The moment Harry and his friends fell sideways through the pillar into Platform 9 ¾, he immediately noticed the lone figure standing at the edge of the tracks.
It wasn't like the individual— no, girl, Harry realized— was trying to fit in amongst the sea of magicals being ushered onto the scarlet train by bustling parents; in fact, she seemed to be very glad of the fact that many curious stares were sent her way. The smirk that played on her tan face was evidence of this.
Harry wondered what reason she would have for being there, as the absence of a trunk was easy to see. She did have a staff, though, and her chin rested easily on it as she held in front of her body. Kinky, dark hair hung loosely down her back, and though there was a streak of white within her locks, Harry had no clue what it could be from.
But perhaps the most peculiar thing, at least to the third year, was that she was alone. Even other students orphaned by the war had at least one person present on the platform every September. He felt lucky to have gained this as well, since Mrs. Weasley had seen him off each year now, and she was beginning to fall into a guardian role in his life. The girl seemed perfectly content with her state though, so he shrugged it off.
He wasn't the only one to have noticed her. Although most of the adults didn't bother to give her a second glance, several groups of girls (ones that Hermione had informed him were the centers of much gossip that circulated in the castle) openly whispered and pointed. She raised an eyebrow when one particular gaggle caught her eye, and Harry was pretty sure that the gesture had been out of amusement. But why would someone react positively to being whispered about and pointed at?
"Harry!" a familiar voice called. He blinked rapidly and turned to find Hermione beckoning him from the train entrance closest to him. Several younger heads turned at the sound of the iconic name called, but none approached him, something he was thankful for. "Hurry up and get on before the train leaves you!"
With help from the brunette, they lifted his trunk onto the steam engine just as it blew its horn and began to move forward out of the station. "Sorry," he apologized as soon as they were safely on, pushing his glasses farther up his nose at the same time. "I got distracted."
Ron snorted as they made their way down the corridor. "Finally discovered what girls are, yeah?"
Hermione huffed, blowing a stray strand of hair out of her face. "Don't be rude, Ron."
Harry smiled, only slightly annoyed at Ron. Although their constant back-and-forth would become annoying in a few weeks, he had missed it while in his Privet Drive prison. He followed his friends as they searched for an empty compartment in, but all were full except for the very last one. There was a single person in the one they settled for, but they didn't have many other options.
The strange thing about this occupant was that they were an adult. Harry hadn't even known graduated wizards were allowed on the Express, with the exception of the witch who pushed the sweets trolley. This man, however, looked far less professional than the old woman did; his robes were drab and worn, and he appeared to have forgone shaving for several days. He couldn't be older than thirty-five, but his unkempt, exhausted look and hair peppered with gray strands added at least ten years.
"Who d'you reckon this bloke is?" Ron whispered, trying not to wake the man. The three of them levitated their trunks onto the racks above and sat on the seats the farthest from the window, which the man was leaning against as he slept.
As always, Hermione had an answer. "Professor R. J. Lupin," she informed them. "And before you ask, Ron," she held up her hand, stopping the redhead from speaking, "it says so on his trunk."
Harry's eyes flitted up to the object in question, where the aforementioned name was in fact stamped onto its side.
"Suppose he'll be teaching Defense, then," Ron muttered, glaring at the floor instead of Hermione so he didn't accidentally incur her wrath. Shaking his head, he turned towards Harry. "So, what'd you want to tell us about, mate?"
Harry sighed, knowing what reactions he was about to receive. "Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban to kill me," he released in a single breath.
After a moment of silence, Ron laughed incredulously. "Of course he did! Another madman set to off the great Harry Potter!"
Hermione gasped. "Ronald!"
"No, no. I've got a point. Don't you see a pattern here? Harry's a magnet for these crazy blokes."
Harry's emerald eyes hardened angrily. Sure, he understood where Ron was coming from, but that didn't mean he had to like it. He stood abruptly and stepped back into the empty corridor. "I'm going to take a walk," he stated curtly before shutting the door, leaving no room for argument. As he moved into the next car, he heard Ron attempting to explain himself, but oddly enough, there was no response from Hermione Granger.
Because he was so focused on what was behind him, he wasn't prepared to find someone walking his direction and crashed into the person, sending them both sprawling to the floor. Both wizards began to mumble out an apology, but it was promptly cut off as they looked up and realized who the other person was on the ground across from them.
Of all the people Harry could have run into on the Hogwarts Express, it had to be the blonde brat of Slytherin, Draco Malfoy. Great.
"Malfoy," Harry said as he stood up, brushing his pants off. Malfoy's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Potter. Fancy seeing you here." The other boy's gray eyes flashed challengingly.
The Gryffindor laughed emotionlessly. "You do realize that all students have to take the train, right?"
Malfoy smirked. "Really? That's funny, because I don't remember you on here last year."
Harry unconsciously moved his hand towards his wand. "Well, why don't you ask your dear old daddy about that?"
Malfoy flushed. "At least I have a…" he began, only to trail off nervously as the crackling sound of ice floated through the train car. Their breath condensed into small pale clouds, and the lights flickered weakly a few times before popping out one by one as the train slowed to a halt. A low, rattling moan came from the other side of the door, and with it, the startling chill of hopelessness.
The two shared a look before dashing down the hall and into the compartment the farthest away from the unknown source of coldness. Malfoy collapsed into one of the seats as Harry closed the door and locked it, then flopped down into the seat opposite of him.. Their anxious panting filled the space they now occupied.
"What was that?" Malfoy gasped.
"Saint Nick?" Harry coughed sarcastically.
"Nope," a third voice added quite cheerfully. "That was a dementor."
Harry and Malfoy both jumped as they turned to find a girl sitting calmly next to Harry. Her right foot was on the seat, her leg pulled up to her chest, while the other dangled.. Her black hair was now braided over her left shoulder, and the wizards could see a feather weaved into the hairstyle as well. She was dressed simply in a white, long-sleeved blouse and a pair of black slacks, and although she was currently barefoot, Harry saw a pair of combat boots resting under the window. When he noticed the long, wooden object that rested against the left side of her body, Harry tensed in recognition.
"Hey, you were the girl from the platform earlier!" he exclaimed. Malfoy looked at him like he had lost his mind.
"Potter, there were dozens of girls on the platform. You're going to have to be more specific."
"Oh shut it, Malfoy."
They quieted suddenly as the two third-years noticed how cold the room had become. The rattling, groaning sound from before was amplified, and a dark shadow appeared through the frost covered doorway. Fear filled eyes stared at the door's handle as it twisted open, wishing that some sort of force could have counteracted the motion.
The mysterious girl sighed. "How do you Brits say it?" she asked herself as she picked up the staff. "Ah, that's right. Expecto Patronum!" she firmly called, tapping her staff against the ground. The boys' expressions changed from ones of terror to ones of surprise as a silver aura rolled out from the contact and coasted like an ocean wave across the room. When it hit the black-hooded demon that had been seeking entrance, the creature drifted back the way it came with a grating screech, taking the raw winter chill with it.
The lights flickered back on and with a jolt, the train began to chug once again.
"Well, I guess we found something that'll get you two to stop bickering," the tan witch laughed.
Harry had no idea what he was supposed to think after what had just occurred. For the first time in his life, he was thankful that Malfoy tended to have a quick response.
"Who do you think you are?" he snapped. From the shaking of the pale boy's hands, Harry assumed his current mood was a side effect from the creature before.
The girl didn't bat an eye at being addressed in such a tone. "It doesn't matter who I am. No matter the answer, I still saved you from that thing." She tipped her head towards the door. "Dreadful creatures, dementors. Not sure if everyone in that prison of yours deserves them."
The cogs in his head began to turn. "'That prison'... you mean Azkaban." She nodded. "Okay, well thanks for sending it away but could you please tell us who you are and where you came from?" Other than America, he added silently, because her accent made it kind of obvious.
"And ruin the surprise?" Her gaze flicked between both of the wizards, and they knew that she saw them reaching for their wands. "Only if I get something in return."
He and Malfoy glanced at each other.
"Oh, come on!" she pressed when neither responded. "I doubt it's the first time you've agreed to a deal like this before."
Malfoy surprised Harry by replying. "A question for a question."
"Done." She brought her right leg off of the seat and stretched like a cat, arching her back and reaching her legs as far out as she could. "You gonna start?"
"Er… what's your name?" Harry felt that starting with the basics would be simplest. Besides, Malfoy might at least have a chance of knowing if she was a threat. Besides, then he'd at least know what to call her.
"It's Marie." Marie laced her fingers together and placed them in her lap, turning back towards the boys. "I already know who the two of you are, of course, seeing as you addressed each other by name. So..." —she leaned forward conspiratorially— "What's your favorite color?"
Harry only realized that his mouth had dropped open when Malfoy lightly kicked his shin and hissed, "Potter!"
"Um, it's green," he finally replied.
Malfoy smirked. "Really, Potter? Green?"
"The color of my mom's eyes, you git, not because it's a Slytherin color!"
"Whatever," Malfoy muttered. "Mine's royal blue. Where are you from?"
Marie smiled, like she had been expecting the question and they'd fallen right into her trap. "I'm from America, can't you tell?" She winked. "Now, who's your favorite person in the whole world?" Her tone made it sound like their answers were just as important as the meaning of life.
Really, Harry had no idea what to make of this conversation. He didn't really want to say anything in front of Malfoy that could be used against him, but at the same time he thought that being honest would make Marie to answer honestly as well. So when he replied saying, "I honestly don't know," it was the truth. An hour ago, he would've said Ron, but now? Now, he wasn't so sure anymore. "I think Hermione, though. She's like the sister I never had."
Confession finished, he looked at Malfoy expectantly. The blonde slightly smiled, his eyes focusing out the window as he appeared to be lost in memories. "My favorite person is probably my mother. Whenever I need advice, she's always there."
As soon as he finished, he seemed to realize what he had just said and glared daggers at the girl who had somehow made him want to answer. "Potter, say something," he commanded.
"Er… what year are you? In school?"
She scratched her head. "We don't start at the same time as you do at Hogwarts. I think it's been seven years?"
"Seven?! We only have seven years total!"
Malfoy shrugged. "You can take three extra years for a Mastery in a subject"—Harry's eyebrows raised; with Hermione as his best friend, how had he not heard of this earlier?—"but that's mainly a pureblood option."
Ah, that would explain it.
Marie shook her head, indicating they were getting off subject. "Alright, final question." Somehow, Harry felt it was going to be the death of him. "Why do you two pretend to hate each other? We've been in here talking and you're getting along just fine, so what's with the act?"
Both wizards reeled back as if they had been slapped. They began to speak loudly over each other, giving various reasons as to why she was wrong, why the other was so unbearable and awful, and that they definitely were not acting, thank you very much!
Unsurprisingly, Malfoy was the first one to give her a real response. "I can't be friends with Potter! My father has a reputation, and I am required to uphold it!" he shouted, effectively getting Harry to shut up. The gray-eyed boy glanced at him before training his eyes on the ceiling. After a few long moments, he mumbled, "My father is not a caring person."
The Potter heir started to see how much he actually did have in common with Draco Malfoy. He turned his bright eyes on the other wizard. "I know how you feel."
"The Boy Who Lived can't possibly understand," Malfoy scoffed tiredly.
"Oh, really? My aunt and uncle forced me to live in a cupboard until I turned eleven."
Their gazes met, and the two realized that they had found another person who understood. Harry ran his left hand through his unruly hair and laughed nervously while holding out his right. "I'm Harry; it's nice to meet you."
Malfoy gave him a mixture of his signature smirk and a genuine smile. He took the offered hand and shook it. "Draco; it's nice to meet you too."
Marie clapped her hands in excitement, reminding them that she was there and causing them to fidget awkwardly and stare at their shoes. As bad as it sounded, they had truly forgotten that she was in the compartment with them.
"Wow, guys," Marie said. "I can truly say that I wasn't expecting that to happen."
Harry turned to face Marie. "Please don't tell anyone about any of this?" he pleaded. He really didn't want news of his home life gracing the Daily Prophet's front pages, and while Marie seemed nice, he hadn't really gotten a good grasp on her character yet.
"Don't worry," the girl reassured him, twirling the end of her braid. "Your secrets are safe with me."
There was silence for a few long moments before Draco cleared his throat. "Pot— Harry?" Draco said, then gestured towards his clothes. Harry looked down, saw he was still wearing his muggle outfit, and sighed.
"I have to go change," he unnecessarily announced to the other two. Standing and exiting the compartment, he stopped as a query popped into his head. "Hey Marie? Why'd you want to ask us questions anyways?"
She smiled sheepishly, embarrassed. "Well, I wanted to take your mind off of the dementor's effect, but I didn't have any chocolate," she admitted.
"Er— right, then." What could chocolate possibly have to do with anything?
He pondered over this on his way back to the compartment where his two friends, the new professor, and his luggage were.
As soon as he opened the door, he was greeted by Ron, who was currently in the process of demolishing a sandwich. "Hey, mate, where've you been?" Ron asked through a particularly large mouthful. He was already dressed in his hand-me down robes, which would've looked fine if he had bothered to care for his things. Or at the very least, tuck in his shirt.
Harry, grimacing at his friend's manners—or lack of them—gathered his robes from his trunk before bothering to reply. "Oh, I was just out making a few new friends. I'll see you in a bit, all right?" He nodded to Hermione and the Professor, who was being interrogated on what his first classes would entail, and left them behind to go change.