The man in the white apron behind the counter shouted loudly when Harry returned with the two girls in tow. “Professor McGonagall’s been for ya, Potter! Said to have ya some supper and she’ll be back. Said to stay put.”
“Right, so what have you got to eat?” Harry asked taking a seat in a wobbly wooden chair, the girls following suit.
Three helpings of Shepherd’s Pie landed with a thud before the three hungry kids and they tore right into the goods. There was no conversation, just the bustle of the business and the snapping of the fire. Three foamy Butterbeers balanced on a round tray were brought over by a tall, thin woman wearing a white cap and dark dress.
“Thank you,” Libby said between bites of the warm and satisfying food. She took the handle of the stein and drank deeply of the sweet and satisfying beverage. The creamy foam that rested on the surface clung to her lips so that she had to wipe her mouth. It was such a mystery to her, the creamy goodness and the hint of butterscotch or caramel. She suddenly smiled, feeling uplifted and happy; content.
There was a man seated at the end of the long table reading a newspaper, steam rising from his own beverage. The headline on the paper blared at her even from the distance between them and a figure on the front page moved from side to side. “Escape from Azkaban” was what it said.
“Is that picture moving on the paper?” Libby asked not moving her eyes from the paper.
“Yes,” smiled Hermione, “all the pictures move here.”
Harry looked uncomfortable, as if a cloud just descended over him.
“So who is that? The picture of the man? Is that what I’m seeing?” Libby continued.
Harry spoke up, but his voice was quiet as if he were hiding from someone. “That’s Sirius Black. He killed people when I was a baby. I don’t know much more than that except he is the only prisoner to escape from Azkaban. So yea, there is a killer on the loose.”
Libby swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly feeling dry. She drank again from her cup and fell silent.
“Good to see you made it back, Potter,” Professor McGonagall said suddenly standing before them with her arms crossed over her chest and looking as stern as she had earlier that morning.
“We got all the shopping done, Professor,” Harry answered.
“I gathered that by the amount of packages,” she said with a twitch of her lips as though she wanted to smile.
Libby just sat there staring in silence. The professor took a chair just in front of her and sat, folding her hands elegantly upon the table. “Miss Archibald,” she began softly, “I know you have many questions about what has happened today. I promise you that the Headmaster has all the answers. I, however, do not. Sometimes you just have to trust that everything happens for a reason and that all is as it should be. Do not fret, your family is just fine and they wish you well. You have a room here, next door to Potter. Stay close to him until we can get you to Hogwarts tomorrow. Upon arriving, Dumbledore will explain everything to you. I just ask that you stay indoors as much as possible. Stay safe.”
Libby merely nodded, her eyes flicked to Harry trying to read the hard lines on his young face. Was that fear that stared back at her through the rounded spectacles? Or did he resent her for having to babysit her? She felt uncomfortable and didn’t want Harry to hate her.
With a nod, McGonagall stood and walked away, her posh, green velvet cloak billowing in her wake.
Once she was out of earshot Libby decided to get one thing clear. “Harry, I don’t expect you-”
“It’s okay, Libby. Really. I’m here, you’re here…we might as well stick together, right?” he smiled back at her, the harshness gone from his face once again.
“So why are you stuck here like me?” Libby asked, wondering about his family and if they knew he was gone too.
“I blew up my aunt,” he said and laughter bubbled up inside of him, escaping as a snort.
Libby’s eyes grew huge at the visual.
“Not blew her up, blew her up…I inflated her like a balloon for bad-mouthing my parents. She ended up floating away. You should have seen her face when her necklace burst from around her fat neck and she couldn’t hardly move. Teaches her to throw insults around. But the Minister of Magic put her right and made her believe a story about what happened. So now we wait until the train comes,” he said with a grin of satisfaction at the memory.
“Oh,” Libby replied, relieved. “She doesn’t sound very nice…”
Harry’s lip curled bitterly. “No, she’s not. None of my family is very nice unfortunately. I wish I had family here to stay with and never have to go back to the Dursley’s again.”
“I’m sure Ron’s family would take you in if you ask, Harry,” said Hermione.
Harry looked down at his food and shook his head to the negative. “The Weasleys already struggle for room and to make ends meet, Hermione. I could never…”
The three of them returned to eating, no one saying another word, and Libby sneaking peeks at the wild looking man on the front of the newspaper at the end of the table.
When every bite had been eaten and every drop had been sipped, Harry stood and the legs of the shabby wooden chair scraped against the stone floor. “I will help you take your things to your room,” he said sounding tired and very worn out for a young boy.
“It’s okay, Harry. I can get it…I just need to know where my room is,” Libby giggled softly.
“Oh please,” said Hermione rolling her eyes, “we are here to help you so just say thank you, Libby.” She grabbed a few bags and started for the rickety looking staircase.
Harry hurried to take some also and Libby took hold of Serendipity’s cage and her bag of robes and the like, hurrying to catch up.
“I’m sorry!” Libby shouted after them feeling a sense of panic that her new friends would be mad at her. “Thank you for helping me!”
Harry turned to Libby as she came up on his right going up the creaky old stairs. “Don’t mind her, she wasn’t trying to be rude. She is just very to the point sometimes. You will learn that we are happy to help you. Not because McGonagall told us to, but because we want to. If friends offer to help, just accept it and be glad you have good people in your life,” he smiled warmly.
“It’s just that…well, I haven’t had friends for a long time. I’ve always been kind of a loner and a misfit. But I’m glad I ran into you guys. You’ve been great to me,” Libby answered feeling strange revealing that part of her to Harry.
“Well,” he said looking back up toward Hermione, “the three of us were just the same as you but we found each other and we all belong together. True friendship doesn’t happen often.”
“Is Hermione…like…your girlfriend?” Libby asked innocently.
Harry laughed loudly. “No, no…not Hermione. She’s more like my…sister. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great person. But she’s definitely more like family, you know?”
“She’s very smart. I can tell that,” Libby said trying to be positive after such a blunder.
“Best witch I’ve ever known,” he replied and led her down a narrow hallway of uneven planks for walls, cobwebs in the corners, and paint peeling doors that hung crooked on their hinges. “Here we are…”
Hermione had opened the door and was putting the bags she carried on a table to the left of the large four posted bed with a faded blue velvet canopy and curtains that looked like it was hiding under years of dust. The wooden floor creaked with every step and Libby could hear the wind racing over the roof. A shudder stole through her.
“They should be around in a bit to start a fire for you. That will take the chill out,” Hermione said having seen goosebumps erupt all over Libby’s arms when she slipped out of the loaned robe. “You have all these school books to read and Serendipity here to keep you company when we aren’t hanging out. I’m going to bed now, so I will see you two for breakfast in the morning.”
“Hey, Hermione…” Libby called out as Hermione was about to walk through the door.
The frizzy haired girl turned around with eyebrows raised in question.
“Thank you. For everything today. I couldn’t have done it without you guys,” Libby said with a racing heart. She was afraid of being rejected or ridiculed. It was difficult at best to express her emotions. It hurt so much less just to hide them inside.
Hermione smiled warmly. “You’re welcome, Libby. You are a great kid. Goodnight.”
“I’m going to bed as well. We will talk more tomorrow,” Harry said setting Libby’s treasures on the floor beside the table and retreating to the hall.
Libby waived goodbye and felt oddly empty as their energy left with them, leaving her room bare and cold. Serendipity gave a squawk and Libby set her on the table, bending to meet the owl’s gaze. “Just you and me, girl. What book should we read first?”
Libby blinked her eyes awake, the sunshine of the late summer day pouring through the grimy window, and she sat up with a yawn that threatened to make her lungs explode. The tips of her fingers massaged the sleep from her eyes. She had almost forgotten where she was. But the sight of the old door barely clinging to its hinges brought back the events that had happened the day before. This was not her bedroom of soft baby blue with ruffles on the bedspread and feminine white posts reaching to the ceiling. However, although it was not her pretty, young girl’s décor, this world felt more like home than being back with her family.
Climbing from beneath her covers, she went to the mirror and looked into the warped, rippled glass. It reminded her of a fun house mirror and she smoothed her hair that was sticking up. Her clothes, her only clothes, were still out of place and bright compared to her surroundings.
She opened the bag of robes and pulled out a plain black one that actually fit her slight frame, a gray pleated skirt, white button-up shirt, and a gray knitted sweater. In the bottom of the bag, she found the black tie with a colorful crest adorning it.
Carefully, she dressed herself, taking pride in how the clothes transformed her. She was a new person in a place where she belonged. Turing to look in the mirror again, she spied two gray socks and a pair of black shoes on the end of her bed. Moving slowly in a circle, Libby searched for the person that entered her room unannounced but found no one. Leery, she hesitantly picked up the socks and drew them on, the tops coming to her bare knees. Then she slipped into those shiny black Mary Janes that gleamed in the morning sunshine that streamed through her window.
There was a knock on the door and Libby visibly jumped, her heart lurching into her throat. She opened the shabby door just a crack and peered out into the hallway. She saw a sliver of Harry and let out a breath of relief, opening the door fully to him.
“Good morning,” he greeted her. “Sleep well?”
“Yes, surprisingly,” she laughed.
“I see you’ve already got your robes on…”
Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she started to shield herself with her arms. “Was I not supposed to?”
Harry cast her a grin and put his hands on her shoulders. Bringing himself a few inches from her face, he looked her right in the eyes. “Libby, it was exactly what you are supposed to do. Don’t doubt yourself so. Everything is as it should be, alright?”
“It’s just so…” she started.
“Deep breath,” he cut in, “This place is great. Just wait until you see the castle we will live in while we are going to school. There will be times it tests your logic and it defies everything you have ever known, but I can tell you it will be great. So don’t be scared and wear a smile today. We are all here with you.” Then he stood up and motioned for her to follow him out of the room. “Sounds like the Weasleys are downstairs, we should go get some food.”
“Okay, let’s go,” she said with a smile of thanks.
Harry gave her courage. It seeped out of his body like sweat and she could breathe it in like air when she was around him. It filled her up and made her feel strong, as if she could do anything. She just needed to stay close to him, she decided in her mind. She needed him to lend her his courage and self-assurance.
It was bustling and noisy at the bottom of the stairs. So many bodies in such a small space. But Libby could see several bright red heads bobbing from here to there and all over the space. Hermione was seated on a stool holding her cat and talking with another girl that Libby had never seen before. Seconds later, a man Libby assumed was the Weasley father took Harry aside and around a pillar. He was talking quite seriously to Harry and Libby felt that courage fade within her, leaving her feeling shy and awkward around all these people she didn’t know.
Hermione caught her eye, she was waving Libby over. As Libby started toward her, the young girl, Ron’s sister fell into step with her.
“I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Ginny Weasley. I am one year ahead of you in classes so I understand how you must be feeling.” She laughed and Libby let out a nervous sounding noise that was supposed to be merriment, but it didn’t quite come out that way. She sounded rather strangled instead. “Come sit with us and get something to eat.”
Ginny was warm and bubbly, a feeling that Libby liked almost as much as the courage Harry lent her. She followed Ginny and motioned to Hermione to come sit with them.
The three of them sat at the end of the long table and a plump, red-headed woman sat plates of pastries down before them. “Eat up, dears. It’s almost time to head to the platform.”
Ginny smiled up at her. “Thanks, mum.”
Libby had guessed that the woman was the mother of the family that sported that same color of hair. “So is that your father? The man talking with Harry?”
“Yes. He feels very protective over Harry. He wanted a word with him about the prisoner that escaped Azkaban. He feels like Harry is in some kind of danger. It seems Harry is always in danger,” Ginny sighed.
Hermione looked troubled for just a quick moment. Then the cloud of emotion passed and she brightened. “You look great in your uniform, Libby.”
“Thank you, I love them!” she replied with a smile that stretched her mouth wide and showed her crooked teeth. Almost immediately, she sobered and closed her lips tight.
“Can I ask you a question, Libby?” Ginny asked after swallowing a bite.
“Sure,” Libby said and a feeling of nausea crept into her belly. It was never good when people asked permission to ask you a question.
“Did you come from America? I mean, there has never been an American student at Hogwarts before so I was just wondering how you came to be here.”
“I really don’t know how I came to be here. Professor McGonagall told me that Dumbledore would explain everything when I get there. But it feels weird to be the only one that talks differently,” Libby said, once again feeling out of place when she had just started feeling comfortable.
“Don’t worry about that…It makes you unique. It’s refreshing,” Hermione said with Ginny nodding in agreement.
There was commotion at the staircase and suddenly, Ginny’s mother was gathering her children like they were chicks. “Time to go or we’ll be late!” she clucked. “Come now, don’t want to miss the train!”
Hermione took Libby by the shoulder, steering her toward the door.
“Wait! My things!” Libby shouted above the chaos.
“It’s alright. They will get everything to the station for us,” Hermione said with her voice raised so Libby could hear her. And then she let out a giggle and turned to Ginny. “Are you sure you are ready to go back after last year?”
Ginny sent over an exasperated look but there was some fear in her face. “Hopefully the snakes are all gone and Tom Riddle stays away from me,” she said with half a laugh, making light of something she obviously feared.
“You don’t like sleeping in cold, damp, dungeons, Ginny?” Hermione said very sarcastically.
“Not in the slightest,” was her snarky reply.
Libby had no idea what they were bantering about, but she made a mental note to ask more about that story. It sounded to her that Ginny had a rough year her first year. Fear of the unknown seized her lungs and she kept running threads of imagination in her mind, conjuring up the worst of circumstances.
“Walk a bit faster,” the shrill voice of Ginny’s mother rang out over the streets of what appeared to be London…from what Libby had seen from photos.
“Next stop, Kings Cross Station!” said one of Ginny’s brothers.
Looming in the distance was a large building of brick and arches. It was huge. Probably larger than anything Libby had ever seen. She wondered if the bricks opened up and transported them to Hogwarts, just like the wall opened up to The Leaky Cauldron. But she continued following the red haired family with Ron, Harry, and Hermione right behind her.
They entered through the ordinary, plain door; as everyone else did, and they were blasted with a rush of cool air compared to that of outside. They were hurrying so fast, Libby was not able to take everything in. But she was thankful that Ron’s mother knew the way. She would have been so lost if she’d had to figure it all out alone.
Stepping into the area with numbered posts and trains sitting lazily in wait of their cargo to board, Libby could hear someone counting as they passed each post until they came to number nine.
“Platform Nine,” the mother said with conviction. “All right, Fred. You’re up.” And she clapped her hands to hurry him along a bit.
Just as Fred was looking like he was going to sprint at the wall, a loud crashing sound interrupted them and Libby recognized some of the grown-ups from the shabby tavern. They were each pushing two carts laden with trunks and animals in cages.
“Here! Take your trolleys, kids!” bellowed Ron and Ginny’s dad.
All seven children scurried over to find their own cart and then Fred and George took off at a full run and disappeared into the very solid looking brick wall. Libby cast around to see if anyone noticed the odd happenings, but no one seemed to care in the least. The other people, the muggles, were so engrossed in their mobile phones, their newspapers, or novels that they had no idea what was going on around them.
“Go on, Libby, you’re next!” urged Ginny. Libby looked around for Harry but he seemed to have already gone ahead.
“Just get a run at it, dear. You will go right through. Like waking up after a dream.” Mrs. Weasley prompted.
Libby’s heart began to race and she started breathing rather heavily. Wiping her palms on her robes, she gripped the trolley tightly. Deep breath in, deep breath out. And off she went, the wall looming closer and closer. As she came dangerously near, she closed her eyes tightly and held her breath, bracing for the worst. When there was no crash, no falling, and no screaming, she opened her eyes and slowed her pace, nearly bumping right into Ron.
She was facing a beautiful black train with gold lettering and red trim in places. There was a crest on the side of the puffing engine and the compartment doors were gaping open in welcome. A high pitched whistle blew and all the kids picked up their pace to find a spot before they were all taken.
Suddenly, Ginny was right behind her. “Come sit with me, Libby!” she called out over the din.
“Where’s Harry?” Libby asked.
“He will be along. Harry is one that disappears and then reappears covered in blood,” she laughed. “But we really should hurry! Train’s about to leave!”
Libby looked over the crowd in search of her friend’s familiar faces and did not find them. Her blood ran cold and she felt a bit afraid. So she had no choice but to follow Ginny.
Ginny left her trolley with a man and proceeded to board. She poked her head back out a moment later and instructed Libby to leave hers as well. “They will put it in your room when we get to Hogwarts. Come on!”
Libby stepped aboard the train to find small little rooms that lined one side of the train car. Ginny’s head was vanishing into the second one and Libby pressed forward.
“Sit here,” Ginny instructed her, patting the bench beside her. Libby did as she was told, feeling awkward. Ginny had probably known the others in the cabin her whole life. She felt almost like an intruder.
“Guys, this is Libby. She will be at Hogwarts this year. Libby, this is Luna and Alice. This is Alice’s first year as well.”
They exchanged pleasantries and the whistle blew loudly once again.
“I expect we’ll be taking off soon,” Ginny smiled.
“So what happens when we get there,” Libby asked with a raise in her brow.
“You’re American, aren’t you?” Luna blurted out.
Libby shrunk back as if she had done something wrong.
“It just so happens that she is,” Ginny said seeing Libby’s expression and flashing a look at Luna that she clearly didn’t understand.
“How is it you came to be at Hogwarts?” Luna asked. Her tone was of complete curiosity and not taunting or viscious.
“I really don’t know,” Libby said. “But I’m supposed to see Professor Dumble…”
“Dumbledore?” Luna finished for her.
“Yes, him. I suppose he has all the answers to this little mystery,” Libby said feeling defeated and more of an outcast.
“Well, don’t be afraid of being different. I’m different and I like who I am. Sometimes others just don’t understand what they perceive to be odd. It isn’t their fault, really,” Luna added in her dreamy sort of voice.
“I think there’s a difference between being odd and an outsider,” Libby said sitting back on the bench seat, her arms crossing over her chest in a sort of frustrated pout.
The train lurched and started forward, slowly at first and accelerating to a healthy speed…for a train. Libby watched the scenery as it sped by and disappeared behind them.
“Well,” piped in Ginny, “I think that Dumbledore has a good reason for breaking with tradition, Libby. You must be someone very special. Generally speaking, rules like that are never broken.”
“Rules are merely guidelines anyway,” said Luna thoughtfully. “I’m pretty sure Dumbledore said that at some point, but I can’t really remember.”
“So what do you know about Hogwarts?” the girl named Alice asked demurely.
“Well, I know its a magic school. I know Professor McGonagall. I know Harry Potter goes there. I know what I had to buy for supplies. I know it all happens in a castle. That’s about it,” Libby said with a smile. “Tell me what I’m getting into, will you?”
The three girls looked from one to the other waiting for one of them to say something.
“Well, it’s your first year I’d expect,” started Ginny, “So you will take the boats in across the Black Lake.”
“Yes, and then you will be sorted before the feast into the house you will belong to during your schooling,” said Luna.
“And then we go to our dormitories, each house has their own,” Alice added as though it were her favorite part.
“So what are the houses you’re talking about?” Libby asked, a new fear threatening to strangle her. What if she was cast out by herself and knew no one?
“Well, there is Gryffindor,” explained Ginny, “That’s my house. Well, that’s also Harry, Ron and Hermione’s house too. Then there’s Hufflepuff; they tend to be really loyal people who have more patience than some. Umm…Ravenclaw seem to be more artistically minded…creative types. And Slytherin are most often nasty sorts of wizards. Not many of them aren’t bad.”
“I don’t think I want to be put in there…” Libby said nervously chewing the inside of her cheek.
“I highly doubt the sorting hat will put you there. You don’t seem the type so don’t worry about it. Any of the other three houses are great! Although some think Hufflepuffs are a little dim.”
“What did you mean about a sorting hat?” Libby asked.
Ginny giggled. “I need to keep some things a surprise don’t you think?”
“Just know that the hat listens to your wants also, Libby. So you can give it you opinion too,” Alice chimed in. “My older brother Jasper told me so.”
Libby had her mouth open to reply when a strong feeling of dread came over her like the chilling waters of the lake in McCall. The difference was, at that moment, she felt like crying. Goosebumps erupted all over her body and the train slowed, slamming the compartment door shut.
“What’s going on?” she heard herself cry out.
All three girls were staring at Libby and then, the train just stopped and the lights flickered in the little cabins. Rain pounded the window creating beads of water that dripped down the glass leaving long trails of sadness in their wake.
Libby could hear something, like the rattling wheezing of a severe asthmatic breathing in her ear and she could see shadows beyond the glass in the compartment door. Wispy shadows that resembled nothing she had ever witnessed before stopped right in front of their door. She covered her face with her hands to hide her tears; so much sadness and terror filling her heart until she thought she would die from the pain. In her mind, she tumbled into the darkness where it threatened to swallow her up forever.
Time ticked by so slowly it felt like hours passed before a bright light descended down the corridor and just as quickly as it had begun, it was over; leaving Libby to wonder what in the world had just happened to her.