The Hogwarts Express
Emma Potter took a deep breath and tightened her grip on the trolley handles until her knuckles were white.
‘Meow,’ her cat Fluffy said questioningly from atop her trunk.
Just ignore what James said, she told herself. Her brother had pretended to get stuck halfway through the barrier - just to scare her, she knew - but in Hogwarts, A History (her mum had forced her to read it) it said that this sort of thing happened more often than you would think. And it had even happened to someone they knew! Well, sort of... Some guy named Longbottom in her dad’s year had got stuck, and they had to owl Hogwarts to fix it. She refused to let that kind of thing happen to her, and be branded “that girl who got stuck in between platforms”.
She ran as fast as she could, hurtling towards platform 9 ¾ and... she was through!
She let go of the trolley in awe, looking at the busy platform and the red steam-engine her parents had talked about. She didn’t think they even used steam engines anymore.
‘Emma!’ Charles Potter’s shout broke her from her wide-eyed gazing.
She realised that she one; was blocking the entrance, two; her trolley had disappeared, three; said trolley had careened off into her brother, knocking him off his feet. He was now rubbing his arm and staring at her, hurt and aggravated.
Best payback ever! she thought to herself gleefully, before running off to help her brother - and recover her trunk. Luckily, James was just shaken up, and soon saw the funny side. Soon the whole Potter family were laughing, the sounds echoing through the rapidly emptying station, and diffusing any lasting goodbye sadness.
‘Remember to be good, children!’ their mother said, hugging the twins one last time before they got on the train.
Emma buried her face in her mother’s greying hair, taking in the scent of her flowery shampoo. James and she would never admit it, but they were both wary of spending so much time away from their parents.
‘Muuuum,’ James whined for effect, but allowed her a final kiss on his forehead.
‘Family huddle!’ Charles Potter cried, the way he did in their mock-Quidditch matches - which were basically James and Emma trying to get the Quaffle past him. They now gleefully locked arms and stuck their heads in the “conspiracy circle” as their mum liked to call it.
‘Now,’ their dad said, eyes twinkling with laughter. ‘You’re going to go to that school and eat as much of the feast food as you can?’
‘Yes sir!’ the twins shouted on cue.
‘You’re going to earn as many House points as possible?’
‘You’re going to train up, and make sure that Gryffindor wins the Quidditch cup for six years running, one and for all?’
‘Yes sir!’ the twins thundered excitedly.
‘Just checking,’ their father winked. ‘Now I’ve been keeping this for a special occasion. May it help you as it did me during my Hogwarts years.’ He produced a silvery package from under his cloak. ‘But not a word to your mother!’
‘Charles! The train’s leaving!’ their mother cried worriedly, as the conductor blew the whistle.
‘So sis,’ James Potter started, craning his head to get a good look at the compartments.
‘Somewhere where there’s no one!’ she interrupted immediately, clutching the mysterious parcel in her arms. ‘Come on, there must be somewhere free!’
They were so busy peering into the compartments that they didn’t notice the boy until Emma almost trod on his foot.
‘Excuse me but, um, I think this is yours,’ he said timidly, offering up the enormous black cat.
‘Fluffy!’ Emma cried guiltily; she had forgotten all about her cat.
‘I’ll take him,’ James said importantly, tucking the resigned-looking cat under his arm. ‘How did you know he was Emma’s? Who’re you anyway? Are you a first year like us?’
Before the boy could reply, a head popped out of the compartment window. ‘That’s my little brother Regulus!’ A hand emerged. ‘I’m Sirius, nice to meet you.’
‘I’m Emma,’ she said, shaking the proffered hand. ‘This is James, my brother.’
‘Come in!’ the head said and withdrew. A moment later, the compartment door slid open to reveal a tall and lanky eleven-year old. ‘Come on little bro, don’t be shy.’
James raised his eyebrows, should we go?
Emma shrugged, we can’t really say no. We’ll just have to wait until later to see dad’s present.
James pouted slightly, but I wanna know now! Fine...
With a nod to each other, the twins entered the compartment, Emma stuffing the parcel in her robes. Oblivious to the telepathic conversation, Regulus re-entered the compartment, darkly muttering something that sounded suspiciously like “only by ten months” before flopping down by the window.
‘So...’ James said. ‘Are you guys twins too?’
Regulus and Sirius shared looks of horror before denying the question as though it were an accusation. Soon they had a friendly banter going. Regulus was younger by ten months, but was still in the same school year. They both loved Quidditch as much as the twins, but Regulus liked chasing after the snitch whereas Sirius just liked watching it. When asked whether they played with their parents, they both went strangely quiet.
As they were playing a game of exploding snap, the compartment door was opened again to reveal yet another black-haired eleven-year old boy, along with a red-headed girl.
‘Bloody hell!’ Sirius exclaimed as the cards blew up in his face.
‘Sorry, but is it okay if we sit here? Everywhere else is full,’ the girl said nervously.
James gestured to the seat next to him with a bit too much enthusiasm, in Emma’s opinion. Apparently, in the other girl’s opinion too, because she made sure to sit by the window, as far away from James as she could. After introducing themselves as Lily and Severus, the four went back to their game, when a word grabbed their attention.
‘Slytherin?’ Emma asked in disgust.
‘Who wants to be in Slytherin? I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?’ James continued, looking towards Sirius.
‘My whole family have been in Slytherin,’ he replied sheepishly.
‘Blimey,’ said James, ‘and I thought you seemed all right!’
Sirius and Regulus looked uncomfortable. This seemed to be a touchy subject between the two of them, but in a bid to secure their new friendship, the older brother grinned. ‘Maybe I’ll break the tradition. Where are you heading, if you’ve got the choice?’
‘All Potters have been Gryffindors,’ Emma laughed.
As if on cue James lifted an invisible sword. 'Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart!’ Like my dad.’
Severus made a small, disparaging noise. James turned on him, jaw set.
‘Got a problem with that?’
‘No,’ said Severus, though his slight sneer said otherwise. ‘If you’d rather be brawny than brainy -‘
‘Where’re you hoping to go, seeing as you’re neither?’ interjected Sirius, wanting to defend his new friends.
James roared with laughter. Regulus rolled his eyes, and returned to staring out of the window. Lily sat up, rather flushed, and looked from James to Sirius in dislike.
‘Come on, Severus, let’s find another compartment.’
‘Oooooo…’ James and Sirius imitated her lofty voice; James tried to trip Severus as he passed.
‘See ya, Snivellus!’ a Sirius sang, as the compartment door slammed.
Emma raised an eyebrow at them. ‘Well that went well.’
James had the decency to flush with embarrassment. Sirius, however, had no such sense.
‘Aw come on, Emma,’ he cajoled. ‘He was asking for it! Admit it, you found it funny.’
Emma tried to keep a straight face, but couldn’t help the smile creeping up on her. It was true that Severus had insulted her House. Well, almost hers. Regulus looked at her and shook his head, as if to say he couldn’t believe her joining their side. Sirius let out a bark-like laugh.
‘That’s the spirit!’