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The common room before lunch is a much different place than it is after dinner. Loud and boisterous, it made me think that something had exploded, leaving debris to litter the floor, walls, and ceiling.

James Potter and I sat in the corner window, the one overlooking the Dark Forest and a sliver of the lake. I was basically destroying him in chess while he munched his way through an impossibly large amount of sweets, prattling on about not plucking Mrs. Widgeon’s daisies and Henry Gerald’s obsession with girl’s nails and why I should actually make an attempt on my Potions homework. I listened to all this in near silence, occasionally asking a quiet question that James was more than eager to answer.

My queen was just moving forward to put his king into check when the portrait hole opened, James’s pack of friends bursting through. Oak Wood saw us and his eyebrows shot up into his hairline. He, closely followed by the other three, marched through the crowd until they were close enough to smell.

Flowers and masculine musk. Interesting mix.

“Hey-lo,” Oak said, leaning against the wall behind me. I shifted slightly so that he wasn’t pressed against my back, turning to face the rest of the common room.

“Hi,” I replied as James moved his king to the side. In retaliation, I moved my knight, once again putting his piece in danger.

“Who might you be?”

James took out my knight and glanced up, saying, “Elaina, this is Oak Wood. You already know P.J., and the other two are Rhyad Kouri and Annalie Moore.”

The Arab smirked and extended his hand, saying, “I’m Rhyad, just so you don’t get confused. We get mixed up all the time.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I shook it, replying, “I can see why.”

“So you’re the new girl?” Annalie said gently. I nodded and she continued, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“So,” Oak drawled before I could respond. “Where are you from, beautiful?”

I forced myself not to stiffen at the term, instead looking at the chess board and saying, “A place.”

Oak snorted. “That’s specific.”

P.J. spoke up, her smooth voice cutting through the din around us. “I don’t care if she wants to be vague. I just want to know how she got so bloody fast.”

Anger prickled at the back of my mind as she refused to address me directly. Sarcastically, I thought, You can’t exactly afford to be slow when you’re being chased by a Minjodo through a swamp when it’s intent on eating your brains. If you want to speed up, I would be more than happy to arrange something between the two of you.

Outwardly, I shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was just born quick.”

“Do you know how many people would kill for reflexes like yours?” Rhyad asked, moving one of my pieces so that it took out James’s last pawn.

“I wish we could kill for them,” Oak moaned pathetically. “Jessica needs all the help she can get.”

My eyebrows rose as I said, “Should I be concerned for my safety?”

Two voices choruses “Yes” while three said, “No”. Darkly, I muttered, “Nothing like unanimous comforting to put a girl at ease.”

James and Annalie chuckled while Rhyad moved James’s last rook to counter a possible check. Before he could switch sides again. I forced my queen to take his bishop that was getting dangerously close to my king. Rhyad frowned and, after a moment, smacked James’s shoulder with the back of his hand. James moved out of his seat and Rhyad took his place, moving one of his pieces. I countered as I asked, “Who is Jessica, by the way?”

“Seeker for the Gryffindor team,” Oak said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have let her on the squad if I had known that her try-outs were all beginners luck.”

I glanced at James and he nodded. “She was absolutely fantastic the first couple of practices, less so as time went on. By the beginning of this month, she was downright terrible”

“Maybe its nerves,” Annalie said graciously.

P.J. rolled her eyes and said, “We’ve already been through this, Liar. We all know she’s just pathetic.”

“So much so that we’re considering re-opening tryouts,” Rhyad commented as he took one of my pawns.

I made a small sound in the back of my throat and there was a slight pause while both Rhyad and I studied the board. Finally, Oak piped up, “So where did you say you were from again? Your accent makes you kind of hard to place.”

“I didn’t.”

“Oh, come off it Elaina,” James said. “Don’t be so secretive. We’re all friends here in Gryffindor tower.”

I couldn’t help but smile, brushing my bangs out of my eyes and saying, “My dad and I live in London, but we used to be in Dublin, and before that Paris. New York, Hong Kong, Beijing…”

“Is there anywhere you haven’t been?” P.J. asked.

I thought for a minute before shrugging, “Never been to Tahiti.” Not exactly a hotspot for monster attacks.

Oak whistled while the others snickered. P.J., however, crossed her arms and muttered, “So she’s lived in a ton of places. Big deal.”

“Don’t be jealous, P.J.” Oak said, grinning widely. “You still have your girlish charm.”

“I’m not jealous!”

“You so are.”

“Am not!”

I blocked them out as their conversation grew more and more childish, instead focusing on the suddenly difficult chess game before me. Rhyad was a defensive player, making moves that wouldn’t result in his losing pieces. I wasn’t above risky plays to get the maximum number of enemies off the board. It was a very interesting experience. By the time we had both been depleted of our queens and a bishop each, their argument had become nothing more than a few heated glowers. My eyes were beginning to grow heavy, the world black outside the chilly window.

I rose from my seat and stretched theatrically, rubbing my eyes with the heel of my palm. “Well,” I said slowly, “I’m pretty beat, so I think I’ll head upstairs. It was great meeting all of you.”

Oak patted my back and Rhyad gave me a wide grin, P.J. glaring at me as I pushed in my chair. Annalie gave me a shock by throwing her arms around me, but she retreated when I recoiled slightly. To cover myself, I awkwardly touched her arm while James chimed, “Tomorrow, we’ll help you figure out your schedule.”

I had already discovered where all of my classes were earlier that afternoon, but I figured that it wouldn’t be a wise idea to reject my new dorm mates. I smiled and said, “That would be cool. Good night, everyone.”

There was a chorus of farewells as I turned, walking up the staircase. I slipped into our dorm and made my way to my bed, kicking off my shoes and stripping out of my clothes. I slipped beneath my covers and tucked my chin beneath my blankets, tensing my muscles to generate heat. When I had chased the chill from my bed, drowsiness redoubling its grip on my mind, I drifted off within seconds, my body relaxing for the first time that day.

 

I was unused to sleeping in the same space as other people – I always either had my own room or just didn’t sleep. Because of this, my rest was fitful, my mind forcing my body to flinch awake every time someone entered the room or moved. At one point, a girl dropped a text book onto the floor and the resonating bang made me shoot upright, spells for revealing and destruction on my lips. The girl blushed and apologized, looking genuinely upset that she had awoken me. I mumbled something about it being fine and settled back down, but it took me a minute to calm my heart enough to drift back into slumber.

Eventually, around five o’clock, I ended my uneasy snooze and rose from my bed. I searched my trunk for a pair of loose sweatpants and a cotton shirt, changing and pushing into my sneakers. I walked to the door and was just beginning to turn the knob when a rustle from behind me caused me to freeze.

“Ella?” Annalie slurred tiredly. I glanced behind me and saw her sitting up in her bed, her pale hair swirling around her face in a tangled mess.

“Yeah?” I murmured back.

“What are you doing?”

“Just taking a run.”

“D’you want me to come along?” she asked, swinging her legs over the side of her mattress. I could see that her eyes were still clouded with sleep and almost laughed at the proposition, easily imagining a hundred catastrophes that could occur between the dorm and the lake.

“I’ll be fine.” I replied. “You stay here and get some more rest. You still need so show me the castle later, remember?”

She made a light rumble that I assumed was acceptance as she flipped back onto her bed. I allowed myself a smirk before I ducked out of the room and into the cold staircase beyond.

I trotted down the many floors of the castle, finally reaching the double doors leading outside. I slipped through these without much trouble and took a deep breath of frost-coated air, goose bumps rising on my skin. A single shiver made its way up my spine before I began to run, my long legs carrying me across the frozen ground.

Fog clung to everything – the trees in the forest at the edge of the grounds, the dark surface of the motionless lake, and the hills gently sloping in the distance. I ran to the slightly sandy beach beside the water and settled on a good pace, trotting along and examining the ground as I moved. Close to the water were a few faded animal tracks, similar to the ones in the photograph but distorted by time and moisture. I paused to examine each I came by, feeling the mud from which they had been formed, smelling it, running my fingers over the trampled sticks and disturbed rocks around each print. I wasn’t much of a spiritual person, but something about each of the indentations made my soul shrink back. An evil aura seemed to hang around those markings, something so powerful that it made me want to vomit. By the time I had run around the lake. I found myself completely mentally exhausted, like this beast was draining me from afar.

I made my way back to the castle as the sun finally drifted from behind the mountains. Quietly, I slipped indoors and made my way into the Great Hall, plopping down on a bench in front of a breakfast feast. I piled food onto my plate and was about to dig in when there was a dull hoot and the flutter of wings.

An owl, old, ruffled, and as scarred as any I had seen before, landed in front of my plate. A letter was tied to its leg and it let out a resigned chirp when I reached for it.

“Thanks there, Patchy.” I murmured. It glowered, stole a piece of toast from the tray, and fluttered back into the air. I slipped a piece of bacon into my mouth and ripped open the envelope, pulling the slip of parchment inside free of its paper prison. Unfolding it, I began to read, first taking a second to appreciate my father’s untidy script.

Ella,

I hope things are going well at school. If it’s anything like it was in my day, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Remember why you are away from home. Be careful, and keep me posted.

Dad

I sighed and pushed the letter into my pocket, resigning to write him back that evening. My homesickness returned with a vengeance, making me lose my appetite. I forced myself to eat, regardless, emptying my plate. Just as I finished, there was a loud explosion of laughter and my five new companions entered the room. James saw me and exclaimed, “Elaina! There you are!”

I waved as they approached, smiling slightly. I forced myself to push home out of my heart and take Dad’s advice: Remember why I am at Hogwarts. 

E/N: I recieved excellant feedback on chapter three... care to continue the wonderful reviewing?
 

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