Chapter II – A Hufflepuff Hand
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
And unafraid of toil
Zack pulled Cloud along the platform to one of the doors at the end of a carriage. Mrs. Strife followed them. The three of them hauled all their luggage on board the train, Zack all the while talking about Hogwarts.
“…and just wait ‘til you see the lake, it’s massive! You can swim in the shallows, and sometimes the giant squid comes to the surface too!”
Cloud almost dropped his trunk on his foot, eyes wide. Zack seemed not to notice as he turned to Mrs. Strife.
“We’ll stick our heads out when we find a compartment, okay?” She nodded and the two boys began along the narrow hallway. Zack stuck his head in the doorway of the first compartment. Cloud peered around him to see half a dozen older students.
“Hey Locke, hey Rachel!” Zack said, waving. A boy and girl sitting next to each other waved back, and then Zack pulled his head back out and shut the door, moving along the corridor to the next one, Cloud following him. Zack poked his head into the second compartment, which was full too. The third one was empty, so the boys pulled their luggage inside. Cloud moved to the window and opened it, looking around for his mother. He noticed a family nearby, a mother and her two daughters, all with pale pink hair. The older daughter was standing by a trunk. She caught Cloud’s eye for a split second as her mother hugged her. Cloud hurriedly looked the other way, his mother approaching the window as Zack stuck his head out too.
“Got one,” he grinned at Mrs. Strife. “Now all we gotta do is –” he stopped abruptly, his eyes going wide. “Merlin! I forgot, I was gonna meet a friend of mine just inside the gate!” He turned to Cloud. “You wait here, okay? I’ll come right back, I just gotta find Kunsel.” And with that he dashed back out of the compartment, nearly knocking into a brown-haired girl in the corridor.
“Sorry, Anna, in a rush!” Cloud heard him call back to her. He turned back to his mother.
“Excitable, isn’t he?” she smiled. He nodded slightly. His stomach was suddenly in knots. He’d never left his mother for longer than one night, and now he wasn’t going to see her until Christmas. She seemed to know what he was thinking, because she put a hand on his cheek. “You’ll be working too hard to miss me much, and before you know it, it will be Christmas and you’ll be aching to get back to school.” Cloud nodded again, a little more firmly, but still worried.
“Here,” Mrs. Strife said. She let go and dug in her handbag in a moment, pulling out a small rectangular box. Cloud opened it to find a camera.
“I want to see this famous magic school too. Send me lots of photos, alright? And make you write to me tomorrow, so I know you’ve arrived safely.” Cloud stared at the camera for a moment, then back at his mother.
“I will. I promise. I’ll write everyday.”
His mother laughed. “Maybe at first. But as long as I get pictures, I don’t mind if there’s a letter or not.” She reached through the window and held him tight. “I’m so proud of you, Cloud. I love you so much, and I’ll miss you.”
Cloud hugged her back for a long moment, before he whispered back. “I’ll miss you too. A lot.” They broke apart, and Mrs. Strife kissed him on the forehead.
“Now, behave yourself. Wash behind your ears. And send me a letter when you know what date you’re coming back for Christmas, alright?” Cloud nodded again, not quite trusting himself to speak. “Good. I have to get a cab home now.” She now placed her hand on top of his head and ran it through his spiky hair. Then, kissing him once more on the forehead, she began to back away, waving.
“Goodbye! See you at Christmas!” She called. Cloud waved back.
“Y-yeah!” he said. He watched her wind her way through the people on the platform towards the gate back to the ordinary world, and didn’t look away until she had completely disappeared from his view. Rubbing at his eyes a little, he shut the window and turned around.
Both his and Zack’s trunks were still standing in the middle of the compartment, Liber the owl sitting patiently in his cage on a seat. Cloud picked up his trunk to try and stash it in one of the overhead racks, but he just ended up almost squashing his foot again. Sighing, he leaned on the trunk.
Just then, a girl appeared at the doorway of the compartment. She had long brown hair in a plait, and was wearing a pink top and green skirt that matched her eyes. She smiled at Cloud.
“Excuse me, did I see Zack Fair in here before?” she asked politely. Cloud blinked at her for a moment, before nodding slightly.
“Yeah. He went to go look for a friend. He said he’ll be back soon.” He replied, indicating Zack’s trunk.
“Oh, do you know him?” The girl asked, looking at him with interest. This time Cloud shook his head.
“No, he helped me get onto the platform.”
“Ah, I see. So you’re sitting here with him then?” Cloud shrugged. “Would you mind if I sat with you too?” Cloud shrugged again. The girl smiled amusedly. “You don’t say much, do you? Must be nervous, huh?” Cloud felt himself go a bit red.
“…I guess,” he said after a moment.
The girl pulled her trunk inside the compartment, which made it very squished indeed. “So do you have a name, or should I call you Sir Shrugs-a-lot?” She giggled. Cloud went even redder.
“Cloud,” he said, heaving up his trunk again in another attempt to move it onto the rack.
“Oh! Be careful!” said the girl, and she squeezed past her own trunk to grab the other end of his. “This is a two person job, trust me,” she said, as together they hauled it up over their heads and put it in one of the racks. “And I’m Aerith,” she finished, smiling at him again. “It’s nice to meet you, Cloud.”
“Y-you too,” he replied. “You, uh, want to put yours away too?” he asked, gesturing at her trunk.
“Sure! We should put Zack’s away, too, before someone trips over it.” So together they picked up first Aerith’s trunk and then Zack’s, stowing them away also, Liber watching them through one sleepy eye.
“So, you’re a friend of Zack’s?” asked Cloud, as they pushed the trunk back as far as it would go.
“Mmhmm. I met him exactly a year ago. I didn’t know anyone when I first got here, but Zack just walked up to me like we were old friends and showed me around.” Aerith sat down next to the window, and Cloud sat opposite her. “I was a little upset when I got Sorted into a different House from him, but we’ve still managed to become pretty good friends over the last year.” She smiled again, but Cloud’s stomach jolted.
“Sorted? In-in Houses?”
“Yep. I’m in Hufflepuff, and Zack’s in Gryffindor. The other Houses are Ravenclaw and Slytherin.” She smiled teasingly. “But don’t ask how you get Sorted. That’s a secret. You’ll get Sorted tonight before the Welcoming feast. Your House is really important. You can earn points for yours for doing well, or lose them if you misbehave.” Cloud nodded slowly, taking this in. He was thinking what to ask about Hogwarts first when another girl arrived at the compartment door.
It was the pink-haired girl he had seen earlier saying goodbye to her mother and sister. She quickly looked over the compartment and it’s occupants.
“Can I sit here? Everywhere else is filling up fast.” She said.
“I don’t mind if Cloud’s okay with it.” Aerith said, looking at Cloud. He was about to shrug, but changed his mind and nodded instead.
“That’s fine. What about Zack, though?” he asked.
“Oh, the more the merrier, he’d say,” laughed Aerith, getting up. “Do you want some help with your trunk?” she asked the new girl.
“Yeah, okay,” the pink haired girl replied. “I’m Claire,” she added, as the two girls lifted the trunk, Cloud shifting Liber’s cage out of the way.
“I’m Aerith, and this is Cloud. Zack should be along any minute, that’s his owl.” Said Aerith, sitting back down. Claire sat down beside her.
“Speak of the devil,” said Aerith suddenly, glancing out the window. Cloud looked too, and saw Zack hurrying back towards the train, another boy following him. They disappeared in the crowd, heading towards the train door, and a moment later appeared in the corridor.
“Hey!” said Zack. “Aerith! Are you stalking me?” He asked cheekily. She grinned back.
“Maybe!” she countered teasingly. “Hi Kunsel,” she added, addressing the second boy. He grinned and waved as the two boys entered the compartment. Cloud stood up to help them heave their trunks into the rack.
“Kunsel, this is Cloud, a new first year,” said Zack, and Cloud was just about to say something when two more boys appeared in the doorway.
“Hey! Cloud!” said a voice and Cloud turned to see the two boys from the Leaky Cauldron, Snow and Gadot, grinning at him.
“Hi,” he said, as the others looked at the newcomers curiously.
“Thought we saw you stickin’ your head outta the window,” Gadot said, looking around at everyone. “You sure make friends fast! We sit with you guys?” he asked.
“I think we’ll just squeeze,” said Aerith, who also stood up to help with the trunks. All the luggage was put away and introductions were made as they sat down and got comfortable. Then, just as Snow was asking Cloud how his trip to Diagon Alley had been, the train suddenly lurched, then paused, before shuddering slightly, and then slowly pulling away from the station. Cloud’s stomach flip-flopped, as the realization of where he was going fully crashed down on him. He watched the others leaning out the window, waving and yelling, and couldn’t hold back a grin he was glad the others could not see.