For Julia, my princess, whom the dancing shoes will always fit.
1. There is nothing original about the setting of this story. It was invented by the great J. K. Rowling. Along with all her loyal fans, I am grateful for her permission to borrow Hogwarts and its amazing inhabitants. I have made no capital and I intend no breach of copyright.
2. There is nothing original about the plot of this story. The works of Charles Perrault and Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm are long since out of copyright, but I thank them for providing the inspiration.
3. There is limited originality about the characters of this story. Many were devised or indirectly suggested by J. K. Rowling. Some are more or less mine, but Sophie sprang to life under the guidance of TDU, who also gave an impromptu beta read. Thank you, TDU, for going beyond the call of your self-imposed duty.
4. Thank you also to Sky, for being a supportive gamma reader and helping me prepare this special edition for PhoenixSong.
The morning light spilled through the yellow bed-curtains before seven o' clock. It was the second of September and I was finally at Hogwarts! I resisted the urge to fling back the covers and race to the bathroom. There was no hurry. No family members were depending on me to organise them today. They were miles and miles away, all looking after each other, while I was beginning my new life at Hogwarts.
I could hear someone stirring in the next four-poster. There were a pair of glasses and a Muggle satchel on her night-table, so I knew it was Sophie. I sat up, hugging my knees and hoping I still remembered all of my dorm-mates' names. There was Hannah, who had been the first to wear the Sorting Hat last night, and Megan, a quick-moving, dark-haired girl who had sat next to me at the welcoming feast. So who was the quiet girl in the fifth bed? That's right, her name was Susan.
I stretched, repeating to myself that I could take my time this morning. But I hate to feel lazy, so in the end I was still the first one to push back the covers and start my day. Ten minutes later, when Susan's alarm finally rang, I had already finished making my bed and was packing my stationery. It was a pity that I didn't yet know what lessons we would have. Should I carry every single textbook around with me?
"Has anyone seen my comb?" Megan's singsong Welsh lilt interrupted my planning. "It's yellow and shaped like a badger."
"Here's the comb." Susan sounded posh, but she was holding the comb out with a friendly smile. "I think you dropped it on the way to the bathroom."
"Oh, no, the toothpaste – it's all over my trunk!" Hannah, a pink-cheeked blonde, had a note of panic in her voice.
I stepped forward to inspect her trunk. The toothpaste was smeared all over a pile of black school robes. It was messy, but I remembered a spell that Mum uses at home.
"Tergeo!" With a noisy squelch, the toothpaste was sucked up into my wand, leaving me a little surprised that the spell had worked.
"Thanks for that. I'll – oh, where is my Charms book?"
"Sorry, 'Annah, I borrowed it for a moment." Sophie held out a textbook in each hand. Hannah's copy was the same new edition that Grandpa had given me, but the other was dog-eared and losing its cover. "Yers is all shiny new, and I wanted to check whether it's different from mine inside. It is, an all! Oh 'eck, mine must be an old version. We couldn't aff– I mean, it inn't from Flourish and Blotts. Do you think that will matter?"
Hannah and I both spoke at once. "You can share mine if – "
But we were cut off by an exclamation from Megan. "I'm going to kill my brother! He did say he'd hand out my share of the quills on the train and he never did come near me the whole journey!"
"Here's a spare quill," said Susan. "Bother, I don't have a hair ribbon. Those Dungbomb-throwing boys on the train stole my last one."
"I have ribbons," said Hannah. She reached under her school hat and brought out a wicker tray of wide and narrow ribbons, satin and velvet and linen ribbons, all bright canary-yellow. "You have lovely hair, Susan. Can I plait it?"
Susan's hair was glossy chestnut-brown and waist-length. Hannah wove it into one thick plait, while Megan, repossessed of her badger comb, plaited Hannah's hair into two pigtails.
"Can I ask you summut?" Sophie looked up from her damaged Charms book and adjusted her glasses. "I 'ope I don't sound stupid, but I'm a Muggle-born and it's all strange to me. But… badger combs, yellow 'air-ribbons – 'ow did yer know yer'd be in 'Ufflepuff?"
"My family always is," said Hannah, "ever since we can remember."
"And mine," said Megan. "Well, everyone in Tad's family – Mam's a Muggle."
"So do most people already know their 'ouse before they come to 'Ogwarts?"
"I didn't," said Susan. "Lots of my relations have been in Ravenclaw. What about you, Sally-Anne? Do you have a family tradition?"
"Not really," I said, accepting Susan's help as she combed up the sides of my hair and tied a large butterfly bow on the top of my head. "Mum was in Hufflepuff, but her Dad was a Ravenclaw. Some of you have met him, in fact – he's Mr Flourish from the bookshop. My Dad was in Slytherin, and his Mum was in Gryffindor. So, really, I'd no idea. I just hoped it would be Hufflepuff. Sophie, let me do that."
Sophie had coiled her hair into an elaborate twist. Lacking pins, she held it down with her fingers while I wound a yellow ribbon through it. Megan's short bob didn't need any ribbon, but Hannah gave her the widest one to tie on as a hair-band.
"What's for breakfast around 'ere?" asked Sophie. "Do wizards eat chip butties? Or is this a bacon and eggs joint – or 'aggis?" She looked wistful, as if she never tasted bacon and eggs at home.
"All of those sometimes," said Megan. "When it isn't bara lawr – laverbread."
"Or hash browns," said Hannah.
"Or cornflakes," I said.
"Or just toast and marmalade," said Susan.
The new timetables, handed out over breakfast, showed that our first lesson at Hogwarts would be Charms.
"That's on the third floor," said a stout, freckled Scottish boy. "We have to look out for the statue of a humpbacked witch – my brother says you cannot miss it."
"But my brrother did warrn me about the stairrcases," said his friend. "They do move around!"
"Let's stick together," said several people.
We made it safely as far as the third-floor corridor. While we were looking for the humpbacked statue, a group of Slytherins spilled out from the Trophy Room and elbowed their way through us. Hannah gasped as a tall black boy knocked her into a corner, and Sophie frowned as a very blond one hissed, "Mudblood!" at her. Everything that Mum had warned me about the Slytherins seemed to be true – and this was only our first day!
As a huge boy marched straight between two Hufflepuffs, one of the Slytherin girls exploded with giggles. I knew that giggle! Sure enough, the last Slytherin in the group was Cecilia Runcorn. She hung back a little, waiting until the others had finished pushing their way through, then deliberately walked up to me.
"All right, Sally-Anne!" she said. "Flavian has spattergroit. He should be fine, but he's spending a week at St Mungo's just to make sure."
She swung her dark curls over her shoulder, jingled a serpent-shaped bracelet and shifted her bag of books, leaving me dumbfounded. I stared at her through a haze of tears, not knowing what to say next.
"He looked so funny the day before yesterday," she continued. "His whole face was like a plate of red porridge. The Mediwitch told me that he'll be polka-dotted for a month, but he can probably go home next Saturday. Anyway… I thought you'd like to know. Seeing as Flavian's your Dad."
I nodded dumbly, knowing it was stupid to cry in front of Cecilia, but not knowing how to stop.
"Sally-Anne, are you all right?" Hannah's voice was floating through the mist.
I didn't have to answer because Megan had thrust her way to the front like a tickled dragon. Her hands were on her hips and she glowered as if Cecilia had plundered sapphires from her lair.
"Get lost!" Her hiss almost snorted fire. "We don't want any messages from you! Shut your trap before I do demonstrate Auntie Gwenog's woodlouse hex."
Cecilia's jaw dropped open, but no words came out. Sophie moved next to Megan and Susan planted herself on the other side of me so that I was completely shielded. Cecilia stared from Megan to Sophie and from Susan to Hannah and saw that they were all glaring identically. She took an uncertain step backwards, and Megan and Sophie stamped another step forwards.
Cecilia dropped her eyes to the floor and pelted off down the corridor in terror.
My friends relaxed their glares, and we all looked at each other.
"Should we tell a teacher?" asked Susan.
"No, that's tattling. Let's just keep out of her way," said Hannah. "We don't need friends like that."
"Besides, how would she know about Sally-Anne's Tad?" asked Megan. "It's none of her business, is it?"
"She were probably making it up," said Sophie.
I shook my head emphatically, although I felt as if an Ashwinder was squeezing my throat, because Dad had been at St Mungo's for at least three days but no one had bothered to tell me. "Cecilia – telling – truth," I gasped. Hannah's blue eyes were misty and Megan's dark ones were still blazing.
I drew a deep breath and managed to steady myself. "Cecilia knows more about my father than I do, because he lives in her house now. My father is her stepfather!"