Four hours later, Beth sat hunched over in the corner, her eyes tight shut. The other girls, assuming she was asleep, were sitting neatly on the floor whispering to one another in French. Beth had heard numerous times 'vetements', which she knew meant clothes, and 'cheveux' – hair, and knowing they were talking about her, was just about ready to throw herself from the carriage if only she hadn't been magically sealed in.
It was when the girls started imitating Beth's terrified reaction to the flying carriages ('Oh Mon Dieu!! Aide! Aaaaide!') that she decided enough was enough. Stretching and yawning dramatically, she pretended to wake from a deep sleep and looked through bleary eyes at the girls on the floor, all of whom looked innocently back at her.
"Nice sleep?" asked one of the girls whose trunk was labelled 'Amelie Marron'
"Fine, thanks," said Beth through gritted teeth.
Amelie smiled and looked at her friends, who were all glamorously stifling their giggles. Beth marveled at how they could be so lady-like while being so ... evil.
"How long 'til we get to Beauxbatons?"
"Maybe 'alf an hour," said the one called Marie. "You should get into your robes."
Beth noticed for the first time that the girls were already changed, and cursed under her breath. Fully aware of the fact the other girls had neatly folded their clothes and placed them carefully into small pink bags, she opened the zip of one of her suitcases and pulled out a plastic Tesco's bag, ripped it open, and pulled out her crumpled uniform. The girls watched, amused, as she chucked it onto the floor, tried to straighten out the creases by sitting on her skirt, then turned to face the wall.
Okay, you can stop looking now, Beth tried to tell the other girls telepathically. I am getting changed, thank you ...
Getting changed is not the simplest of tasks when there are five pairs of eyes watching you, and you are squashed into the corner of a flying carriage. What made it even worse for Beth was the fact that she seemed to have grown several sizes since she had bought her uniform, and she spent ten whole minutes hopping around the carriage trying to hoist up her skirt before one of the other girls offered her hand at an enlargement spell.
Damn you Galaxy Bars, Beth thought angrily as she watched her skirt grow. Damn your chocolatey, creamy goodness.
Finally, Beth fell exhausted onto her seat, fully dressed in her uniform. The other girls had lost interest ages ago, and were now gathered around something she couldn't see on the floor. After five minutes of silently fuming, Beth was surprised when one of the girls turned to her and held up a photo.
"You know 'im?"
"Yes," Beth replied, a little confused. "That's Johnny Depp ..."
"And 'im?" the girl asked, holding up another picture.
"And zis one?"
The girl looked at the pictures carefully, then back at Beth.
"Zey are Muggles," she stated.
"Say what?" Beth said.
"Muggles. Zey are not wizards. But you, you must be a Muggleborn."
"Well ... yes, I guess." Beth waited for the girl to say something else, and when she didn't, Beth continued, "My parents didn't want me to come here. But I begged. A lot. A lot. I am quite literally the Master of Persuasion."
The girl gave Beth an odd look and turned back around to her friends. Beth sighed and leant back against the wall. Seconds later, she felt her seat starting to tilt forward and this time she followed the others' lead and gripped onto the handles. The others were excitedly chatting in French, but Beth was silent as she felt her stomach shoot up into her lungs all her internal organs started having a little party. Do not throw up. Beth ordered herself sternly. Just hang on in there, stomach. Or no Galaxy for a week. Just as her kidneys started dancing and her heart started flirting with her liver, there was a thud as the carriages hit the ground and gradually slowed to a halt.
"What is ze matter, Beth?" asked Amelie. "You are looking a little green."
"Urghaugh," was all Beth could manage in reply.
The door to the carriage flew open, jolting Beth's organs back into the right place in shock, and she picked up her suitcases and tumbled outside dazedly. Then she looked around in disbelief.
The same cathedral. The same flood of girls – only this time, in uniforms – the same carriages in the same places ...
Beth felt a little faint. Had they even moved at all?
"Ah, we are 'ere," said Amelie's calm, french voice behind her. "Eet is the same cathedral, like my sister says."
"Same cathedral?" Beth whispered.
"Well, non," Marie corrected. "Eet is looking like ze same cathedral. But..."
She fell quiet as, to Beth's astonishment, the walls of the cathedral began to melt away, to be replaced with the very real view of a dark autumn evening, and acres of grass surrounding a magnificent building. A building which Beth would have described as the closest thing to Barbie's Palace – only without the pink. There were huge, marble columns running across the front of the building, and perched on top of each was a different marble animal - birds, cats and other elegant creatures, preening themselves. From where the students stood, ran a long gravel pathway up to the double doors at the front.
There was a huge sigh of awe, Beth assumed from the first years only, as the girls looked up at the Palace. Then another sight drew their attention – all heads turned towards the enormous woman Beth had unfortunately met earlier. She emerged gracefully from her carriage, drawing herself up to her full height, and all eyes watched as she began to walk towards Barbie's Palace - Beauxbatons. Then Beth noticed the multitudes of girls were starting to merge into pairs, and the pairs were starting to follow the huge woman, and she sighed.
She turned towards the girls. One of them, Marie, was looking extremely put-out, and the other two pairs of girls were ushering her towards Beth. Saying nothing, Marie started walking towards Beauxbatons, and Beth left her suitcases and hurried forward to take her place next to her.
"So..." Beth said awkwardly. "Nice weather."
"So you have a sister here, then? What year is she in? 'Cos I don't know anyone here, and I'm kinda lost. I've only got a little sister, she's just a baby really, she doesn't count. Her name's Kitty. My parents said I could name her, since she was born on my birthday, and I wanted to call her Sue Permann ... Ha! Sue Permann. Do you get it? Do you ... well, no, I suppose it's not that funny. Anyway, they wouldn't let me so they called her Kitty. Which isn't really fair, since they said I could name her. And anyway, they called me 'Beth' after that girl from ... oh, what's it called ... that movie when they speak funny ... Little Women! That film. 'Cos obviously they'd hoped for a quiet, kind, sensible girl, who says 'Mother' and 'Father'. And dies before teenagerhood, if that's a word. So I've been a bit of a disappointment. But, you know, that's alright with me, and I am after all a witch. Oooh that sounds so weird ... I'm a witch. I'm a witch. I'm a witch. Hmm. Why do you guys call yourselves witches, anyway, it sounds so evil. We should call ourselves ... I dunno ... Rice Krispies. Everyone loves Rice Krispies." Beth stopped to breath.
"You are mad girl."
"Eet is not good thing. You do not stop ze talking! Eet is hurting my head!"
Beth rolled her eyes, and shut her mouth. The line of girls suddenly stopped, and Beth almost walked headlong into the girl in front of her, who turned and gave her a nasty glare.
Beth mouthed 'Sorry' and craned her neck to try and see what was going on. The huge woman had reached the huge doors and, although no one had touched them, they were slowly opening.
"Woooah," Beth gasped. Marie rolled her eyes.
"Um ... Marie," Beth asked cautiously as the line started to go inside. Marie sighed. "Who's that ... big woman? Only, I sort of jumped into her carriage before. And she looked a little angry. Well ... very angry."
"You jump into 'er carriage?" Marie said suspiciously. "But zat is Madame Maxime, ze Headmistress!"
Beth gulped. "H -headmistress?"
"Yes!" Marie shook her head and looked as though she was in pain. "Who did you think she was?"
"Well...I thought she was just...well...having a play in the carriage or something..."
"'Aving a play?"
"Well, yes! She didn't have any luggage or anything, so I thought she'd just hopped in..." Beth was shaking a little now. She'd angered the headmistress already, and she hadn't even got inside the school yet...
Beth and Marie walked through the doors, and Beth was stunned into silence as she looked around her: it was as though she had just walked into a huge, marble mansion. There were paintings and silk and statues everywhere, and the marble floor was so thoroughly polished she could see her face in it. She knew if a boy ever stepped inside he would have eventually gone insane. In fact, she was worried about her own sanity.
But thankfully, the frills and silk of the Entrance Hall did not extend to the rest of the school. As they filed through the next set of doors, the girls were led inside a huge room with polished wooden floors and thousands of round tables and chairs. The pupils were starting to take seats, and a voice that sounded magnified were calling for all first-years to come to the front. Beth hesitated. She was almost fifteen, it having taken so long for her parents to allow her to go to school. Beauxbatons had accepted her, of course, since she was a witch, but all the same ... she had no idea what the plan was, or even if she was going to be slam-dunked right into the first year.
Before she could make a decision, an older girl with a badge pinned onto her chest ushered Beth to a table, and she was dismayed to see the familiar faces looking back at her – the girls from her carriage. She smiled awkwardly, and they sighed resignedly back. Then she waited while they talked together, and the rest of the school took their seats.
"So, you are in our year?" demanded Amelie suddenly.
"Erm ... I'm 15," said Beth.
"So yes, zen," Amelie said, looking a little more than disappointed.
"I have never done any magic before, though."
All the girls stared.
They shook their heads together, and went back to their discussion. But they had left Beth with something much more pressing to worry about – how on earth was she supposed to catch up? She had never so much as cast a spell before. She puzzled this over and over in her mind, so worried that she didn't even notice Madame Maxime was now standing and addressing the whole school. Then she was pulled out of her thoughts as Madame Maxime's eyes met hers and she shrank in her seat. If looks could kill ... Beth thought. Now would be a good time to write a will.
At the end of Madame Maxime's speech, there was a spatter of applause, and the doors at the end of the hall swung open. The hall was suddenly filled with strange, identical creatures – tall, willowy women with cruel, yet beautiful, faces. They carried huge platters of neat finger foods, and Beth, who had been dying for a good steak and chips, tried not to look disappointed. She poked at the wrapped food, and the green salads, and grimaced. Perhaps pudding would be better.
It wasn't. As soon as the women swept away the girls' empty platters, they replaced them with fruit, fruit and more fruit. Beth heard her stomach give a huge rumble and groaned. What she wouldn't give for a tub of ice cream ...
As soon as pudding was over, the girls were excused. Beth dithered around for a moment, wondering where on earth she was supposed to go, when she was saved by a tall 7th former, who tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Beth Wilkinson?"
"Um ... yes?"
"Follow me. Ze headmistress would like to see you."
Beth followed her, terrified. But her exaggerated fears of what the headmistress was going to do to her were interrupted by the 7th former.
"I am Olivia," the girl said. "I am a prefect – 'ow are you thinking of Beauxbatons so far?"
"It's...well, it's ..."
"I was like you when I first came 'ere," Olivia said, smiling. "Of course, I didn't come 'ere in ze fifth year. Per'aps you will fit in, like me. But if you need 'elp ... just ask."
Beth smiled, relieved. "Thank you," she said.
They had reached a tall, wooden door. Olivia beckoned for Beth to go through, and with a deep breath, Beth stepped inside.
"Ah," said Madame Maxime. "Beth Wilkinson 'as arrived."
A/N Thanks again to my brilliant beta, Shauna Zombie!
Plus, there's a lovely little grey box down there - but it's sort of empty :( Fancy filling it with a review?
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