I seriously need to update this page! I just haven't gotten time to do it recently. It's snowing now so might get a few snow days hopefully (even though the weather forecast says that's it for us...).
For the rest of Faolcairn, it was as ordinary as a Friday afternoon could be. Children, still dressed in their large school jumpers and shiny shoes, shed their ties and began to unbutton their shirts as they piled onto buses or traipsed down the pavement in the direction of their houses. Adults were thinking about starting to prepare the dinner or finishing the last of their work before gathering their belongings and attempting to make it home before rush-hour.
Leslie Corren tried to picture these people, these ordinary people, from her place on the ground beneath the sycamore tree. The small, slight girl lay on her back, half hidden in the jungle of waist-length grass. Her unruly tangle of golden ringlets were spread out like a cushion behind her head, her delicate lids were closed tightly over her dark blue eyes and just the hint of a smile played with the corners of her rosy lips.
After many hours spent outside in this peaceful hollow, she had found that if she let herself drift away, she could catch a glimpse of the rooves of the identical houses that lined either side of a damp, grey street; see into the gardens that were full to bursting with flowers or clustered with sandpits and climbing frames. Occasionally, if she was able to search hard enough, she could even see into the lives of the normal, average people that lived in these houses and sat in these gardens; she could imagine for a few minutes what it would be like to have no worries; to have who should I sit beside on the bus? or what should I wear tomorrow? as the only questions clouding her mind. Then reality would tumble down on top of her at the sound of a door slamming or the creaking of one of the branches overhead. This time, it was Mr Henderson's voice that dragged her back to the present;
"Les?" his hand found her shoulder and gently shook it. "Leslie? Wake up!"
Leslie peeled her eyes open. Grey clouds were gathering in the otherwise clear sky, threatening to swallow the sun in their dark folds. The cool wind whispered through Adelaire's bare grounds, shifting the bricks of the crumbling stone wall and stirring the debris that lay scattered on the ground. Long grass tickled her bare arms as she pulled myself up into a sitting position. Mr Henderson's face was a couple of inches away from her own. His pale skin was dented with premature wrinkles, his blonde hair streaked with white and his young green eyes had been long ago stripped of their innocence.
"I wasn't sleeping," Leslie replied.
"Good," Mr Henderson said, taking her arm and helping her to her feet. "You have to come with me! And hurry - we can't get caught out here!"
"But why?" Leslie protested. "You said I could have 'till five today!"
"Mrs Yule wants you in her office! Now!"
"How come she wants me? I haven't done anything wrong!" when Leslie saw the look that Mr Henderson was giving her, she quickly countered herself, "Well, nothing that she could ever find out about."
"She said that she'd recieved a letter for you. That was it."
"A letter? From who? I've never even met anybody from outside Adelaire."
Mr Henderson shrugged. He was already running, sprinting at full speed through the undergrowth. With her arm tightly linked with his, Leslie allowed him to pull her along with him. Stumbling over tree roots and tugging her jeans free of bramble bushes, they fled the forest. She could hear her heart beating in time with the thump of her trainers hitting the hard ground; could feel her lungs burning white hot pain as she pushed herself onwards; see nothing but the seemingly endless road that led up to Adelaire. A stitch throbbed in her side and she wanted nothing more than to flop down onto the cool grass that grew on either side of the track.
"Just a little further," Mr Henderson promised, pulling her against his side as he quickened his pace.
Across the close-cut lawn, through the wooden double doors, up the winding staircase and then finally they had arrived. After a moment in which he took to catch his breath, Mr Henderson entered the office, Leslie hot on his heels. The room was smaller than she had expected. Humid air wreathed around her as she stepped through the doorway, and the smell of decay hit her nostrils.
"Sorry about the delay, Mrs Yule," Mr Henderson apologised. "Corren was hiding down in the cellar - it took me ages to find her." He and Leslie exchanged a knowing look.
"Do not waste anymore of my time with your poor excuses, Henderson," came the reply. "And in the future, wait to be invited before you barge into my office. You may leave."
Mr Henderson winked at Leslie on his way past, closing the door behind him.
"Sit down, Miss Corren," the voice drifted out from behind a large stack of paper. Leslie did as she was told, perching herself on the very edge of the hard wood opposite the founder's desk.
"Mrs Yule," she began after a long while of silence. She made sure to sit up straight and not to slouch. After all, she thought bitterly, Adelaire had taken me in purely out of the kindness of their hearts. The least that I can do is to treat everybody here with the utmost respect.
"Mrs Yule," Leslie continued. "I was just wondering if you could tell me why I'm here? Mr Henderson told me you'd recieved a letter for me."
It was a known fact that if ever anybody did anything even slightly imperfect, they would be sent up to the founder's office and would often never return. Thinking back, Leslie couldn't remember anything that she had done wrong; she had taken extra care when sneaking out into the forest, she hadn't stolen any food or had any fights with the other children. She had even made her bed.
Mrs Yule chuckled softly, pushing the pile of parchment to the side so that Leslie was able to see her face. She was an elderly woman with long white hair that fell down her back. Although she may have been pretty at one point, her looks had sunk into the folds of her deep wrinkle. All that remained of her earlier beauty was her blue eyes; pale, sparkling and icily cold.
"Don't fret, Miss Corren," she assured Leslie. Her smile was yellow and sickeningly sweet. "This meeting is not about your behaviour." Leslie held her gaze ", despite the fact that her mind was clouded with confusion.
The only other reason that a child was sent to the founder's office was if-
Leslie quickly shook the thought out of her head, extinguishing the tiny ember of hope that had flickered to life inside the pit of her stomach. It wasn't possible.
"What I have here with me is, to you, both bad news and good news," Mrs Yule went on. She paused while I waited expectantly. "The good news is that you have been accepted into a school of witchcraft and wizardry."
Leslie felt my heart skip a beat. She, of all people, had been accepted into magical school? Her astonishment was apparently crystal clear on her face, as Mrs Yule carried on without hesitation.
"Although you will be given the opportunity to learn the ways of a sorcerer, this school is truly the lowest of the low. Elvindor Academy of Magic allows any old riff-raff to enter through its doors."
Leslie couldn't help but notice Mrs Yule's patronizing tone of voice and the disapproving glint in her eyes. She considered her as any old riff-raff.
"I trust you want to attend this school?" Mrs Yule's voice dragged her back to reality. Leslie nodded instantly.
"Yes, of course I do," she agreed.
"Excellent," Mrs Yule announced. "All of the books and equipment that you require has already been owled to me. The only other essential that you shall need is a wand." The founder of Adelaire rose from her chair and walked steadily over to Leslie's side. "Stand up, girl."
Leslie looked up in surprise, a single word slipping from her mouth before I could stop it,
"The wandmaker that I have spoken to insists that you be there in person," Mrs Yule replied, glaring. "Apparently, the wand has to choose the wizard. All a load of codswallop in my opinion. Nevertheless, we must see to his wishes."
Still bewildered, Leslie struggled to her feet to stand by the older lady's side.
"Take my hand."
Leslie jerked my head up, startled. Why would Mrs Yule want her tainted hands touching her pure-blooded perfection?
"Excuse me?" Leslie asked incredulously.
"Take my hand," Mrs Yule repeated.
Hesitantly, Leslie reached out for her wrist. As soon as her fingers touched her bare skin, knowledge seemed to rush through her. Suddenly, the concept of holding Mrs Yule's hand didn't seem quite so strange.
"Are we going to-"
Everything darkened, so much so that all Leslie could see was deep, heavy black, swirling all around her. She was falling, though in which direction, she could not be sure. All she knew was that there was no longer ground beneath her feet and her chest was tightening as all of the air left her body. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't think and whatever she was falling through was becoming increasingly smaller, squishing and squeezing me down, up or to the end of where ever she was going. It felt as though there were heavy weights pushing against her head and at any moment, her skull would shatter.
Then she was on the ground. Grass, still wet wish morning dew, pressed against her cheek and the sounds of footsteps and speaking came from nearby. Disorientated, Leslie sat up to find herself on a patch of lawn on the corner of a pavement. Witches and wizards of all shapes and sizes were bustling along around her, all carrying bags full of carious different purchased items.
"Just perform Side-Along Apparition?" Mrs Yule cut across Leslie. "Yes. Now get up, girl. We are rather short on time."
On the morning of the 31st of August, Alfred James McDonnell stood dressed up his best clothes. His crisp white shirt was tucked into his freshly ironed trousers and his shoes had been polished so thoroughly that he could almost see his own reflection in them. If his aunt had her way, his hair would have been cut short short and neatly smoothed back against his head. However, Alfie had protested so much that she had succumbed to his complaints and allowed him to keep it as it was; shoulder-length, messy, dark curls sticking out in all directions.
"Don't want yer dad ter think we haven't been lookin' after you," Aunt Lizzie had said as she had adjusted his tie.
Looking up at Lizzie now - at her pale freckled face, her wide blue eyes and her mane of ginger waves - he didn't know how anybody could ever think that she mistreated him. She looked after him as if he were her own son and she was the closest he had ever known to a mother. When he had been sent to go and live with her, she had greeted him with open arms. Lizzie had cooked him dinner every night, nursed him when he was ill and waited in the living room with a cup of tea and sympathetic ears whenever he needed her.
"Blimey," Angus stopped to peer through one of the doors on the right side of the corridor. "Alf, when you go in there, tell your dad he needs a serious haircut."
Angus, Alfie's uncle, had been just as welcoming as his wife. He had immediately tried to make a point of spending time with him - presumably, Alfie guessed, to try to take both of their minds off of what had happened. On the weekends, he would take him out shooting, camping and to do various other manly activities. Although he had appreciated these weekly bonding trips, Alfie would be lying if he said that he wasn't relieved when Angus realised that his nephew would much rather spend his Sunday evening curled up in front of the fire with a good book.
"I think Pat's in room 74, love; not 87," Lizzie reminded her husband. Doing a quick double take, she added, "And that's a lady."
"Oh, um... right," Angus cleared his throat and strode purposefully over to the lift at the end of the corridor. "Must have pressed the wrong buttons."
Five minutes and three wrong rooms later, the family of four found themselves standing in the middle of the tenth floor of St Conal's Psychiatric Hospital.
"We'll leave you to it then, Alfred," Lizzie told Alfie, patting his arm gently and then shuffling over to her husband. "Remember, we'll just be in the café across the street if you need us."
Alfie nodded in reply. Lizzie gave him a final small smile before disappearing down the corridor with Angus.
"See you later, midget," Rory ruffled his hair fondly.
At first, there had been a few uncertainties as to whether or not the two of them would get on. The cousins were each other's opposites. Rory McDonnell, Head Boy at school, was confident, popular, sporty and funny. As the awkward, bookish misfit who was bullied for wearing glasses and for being hopeless at football, Alfie slid under none of these above categories. Therefore, their unlikely friendship had taken everybody by surprise.
"I'm not that small," Alfie protested half-heartedly, ducking away from the older boy's hand. Rory gave a bark of laughter, gave his shoulder a quick squeeze for good luck and took off in the direction of his parents.
Alfie was left all alone.
Heart thumping in his chest, hands shaking with nervousness, he suddenly felt sick to the stomach as he peered through the door into Room 104. For a moment, he was torn between the idea of going inside and the idea of running away to hide inside a storage cupboard until it was time to drive home again. Every time he came here, he was overcome with the same feelings of anxiousness and fear; every time he struggled over whether he should stay or leave; every time his eyes would rest on the man sitting on the chair beside the window and he would know what to do.
Sunlight slanted in through the half open blinds, making the man's greying hair gleam. Propped up against a pillow, book in hand and reading glasses ready to slip off of the end of his nose, for a split second, he looked almost normal. In a rush, Alfie couldn't help but be brought back to his younger years when this man had told him tales of magic and folklore every night before bed. He could see the man's face barely visible in the dim glow of the lamp, dark brown eyes sparkling with excitement; he could smell the mixture of coffee and cologne on the man's shirt; hear the man's enthusiasm as he talked about the magical creatures that he had found in his adventures and hear the pure adoration in his voice as he described Alfie's mother. Most of all, Alfie could remember thinking about the secret woodland elves who he had been told existed in the deepest, darkest shadows of the forests in Ireland long after the man had left. These memories were soon lost in the man's empty eyes, in the hospital gown that showed his bony arms and in the drab blue hundred and fourth room of St. Conal's Psychiatric Hospital.
"Son," Patrick McDonnell smiled weakly as Alfie came to stand beside him.
"Dad," the word felt strange coming from his mouth after so long. At his aunt and uncle's house, it had almost been an unspoken rule not to mention anything about Alfie's father.
The two of them fell quiet. Alfie busied himself with taking in the room. There wasn't very much to look at apart from a half empty glass of water sitting on the table beside the bed along with several books. When he could stare at the crack in the wall beside the radiator no longer, he turned around to see the nurse who was walking down the corridor, pushing a cart full of an assortment of different snacks.
"Lovely day, isn't it?" Patrick spoke up finally.
"Yes," Alfie agreed uncertainly, glancing out of the window at the rain that was tumbling down from the sky in sheets. "It's very nice and... grey."
More silence. Alfie braced himself for Patrick's next half-hearted attempt to start a conversation.
"How's your new school?"
Alfie didn't bother to point out that he had been going to Beechford Primary for the past four years and that Patrick asked him the same question every time he visited. He also didn't tell his dad that he didn't have any friends, the only people he ever spoke to were the teachers and he was beaten up every second day. Instead, he just said, "I got invited to join a boarding school."
"Good news," Patrick said in his same monotone drawl. He turned away to look outside. His skin was now sickly pale from many long days sitting inside and he seemed to have gained at least ten more wrinkles since the last time Alfie visited him a couple of months ago. Wispy grey strands fell across his forehead, only small patches of chestnut revealing his true hair colour. The raindrops drizzling down the window pane were reflected on Patrick's emotionless brown eyes.
Then Alfie could take it no longer. He wanted his dad back. He wanted the dad who was funny and exciting, who was kind and caring and who told him stories of witches and wizards. He was tired of this empty shell of a man who spent each passing day sitting and staring.
"The school teaches magic."
Something flickered on Patrick's face. It was as if somewhere inside his head, a light had been switched on. Alfie felt hope burning in his chest as his dad turned around and smiled. He smiled. Not forced or fake. A perfectly natural, proper smile.
"You're kidding me?"
Alfie shook his head.
Patrick laughed, "I always knew you'd end up like your mother! Listen, I never got the chance to tell you how-"
He was cut off by a knock. A nurse stood in the doorway with Lizzie, Angus and Rory.
"Sorry to interrupt, but visiting time is over."
Just like that, Alfie watched as the echo of who his dad used to be faded away right before his eyes. "Bye dad. See you again later?"
His lips did not even twitch with the hint of a smile. His face had gone back to the same passive, uncaring mask that it had been for the past five years. When he spoke, his voice was emotionless, "Of course."
Mr Henderson stood by the main entrance. His purple shirt, emblazoned with the Adelaire Institute logo, was badly creased. One black trouser leg was tucked into his sock and the laces of his battered shoes trailed along the ground. Light brown hair stuck out from the back of his head in tufts and sleep blurred his green eyes.
As milky dawn light poured in through the window behind him and the chattering of the early rising birds driften in from outside, he opened his mouth in a wide yawn. If he were to have it his way, nobody would get up before ten o'clock in the morning. It would be considered madness.
"Why are you here?" the accusing voice sliced through his hazy thoughts. "It's not your shift!"
Mr Henderson broke into a wide grin when he caught sight of the approaching girl. Her golden hair as wild and untamed as ever, Leslie Corren's face was alight with excitement. She was wrapped up in a red raincoat that was at least two sizes too big and trailing a large brown suitcase.
He was suddenly brought back to the first time that he had caught a glimpse of Leslie. It had been his second day working at Adelaire and he had just stepped through the orphanage doors. She had been sitting in the corner, waiting patiently. Nine. She had been nine when they had met. He was only seventeen.
"Your new, aren't you?" Leslie asked him in that same assertive manner.
"Yeah," he replied, giving the small girl a smile. "I'm Mr Henderson. What's your name?"
"Leslie Corren," she answered instantly. She paused, staring up at him with her wide blue eyes. "I hope you know what your walking into, coming to work here."
"Adelaire is horrible. All we get to do is sit around this boring old building and get fed liver and onions."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"You're not allowed to say that before you've had your first Assessment. The man your replacing left before he'd finished his second week."
"What about all the other staff?"
"They either feel too sorry for us to go or they really need the money.
"Well, unfortunately for you, I really need the money. I'm no going to be leaving any time soon."
"Can I go outside?"
"Will you open the door so I can go outside?"
"Of course not! I'm not allowed to let any of you kids outside under any circumstances!"
"Okay then," Leslie shrugged. Getting up off of the floor, she skipped out of the room and left Mr Henderson gawping after her in amazement.
"I couldn't let you leave without saying goodbye so I asked Mitchell if I could take his turn at the door," Mr Henderson explained, dragging himself back into reality. "He didn't complain."
Leslie stopped beside him and he pulled her into a hug. His strong arms wrapped around her protectively, squeezing her against his warm body. Leslie, with her ear resting against his chest, could hear the steady thump of his heartbeat as she breathed in his familiar scent.
"I have to go now," she whispered, a little reluctantly.
Mr Henderson gave a slight nod before releasing her from his grasp.
"I hate to say this, but I'm really going to miss you around here, Les," he told her. The smile returned to his face as he reached out to ruffle her hair. "Now get out of here before your carriage leaves without you!"
Leslie gave a peal of laughter, picking up her suitcase again and opening the door.
"Goodbye, Mr Henderson!" she shouted as she leaped down the front steps. "Have fun sweeping floors!"
"Bye, Les!" Mr Henderson called after her. Even though he knew that she was now too far away to hear him, he still added, "Good luck!"
Only once Leslie had disappeared around a corner did Mr Henderson close the door behind her. It seemed as if, in the mere seconds that she had been gone, a silence had fallen over the room, over the entire building. Adelaire will be very different now, he thought to himself as he settled down on the floor beneath the window. As no sane person would wake until at least eight o'clock, he figured he would get away with napping until his shift was over.
Meanwhile, Leslie Corren stood at the end of the driveway that led up to Adelaire Institute. A carriage, one that looked like it had been torn from the page of a storybook, slowed to a halt in front of her. There was no driver, just two black horses with well defined muscles rippled beneath their identical black coats. Seeing the Elvindor Academy crest painted onto the door, Leslie pulled it open, heaved her suitcase inside and clambered in after it. The second that she had seated herself on the deep red cushion that lay on top of the bench, the horses took off, dragging the carriage smoothly along after them.
For the first few miles, the carriage followed the same tarmac road. It wove like a river through the countryside, flowing through forests of towering pine and splashing over heather covered hills. Past fields of grazing cows, flocks of munching sheep and the distant outlines of red deer.
Leslie stared out of the window, transfixed, when the carriage took her through a small town. It was exactly like the one that she had imagined. A square with a lawn and fountain in the center. Lines of houses, their gardens clustered with flowers, children's play equipment, greenhouses and sheds. A school. Shops. Restaurants and cafés.
Leslie's nose was almost pressed against the pane of glass as she gazed out in wonder, taking in everything from the people that walked the streets to the noise that filled the air. A million different shades of bright colours sung out at her. The smell of vehicle exhausts, fast food, and coffee made her nose wrinkle. Her head was spinning, eyes not quite sure what to look at, but she couldn't help but smile.
Then they turned a corner and left everything behind.Time seemed to get lost in amongst the long grass that lined either side of the dirt track. The outside world once again became a hazy blur of greens, blues and browns.
Leslie sat back in her seat, immersed in her own thoughts. She tried to picture Elvindor Academy, her teachers, her new friends. A grand building appeared in her mind. It almost looked like a castle with its tall towers, crenellated roof and big arched doorway. Sat at the top of a desolate hill, such an impressive structure looked quite out of place. Then she could picture a lady dressed in pale blue robes, black hair falling down her back in silky ringlets. She was standing at the front of a room filled with people, her mouth moving, but no sounds coming out. Finally came the clearest image of all. The freckled face of a young boy. His emerald green eyes sparkled behind the lenses of his glasses and a shy smile turned up the corners of his lips -
The carriage ground to a halt and the door swung open. The two horses horses stood solemn, silent and stationary. Uncertainly, Leslie collected her suitcase and stepped out onto the hard packed mud ground.
She looked up to see that she was facing a steep slope that led to the base of a mountain range. The gigantic rock formations reached high up into the cloudless blue sky, their peaks snow-capped even now, on the last day of August. There was not a dwelling to be seen on the barren landscape in front of her and whoever was supposed to be meeting her was definitely not there.
Leslie turned and made to get back into the carriage, only to see the two black horses take off in the direction that they had come from.
"Great," she didn't realize that she was speaking aloud until the words escaped her mouth. "Just fantastic." Her voice echoed around the hollow that she was sitting it. Somewhere nearby, a startled bird cawed, abandoning its perch. Leslie watched enviously as it took flight, soaring over the hills until it was no more than a mere brown speck in the distance. It was lucky. It could escape. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
Surprised, Leslie spun around. Through the long stems of green grass to her right, a man appeared. He was tall and young. Despite his greying brown hair and the wrinkles that creased the corners of his grey-blue eyes, he looked to be in his early twenties.
He was wearing a new black cloak without a hint of a crease or stain on it, but, as Leslie peered more closely at him, she realised that he had put it on to hide his other clothes. Underneath, he had on a tattered, pale shirt and light brown trousers that had been torn and patched in many places. His shoes, that may have once been smart and black, had been worn so much that they looked grey-ish brown colour and were practically falling apart
"I got a little lost on my way here," the man held out his hand. Hesitantly, Leslie took it. His grip was firm but gentle, his skin rough but warm. "I'm Professor Lupin. I'll be teaching you Defense Against the Dark Arts."
“I’m Leslie,” she told Professor Lupin. “Leslie Corren.”
“I guessed,” was his only reply.
On the 31st of August, a carriage came to collect the only McDonnell child. That was how Alfie came to board the Elvindor Funicular Express. His hands were shaking with both nervousness and excitement as he sat down on the first empty seat that he saw. He had always been a bit of an outcast at his old school. Maybe now that would all change. Maybe he he had finally found a place where he fit in, where he could have friends. Maybe, just maybe, he had discovered the place where he belonged.
"Oi, you, freckle-face!"
It took Alfie a moment to realise that all of the other boys in his compartment had stopped speaking and were now all looking in his direction.
"Me?" he asked uncertainly.
The boy sitting opposite him stood up. He had a shaved head, piercing blue eyes and looked to be about a year or two older.
"Yeah you, four-eyes," he sneered. "What d'you think you're doing here?"
Alfie blinked and did not reply.
"Are you pureblood?"
He shook his head.
"Get out," the boy ordered. "Mudbloods aren't allowed to sit with us."
Alfie hastily gathered his belongings and made to leave. He didn't like arguing, especially with people who were twice his size and were all glaring down at him with great dislike.
On his way out of the door, the lanky blonde on Alfie's right stuck his leg out to trip him. The compartment erupted with laughter as fell out into the aisle, his glasses sliding from the end of his nose as he landed in a tangle of limbs on top of his suitcase.
With a groan, Alfie pulled himself up onto his knees and searched the floor for his spectacles. He could already guess what would happen next; one of the boys would come out and take them away from him. He would stumble blindly after the boy and would be led into the middle of a circle of the boy's cronies. They would poke fun at him until one of them snapped the leg off his glasses and he would have to o around wearing spectacles that were held together with Sellotape because his aunt and uncle felt that there was no point buying him new ones if he was just going to break them. He would become the joke of the school. Soon he would be too scared to walk to his classes alone for fear of getting a black eye. Eventually, he would be lying to his teachers about why he had gone to school without us schoolbag, how he had ended up with bruises down his arm or why he hadn't been able to catch the bus home. If he told anybody about the bullying, everything would just get so much worse.
He looked up to see the blurry outline of a girl of about his age. She appeared to be wearing a strange mix-match of clothing - a large red raincoat, jeans that only just covered her knees and black trainers. Her golden hair had been tied out of her face into two messy pig-tails and if he squinted, he could just make out her expression. Blue eyes narrowed in concern, rosy lips set in a worried frown. She was holding something out in front of her. His glasses.
"Thanks," Ainsley mumbled, taking them from her gratefully. He pulled himself to an upright position, brushed the dirt from his trousers and collected his luggage. He was about to go off in search of somewhere to sit on his own when the girl in front of him spoke up again.
"S'alright," she said, nodding towards the compartment that he'd just come from. "We'll get them back later."
Ainsley did not know how to reply, so he just smiled.
The girl laughed. "Come on! You can sit with me!"
Alfie hesitated, but the girl took hold of his suitcase and disappeared into the next carriage.
A chestboard sat between the two of them, held up by a suitcase. The girl swept the pieces to the side as the door slid open and looked up at Alfie and the Prefect.
Alfie suddenly forgot how to speak. He shifted anxiously from side to side, not knowing quite what to do until the Prefect gave him an encouraging nudge and then disappeared to return to his duties.
"Umm... H-hi," Alfie stammered. Panic flared in his chest as he looked from the girl to the boy and tried to remember how to make words come from his mouth. To introduce himself, to ask to join them - hell, even to announce that he was madly in love with a centaur would be better than standing in the middle of the compartment, his face glowing red and his mouth opening and closing helplessly.
Thankfully, the girl realised that he was moments away from bursting into tears and so quickly held out her hand. He shook it gratefully.
"I'm Leslie Corren," she offered. "What's your name?"
"Alfie McDonnell," he replied instantly. "N-nice to meet you." Alfie suddenly remembered about the boy who was sitting opposite Leslie and quickly added, "Er... Both of you. It's, um, nice to meet both of you."
The boy gave a bark of laughter, clearly finding Alfie's awkwardness highly amusing. "My name's Christopher," he announced. "But my friend's just call me, Chris."
Alfie nodded, not quite sure how to respond. He placed his suitcase on the ground, but stayed standing. Now that he had spoken, he didn't know what to do. Was he expected to ask if he could spend the rest of the journey with these children? Or had he already done that by telling them his name? Before he could work himself up into another fluster, Leslie patted the empty space on her bench.
"Well?" she demanded, looking at him expectantly. Although the question came out loud and scathing, she was smiling warmly at him as if she were telling a joke. "Sit down then!"
Alfie gratefully settled down beside her and breathed a sigh of relief. He was on his way to Elvindor Academy and he now had nice people to sit beside. However, conversation between the three of them had come to an abrupt halt. As each second ticked by, he found that the silence became a more and more awkward. Trying to calm himself, he began to polish his glasses on the hem of his jumper as he wracked his brain for something to talk about. Fortunately, Christopher spoke up before he could say something embarrassing.
"I'm pure-blood. My dad's a wizard and my mum's a witch. What about you two?"
"I dunno what I am," Leslie was the first to reply.
"How can you not know?" Christopher asked incredulously.
Leslie shrugged, "I've never met my parents. Not that I can remember anyway. Death Eaters burned my house down when I was a baby."
"Sorry! It must be so hard for you!"
"S'all I've ever known," Leslie told him. She turned to Alfie. "How about you?"
Alfie hesitated and his hand absentmindedly jumped to his hair. He pulled a few strands especially curly strands, making sure they were covering his ears. "I'm muggle-born. K-kind of."
Christopher raised his eyebrow. "Kind of?"
"Well, my dad's a muggle," Alfie said. "And my mum wasn't a witch."
"So you are muggle-born."
"It's more complicated than that. My mum could do magic. She just wasn't a witch."
The castle stood proud on the topmost peak of a desolate mountain. Tall, dark and foreboding; its cold, grey walls jutted from the ground like great hunks of man-made cliff. Mist was clinging to the tower turrets in thick white clouds, obscuring them from view, and yellow light from the narrow slits that served as windows sliced through the gloomy night and brightened the path through for the approaching students.
"This is amazing," Leslie whispered excitedly. Cheeks flushed and face ablaze with awe, her breath billowed out in clouds as she gazed up at the grand building in wonder.
Alfie was shivering too much to reply. He hadn't bothered to take his cloak from his suitcase that he had been told to leave on the train. Stuffing his pockets further into the pockets of his further into the pockets of his robes, he nodded to Leslie to show that he agreed.
"First years! First years, make your way over to the Astronomy tower!"
Turning around, Alfie saw a tall, muscular boy of around sixteen leaning against the tower on the right-hand side to the gatehouse. He was holding his wand to his throat - Alfie guessed that he was probably using some sort of spell to magnify his voice - and was flanked by two other students of around his own age, both with shiny Prefect badges pinned to their jumpers.
Leslie linked arms with Alfie and began to drag the smallere boy after her into the swarms of students. Eyes locked on her destination, she forced her way through the shamble of bodies, not caring who she shoved into. Alfie tried to break free of her grip and make his own way over to where the rest of his year was gathering, but this only resulted in falling onto a particularly scary looking piercing covered girl. His apologies were lost in the crowds as Leslie hauled him back to his feet and past the last couple of older students to the three Prefects.
"My name is Karen Cragg and I'm one of Turnberry House's senior prefects," the only girl was saying. She had a very thin nose and ginger hair that fell all the way down to her waist. "This is Neil Clearwater of Dalwhinnie," the girl gestured to the plump boy with the white-blonde hair who was furthest away from her. "Frank McLaughlin from Broadstone," she pointed to the dark-haired muscular boy beside her. "All three of us have been given lists of first years," Neil Clearwater announced. "Please listen carefully to hear which house you have been selected to be a part of and then go and stand behind the appropriate prefect."
There was a moment of hushed silence in which Alfie exchanged a thrilled glance with Leslie before Neil Clearwater began to read from the sheet of parchment that he held in his pale hands.
A small, ruddy-faced boy hurried to start the group of new Dalwhinnie students.
"Corren, Leslie!" Frank McLaughlin yelled through the confusion of first years.
Alfie watched Leslie leave his side with a strange reluctance. Her light brown curls bounced as she rushed to join Cameron Braithwaite's side and when she saw that he was still watching her, she grinned and threw him a wink. Hoping that nobody would notice, hid his hands inside the folds of his robes and crossed his fingers. Within the growing houses of Dalwhinnie and Turnberry, he could spot the boy who had tripped him on the train and another who had pointed and laughed at him as he had fallen. Although he could see a few nasty looking people in the Broadstone assemblage, at least he would have Leslie.
Fortunately, after a few more names were read out, Frank called, "McDonnell, Alfred!"
From her place on the grass, Leslie could see the barely concealed relief on Alfie's face as he pushed through the throng of impatient schoolchildren. She had decided that she quite liked this slight, bespectacled boy. Not in the way that she was liked the feeling grass tickling her bare arms or in the way that she liked the sound of rain pattering onto windowpanes, but similar to how she liked spending time with Mr Henderson. The two males had nothing in common with each other; not in height, not in looks, not in taste and not in behaviour. Mr Henderson, who most resembled Leslie, was unitentionally blunt, brash and childish, whereas Alfie appeared uptight, shy and relied on intelligence rather than brawn. However, Leslie got pleasure out of speasking to both of them; Mr Henderson because they were so alike, Alfie because they were so different.
"Um... Why exactly are you lying on the ground?" Alfie asked suddenly. He looked down at Leslie - who sprawled out on the damp grass, propping herself up with her elbows - in confusion.
Leslie shrugged. "Got tired of standing."
"Right," Alfie nodded in mock understanding. After a while of shifting uncomfortably by her side, he gestured over to where Frank McLaughlin was waving his hands for silence. "Are you going to be getting up any time tonight? Looks like we'll be leaving soon."
Sure enough, almost immediately after Leslie had pulled herself to her feet, the Broadstone prefect was instructing his House on what to do next; "Make a line! No pushing, you'll want to make a good impression!"
In all of three minutes, the muddle of first years had formed three orderly channels and were making their way eagerly towards the castle entrance. Leslie's leather lace-up boots made a satisfying clunk as she ascended the flight of granite stairs and entered through the polished oak double doors. Her blue eyes widened and mouth was tugged into a wide grin as she gazed around, breathtaken.
The Entrance Hall was about the size of the entire first floor of Adelaire Orphanage and was lit only by Medieval style flaming torches that were held up with brackets. Apart from the two spiral staircases placed at opposite ends of the room, the flagstone floor was completely bare. Two walls were almost completely covered with at least fifteen gateways and a strange assortment of squint, moving portraits. The third wall, the one that Frank McLaughlin was leading them towards, housed only one huge semi-circular door.
As soon as he opened it, Leslie and the others were met with a rush of delicious smells, many loud voices and - to Alfie's pleasure - warmth. Students crowded around the three long tables that had been evenly spread out in the middle of the room. They were large and grand, carved from rich, dark wood and highly polished. Enormous banners had been hung above them; a red one with the black outline of a squirrel over the one furthest to the left, a yellow one with the image of a wildcat over the middle one and a blue hanging with a picture of a wolf over the left one. Each of the three tables had been separately decorated with placemats, coasters and napkins to match the colour of the banners above. They had been set with plates that were bigger than Leslie's head, fancy silverware and gleaming golden goblets. Massive, empty serving platters lined the length of the tables.
At the end of the room, on a platform, was a fourth table that sat the staff. Leslie recognised Professor Lupin talking animatedly to a middle aged man who was wearing a red velvet fez.
As well as the same Medieval looking torches that had been in the Entrance Hall, levitating candles were drifting over the heads of the pupils, dimly lighting the Dining Hall with a yellowish glow. In each corner of the room, a violin sat snugly, invisible hands plucking the same slow but cheerful tune.
The lines of younger pupils were split up as they followed their prefect up the spaces between the tables. Frank McLaughlin led Leslie's group to the blue table with the bold black image of a wolf above it. As Alfie watched the eyes of the older children turn to look at the new first years, he couldn't help but reach forward and grab Leslie's arm for reassurance. It felt as if he were standing in a spotlight and he now understood what Frank McLaughlin had meant by trying to make a good impression. Therefore, it came as a great relief when they finially came to the empty half of the table and Alfie found a place on the bench to sit on.
When all of the first years had settled, a man rose from the staff table. Everything about him seemed purposeful; from the neatly cropped stubble running along his lower jaw, to the jet-black hair that covered his head in a scruffy yet carefully placed manner. Piercing blue eyes shone from behind his glasses, which were small, rectangular and placed in such a perfect position that Leslie wouldn't have been surprised if he had spent hours adjusting them so that they rested on just the right place of his nose. He wore robes of deep midnight blue that were embroided with tiny silver stars and trailed along the wooden platform as he walked. Despite his young age - by the looks of it, he was in his mid twenties or, at a stretch, his early thirties - Leslie found herself gaping in respect.
Apparently, she was not the only one, for as soon as the man reached the edge of the stage, the whole room - even the fiddles in the corners - fell silent to listen to what he had to say.
"Welcome to another year of Elvindor Academy of Magic," he was surprisingly soft-spoken and had a prominent Scottish accent. "Before we begin our feast, I have a few start of term notices. First of all, I would like to point out a couple of changes in staff." The Headmaster, Professor Moon, nodded first to a tall blonde woman sitting at the end of the teacher's table and then to Professor Lupin. "Verity Flint is to join our Transfiguration department and Remus Lupin shall be taking over as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher."
The room broke into a round of applause as Lupin and Flint stood up. Most children just nodded politely, but Leslie made sure to be in the minority that clapped and cheered with great enthusiasm. She caught Lupin's eye and he gave her a small smile, his blue-grey eyes twinkling.
"As per usual, Quidditch trials will begin on the 20th," Professor Moon continued once the noise had died down. "Anybody interest should collect a permission slip from Mr Waffling.
"Last of all, all students should be reminded not to cross the old railway track on the school grounds. That is; unless you want to get stuck in a bog and eaten by a particularly nasty species of man-eating slug."
A Turnberry first year, Fergus Jenkins, began to laugh. He quickly attempted to cover it up with a cough when the Professor Moon directed a particularly irritated glare at him and he realised that the Headmaster was being deadly serious.
"I'm afraid you're all now bored of my voice. Fear not, I won't take up any more of your time. Let the feast begin!"
As soon as Professor Moon had raised his arms and clapped his hands together, food appeared on the empty platters in the middle of the tables. Leslie could not help but gasp in amazement as she stared at the colourful array of vegetables, gravies and meats laid out in front of her, half which she hadn't even realised existed. Wasting no time, she leaned forwards and began to pile her plate high with roast beef, chestnut stuffing, carrots, peas, brussel sprouts, bread pudding. By the time she got around to pouring a big glug of gravy over everything, she was grinning like a Cheshire cat and licking her lips in an attempt to stop her mouth from watering.
Halfway through her meal, she realised that she was so full that she would have to have a rest or risk throwing up. Glancing up from her plate, she saw quite a few other people in the same situation as her. A third-year boy in Dalwhinnie House was looking down at his food longingly and she could see the teacher with the red velvet fez clutching his stomach while saying, "I think I've eaten too much again". Beside her, Alfie was nibbling at half of a roast potato.
"You eat like a starved animal!" he laughed when he noticed her looking at him.
Leslie was glad to see that he had relaxed considerabley since they had first enered the Dining Hall. He was speaking softly and couldn't quite bring himself to lift his gaze from his parsnips, but his shoulders were no longer as tense and she had caught him having a conversation with Rosalyn Parsons just a few minutes ago.
"You're not far off it!" she replied without thinking and quickly regretted it. She didn't want to let Alfie know about her lycanthropy. Not yet. Not until she knew that she could trust him completely.
Alfie's eyebrows furrowed, but he didn't comment. Instead, he finished his roast potato and tried to change the subject, "A-are you excited for tomorrow? I can't wait to start all our classes!"
"Yeah, I suppose," when Leslie had been told that she had been invited to a magical school, she hadn't exactly been thinking of all of the work that she would have to do. In fact, the only thought that had run through her mind was that she would no longer have to stay at Adelaire Orphanage.
"I think we'll be getting our timetables tomorrow," Alfie chirped. "Hope we get History of Magic in first year!"
"Why d'you want to do History of Magic?" Leslie snapped out of her thoughts of Adelaire. "Sounds pretty boring to me."
Alfie narrowed his eyes and soon they were involved in such a deep discussion about which subjects they thought were important that they almost didn't notice all of the food disappearing. The massive platters were empty for a split second before pudding arrived. Leslie laughed in delight as she caught sight of a huge sticky toffee pudding. As she poured cream over her generous slice, Alfie's face lit up in pure pleasure as he took a bite of his rhubarb crumble.
When she had finished every last morsel in her bowl, Leslie sat back on her bench. Surrounded by cheerful chatter and her stomach blissfully full, she realised that this had been the best night of her entire night. It beat lying outside in the grassy hollow while daydreaming about ordinary life. She might even have today over the many hours that she had spent talking and laughing with Mr Henderson. And if she got to eat like this every night, Leslie reckoned that she would probably be able to get through any amount of homework.
"You can't keep letting them do this to you, Alf,"
Situated at the top of one of the castle towers was the first year boys dormitory. It felt small and snug, consisting of an open fireplace, a couple of armchairs and a wide bookcase. When the boys had first arrived, the four beds had been immaculately made with uncreased white sheets, perfectly fluffed pillows and thick patch-work quilts. At the end of each had been a trunk with blue flannel pyjamas laid out on top. Now, as little as half an hour later, the neat little piles had all been replaced with crumpled heaps of robes that the boys had discarded in the process of getting ready for bed.
There was one door, behind which was a tiled bathroom which housed both a shower and a bath, a toilet and two large sinks. At the opposite end of the room was a small hatch, if opened would reveal a ladder down to the Broadstone common room. Four thin windows occupied the other two walls of the rectangular dormitory.
When he had been sure that the other boys were sleeping, Alfie had crept across the polished wooden floor and hidden in a deep alcove. Restless and unable to sleep, he stared out of the window and out onto the castle grounds. It was not the rusty railway tracks that wound down the steep mountain cliff that he was looking at, nor at the open moonlit glen. Instead, his gaze was directed at the towering forest of dark pine trees.
"The Elven Folk have always been very shy," Patrick McDonnell told his son. "Ever since the beginning of time, they have hidden away in the shadows and hardly ever show their faces. Over the years, they have built secret towns inside forests and caves all over the world. I met your mother on my visit to Ireland. Her dad was the ruler of Ciad, the first ever elven city."
"If elves are so shy, how did you find my mum?" even though Alfie already knew the answer, this was his queue to ask the question.
"By complete chance," Patrick replied. He was facing his son, but Alfie could tell that his eyes were as far away as his thoughts. "On the last day of my visit, I was out on a walk to pass the time. Carys had been collecting the last wildflowers before winter. That was how I first saw her; knee deep in grass. Her skin was as pale as snow and her hair was raven-black. Just like yours, Alf," Patrick added, running his fingers through the mess of curls that covered Alfie's head. "Forest green eyes and berry-red lips. Only came up to my shoulder, she was so small." He paused, his mouth suddenly twitching into a frown. His voice was much softer the next time he spoke, "I loved her so much. More than you could ever imagine. That was how you were born, little boy."
Alfie was always asleep before he could hear Patrick's next line.
The dark pine branches looked like strange, waving arms as they swayed in the wind. Their crooked bodies brushed against each other, making it too dark to see further than about a metre into the woods. Alfie couldn't help but wonder whether there was a secret elf community living inside this forest too, and whether or not relatives of his existed amongst them. Did he have elf grandparents? Aunts, uncles or cousins?
Suppressing a sigh, Alfie realised that he may never know. He was mildly surprised at his own disappointment. Ever since he had discovered that it was frowned upon for elves and humans - wizards, even - to mix, he had decided that he wanted nothing to do with his mother's side of the family. All he wanted was to be normal. That was why he kept his hair long; so that he could use it to hide his pointed ears, the most obvious giveaway that he wasn't supposed to have been born. People seemed more than able to find fault with him without knowing that he was half-breed.
A chilly draught crept through the window frame, making Alfie shiver. Pulling his knees up to his chest, he huddled against the wall in an attempt to keep warm. It was to the gentle snoring of his three roommates that Alfie drifted off to sleep, moonlight washing over his freckled face and making his brown hair gleam.
Made on the-dark-arts; unfortunately, I don't think it uploaded where it should have...