Early morning sunlight filtered through the light cotton curtains that sighed and billowed in the breeze. Hope blinked sleepily at her clock, her heart giving a sudden fluttering lurch when she realised what day it was. It was early yet, but she couldn't settle down again. If she felt this bad at six in the morning, goodness only knew how she'd be feeling by the time she was at the station that night, let alone arriving at Hogwarts. The thought of the great school made her heart do a funny kind of flip-flop and her nerves plummeted suddenly into her stomach.
She clambered out of bed and pulled back the curtains, looking out over the garden with a bit of a sigh. She'd played in that garden for as long as she could remember, and various toys were still littered across the landscape. Sam's bright red train that Mum had enchanted chugged an endless circuit around the lawn with a hiss of steam blowing out behind it. It still travelled slightly faster these days than Mum had intended it to and although Hope had tried to look innocent when the formerly sleepy railway had metamorphosed into a runaway train plunging down steep inclines and careering around sharp bends, somehow they'd known it was her.
Magic was a funny thing really. It wasn't real work like learning Maths or History that she had done at the tiny village school, it was part of you like your fingers or your eyes. Magic had always happened around her: detested porridge turned into crispy cereal on the breakfast table when Mum wasn't looking, the frilly blue dress that Granny had bought for her mysteriously burst into flames before she could wear it and Crookshanks had sprouted ginger feathers once after he'd scratched her when she sat on him.
Sam had started showing some signs of magic too, but it wasn't like hers. As Dad had said last week when she'd caused a hailstorm of Every Flavour Beans in the kitchen, the sooner that she learnt to control her magic, the better. It hadn't been the deluge of sweets that had bothered him, but the fact that all she'd managed to produce were liver flavoured ones, which were so disgusting that none of them would eat any.
"You should be able to produce a decent assortment after a bit of teaching," Dad had teased, neatly clearing up the mess with a swish of his wand. "It could be a handy sideline for future Christmas presents if you can manage a gift box as well. But Hope, all I ask is that if you're going to try this again, just remember that your old dad likes the strawberry ones."
Still feeling incredibly restless, she pulled on some old clothes and looked around. Balthasar hooted sleepily at her and tucked his head back under his sooty wing to doze through the day. Her prized broom twitched enticingly and looking at the glorious morning, Hope just couldn't resist. Mum and Dad were too overprotective and anyway she wasn't going to do any harm.
Silver Lightning 511 in hand, she slunk through her bedroom door and onto the shadowy landing, holding her breath to listen intently for signs of life. Mum and Dad's bedroom door was ajar and peeking round she could make out their shapes curled up together in the large bed with Dad's arm wrapped round Mum and the baby. Their heavy, regular breathing filled the air and she ducked back out of the room to silently head downstairs.
She smiled happily as she tiptoed into the kitchen, already anticipating the coolness of the garden and the thrill of soaring through the air. A low and rumbling growl reverberated from over by the sink. She tried to creep onwards, but the growl became louder and more insistent.
"Shhh!" Hope whispered, reaching over for a little glass jar and with a slight shudder she extracted a spider. "You'll get me caught if you're not careful."
Dad's plant nodded its cherry-red bloom, seeming to understand and the growling ceased. She offered it a wriggling spider and its petals curled backwards slightly, revealing razor sharp white teeth.
"Just one," she muttered anxiously, her eye on the door back into the hallway, fearing they'd be discovered. "I'll give you another one when I get back if you're quiet, ok?"
The plant rustled its leaves and jerked its blossom, pressing affectionately into her hand. She tickled it lightly and the red flower leaned backwards clearly loving the attention and wanting more.
Finally, she slipped away and into the freshness of the day outside. Mounting her broom, she swiftly kicked off and soared off up past her bedroom, loving the whoosh of the wind against her face and the familiar tugging at her hair. She flew up above the house and down their lane, lingering for a few moments to watch the bustling beginning of the day on Hogsmeade High Street. There was the greenish sparkle of Madam Rosmerta overseeing the delivery of barrels for the Three Broomsticks and the stomach-rumbling smell of baking bread emanated from the little shop two doors down where Mum always bought them gingerbread men for afternoon tea.
Mrs Crockford caught sight of her and waved, her soapy cleaning cloths already skating across the tiny panes that fronted Honeyduke's making them sparkle and glint in the sunlight. Hope grinned and waved back. That was one place she was definitely going to miss, even if Uncle Ron had bought her a big packet of her favourite sugarquills to counterbalance all the heavy books Aunt Hermione had given her.
She spun around and flew quickly past Robert's house to the war memorial on the village green, the granite monolith a sober reminder of all those who had died to bring them peace. They'd played there often enough, learning to read by tracing the golden letters with their fingers: Will-i-am Weas-ley. Onwards and upwards, over the tiny wiggledy school building and playground that had been her world to the very edge of the Forbidden Forest.
Hope hovered steadily above the trees, staring out across the bluey-green jungle at her feet to the solid towers of the castle beyond. Her eyes curiously raked the jumble of steeples and turrets, finally finding the one that her dad had once pointed out to her as Gryffindor Tower when she had been much smaller and he'd flown with her held tightly on his broom. Hogwarts stood as it always had, a firm piece of unchanging history: she'd been born there, and now it was time for her to return.
Excitement fluttering inside, she wheeled away, curving through the air, the wind whipping through her unruly hair, sending it blowing out behind her. The rush of adrenaline increased as she leant forwards on her broom and plummeted downwards, spiralling faster and faster towards the ground. Merely feet away from impact, she pulled her Silver Lightning out of the dive and zoomed upwards again, chuckling to herself. She didn't know how she was going to survive without this at school. Flying was about as important as breathing.
Slowing slightly, she dropped again, zigzagging regretfully downwards over their roof and landing lightly on the lawn. She glanced at her watch and gulped: she'd been gone for far longer than she'd intended. Hurrying across the garden, she dodged around the bushes and over the rail track until she reached the kitchen door. She pressed her ear to it, listening for any sound of movement, but all was still. Her heart pounded away inside her, the rhythm drumming its beat in her ears as she pushed the door open, wondering if she could sneak back upstairs without discovery.
"And where do you think you've been?" a furious voice greeted her.
Hope winced and looked up apologetically at her mother. Her face was flushed with anger and her brown eyes were glittering furiously at her daughter.
"No note, no broom, no nothing. Anything could have happened."
"But Mum…" Hope tried to explain.
"Don't you ‘But Mum' me, Hope Potter," her mother snapped back. "What did you think you were doing?"
Hope lowered her head and stared at the stone flagged floor of their kitchen. She knew she shouldn't have gone out without permission, but it had been for a good reason.
"I'm not sure what Hope was doing," a lower, calmer voice interrupted from the doorway, "but you do know that you reminded me of your mother just then? I'm just waiting for the bit about taking the car without permission."
There was a pause and Hope cringed away, waiting for the explosion to happen. Instead there was a weak chuckle.
"That's better," Dad said quietly. "Getting into a state isn't going to help, is it? Come on and sit down. This isn't doing you or the baby any good, and you know what the healer said." He manoeuvred her into a chair by the fire. "I'll get you a cup of tea and Hope's about to explain where she was this morning." There was a bit of an awkward pause and he looked at his daughter. Hope squirmed. She'd prefer her mum's yelling to her dad's disappointment in her any day.
"I'm sorry for upsetting you," Hope said honestly, perching on the arm of her mum's chair. The dark brown eyes softened and Hope could see just how worried her mum had been. "I couldn't sleep, so I took my broom out for one last ride before I go to Hogwarts, that's all. I didn't go far."
"Far enough to get us worried," her dad commented, making her suddenly feel very guilty. He Summoned eggs through the air and began to cook breakfast without another word. Soon the kitchen was filled with sizzles and tantalising smells that made her feel hungrier than ever. Sam wandered in with his dressing gown untied, blinking sleepily and clambered up onto a chair at the table waiting expectantly for food. He stuck his tongue out at his sister and she glared ferociously at him. The minutes ticked by. Still nothing was said. Hope's insides writhed. She couldn't stand it any longer. Any punishment had to be better than waiting.
She crossed the kitchen and purposefully turned on the taps, letting the water drum and swirl round the stone sink. Soap bubbles rose and glistened beneath her touch, and when it was full, she grabbed a cloth and began to scrub her way along the surfaces. She hated cleaning, but it was better than sitting there feeling rotten about everything. She'd do the floor as well if she had to.
The clattering of the morning went on around her and when she glanced up at one point to swipe away the irritating lock of hair that insisted on tumbling into her eye she could have sworn she'd seen her dad winking at her mum Yet when she looked again, their faces were sober as ever. Her dad left the kitchen to get ready for work and she tackled the hob with renewed vigour, her cheeks glowing with the effort.
"Better have your breakfast while it's still warm," her mum broke through the silence at last. "We just don't want anything to happen to you, that's all." She chuckled suddenly, "Although I have to say, I think you do a better job of cleaning the kitchen than I do, so maybe you'll need another punishment at Christmas and you can do the bathroom as well."
"I'm sorry," Hope muttered. "I really am, Mum. I just…"
"Couldn't resist," her dad finished off, winking at her. He was leaning against the door frame fastening the last buttons of his Quidditch robes. "Make sure you don't do that when you're at school because McGonagall gives the nastiest detentions if you're caught. Although if you're careful, I suppose…"
"Harry! Don't encourage her! She's worse than you are."
"Right then," her dad said cheerfully, "Hope's got her packing to do, Granny's coming over to take Sam for the day and you," he turned to his wife and grinned wickedly at her, "you are going to take it easy for once and no arguments. I'll be back in time to take Hope to the station tonight."
Grabbing a final slice of toast he Disapparated into thin air with an audible pop.
Fastening her black Hogwarts robes with trembling fingers, Hope took one last look at herself in the mirror. Glistening green eyes stared curiously back at her, her hair cascading haphazardly all around her in stark contrast with her smart grown-up robes. Her face looked pale and nervous and she gave a half-hearted grin.
"That's better, dear," he mirror wheezed. "Very nice indeed."
Tossing her hair back over her shoulders, she cast her eyes around her bedroom for the final time, checking that she hadn't forgotten anything important. It seemed so different now that her clutter was mostly packed away in the large wooden trunk propped up at the foot of the stairs, almost like she didn't exist here any more. A little pang welled up inside her, but she brushed it impatiently aside and marched to the door. This was it. She was actually going to Hogwarts.
Dad was waiting for her downstairs by the front door, the house oddly quiet for once. He grinned up at her and nodded his approval.
"Got everything then?"
"Think so," she quavered, her voice not sounding quite like her own.
"We can always owl things up to school if you haven't," her mum emerged from the living room, her eyes shining brightly in the candlelight. "Be good and have fun this term. It's not long before you'll be home for Christmas."
Hope rushed over and hugged her tightly. This was going to be very strange: she'd never been away from her parents before apart from the odd night she'd spent with Granny and Grandpa at The Burrow. A tiny whispered ‘Love you,' in her ear and she was bustled out of her home and down the steps into the darkness of the lane beyond. She clutched Balthasar's cage in her hand and cast a last glance back over her shoulder at her mum, who was standing in the warm glow of the doorway watching and waving until they turned the corner and disappeared from sight.
She had to hurry to keep up with her dad, his long strides much bigger than her own. Her trunk bobbed in the air behind them as they rattled along the main street and wordlessly took the lane that led to the station. The gravelled pathway hissed and crunched under their feet and with every step she took, Hope felt the excitement mounting inside her. She'd write to Granny and Grandpa in the morning and tell them all about this: they'd want to know everything. It felt ever so grown up to be thinking of sending her own owl out with a letter and Hope half skipped with delight.
Dad glanced down at her and grinned.
"Not long now," he said. "You'll have a great time tonight with the start of term feast and everything. The house elves do all your favourites, you know and I'd not be at all surprised if there was some sticky toffee pudding tonight."
Hope smiled back, the excited fluttering in her stomach making her feel too queasy to be able to think about eating anything at all. She climbed the stairs up to the brightly lit station platform and Balthasar's cage banged carelessly against her leg. The owl hooted, but Hope took no notice. The others were there already, standing in a little black huddle, chattering away at the far end of the platform. She could see Robert's fair hair shining in the lamplight, a restless shuffle betraying his nerves.
"Dad," a lump thickened in her throat.
"Time to go," he said softly, prising Balthasar's cage from her hand and leaving it with the rest of the baggage on the platform. She burrowed her face into his robes, listening to the reassuring thud of his heart as he hugged her tightly. "You take care, do you hear me?"
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak and with a final grin, walked unsteadily along the platform to where the others were huddled. She glanced back over her shoulder, her dad nodded encouragingly and then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
"Hope," Robert edged over to her. "Was that an owl you've brought with you?"
"Yeah," Hope admitted. "Dad bought him for me in Diagon Alley yesterday. He's really cool: the owl, I mean, not Dad. Although Dad's not so bad either most of the time, not as far as parents go anyway."
A shrill whistle pierced the air, hissing and rumbling noises growing ever closer. Billowing steam clouded above the distant trees, barely visible through the darkness. Hope craned her neck, desperate to catch her first glimpse of the Hogwarts Express. She'd heard so much about it, and now at last the splendid scarlet engine rattled into view, panting to a wheezing hiss at the station platform.
The doors clashed open, and suddenly the whole platform was alive with a babbling torrent of voices. Hogwarts robes cascaded out of the train like a series of little waterfalls amidst laughing and joking. Hope suddenly felt very small and insignificant. She shrank backwards until she heard a familiar voice.
"Firs' years? Firs' years this way. C'mon now. Firs' years?"
She exchanged grins with Robert. All of the Hogsmeade children knew Hagrid. He was a frequent visitor to the village, most often found in the Three Broomsticks and occasionally unconscious on the Potter sofa for the night afterwards. She adored the friendly giant, and when she'd been very tiny she wondered if she'd find birds nesting in the wild tangle of his beard. She could even remember practising on him when she was learning to plait hair, and his massive rumbling laugh when she'd tied pink ribbons in it.
"Hello there, Hope, Rober'," Hagrid nodded, with a beaming smile at the two of them. "Don't jus' stay there. Firs' years this way. We need to get across that there lake."
Hope nodded, and with a nervous glance at Robert, they joined the group of smaller children and trotted after the swinging lamp held high above their heads, through the darkness and downwards. They followed the steep path, clambering and slipping on stones. The trees grew thicker all about them.
"This is ridiculous," a raven haired girl with a lofty voice said. "Why can't we go in the carriages in a civilised manner with the rest of the school?"
Hagrid halted suddenly and swung round, his bushy black beard seeming to bristle with indignation.
"Yer quibblin' with tradition then?" he asked fiercely.
The girl shook her head and fell back in line, with some angry muttering under her breath. Hope glanced at Robert and raised her eyebrows.
"I hope she'd not put with us," he commented as they clambered aboard the tiny rowing boats that tipped unsteadily in the water until they settled in the stern. "Wow!"
It was indeed ‘Wow' and Hope watched in awe as they floated across the lake, getting ever closer to the castle, majestically perched on the high cliff above them. Moonlight glistened on the ripples in the water and she seemed to be holding her breath as finally the boat floated through a canopy of ivy into the darkness beneath the castle itself. The boat drifted to rest in a tiny harbour and they scrambled out on Hogwarts soil. She was here.
"C'mon now," Hagrid encouraged, setting off through some underground passageways at a brisk pace. Hope hurried after him, Robert by her side. Their feet echoed up the passageways hewn into the rock upon which the castle stood and they eventually stumbled out into the night air, gasping for breath on the lawns before the castle itself.
"Everyon' here?" Hagrid boomed. They all nodded, far too scared even to speak as Hagrid raised his fist and pounded on the castle door.
A distinguished looking witch in deep purple robes opened the door and nodded to Hagrid. Her lips were set in a stern line, and as soon as she began to speak Hope realised who she must be.
"Professor McGonagall," she hissed in Robert's ear. She caught Professor McGonagall's eye and felt herself begin to flush. If Dad was right, then Professor McGonagall wasn't a good person to get on the wrong side of. ‘Nice one Hope,' she reproached herself inwardly. ‘Just get off on the wrong foot, why don't you?'
"The Sorting Ceremony will begin immediately," Professor McGonagall explained crisply as they all gathered round her, staring in awe at the splendour of the entrance hall. "The Sorting will divide you into your houses," Professor McGonagall continued. "As many of you will know, there are four houses at Hogwarts, "Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, and whilst you are here that house will become like your family…"
Hope's attention wandered as Professor McGonagall droned on. The ornate marble staircase wound its way upwards, and she craned her neck trying to see what lay beyond it, but to no avail. Hundreds of ancient portraits lined the walls, moving around like their photographs did at home. These weren't people she knew, but she had to admit that they were looking rather bored at Professor McGonagall's talk as if they had heard it hundreds of times before, which they probably had. She'd heard all about the Fat Lady in the pink dress guarding the Gryffindor Common Room, and that was one portrait she couldn't wait to see.
"As long as I'm not in Slytherin," Robert muttered to her as they were led towards the huge oak doors at the far end of the entrance hall. "Anything else would do me fine."
"My family have always been in Gryffindor," Hope said, feeling her knees dissolve as hundreds of eyes turned to stare at the new first years. "Can you imagine what it would be like if…?"
"Don't be daft," Robert whispered back. "Where else are you going to go?"
They formed a line and followed Professor McGonagall down the centre of the room, down the full lengths of the tables, which were crammed with curious faces. The Gryffindor table was on the left, she remembered, and gave a quick glance towards it. They didn't look too bad, she supposed. The tables before them were laden with splendid gold and crystal, glimmering brightly as they reflected the light from the hundreds of candles floating overhead beneath the velvety sky. There was a gasp of admiration from the small brown-haired girl beside her.
"The ceiling's enchanted to make it look just like the sky outside," Hope found herself whispering an explanation. She'd actually read about it in ‘Hogwarts: A History', but there was no way on earth she was going to admit to doing that in public.
They gathered around Professor McGonagall in front of the staff table, not too far from the sorting hat itself. It was just like Mum and Dad had described it really: dirty and ragged with a few patches here and there to cover the worst of the damage. Dad said it had saved his life once, although Hope wasn't too sure how a hat had managed to do that.
There was a hushed silence and the hat opened what appeared to be a mouth, down near the brim and began to sing:
Some thousand years or more ago
The school founders bade me choose
By instilling in me their values
From their heads down to their shoes.
The task was set that I must fit
Witch and wizards in a house
As the Founders did before me
Turning new brains inside out.
Hardworkers loved by Hufflepuff
Will soon find a ready home
Those who toil will reap rewards
There's value in what is sown.
A searching mind is vital
To those lodged with Ravenclaw,
The eager thirst for knowledge will
Be ever knocking at your door.
If you have courage of a lion
And the chivalry of a knight,
Make your home in Gryffindor
To always strive for right.
There are those who always need
Some way to leave their mark:
Ambition, drive and talent
Sets the Slytherins apart.
Welcome to Hogwarts those of you
Who've never been here before
Don't be afraid, and step right up
To be sorted in houses four.
With a little flourish that could only have been a bow, the hat stopped singing and twitched expectantly on the little stool it was perched on. Professor McGonagall unrolled a large parchment scroll and regarded the first years over her glasses.
"Anderson, Marcus," she called, raising the hat and gesturing to the stool.
A small dark haired boy stumbled forwards, tripping over them hem of his gown. Hope watched in wonder as the hat seemed to sway a little on the boy's head before calling out in a loud voice,
A thunderous burst of applause greeted this news and the boy trooped off to sit on the table second from the left with what Hope presumed must have been the other Ravenclaws.
Slowly the line of terrified first years was whittled down, and Hope allowed her eyes to roam across some of the staff table. A man with greasy black hair that was beginning to grey, a short dumpy witch with rosy cheeks and frizzy curls and an elderly wizard wearing formal red robes who was watching the sorting with interest. She recognised him as the Headmaster at once, from some photographs she'd seen in The Daily Prophet.
Dad had explained that after Dumbledore had died, Professor McGonagall had taken over for two or three years, rebuilding the school and re-establishing it in the way that Dumbledore would have done himself. She hadn't wanted the job in the long-term, preferring teaching too much, and so the governors had appointed this man, Aelric Circinus to step into the void. His face broke into an approving smile as ‘Luna, Mariella' was sorted into Gryffindor.
"Miles, Robert," Professor McGonagall's crisp tones broke through Hope's thoughts. Robert gulped visibly, glanced at Hope and then crept towards the hat. Hope bit her lip, wishing with all her might that they'd get put in the same house together.
"Gryffindor!" the hat bellowed. Robert's shoulders sank with distinct relief and he grinned at Hope before heading over to the welcoming shouts from the Gryffindor table.
The line was growing shorter now and her heart was beating more quickly. More and more of those around her were sorted until there were barely any of them left.
"Parkinson, Priscilla," Professor McGonagall called.
The haughty raven-haired girl mounted the steps and swivelled round to sit on the stool. The hat descended on her head, appearing to consider carefully where to place her.
"Slytherin!" it shouted.
The Slytherin table whooped and called her over to them, welcoming her into their fold. Hope sniffed disparagingly. Like Uncle Ron always said, there hadn't been a witch of wizard who had gone bad that wasn't in Slytherin. It didn't surprise her one little bit that Parkinson had ended up there.
Heat rushed into her face as people began to whisper, point and stare. She tried her best to ignore them, but it was difficult. Heart drumming uncontrollably in her chest, she forced her legs to move and somehow she made it to the stool. She sank downwards and suddenly the brightly lit room was plunged into darkness as the hat dropped down over her head.
"Hmm," a voice said in her ear. "How very interesting. A fascinating Weasley and Potter combination with a little something else thrown in for good measure it seems…"
"What?" Hope was puzzled but the hat seemed to ignore her.
"No lack of bravery," the voice continued thoughtfully, "and there's a real drive to succeed, no doubt about that, I can see it here in your head. And this power, how very fascinating, I've never seen anything quite like that before. Dear me, it seems that you could achieve great things if you learn to harness it. Very great indeed. Add to that your undoubted talents and I suppose in that case there's only one place for you and that has to be…"
She winced as the hat was lifted swiftly back over her eyes and she encountered the bright light in the Great Hall. A dull applause met her sorting, and she blinked stupidly. No. No, this was all wrong. It couldn't be. It had to be a mistake. How… Slytherin? But…?
"Over here, Potter," Professor McGonagall steered her kindly in the right direction, a strange look appearing in her eyes. Could it be pity? Hope's stomach recoiled suddenly as if she was going to be sick. This couldn't be true. It just couldn't. It must be a nightmare. This couldn't be happening to her. A sudden urge to run over took her. She had to get out of here. What would they all say at home? Mum? Dad? Granny and Grandpa? They'd be devastated. She'd let them all down. She couldn't stay here; she couldn't do this!
Yet her legs carried her over to the Slytherin table and she sat down onto the long bench, all those eyes still trained on her. She caught sight of Robert across the room, his face as shocked as she knew hers must be. He seemed so far away. The hot tears began to bubble beneath the surface. She set her jaw and held her head high, not daring to look or speak to those around her for fear she would break down and cry.
The rest of the evening passed in an aching blur. Chatter and exuberance went on around her. Food was devoured by the others on her table but she couldn't swallow, the lump in the throat just got bigger and bigger until she was choking on it.
Finally some prefect led the first years out into the entrance hall. She followed blindly, her heart following Robert up the great marble staircase, but her leaden legs wobbling down to the dungeons with the others. A stone wall slid sideways when the prefect addressed it, and they piled into the common room. Hope's only impression was one of a brightly lit underground room, from which they were led up a spiral staircase into the dormitories.
Her heart sank further.
She was condemned to share this cell for the next seven years with these four other girls she didn't know and didn't want to know. Two of them were already nudging each other and pointing at her as if she were a freak. Her trunk was at the foot of a wooden four-poster bed over by the only window in the room, her things already brought there by the house elves. She opened her trunk and stared at the possessions she'd packed so proudly inside, seeing a certain flash of red and gold.
She couldn't bear it any longer. Pulling the green hangings around her, she huddled up on the quilt, fighting back the emotions until all had fallen silent around her. Then, and only then, did the tears begin to fall, wracking her small body with unbearable grief until at long last she fell asleep, Grandpa's Gryffindor scarf clutched tightly in her arms.