H is for Hope

PROLOGUE

Have any of you wondered if the H on the flags and all that were only for Hogwarts? What if it was for more than that? Like, H for heroes, or H for honesty? Or maybe even H for huggable or for honorable? I mean, no one has actually asked someone, "Is the H on the flags just for Hogwarts, or for something else?" so we don't know. I always wondered, seeing those banners in the Great Hall. It's quite a mystery, but no mystery can last forever.

"Nine and three-quarters? Are you mad, you unintelligent little dog?" my mother asks. I roll my eyes and show her the ticket.

"Well. The only place between platforms nine and ten is the wall," my father spits out. We're standing at King's Cross, seeing my aunt off. We had gotten the letter to go to Hogwarts the day before, while my great-aunt Jessica was visiting. We had decided to check out platform nine and three-quarters, but it doesn't seem like we can.

"I bet this is just some prank. Wizards don't exist, and if you're half coherent you'd know that!" Mother snarls.

She's got to be wrong. The only thing I find curious is that we needed spellbooks and a wand and a cauldron and all that wizardy stuff. I don't exactly think I could stop at a regular store and buy it.

"What do I do?" I murmur under my breath. "I can't just go to Target and buy this stuff." The letter was clenched in my fist.

Mother and Father scowl at me and tell me they're going to go get some lunch. I nod and step over to a bench and sit down heavily. I watch my parents leave the station gloomily. This whole experience is so horrible. I have no idea where on Earth I can get any of this! The Standard Book of Spells, The History of Magic, Magical Theory! How do I find all this?

A woman sits next to me after a little while. She has her graying hair tied in a tight bun, and she looks down at me with a superior air about her.

"Are you all right, child?" she asks.

"Not really," I admit. "I've been told to get things that most convenient stores probably won't sell in a million years."

"Like what?" she asks.

I shrug. "Stuff for a school that I might go to. Books, a uniform, all that stuff. These are special, though, so…"

"Is that the list?" she inquires, nodding at the paper in my hand.

I nod. "Yeah. If you want to look at it, go ahead. You won't believe a word of it. I hardly do."

She takes the parchment when I hold it out to her. She reads through it, and a small smile creeps across her lips. "I think you might want to try the Leaky Cauldron. Ask someone how to get to Diagon Alley. They'll help."

I recall seeing that name on a shabby old sign between a bookstore and a record store. I hardly remember how to get there, but before I can say anything, there's a crack and the lady is gone. I see my parents coming in my general direction with grocery bags in their hands, but I don't really want to speak to them. Honestly, I don't really want to see them at all, and being Friday, the station is crowded. I pull out the black fedora men's hat I keep in the white leather bag I carry around, shove my long black hair into it, and jam it onto my head. I then pull dark glasses from by bag and slide them behind my ears. Buttoning up my black leather trench coat, which goes past my knees, I look just like a guy. A guy without parents, but a guy. Only my name distinguished me—Serene Williams. I stand and stride into the nearest crowd, moving with their fast-paced flow. I hear my father boom my name, but I lower my head and keep walking. People give me funny looks as they jostle past me, but I just walk faster until I'm heading up the stairs. My parents only know that I have a very popular yet old type of coat, not the hat or the bag. If they saw me, they'd never suspect a thing.

I step into the fresh-ish air, grinning my naturally perfect white teeth. My feet carry my as swiftly as I can walk to the nearest bus stop, but I don't get what I expect. A huge triple-decker bus barrels through all the cars without hitting one of them, stopping in front of me. No one else seems to notice it, and a guy looks down at me when the door opens.

"Where to?" he asks.

"A place called Diagon Alley. Do you know where that is?" I ask.

He scoffs. "Sure, I know where it is! What wizard doesn't? Now, are you going to get on, or what?"

I scurry up the steps and see various couches and chairs, many with people sitting on them. They all wear robes and most read a newspaper called the Daily Prophet. I shrug and have just sat down in a seat at the front, when the bus jolts into motion, making me fall right out of my seat.

"Whoa!" I shout, pushing my face from the carpeted floor with a ghost of a scowl. A man walks over to me calmly despite the lurching bus and helps me up, smiling at me levelly.

"Where are your parents, son?" he asks. He has ruffled black hair and circular glasses.

"They're back at the station," I say, not bothering to correct him about the 'son.' He tilts his head slightly.

"What? Why?" he asks.

I shrug, sitting back down as the bus jerked forward. "Mostly because 1) they hate me, and 2) they hate me."

He glances back at the back of the bus and sits down next to me. "I'm sure they don't hate you."

"I'm sure they do."

"Dad! Dad!" a girl shouts from the back. She runs up to the man.

"Yes, Lily?" the man asks calmly.

"Where've you been? I mean, we've all been wondering what you're doing," she retries, blushing.

The man states that he's been talking to me, and the girl, Lily, drags him by the hand back to his family. I gaze rearward at them, fighting back the tears that threaten my eyes. They all seem so happy, the two boys, the little girl, the parents. With another jounce, the bus driver shouts, "DIAGON ALLEY!" and stops jerkily. I grab a metal pole next to me to keep from soaring from my seat again, standing and getting off the bus.

A very busy alley stands before me, with a large marble building at the very end of it. I see people in robes all over the place, and I see some people holding out coins of gold, silver, and bronze to their children. I bite my lip and think No money. Right, as I walk along. Signs hang from the front of the stores, reading names like Flourish and Blotts and Quality Quidditch Supplies. More passersby give me strange looks while I stand there, gaping soundlessly and motionlessly at the towering walls around me.

"Need anything, laddie?" a woman asks me. I nod, but she's already walking away. I hope to death that this marble building is a bank and that they give loans.

As I step into the building, I see the family again. They stand there at the counter, talking to the creature behind it.

"Yes, yes, I know! Now please, we still need to get things for James," the man says impatiently.

"I see. Well, you'll just have to forebear the thought that we're very busy, so you'll need to wait," says the creature.

"How long?" the woman asks. She has long, strait orange hair, more auburn, and holds the little girl's hand.

"About an hour and a half," answers the creature without glancing at the clock.

"An hour and a half?" exclaims the older boy, astonished. "We don't have that long, do we, Mum?"

"Yes, we do," says the mother. "Just… read. Reading is always good."

"Mum!" the younger boy whined. "I don't wanna read!"

Meanwhile, the girl was pulling out a book and opening it, as was the older boy. They all moved out of the way and sat down on a marble bench on one wall. I stepped into the line and waited. When he finally told all the people in front of me how long they'd have to wait, the creature says, "Welcome to Gringotts bank, how can I help you," in a monotone.

"Do you give out loans?" I ask timidly.

"Muggle-born, eh? No matter. Where're your parents, boy?" the thing asks.

"Gone," I answer, " I ditched them."

"Well then, yes, we give out loans to students at Hogwarts. Your letter?" it asks, holding out a hand. I reach into my organized bag and pull it out, handing it to the thing. It examines it before handing it back to me, grunting out, "You will have to wait and hour and thirty-seven minutes, please take a seat and do not leave the building."

I sit about ten feet down the bench from the oldest boy. He looks at his family quickly before scooting down to sit by me.

"I hear you ditched your parents?" he asks.

I nod. "Only because they hate me and I hate them so much I decided I wouldn't let them control me anymore."

He whistles. "Wow. I'm impressed." He holds out a hand. "I'm James, James Potter."

I take it, shaking. "I'm Serene Williams. Nice to meet you."

He gasps a bit. "So you're a girl?"

I roll my eyes. "No duh."

He looks stubborn, pursing his lips. "Fine. Show me you're a girl. All girls have too long of hair to be a guy's."

I comply, taking of my hat while shaking my waist-long hair out. The uneven red tips brush the marble below; I had dyed the tips of my hair and my neck-long bangs two weeks ago permanently to show that I don't care what my parents wanted me to be like. He gapes at it, and then he grins. "Okay, Merlin, you're blowing me away with all this rebel-ness. Okay, take off the shades. Girls have girly eyelashes."

So I do. I pull off my shades and reveal my natural violet eyes. He stares into them, his mouth opening the slightest bit. "No contacts?" he asks.

I shake my head. "No. They're natural. Not to my parents. They think I wear contacts, even though I was born with these. Like I said, they hate my guts."

He laughs. "Okay. Do you want to meet my family?" he asks, seeming to sense their staring. I shrug and he leads me over to them. "Okay, this is my mom, Ginny, this is my dad, Harry, this is my little brother, Albus, and this is my little sister, Lily," he explains, gesturing to each person in turn. I nod and smile as Mr. Potter shakes my hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," says the woman, Ginny, shaking my hand.

"You, too," I say, stepping back. James nods at me and asks, "So how old are you?"

"Eleven," I answer.

"Oh," he says, "I'm thirteen. This will be my third year."

"Don't worry!" pipes up Lily, "This is my first year too… umm… James! What's her name?"

"Serene Williams!" James announces as if he's known me for years (Which, of course, he hasn't). "She used to be a Death Eater!" he adds to Albus, whose eyes get wide.

Mr. Potter probably would've looked more surprised than he does if he hasn't seen my hair, but he does seem a bit startled at my eyes as he casts James a dark look. I smile at him and go back to sit down at the edge of the bench. James follows me and examines me, chewing on his lip thoughtfully. He seems much more mature than he probably is.

"Now, look, once we get our money, let's ditch my mum and dad and my siblings. It'll be cool; we have to go to the same stores anyway, and I can help you get your stuff, too!" he whispers to me excitedly. I grin, but I say, "What would your parents do?"

"Oh, they won't mind!" he says, waving a hand. "Hagrid is wandering around the alley, and so are people who used to be in the Order of the Phoenix! Dad and Mum know we'll be just fine!"

I shrug. "I don't see a problem with me going, but won't your brother and sister want to come?"

"They're pansies!" he insists. "Come on, we're old enough! My dad said last year that it had been nineteen years since You-Know-Who was alive, so it's been twenty, now! I can tell you're not as much of a scardy-cat as they are! So in…" he glances at the clock, "ten minutes, me and my family will probably come out, and in fifteen they'll be done giving you a loan 'cause they don't need to leave the ground floor for that! I'll convince Mum and Dad to wait for you, and then we'll get out to the alley and go!

"Plus," he adds in an undertone, "I stole this cloak from my Dad! It'll make us invisible until we're out of their sight!"

"Wow!" I say, "Perfect! I wish I had one of those!"

"You don't need one, you have that disguise. Don't wear it, though, 'cause they've seen you like that. Tie your hair up and take off that coat and all that," he suggests. I reach into my bag and pull out a hairtie, slipping it on my wrist. I rake a small travel brush through my hair so it'll be ready to put up later. By this time, the Potter family has been called to get their money, so I just wait, marveling in James and my plan. When the thing—I think it might be a goblin—calls me up, I walk up to it with a grin. He guides me down a maze of hallways until we get to a room full of silver, gold, and bronze coins. He hands me 100 galleons with a, "I'm sure this'll be enough."

By the time I'm back out of the marble maze, the Potter family is waiting for me near the entrance, James completely composed. Only his eyes give away his excitement. He smirks at me in a knowing way, as if he knows a secret and I'm in on it, as I walk towards the family.

"James wanted us to wait for you, since you were alone. It's very strange of our James to suggest something like this, but we thought it was a good idea, right, Harry?" Mrs. Potter says. Mr. Potter nods and beckons us out the door. I see James beginning to slip something out of his pocket, and his hand was invisible. I glanced at his parents, and they haven't noticed. We've just emerged in the more-crowded-than-ever alley when Mr. and Mrs. Potter see a friend of theirs and they begin a happy conversation with them. Lily and Albus converse with their children, and no one is paying us any attention. Next thing I know, I'm being swept into a rushing section of the crowd. James seems to think that he can't do this little trick without me, and he reaches out before I'm too far away and grabs my wrist. I clasp my fingers around his and yank, dragging him along the wave with me. By the time we can get away from it, we're at the Flourish and Blotts place I saw earlier.

"Quick, put up your hair!" breathes James. I pull my hair up as high on the back of my head as it'll go, which it about level with the tops of my eyes. I then take off my coat, fold it with one hand and a forearm, and slip it into my bag. I'm wearing a plain black long-sleeve shirt that's form-fitting but still a bit loose and black skinny jeans. My Osiris are pink and black {Look on my profile for these}, so my whole outfit is pretty epic.

"Whoa," James says, taking me in and pulling off the cloak, shoving it in his pocket. I'm used to this reaction, along with people calling me Goth, so I just roll my eyes and enter Flourish and Blotts. It's a bookstore, with shelves stacked to the ceiling. Kids and their parents examine the books, occasionally yelling out and grabbing one. I look down at my list while James looks at his, and once we've got them memorized we look for them together. James guides me to where he found his first books, and I help him look around for his. When we're ready, with stacks of books in our arms, we go to the counter, buy them, and walk to the back of the store.

"We can't carry all this; let's just put them all in my bag," I offer, sliding in mine one by one. While all eight were in and I grab for James' stack, my bag hadn't been bulging in the slightest. It looks the same as it had when I walked into Diagon Alley, and this fact makes James look filled with wonder. He just watches as I smoothly place all his books in my bag with mine and pick it up again, shrugging the strap over my head so that it's across my chest. I can't feel a difference in the weight.

"Where did you get that?" James asks once we're out of the store.

"Some really short guy gave it to me. He had a squeaky voice. He just said, 'A gift from a friend,' handed it to me, and walked away. I really liked it, and I still do, so I kept it."

"Reason enough, I guess. Sounds a lot like Professor Flitwick, to me," James muses.

So we move on. I buy all I need and he buys all he needs until all I need left are some robes and my wand. James beams at me in a way that creeps me out a little bit, until he says something that proclaims why.

"Maybe I could watch you try them on, eh?" he attempts with that same smirk. I stare at him incredulously.

"So that's what's got you acting so weird!" I exclaim, whacking his shoulder lightly. He grins and says, "Oh yeah. Maybe I can help you with it, too."

At this, I smack him across the face. His head jolts to the side before he turns back to me, grinning bigger than ever.

"That's all right. I like a girl with some zest."

I stalk into the store, trailed by James. About half an hour later, we walk back out of it, both with new robes (his had started to show his ankles). When we get back to the front of the Alley, I see Ollivander's. The two of us race in and we see Ollivander himself, examining a fresh-looking wand behind the desk. He looks up at our entrance.

"And who might you be?" he asks. I introduce James and myself and he nods in remembrance. "Yes, yes. Unicorn hair from a particularly smirky male. 11½ inches, a little springy, oak, if my memory is correct, and it always is. Now, what can I do for you, young lady?"

"I need a wand," I say firmly.

So he leaves and scrolls through the boxes. He makes me try tons and tons of wands, all disasters. Finally, in the very, very back of the store, where he 'almost never needs to go,' he drags out a box with little stick figure doodles on it.

"This is one of the first wands I ever made. Dragon heartstring. 14¾ inches. Black walnut. Try it out," he says, pulling out a long black wand. I grasp it and am immediately filled with campfire-warmth. Huge firework-size sparks emerge from the tip. I beam at James and Ollivander and pay for the wand, tucking it in my bag.

When we leave the store, the Leaky Cauldron is waiting for us, warm and welcoming. Inside are four people who don't look as nice as the place itself. Harry and Ginny Potter accompanied by the two friends that they were talking to earlier glare at us from a table near the corner. I glance at James to see his brown eyes wide and his bottom lip being gnawed. I throw him a quick smile that says I'll handle this and I walk up to the table.

"Look, Mr. and Mrs. Potter, I asked him to come with me. I didn't want to cause you that much trouble, and I knew you all had just gotten money, so we went and got all we needed on our own. I'm really sorry for talking him into it; it's all my fault. Please don't yell at him or punish him because he was just being kind. Really. I swear. The only one who should be punished is me," I explain. The part about me talking him into it is, of course, a lie, and I'm already being punished by the world because I have no other family apart from my parents, who are probably going to beat me harder than ever before if I go home, so I'll be stuck on the streets until September first, so I guess no punishment is really necessary.

"Harry…" said Mrs. Potter, looking at Mr. Potter. He sighs, rubbing his neck.

"Look, Serene, why not you catch a Muggle—non-magic folk, that is—bus and go home to your parents. I'm sure they're worried," he says with a firm look at James, who just walked up next to me.

"See, Mr. Potter, the problem with that is… well, my parents hate me. They beat me, knowing all too well that's it's illegal. Seeing as I ran away, they're going to… I don't even want to imagine what they're going to do, and I imagine my bloody body on the sidewalk. I don't have many happy choices here, really, but I guess ya gotta do what ya gotta do."

The Potters stare at me. I shrug and walk out of the bar to the nearest bus stop, searching for the coins I always find on the sidewalk in this area. I find a few, decide it'll be enough, and wait for the bus to arrive. This time, it's not the big, weird one, but a small, normal one. I climb on, pay the driver, and wait, watching the Leaky Cauldron to speed away behind me, along with Harry, Ginny, Albus, Lily, and James Potter.

DSICLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN HARRY POTTER OR ANY OF THE CHARACTERS APART FROM SERENE WILLIAMS AND HER PARENTS.