A big thanks to everyone who participated in our fanfiction contest! Our judges had a great time reviewing your submissions and as one editor put it, we were “rolling in nostalgia and feelings.”
The winners are:
Winner: “A Powerful Gryffindor” by Casey Allen
Runner-Up: “Risk” by Samuel Hedley
Runner-Up: “Platform 9 3/4” by Angelika M. Offenwanger
Read the winning stories below to revel in your own nostalgia for Harry Potter.
“A Powerful Gryffindor” by Casey Allen
Peter Pettigrew could feel beads of sweat falling down his neck.
After watching more than half of the frightened first-years being sorted into their respective houses without too much hesitation on the hat’s part, Peter was increasingly aware of how long he had been sitting in front of the entire school with the too-large hat slipping over his eyes. He desperately hoped his cheeks weren’t as red as they felt.
“Yes, I see much ambition in you…a great desire to prove yourself,” the hat’s small voice said in his ear, wrapping up a long thought about why Slytherin would help him achieve his potential.
Peter wasn’t surprised. He did feel an undeniable pressure to prove himself. His parents had filled his childhood with hopes and wishes for what he would become. He could still remember exactly what they had whispered to him right before he bounded on to the Hogwarts Express.
“Learn everything you can, Peter!” his father, a proud Ravenclaw, had fervently said. “That way nothing will be closed off to you. You can choose any career, anything you could want!”
His mother, a bold Gryffindor, had encouraged him in a different way. “Don’t be afraid to take chances! And stand up for what’s right!”
Peter hated the thought of what his parents would think if he failed them, but even the sorting hat didn’t seem to know what to do with him. Even he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go. All he knew was that he wanted to take chances, like his mother said. He had to make something of himself.
“However,” the hat continued to muse, “you have nerve. Yes, you have the bravery and daring to become a powerful Gryffindor.”
Peter seized on the hat’s comment. A powerful Gryffindor! The thought overcame him with joy. He had potential and the Hat could sense it!
The hat still seemed to be struggling with its decision. “Difficult indeed…where to put you…”
Peter flushed again when he thought of how long he had been sitting on this hard stool. Surely this had taken longer than five minutes…maybe he could prod the hat, hurry it along somehow.
I want to take chances, Peter thought as fervently as he could, repeating the phrase over and over inside his head. He truly desired to be the powerful Gryffindor the Hat saw in him.
The hat seemed to hesitate and Peter couldn’t breathe for a moment, awaiting the final verdict. This would determine everything.
“GRYFFINDOR!” the Sorting Hat finally roared out to the Great Hall.
Peter knew his cheeks would be burning red as he whipped the hat off and ran to the table on the far left decorated with thick red and gold banners, determined to be out of the spotlight. He took the first open seat he saw and focused his eyes forward as Professor McGonagall called out “Potter, James!”
A few short moments later James bounded over to the Gryffindor table. His air of confidence made Peter envious and he tried to catch the boy’s eye, hoping he would take the empty seat next to him.
But James never even glanced at Peter. He headed straight toward a long-haired boy sitting further down the table who also sported the same self-assured grin. They high fived and James shoved himself into a spot next to the long-haired boy, forcing Peter to scoot down a seat. Peter leaned forward to hear what James was saying to his friend.
“Way to make Gryffindor, Sirius!”
“I can probably expect a howler from my mum about it tomorrow,” replied Sirius, though the thought made him laugh.
Peter watched them for the duration of the dinner. He found himself longing to joke and laugh with them. When James casually messed with his untidy hair, Peter did the same because he thought the gesture looked so cool. These boys seemed bold and daring, exactly what Gryffindor House was all about.
If he wanted to become the powerful Gryffindor the sorting hat clearly saw within him, maybe he should fall in with these boys.
Peter stirred slightly as a light shaking accompanied the soft voice, but he didn’t open his eyes.
Peter rolled over in his bed, still extremely groggy, and saw the rough outline of two of his best friends kneeling at his side. “Wha–?”
“Ssssh!” Sirius hissed, clamping a hand over Peter’s mouth. “Come downstairs and we’ll talk.”
James and Sirius stood up and quietly slipped out of the dormitory door. Peter’s body begged him to roll back over and slide back into unconsciousness but quickly his mind was awakening with curiosity about what his friends were planning. He stood, pausing anxiously when the bed frame creaked, and followed his friends out the door.
The stairs and common room were dark with the late hour, but after five years of living in Gryffindor Tower, Peter didn’t need much light to make his way around the space. He collapsed in an armchair next to James and sighed irritably.
“I was trying to get some sleep before tomorrow’s transfiguration exam!” Peter said, louder now that their sleeping friend wasn’t in earshot. “McGonagall insisted that this material would be likely to come up in the O.W.L. in a few months and–”
James snorted. “Come on, that test will be a breeze. Don’t stress it.”
Peter remained silent, just as he always did when James told him to stop worrying about school work. How could James or Sirius understand anyway? They were both incredibly talented. Neither one seemed to realize that Peter’s skills didn’t come as effortlessly.
“Anyway,” Sirius said, “we’re going to add an element of surprise to Moony’s birthday celebrations.”
That was what this was about? Peter thought with a frown.
“Sirius and I decided to get Moony a special date for his birthday!”
“With who?” asked Peter, wondering where this was going.
James rolled his eyes. “Don’t be thick! Mary Macdonald of course!”
Peter sighed. Mary was in their year at Hogwarts and in Gryffindor. In the past year Remus had started to fancy her. Unfortunately for him, she was perfectly content with just being friends. “But Mary is already going out with some bloke in Ravenclaw house.”
Sirius and James exchanged grins. “That’s because Mary hasn’t gotten a taste of our famous love potion yet.”
Peter sighed. Love potions were banned from Hogwarts, but he didn’t mention that fact. It wasn’t likely to bother Sirius or James.
“Look, I don’t think I have time to—”
“It doesn’t matter. Padfoot and I are going to make the actual potion,” James interjected. “We already got the instructions and we have the plan to get her to drink it. All we need you to do is get permission from Professor Slughorn to snag a couple special supplies from his personal stores.”
Peter frowned, feeling bitter. They had already come up with the entire plan without him, as always. “Just ask him yourself!”
James and Sirius smiled sheepishly. “We’re not exactly on the best of terms with Slughorn at the moment,” said James.
“Remember the hair-loss potion we made in class last week?” asked Sirius. “We snuck some into a drink for Slughorn.”
“And for Mrs. Norris!”
“Slughorn didn’t find it funny somehow…”
“Neither did Filch.”
Both James and Sirius sniggered.
“But you are a normal student! He will never think anything of your request,” said James.
“Just tell him you’re practicing for O.W.L.s!” Sirius exclaimed and both he and James laughed, as if the thought of studying for an important exam was ridiculous.
“I don’t know about this,” Peter said hesitantly. This didn’t feel like an innocent prank to him. He sure didn’t expect Remus to find it funny when he found out Mary was only interested him temporarily due to the potion’s effects. He also felt like this would hurt both Mary and whomever she was currently dating, neither of whom had done anything to deserve this.
Worse, though, he wished he had thought of the plan. James and Sirius would have been impressed. Maybe then they would include him more in future plans. He had spent years trying to be more like them but here they were, asking for his help simply because he wasn’t like them. That hurt more than he cared to admit.
“Come on, Wormtail! Be brave!” James insisted, though sounding slightly sarcastic.
Peter sighed softly, bitterness rising slightly towards his friends. He couldn’t help but feel that the braver course of action would be to talk them out of the plan. However, he was so tired of them acting like he was too pathetic to add much value to their plans and right now they actually needed him.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Want to go sit out by the lake?” Peter asked Remus as they exited the Great Hall, having finished breakfast.
“I would, but I’ve got to study for my last N.E.W.T. this afternoon,” Remus replied. “I’ll catch you later, if this exam doesn’t kill me first.” He grimaced and took off in the direction of the library, leaving Peter alone in the entrance hall.
James would certainly be off with Lily and Sirius was still in the Great Hall, flirting with whatever girls hadn’t left the Gryffindor table yet. Peter didn’t feel like watching so he made his way outside alone.
He had one week left at Hogwarts. He was unsure of the future, but he was also excited at the prospect of finally being rid of the constant shadow of his cooler friends. Following James and Sirius around wasn’t fun anymore.
He was startled out of his thoughts when a rough shoulder shoved against his. He glanced over to see Snape with one of his creepy friends, Avery.
“Pettigrew,” Snape said shrewdly.
“Snivellus,” Peter replied curtly. Snape’s hands immediately curled into fists and Peter regretted using that nickname. He didn’t know exactly how to interact with Snape without James and Sirius. Rarely had such a situation occurred. Peter didn’t actually have anything against Snape. Secretly, he felt sorry for him.
“Where are your big friends, Pettigrew?” Avery taunted. Peter ignored them and continued to walk towards the lake but the two Slytherins followed him.
“It’s cute that he thinks they’re his friends.” Avery went on.
Peter stopped in his tracks and faced them. “Of course they’re my friends!” he cried, a little too quickly.
The two boys laughed. Snape spoke up first. “Come on, everyone can see how you follow them around like a puppy. They tolerate you for the attention.”
Avery smirked. “Grow up, Pettigrew. You’re not eleven anymore.”
Humiliated, Peter turned to walk away, saying nothing. What the boys were saying hit home. Was it really that obvious that he wasn’t a valuable member of the group?
Snape was persistent and walked beside him. “You should get new friends—friends that actually put your talent to good use.”
Peter eyed him wearily, though intrigued. Snape’s voice had a slightly nicer tone to it now. He seemed to be serious.
Snape went on. “If you were to, say, meet up with us after school, you could do important things. Powerful things.”
Peter snorted. “Save your breath, Snape, I’m not interested in being a Death Eater.”
“Aren’t you?” Snape asked, unphased by Peter’s rejection. “The Dark Lord rewards his followers. He values them and shares power with them. He gives them important jobs to do. That’s more than you can say for Potter and Black.”
Peter didn’t say anything, so Snape continued. “The Dark Lord is taking over everywhere. There is nothing to be gained by refusing him. If you join now, you can take part in the power. If not, you’ll follow his orders your whole life anyway.”
Peter frowned, not sure what to think. “I just don’t think it would be right.”
Snape shrugged. “Do whatever you want. But just think about it. Think about Potter and Black and how they treat people and then tell us who you think is ‘in the right.’”
Snape and Avery stalked off, leaving Peter to his thoughts. Part of him was angry with himself. He should’ve been braver. He should’ve stood up for himself more.
The other part of him felt frightened that Snape might be right.
Peter raced through the streets of Godric’s Hollow as a rat. He slipped through passersby completely unnoticed as he made his way to James’s house. His mind was wracked with anxiety. He didn’t know why James had sent such an urgent owl.
His heart skipped a beat as he thought that maybe James had figured out his secret. He hadn’t told his fellow Order of the Phoenix members that he was fraternizing with Death Eaters. Originally, he thought they would be impressed with the information he would give them about the Dark Lord, but he could never get himself to tell. He hated to admit it, but the fear of the Dark Lord’s retaliation was too great. Besides, the Death Eaters found his information valuable. They needed him.
For a moment Peter considered turning back, but instead he slipped through a crack in the fence and made his way to the back door of the small house. James immediately opened the door. He had been waiting.
“Glad you both made it here okay,” James said once Peter was in a human form again. Peter looked behind him and saw Sirius was there, seated at a table in the kitchen.
“Me too,” Sirius agreed solemnly.
Peter and James joined him at the table.
Peter frowned. He couldn’t ever remember seeing Sirius and James so serious before. “What’s going on?” he asked, secretly frightened to know the answer.
James and Sirius exchanged a quick look before James replied, “Lily and I have decided to go into hiding. Dumbledore is trying to keep this quiet, even from all the members of the Order, but…You-Know-Who is after us.”
Peter tried to hide his relief that they didn’t seem to suspect him. “After you specifically?”
James’s normally gleeful, mischievous eyes were filled with concerned tears. “Worse. He’s after Harry.”
Peter looked over to the corner of the small sitting room where the one-year-old boy was cooing softly as he stirred a toy cauldron. He met James’s eye again. “He’s after…your baby?” He tried to pretend that this wasn’t news to him, though rumors had spread among the Death Eaters for over a week.
Sirius nodded. “Dumbledore has his reasons. You-Know-Who heard that a child had been born that could destroy him, and something happened that made him believe it’s Harry.”
“We can’t take any chances with this. We are going to be here in hiding under the Fidelius Charm for quite some time,” James explained.
“So, what do you need from me?” Peter was wondering what all this would have to do with him. He hoped they wouldn’t need him to do something dangerous.
“We told Dumbledore that I would be the Secret Keeper for them,” Sirius said. “But we talked more and we think the Secret Keeper should be you.”
Peter gasped. He couldn’t help but smile. Maybe after all these years, his friends thought he was of real value to them. They trusted him with this crucial task! “I’d be honored to help you!” he gushed without thinking.
James sighed, clearly relieved. “We knew this was a good idea. Sirius is too high profile. We thought that if the Death Eaters are looking for anyone in my family, they would of course go to him first.”
“Especially with half my family supporting You-Know-Who!” Sirius chimed in. “But you, Wormtail, the Death Eaters probably don’t know you exist. We doubted anyone knows that you’re in the Order at all. You’re still low-profile enough that this could actually work!”
Peter felt his initial smile slipping away quickly. The humiliation he had felt in his school days came rushing back. Nothing had changed at all. His friends didn’t respect him; they simply thought him so pathetic that no one would ever take him seriously.
James grabbed Peter in an affectionate hug. “This will work, I know it! I can’t tell you how grateful we are” he said earnestly. Then he walked over to Harry and picked up his son in a tender embrace.
Peter stood still, raging inside. He kept his face impassive. He didn’t want them to see what he was feeling. They would never be able to understand. They never had before.
Sirius grinned, looking more like his normal self. “Thanks for being so brave, Wormtail. We knew you’d do anything to help. Let’s do it tonight.”
Peter had been running for hours, as fast as his small rat legs could carry him. He was still shaken by the events of the last two days. He was exhausted but fear kept him going until his mind and his severed finger were numb.
His dreams of being influential were over with the Dark Lord gone. The Death Eaters would kill him in an instant if they found him. They would think him a traitor, as if he could’ve foreseen the Dark Lord unable to kill a baby.
He had also confronted Sirius. He felt some guilt about Sirius taking the blame for what he’d done, but he knew Sirius would never stop hunting him down. He was the only person who knew what Peter was. Better that he be locked away.
He had been so powerful, holding the very information the Dark Lord was so desperate to have. But it was all over. Disappointment and regret washed over him and he started to slow down. He paused in the cover of a garden, finally deciding to rest.
Then a new thought entered his mind. Because of him, a talented witch and wizard were dead, another strong wizard would certainly be imprisoned, and the most feared wizard in the world was likely vanquished forever.
Peter smirked slightly. No one could now deny that he had become a powerful Gryffindor.
“Risk” by Samuel Hedley
In the early hours of July 15th 1981, Alma Okoye strode down the corridors of the Ministry with her usual poise and purpose. Far too early for ordinary working hours, there were no enchantments illuminating the space with imitation daylight. Instead, there was only flickering candlelight to catch the bounce of her natural curls as she walked, and the high cheekbones beneath her rich, amber-brown skin. A witch with a propensity for sneaking might appreciate that darkness, but Alma had never been the hiding sort.
Her mustard-coloured robes announced that well enough.
Halfway along the corridor, she stopped and pulled a pocket watch from her sleeve. It was 5:30 in the morning. This was early enough to avoid any curious colleagues, but not so early that they’d refuse to believe that she was simply here to make a head-start.
Aurors were busy in these dark days, after all. Everyone had a mountain of paperwork to catch up on, and she had always been diligent. Enough that—
“Now, really, Okoye. Bright yellow, this early in the morning?”
Her head snapped up, staring into the familiar-sounding darkness. Alma had prepared to cross paths with her Ministry colleagues, but the owner of this voice fell firmly outside of that category.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Alma said.
“Oh, relax. You know I can handle myself.” Off-beat, the slim, boyish figure of Linnaea Kipswick slipped into the light. The shadows seemed to cling to her somehow. Alma couldn’t be sure whether her eyes were deceiving her, or whether there was some spell at play. Probably both.
Alma tried to keep a stern expression as she surveyed her fellow Order member, lips pressed firmly together until they had to part to speak. “It’s a serious offence. You’d go straight to Azkaban. Breaking and entering. Ministerial trespass…”
“Only if anyone sees. Anyway, I’m with you, aren’t I?”
“We’re not supposed to associate publicly. You know that.”
Lin tapped her chest with one hand, playing wounded. “One day I’ll meet a girl who isn’t ashamed to be seen with me.”
“Woman,” Alma corrected.
“Intriguing,” said Lin, “how that’s the part of the sentence you object to. Anyway.” She clapped her hands together, satisfied she had won — and smirk widening in triumph as she caught Alma smiling too. “I’m not here to be seen, I’m here to help.”
“Generous, I’m sure,” said Alma. “But I know what I’m doing. It’s foolish even to have this conversation here.”
“Aha,” said Lin. “See, my contribution’s already started. I’ve got a real beauty of a concealment charm on both of us. Makes our entire conversation sound like it’s about the weather, to an outsider.”
Alma wrinkled her nose. “That can’t possibly work.”
“Look. With an attitude like this, d’you think I’d ever be allowed into the Order if I couldn’t do incredible things?”
Lin spread her hands, not in the least bit offended. “Well, then.”
This wasn’t the first time Alma had heard talk about Lin’s abilities. They’d never actually worked on a mission together, but they were close friends — and according to Order talk, Lin’s misdirection magic was beyond compare. Still, it was difficult to separate the truth from the bluster when it came from Lin’s own mouth, and a spell like the one she had just described would be enormously complicated.
“I can practically hear you doubting me,” Lin announced. “Just in case you thought you were being subtle.”
“And if anyone knows about subtlety, it’s you.”
“Hm. Touché.” Lin stepped closer again. Sure enough, the shadows gripped her cloak like reluctant static. “Anyway, shouldn’t we get a move on? Won’t be long before the early bird crowd rolls through.”
Alma still didn’t think Lin’s presence was necessary, but what she said was true enough. Before long, colleagues would begin to filter in, and this task would be a lot harder with potential witnesses milling about. She dropped the argument for now, lifting her wand to tap against the doorway.
“If you insist on this unnecessary risk-”
“And I do,” Lin added, good-natured.
“-Then you’re going to need to do exactly as I tell you.” The door opened, and Alma stepped through it, assuming that Lin would follow her footsteps, if not her instructions. “The way things work here is very specific, and you’ll stick out badly if it’s clear you don’t know it.”
“Right,” said Lin, sounding more like ‘I won’t’. This wasn’t unexpected. Frankly, obedience would be more surprising. “But you need to know the plan.”
“Linnaea. I have a plan. I’ve been working on this for weeks.”
“Great,” said Lin, “but two things. One: sorry, your planning efforts were wasted. Two: not to worry, because we have my far superior plan to follow instead.”
Alma’s temples begin to tense. “Seeing as you don’t know what I was intending on doing, I’d love to know how you came to the conclusion that your idea is better.”
“Oh, gladly. See… I actually don’t know anything about your idea, except for one detail. You were going to do it alone. Which means…” she said, stopping to crane her curious neck down an empty corridor until Alma steered her onward. “Which means you would have been the one clearing the blood purity records yourself. Correct?”
Lin nodded. “I thought so. No alibi, then. And since it wouldn’t be too hard for them to narrow down who has access and who might have been here early this morning, particularly if they notice they’ve been destroyed straight away…”
She trailed off — and she wasn’t wrong, of course. Alma had been relying on the hope that nobody would notice the records had been altered until several days later, when it would be much harder to follow the trail. She had accepted the risk that this might not happen, and that she might be caught. Clearing out these records, which could be used as a cheat-sheet to identify and track down the ‘most tainted’ wizarding families, was hugely important to the Order. Alma had simply come to terms with the idea that it was worth being imprisoned for.
With Lin beside her, lively and persistent and inventive, Alma had to admit that the prospect was as little less attractive now. Some part of her wanted to dig her heels in. To rebel, and to escape without detection.
That didn’t make Lin’s presence here any less reckless. This entire thing was extremely dangerous. Since she was here and seemed about as easy to dismiss as a flock of amorous Veela chasers, though? Alma supposed she might as well go along with it.
“So here’s what we’re going to do instead,” said Lin. “You’re going to open the door for me. Then you’re immediately going to go and bump into somebody. Preferably coming out of your office, so that they’ll assume you’ve been in there for a while. I’m going to destroy everything and sneak out of here about as easily as I sneaked in. Maybe with a disguise, if I need it. I’ve got an amazing character ready. Been polishing up on my French so I can be this fancy Parisian security delegate, who-”
“And if anybody happened to have seen us together already, or watched me open the door for you?”
Lin shrugged as if this were no great obstacle. “Imperius Curse.”
“I will not-”
“No, no! Morgana’s knees. I mean you should say you were under the Imperius Curse. They all claim it when they get caught. I don’t see why we can’t.”
Alma wrinkled her nose. She had always been one for details. Before she arrived today, she’d run over the scenario in her head a hundred times. Now, she’d practically be improvising. Alma was a capable witch and she knew it, but this didn’t require magical skill or quick thinking. It needed lies and luck, and neither were reliable.
“Trust me,” Lin insisted, reaching out to pat Alma’s arm. Through her robe, the contact left an eerie chill on her skin — a trace of that disillusionment charm. The strength of it was some comfort. “I know what I’m doing. Besides, less risk this way.”
“For me,” Alma corrected. “Much more risk for you. You should be asleep at home.”
“Well…” Lin shrugged one shoulder, the shadow lingering for a moment in the space it had briefly occupied. “Maybe I couldn’t sleep.”
“You broke into the Ministry,” Alma said, tone blank. “Knowing that so much of it is overrun by Death Eaters, and without being compelled to do so, at five in the morning, because you couldn’t sleep?”
The tall witch shrugged again, turning her head to meet Alma’s eyes. “Said maybe, didn’t I?” Lin’s hair was its usual short swoop of rusty brown, longer on the top and almost entirely shaved down on the sides. In the ear that faced away from Alma, there’d be a dangling silver cross that didn’t match the simple stud on this side. Usually her skin was the kind of pale white that inspired a bunch of vampire jokes, but right now it was prickled with pink heat across the bridge of her nose.
Faced with that pink, it wouldn’t take a Seer to detect her motivations. Considering that Alma could have recited all these visual details and more from a well-built mental picture instead of needing to look at Lin’s face, it was fair to say they weren’t ill-placed.
Now wasn’t the time for that conversation, though. That was the trouble with this kind of behind-the-scenes war. The raw dread crept up on you all the time. It had the effect of throwing a harsh spotlight onto feelings that really ought to be expressed, especially right now — but it also made you too afraid to pause and commit yourself to such vulnerable conversations without looking over your shoulder. There was no time to let your guard down or take a breath.
Alma prided herself on being a brave person. She’d always be a Gryffindor, through and through. Still, she was as susceptible to fundamental human fear as the next person. Somehow, speaking those affections out loud would make them real. With people vanishing left, right and centre, part of her was terrified that they’d be tempting fate. Inviting loss.
She’d lost enough already. They all had.
“Well, it was good of you to come,” she said, filling up the difficult silence. It was then that the candlelight gave way to the false natural daylight, filtering in as though the walls could hear them wasting time. Alma ardently hoped that they couldn’t. “Alright. Better get a move on. Not far now.”
They picked up the pace, even Lin hastened by the thought of other Ministry employees strolling by. By the time they reached the door of the records room, Alma’s heart was pounding. That Gryffindor bravery was facing a serious stress-test this morning. She could only hope that she at least looked solid and untroubled. Focusing all her energy on keeping her hand steady, she lifted her wand to the access glass and gave it a firm tap.
The stones overhanging the doorway lifted slowly out of the way, perhaps a little grumpy at being disturbed so early. Now, the door could open unobstructed.
Alma turned to face Lin, gripped by a sudden horror. Surely she couldn’t just leave her here for the sake of saving her own skin — for acquiring her own alibi. Not Lin. Surely…
“Go on,” Lin insisted. She squeezed Alma’s shoulder. The same ghostly fingerprints of Lin’s spell-work cooled her skin and sent a chill down her spine. “You have work to do.”
With that Lin stepped into the records room, tugging the door behind her. A fraction of a second before it closed, she caught it and leaned back out again.
“This does open from the inside, doesn’t it?”
“Good. Just checking. Go.”
There was no more time for nervousness or complaints, and standing here waiting would look more suspicious than anything else. For lack of anything better to do, Alma’s feet carried her away from the records room and towards her own office, cycling through the bare bones of Lin’s plan in her mind.
It didn’t help. New worries plagued her with every step. Would Lin even be able to find the right records, in such a vast and unwelcoming archive? Would she know how to clear them, in the event that she did? And exactly how reliable was her route out of the Ministry, especially once it was busy and occupied?
Despite the protestations of her overworked heart, Alma reached her desk without incident. She filled out a whole stack of paperwork she’d been meaning to tackle, made productive by the nervous energy. She smiled at a number of colleagues through the window-pane, hoping that this would qualify as being seen. Once she left her room, she knew she’d have to resist the call of the records room, fighting the temptation to check if the task had been completed. Whether Lin was out and safe.
By 7:00, she couldn’t fight herself any longer. It ought to be done by now, and she had to know.
“Early start, Alma?”
The friendly voice pricked her ears as soon as she left the office. Hugo was a well-meaning man; she was quite sure he’d go on record for her, if asked to. Necessary though it was, the thought of using him in this way made her slightly queasy.
“Unfortunately so,” she said, flashing him a weak smile. “I’ve been here since… oh. Half five?”
Hugo winced. “Good grief. Were you involved in the raid on Thursday?”
“No, thank Merlin. I already had quite enough reports to file.”
“How lucky, then!” His smile creased — then vanished as he tapped his forehead. “Oh. It really is early, isn’t it? I’m in a fog; I entirely forgot. There’s a French fellow asking for you at the records room. Mordaunt doesn’t seem best pleased about it.”
Alma’s heart thrashed, objecting to the shock. Please, no. “The records room?” she asked, feigning ignorance. Hopefully, she sounded like she was trying to jog her memory. If not, she had nothing else to draw on. “French…”
“Some security delegate or other,” Hugo prompted. “He said you were expecting him.”
She snapped her fingers. “Yes, that’s it. Security. Paris. But I wasn’t expecting him until midday…”
Hugo shrugged, warm smile returning. “Well, you know how guests can be. He seems to be in quite a muddle. Maybe he came in on the long Floo…?”
“I’ll find out. Thank you, Hugo.”
If she couldn’t contain this, they were in big trouble. They were already in big trouble, really. Lin would never have asked for Alma by name if it wasn’t a last resort. If it had been anybody but Mordaunt…
She steeled herself on the final approach to the records room. Outside, she could already see Maurice Mordaunt’s imposing frame at the doorway, arms folded and face like thunder. Despite the size difference, something in Lin’s energy held its own, and she met his eyes fearlessly through a ferocious stream of ceaseless French.
His lip curled, hot with dislike. He’d never liked her. Whether it was something he saw in her face or something he detected in her allegiances, Alma wasn’t sure. It had the same effect. “This gentleman broke into the records room. Says he’s one of yours… I think.”
“Tu ne parles pas français? Avec ton nom?”
“Une moment, monsieur,” said Alma, holding up a hand to interrupt the flow of French. She tried not to look at Lin too closely, or the convincing moustache comprised of shadows on her face. “Yes, Maurice. He’s a visitor from Paris. He was supposed to be arriving later today.”
“But not, I presume, directly into the records room.”
“No,” Alma agreed. “But he’s a security expert. Presumably he was testing the system.”
“C’est très offensant,” said Lin. “Je ne suis pas un criminel!”
“Okay, monsieur,” she said, feigning irritation. “I’m sorry this wasted your time, Maurice. I suppose it will be worthwhile, if he fixes the loophole he managed to slip through.”
“He won’t even show his credentials.”
“After the raid on Thursday?” Alma pressed, pulling from Hugo’s morning chatter. “He might not have any. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of slips of paper vanished into the aether in the mess. I’ll look into it.”
“See that you do.”
She nodded, already leading Lin away. “This way, please.”
“Parle en francais!”
“Par ici, then.”
This wasn’t over. Maurice would follow up with his questions about the French delegate. Quite how she’d handle that, she wasn’t sure. Perhaps she’d have to rely on that Imperius idea after all, but she was too relieved to think about it all right now. Instead, she led Lin the long way through the Ministry and out into the young daylight, still not saying a word until they could slip into a nearby alleyway.
“You did it?”
“’Course I bloody did.”
The alleyway seemed narrower around the two of them, herding them closer together in adrenalin-fuelled joy. Lin’s eyes lit up like fiendfyre, and just as destructive. Alma could feel her war-fearing resolve slipping away, and the space between them shrinking. Their eyes locked together, intimate and bright.
Alma shook her head. Stepped away.
“You’re brilliant,” she said. “Absolutely fantastic.”
And it was true. As for the rest? She wouldn’t say it today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. Maybe not for a year — but it felt better this way. Like a promise they were making to each other, stronger than any magic.
We’re going to survive this war, Alma thought. Even at a glance, she read the same thing in Lin’s eyes. No matter what it throws at us and what it takes away, we’ll walk out the other side. And then, after all the dust has settled, I’ll tell you what you already know.
“Platform 9 3/4” by Angelika M. Offenwanger
Platform 9 3/4 is ridiculous.
No, I mean, really.
It’s pretty easy to find once you walk into King’s Cross Station—which, incidentally, is not the gothic red-brick building with all the turrets and gingerbread you see in The Chamber of Secrets movie, when Harry and Ron fly away from the station in the enchanted car. That one is St Pancras, also a train station, directly next door to King’s Cross. I know that because that’s the station I first walked into in search of Platform 9 3/4, coming straight from my hotel. I looked up at that facade, and said, “Hey, there it is!” But it wasn’t. I couldn’t find Platform 9 3/4 anywhere in there, and I’d so been looking forward to it.
I’d booked my London hotel within five minutes’ walking distance from King’s Cross, in a beautiful old townhouse on a Georgian crescent. A Jane Austen fan’s dream. Except I wasn’t a Jane Austen fan—I was in search of Harry Potter.
Yes, I’ll admit it—I was twenty years old, half-way through my college degree, and still chasing after the dream of that wizarding world. Most kids outgrow that stage by the end of middle school, but not me.
I’d spent the last three weeks before my eleventh birthday desperately waiting and hoping for that Hogwarts letter. Why three weeks? Because that’s when I finally read the book. My aunt hadn’t allowed it before then, let alone let me watch the movie—or movies, rather, as most of them were out by then. They were inappropriate, Aunty said, seductive occult claptrap, and hogwash besides.
“It’s HogWARTS,” I’d muttered under my breath when she said that—I might not have read the books, but I’d heard the other kids in my class mention it. Unfortunately I didn’t mutter quietly enough; I got sent to my room for the rest of the evening. If Aunty had only known how that fed into the whole mystique, she probably would have found another form of punishment for me than sending me upstairs to pretend I didn’t exist. The only thing in which my life differed from what the grapevine had told me of Harry’s, I felt, was that my bedroom wasn’t a cupboard under the stairs.
I found a tattered paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the library discard bin when I was ten and eleven-twelfth. Somebody must have dropped it into the bathtub, as the pages were badly wrinkled and whole chapters falling out of the binding. But the pages were all there, and that night I devoured the story in secret under my bed covers. It changed my life.
For three glorious weeks, I lived in expectation. But when the clock ticked over past midnight on the evening of my eleventh birthday and the letter hadn’t arrived, I was crushed. For a few more weeks I held onto the hope that maybe they had sent the Weasley’s Errol with my letter and he simply got lost, being that kind of owl, but as time ticked by, that hope dwindled down to a thread, and then trickled away into the sand.
There would be no Hogwarts for me, no glorious discovery of a magical identity as gifted witch, no secret world apart from the one I was living in. I struggled through high school, graduated and headed off to college—a business degree, because that’s what Aunty said was the most sensible thing to do.
Yet somewhere in there, the spark was still alive. Very faint, barely there—but when I had that chance of a trip to London, it made me choose my hotel where I did. I picked it because it was close to the British Library, which had important historic documents in its holdings that every tourist should see, and because the trains from Gatwick airport came into St Pancras Station, so it would be convenient for travel—that’s what I’d told everyone, including myself. But really, it was because of King’s Cross Station and Platform 9 3/4—as I said, they’re next door to St Pancras.
I only took time to stash my bag in the tiny bedroom on the third floor of the hotel, then slipped on my comfortable walking shoes and set out. I crossed the Euston Road with the flow of British pedestrians that seemed to pay no attention to the “Walk” and “Wait” traffic signs at the crosswalks, almost got run over by a car swooping past me from the right—a direction I hadn’t been expecting cars from—and then, heart pounding, made my way into the train station.
The wrong train station. No Platform 9 3/4 anywhere.
“No, this isn’t the place,” I heard a nasal American voice say in passing, “the Harry Potter thing is in the other station, over there. Come on, we don’t have time, we need to catch our train.” I turned my head to see a roller-suitcase-touting family of tourists in shorts and baseball caps, cameras slung around their necks, determinedly marching towards a set of downwards escalators.
Feeling slightly sheepish, I backed out of St Pancras and turned in the direction the man had indicated. Once more I let myself be swept along by the throng of pedestrians, crossed a plaza, then entered through a set of doors beneath the arches of a huge yellow stone building. And there was the sign: “To Platform 9 3/4”.
I’m not sure what I had expected—the actual pillar between the two platforms that you see in the movies? A family of a redheads with a trolley full of luggage, including an owl in a cage perched on top?
Whatever it was, it wasn’t this.
In the hall in front of the barriers—not even on the platform—crowds of tourists were roped off, waiting in a tightly packed line for their turn at “Platform 9 3/4”, as the brick wall between two shops was labelled. Half a luggage trolley was glued to the wall below the sign, loaded with a couple of half trunks and the edge of a round bird cage. Person after person stepped up to that trolley, had a scarlet-and-gold Gryffindor scarf slung around their neck, put their hands on the trolley’s handle bar, and pretended to push, while a bored-looking shop employee held out the end of the scarf behind them to make it look like it was flying out in the breeze, and another one snapped a photo with a big fancy camera. Then they were hustled off to the side to wait for their official photo to be downloaded to the computers of the adjacent Platform 9 3/4 Shop, where it could be purchased for the mere sum of £15, if not their body weight in sickles and knuts.
As I stood staring, trying to swallow past the lump of disappointment in my throat, a guy stepped up to the fake trolley. He was tall and skinny, looked to be about my own age, and had flaming red hair. “Hey, look, I’m Ron Weasley!” he cried with a big grin on his face. From the side, a giggling girl with a fall of white-blonde hair held up her phone and snapped pictures as he hammed it up for the camera.
I turned away, my sense of disappointment starting to morph into something like contempt. This was silly. What had I expected anyway? I knew it was all fake, a fictional world sprung from the head of a writer who had made millions with her stories. Yay for her.
I drifted through the glass doors into the shop, shuffled through the crowds to the shelves, half-heartedly poked at the rows of stuffed Hedwigs (they cost anywhere from £8 to £45), waved around a wooden Hermione Granger wand (£31), eyed up a £19.99 Ravenclaw t-shirt—I’d always fancied myself as a Ravenclaw—and finally decided to spend £10.50, discounted from £12.99, on a hardcover copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which had been reissued in honour of the latest movie. Might as well get some kind of souvenir from the place, as ridiculous as it was.
As I stood in line at the checkout, I heard giggling behind me.
“You said the L means pounds?” said a girl. “How much is £12.50 worth then?” Probably another American tourist—although her accent sounded really British, perhaps even with a slight French undertone.
“About two and a half galleons,” replied a guy’s voice, this one definitely British. “I wonder if Uncle Harry knows that’s how much it costs for a ballpoint pen that looks like his wand.”
What? My head turned all on its own.
Right by my elbow, in front of a display of wand-shaped pens and other knick-knacks, huddled the white-blonde girl with yet another tall skinny guy, this one with black hair tufting up all over his head like he was trying to be Harry Potter. His face looked an awful lot like the red-haired guy she’d been with earlier, the one who had put on such a show at the trolley wall.
The girl picked up a pen wand.
“Look, this one is meant to be Uncle Ron’s!” She waved the pen at a stack of pretend little Hogwarts trunks. “Alohomora!” she intoned.
Every last trunk lock sprang open.
“Oops!” The girl burst into a giggle, clapped her hand to her mouth to stifle it and ducked her head between her shoulders.
The guy tried to repress a guffaw, took the pen from her hand and gingerly put it back on its display stand, looking around to see if anyone had noticed. His shoulders shaking with silent laughter, he sidled over to the fake trunks and thumbed the locks shut, a look of determined innocence on his face.
“Come on, Teddy,” the girl said quietly, her voice full of suppressed giggles, “we had better go or we’ll miss the kids! I promised Rose and Albus I’d see them off on the train, and it’s Hugo’s first time to school.”
The guy looked up, and he saw me staring at him.
Staring, because his hair had gone pink. Bright, fluorescent pink. Right in front of my eyes.
Was nobody else seeing this? I slewed my head around. The packed shop was humming with chatter, people shuffling around from shelf to display to shelf again, scrabbling in their purses for unfamiliar pound coins, digging through their wallets for credit cards.
“How much for the Gryffindor mug?”
“Do you have the notebook in Slytherin? My daughter really wants…”
“That’s another fifty pence, please. That big silver coin there…”
“Yes, we can ship to Canada. It’ll take about…”
Nobody seemed to see a thing.
The guy’s hair slowly changed tints like an LED colour display. It smoothed out and lay down flat on his head, one soft lavender lock flopping down his forehead and over an eye that slowly closed in a wink as he looked straight back at me.
He reached for his girlfriend’s hand.
“Let’s go, Victoire,” he said softly, and I knew for sure that his voice was pitched exactly so nobody but she and I could hear it. “The Hogwarts train won’t wait for anyone.”
My book dropped to the floor.
By the time I picked it up, dusted it off, stuck it on the counter and pushed my way out of the shop, the two of them were nowhere to be seen.
But it didn’t matter. I knew where they had gone. I knew that it was all real, that somewhere behind the barrier, a large red engine stood steaming, ready to take a train-load full of eager young witches and wizards to a place of magical learning and enchantment.
A place that perhaps someday, I would get to see myself—maybe not as a student, but perhaps as the mother of one. A little girl who would set off on her adventure right here, right from this platform.
Platform 9 3/4 is the best place on Earth.