Maia takes a deep breath and steps through the wall onto platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Setheris had been very clear on how to get onto the platform - “You just walk into the wall, surely even a halfblood like you can manage that,” - and while Setheris is often cruel, he doesn’t play pranks. Sending Maia to walk into a wall isn’t something he would do.
He might throw Maia into the wall himself, but he wouldn’t play that sort of trick.
Maia walks forward into chaos. It seems like every single magical child in Great Britain is here on this platform, laughing and yelling and some of them crying, hugging parents and friends and siblings, dodging levitating luggage and irked owls and hissing cats. For a moment, Maia wants very badly to step back through the wall and retreat all the way back to his own little room, where it is silent and still and safe. But no. He shakes himself a little, and squares his shoulders, and steps forward.
By dint of careful dodging, he manages to make his way through the crowds, charmed trunk bobbing at his heels, to the train, but while the trunk can follow him over flat ground well enough, it has a bit of trouble with the steps up onto the train. Maia is a small boy, and the trunk is large - he is heaving rather hopelessly at it when a pair of older boys appear, grinning. The shorter, broader one picks the trunk up as easily as if it weighs nothing at all; the taller, thinner one slings an arm around Maia’s shoulders and grins down at him.
“Hey there, Firstie, let’s find you a compartment,” he says amiably, and Maia is perforce towed along, into the train and along the corridor to a compartment with its door standing open, and installed on the seat while his trunk is heaved up onto the overhead shelf. The trunk-carrier dusts his hands off, looking satisfied, and the talkative one grins down at Maia. “That’s better, yeah? Oh, I’m Cala, this is Beshelar, we’re Prefects. What’s your name, Firstie?”
“Maia...Drazhar,” Maia admits, shrinking down in his seat. Cala and Beshelar blink at him. Cala looks confused; Beshelar looks deeply disapproving.
“Huh, I didn’t know there was another Drazhar,” Cala says after a moment. “Why aren’t you -” He breaks off and shakes his head. “Nevermind! Good to meet you, Drazhar. You run into any trouble, you just flag down a Prefect, we’ll help you out. The other two for this end of the train are Kiru and Telimezh, they’ll probably swing by in a bit. Any questions before we go find some more confused Firsties?”
Maia shakes his head mutely, and Cala grins and claps him gently on the shoulder and leads Beshelar out of the compartment. As the door slides closed behind them, Maia hears Cala says, “See, I am learning to be tactful! And you thought it couldn’t be done!”
Maia sits there shaking. He’d hoped to be able to blend in - to be unnoticed, insignificant - but his name alone is enough to garner odd looks and disapproving glares. And that’s from Prefects. Who knows how the other students will react?
He’s still trying to convince himself that it won’t be that bad when the door flies open and slams shut again, and a pale, scrawny boy in Muggle clothing, only a little older than Maia himself, glances around and gasps, “May I hide in here?”
Maia can hear a sort of odd hallooing commotion down the corridor, and winces in sympathy at the other boy’s panic. “Under the seat,” he says, and as the boy drops to the floor, casts the only wandless, wordless spell he has yet mastered.
The boy fades to invisibility, and only just in time. The door crashes open again, and Maia jumps about a foot, staring at the invader framed in the doorway: a tall, haughty young man in elaborate robes, with a sneer twisting his face. Behind him, a group of other young men and women crowd forward, peering over his shoulders and giggling nastily.
“Did the little fox go to ground in here?” demands the haughty young man.
“What?” Maia squeaks.
“Aisava, is he in here?” the invader says, sounding annoyed at having to repeat himself, eyes scanning the compartment. There is clearly nowhere for someone to hide: there’s only Maia’s trunk on the shelves, and not enough room behind it for even a very small person to huddle, and everything else is too open to conceal even a mouse.
“There’s no one in here but me,” Maia lies as steadily as he can, hoping his nervousness will be taken as merely an understandable fear of this sneering invader.
“Yeah, it’s empty,” one of the girls behind the invader says, leaning on his shoulder and smirking. “Nothing in here but a little gray mouse.”
The leader of what Maia is sure, now, is a hunting party chuckles nastily. “So long, mouse,” he sneers, and leaves, slamming the door shut behind him so hard that it shakes in its frame.
Maia presses his hands together and tries to calm his breathing the way his mother taught him when he was young. The train lurches slowly into motion as he manages to stop hyperventilating. Carefully, Maia releases the invisibility spell. The hunted boy rolls out from under the seat, stands with surprising grace, dusts himself off, and offers Maia his hand.
“Thank you,” he says simply, but with such depth of feeling that Maia blushes just to hear it. “That was an impressive spell. I’m Csevet Aisava; do you mind if I stay in here a while, until they forget about me?”
“Please feel free,” Maia says, taking his hand. “I’m Maia Drazhar.”
Csevet’s eyes get a little wider, but he just shakes Maia’s hand and drops down onto the seat across from him. “Good to meet you,” he says, smiling.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Maia replies. “Who was that - hunting you, I mean?”
“Eshevis Tethimar,” Csevet says grimly. “Thank Merlin, he’s a sixth-year, so we’ve only got to deal with him for two more years; and with any luck, he’ll be so busy studying for the NEWTs that he’ll not have time for hunting. He likes to play fox-and-hounds, you see.”
“With you as the fox,” Maia says sickly.
“Me, random Firsties, anyone he’s got a grudge against…” Csevet trails off and shrugs wearily. “You’re probably safe, though. He mostly picks on Muggleborns, since we don’t exactly have a lot of protection.”
“My mother was a Muggle,” Maia says. Csevet’s eyes go very big. “And I’ve only met my father once. I don’t think I’m much safer than you are.”
Csevet doesn’t ask any of the questions clearly on the tip of his tongue, for which Maia is endlessly grateful; instead, he says, “I’ll show you some of the good hiding places, if you like.”
Slowly, Maia smiles. “I shall be very grateful if you do.”
There’s a brisk rap on the door, and then it slides a little way open and a girl about Csevet’s age pokes her head through the gap. “Csevet, there you are,” she says. “I heard Tethimar hunting, and I was worried! Can we come in?”
“You’ll have to ask Maia, it’s his compartment,” Csevet says, and the girl turns steel-blue eyes on Maia, who swallows hard.
“Enter and be welcome,” he says faintly.
“Thanks,” the girl says, and comes in, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered young woman - she must be a seventh-year, Maia thinks - with a severe expression and very familiar storm-gray eyes. Maia sees their twins every morning in the mirror. She slides the door quietly shut and then turns to look down at Maia and goes very still.
“...Ah,” Csevet says. “Um. Csethiro, Vedero, this is Maia, who very cleverly saved me from Tethimar and his hounds. Maia, these are Csethiro Ceredin and Vedero Drazhin.”
Maia meets his sister’s eyes and gulps. She looks him slowly up and down, face unreadable. “Maia,” she says at last. “Maia Drazhar?”
Maia nods mutely. Vedero narrows storm-gray eyes.
“Father told us all you were a Squib,” she says.
Maia can feel himself flushing with embarrassment and no little indignation. “I am not,” he says tightly.
“I should say not!” Csevet says. “He turned me invisible - wandlessly and wordlessly!”
“Huh,” Vedero says, eyebrows rising. “Well. I see. Hello, little brother.”
“Hello, sister,” Maia says shyly.
Csethiro breaks the moment by flopping down on the seat beside Maia and saying, “Wandless and wordless? That’s really impressive. Can you do anything else that way?”
“No,” Maia admits. Vedero sits down beside Csevet and produces a book out of the capacious pockets of her robes.
“Well, you’re a Firstie, yeah? Not even Sorted yet? Merlin, I can’t do anything wordless yet, nevermind wandless,” she says. “I’m going to learn, though. Can’t be a duelling champion unless you can cast everything wandless and wordless.” She grins. “And I’m going to be the finest duelling champion this century.”
“Csethiro is a Gryffindor,” Vedero observes dryly, without looking up from her book. “In case you hadn’t guessed.”
Csethiro laughs. “They’re both Ravenclaws,” she says, waving a hand at Csevet and Vedero. “Where do you think you’ll end up?”
Maia blinks. He hasn’t really thought about it, honestly. He’s been so busy focusing on getting to Hogwarts that he hasn’t really considered what will happen after that. “I...don’t know,” he admits finally. He’s not brave enough to be a Gryffindor, he’s certainly not cunning enough to be a Slytherin, there’s no way he’s smart enough to be a Ravenclaw… “Probably Hufflepuff?”
“Hard work and loyalty,” Csevet says, nodding. Maia startles a little.
“They get overlooked a lot,” Vedero says, giving Maia a brief glance and a tiny crooked smile. “But my mother was a Hufflepuff, and she was the bravest, kindest, best woman in the world.”
“One of the finest duelling champions ever was a Hufflepuff,” Csethiro says.
“Csethiro only does any actual research when it’s about duelling,” Csevet says dryly. Csethiro sticks out her tongue at him. Vedero looks up at Maia, and Maia finds himself sharing a look of fond exasperation with the sister he’s only just met. It’s…
It’s very pleasant, actually. Maia thinks maybe - just maybe - Hogwarts really will turn out to be a refuge, a place where he has friends and even family of his own.