It was full of things that drew the eye and captivated the senses. Even the more mundane stores on Diagon Alley seemed full of the promise of more mysteries to be unravelled. There was an aura of wonder and impossibility about it, a fairytale given form and motion. It was as if every common myth and flight of fancy had risen to life amongst the stalls and windows to sparkle and amuse.
But Scott Kharan had a job to do, and his interest wasn’t easily captured.
That wasn’t to say that he found the hidden magical side of the United Kingdom to be completely bland. It had a certain charm, to be sure. The downside of that homey sort of comfort was that it resulted from what he saw as a stagnant culture. They were well into the 1990’s; he’d have thought by this point they would have discovered, like the rest of the world, that candles were only for making your house smell funky when you had dinner guests and setting the mood for romantic baths. And what was this bullshit about having to use a quill and inkpot?
Of course, that was hardly the worst of it. The dress code sent something very close to physical pain stabbing through him. He had unobtrusively scoped out some of the witches and wizards who scurried their way past him on the streets. Robes were so prominent that they might as well have turned on their wearers and become the dominant species. The time is now, Robes.
It bothered him, this obsession with robes. He wasn’t a monk, he wasn’t a Hare Krishna, and he wasn’t a fucking Jedi. Why not just drape a bed sheet over yourself? It’d be much easier to get ready for work. At least a sheet would make a decent toga. Togas were hardly the pinnacle of casual fashion, but they looked good on chicks. With all these damn robes you couldn’t tell what, if anything, the witches had going on. It was positively Victorian.
It was some small measure of comfort that everyone else at Hogwarts would be forced into the same ensemble.
The streets were less crowded than he supposed they usually were. People huddled together in groups and moved quickly to their destinations. Several shops were boarded up and a plethora of posters from the Ministry of Magic seemed to cover every square inch of available surface. It assured him that his presence was, if not necessary, then at least warranted. That vague undercurrent of societal panic meant that he wasn’t completely wasting his time.
Flourish and Blotts had been worth the trip. He had been getting his other books on the local brand of magic from the Bibliotheca, and his first visit to a real wizarding bookstore had awakened within him the scholar that was often forced to lie dormant in the face of more pressing matters. He had scanned several books on Magical Theory before collecting the books on his school list. The school texts that concerned Defence Against the Dark Arts held the most interest for him. Scott had always subscribed to the adage ‘know thy enemy’. An understanding of Voldemort’s abilities would be inherently useful.
After grabbing everything that he needed to, he amused himself by passing an hour or so in the section of the store reserved for books containing weighty ponderings on the nature of the universe and its possible surrounds. He received several odd looks from other patrons as he laughed his way through Condensed Dimensional Theory and Its Practical Applications in Local Space. These morons hadn’t even figured out that time and space were the same thing.
His next stop was much less pleasant: an extended fitting session in Madam Malkin’s. He purchased the mandatory set of black school robes and a pointed black hat, which he swore to himself that he would never, ever put on. He briefly considered requesting, or perhaps demanding, an exemption from the dress code from Dumbledore, but for the most part he wanted to blend in anyway.
His wand had presented a problem. Ollivander had disappeared and his shop was accordingly closed. It was imperative that he get his hands on a wand for his schoolwork, and while there were other wand-makers around, Ollivander was the best. A little midnight mischief the night before had solved that quandary, and he was now the proud owner of a fine, if stolen, wand.
He passed up the Menagerie, having no interest in owning any sort of magical pet. Likewise with Quality Quidditch Supplies – he knew that such a view wouldn’t endear him to the local populace, but he thought that a broomstick was just about the stupidest looking form of transportation conceivable. And how exactly did you sit on one without racking yourself? There had to be some kind of protective magic involved, or no self-respecting male would ever mount one of those things.
The sight of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes lifted his flagging spirits. Next to the other buildings on the row, the Weasley twins’ shop resembled nothing so much as a house fire, and the outrageous colours called to him with a multitude of promises – Scott had to admire good showmanship when he saw it. Despite the generally repressed atmosphere of the alley the store was doing an obviously brisk business as a steady stream of customers came and went.
He was about to approach the shop and enter when something even more interesting caught his eye.
Three familiar teens were huddled under an Invisibility Cloak, trying to slip through the crowd at the exit. Succeeding, they moved quickly down the street. Shouldering the large backpack into which he had crammed his school supplies, he began following them at an unobtrusive distance. He didn’t know what was going on, but anything that required such measures of stealth was probably important and therefore of immediate interest to him.
They disappeared into an alleyway; it seemed deserted, but his eyes told him there were at least two people observing the street from behind darkened windows. It wasn’t hard to avoid their line of sight as he pressed himself into alcoves and sidestepped underneath eaves. An Invisibility Cloak was no doubt extremely useful but there was something to be said for a solid knowledge of good old-fashioned evasion techniques.
The trio had stopped outside of a shop called ‘Borgin and Burkes’, according to the sign set over the entrance. He stepped partway down a set of cellar stairs and flattened himself against the wall nearest to them, listening in. They said nothing until a blond boy that Scott didn’t recognise stepped out and hurried back down the alleyway.
The three teens beneath the Cloak were talking to each other, intently discussing the purpose behind the other fourth teen’s visit to the shop. Scott was already capable of recognizing Harry’s voice, so it wasn’t hard to put names to the other two. A female voice, and therefore Hermione’s, instructed the boys to wait behind. Obviously she intended to enter the shop, which was probably a mistake judging by the looks of it.
A moment of indecision arrived in which Scott struggled to choose a course of action. Interference might prove to be a mistake, but so might refraining from doing so. His initial instincts told him to take a hands-off approach for the time being. On the other hand, allowing Hermione to take action alone could be dangerous. When she bent down to slip out from under the cloak, Scott made his decision.
“Wait!” Scott hissed from his concealed spot. He dropped his backpack on the steps. The three teens froze underneath the cloak.
Careful not to expose himself to view from the front window of Borgin and Burkes, Scott crossed the street and leaned against the opposite side, next to the hidden trio, as if he were waiting for someone. Rather than look directly at them, he stared at the ground, giving the impression that he didn’t know exactly where they were. “Hey, Harry. What are you trying to do here?”
The ensuing silence was somehow audibly stunned.
Harry broke it: “Hey, Scott.” His tone was a mixture of surprise and wariness. “We wanted to know what Draco Malfoy was talking about.”
“What did he say?”
“He was reserving something – and he wanted something else fixed. But we couldn’t see what.” Harry sounded frustrated at this. “Hermione was going to go in and try to find out, I think.”
The most probable outcomes of Hermione attempting to do such a thing were, without exception, undesirable. Scott shook his head. “I don’t know about that. Why don’t you let me go in?”
“No offence,” came Ron’s voice, “but who the bloody hell are you?”
“Ron!” Hermione again.
“My name’s Scott Kharan, I’m a transfer student. From America,” he added as an afterthought. “Aren’t the three of you a little tall to be running around under that cloak?”
“Did anybody else see us?” Harry asked.
“I don’t think so. I saw you leave the shop and followed you.”
“An exchange student!” Trust Hermione not to move beyond the point of the conversation that had touched on school. “Oh, that must be exciting! When did you meet Harry?”
“We met over the summer,” Harry explained. “Dumbledore introduced us. I – er – didn’t think to tell you about it.”
More likely Harry just didn’t know how to tell them about it, Scott thought wryly. It was one thing to casually mention that you met a new student, it was quite another to have to explain that he was a raving lunatic.
“Harry! How could you forget something so important?” Hermione sounded positively aghast.
“Yeah, Harry,” Ron echoed mockingly. “How could you?”
“Hermione, Ron – this really isn’t the time,” Harry murmured. “Let’s either go in or get out of here.”
“Me,” Scott interjected. “I’ll go in.”
Before they could protest, he opened the door and entered the dimly lit shop.
The place was a maze of dusty cabinets and dark stone floor. Cobwebs hung in abundance in the ceiling corners, and there was a film of grime over everything. Scott thought it looked a lot like an unusually expensive rat hole. The latent magical energy made his skin crawl – judging from the looks of a lot of the merchandise displayed in the various nooks and crannies, a good fire would improve the place immensely.
Borgin eyed him disdainfully as he approached the counter. Scott had to remind himself again that as a sixteen-year-old, he wasn’t very intimidating.
“Hey,” Scott greeted him casually. He went straight to the point. “I’m here to ask about an item of special interest… I think you know which one.”
It was a transparent ploy for any veteran of the information industry, but Borgin’s eyes darted to the necklace in its display case for a fraction of a second. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific,” he replied coldly, but the damage was done.
“Okay. I like the look of that necklace,” Scott said, pointing a nonchalant finger towards it.
The man went very still. “It’s one and a half thousand Galleons. I only accept cash.”
“One and a half? What is that, a joke?”
“No, it is not a joke... sir,” Borgin sneered disdainfully, looking over Scott’s Muggle attire. “There are other parties who are more capable of purchasing such a rare item... might I suggest you peruse a different section of the shop?” The shopkeeper looked pointedly towards a dim corner that held a neglected collection of apparent junk.
Scott ignored the unsubtle hint. “What other parties are we talking about?”
“It is not our custom to give out private information,” Borgin said in a dark tone that implied Scott was a fool for even suggesting it.
“If I knew, maybe I could make a better offer.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
“You might, but perhaps some of your other partners would be more interested in my assets,” Scott said, trying a different tact. “I’m not the only kid to come in here with some serious bank to throw around.”
Borgin visibly flinched. “If you’ve been spying on our customers, boy, you’ve got much bigger things to worry about than our business!” he hissed.
“I’ve got money, you’ve got what I want, and there are things I need to know. The only thing you have to worry about right now is me,” Scott told Borgin in his most threatening tone, but immediately he could tell that it was ineffective. His teenage appearance undermined whatever menacing presence he could muster.
Borgin sneered at him, and disdainfully began to busy himself sorting a small box of what appeared to be antique coins. “Leave, now. Before someone makes you.”
Scott had lost his best chance when his threat had failed. His only recourse was to escalate things to violence, and he wasn’t sure that the results would be worth the damage. Perhaps it would be better to quit while he was still ahead. After all, Borgin had already inadvertently confirmed what Scott had wanted to know.
He turned and exited the shop, deciding that discretion was required for the time being.
Once out on the street again, he made sure to check that it was clear of possible witnesses. Borgin had been easy to trick, at least initially, but Scott didn’t know how important the information gained was.
Hermione’s voice came out from under the Invisibility Cloak. “Well, at least you got something out of him.”
Scott shrugged, unsure of that. “Did you learn anything useful?”
“We’ll go over what we heard later,” Harry said before the conversation could continue. “We’d better get back before Mrs. Weasley notices we’re gone.”
“Good idea,” Scott said. “I’m gonna hit up that Wizarding Wheezes store you were in before I leave.” He retrieved his backpack from the cellar steps and began walking quickly back the way they had come, remembering that to other people, it looked like he was alone.
“So, Scott...” It was Hermione. “You said you were from America?”
“Yep. Moved here not too long ago.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever had an exchange student from America yet,” she mused. “That must be quite an adjustment.”
“It’s not all that bad. Dumbledore showed me around the school already, so hopefully I won’t get too lost.”
“Both Ron and I are Prefects in our year,” Hermione said rather importantly. “If you get sorted into our house, we’d be glad to help you settle in.”
“I hope so,” Scott said. “It’d be nice to go into a house where I already know some people.”
They split up at the door to the joke shop, the trio disappearing somewhere into the back while Scott examined some of the merchandise. It was a higher quality brand of novelty item than was found in most places that offered similar wares – he was quite taken with a great many of the offerings. Near the front of the shop, a pair of redheaded twins were alternating between regaling customers and looking after the more mundane business aspects of the shop.
The trio emerged from the back of the store to be berated by a short, red-haired woman, who Scott figured must be Molly Weasley. They were trying to explain their disappearance but it seemed to be slow going. He positioned himself a little closer to them so that Harry saw him.
“Uh, Mrs. Weasley—” Harry spotted Scott standing by a rotating display of new fake wands and, as Scott had assumed he would, used him to distract Mrs. Weasley. “This is Scott; he’s an exchange student from America. I met him over the summer. Scott, this is Molly Weasley, she’s Ron’s mum.”
“Really!” Mrs. Weasley said. Scott shook the motherly little woman’s hand as she took him in with interest. “Well, it’s lovely to meet you, dear. I’m sure you’ll love your first year at Hogwarts. Are your parents here?” She looked around the store as if expecting to see a matching pair of tall dark-blonds somewhere nearby.
“No, I’m here by myself today,” Scott said a little self-consciously. He could plot his way through just about any social situation, but, even after all this time, family still left him feeling out of place. “I live with my sister.”
“Oh, I see,” Mrs. Weasley said, a slight frown creasing her face as if she thought that was hardly a suitable arrangement for a young man.
“We don’t have any parents,” Scott felt compelled to explain, “so my sister takes care of me for now.”
Immediately the frown transformed into open sympathy. “Oh, I’m so sorry, dear, I didn’t mean to bring it up. Where are you living?”
“Ottery St. Catchpole. We’ve rented a flat.”
“Well, you must come over for dinner sometime. We live right outside of town.” She looked positively delighted at the thought of having frequent dinner guests. “Tell your sister she can owl me anytime if she needs some help moving in. She can reach us at The Burrow.”
“I’ll tell her,” he promised. “Nice seeing you again, Harry.”
“You too,” Harry replied, eyeing him. “And I guess we can have a nice talk later, can’t we?”
“You can count on it.”
As the group left, Scott took note of Ginny Weasley, memorising her stature and appearance. She was an important figure. Scott knew he most likely wouldn’t be seeing as much of her as the others, which could present a problem in the future.
He’d worry about that later, though. There was still too much to do in the present.
Something had happened that Hermione Granger did not understand.
And she did not like that at all.
It wasn’t anything to do with Draco Malfoy, either, despite Harry’s obsession with the Slytherin’s activities. Though she would readily admit that whatever Draco had been doing hadn’t been aboveboard, she was not buying into the ‘Draco as a Death Eater’ theory. It was a concern that he was interested in a cursed necklace, but hardly damning evidence of ties to Voldemort. She felt frustrated that the answer was not immediately apparent, and, despite her dismissal of Harry’s theory, she couldn’t seem to let it go as unimportant.
But no, despite her concerns regarding the Slytherin, far more pressing on her mind was the riddle of Scott Kharan. Their brief encounter with the boy in Diagon Alley had been bizarre from start to finish, and on top of that, there was something Harry wasn’t saying about Scott – she was sure of it.
First the American had been the only one in the crowd to somehow spot their feet under the cloak while they were leaving the shop, and she had been positive they were covered at that point. More confusingly, even if he had seen their feet, how had he recognised Harry? From a distant pair of shoes?
There was an answer to that, however unlikely – he had only followed them out of curiosity and hadn’t known Harry was there until he heard them talk. But then, not only had he approached them like he knew exactly where they stood, he had also shown absolutely no surprise at hearing Hermione’s voice. She knew that Harry and Ron had been on either side of her – Scott could not have seen all three pairs of feet in front of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. It was as if he had known precisely who was under the cloak, despite having never met any of them save Harry before.
On top of that, he had then jumped directly into their plan to find out what Malfoy had been up to without having any background information on the situation or knowing why it was important. His willingness to put effort forward for a cause he couldn’t possibly understand was perhaps the most baffling thing of all.
Taken separately, any of these observations might be dismissed as coincidence or personal idiosyncrasy. When put together, they painted a picture that Hermione couldn’t even begin to make something of.
Harry knew more than he was telling, and that made him her priority target.
Predictably, as soon as she started to seek him out, Harry was nowhere to be found. She did however discover Ron in his room, closely examining a shirt he had probably found on the floor to see if it was worth packing. “I’d say burn it, personally.”
Ron laughed, throwing it towards his trunk despite her suggestion. “While wearing it, right?”
She frowned. He didn’t really think she’d say something that mean, did he? In this case he seemed to have been joking, despite his tendency to mistake her occasional sharpness for genuine antagonism. “Have you seen Harry?”
“Not since breakfast. I thought he was with you.”
“Maybe he’s with Ginny,” she mused.
Ron perked up at that. “Yeah? You think?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Let it go, Ron. Ginny is seeing Dean now, remember?”
“I always knew he was a wanker,” Ron muttered darkly.
“Oh hush! You’d say that about anybody she was seeing, and you’ve never disliked Dean before,” she pointed out.
“It sort of changes your view of a bloke when he starts snogging your sister,” Ron said. He shrugged dismissively, and looked away from her. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Obviously not,” she huffed. Couldn’t they coexist for five minutes without one of them setting the other off? She tried to re-establish the peace. “I know you’re just trying to protect her. I think you should really talk to her about it sometime, and maybe if you explain yourself, the two of you can come to terms.”
Ron merely grunted in response, and Hermione flared up again. “Fine! Forget it.” She left the room, storming off to look for Ginny.
Ginny was lying on her bed, leafing through a dog-eared copy of Quidditch Through the Ages. She smiled knowingly at Hermione as the older girl came striding angrily through the door. “Talk to Ron recently?”
“No! Well, yes. That’s not important!” Hermione took a deep breath. Ron had a talent for leaving her out of sorts, and she’d never understood why he affected her so much. “Have you seen Harry?”
“Not since breakfast. Why? Is something wrong?” Immediately, there was concern in Ginny’s brown eyes. Hermione knew that Ginny wasn’t as over Harry as she would like people to think she was. Not that Hermione could blame her. Harry was a hard person to forget about.
“No, I just need to talk to him.”
“Have you looked outside? Maybe Dad’s cornered him in the garage again.”
That was a good idea. Hermione hadn’t thought of that. “Thanks, Ginny.”
But alas, Harry was not to be found answering endless questions concerning Muggles for Mr. Weasley. Nor was he anywhere near the broom shed. With her list of options rapidly being depleted, Hermione decided to try the garden.
As it turned out, she could have saved herself a lot of trouble by going to the garden first, because Harry was propped up against the trunk of a tree as he stared into the pond, deep in thought. For a moment, Hermione wondered whether she should bother him, but it didn’t look like he was brooding – he seemed to be in more of a contemplative mood. Most people wouldn’t draw much of a distinction between the two, but with Harry the subtleties of self-pity were very involved. He held a folded letter loosely in his left hand.
Harry looked up as she approached. His eyes were clear and not particularly haunted, which she took to be a good sign. He straightened out his legs, stretching a bit. “Hey, Hermione. Need me back at the house?”
“No,” she said, settling down next to him. “I wanted to talk to you.”
The reaction to those dreaded words was immediate – she could feel him close off from her like a gate had dropped between them. “Uh huh.”
“Not about any of… Of that,” she said, trying to tiptoe her way around the more sensitive issues. “I wanted to ask you about Scott.”
That seemed to alter the effect she was having on him, though she couldn’t say whether the change was an improvement. There was an odd look in his eye. “What about him?”
She decided to be direct. “There were some things I didn’t understand. Why did Dumbledore introduce the two of you over the summer?”
Harry fielded that question easily enough, and for some reason, the answer didn’t really surprise her. “He didn’t. Scott came to see me on his own. But,” he hastened to add, “Dumbledore knew about it. So he, uh, knew that Scott was introducing himself.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Hermione said. “To be honest, I had been a little worried that he might not be who he says he is.”
Harry went strangely still. “What makes you say that?”
“Oh, lots of things,” Hermione said, watching Harry intently to judge the impact of her words. “Like how he was able to see through your Invisibility Cloak, and what he did at Borgin and Burkes.”
“He can’t see through Invisibility Cloaks,” Harry said, laughing, but it sounded like he was trying to convince himself. “He just saw our feet.”
“That’s not very likely.”
Harry shrugged. “If you’ve got a better explanation…”
“Alright, what about Borgin and Burkes, then? You don’t find it odd that he went in just to satisfy your curiosity?”
Harry hesitated. Hermione gave him her best McGonagall glare. “When we talked over the summer,” Harry said slowly, “he said that he wanted to help me fight Voldemort.”
“But that had nothing to do with Voldemort!” Hermione said in exasperation. Harry gave her a look. “Alright, I think it had nothing to do with Voldemort.”
“Maybe he disagrees.”
“Maybe,” Hermione said severely, “you know more than you’re telling me. In fact, I know you know more than you’re telling me.”
Harry sagged back against the tree, sighing. “Yeah. I do.”
“Then why won’t you tell me?”
“Because I’m not sure if I believe it.” Harry glanced at the letter he still held in one hand. “Look – Scott is going to be attending Hogwarts with Dumbledore’s permission. That much is true.” He shrugged awkwardly. “The rest of it really isn’t mine to tell. If you want to know, you’ll have to ask him yourself.”
Hermione was not at all happy with those terms but Harry refused to budge on them. Finally giving up, she left him to his thoughts and stomped back to The Burrow in no better mood than when she had left.
She met Ginny again halfway up the stairs – being of a disposition to pick another fight with Ron, she was on her way to his room. “Talk with Harry didn’t go too well, then?” Ginny said.
“No. He wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know.” Hermione clenched her fists for a moment in frustration before forcing them to relax.
“Is it really that important?”
“It might be. It’s hard to know when he won’t tell me the truth!”
“About what?” Ginny looked intrigued. Hermione didn’t get this aggravated at Harry very often.
“Oh, it’s that friend of his. The American. There’s something strange about him but Harry said if I wanted to know more I’d have to ask him myself.”
Ginny frowned. “The blond-haired boy in the twins’ shop?”
“Yes, that’s him,” Hermione confirmed. “Harry said he met him over the summer.”
“I don’t see what’s so strange about that,” Ginny said. “I mean, besides Harry meeting someone over the summer.”
“Well—” Hermione stopped, looking around. “I’ll tell you upstairs, actually. Come on.”
They went up to Ron and Harry’s room, shutting the door behind them. Ron was dozing in the sun on his bed, shaking himself and sitting up when they entered. “Oh, hey. You find Harry?”
“Yes,” Hermione said, sitting at the foot of the bed. “For all the good it did me.”
“Yeah,” Ron said with a yawn, “that sounds like Harry.”
Briefly, Hermione related the events that had transpired at Borgin and Burkes to Ginny, who seemed both fascinated by and jealous of the adventure. “So he just walked in and tried to buy it? Without any money?”
“When I asked Harry about it,” Hermione continued, “he said I would have to talk to Scott myself.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Ginny ventured. “Harry isn’t the sort to abuse his friends’ trust.” Ron nodded in agreement.
“No, he isn’t,” Hermione sighed. Put that way, it was hard to stay angry. “I just wanted to – well, never mind. I’ll talk to Scott myself when school starts.”
With any luck, Scott would be more forthcoming than Harry had been.
Platform nine and three-quarters was a jumble of baggage and noise. The crowd of wizards and witches surged back and forth next to the Hogwarts Express, saying hello, saying goodbye, and occasionally arguing. Scott navigated the throng with practiced ease, sporadically pausing to stiff-arm his way through.
He had been willing to make some concessions to conformity, but he had his limits. He’d admitted to himself that it had been well and good to decide that he was going to do his best to blend in when it was all academic – but once it came to the time to actually follow through, it seemed more trouble than it was worth. So instead of acting the chameleon in robes, Scott strolled down the platform in a t-shirt with his school supplies split between a Muggle backpack and a suitcase he pulled behind him on wheels. He looked out of place, but the platform was so crowded that he didn’t draw more than the occasional glance.
He thought he might be running a little late. The edge of the platform was mainly lined with parents calling to their children through the windows of the train. Pushing his way past another waving couple, Scott went up the short staircase to the train door, lifting his suitcase behind him and setting it down again once inside.
He looked around with some interest. Students were moving up and down the corridor either searching for available compartments or chatting with friends. He found it strange that the primary choice of education for children from the age of eleven was to be sent away to boarding school, but figured that with the wizarding population only a fraction of the Muggle one, they had little reason to build local schools.
His thoughts were interrupted when the door shut and the train whistle blew, signalling departure. Resettling his backpack, he started moving down the corridor, reasoning that since he had entered at the very front of the train, he simply had to follow the cars back towards the caboose until he found Harry.
As he moved down the train, he noticed that he was receiving a lot of curious glances. He figured his attire might have something to do with it but knew a lot of students were born to Muggles so he couldn’t have looked all that strange despite the settings. He thought instead that it was because no one recognised him. He was clearly not a first-year in age, and the other teens in the top years were wondering who he was.
Two cars down, he recognised the long red hair of Ginny Weasley as she left a group of friends and entered a compartment, shutting the door behind her. She could probably point him in Harry’s direction. Switching his suitcase to his left hand, he went up to the door and briefly looked inside. Ginny was leaning against the wall to the side of the door, apparently visiting with the assembly of girls inside. He rapped on the glass.
She turned and regarded him with surprise before recognition set in. Sliding the door open, she smiled at him. “Scott, right?”
“Yeah, Scott Kharan. I met your mom at your brothers’ shop,” he said, shaking her hand.
“Right, I remember. What’s up?”
“I was looking for Harry. Have you seen him?”
“Just a minute ago; I think he went looking for a place to sit. Oh!” she said, remembering herself, and turned towards her friends. “This is Scott Kharan, he’s an exchange student from America.”
Scott received a chorus of “hello”s, some shy and some aggressive. “Hey,” he returned with a smile. There wasn’t any point in being antisocial, and such behaviour would only adversely affect the integration process. “Okay, well, thanks then. I’ll go look for him.”
“I’ll see you later,” Ginny said. “You’ve got to be Sorted, haven’t you?”
She gave him a supportive smile. “Cross your fingers for Gryffindor then!”
“You can bet on that.”
He backed away and let her close the door, turning to make his way down the corridor again. He began checking into each compartment he passed for a familiar shock of black hair.
His search didn’t take him too long. He had just squeezed past another congealed gaggle of students into the next car when he heard a shout. Peering into the compartment from which the yell had emanated, he spotted Harry conversing with a witch who could only be Luna Lovegood, judging by her eccentric taste in personal accessories and dreamy, wide-eyed gaze. It was more difficult to identify the person who was wedged underneath one of the seats, seeing as how he had nothing to go on but the person’s backside. He knocked on the door to draw their attention before opening it.
“Hey, Harry. Any room?”
Harry obligingly scooted over to make some more space while Scott hauled his suitcase into the luggage carrier. He neatly avoided stepping on the student on the floor, who could now be recognised as Neville Longbottom, rolling about as he struggled to extract himself from his awkward position. Scott slumped gratefully into the seat. “Thanks, man. Ginny said you were down here but it took me forever to get past all the dumbasses who seem to think that in front of a door is a great place to stand and hold a conversation.”
Harry had a small smile for that, but Scott noted with some disappointment that he was still wary of him. Neville was looking at him with open curiosity. Luna, appearing more than a little bizarre in a pair of what looked like spectacle style 3-D glasses, was favouring him with a mildly interested stare. “You’re not from England,” she stated.
“Scott Kharan,” he said, introducing himself. He held out his hand, which Neville shook, and which Luna silently inspected like she’d never seen a hand before. He withdrew it. “I’m a transfer student, from America.” He looked back and forth between them. “And you guys must be Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood.”
Luna nodded politely before returning her attention to a magazine – the front cover proclaiming it The Quibbler – that she held, but Neville’s mouth opened slightly in surprise. “How’d you know that?”
“Well of course, I’ve heard of you, haven’t I?” Scott shrugged. “Neville Longbottom, you duked it out with Death Eaters; so did Luna. I heard it was a hell of a fight.”
Neville blushed a little at the praise and fidgeted, clearly unused to such admiring words. “W-well, it was mostly Harry… We were just there to help…”
Scott made a dismissive gesture. “Well-executed combat is a team effort. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be talking to me.”
Neville seemed taken aback while Harry just looked thoughtful. Luna might have been carefully considering his words or pondering the benefits of wearing socks with sandals – it was difficult to say which.
Scott reopened the conversation and steered it in a different direction by asking some questions about Hogwarts, a subject that all three of the others knew intimately and were happy to discuss. He was already informed about the timetable from the school papers he had been given, but Harry, Neville and Luna had more specific details on student life and, more importantly, social conduct. Teenaged life was a play performed within a minefield, both a romantic comedy and a tragedy. Mapping the lay of the land when it came to cliques and circles was essential to integration.
It was some time later that Ron and Hermione entered the compartment. Hermione didn’t seem surprised to see him there, but Ron briefly raised his eyebrows. Scott moved aside to let Ron sit beside Harry while Hermione took the seat next to Neville. They both greeted him, and Hermione gave him a searching sort of look, but Ron seemed more concerned with telling Harry how Malfoy had flipped him the bird while neglecting his Prefect duties, then wondered out loud why Malfoy wasn’t pushing the first-year students around as was his normal priority.
Harry shrugged, but it looked like his mind was racing. Scott frowned. Harry obviously thought this information was important, though Scott didn’t know why.
Before long, Harry and Neville received an invitation to some sort of private party at the back of the train. Neither seemed very enthused about it, but they left to go anyway.
As soon as the door had shut behind them and they had moved on, Scott turned to Hermione. “Do you know where the bathroom is?”
“Yes, down towards the back of the train and just to the left of the door to the next car,” Hermione told him.
Scott reached the furthest train car that was accessible by students just in time to see Neville’s back disappear through a door. Scott found a place near one of the windows to the right-hand side of the door, and waited for the two to re-emerge.
He knew something was going to happen, he just didn’t know exactly what. It was a frustrating uncertainty. The small details always seemed to become lost in the larger shape. It was like stepping back from a jigsaw puzzle until the pieces could no longer be seen, only the completed picture. The problem was that he was living each piece as it was put into place. He needed to know the order in which they fitted, not what it looked like after they all came together. The visible end result was a lie. Every shape could be altered beyond recognition. Nothing was static.
Unfortunately the shape he was currently dealing with had proved to be maddeningly intractable. It was knotted, convoluted, a tight, unmanageable mess of circumstances. He was blinded. Without clear signs to guide him, he could only react.
The sun was setting by the time the door opened and students began to emerge, breaking Scott from his concerned thoughts. He moved closer to the wall so Harry wouldn’t see him as he passed by. Waiting for them to all move past him, he followed from a safe distance. Whatever Harry was going to do, he’d start doing it without interference.
Up ahead Harry stopped, whipping a cloak out of a bag and throwing it on, after which he vanished from sight. Obviously, Harry had an Invisibility Cloak of his own. He was definitely doing something he wasn’t supposed to.
Scott watched as Harry tailed another student whom Scott didn’t recognise, carefully staying very close to his back. Scott’s suspicions were confirmed when Harry used his invisibility to gain access to the compartment the other boy entered.
Harry was spying on Malfoy. Risk was an important element in any enterprise but the last thing Scott needed was for Harry to get himself killed right at the beginning of the year. It went against his impulse to avoid needlessly disrupting the flow, but he prepared himself to do something drastic regardless.
Scott nearly held his breath while he waited for any sounds of struggle to emanate from the compartment. Though he didn’t want to start that sort of trouble this early on, if he had to, he’d fight to get Harry out in one piece. It turned out to be unnecessary – the occupants of the compartment hadn’t noticed Harry’s less than subtle entry.
Or at least, so it seemed. The train slowed to a shaky stop as it reached its destination and students began streaming out into the corridor, which quickly emptied. The compartment Harry had entered had also drained – but neither Harry nor Malfoy had left. Something was wrong. Scott tensed, readying himself.
That was his cue. Moving on silent feet, he approached the glass window set in the door.
A voice was speaking in sneering tones, and it could only be Malfoy’s. Edging up to look into the compartment, Scott could see Malfoy standing over Harry’s rigid body. To his relief, Harry’s eyes were moving. That relief quickly faded when Malfoy raised his foot to stomp onto Harry’s face.
Scott had to react. It was a bad way to start his assimilation at Hogwarts, but there was no time to think about it.
Like a coiled spring, Scott slammed aside the door and shot into the compartment. Malfoy was still in the process of awkwardly lowering his foot in order to turn around when Scott delivered a sharp kick to the side of Malfoy’s left knee. With a cry of pain, the Slytherin fell backwards as his leg folded under the precisely placed blow. Scott was there to catch him – with one arm wrapped tightly around Malfoy’s throat while the other gripped the wrist of his wand hand. Malfoy struggled for several seconds, but it was futile.
“I could break your face right now, and I don’t need a wand to do it,” Scott noted calmly into the trembling boy’s ear. With a squeeze and a twist, he swiftly disarmed Malfoy. “But, hey – we’ve all got places to be.”
With that, Scott spun around, taking Malfoy with him. Unwrapping his arm from the Slytherin’s throat, Scott gave him a sharp shove on the shoulders followed by a solid kick to the small of the back, sending him flying out into the corridor to land roughly on his face. Without bothering to see if Malfoy had survived the fall without major damage, Scott closed the compartment door and turned back to Harry.
“Interesting situation you’ve gotten into here,” he said to the frozen boy. He pulled out his wand before realising that he didn’t know what to do. “Um… I don’t suppose you could blink me the right spell in Morse code?”
Harry, of course, only stared back at him.
“I didn’t think so.” Scott sighed and tucked his wand away. Reaching down, he put a hand on Harry’s stiff arm. Right away the active spell was apparent; a thick skein of magic coiled around the limb. Scott broke the chain and the energy dissipated.
The spell released its grip on Harry, and he shook himself before gasping out a quick “Thanks”.
“No problem. Let’s get out of here before we’re late.”
Exiting the compartment, they found Malfoy standing in the corridor with a considerable amount of rug burn on his face and humiliation in his eyes. He glared at them with a hatred so intense it was almost holy. Harry returned the sentiment while Scott merely looked them with interest. Obviously, this was not a new rivalry.
“Who’s your new hero, Potter?” Malfoy spat. His venom was mixed with uncertainty – Scott was an unknown quantity in this equation.
“Scott Kharan,” Scott introduced himself. “If you’re lucky, you won’t see me around.”
Before Harry could respond to Malfoy himself, Scott had grabbed him by the shoulder and steered him back towards their compartment, leaving Malfoy to retrieve his wand and rage in private. Harry shot him an angry look, but Scott only returned it with a composed one of his own. “I’m not going to be late my first time at Hogwarts because some asshole wants to trade insults for half an hour. We gotta go.”
Scott imagined Harry wouldn’t have minded goading Malfoy into a losing battle, but instead, he nodded grudgingly. “Fine.”
They retrieved their luggage from the rack in their now empty compartment and made their way off the train. Looking back, Scott didn’t see Malfoy following them. He doubted it was over. Pride was quick to recover and slow to forget. Malfoy would seek his revenge later on.
Emerging onto the platform, Scott stopped to look at the castle rising up in the distance.
The partially risen moon shone bright on the battlements and the many windows were lit with a familiar warm yellow glow. The ancient castle was a massive construction, both grand and ostentatious. In its walls was housed a bewildering array of corridors and staircases, which were confusing enough without the added difficulty of their apparently random movements. Perched on the cliff over the silver lake, Hogwarts projected a timeless majesty.
“So that’s Hogwarts,” Scott said. He thought about it for a second then nodded in acceptance. “Not bad.” He leaned over to Harry and whispered in his ear, “Just don’t let me do anything stupid on my first night.