice also felt slightly sorry for her as she was beginning to attract the stares and giggles of many of the students as she walked the length of the room. She could think of nothing worse than having everyone gawp at her.
Her attention was quickly refocused on the front of the room however as Professor McGonagall began the Sorting and it was with slight disappointment that she saw the intriguing girl go into Ravenclaw and Ginny Weasley, although it was no great surprise, enter Gryffindor. It wasn't that she disliked the girl exactly, she just got her back up. Perhaps it was the fact that her brazenness was so contrary to Alice's entire personality, but then – she reasoned to herself – that couldn't be it entirely as Hermione was often the very embodiment of brazenness and she couldn't wish for a better friend than her.
Said friend was currently peering down the length of the table anxiously. "They're not here. Where do you suppose Harry and Ron have gotten to? You don't think anything's happened to them do you?" She looked back at Alice in consternation.
"I'm sure they're fine," she tried to placate her friend, "they'll be on their way here you'll see. Although," she added as she spotted McGonagall sweeping out of the Hall looking as irate as Snape, whom she was following, was smug, "I wouldn't like to be in their shoes when the teachers hear how they got to school."
Hermione worried at her bottom lip as she followed Alice's gaze, "you don't think they'll be punished do you, not if they weren't seen? Harry really doesn't need any more attention." Her comment made Alice remember something she had been meaning to ask her but at that moment, following a spate of whispering which had spread down the table, Fred leaned across the table with a wicked glint in his eye.
"But they were seen weren't they? And apparently not just by us on the train, someone just heard Snape tell McGonagall that it's all over the Prophet that they were spotted by muggles." He grinned at Hermione's scandalised look, "and it's not just that either, you know that mad old willow next to the Forbidden Forest? Between Hagrid's Hut and the castle? Well apparently my dear brother and Harry just crash landed into it," he laughed gleefully at their expressions, "I never thought Ron would do us so proud."
Hermione fixed on one point of his revelation. "They crashed? Is Harry alright? Have they been hurt?"
"Nah they're fine," George joined the conversation and waved his hand dismissively, "by the sounds of it the tree was worse off, fantastic way to start the term though."
Alice opened her mouth to ask what had happened to the car, but Hermione, having been satisfied that the boys were in one piece, beat her to it. "Oh yes, really fantastic, it's a fantastic way to lose house points too. Term hasn't even started properly yet, goodness knows what possessed them. Harry really should know better - Ron too," she added as an after thought.
"Really Hermione," Ginny piped up from a few places down the table, "it's only a bit of fun, you do need to lighten up a bit sometimes," and she turned away again leaving Hermione to splutter indignantly in her direction. Alice wasn't sure what she was more annoyed at, the fact that Ginny had dismissed it as a bit of fun, or that she had just been told to lighten up by a first year.
Knowing that it would be a matter of seconds before Hermione managed to muster up an angry outburst, especially with the twins sniggering at the other side of the table, Alice decided that the only recourse was to distract her. "Ignore her Hermione. Here have some of this it's really good," she pushed a plate of rice pudding with strawberry sauce under her nose. Her ruse worked in so far as she was able to avert any explosions directed at Ginny, but for the remainder of the meal Hermione continued to mutter dark threats about what she would do to the boys once she got hold of them and she barely heard any of the speech Dumbledore gave at the end of the meal or his welcoming of the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, who Alice personally thought looked a bit cheesy.
"Hermione," she tried to reason with her later as they made their way up to Gryffindor Tower after the feast, "there's maybe a good reason why they took the car; they might have left something in it and gone back so missed the train and not known what else to do." Her friend looked unconvinced so she tried again. "Please don't go ballistic at them," Hermione sniffed as though insulted at the very suggestion, "I know what they did was stupid and dangerous but don't let's all fight about it, not at the start of term." She looked at her pleadingly as Hermione considered.
"All right," she sighed eventually and her bushy hair seemed to deflate in resignation, "but don't expect me to be nice to them. They're both idiots." Alice knew she couldn't ask for more and so accepted the compromise with a smile.
True to her word Hermione marched straight up to the dormitory, ignoring the students who were gathered in the common room waiting for the two boys to appear, dragging a reluctant Alice in her wake. As they got ready for bed Hermione hardly said two words to her either, it was as though she held Alice partly responsible for the days events as well; which was, she considered as she pulled on her new checked pyjamas which had been a birthday present from Carol and the other women at the Home, a tad unfair seeing as she hadn't even seen the boys since they all left Hogwarts in June.
Just as she was about to extinguish the light the fleeting thought she had had just before Fred interrupted her at dinner reoccurred to her. Whether it was natural curiosity, or the twins need to tease rubbing off on her, or payback for Hermione being so grumpy, or all three Alice decided to voice her question.
"Hermione," she asked keeping her voice deliberately airy, sitting up further in bed and peering over at her friend in the gloom.
"Do you have a crush on Harry?" She chuckled as Hermione gasped in response and buried her face in the pillow which muffled her reactionary mutterings, but not enough that she didn't catch the words deluded and absurdity punctuating every half sentence. With a grin Alice bade her goodnight – to which she got no response and only made her smile more – before blowing out her candle and settling back to allow the muted sounds of the commotion in the common room to lull her to sleep.
A/N: I know Ginny is really annoying in this chapter, much more so than in the books, but I was trying to convey – I'm not sure how successfully – the fact that she is a bit spoilt being the youngest and still quite immature. It is entirely possible that she was like this in the books but we just never got to see it because she never spoke in front of Harry. That's my theory anyway; babble over.