- Chapter Three -
Across the Lake
"Merlin! I'm stuffed," groaned James, a couple of hours later, putting one protective hand over his stomach and abandoning the remains of his cauldron cake.
"Chuck us another frog, would you?" replied Sirius, grinning again. He held out his hand to James and caught the chocolate frog as James threw it to him. He ripped off the wrapper and bit off the frog's head. "Mmmm... Where would we be without chocolate?"
"Er, not feeling sick?" said James, who was seriously wishing he hadn't eaten the last pumpkin pasty.
"How can you be feeling sick? You ate less than me!"
James shrugged. "You must've been starving."
"Yeah, I was," Sirius said, swallowing his mouthful of frog and stuffing the rest into his mouth. He chewed, letting the warmth of the chocolate seep over his tongue.
They were almost in darkness now, the only light coming from the lamps that glowed dimly overhead. The buzz of distant chatter could be heard from neighbouring compartments, although no one since the lunch trolley witch had entered the boys' one.
"Do you think we're nearly there?" asked James, looking out of the drizzle-washed window.
"Probably," said Sirius, frowning slightly. He rubbed some condensation off a patch of glass to peer out at the scenery. "Can't see much, though, can you?"
This was certainly true. All James could see were the dull shapes of hedges as they passed through the gloom. He squinted in the direction they were heading, hoping for some sign that they were arriving...
"Hang on..." he said slowly, as something bobbed in the distance. "There's something up ahead. Could be a lantern..."
The train gave a small judder.
Sirius craned his neck to see what James was looking at. "We're slowing down," he said, brushing crumbs off his robes. "Is that Hogsmeade Station?"
"It is!" cried James, forgetting his sickness entirely as the platform glided towards them. He leapt to his feet. "It is Hogsmeade Station! We're here! We're at Hogwarts!"
Underneath them, the wheels of the great steam engine ground to a halt. There was a great scrabbling as the students began to collect their belongings.
Sirius got up too and slid the last remaining chocolate frog into his pocket. Neither of the boys bothered with their trunks; they would be taken up to the castle once everyone had left.
"Come on!" Quivering with excitement, James hurried to the door and opened it. He stepped out into the corridor, and he and Sirius joined the throng of students leaving the train.
As they emerged onto the platform, a chill wind whipped rain into their faces. A group of sixth-years pushed them roughly aside.
Unsure where to go or what to do, James glanced at Sirius, who was scanning the platform with a look of concentration on his face. "Where do we-?" he began, but Sirius cut across him.
"Look, there! Directly in front. There's a huge man... Can you see him?"
Wondering what on Earth this had to do with them being lost, James turned in the direction Sirius had suggested.
The man Sirius has been looking at was not hard to miss. He really was huge, his ruddy face half-hidden by a tangled mass of beard. His hands were each the size of dustbin lids, and he was probably taller than James and Sirius put together. A lantern swung in his right hand and his great voice carried across the crowded platform: "Firs'-years over here! Firs'-years!"
"I think we follow him," said Sirius, relieved they had found someone who knew what they should be doing.
They made their way, with great difficulty, through the jostling students and found themselves among a small knot of people who looked just as nervous as they were.
"All righ', then?" boomed the huge man, once James and Sirius had appeared. He peered over the heads of the students to see into the crowd. "Reckon tha's the last o' yeh?"
None of the first-years said anything. Judging by the looks on their faces, they were all either too excited or too terrified to speak.
James couldn't blame them. Glancing around, his eyes found hook-nosed Severus and the red-haired girl. The girl had stopped crying now and she was talking to the boy with a rapt, eager expression on her face.
James felt a twinge of something within his stomach. He turned away.
The small, mousey boy with the pointed nose - the boy he'd seen being tormented by the Slytherins - stood fairly nearby. He was chewing his fingernails, James noticed, and kept stealing nervous glances at the people nearest to him. His companion was a tall, brown-haired boy with a slightly pale face and... Was that a scar on his cheekbone?
The huge man spoke again. "Righ'. That'll be the lot o' yeh. Let's get goin', then." He set off at a stride, leaving the others jogging to catch up with him.
James and Sirius followed the group, as they hurried down a path that led from the station.
The man strode up ahead, the path growing steeper as it wound up to the castle. "Jus' a bit further. Yeh'll see a glimpse o' Hogwarts itself in a sec."
They turned a corner. A couple of people - including the tall, brown-haired boy - let out small gasps. A glistening lake lay in front of them, its surface dappled by moonlight. Hogwarts castle lay on the mountain of rock on the other side; huge, candlelit and mysterious.
James felt as though all the breath had been knocked out of him. It was beautiful. Utterly beautiful. He felt a thrill of delight.
Sirius, however, was looking doubtfully at the lake. "How are we going to get across?" he whispered and the mousey boy groaned with fright.
"We have to swim!" he gasped, seizing the arm of the boy beside him and hugging it to his chest. "We're going to drown! There's a giant squid in there, you know, and- and- It's going to eat us!"
The boy whose arm was being strangled patiently extracted it from his companion's grasp. "It won't eat us, Peter," he said firmly. "And we're not going to swim."
"H-how do you know?" whispered the mousey boy, scuffing his toes on the rocky ground.
Sirius fought the urge to smirk.
The tall, pale boy pointed to the edge of the lake. "Because there are boats," he said simply.
All the first-years looked.
At the edge of the lake, just as the boy had said, a fleet of small wooden boats floated, bumping lightly against the shore.
The huge man was busy steadying one of the boats enough to be able to climb into it; it looked as though it would sink under his weight. As he realised the others were staring at him, however, he stopped what he was doing to talk to them. "Is everyone here?"
A couple of people nodded.
"Good," he said vaguely. "Righ', then. Now that yeh're all here, I've got a few things to tell yeh. Firs' o' all, my name's Hagrid - Rubeus Hagrid - an' I'm Keeper o' the Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. The second thing is that' we're goin' across the lake, so yeh'll be wanting ter get into one o' them." He waved a huge hand at the little fleet of boats behind him. "No more than four ter a boat."
When Hagrid said his name, a couple of the first-years made noises of understanding.
James, too, felt something stir in his memory. His father had mentioned a person called Hagrid... But he had no time to dwell on it as the people around him were hurrying forwards into the boats.
Sirius grabbed James' elbow to stop him being pushed aside and led the way into the nearest one. The mousey boy called Peter and his slightly-scarred companion followed them into it.
Hagrid got into the largest boat and sat down, although it wobbled alarmingly underneath him, and waited for everyone else to be seated.
Sirius looked around him at the still and silent water. The boats had no oars. How on Earth were they going to move?
As if in answer, the boats gave a shiver and jerked into life, pulling away from the bank all on their own. Several of the first-years gasped, alarmed that the boats could move magically.
They glided through the water, floating over the dancing pools of light reflected in the lake's surface. It was very pretty, even though the drizzle had only just stopped.
James was just wondering whether they would see the giant squid, when Hagrid called out from his boat up ahead. "Duck!"
The first-years all bent their heads as they passed under a rocky outlet in the side of a cliff, half-hidden by ivy, and emerged into a dark tunnel.
James could no longer see anything and the small, mousey boy gave a squeak of terror.
The brown-haired, pale boy with the scar said, "Shh, Peter. It's okay. Just darkness." His voice was slightly hoarse.
Something clunked underneath them as the wooden boats collided with a rocky bank.
Hagrid climbed out of his boat.
Slipping and sliding in the underground tunnel, the first-years followed, moving through the dark towards the only source of light: a fiery torch that illuminated a door.
Once everyone was gathered around him, Hagrid knocked thrice on the door's surface and the first-years held their breath. The noise echoed around the cavern for a couple of moments before the silence enclosed around them.
They waited... And waited... And, at long last, the door opened.
I hope you liked the chapter! Am I representing the characters accurately enough? Thanks for all your lovely reviews so far and please keep sending me your thoughts; I want to make this as good as possible.
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