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CHAPTER THREE -- THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS "A cat," Geraldine Evans said in a tone of disbelief. "You got a cat." The smile on Lily's face couldn't have been wider as she presented a very annoyed-looking Colonel McFitz to her mother. Her Aunt and cousin stood behind her, still wary of how Geraldine would react. "His name is McFitz," Lily said as she brought the cat down to her lap. "That's Colonel Mc-," the Colonel began. It had been years since he had been called just "McFitz". Years. And he'd worked too hard to obtain the rank of Colonel just to have some eleven year-old girl strip it away from him, even for three months out of every year. Without any hesitation, the Colonel turned his head toward Lily and gave her a long, menacing stare, ears down. But Lily quickly poked him in his ribs to keep him from speaking. They'd had the discussion on the train home: "You mustn't speak," Lily had told him. "Or wear that silly coat while we're home. My sister, Petunia... She's as muggle as a muggle can be, you see, and a talking cat... that would surely push her over the edge." "My dear Lily," the Colonel had countered. "I'm quite aware of how the non-magical world conducts things. You needn't be lecturing me. And I'll have you know that this coat is in no way silly, young lady," he continued as he moved from Lily's lap to the seat beside her. "This coat stands for honor and courage... Bravery and justice... Peace, and a promise to defend..." "Okay, okay," Lily had said, motioning her arms in an effort to calm down the tabby. "You can keep the coat if it means that much to you." Colonel McFitz nodded smugly once, then had turned to gaze out the window, apparently satisfied with her submission. So as Lily presented a coat-clad grey tabby to her mother, everyone fell silent, even the Colonel. "Well, now," said Geraldine, bringing the conversation back. "Isn't that... interesting." Lily gulped. She knew her mother wouldn't be pleased, but she never thought that she'd be upset in the least. After all, it would only be for three months out of the year. "I know it's a surprise," Lily said. "But it will only be during the summer months. And I promise you that he'll be no trouble at all." Lily turned her voice close to the grey tabby and whispered: "Isn't that right, Colonel?" The cat, at first, shot her a glance, but then softened his features and nodded his head slightly. "Yes, yes, I see," said her mother, rubbing her hands together nervously. "Of course it's fine that he stays here, Lily." Geraldine patted the Colonel on the head, and he, in turn, began to purr. "I'm just wondering how it will affect Petunia's-" Mrs. Evans was interrupted by the loudest sneeze anyone that day had ever heard. Petunia entered the room, sniffling and gasping for air. Achoo! She sneezed again. "-allergies." "Dat gat!" Petunia spat, pointing her finger at Lily and Colonel McFitz. "Wot iz dat cat doin' 'ere?" Achoo! "His name's McFitz," Lily said. The Colonel cringed. "He's staying with us until I go to-" "Don't zay it!" Petunia warned her sister. "Don't you dare mention dat plaze in fron' of me again." Achoo! Petunia was gasping for air again. "-school," Lily finished, her voice less enthusiastic than it had been. "Lily, dear, why don't you take the Colonel... I mean, um, McFitz to your room so the two of you can settle in," Aunt Georgia suggested. "We've all had a long day." Lily nodded solemnly, gathered her things and went upstairs to her bedroom, leaving the others behind. When Lily was out of sight, Petunia, between her sniffles and wheezes, started again. "A gat," she said as she turned to face her mother. "Mother, she bought a gat! She can't keep it! Tell her she can't! Tell her!" Geraldine's face took on a look of exasperation. "Petunia," she said. "I will do no such thing." Petunia's face began to glow once again. Then, just like before, her mouth opened and the most blood-curdling, mind-numbing, head-throbbing sound escaped. Geraldine, Georgia, and Charlotte looked at Petunia with pure shock on their faces, but said nothing. After Petunia was convinced of her mother's resolve, she began to steam again, pounding her feet this time on the hardwood floor. "I hate you!" she screamed as she ran up the stairs. "And I hate dat gat!" she yelled to Lily as she passed her bedroom door. SLAM! Geraldine sighed and took a seat on the blue sofa. "I don't know what I'm going to do with that girl," she said. "I just don't know." "Your family's quite charming, you know," Colonel McFitz told Lily as he cleaned his paws that evening. To avoid any further chaos, the two had dinner in Lily's room, and had wiled away the dull hours by making small talk whenever either found something to say to the other. Lily chortled. "I'm serious," the cat said as he maneuvered across the pile of school supplies strewn across the bed. Lily had been in such a rush to dive into her new world that she'd already used up a full parchment. "My dear, you really must relax." Colonel McFitz stepped onto the parchment, careful to avoid wet ink from staining his freshly groomed fur. "There will be time enough for that when we get you to Hogwarts School. Wouldn't want to burn out before your first day, now, would you?" Lily carefully put her ink and quill on the stack of books beside her bed. "I can't help it," she said. "All my life, I've been..." She searched for the word. "Different?" Lily slid the parchment out from under Colonel McFitz and rested on her stomach. She stroked his fur lightly as he purred. "Different," she agreed. The cat slid his head closer to hers, tapping her forehead lightly with his nose. "You are," he said. "You are." The few weeks that passed between the trip to Diagon Alley and Lily's first day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry went by without any additional chaos. Petunia gave up her midday temper tantrums after a week or so went by, and after another week went by, she gave up her nighttime tantrums, as well. Lily and the Colonel spent most of their time getting Lily ready for Hogwarts. Colonel McFitz coached her on ways of the wizarding world, while Lily, herself, familiarized herself with her textbooks, wand, and practiced her penmanship with quill and parchment. "It's no use!" Colonel McFitz stepped onto Lily's desk to see what her exclamation was all about. Lily moved her parchment over so he could see. "My words are still slanting to the right," she said disconcertedly. Colonel McFitz adjusted his spectacles. "Let's have a look-see here. Oh, oh, I do believe you're right," he said. True enough, the words seemed to be trying to leap off of an imaginary cliff near the middle of the page. "Ah." Colonel McFitz noticed Lily's anguished look. "I wouldn't worry about that, child. You'll learn to magic those lines straight in no time. Now come, we need to get you to bed. You have a long day ahead of you." And so he was right, Lily thought to herself as she put her parchment away and resigned to her bed. Colonel McFitz dimmed the lamp with a precise paw and joined a pillow by her side. The next morning was a calamity. Lily had convinced herself the night before that she was as prepared as ever, but when morning came around, she found herself double- and triple-guessing everything she'd packed, and most things she'd decided would be best kept at home. "Where's my locket?" Lily searched frantically, searching through dresser drawers and shelves, leaving her room in a shambles. "Miss Lily, we don't have time for this," boasted Colonel McFitz. "But I dare say, I believe you packed it up last night." Lily turned toward him. "Are you sure?" "Yes, yes, quite sure, I assure you. But please hurry! Your mother and Aunt have been waiting for you for twenty minutes already." Lily listened as her mother Geraldine, and her Aunt Georgia talked loudly amongst themselves, wondering aloud what could be taking her so long. As Lily was packing up the last of her things (or, at least, the last that would fit into her trunks), she heard her mother's footsteps coming up the stairs. "Lily! Oh, my goodness, girl! You're not half dressed!" Lily stopped what she was doing and looked down. She was still in her pink pajamas with matching bunny slippers. Petunia slipped out of her room, took a look inside, and started sniggering loudly before going downstairs for breakfast. "Come along. Hurry up." Mrs. Evans quickly tossed a green corduroy jumper, golden-brown turtleneck and matching cardigan to Lily, who quickly changed out of her pajamas, pinned her hair away from her face, and reached for her socks and shoes. "Oh, never mind that! You can finish up in the car, can't you?" Lily nodded. "Right then," her mother continued. "Off we go!" Lily held Colonel McFitz tightly as they entered Kings Cross. Her mother and Aunt Georgia were pushing her and Charlotte's luggage trams as they followed behind, trying to keep up. "Are you nervous?" Charlotte asked as they were nearing a platform. Lily nodded. Charlotte gave her a comforting smile. "It's not so bad," she said. "I'm sure you'll meet a lot of new friends on the way to Hogwarts. And besides, I'll be there to help you out. Maybe you'll be in Ravenclaw, just like me!" This made Lily feel better ten times over. She wasn't alone, she knew. Charlotte would be around to befriend her if no one else would. But what if she wasn't in Ravenclaw? What if she was chosen for some other house? Lily still wasn't sure how the new students were sorted each year (Charlotte wouldn't say). "Wait a second." Aunt Georgia stopped suddenly and began to look around. Colonel McFitz excused himself, needing a 'bit of a breather', and stepped outside for some air. "I believe this is it." They had stopped in between platforms nine and ten. An unmanned ticket booth was directly in front of them. "Are you sure the letter said 11:00? 11:00AM?" Geraldine seemed as confused as Lily was. "Why, there doesn't seem to be anyone here at all!" She turned to Georgia with a strained look. "You don't think we missed it, do you?" Georgia laughed slightly. "No, sister, I do not believe we have. The girls will get to Hogwarts on time, I assure you. They have plenty of time to spare." "How can that be," Geraldine asked, "when there are no other children around? There are no baggage handlers or ticket booth operators. There isn't even a train!" Mrs. Evans waved her hands frantically toward the empty track. "How are they supposed to get to school without a train?" Lily and Charlotte looked on as Georgia tried to calm her sister. "There, there, sister," she said. "Calm down. Everything is going along fine. You'll see." "So," Lily said to Charlotte in a whisper as Georgia still went about trying to talk some sense into Mrs. Evans. "How are we supposed to get to Hogwarts without a train?" "Oh, there is a train." "There is? Good." Lily wasn't sure she understood. "Wh-Where is it?" "Right over there," Charlotte pointed, but all Lily could see was brick partition. Now more than ever, Lily's nerves were balling up in the pit of her stomach. How was she going to board a train that she couldn't see? "I don't see anything," Lily confessed, her stomach a ball of nerves, twisting tighter with ever beat of her heart. "Of course you don't, child." Colonel McFitz was back, and smelled strongly of Brandy. He chuckled slightly. "It's hidden, my dear. Hidden behind that partition." Lily threw him a look. "Magic!" he cried, exasperated. "You must learn to think outside the ordinary! Now, when the time comes, I want you to run as fast as you can into that partition." "Into the partition?" she cried. Geraldine, Georgia, and Charlotte turned to look at her. "Shh, girl, lower your voice," the cat said, looking around to make sure no one else had heard her exclamation. Lily apologized as he continued again. "That's right. With any luck, you'll go straight through to the other side. Now, now, don't worry," he said as he watched her face grow dark once more. "There's nothing to be afraid of. I'll be with you." Lily stood up and walked over to where her party was standing. "It's time," said Georgia as she checked Charlotte's bags to make sure everything was securely fastened. "Charlotte will be going first. Watch how she does it, now." Lily watched as Charlotte said goodbye to her Mother and Aunt. Charlotte double checked a small cage that contained a small, white dove named Abberley. (Doves were much less conspicuous when sending mail to the muggle world than owls, she'd found out.) She was asleep, with her head tucked under her left wing, just as Charlotte suspected. Charlotte looked determinedly at the partition, and charged on. Lily's heart grew almost sick - she half-expected Charlotte to bounce right off! Instead, however, she sailed on through, as if nothing had been there to begin with. Colonel McFitz scratched Lily lightly on the arm. "Easy as pie," he said to her, then winked. "Come along, Lily. It's your turn," called Georgia. "Oh, my dear!" Mrs. Evans pulled her daughter into a tight hug. "Take very good care of yourself, do you hear me?" Lily nodded as her mother pulled her into another hug. "You will write to me whenever you find the time, won't you? Oh!" "Come, Lily," said Georgia. Lily turned as Georgia double checked her things. "McFitz! Come here, kitty, kitty . . ." Colonel McFitz reluctantly walked toward Mrs. Evans, tail down and ears laid back. Suddenly he caught himself wondering if he could stay at Hogwarts during summer break, as well. Three months of being treated like an ordinary Muggle housecat were three months too many. "That's a good kitty," Geraldine said as she patted the Colonel lightly on his gray tabby head. "I trust that you'll take very good care of my girl while she's at school, won't you?" "Me-ow," he said, obviously annoyed. "Yes, that's right. Okay, run along now!" Geraldine began trying to shoo Colonel McFitz toward Lily once more. Lily and Aunt Georgia gave each other a look of embarrassment on the parts of both Mrs. Evans and Colonel McFitz as the cat joined the pile of trunks on top of the baggage tram. "Okay, now," he said out of the corner of his mouth. "On the count of three. One . . ." Lily felt sick. Her heart was pounding double-time. "Two . . ." Her hands were shaking as she held tightly to the bar, steadying not only the tram, but herself as well. She felt like her legs were made of cottage cheese. "Three!" Lily ran as fast as she could, pushing the tram in front of her. Colonel McFitz looked calm, still, but Lily closed her eyes as she approached the brick wall. Geraldine and Georgia watched as she slipped through the partition with ease, leaving not a trace behind. They stood there a moment, consoling themselves, rationalizing their tears with 'it's not every day that a child leaves home'. Suddenly, Geraldine began laughing. "What?" asked Georgia. "What is it, sister? What are you laughing at?" She herself became overtaken with fine fits of chuckles. "I just talked to a cat!" Geraldien said in between bursts of laughter. "Have you ever heard of such a thing?" She paused before laughing even harder. "And," she continued, "I actually - just for a second, mind you! - I actually thought he understood what I said!" Geraldine didn't find this nearly as funny as her sister, knowing, of course, that McFitz - Colonel McFitz, she corrected herself - could and did understand what Lily's mother was trying to communicate. Still, she entertained herself with the idea to sport her sister, and soon the two of them were walking back the way they came.

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