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Hogwarts, A Fantasy

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Chapter I – A Gryffindor Greeting  

You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart

Cloud Strife and his mother stood on platform 9 at King's Cross Station. The bustling wall of people crowding around them was incredible. Cloud thought there must have been more than twice as many people in the station as there were in the whole village that he and his mother lived in. And as amazing as this thought was for him, it was completely overshadowed by the reason he was here with his mother's old trunk next to him and a ticket for a train to a magic school in his pocket.

Cloud had never quite considered himself normal in the usual sense of the word. Sure, he had two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, same as most other people. He could read and write and run and jump. But he ran a little faster than the other kids without being too winded. He jumped a little higher without being afraid. And when he was afraid, things tended to disappear or explode, like that water balloon someone had thrown and he had mistaken for a hawk swooping down at him. Somehow all the water had missed him too. 

Most people in the village saw that he was strange somehow, too. The other kids rarely played with him, but Cloud didn't mind much. Most of them were normal and boring, and didn't interest him much. Only the girl who lived next door to him, Tifa, was interesting, but they didn't talk much as her father especially was suspicious of Cloud. 

But even so, Cloud and his mother had been shocked when, just three weeks ago, the day after Cloud's eleventh birthday, a letter had been delivered to their house by a young man wearing long dark blues robes who had identified himself as 'Professor Tuesti'. The professor had waited patiently on their worn couch whilst Cloud had read, re-read and read once more his letter from Hogwarts, a magic school, informing him that he, Cloud, was a wizard of all things, and that he had a place at the school! Professor Tuesti had then answered the long stream of questions both mother and son had, beginning, of course, with a request for some sort of proof. The professor had obliged by producing a long thin wand out of a pocket and turning a small pot plant into a mouse and back again. 

"It sounds wonderful, but..." Cloud's mother had gestured around their sparse living room. "I can't even begin to afford being able to send him somewhere like that. He'd need all sorts of things, books, and uniforms..." 

"A wand..." Cloud murmured, watching as the dark haired man carefully put his back in his pocket before smiling kindly at the two Strifes. 

"There's no need to worry about that. Hogwarts has a fund set up for students who need assistance buying their school things. A lot of it can be bought second-hand to save money. It is very important that he should attend, Mrs. Strife. If Cloud doesn't learn how to control his magic, it will become quite out of control. I'm sure you've both noticed odd things happening around, especially when Cloud feels worried or scared." 

They both nodded, and the young professor continued. "That sort of thing is quite normal in young witches and wizards. If left unchecked and untrained, however, it could prove very dangerous, not just to yourself, Cloud, but also your family and friends." he finished soberly. 

Cloud nodded his understanding solemnly. The last thing he wanted was to hurt anyone. His mother sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. Then, slowly, she opened them again and smiled. 

"So, where exactly can we buy all this?" she asked Professor Tuesti. Cloud felt a burst of excitement shoot from the pit of his stomach all throughout his body, and couldn't suppress his grin. The professor and his mother arranged to meet to go shopping, Cloud barely hearing a word as he began to imagine what the school might be like. 

A week later they had met Professor Tuesti outside a bookshop on a busy road in the city. Cloud had eyed the shop doubtfully when they arrived. 

"Is this really a magic bookstore?" He asked. 

"Of course not." the young professor answered with a smile. "It merely happens to be next to the place we want." He gestured towards the right. Cloud peered around his mother to see a brick shopfront with a sign over the door that said 'Leaky Cauldron'. Though old, it certainly looked more interesting than the plain bookshop. 

His mother, however, seemed less than impressed. "This broken-down old place is where we are buying school supplies?" she asked incredulously. 

"'Broken-down'?" repeated Cloud, confused. The pub wasn't in the best shape, sure, but not broken down. 

"It looks broken-down to Muggles, or non-magical people, Mrs. Strife, to make sure no-one stumbles upon it accidentally." Professor Tuesti explained. "Once inside, I assure you, everything will look as it really is." He stepped forward and opened the old wooden door, standing aside to let them in first. Still a little doubtful, Mrs. Strife stepped inside, followed closely by Cloud. 

Just inside the doorway, the two Strifes paused. The main room of the Leaky Cauldron was large room, with a number of different sized tables and mismatched wooden chairs. About half the chairs had occupants, ranging from young to old, most wearing robes of some find. Cloud felt rather out of place in his jeans and sneakers. A bar stretched along one wall with a kitchen behind it and meals listed on the wall. On the other walls hung paintings. A sleek grey tabby cat sat on a stool at the bar, and a woman with long dark hair stood behind it cleaning glasses. She looked up, and was about to greet them, when a thundering sound came from the second floor and five children raced down the stairs opposite the bar. 

"Oi! You lot!" called the woman. "How many times have I told you not to run in here? You sound like a heard of Erumpents!" 

"Sorry Mrs. Allard." chorused the four boys, whilst the only girl replied, "Sorry Mum." 

Suddenly Cloud gasped, turning the attention of the room on him instead. 

"What is it, Cloud?" asked Professor Tuesti. 

"The painting!" Cloud exclaimed, pointing at one on the opposite wall. "It moved!" 

"Well of course it did." replied Mrs. Allard's daughter. Her hair was dark like her mother's, but her skin was paler. 

"Whoa, hey, hang on a sec." said the tallest boy in the group. He seemed to be the leader. He had light blonde hair slicked back from his face and blue eyes. The boy looked at Cloud and his mother curiously. "Is this your first time here?" 

Cloud nodded. Professor Tuesti then spoke up. 

"Cloud starts Hogwarts next month. I'm accompanying him and his mother while they buy his school things." 

The tall boy grinned excitedly. "Really? That's awesome! Gadot and I start then too!" He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at one of the other boys, almost as tall as him, with dark skin and hair like fire, who grinned. "I'm Snow, nice to meet ya!" He stuck his hand out. Cloud took it and they shook, Snow rather enthusiastically. 

"So... why are the pictures moving?" he asked when Snow finally let go. 

"Because they're magic. You can't expect them to just sit around all day, it'd get boring." said a third, younger boy with blue hair. "I'm Yuj, by the way. Thanks for introducing the rest of us, Snow." he said sarcastically, rolling his eyes. Snow shrugged a little sheepishly as Yuj continued. "The little guy here is Maqui," he ruffled the blonde hair of the smallest boy, who flailed in protest, "and that's Lebreau." he indicated the girl, who waved at Cloud. He smiled a little back at them. 

"You all grew up knowing about magic?" he asked. They all nodded. 

"Sure did. Most people at Hogwarts have, but there's always those who haven't." Snow explained. "Guess it must all seemed pretty weird at first, huh?" 

"And cool." Cloud replied. Snow grinned. 

"I like you already, Cloud! Wish I could stick around and chat, but we gotta get going." He turned towards the bar. "Thanks for breakfast Mrs. Allard, see ya later!" 

"You're welcome, boys. Use the back fireplace, okay? And Lebreau, I want you home by four, alright?" 

"Sure thing!" Lebreau called over her shoulder as the five of them headed for a door next to the stairs. 

"See ya on the train, okay Cloud?" Snow said as he walked backwards, waving. 

"Uh... yeah, sure!" Cloud called back. The door closed on Snow's grin. Mrs. Allard shook her head. 

"That lot's bad enough now, I'm afraid to think what they'll be like in five years..." she said with a grin." Don't let them scare you off the rest of us quiet and decent magic folk." she told the Strifes, winking. "And how are you today, Reeve?" 

"Very well thank you, Mrs. Allard." Professor Tuesti replied. "Must be going of course, plenty to buy today." 

"Of course, of course." she said, nodding. "Take your time though, young man. First time going through here's like a dream." 

"Okay... thanks." Cloud replied as the professor began to lead them to a door opposit the one they had come in. 

It led onto a tiny brick courtyard with high walls on every side. It looked quite ordinary, but Cloud starting to realise that very little was what it seemed in the world of magic. Sure enough, Professor Tuesti took out his wand again - Cloud watching intently - and tapped a brick in the wall three times. 

The brick started to wriggle, and a small hole began to form in the middle, growing taller and wider with each passing second, until quite soon there was a huge archway leading onto a twisty cobbled street packed with shops, stalls, and people everywhere. Cloud heard his mother gasp behind him, but he was too busy trying to look at everything to make a sound. Mrs. Allard was right - it was like something out of a dream. 

Cloud felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. He looked up to see Professor Tuesti smiling at him. 

"Best to move out of the archway and start our shopping. Don't worry though, we'll go slowly, I know you want to see as much as possible. Now," he said, stepping out onto the street, "I think uniforms would be a good place to start, don't you?" 

"Y-yes," said Mrs. Strife, following him, also looking around the street in awe. 

"Good," replied Professor Tuesti. "There's a nice little second-hand robes shop just around the first corner." And off he went through the crowd, Cloud and his mother behind him. They passed shops with broomsticks, cauldrons, books, even one filled with owls of all shapes and sizes. There was a post office, too, with lots of owls - one came whizzing out just as they passed, a parcel clutched in it's claws. 

"Owls are used to deliver post." explained Professor Tuesti. "Hogwarts has a number of school owls you can use, but a lot of students bring their own too." 

Cloud watched the owl until they turned the corner. 

"Ah, here we are," said the professor, leading them to a small shop on the right of the street. The sign over the door simply said 'Second-hand Robes'. 

A bell tinkled as they opened the door, and a voice called out "Coming!" from somewhere at the back of the store. Cloud looked around. It looked much the same as a non-magical clothing store, with long rows of clothes on hangers, however, almost all the garments were long robes and cloaks in all sorts of colours and designs. One of the ones closest to him was a deep purple robe with silver stars and moons all over it. 

There were footsteps from the back of the shop, and a teenage girl appeared at the end of a row to their left. She had long brown hair, and her eyes lit up when she saw the professor. 

"Professor Tuesti! Good to see you! How have you been?" she asked. 

"Well, thank you, Emina. I take you have received the news?" he replied with a smile. 

She nodded excitedly. "Mum and Dad were so happy when I told them!" 

"I can imagine." Professor Tuesti smiled again, then turned towards Cloud. "Emina, this is Cloud and his mother. Cloud, this is Emina, a student at Hogwarts. She's just been named a prefect of her House." 

"Hi." said Cloud a little softly. Emina smiled at him kindly. 

"You'll be wanting robes, huh?" she asked. Cloud nodded. Emina looked him over. 

"Hmm... you know, Edward von Muir sold us his old robes at the beginning of summer... he took very good care of them. Why don't I find them out and see how they fit?" And before Cloud could even respond she was off along one of the rows, still talking. "It's best to have some that are a bit big, you can take them up at first and then let them out as you grow, that way they should last you at least two years, maybe more." She was sorting through a row of black robes, pausing every now and then, until - 

"Aha! Here we are!" She called, returning moments later with a pile of clothing. She placed it on the counter and drew out a small footstool from behind it. "Up here if you please, Cloud." she said, and Cloud obligingly stood on it. Emina then took the top set of robes and gave them to Cloud, who pulled them on. 

"Much too long in the leg... not too bad in the arm, and a nice fit around chest." she finished, pulling them so they sat straighter. Emina retrieved some pins and began to shorten the sleeves. 

"Where are your parents today, Emina?" asked Professor Tuesti. 

"Visiting my grandparents," she answered through a mouthful of pins. "It's only my second time looking after the shop by myself. Mum was worried because all the Hogwarts students are coming through now, but it's been a bit quieter today." She pulled back. "How do the sleeves feel?" 

"Fine," answered Cloud, though in reality he felt a bit silly. He'd never worn anything like robes before. Emina then crouched down to pin up the hem and began to tell him about Hogwarts, the huge castle, the deep loch, and some of the classes he'd be taking. After that she picked a shirt, vest, and pair of trousers out of the pile of clothes on the counter and gave them to him, directing him to a changing room at the back of the shop. They were also too long, but easily shortened. 

"So, I'll get started on fixing them up for you. Go do the rest of your shopping, I'll have them done by the time you're finished." said Emina, picking up the first robe and rummaging in a drawer for thread. 

"Can't you alter them with magic?" Cloud asked. 

"Yes, normally, most people would. You're not allowed to use magic outside of Hogwarts until you're of age, though - at least not intentionally." she finished, seeing the worried look on Cloud's face. They said goodbye and left her to her work. 

Next they went to a shop called Ondore Writing Implements to buy parchment, ink and quills. Cloud was fascinated by the colour-changing ink, but Professor Tuesti said he only needed black. After that was a place called Unei's Cauldron shop, owned by a tiny old woman with a red parrot on her shoulder. Cloud was glad they only had to buy one thing there - it smelled musty inside, and the cauldrons looked extremely precarious stacked in towers up to the ceiling. 

The following store was a bookshop called Steeds. The walls were lined with packed bookshelves from floor to ceiling, and a staircase in the corner led up to at least two more floors of books that Cloud could see. There were a lot of school-aged children with their families in here. Cloud wondered whether any of them were here for the first time like him. A store assistant helped them find all the books on his list and they squeezed out of the store, putting the books in his new cauldron for easier carrying. 

Professor Tuesti paused for a moment, thinking. "We should get you some basic Potions ingredients... Rin's Apothecary has a good range, but O'aka's has better prices." He turned left down the street, through the now much larger crowd along the alley. It took about two minutes to reach a small storefront that read 'Mr. O'aka's Apothecary'. Right next to it was another store called 'Rin's Apothecary'. They entered the first one. 

The first thing that Cloud experienced was the smell. It was something like rotten eggs and fish and damp foliage and old socks all at the same time. What he saw, however, more than made up for the smell. Herbs, roots and powders of all colours lined the shelves, from which also hung teeth, claws, tails, feathers and other things Cloud didn't recognise. Barrels filled to the brim with squishy-looking contents stood everywhere. A young man stood behind the counter, seemingly unaffected by the smell. Professor Tuesti asked him for some basic potion ingredients - he disappeared behind a shelf of unicorn horns and reappeared soon with a small wooden box, which he set on the counter and opened to reveal a number of small sections inside, each containing something different. 

"'Ere we are," he said, gesturing to the contents, "you got your snake fangs, horned slugs, porcupine quills, Flobberworm Mucus, nettle leaves, newt eyes... all your basic ingredients." 

They thanked him and paid, Mrs. Strife glad to be out of the smelly store. 

"So then, we still need scales, a set of phials, and a telescope." said Professor Tuesti. 

"And a wand," reminded Cloud. The professor chuckled. 

"Of course, we can't forget that. But Migelo's is closer. We'll get your wand last." 

Cloud nodded slightly. In truth he was most looking forward to getting a wand and seeing what sort of magic he could do with it. But, he didn't complain as the professor led them then just down the street to a shop called 'Migelo's Wizarding Equipment'. 

This store was possibly even more exciting than the apothecary. Telescopes and scales of all shapes and sizes, a perfect replica of the solar system in miniature, crystal balls, and numerous other things Cloud couldn't name. A rough voice from somewhere at the back of the shop called out "Reks! Get down here! We have customers!" 

"He's gone! I can't find him or Vaan anywhere!" shouted back the voice of a girl. The first voice grumbled and muttered, while the second voice shouted again. "I'll be down in a second!" There were some noises from the second floor, then a young girl with two blonde braids hurried down some stairs. 

"Sorry!" she said. "Migelo's busy with some important customers over in the fireplace." Cloud was confused - the customers were in the fireplace? Hadn't Mrs. Allard at the Leaky Cauldron mentioned something about a fireplace too? - but he had little time to think on it as the girl continued. "I can help you though, I'm Penelo." 

"Good morning, Penelo," Professor Tuesti said smiling. "We're here buying Hogwarts things for Cloud." 

Penelo's eyes widened at the mention of the school. "Lucky! I have to wait four more years 'til I get to go! You need a telescope then, don't you? Come over and have a look at them!" And she marched over to a table near the window piled with telescopes, Cloud following close behind. 

"A collapsible one would be best, easier for carrying and travelling." She said, picking one up and showing how it slid into itself, before passing it to Cloud. 

"I've never used one before," confessed Cloud, slowing opening it back up. "Is it hard?" 

"Nope! Not at all!" replied Penelo, who proceeded to show him how to use it. She then showed them the scales, and the phials he needed. He picked a simple glass set with a faint blue tinge. 

"Have fun at Hogwarts!" Penelo said as she waved them goodbye. "And if you see two blond boys up to no good, tell them they're in trouble when Migelo finds them!" Cloud waved and nodded, but really his mind was on the wand he was about to buy. All the way up the street he wondered how he would get one, only momentarily distracted by a store window with a sleek, shiny broomstick in it. Finally they entered a shop which simply said 'Lufaine's' over the door. 

The shop was, if possible, even more full of shelves than the bookstore. The shelves that ran along the middle of the room were barely wide enough for a single person to walk down, and every one of them was completely stuffed with long, thin boxes. Unlike the bookstore, however, there were no other customers in this store. 

In front of the small desk was a single chair, which Professor Tuesti offered to Cloud's mother. He then stood beside her and looked at the top of the stairs. Cloud looked up too, and was surprised to see an old man with silvery hair standing there. Had he been standing there since they came in? He hadn't heard any footsteps. The old man slowly descended the stairs, stopping at the bottom and smiling at the professor. 

"Good afternoon, Reeve. How are you?" he said. 

"Afternoon? Is it really?" asked the professor, looking at his watch. "Well, we'll have to find some lunch soon then. I'm well thank you, and you, Cid?" 

"Wrist's acting up again, I'm afraid. Haven't made any new wands in almost a week. Speaking of, how's yours? Unicorn hair still going strong?" asked the old man, Cid. 

"Yes, it's going fine. Cid, I'd like you to meet Cloud Strife. He's here for his first wand. Cloud, this is Cid Lufaine, the finest wandmaker in the world." 

Mr Lufaine held out his hand, and Cloud shook it. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir." he said. 

"A pleasure to meet you too, young man. Now, shall we get to business? Finding a wand can be tricky business, Mr. Strife, so it's best we get started. Are you right or left handed?" He asked, pulling out a measuring tape. 

"Right." answered Cloud, watching as Mr. Lufaine took various measurements of his hand and arm. Then, he moved towards the nearest shelf and began running his fingers along it, occasionally tapping a box. 

"Um, how do I pick one?" Cloud asked, watching ask Mr. Lufaine pulled a box down and examined it, then looked at Cloud. 

"You don't." He answered shortly, bring the box over to the desk and opening it. "The right wand will choose you." He removed a thin stick of wood from the box. Cloud, meanwhile, was looking around the room. 

"But... there must be thousands of wands here!" he exclaimed. 

"How long is this going to take?" his mother asked, also astounded. She looked at Professor Tuesti, who shrugged. 

Mr. Lufaine handed Cloud the wand he had retrieved. "Let's try this first. Vine and unicorn hair, twelve and a quarter inches, a bit swishy. Just give it a wave." 

Cloud did as he was told. Professor Tuesti's robes flapped as if a sudden gale had sprung up around him. 

"Sorry!" said Cloud, hurriedly handing the wand back. The robes stilled instantly, and Mr. Lufaine retrieved another box. 

"Laurel and phoenix feather, ten and a half inches, nice and firm." Cloud took the second wand a little slower than the first, and didn't wave it quite as enthusiastically. There was a loud BANG which made everyone but Mr. Lufaine jump, but no sudden wind. 

"Aspen and dragon heartstring, eleven and three-quarter inches, rather rigid." Mr. Lufaine said, taking the second wand and replacing it with a third. Cloud wondered idly what a heartstring was. This time he set the edge of the banister on fire - Professor Tuesti put it out almost immediately, but Cloud dropped the wand in shock, the wand sparking slightly as it hit the floor. 

"I think not." said Mr. Lufaine as he picked up the wand, quite unperturbed. They tried a number of different wands in the next fifteen minutes. Cloud was beginning to think it would take him all week to get through all the wands in the store and find one that was right. 

"Chestnut and unicorn hair, ten and a quarter inches, rather bendy." said Mr. Lufaine, slipping another wand into Cloud's fingers. Cloud paused as he tightened his hold on the handle. He squeezed slightly and purple sparks shot out the end, which then twisted and danced in front of him. Cloud smiled slightly, feeling something different about this wand. He waved it, and the box it had been lying in rose off the desk and did a figure 8 in mid-air, before floating back down. 

"Well done, Mr. Strife." said the wandmaker, taking the wand back and putting it in it's box. They paid and left, Cloud clutching the boxed wand excitedly. 

They had lunch in the Leaky Cauldron. There was no sight of the five children - Mrs. Allard mentioned them playing something called 'Quidditch' - but the dining room was still noisy with all the people having lunch. Cloud watched them as they ate, drank or passed through. After that they went back to the robe shop and picked up his uniform. 

"Here we are," said Emina, stacking the clothes on the top of the counter. "Three plain black robes, three plain uniform sets, one winter cloak and one hat. Get a wand yet?" she asked Cloud. He nodded, grinning a little. "Pretty cool, huh?" 

"Yeah," Cloud replied. 

"See you at Hogwarts then, hey?" she said. Cloud nodded again and they left. They went back to the Leaky Cauldron, but Professor Tuesti stopped just before they stepped out of they magical world and handed Cloud an envelope. 

"Alright then, this is where I leave you. Term starts on the first of September. You get to Hogwarts by train. This is your train ticket, it has all the details on it." Cloud nodded. 

"Thank you so much, Professor," said Mrs. Strife, shaking his hand. Then, they had left, Professor Tuesti, for some reason, turning into the next alleyway, leaving the Strifes to go home. 

And now, here they were at the train station, with no idea how to find the platform. The ticket said Platform 9 3/4 - it was obviously a magical platform - but how were they to find it? 

"Perhaps it's through a broken turnstile, like the Leaky Cauldron?" wondered his mother. 

Searching through the crowd, Cloud noticed out of the corner of his eye a black-haired boy watching them. When he noticed Cloud looking at him, he grinned and began to approach them through the throng of people. Cloud saw he was wheeling a trolley of trunks with an owl in a cage balanced on top. 

"Hogwarts?" asked the boy, leaning a little closer as he stopped his trolley in front of them. It was just casual enough that he could say he'd mistaken them for someone else if he was wrong in his assumption, but Cloud could hear an underlying tone of excitement in his voice too. 

"Y-yeah," replied Cloud nervously. "I'm Cloud, and this is my mother." 

The boy immediately offered his hand to Cloud's mother, who shook it. "Zack Fair, Hogwarts third year. Pleasure to meet you, ma'am." 

Cloud's mother smiled, impressed with the young man's manners. "Lyra Strife." 

Zack now shook hands with Cloud, a friendly smile on his face. "So, first year, huh? Bet you're pretty nervous! But don't worry, everyone is at first. Oh, right! You're looking for the platform, arentcha?" Cloud nodded, a little lost for words. 

Zack's blue eyes shone as he continued. "It's a little scary even for those of us who grew up in the magical world! Er, I mean, I just assumed you were…" Zack trailed off a little uncertainly, seeming as though he was worried he'd offended them. "Are you… Muggleborn?" 

Cloud blinked, thinking. "Muggles… that's what the professor that came mentioned. It means you parents aren't magic, right?" He glanced up at his mother. 

"I'm not magic." Lyra said, laying a hand on Cloud's shoulder and squeezing it. "I don't know about my husband. He never mentioned anything like that, but he died when Cloud was still very young." 

Zack nodded slightly. "I see. Well, as I was saying, it doesn't really matter. I was sure nervous first time I had to get on the platform! It's easy though, promise. You see that barrier between the two platforms?" he asked, pointing. Cloud nodded. "Okay! So, you just have to run straight at it!" 

Cloud blanched. "You what?" he asked. Mrs. Strife eyed the barrier worriedly. 

"You can come through too, Mrs. Strife!" Zack said cheerfully. "It looks solid but Muggles can get in too! But how many Muggles go running towards walls, right?" At their anxious faces, he grinned again. "Liber and I'll go first and show you!" he said, patting the top of the cage perched on his trunk. The owl inside hooted softly. "Just keep running, okay?" Cloud hesitated, before nodding slightly. Something about this boy seemed to ooze confidence out onto people around him. 

Zack turned his trolley around to face the barrier, then looked back at Cloud, giving him a thumbs up. Cloud smiled back nervously. Zack then turned back and began walking towards the barrier, picking up speed. Cloud and his mother took a few steps after him, watching intently. Zack reached the barrier… 

And then he was gone! Cloud glanced up at his mother. He could tell she was still worried, but smiled at him. 

"Well, let's get going, shall we? I'll help you push the trolley." She put a hand next to his. Cloud took a deep breath and then they began to head towards the barrier. They were soon almost jogging, and just as they reached the wall closed his eyes… 

And a second later opened them again, his mouth quickly dropping open to match them. The steel and electric trains of the station had disappear, and been replaced instead with bricks and an old-fashioned scarlet steam engine. People wearing strange clothes were all up and down the platform, students with trunks and robes and animals, parents helping and watching and smiling and crying. Zack was waiting for them a little way off with a girl about the same age as him. 

"See, no problem!" Zack said, grinning. 

"Are all doors like that in the magic world?" Cloud asked, looking back. From this side it looked like a wrought iron archway, with people suddenly appearing in it every few seconds. 

"Not hardly," the girl answered. She had wavy red hair and was watching Cloud amusedly. "There's some trick stairs at Hogwarts, and hidden passages, and walls pretending to be doors… but you'll find out all about that soon enough. I'm Cissnei, by the way." She finished, smiling politely at Cloud and his mother. Zack introduced them, then grabbed Cloud by the wrist. 

"Let's go find us a compartment Cloud! You can put you stuff inside and then say goodbye! See you later Ciss!" And he pulled Cloud towards the train, his mother behind them and Cissnei standing at the gate, shaking her head. 

"If that boy had ended up anywhere but Gryffindor, I think I'd've had a heart attack. Mind you, I can't talk, I did ask to be put in Gryffindor..."