Claudia Lupin keeps one hand on Remus's shoulder as they make their way through the crowds on Platform Nine and Three Quarters; it's the most he'll put up with. She tries to think back to her own years at Hogwarts, to picture very clearly the comforting familiarity of the dorm room at night, with the smell of hot cocoa and the sound of the rain coming down outside and the chatter of eleven-year-old voices. It helps her keep from looking at the thinness of Remus's shoulders, or from reaching down to tug an errant sleeve down over the cuff of his jumper.
The day he got the letter, she'd turned with it in her hands to show it to John in a moment of awful forgetfulness. She'd defiantly turned the movement into a whirl of triumph instead, catching up Remus in a tight hug he endured for a few sweet moments before squirming away. That night his light stayed on late, long after he'd sworn he was going to sleep, and she'd wondered if he was missing his father as much as she did. She'd sat up, waiting for the light under the door to go off, long into the night.
It should have been different. They should have stayed up together, sitting around the kitchen table eating popcorn, while Remus rattled on excitedly and she told him and John every story she could remember from her school years. She could have been happy, she thinks, on this crisp September day surrounded by a swirl of black-robed children carting about their luggage and their owls, if she'd had John's arm around her waist, and been able to see the magic in it through his eyes.
She's trying to see it through Remus's, but he isn't letting himself stare in frank wonder, the way she can see other half-blood and Muggle-born children doing. He's walking along quite casually, only sparing a quick sideways glance as someone drops a box of bird-shaped sweets that flutter out of their torn bag on tiny, colorful wings, screeching and flocking toward the rafters.
"There's the Hogwarts Express," she says, pointing at the train. Remus glances back at her as if he thinks she's particularly slow.
"Yes, I know," he says. He gives the train carriage they're approaching an assessing look. "Does the train run all year?"
"Only at holidays," Claudia says. "You'll ride it home at Christmas."
"I only wondered what would happen if they changed their minds," Remus says. "If you'd have to come and fetch me."
"Don't be silly," she says, patting him on the shoulder. "It's all settled, I told you."
"You did," Remus says, but she can tell he doesn't believe her. Surely that's not normal for eleven; surely It will be all right should still be one of the charms that's hers by right as a mother.
She knows he hasn't any reason to believe it. She's said It will be all right every month since he was five years old, and every month it's been a lie.
"Give me a kiss, then," she says, and he does, a brief grudging brush of his lips across her cheek, and then he's scrambling up the steps and into the train. She waits, and after a few minutes sees him reappear by the window, not talking to the other boys who clearly crowd the compartment, just watching the crowd and waiting. What now? his face asks, and she hates herself for not knowing the answer.
Miranda Snape stops at the edge of the crowd, and Severus stops too, sitting down on his trunk as if he wants to disappear into the brick wall behind him. It's only that it's been so long since she's been in a crowd of their own kind. Victor doesn't like her to be gone when he comes home from work, and he's had the Floo network disconnected to their flat. For a while, she used the fireplace next door, but after a while Sarah began to look annoyed rather than welcoming when she opened the door.
Instead Miranda's taken to doing her marketing in the Muggle shops down the street. Severus wants to come with her, every day, but Victor wouldn't like that either. Besides, she doesn't like the way Severus watches the Muggle boys and stares in the glass windows of the shops at things like television. He's better than they are, but she's afraid worn clothes and the ramshackle old house that's all they can afford since she stopped working will make him forget it.
"There are so many people," Severus says.
"Severus," she says warningly.
"I'm not frightened," he says, pouring on the scorn. As though she might have thought him a child. His robes are badly hemmed in the back; she suddenly wants to try to mend them, but there's no way to do it without people seeing. Besides, it'll probably turn out just as badly this time.
"I didn't think you were."
She doesn't rest her hand on his shoulder, although they're close enough that she could; lately he flinches away from the lightest touch. Victor says it's just that he's growing up. He doesn't want her babying the boy. Miranda tries not to see him as her baby, the dark, clinging child who haunted her steps for years before he was old enough to spend his days shut away in the library with a tutor who smells like cheap cigarettes and is quick with the strap.
He's spent his evenings locked away in his room, all summer long. When she knocked at his door, he always claimed to be studying, although once when she crouched outside the door with her ear pressed to the keyhole she didn't hear pages turning. He wouldn't let her in the room, and she never worked up the courage to ask Victor for the key.
If he's not her baby, she doesn't know who this boy is, sitting on his trunk watching the crowd with the same cautious, hungry eyes; she doesn't know what she's doing in the train station with this stranger with dirty fingernails and hair that she'd meant to see trimmed before he left for school.
"Does this train go anywhere else?" he asks.
"Only to Hogwarts and back," she says.
He nods, as if accepting the closing of a door. "Then I'll see you at the holidays," he says, and bolts forward into the crowd, bumping into another boy who shoves him away. Severus whirls and says something she can't hear, and the boy backs off, muttering to a crowd of his friends once he's well away. Severus stalks up to the steps of the train and then pauses on them, as though he's run out of indignation.
Miranda hopes unreasonably that he'll turn around and wave at her, or at least frown and ask her if she's going to be all right, the way he used to when she cried. Instead he squares his shoulders and steps up into the train, and a porter comes to take his trunk away, and Miranda is left standing on the platform as the train pulls down the track, because it can't take her with it anymore.
Rose Evans steps through the wall of brick with a gasp of surprise she can't quite suppress. She looks back in time to see Will step out, blinking, one hand still extended back into what looks like solid masonry.
"Well, now," he says. "That's something."
Then Lily comes dashing through the wall behind him, laughing and swinging his hand, and would pull him off into the crowd if Rose didn't catch her by the arm, trying to ignore the strange new black robe she's wearing.
"Just a minute," Rose says, although she's not sure a minute is enough time for her to get used to this. She's not sure a year is enough time. "Do you have your ticket? What about your trunks?"
"It looks like you just leave them anywhere," Lily says with a shrug. "And I've got my ticket in my pocket, Mum, you've only asked about a thousand times."
"It's just all a bit strange," Rose says, looking around at the throng of black-robed children and parents wearing robes and capes and droopy cone-shaped hats. The train is a bright cherry red, puffing steam up to the high glass ceiling of the station.
"I think it's brilliant," Lily says. Her smile fades a bit. "I wish Petunia could see it."
"You know she had that party to go to," Rose says, and puts a hand on Will's arm to stop whatever he's clearly about to say. She loves her daughters both the same, and she understands, as Will doesn't seem to, how hard it would be for Petunia to see Lily off to a magical place she's not allowed to go.
"Oh, parties," Lily says scornfully.
Rose smiles at her and smoothes Lily's wild hair. "You'll care about parties soon enough."
"Yes, Mum," Lily says, clearly not believing it for a minute. She glances at a brown-haired boy whose mother is leading him down the platform with a hand on his shoulder. "I think I can figure it out from here, Mum."
"But--" Rose says, as Lily leans up quickly to kiss her, then Will, and dashes off into the crowd. "Your trunks!"
"I suppose we just push them up there with the others," Will says resignedly. "Let her go, Rose. It's that time, I suppose."
It doesn't feel like it's that time. It feels like just last week, she was a little girl climbing into Rose's lap with her hands full of flowers and grass stains on her knees. Then there was the letter, and the visit from a stern brisk woman in green robes, and now Lily's off to learn to be a witch in a place Rose can't even visit, not even once a year with sweets to be led around by a bored junior mistress and shown the sports fields and the dorms.
Lily is a witch, and Rose wasn't as surprised to find that out as everyone expected her to be. She always knew Lily was special. She just didn't know that special meant standing on this chilly platform listening to the mournful shriek of the train whistle and watching the train pull away, every clatter of its wheels taking Lily further away.
Bellatrix Black wishes for the hundredth time that Sirius's mother would bestir herself from her house for anything other than parties where everyone is very rich and very old. She has plans for fourth year, and the last thing she needs on the first day is to be saddled with minding a little berk like Sirius.
"Come on," she says, pushing her way through the crowd. "If you don't hurry up, there won't be any space in the decent compartments."
"I think an indecent one would be more fun," Sirius says.
Bellatrix takes a swipe at his ear, which he ducks neatly. "You want to sit with the Slytherins, don't you?"
"Won't all the first-years be in the back?" Andromeda asks, trotting to keep up on her other side.
Bellatrix rolls her eyes. "There are Mudbloods back there. You're going to be Slytherins. You may as well start off right."
Sirius grins. "Wicked," he says. "Do you know the Slytherin seeker?"
"Don't you ever think about anything but Quidditch?" Andromeda complains.
"What else is there?"
Bellatrix sighs. "Probably nothing you've noticed yet."
"Oh," Sirius says very knowingly. "Sex."
Bellatrix thinks the world might be a better place if eleven-year-old boys were drowned like puppies, but then there would be no sixteen-year-old hard-muscled Seekers. It's a tough call.
"Just don't embarrass me," she says, although she wonders if Sirius is really capable of not embarrassing her. He's craning his neck around like he's never seen a train before.
Andromeda looks around more shyly. She's a mousy little thing, Bellatrix thinks frankly, trying for the first time to appraise her sister the way the other Slytherins will. Sirius will strike them better, clever and brash and fierce; she suspects he'll even be handsome when he grows into his hands and feet.
A dark boy in shabby robes barrels into Sirius and nearly knocks him down. Sirius shoves him away amiably, and the boy rounds on him, his hand thrust into his pocket.
"Touch me again and I will make you regret it," the boy spits.
"That's friendly," Sirius says, but the boy's already stalked off toward the train. Sirius looks at her in disbelief. "What's his problem?"
Bellatrix shrugs. "You're all a bunch of homicidal little maniacs, as far as I'm concerned."
"I'm nothing like that," Sirius says. He glares after the boy. "Bet he's a Gryffindor."
"Up you go," Bellatrix says, giving Andromeda a push toward the train steps and tugging at Sirius's arm. "What are you doing?"
Sirius points to where a bespectacled boy is struggling with a trunk that's come undone on the platform, spilling books and quills and laundry out onto the stone floor. "Here, want a hand?" he calls. He pulls his sleeve away from her hand and pushes his way toward the boy.
Potter, J., reads the label on the side of the boy's trunk, which means talking to him won't do Sirius much good but won't do him any serious harm, either. He's a pureblood, if not one of the Right Set. And she hates to let Andromeda out of her sight; without Bellatrix, the fourth-year girls will eat her alive.
"Just hurry up!" she calls, and climbs up onto the train, glaring at second-years until they step aside for her. She catches up to Andromeda in the corridor and puts an arm around her shoulders. Andromeda is chewing nervously on her lip and looking at her feet as she walks. "Come meet the family," Bellatrix says, and Andromeda looks up at her and smiles.
Catherine Potter watches James fumble with his spilled trunk with a combination of amusement and frustration. Let it alone, now, she said, you don't need your Quidditch posters on the train, and he said right, which with James always might mean either right or I'm not paying attention to a word you're saying, Mum. She starts to push back through the crowd toward him, but Richard catches her arm.
"Look," he says, and she watches a dark-haired boy stoop to help James shove his clothes back into the trunk. The boy throws himself cheerfully over the top of the trunk, and James manages to strap it closed again, albeit with a white shirtsleeve trailing out one side. "He's got it."
Catherine sighs, and twines her arm through Richard's. "I know. It's just ..." She remembers being eleven, striding across the platform in her stiff new button boots, feeling the weight of her parents' eyes on her through the window of the train compartment, and then feeling that weight lift as the train pulled away. "Surely we weren't this young."
"We were," Richard says. James has finally left the trunk for the porters and is following the dark-haired boy toward the back of the train. They clamber up into one of the cars, and a few minutes later she can see James's face at the window. He waves at them cheerfully, and she and Richard wave back. The boy at the other window is staring out at the crowd with a frown, but he turns away from the window as James leans forward toward him.
They're talking animatedly, with much waving of hands on James's part, by the time the train begins to move. Catherine watches dozens of young faces roll past behind the train's glass windows, a few fearful, most excited, some, like James, already absorbed in the serious affairs of childhood and not even looking as the train pulls away.
"I hope he has fun," Catherine says.
Richard smiles. "He will."
Catherine waves at the train, feeling a weight lifting. James is safe at Hogwarts, and whatever clouds are looming--the news in the papers seems worse every day--he'll have at least a few more years to be a child.
She's glad for that, and yet it's hard to turn away and step back through the barrier into the Muggle station without him, even with Richard's comforting hand on the small of her back. It's as hard as her very first time through the barrier, and she tells herself what she did when she was eleven: it's the only way to find out what happens next.