"This is it, Kid," I murmured to Ian with a mounting sense of dread. It was a Rubicon of sorts. Either we'd knock ourselves silly and wind up in hospital, or it was all true: there was a kind of shadow world that existed just out of sight, behind the seeming reality of the one we knew.
I didn't truly doubt it -- I mean, surely I couldn't have dreamt everything -- Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Diagon Alley.... I don't dream, as a rule, or at least the ones I have don't have such memorable, vivid detail.
But there's something about throwing yourself at a solid wall that makes you question these things.
"All right." I turned to Ian. "You go first."
"No, you go first," he countered sensibly.
"Nope. I don't want to leave you behind." Besides, one of us has to be able to call for an ambulance, if necessary....
Ian tensed ever so slightly, and I tugged at his ear. "Remember Diagon Alley and your wand?" He nodded. "And there's Patty, right there in your arms -- absolute proof, right?"
He had to grant me that one, and nodded again, sheepishly.
"Right you are, then," I said airily. "Remember to say 'Platform 9 3/4,' and take a good, running start."
It wasn't that I was all that terrified to try it myself; I simply trusted his suspension of disbelief more than my own, at the moment. At least that's what I told myself.
He still wasn't buying it. "You're chicken," he accused.
"Prove it," I challenged back. "I dare you."
That finally worked. He took a deep breath, tightened his arms about Patty's cage, shrieked "Platform 9 3/4!" and charged --
-- and disappeared into the wall.
Bloody hell. It really works.
So I had to follow.
He settled down eventually.
"What's it like?" he asked cautiously."I don't know that you've ever seen anything like it," I replied. "It's a castle: lots of big rooms and long hallways. Our rooms are lovely. I didn't meet everyone, but the headmaster and the deputy headmistress seem nice. Oh -- and there are ghosts."
He looked at me sceptically, and I shrugged. "You'll see for yourself.""Will I get to use my wand?" He'd been quite dismayed when Miss Climpson told him he musn't try it out until he was at school: he'd had to content himself with reading ahead.
"I certainly hope so," I said dryly. "That's what we're going there for." One reason, at any rate."Good." He pressed his nose back against the window and watched the countryside for a while longer before softly asking, "Will there be lots other students?"
"I imagine so," I said, and then added quietly, "Does that worry you?"He glanced at me, eyes darkening, and turned away without responding.
Children like Ian, with emotional problems, often have trouble relating to and socializing with their peers. In Ian's case this was exacerbated by his unique talent. He'd been placed in a special-needs school with very limited class sizes, but even then he'd had a hard time making friends. And I'd been aware for some time that my caution and protectiveness had transmitted itself to him: he was wary of others."There are four Houses at Hogwarts," I began softly, hoping some intellectual familiarity would help him come to terms with it, "Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. At the start of Term -- September 1st -- you'll be Sorted into one of the Houses, and you'll move into a dormitory with other First Year boys of your House. You'll still be able to see me every day," I added hastily as his expression clouded, "and the deputy head said you may stay with me in your own room once in while. But I think you won't need to, much." I hope. "Your housemates will be a lot more like you than you think, and they'll understand." They had better, at any rate.
He stayed at the window, seemingly oblivious to my words, and I repressed a sigh."Ian?" I prodded, and he reluctantly turned to me. "Your Great-Gran used to tell me something: 'don't borrow trouble from tomorrow.' That means you take each day as it comes; you don't worry about things you can't predict --" (I shoved aside the thought of the Divination textbooks we'd seen at Flourish and Blotts) "-- and you deal with each day's problems as best you can. Will you try to do that?"
He slowly nodded."Good. And it's not like you won't be able to talk to me if you have a problem you want help with. Okay?"
"Okay."With doglike persistence, the only other occupant of the car whisked her little trolley up the aisle and prodded us to partake of its alarmingly sugary offerings. We each had a bun and hot chocolate; then, lulled by the warm milk and the swaying of the train, Ian fell asleep and I had more than enough time to ignore my own advice and worry over my decision. I was convinced that this was either the best, or the worst, thing that had ever happened to us. For Ian's sake, I prayed it was the best.
I really needed to take Gran's advice. No point worrying now: I'd find out soon enough.
It was evening by the time we pulled into a tiny station, and stepped off to find ourselves confronted by a huge man with a frizzy mane of black hair.
"Welcome to Hogsmeade, Miss Hunter," he boomed as he pumped my hand enthusiastically. "Hagrid, Rubeus Hagrid, at yer service. An' yeh must be Mr Neill." He extended a doughy hand, but Ian refused to take it.
"Bit shy with strangers, I'm afraid," I told Hagrid. Men in general, actually... but there was no point in going into that now.
"Oh, that's awrigh', then," Hagrid replied reasonably. "Standoffish, now, that's another matter, but shy's fine. Still waters, an' all that, yeh know," and he gave me a wink. "Here, lemme help yeh with yer gear," and he took our bags and escorted us to an old-fashioned carriage -- sans horse, which I was far too unnerved to ponder over at the moment. He safely stowed our baggage, and then crammed his own large frame in across from us. With a knock on the roof, we were off.
"I'm Hogwarts' Gamekeeper, Miss -- 'scuse me, Perfesser Hunter -- an' I'll have yeh in class, Mr Neill." He swelled visibly -- and alarmingly, given the close confines -- with pride. "I teach Care of Magical Creatures." An avid gleam entered his eye. "Ian... do yeh like dragons?"
Ian still looked doubtful about Hagrid, but the comment had sparked his interest.
"I like dinosaurs," he offered cautiously.
"Well, dragons is the next best thing -- better, 'cos they're alive an' real," Hagrid said with another wink to me. "They're a lot alike, I 'spect, but o' course all dragons have wings, and they breathe fire. Betcha none o' them dineysors did that."
Ian shot me a look of pure disbelief.
"Professor Hagrid's the expert, Ian -- I'd take his word for it," I said matter-of-factly, and fervently hoped Hagrid wasn't pulling Ian's leg. Ian didn't always understand the difference between teasing and mockery....
"Jus' Hagrid, Perfesser Hunter, Hagrid'll do nicely." He leaned toward us and confided, "Jus' between the three o' us, we're to have some dragons on the Grounds, this year -- oh," he started anxiously, "I shouldn'a said that. I shouldn'a said that. Keep that mum, now. No grassin' to Headmaster or yer mates."
We assured him we'd keep it a secret, and he continued enthusiastically.
"Mos' beautiful sight in the world, a dragon in flight -- a Welsh Green, wings spread, tendrils o' flame shootin' across the night sky..." he waxed poetic for some minutes, and Ian, finally drawn in, peppered him with questions about Welsh Greens. For the last five minutes of the trip they nattered on, Hagrid touting the merits and advantages of the various breeds.
"Professor Hunter." She greeted me with a nod and a thin-lipped smile, and then turned to Ian with a somewhat warmer welcome. "Mr Neill, welcome to Hogwarts." Ian stuck his hand out -- he could be a little gentleman, with women, at least -- and she took it. "We are very pleased you'll be with us this year," she informed him. "Hagrid, would you be so good as to bring their things --?"
"Cert'nly," he rumbled behind us; he'd already loaded himself up with them.
"This way, then," McGonagall said, "we'll get you settled in." She turned on her heel and briskly marched us into the Entrance Hall, to the left, down the stairs toward the Hufflepuff domain, and opened the door to our new home.
Assembly Not Required, I thought in amazement. Far from the piles I'd expected, everything looked neat and orderly, and things were arranged much as they'd been in the flat.
Oh, damn. Very convenient. I could get used to this.
"I think everything is in order -- mostly; the House Elves can be a bit eccentric. I'm sure you'll sort everything out."
Hagrid pushed past us to deposit our things on the sofa; Ian was already pottering around the rooms, investigating.
"It's too late for supper in the Great Hall, I'm afraid, so I'll have the Elves bring a meal up for you," McGonagall continued. "In future, should you need anything just snap your fingers and one of them will get whatever you require."
"Thanks," I said, "lunch was a while ago."
"We shall leave you to it, then." McGonagall quirked an eyebrow at Hagrid, who still stood, beaming at us, in the middle of the room.
"Oh, righ'. Good to meet yeh, Perfesser Hunter --" he pumped my hand again, vigorously.
"You too, Hagrid. And thanks for the talk -- I think it helped."
He blushed. "My pleasure. I reckoned it would -- never met a young 'un yet who could resist dr-- ah, you-know-whats. See you in the mornin'." He turned back at the door. "Mr Neill -- have yer auntie bring you 'round my place termorrow," he bellowed. "Fang wants ta meet yeh." And he lumbered off down the corridor.
"Fang?" I asked McGonagall delicately.
"I see you've already grasped Hagrid's nature," she replied approvingly. "Dog. Not in the least dangerous, fortunately, but I would advise against wearing good clothing. There is a significant danger of drooling. Professor Hunter --" she added, "might I have a word -- outside?"
I called to Ian, "Why don't you have your bath, and then we'll have some dinner."
He popped his head out of the door to his room, and briefly considered turning on his pouty-face.
"You are very sooty," I said pointedly. "Train travel will do that, you know." The Hogwarts Express hadn't actually produced any soot at all, as far as I could tell, but he didn't know that, and I wasn't above fibbing to avoid an argument in front of McGonagall. With a roll of his eyes, Ian trotted off into the bath.
"Typical boy, in that respect," I muttered to McGonagall as we stepped outside and closed the door.
She smiled knowingly -- I was beginning to suspect she had a fondness for little boys, given her warmth with Ian and the way she'd treated Dumbledore -- and then sobered. "There is one matter that Headmaster and I neglected to discuss with you beforehand. Given your nephew's lack of focus, we thought it best to place a Limiting Charm on him for the time being, until he's acclimated." She watched me anxiously.
"It's all right," I said slowly. "I quite agree with you." She seemed relieved, and I added, "He seldom hurts himself -- physically, at least -- and never hurts others intentionally, though they can be caught in the crossfire." I had the medical records to prove it.
She nodded. "Very sensible attitude. We'll relax the strictures gradually, as he improves. Professor Flitwick and I should like to work with him until term begins, which will help. And it will leave you free to work with Headmaster on the syllabi." She straightened her robes a bit and added, "Breakfast is at nine o'clock sharp in the Great Hall; informal dress -- we tend to let our hair down a bit during the summer; I shall see you then. Good evening, and sleep well." She hurried off.
She's an old softie, I thought and grinned to myself as I stepped back into our rooms and locked the door.
I checked on Ian -- who'd managed to produce a mélange of scents and brilliantly-coloured bubbles from the taps that lined the tub -- and then stepped outside to the little patio for a cigarette. (I know, it's a filthy habit, but there was no way I was going to attempt to stop given the pressures of the last two years; I never smoked around Ian or in the flat, so I was only harming myself.) By the time I was done, Ian was in his pyjamas and the House Elves had produced a quite satisfying meal.
I let Ian talk himself out -- Hagrid had made quite an impression, after all -- tucked him into bed, and spent a good hour luxuriating in a bath of my own.
I could definitely get used to this, I thought as I idly added more hot water and freesia bubbles to the tub.
I could, but I musn't. Ian would be fine, I thought, given the ease with which Hagrid had drawn him in -- but whether I would fulfill expectations and receive good marks had yet to be seen.
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'a kind of shadow world': I haven't gone back to check, but I'm fairly certain this is from the last book of the Narnian Chronicles. Blessings and thanks to Mrs. Richardson, who wove her own kind of magic in reading the entire series to me and my fourth- and fifth-grade classmates.
Yes, I know that Hagrid doesn't say 'I shouldn'a said that,' in the books, but it's just too good a bit to resist; it's one of those lovely little character touches that may evolve into a plot point. I lament my lack of self-control even as I give a nod of thanks to the screenwriter.