A/N: Many, many thanks go out to Michele40, my brand spankin' new beta for her awesome work. Without her, this wouldn't have come off half as well as it did. Kudos!
Enjoy responsibly, always review!
Chapter 3: The Dementors
Agnes woke Ginny when the lady with the cart came to their compartment, and Ginny spent one of her few coins on a Chocolate Frog. "Mmmm…I've been saving up all summer so I could have a bit of spending money this year. And Ron gets to go to Hogsmeade now, so he can buy things for me if I give him money."
Agnes bought something called "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans": jelly beans that advertised to have every flavor imaginable. Popping one in her mouth and grimacing because it tasted of pepper, she asked, "What's Hogsmeade?"
Ginny was looking at the card that came with her Chocolate Frog and so answered distractedly. "Oh, just the town outside of Hogwarts. It's the only all wizarding town in Britain. Third years and over get to go on special weekends." She looked at Agnes and grinned, continuing in a mock-zealous tone. "We younger ones don't have any privileges. It's ageism, it is! The Establishment is trying to keep us down, keep us from living as witches and wizards should! I think we should stage a protest, march on Dumbledore's office and demand equal rights for ourselves!" She dissolved into giggles.
Agnes giggled, too, and popped another bean into her mouth. Apple pie flavor this time. Mmmm.
"Hmmm, maybe we should change for school," Ginny mused, hands banging against the compartment above her as she streched. "I'm scared I'll fall asleep and we'll get there and I'll still be dressed like this!"
Agnes loved her uniform. The under part was like any school uniform: jumper, tie, and skirt. But the robes that went over it swished so nicely when she turned and the Hogwarts crest on the breast made her so proud. She couldn't wait to find out what house she'd be in.
Ginny giggled when she saw Agnes swishing her robes. "Yeah, they're fun now, but soon enough you'll get sick of them. Always catching on everything, and people always step on the back of mine because they're all hand-me-downs from my brothers who are all taller than me," She grinned warmly, and joined her younger friend. "But they are fun to swish." The slightly gray material of Ginny's robes did trail along the ground, but to Agnes it seemed more romantic than unwieldy; after all, didn't wedding gowns and all the best grown-up dresses have trains?
They spent most of the rest of the trip this way, laughing, swishing, and joking. The time seemed to fly, and soon the lamps on the train were the only source of light, since it had gotten very dark outside. There were tiny points of light that they could see across the surrounding countryside- farms and small towns that were very far off. Aside from these, all that could be seen out the window were vague shapes and shadows, which the imagination sometimes made into ghosts and demons. But Agnes felt safe there inside the little train, its steel walls protecting them from the terrors outside. It felt as though she and Ginny had created their own protective bubble of laughter and companionship that nothing could pierce.
Of course, she didn't know that if there had indeed been ghosts and demons outside, just the walls of the train wouldn't be able to stop them. She didn't know that ghosts weren't (for the most part) the evil things that many Muggles made them seem, that there were very few demons that actually made it into this world and they were nowhere near the Hogwarts train at this time.
But there was something equally horrifying coming toward the train at that very moment…
"…and so I told him, ‘Ron, no one needs to use…'" Ginny stopped suddenly, listening very carefully. "Do you hear that?"
Agnes listened hard. The wheels were screeching quietly, and she could felt the train slowing. She immediately got excited. "Are we almost there?"
Ginny shook her head. "No, we shouldn't be there yet…there should be at least another half an hour until we're there…" As she trailed off, the screeching got louder and the train shuddered to a halt, the lamps all going out simultaneously. "I don't like this," she whispered.
Agnes was scared now. They were sitting in pitch-black darkness and it was suffocating. ‘What's going on?" her voice trembled.
"I don't know," Ginny answered, then announced "I'm going to go find my brother. Stay here, or go into the next compartment, if you're scared. I think Colin Creevey's in there, and he's a decent sort. I would tell you to go to the twins, they're just a couple compartments away, but…well, they're not the most reliable. They'd probably try to blow you up, or something." She stood and left the compartment.
Agnes sat stock still, waiting for something to happen. Please let the lights come back on. Please say that the power just went out and we're going to be on our way soon. Please say that Ginny will come back. Please….
And then the Dementor flew by.
Of course, Agnes didn't know what a Dementor was, didn't know the danger that lay in the black cloak that had just flown by her window. All of a sudden she just started sobbing. She couldn't help herself. All she could think of was how most of the kids at her old school had hated her, how much they had teased her. "Miss Smarty-Pants!! Better go study, Miss Smarty-Pants!! You wouldn't want to be second in the class, would you?" What Agnes‘s brain wouldn‘t let her remember was that she wasn‘t always first in the class. She couldn't remember that she and Heather had both been at the top, constantly switching back and forth. She couldn't remember that she hadn't been alone in being teased, that Heather had stood with her. All she could hear was "What sort of crazy likes school? You're weird!" People like Alice Jameston were floating through her mind, constantly harassing her. Nothing else could permeate the darkness in her mind.
She struggled to remember her parents, Heather, anything besides the constant taunting that was going through her brain. Faintly she heard her mother's voice: "Maybe they'll be able to teach you some grace, goodness knows I've failed…if they're able to teach you some manners, then I'll know they're magical…" Then her father's joined in: "Why don't you just settle down? You're much too excitable. Be a good girl for once, will you?" Heather's voice added, "Look what I got on the test!! And you only got a 30! Hah!"
A boy, a bit older than herself, maybe a third year, with blond hair and gray eyes stumbled into her compartment. He looked like he would be very confident and brave under normal situations, but now he looked like a frightened puppy with its tail tucked between its legs. "Are you all right?" she asked uncertainly, and stared as he nodded and left the compartment, stumbling toward one that she knew held the twins.
Agnes didn't know what to do so she curled herself into a tight ball and waited for the lights to come on. She wanted Ginny to come back; she wanted someone there with her, but was too scared to leave the compartment to find the boy Ginny had told her about. She thought about her mother and father, not remembering the horribleness of before, but some of the last things that they had both told her: "Remember that we love you." The world couldn't be so horrible if she had people loving her, could it?
The lights came on as an older boy stuck his head into her compartment. "Are you all right?" he asked. He had red hair, and a large Head Boy badge that was nearly worn down from too much polishing. Agnes realized that this must be Percy, Ginny's oldest brother. "I'm to tell you that everything is under control and we'll be starting again soon…" he trailed off as he looked at her concernedly. "Do you need anything? I can get the cart witch here to stay with you."
Agnes looked up at him and nodded. She didn't want to be alone.
After a few moments of isolation, the kind witch entered. She was round and plump, and reminded Agnes of her own grandmother, who had passed away when she was seven. "Oh, my dear!" she threw her hands up in concern. "I'm so sorry that your first year had to start out like this! And you were all alone, too."
The cart witch took her in a hug that would have been bone crushing if it hadn't been so comforting. She smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg, mixed with the same smell that all old ladies seemed to have. Her body was warm, and Agnes was so still that she could hear the heart beat underneath the flowered apron.
Releasing her, the cart witch pulled a Chocolate Frog out of her pocket. "Now, I don't find much use for what I learned in Defense class, but if there's one thing that I do remember, it's that the best cure for a Dementor is chocolate." Smiling, the witch pulled the wire to open the box. "Be ready to grab it, now. We don't want it hopping out the window."
Agnes had to giggle at the idea of the Frog jumping out the window and getting lost in the Scottish countryside, despite the heaviness that still weighed upon her mind. Would it catch Chocolate Flies? Or perhaps Vanilla? She caught the Frog as the witch opened the box, and started nibbling on one of the feet. As she swallowed her body started to feel like her foot did when she stood up after sitting on it for a long time. The tingles started in her stomach and made their way all the way to her fingers and toes, tickling. She tried to keep from squirming, but she couldn't keep still any longer. She felt so much better, her previous despairs all but forgotten.
As she turned to the witch to thank her, the train shuddered and started off again. "Well, there we go! We should be at Hogwarts soon," she brushed invisible dust off her apron, then smiled warmly at Agnes. "Would you like me to stay with you?"
"Yes, please," Agnes responded. She felt safe, now, but didn't want to be alone. "I don't know if Ginny is going to come back; she went to look for her brother."
"Would that be Ginny Weasley?" the witch asked. "Yes, she is a good girl. Unfortunate what happened last year…" she trailed off, and Agnes began to wonder if she'd ever find out what happened to Ginny that made her so sad. The witch continued, "It was her brother that asked me to come here to stay with you. Well, one of them anyway. That family…I remember when her oldest brothers went to Hogwarts: Bill and Charlie…what a pair. Bill's the older of the two, of course. Heard that he's been working in Egypt. I couldn't imagine working in that sort of heat. And with Goblins! They're smart, but I wouldn't want to work with them. And then Charlie's been working with those dragons… honestly, I don't know how their mother can take it. Percy, at least, seems sensible enough to take a nice safe Ministry job. I don't know about those twins, though. And Ron, taking up with Harry Potter like that. Well, he'll never want for adventure, anyway."
The witch continued talking all the way to the train station. She seemed to have an endless memory for students, even though she only saw them a few times a year. She told Agnes about a few specific students that she remembered, including a boy, well, man now, called Sirius Black.
"Was best friends with James Potter, Harry Potter's father, poor boy. And what a pair they were! Almost as mischievous as those Weasley twins. Such a shame, too, that he should turn bad- such a smart boy. In fact, they say he's escaped from Azkaban, that's wizarding prison, and they used to say that that was impossible" Agnes didn't know what to say to such a revelation. To have been in such a high security prison, she knew this man must have done something terrible. But, as new as she was to the wizarding world, the news didn't strike her as much as it could have.
The cart witch suddenly looked up and exclaimed, "Oh, look at that, we're here!" She stood and gave Agnes a quick hug before bustling off, calling, "Well, have a good year, dear. It was nice meeting you!" as she left the compartment for the front of the train.
Agnes stood and left the compartment, unsure of what to do. All the other students were filing toward the doors, so she followed, stepping off the train into the dark, rainy night. The older students were rushing toward a line of carriages, but Agnes couldn't see anything that pulled them. Maybe they've got a motor, or something. Or maybe they're pulled by magic. I'll ask somebody.
A deep voice called out "Firs' years! This way!" and Agnes turned to see an enormous man wearing a huge fur overcoat standing by a lake on one end of the station. Looking up from the lake Agnes could see a castle, but only because the lights shone through the rain and dark. From what she could see it was very big, and she could make out the fuzzy shapes of turrets and towers, black against blacker sky.
She was approaching the enormous man, now, and she realized that he had to be at least eight feet tall. As she approached he stopped yelling and grinned at her "'Ello there! Name's Rubeus Hagrid, but you can just call me Hagrid. Welcome to ‘ogwarts!"